Sunday, August 30, 2020

Theater, Film, And Then Some

I work in a small office with other small offices for independent professionals down the corridor.  When we need a break from our individual work my office mates meet in the hall with masks and ask each other what we have done or seen recently.  Everyone is wondering what to do with themselves with restaurants, theaters, and movies closed or with limited access.

My wife and I are theater buffs, as mentioned in a previous Missive. The last edition of The New Yorker that I found having a review of a live show was March 23 it seems like years ago now. We found a way to get our theater fix by subscribing to BroadwayHD which offers many choices of live recorded theater and films of former shows or movies based on shows.  In round figures, the app costs $100/year which these days might not even pay for a ticket to a single Broadway show and certainly not a pair of tickets!

Let’s look at this app in a little more depth. Trying to pick what to watch is the only difficult part. There are the recordings of shows you would expect to see such as “Les Miserables”, “The King & I” and “Death of a Salesman”.  Fine by us as nostalgia has become more important to us as we try to think back to normal. times.  

It has been difficult to decide which plays to write about since I cannot remember if we have seen them live or on Memorex.  We saw “Red” on Broadway and in a local production at the Lensic and it is offered on BroadwayHD. We saw “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well” in a small New York theatre where we sat in the first row and got spat on by the star every time he belted out a song. The recorded version was less intimate, but, if you love theater, it is always interesting to see a show handled in a new way in a different production.

If you become enamored of a show there is sometimes a video on the making of the show! Another interesting documentary was “Repeat Attenders”, but I wrote about that one a few weeks ago.

A musical comedy which I had not seen before is “She Loves Me”.  There is a wonderful version from The Roundabout Theater in New York on BroadwayHD.  The plot involves co-workers in a small shop who do not get along very well but find out that they have been pen pals for quite a while, a piece of fluff but superbly performed.

In the case of “Daddy Longlegs”, a Cinderella story of a young woman at college and her benefactor, we have a novel, turned into a movie with Fred Astaire and now the filming of an original off-Broadway musical version.  It is absolutely charming. As video captures some of the excitement of a live audience, we even joined in the applause every once in a while.

“The Goes Wrong Show” is a slap-stick comedy series that demonstrates, in highly exaggerated form, what can happen if someone doesn’t do their job correctly in a theatrical production. On one episode where the scenic designer got the specifications totally wrong and the actors have to squeeze themselves into sets where they can’t possibly fit.  If you are just looking for a good laugh, take a look.  The episodes are not related so it is something you can come back to weeks later when you need your next laugh … if you can wait that that long!

Most recently we watched a movie made from the play “Copenhagen”, by Michael Frayn, that we saw on Broadway years ago and loved. It is about a meeting between Niels Bohr (Danish) and Werner Heisenberg (German).  They were nuclear physicists and the former was the latter’s teacher. The plot revolves around their meeting in 1941 and put simply it involves the ethics of the use of nuclear weapons. The BBC remade the show in this excellent film in 2002.  You will find yourself holding your breath by the end.  The acting is so superb that you can feel the anguish of all three characters.

Comedies are fun and I love musicals, but I like best when I see a show that I keep thinking about days and weeks after I have seen it.

Maybe, I should mention that I have no stake in BroadwayHD but I am quite excited over our “discovery”.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Thomas Hoving Redux

I am taking a week or two off and therefore repeating an old missive with a couple of corrections and additions.  Since I started on a theme some weeks back I thought my repeat would be about another great client and Director of a great museum ...

Thomas P. F. Hoving (1931-2009) 

In my opinion, Tom Hoving was a genius.  Now there are different kinds of genius but maybe if I tell a little bit about him, you will get my meaning.  Tom was the son of Walter Hoving, the head of Tiffany’s.  It is said he was something of a “cut-up” as a boy, being thrown out of various schools, but this seems to not be that unusual for above-average students who are probably bored by the routine and teachers who did not inspire them.

At Princeton University, however, he excelled and got all his degrees there ending with a doctorate in Art History in 1959.  He went then to the Metropolitan Museum as a Fellow in the department of medieval art working at the Cloisters.  By 1965 he was running the department.  He was called upon by then New York Mayor John V. Lindsay to become Parks Commissioner in 1966.  He only stayed in that position for 14 months before returning to the Metropolitan as Director.  However, in that time he transformed Central Park.  When I went with my children a few years later to show them the secret places I rode my bike when I was young they were no longer secret.  There were people everywhere.  They came from the East Side, Harlem and Spanish Harlem all sharing this wonderful oasis in the center of Manhattan.

Ralph Blumenthal who was writing for the New York Times during that time wrote on December 11, 2009, after Tom’s death, “Remembering Hoving’s Service as Parks Commissioner”  “More than anyone, he put the actual fun in Fun City.  He was a natural showman and, as I quickly discovered, he didn’t much mind having his own Times reporter around to showcase his zany brilliance and flamboyance. Not for nothing did he joke that his middle initials stood for “Publicity Forever.”  Sure he used the press. But he was great copy and got one eager young reporter lots of space in the paper. He did not know the meaning of “no comment.’”  I am personally sure that if Tom were again at the helm of the Metropolitan he would put the present administration to shame as far as social media is concerned.  Unfortunately, it did not exist during his tenure (1967-1977).

When he first came to the Metropolitan he decided he had to learn the market and started by visiting the galleries in New York that had medieval and early Renaissance art.  In the transcript of Rosenberg & Stiebel’s 1989 film “Affairs of Art” I found how it all started with my family gallery.  He said the following:  “Some of the gallery owners I visited threw me out. They thought I could not be true.  I was too young and too disheveled to be truly a curatorial type….. I  approached Rosenberg & Stiebel with a sense of trepidation because I had heard that this was THE most elegant and the most sophisticated dealer of medieval art and I was allowed to see everything, and this was a unique experience because the other dealers I’d visited did not allow me to see everything ...”  “I learned right off one thing about Rosenberg & Stiebel, that the attitude of the establishment was such that they were partners with curators …”  So Tom became a good client on the basis of that first impression.

In 1972 I became a member of an art association in New York and they immediately made me an officer.  This association was a member of an international organization of associations, which had done exhibitions in museums abroad but never in the United States.  Now they wanted an international dealer’s exhibition at the Met.  Still being in my 20’s I had the temerity to say, “My father knows Tom Hoving” (how naïve can one be!)  My colleagues jumped on it and so began a saga in which I was able to bring 300 works of art to the Metropolitan in an exhibition called, “The Grand Gallery” during the 1974-75 season.  Being nice to a novice medieval curator paid off in the long run!

Hoving was credited with being the originator of the ”blockbuster exhibition”.  His first was  “In The Presence of Kings” (1967) where they used turntables and red velvet to show off the art.  It was absolutely scandalous at the time but I loved it and so did many others as they started to pile into the Met.  Hoving was taking the first step toward the modern-day museum where some institutions number their attendance in the millions.

Philippe de Montebello, his successor at the Met was quoted as saying, “People criticized him for his excesses, but you have to remember that it is not the timorous who climb life’s peaks. He has left us with a changed museum world.”

If you want to learn more about Tom Hoving in his own words pick up one of the books he has authored, I counted close to 20 on Amazon and we have 8 in our library.  Probably the most fun and the one quoted the most often is “Making the Mummies Dance” and second in line is “Art for Dummies”.  One of the endorsements for the latter from dealers and museum directors says “As an art history student at Columbia University in the early 60’s, I often went to the Metropolitan Museum to be alone among the masterpieces.  That solitude ended when Tom Hoving became director.  Suddenly the place was hopping; art was no longer just for the elite.  Tom stripped away the veil of intimidation of a museum and with this book he has now done the same for everyone who ever considered learning about and collecting art."- Gerald G. Stiebel, Rosenberg & Stiebel Gallery (1999). 

A couple of weeks ago I posted a clip from a 1989 film we made to celebrate our gallery’s 50 years in the United States.  As mentioned Tom was kind enough to also do an interview for the film so here it is in its entirety.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Making Fun of the Commander In Chief

I have very little respect for the current occupier of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and I know that I am not the only one who feels that way.  if you feel differently, I would recommend you stop reading here and now.  Note Nancy Pelosi ...

Looking through various images of this gentleman whose name shall go unmentioned I had the following thoughts.

This is one of my favorite images to put everyone in the mood.  Translating the German, Angela Merkel saying, “Have you cleaned up your room?  Look at me when I am talking to you.” I heard these statements more than once from my mother!

Having read the book by John Bolton, The Room Where It Happened, the author was continuously frustrated with Trump’s changing his mind at the last minute or, even afterward coming up with a tweet that totally defeated whatever they were trying to accomplish.

Oh My God what is he saying now?

This image with Vice-President Pence says it all ...

Will  I have to do this for another 4 years?

Is there any doubt about this relationship?  When Trump is with Putin, is he asking, “Do you really think we can get away with this?

Brazil is one of the few countries that is doing as badly as the U.S. in the Covid-19 area so should the two leaders shake hands?  One seems to be reluctant.

British politician, Neal Farage, does not look happy about dealing with the Donald.

Even Attorney General Bill Barr is not safe from a scolding.

The president often finds himself wondering what he is talking about.

Finally. our President as he sees himself in the mirror.  His butler has said he likes mirrors everywhere.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Liliane de Rothschild

I like writing about my favorite clients over my decades as an art dealer.  Among them were members of The Rothschild dynasty that originated in Frankfurt-am Main, Germany, my family’s hometown.  

Mayer Amschel Rothschild (1744-1812) sent his sons to London, Paris, Vienna, and Naples, setting up a banking network across Europe.  Over several generations, my family dealt with the British, French, and Austrian branches of the dynasty.  I learned early on how important personal connections are in life. I have personal evidence that some of the Rothschild’s felt close to our family.  The surviving matriarch of the Vienna Rothschild’s, Clarice, felt perfectly comfortable crashing my first wedding.  It was a large affair and she came in on the arm of another widow and client of ours!

Shortly after that another member of the Rothschild family, this time on the French side, wanted me to meet Baroness Elie de Rothschild (Née Fuld-Springer, 1916-2003).  In order to avoid any awkwardness, the introduction was to be made at a charity luncheon at the home of Baroness Elie (Liliane) de Rothschild.

Liliane de Rothschild

It was a huge affair but after lunch, I got to speak with Baroness Liliane and made two faux pas, one worse than the other.  My parents always had wine with dinner, and I got a sip of wine in my water from the time I could sit at the table!  The wine at this lunch was clearly a step above.  So, when I asked the Baroness about the wine she replied, “Oh, it just one of our little house wines”.  Hearing that line many times over the coming years I learned what that meant.  It was not Lafite but one of the neighboring vineyards … good enough for me!  

My second mistake was commenting on their Constantin Brancusi (1867-1957)… turned out it was a Cycladic head (c. 3200–c. 1050 BC)!  Amazingly enough, after showing off my brilliance, I was still invited back whenever I was in Paris.

Constantin Brancusi, Muse 1912

At that first meeting, Baroness Liliane asked whether I had children and at the time I could say, yes, a boy and a girl.  Liliane’s response was so wonderful I can still hear her  “Le Choix du Roi”, the choice of kings! I have since used the expression whenever the occasion arises. 

Baroness Liliane was a passionate historian, concentrating on 18th century France and in particular, Queen Marie Antoinette.  Our gallery had acquired an ornate key that came to us with the story that it was for the Chapel at Versailles.  It was a good story, but we had no proof.  I told this to Liliane who insisted on buying it anyway.  You can imagine how good I felt when we received a letter (no email back then) saying that the Baroness had been to Versailles and with the director had tried out the key on the Chapel door and it fit!

In 1989 we did a video of our gallery celebrating 50 years in the United States.  It consisted of a history of the family and interviews of museum directors, curators, and private clients.  When she visited New York, Liliane agreed to do an interview from her son’s apartment, and here is her 9-minute segment from the finished product. I was delighted to discover that it is included in the Rothschild archive:

When Baroness Liliane passed away and I told my children that I was going to Paris to be at the funeral. one of them commented, “I thought the Rothschilds lived forever!” For me the memories certainly do.

Sunday, August 2, 2020


You have heard it before and you will hear it a lot more,-- we are living in very strange times.  My daughter who has a bookstore in Wayne, Pennsylvania outside Philadelphia told me months ago that she has to change her methodology daily according to new rules and guidelines and does not know what the next day will bring.

What had not quite dawned on me then is that we are all having to change our methodology daily and nowhere more so than in the arts.  We can no longer go to movies, theaters, or museums, so all entertainment occurs on screen.  We can complain all we want that this is not the real thing, that we need original works of art and live theater, but things are as they are. 

The issue, therefore, is where to get our arts fix using the avenue that remains open.  It might be compared to being let loose in the stacks of the Library of Congress without a card catalog guide us.  We have to find our own way.

One of the new channels we now subscribe to is BroadwayHD.  Since we are avid theatergoers in the good times, we have seen an awful lot and chosen carefully before spending the money on a ticket.  Now, after paying our subscription fee everything is “free”!  So the question is where we want to spend our time.  Often, we want to try something new.

The other night we found an intriguing title, “Repeat Attenders” a 2020 documentary by Australian filmmaker, Mark Dooley.  It was like nothing I have ever seen.  The blurb shown before the show states, “The Theater: Each year, millions of people attend to escape reality. But for a select few, the theatre IS their reality, with some of them seeing the same show hundreds of times. They are Repeat Attenders. Six years in the making, ‘Repeat Attenders’ is a groundbreaking feature documentary, that delves into the psychology behind the extreme superfans of Broadway”.

The reason that musicals attract more recidivists is that they are more accessible to a larger part of the population so usually have longer runs than straight plays.  Previously I had only heard rumors about these devoted fans. Having been married to two former dancers who identified with A Chorus Line (“Everything is Beautiful at the Ballet … Hey, I was Happy at the Ballet”) I saw the show in the theater at least twice and the film as well, but that, for me, was an exception.

The documentary “Repeat Attenders” was comprised of interviews and film clips of performances on Broadway, London’s West End, Bochum, Germany and Melbourne, Australia of Cats, Rent, Les Misérables, and Starlight Express.

In the film, they revealed the passion that lead people from different countries to attend multiple performances of their favorite shows, as they fell in love with the characters and songs.   A German woman, who loved Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Starlight Express had a closet full of costumes from the show and even participated in local events as one of the characters.  Her parents had told her she was too ugly and overweight to be an actress, so she found another way to participate. She went as far as dressing her daughter in Starlight Express costumes and make-up as well.  Possibly the entire town of Bochum was obsessed with the show since they built an arena-like theater for it.

Starlight Express Theater in Bochum, Germany

One New York businessman they interviewed had seen Rent 1,169 out of its 5,123 Broadway performances.  He took off from work to sleep on the ground and wait hours or even days for a “rush” last-minute ticket.

Waiting for "rush" tickets

One fan pointed out that if you see a movie multiple times it is the same every time, but in live theater, it is always just a little different.  If my wife and I were repeat attenders I am sure we would argue after every performance on which detail the performers had changed. 

The documentary not only explored how people become obsessed with a show, but it also distinguished them from stalkers, who are obsessed with an individual performer. One man confessed to having stalked a certain actress and how close he came to assaulting her. Here is the trailer.

In the end “Repeat Attenders” demonstrated how theater offers the ultimate escape into another world which is where many of us would like to be right now!