Sunday, October 25, 2020

Art that Makes Me Smile

These days we need to try to laugh and smile through the tears.  Being restricted to home more than usual I draw on our personal art collection.

When my wife wanted to rush me to close my art business in New York and join her here in Santa Fe full-time, (turned out to be the best decision of our lives) she lured me by allowing me to buy a wide screen TV and amplifier speakers, DVR, DVD player etc. Shortly thereafter we saw a cartoon I could not resist as it spoke to my personal moment.  It is by Ricardo Caté, of Santo Domingo Pueblo, whose cartoons titled “Without Reservations” have appeared in the local Santa Fe newspaper, The New Mexican, every day since 2006.  He describes Indian humor as the result of “us living in a dominant culture, and the funny part is that we so often fall short of fitting in.”   We bought the watercolor from Ricardo at his first Indian Market, an annual event in Santa Fe and it filled his characterization perfectly. That modest acquisition cost us only $20 but it was the first of many more ambitious examples of Caté’s work  that we now own.

Most of my life my work has been with artists who have long since past, but I have learned that works by living artists can afford a more immediate experience. One example is the carved wood sculpture that hangs in our home.  We acquired it when we were driving up to Taos, New Mexico, not for the skiing for which the town is famed, but for my wife’s shoulder surgery with the orthopedic surgeon to the Olympic ski team.

Since we can hardly ever pass up an art shopping opportunity, we stopped on the way at the Chimayo Trading del Norte at Rancho de Taos.  There we discovered this unusual mask that reminded us of Commedia dell'arte but was signed by a well-known Warm Springs Chiricahua Apache sculptor, Bob Hazous. Since we had met the artist previously, I wrote to him. asking about our purchase.  Here is his reply: “I have always enjoyed the Italian theatrical masks since my first visit to Venice … My mask: I don’t recall the exact time when it was created, probably somewhere in the late 1980’s … I clearly remember making the mask, probably looked at as a humorous piece by some, but to me it represented an aesthetic and compositional challenge, probably inspired by the eyeglass frame [most likely the antique trade sign for an optometrist]. Where that came from, I couldn’t tell you. I surround myself with junk of all kinds for inspiration to be used in an artwork or contemplation. Your photos are great. Thanks for sharing that almost lost memory.”

My final smile for today is a Hopi carved wood sculpture of an embracing couple. The figures are a yellow clown and a Kokopelmana, who is the female fertility Katsina in the Hopi religious pantheon of spirits.  The group is signed RG on the base for the Hopi carver, Ros George. He specializes in making small sculptures out of a single piece of cottonwood using only a pocketknife and an Exacto razor knife.  

We acquired the piece five years ago at an auction to benefit Santa Fe’s Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian.  Adding to the provenance was the fact that it had been donated to the auction by a prominent dealer, Lynn Fox who specialty is Native American pottery.  He told the Wheelwright that it dated from 1995, which was the height of realistic action Katsina figures.

So, here are three smiles in our home: one acquired directly from the artist; another from a trading post (for those not acquainted with the Southwest, read art dealer); and lastly at a charity auction.  If you are a collector, you seize opportunity wherever it presents itself.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Time: Redux

This is a Missive I sent out 9 years ago and the idea of time and patience is weighing on all of us.  How long until the elections, when can we take off our masks even what day is it today.  This is the story of how time and patience may pay off ...


Time is a subject that has always fascinated and tortured me.  Let’s get the latter over with first.  I have the curse of always being early or on time.  I am usually waiting for someone or am embarrassed by reaching someone’s house too early.  I am obsessive about deadlines no matter what they are.  I have always blamed this on my parents German background.  I remember being seriously late once (45 minutes) and my hosts were getting ready to call the police!  My father always said if people are usually late, once in a while they should also be early, but it is never that way. I realize now that this is because they use every minute at their disposal to accomplish something while I am standing on one foot waiting!

The corollary is a lack of patience that I also suffer from.  When our son was a child he was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and I realized that I have always suffered from the same problem which makes me a good multi-tasker but horrible in the patience department. We also learned, that there are always some things that such an individual can concentrate on.  In a child it may be video games: for me, it is art that I love.

For instance, some years ago we sold a drawing by Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940).  Since none of the players are alive anymore, I think that I can mention the names.  We acquired it from the Richard S. Davis Collection, a well-known collector and former director of the Minneapolis Museum of Art.   We sold it to another renowned collector, John Gaines.  When the latter decided to sell it in a public sale, the auction house told him that the expert who was writing the catalog raisonné did not recognize the drawing as by the artist.  John Gaines came back to me and, of course, I bought the drawing back.  Then I set to work.  I researched the provenance and learned that Richard Davis had acquired the drawing from a most reputable dealer in works on paper, Lucien Goldschmidt.  

The portrait was of Thadée Nathanson whom Vuillard and other artists of the Nabis school drew and painted.  The best-known images, however, are from around the time when Nathanson and his brother published the Revue Blanche (1891-1903), an arts journal of the time.  I then took the drawing out of its frame and saw that the sheet had been torn out of a sketchpad.  I sent all that I had found to the same expert that the auction house had been in touch with.  In due course, I received his expertise authenticating the work as by Vuillard, and the subject as Nathanson Because of the sitter’s obvious age in the drawing the date must be about 1930The auction houses get so much to deal with that they cannot always do what is necessary, but I was determined and invested the time and effort to prove my conviction of the drawing’s authenticity.

It is kind of exciting being an art detective and that is what the collector must do as well.  You want to know as much as possible about a work of art that you wish to acquire both before and after its acquisition.  Not just is the price right, though this is important, the more passionate a collector, the lower down it will be on your priority list.  After hitting the books and if possible, asking scholars for their opinion, you need to weigh the evidence and then you make the final decision. Usually, by repeating the process over and over again our decisions become better and more informed, but still, in matters of art, I have found that an investment of time pays off.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Enrichment Through Technology: Redux

Here is a Missive from 2010 that I believe we can relate to even more today ...

I hear from all sides the disparagement of technology, at the same time said individual turns on the microwave to heat up dinner and turns on the TV.

Nobody reads anymore. Then why are the Kindle and other electronic book readers doing so well?

Nobody writes letters anymore, then why do we produce millions of emails every day.

Some of us remember the Texaco broadcasts with Milton Cross on Saturday afternoons from the Metropolitan Opera. We had friends and relatives across the country who were glued to their radios to hear that week’s opera. So the concept of the simulcast is nothing new but it has gotten a lot better. Not only has video been added but it has been improved technologically and the cinematographer has learned how to use his/her camera to capture the essence of the theater experience; the feeling that you are participating in the original performance with the audience in the theater.

In the last decade, technology has brought the arts ever closer to us. The other night we went to the Lensic theater here in Santa Fe to see a Simulcast of Hamlet from The National Theater in London. It was a much-acclaimed new production and had received excellent reviews. It was, of course, not exactly a simulcast since I doubt that the play went from 2 AM to 6 AM in London but it was a film of the actual production that had taken place in London that evening. The next evening many went back to the Lensic to see a simulcast of Don Carlo from the Metropolitan Opera in New York. We see and hear the audience that is watching the production live as well giving us, even more, the feeling of participation in the actual event.

The next day we went to the inauguration of several new additions to the New Mexico Museum of Art’s website. To my surprise part of the pitch was that you can enjoy the museum without actually setting foot inside the door.

I must admit to having been a little shocked. Whenever I speak to classes or groups I tell them that they have to engage with the original work of art, that reproductions are no substitute. But I do not think that the museum director was suggesting that there is no longer a reason to go to actually go into the museum or the theater for that matter. Then I remembered when Barnes & Noble and Borders started putting coffee bars and reading areas allowing the visitors to linger and sample their wares. The result more people bought more.

Many of us do not have easy access to the original. We may be across the state, the country or in another country altogether. The Metropolitan Opera has a finite number of seats for a particular performance so even if you live across the street you might not be able to get a seat... not to mention that those seats are extremely expensive. Why shouldn’t the family in Timbuktu have access to the arts as well?

The website of the New Mexico Museum of Art offers much of the permanent collection online with a tasting from all their departments, only a fraction of which can be on view in the museum at any one time. Of course, the exhibitions that are showing at the museum are also on the site with images and teasers about forthcoming exhibitions. What I found the most innovative is the section called “New Mexico Art Tells New Mexico History”. Like all internet sites, this one is a work in progress but at the moment there is a section on ‘Ancestral Peoples’, ‘Opening of the West’, ‘Growing New Mexico’, and ‘People, Places and Politics’. This is a wonderful tool designed for use in New Mexico schools to supplement the social studies curriculum, but it can also serve the visitor new to New Mexico or new to an art museum. What a wonderful way for a parent or teacher to prepare a child for a visit. In turn, that child will have the background knowledge to make his or her own discoveries.

As technology improves it can bring the art experience closer to us and make the entry to the museum or theater all the more thrilling.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Autumn Color Redux

If you have been my friend for a while, you likely have heard stories twice ... here is a good one ...


We had been coming out to Santa Fe for about ten years when we decided to look for a house.  I remember saying to my wife that we had experienced this town for about three months of the year and how would we like it in other months. She assured me that I would love all but I was not totally convinced.

You have seen Missives that I have written in the winter months buried in snow, and we have enjoyed all the months so far, but this is the first October that I have been out here.

What a treat it has turned out to be! Now I am not what you would normally call a nature lover.  I do appreciate it, but I do not usually wax lyrical on the subject. But over the last two weeks in the Santa Fe area I have experienced a living work of art.

We live on a dry sandy riverbed, called in these parts, an arroyo.   At the moment it is awash in yellow flowers and looks absolutely lush.  The color comes from the chamisa which is not exactly a flower.  A clinical definition is “a saltbush, Atriplex canescens,  of the western U.S. and Mexico, having grayish, scurfy foliage”.  From that who would believe how beautiful it could be!  But just take a look at some of the images taken in front of our home.  You won’t be surprised to learn that our arroyo is known as Arroyo Chamisa and it runs for miles.

As beautiful as it can be, chamisa does have a downside.  Some people are extremely allergic to it and even leave town during the worst allergy seasons.  Though I have always had allergies and sneeze my head off on a regular basis, the chamisa, for me at least, does not add to the discomfort.

The beautiful color of the arroyo is not the only vibrant yellow that we see from our town.  When we look up into the mountains we see dense areas of yellow which we believed for years was just effects created by the incredible sunlight that has drawn artist to the area since the early 20th century. This year we discovered there is more to it than that.  We have forests of Aspen trees which all turn color at this time of year making the hills into a fairy tale.

Since we do not ski we have never visited the well-known ski basin of Santa Fe which is so popular in the winter months.  I thought that it was a long road trip miles above us.  It turns out that it is only 15 miles and though it is a winding mountain road we can get up close and personal with the aspens in just a little over 30 minutes.  So one day last week we got in the car and went up to Aspen Vista trail and walked into the mountains.

In this part of the world we dread wildfires, which are not infrequent, and the smell of smoke from the controlled fires, like that set by the Forestry Service the day before our walk, fills us with apprehension. Yet, we have learned that clearing the underbrush indirectly benefits the aspens. It allows the sun to shine on the saplings that grow in quickly, regenerating from sprouts. Since aspens need a lot of sun they are found on the side of the mountain that gets the most hours of exposure and that is the side we see from town. It was amazing how a short drive brought to life what had previously been no more than a backdrop to the city we live in.

I will return to New York next week for a month and leave this all behind. When I come back to Santa Fe there will be a new season and a new month to enjoy.