Sunday, July 26, 2020

It’s a Topsy-Turvy World!

I really do not know which end is up anymore when a Museum Director can get the loan of an El Greco and a painting from the circle of Poussin for his museum, from the collection of a member of his family, and this is called self-dealing.  Works by Poussin, and even his circle, are so prized by museums that I once lost a sale to the National Gallery in London because they had to use the money to buy their eleventh Poussin.  Personally, I though a museum did not need more than 10!

This was the headline on ArtNet and a number of other sites: “Current and former staff at the Detroit Institute of Arts are lodging complaints about director Salvador Salort-Pons.”  I may have met the man but never knew him and I cannot judge if he is a good director or not but, the article continues, “Among the more serious allegations against Salort-Pons is that he abused his authority to bolster personal relationships and the value of his family’s art collection.”

The museum has exhibited two paintings owned by Alan May, Salort-Pons’s father-in-law—El Greco’s St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata and a painting attributed to the circle of Nicolas Poussin, An Allegory of Autumn—leading a whistleblower to file a conflict-of-interest complaint with the IRS and the Michigan attorney general. (Showing a work at a prestigious museum can enhance its market value.)”

If we were speaking of a minor, or even a middle of the road, artist museum exhibition might help the value, but El Greco is one of the most important names in art history. If the circle of Poussin painting was exhibited as a Poussin, maybe one could make a case. Buying the paintings for the museum from a family member would be considered a conflict but obtaining their loan is to the benefit of the museum.

Then two of the best curators in the country, Keith Christiansen at the Metropolitan Museum and Gary Garrels at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art have both been hauled over the coals recently. Mr. Garrels has even volunteered to resign over a few words considered to be not acceptable in today’s climate.  Statements that a few years ago would not have been given a second thought.  Mr. Garrel's unfortunate remark came after the acquisition of a work of art by a black artist, ““Don’t worry,” he said. “We will definitely still continue to collect white artists.” Failing to do so, he quipped, would be “reverse discrimination.” Not that funny in the best of times, but a joke in poor taste is not worthy of condemnation. 

Now if these two had a history of racial bias that would be valid but there is no such evidence.  I also know Keith rather well and never heard a prejudiced word out of him.  Objections were raised over his personal Instagram post of a drawing of an archeologist trying to save historic tombs of St. Denis during the French Revolution, and his thoughts centering on the observation “How many great works of art have been lost to the desire to rid ourselves of a past of which we don’t approve.”

Another example of the world being turned upside down is, in my opinion, a positive one.  The Supreme Court has decided in a 5-4 decision, that the disputed area covering roughly half of the state of Oklahoma and most of the city of Tulsa belongs to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.  What was the case?  A criminal attorney has been working on an appeal in one of his sexual assault cases for years — arguing that his client, a Native American, can’t be legally prosecuted by the state of Oklahoma because the crime occurred on what has historically been Indian land.  The ramifications are far-reaching.  If you want to make a lawsuit do you sue in a state court or in a tribal court.  Who has the right to tax?  Can Indians in jail get a new trial? Who can regulate oil and gas production in the area?

Whether this is cause and effect or not I have also read that an Oregon arts organization has voluntarily given its building to a Native American group in recognition of historic tribal ownership of the land.  The Yale Union Building in Portland is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic places and has now changed hands and will become the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation in 2021.

No matter, how you feel about these matters you have to admit our world is topsy-turvy!

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Heists & Break-Ins

The last issue of Business Week Magazine that I received was called “The Heist Issue”. I thought, Wow! Not much business news.  Then I became more interested when they had an article on the Heist from The Gardner Museum in Boston in 1990 where 13 works of art were stolen, 6 paintings including 3 Rembrandts and a Vermeer all cut out of their frames.  The works have never been found.   When Isabella Stewart Gardner made her gift to the City it was with the proviso that everything remains where it was.  What bothers Museum staff is that people come and stare at the empty frames rather than look at the 16,000 other works of art in the Museum.

That started me thinking of robberies that we have been the victim of.  Happily, nothing serious ever happened but in retrospect there were some interesting and even funny aspects to our personal experiences.

I will start with our most expensive attempted robbery that occurred at our home in Santa Fe when they broke our garden door getting in.  Then the alarm scared the perpetrator(s) off. Nothing was missing but it cost us $3,000 to replace the door.

The most fortuitous was probably also here in Santa Fe when potential thieves attempted to break in through a window. No one was in the house, the door was unlocked, and the alarm was not set, so they could have just opened the door and cleaned us out.  Instead they threw a rock managing to hit the window contact point and activating the alarm system. Happily, it scared them off.  Now we never leave without locking up and setting the alarm. 

We did once arrive home at our apartment on the top floor of a New York brownstone to see our wooden door broken through.  We lost cameras and a single fake cufflink from the Metropolitan Museum Shop.  What went through the thief’s mind?  I realized I had left my camera case with equipment in it on the chair in the living room so that was easy, but one cufflink???

Definitely the most bizarre break in was at that same apartment.  A thief running across the rooves from brownstone to brownstone to escape workmen who had discovered him jumped through our kitchen skylight.  In the next room was our baby son (he is 40 now) in the arms of his nanny.  The man did not grab anything, just ran out the front door.  But nanny, still holding baby, chased him down 5 flights of stairs and into the street.  When I heard the story, I thought thank goodness she did not catch up with the perp! 

There is no accounting for what people will do.  My gallery on 57th Street in New York was on the 5th floor of a 15-story business building. The building was locked at night, as were the elevator doors, and there was a watchman.  In this case, they placed a plank from the window of the next-door building to the ledge of the window of my wife’s office and got in. I don’t know what they thought they would find in our gallery. How could they get back over that plank with a piece of French 18th Century furniture or a large old master painting?  What did they take was a Louis XVI gilt bronze clock which was on the table in the elevator hall of the gallery?  They probably thought it was gold. Curiously they also took the $15 electric clock on my wife’s desk.  Guess the thief wanted to make sure he was in time for his next heist! The coda to this story is, when the police came one of the cops wanted to know whether we wanted them to say that the clock had been inside the gallery.  Not police violence but police corruption?  

Later that day I was speaking to a British colleague.  When he asked how things were, I told him fine, but we had been robbed.  He said congratulations and I didn’t understand.  He said, “well you were insured, weren’t you?  Then you made a sale!”  When was the last time you thought that would solve all your problems if the business caught on fire?  By accident, of course!

Sunday, July 12, 2020


I was taught in English class to “write about what I know about’.  That is always good advice, but I have always been a bit ornery, so I often do the opposite.  When my mother told me that if I stopped smoking cigarettes, she would give me a gift.  I waited until I was 21 to stop!  So today I thought I would write about an assignment I was given by a not-for-profit where I am a member of the Board. I was asked to come up with the Development Plan for the organization, something for which I have no expertise. Needless to say, I am part of a committee, but I made the mistake of raising my hand, virtually, of course, and was given the assignment to write it all up. 

A Development Committee is just a fancy way of saying Fund Raising Committee which is the lifeblood of any not-for-profit.  Why should people give to this cause instead of that one?  In my case, for the most part, I give to organizations in my adoptive State, New Mexico, before the rest of the country and the rest of the country before I give abroad.  We all make general rules because of all the choices we have.  Some only give to medical causes or educational causes while I focus on the arts. I never understood why really wealthy people such as Bill & Melinda Gates hire people to help them give their money away until we started trying to make meaningful donations with a tiny tiny fraction of what they have.

I learned from Jean Block, a consultant to not-for-profits, the most important question in the fund-raising business, “You need to ask”. If you don’t ask you don’t get.  Actually, I should have said I re-learned this. There is always pressure to succeed but it is also most rewarding when you meet the challenge. I figured I have raised funds before so I can do this.  Before the age of 30, I had to raise funds for an exhibition of works of art from art dealers in this country and abroad at the Metropolitan Museum -

In the early 1970s, I knew a lot less than I know now. The people I knew who had money were those who could afford to buy at my art gallery!  I asked our clients a number of whom made token contributions.  Then I took the bull by the horns, screwed up my courage, and asked one of my most important clients, Henry Ford II. To my most pleasant surprise, he gave $5,000 but wished to remain anonymous in the catalog.  You can multiply that sum by approximately 5 to get today’s value and an exhibition at the Met also cost a great deal less than.  

I will digress to tell you how obstacles that you do not expect can get in the way.  One of those art dealers played golf with the director of the Metropolitan Museum every weekend and kept telling him that the dealers would never come up with their share of funds for the show.  So, every Monday my future wife, who was the Metropolitan’s curator for the show, was called by the director to ask what the situation was, and she would call me, and I would say we are fine and in the end we were.

Well, it turns out that asking directly for money for a good cause is the easy part when you are just one individual but doing it for an organization involves so much more.

You need to come up with a reason for your organization’s existence and then create an appeal that will make people want to participate. Just saying I have a good cause is not good enough.

You need someone with marketing skills to get the word out because if a tree falls in the forest… you know the rest.

If you are lucky enough to get a challenge grant, how will you pitch it?  You will need a deadline or people will just think “mañana”.  Here In New Mexico, mañana does not mean tomorrow, it just means not today!

Lastly, or maybe not, you need to peg the people in your organization who can accomplish all this, and when they agree, to give them a deadline by which their task must be completed.

When I figure out how to complete these last paragraphs plus some more, I suspect I will get back to you.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Quotes For Our Time

As I have written before I love quotations and seeing them become a regular feature in The Week magazine, I decided to take up the theme.

Every week I have to think about the English playwright, George Bernard Shaw’s quote as I strive to be clear. "The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place."  Most of these quotes have been pre-tested by those who published them!

Re: Politics

Maybe the most telling, at least for me presently, is credited to none other than Napoleon Bonaparte, “In Politics, stupidity is not a handicap”!

This is one to remember in the current movement to tear down historic monuments, “Nothing is Really Lost until it is Forgotten” by contemporary painter Patrick McGrath Muniz.  For me a prime case in question is the sculpture of Theodore Roosevelt in front of New York’s Museum of Natural History by the noted American sculptor, James Earle Fraser (1876-1953).

I wish both sides of the aisle would recognize the message of a sign I saw in a hemp shop here in Santa Fe. “When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in an American flag and carrying a cross” 

"If there isn't (a) vision it is hard to get others to follow" John D. Rockefeller on accepting an award from the World Monuments Fund 2009.

“Insanity in individuals is something rare - but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.”  German Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, (1844-1900)

Clarence Darrow, the great defense attorney, and Mark Twain are both credited with the statement that could relate  to our current political polarization, “"I have never killed anyone, but I have read some obituary notices with great satisfaction." 


The Week Magazine quotes a Canadian Health Official, Dr. Bonnie Henry, “We are all in the same storm.  But we are not all in the same boats.” How true is that?

From Republic World

There is an old German saying which I heard often from my father, "Ein Ende mit Schrecken is besser als ein Schrecken ohne Ende” An end with terror is better than terror without end.

The following  sentiment has been expressed in many a dire situation: David Lynch, the filmmaker and artist has said, “These so-called bleak times are necessary to go through in order to get to a much, much better place.”   We can all hope and pray that this will be true this time around. 

I will end with a quote from Anthony T Hincks, an author known for publishing a book of his own quotes. I would like it printed on all my next masks: 

“Don't practice 'Germ Warfare'. MASK UP!”