Sunday, December 27, 2020

The Frick Breuer

I must admit I do not miss a great deal about New York.  In old age I do not need to be doing something every second of every day.  In Santa Fe we have a number of museums and some are excellent in their niche fields such as The Georgia O’Keeffe or the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, but you are not going to find any Old Masters or European art.  For our fix we need to go to the big city and New York is one of the best.

We advise anyone going to the Metropolitan Museum to plan before they go and just pick one or two departments to visit.  If you try to see it all you will find when you leave that you have retained little.

For me the best museum from which I can retain the most is a small institution and if there is context it makes it even easier.  One of the best of this kind of institution is The Frick Collection In New York.  It is such a fixture in the New York art scene that it is easy to forget that it is essentially the creation of one man, Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919). chairman of the Carnegie Steel Company.  Being in the steel business he lived in Pittsburgh but in 1905 moved to New York where he built the mansion that is now the museum for 5 million dollars.  This would be about $155,000,000 in today’s dollars.  As my father would have said, “For some people their entire fortune!

Though he started late, in his 40’s, Frick became a great collector in an era when masterpieces of European art were readily available. There have been a number of renovations to his mansion on Fifth and 70th street but now, 85 years after its opening to the public, the entire collection has been moved out for a major updating and expansion of the building.

Where is the collection moving to you ask? Just 5 blocks away to the former Whitney Museum built by the architect, Marcel Breuer.  It would make no sense to try to recreate the rooms of the Frick in this cold, cold Brutalist building.  Instead, the Director and curators  are using this opportunity to present the collection in a new light, grouping works according to chronology and Nationality.

Last week I had the privilege of speaking with Ian Wardropper, who is approaching his tenth year as Director of the Frick, as he was touring what will be the Frick’s quarters for the next two years. We have known Ian for close to 50 years, from the time he was a, intern and then a Fellow at the Metropolitan, to heading the Art Institute of Chicago’s then sprawling department that ranged from European Sculpture to Egyptian antiquities, before coming back to the Met as head of the Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts. 

The installation in the Breuer building may be a shock to those who know and love the traditional installation in the Frick Mansion but there are advantages. For once their three Rembrandt’s will be together as will all their Spanish pictures. They will have a space to put all the panels of their Fragonard series on view. There will be one room with about a dozen pieces from their wonderful collection of French 18th century furniture and a similar number of pieces of Sèvres.

They are doing another ceramic room where East meets West where you will be able to see Chinese porcelain next to Japanese porcelain next to Meissen and Sèvres. That will be interesting since the European tradition in porcelain is born from a desire to imitate the Chinese.

When you move a work of art in a museum or in your own home your perspective changes and you notice things you never noticed before.  For some time, the attribution of one of my Favorite Rembrandts, “The Polish Rider” was being questioned.  Now you will be able to make up your own mind when you see three great Rembrandts next to each other.  

I am sure there will be those who think this temporary Breuer installation is far better for understanding individual works and there will be those, like me, who won’t be able to wait until the art goes back to where it belongs in the Frick Mansion. Either way, having this changed perspective will add to our understanding of the collection.

I will leave you with this, -- Ian told me there were only between 1400 and 1500 works of art in the entire Frick Collection, while at the Met his department alone had 60,000 pieces. Quality counts far more than numbers.  When the Frick Breuer opens early in the New Year, I urge you to go and let me know what you think. I will be jealous until I can travel again and see it for myself!

Sunday, December 20, 2020


According to my on-line dictionary an Anachronism is, “a thing belonging or appropriate to a period other than that in which it exists, especially a thing that is conspicuously old-fashioned.”  There may not be any younger people reading this but, if there are, then a dictionary is a book in which you can look up the definition of words!  Now you just click on your phone for this information.

Think of all the things that have hardly changed.  We don’t have to think about sitting in a chair or setting the table or how to use a knife and fork (of course Europeans do this differently from Americans).  The fly in the ointment is progress which today is mostly in technology.

Remember filling file drawers with maps from different parts of the world?  Today all you have to do is put your destination into Google Maps or a similar app and a nice voice will guide you to your destination.

Our house was built in 1989 and I recently noticed a wall jack next to the toilet. How many under the age of 25 know what this is for?  It is a jack for that old-fashioned telephone, the land line.  After all it was at one time the most convenient innovation that existed.  I guess the original owner of the house, could sit on the toilet with the phone on his lap and do his business (take that any way you want to!). Of course, that was probably a touch tone phone but who can remember using that piece of equipment that had a rotary dial?

Take a look at your library, do you still have the World Book or Encyclopedia Britannica?  When did you last use that? At home when I was young, we had the World Book which was simpler than the Britannica and it was about 10 feet from the apartment foyer in which we ate dinner so that it could be consulted when any question arose. I am ashamed to admit it but most of the time I was too lazy to use it.  Now I don’t even take volumes down from the shelves with Thieme Becker and Benezit (artists’ dictionaries).  I also hardly use the rest of our large library on art history.  No matter where I am, I am no distance at all from the answers on any topic because they are on my phone hanging from my hip!

In the 1990’s when we started to collect Native American Art my wife commissioned a wood carved Katsina sitting at the computer.  Remember those big contraptions.  Today we have laptops and tablets and phones which, all a lot smaller.

Across from my desk is a 12-foot set of shelves; 8 feet have my father’s classical long playing record collection and 4 feet of my theater, folk and calypso music.  Oh yes, for you youngsters they call those vinyl today.  Above that are 12 feet of cd’s, called disks, and in another part of the house a number of DVD’s.  Again, they are all anachronisms because it is all inside this box called the laptop, tablet or cell phone.

The English philosopher John Gray who focuses on the history of ideas has said, “The worst of progress is not that it is an illusion.  It is that it is endless.”

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Covid 19 - We Are The Lucky Ones

It all started on a Friday when my wife had the sniffles and a cough.  I had little doubt that she had a cold.  After all, Penelope, had been through two hip revisions and eight weeks of infusions and had not ventured out of the house except to go to the hospital.  However, our son, wife and one year old granddaughter were on their way, moving to Santa Fe, so Penelope became, in my opinion, a little paranoid and wanted a Covid test so we would not communicate the disease.  We called our primary doctor’s office and they told us we could get the test there, but it would take 4-7 days to get the results… well, the family would be here by then. When questioned they told us there was a faster way with 24-48hour results:  Our local hospital, Christus St. Vincent’s, had taken over a defunct Kwik Lube Station turning it into a ”Drive-thru Respiratory Collection Site”!

Making sure the hospital had received the required doctor’s order in advance, we drove over and found the new testing place right next to the Toyota oil change stop. Not only did they check us out on the list at the entrance, but from the car we had to call the hospital to reaffirm our doctor’s order.

We were then directed to wait on a line in front of one of three bays. Instead of a car rack on which to hoist the car there was a nurse with a hospital dolly and, after being asked all the questions yet again, my wife got the swab up the nose. 

I suggested that I get the test too, since if she had it, which I doubted, I too surely would.  It seems that it does not always work that way and, since there is a limited supply, I had to have symptoms.  By now you have guessed the results my wife tested positive and I got the symptoms, so I went through the same routine just two days later.  In my case, however, I first waited in line at the Toyota station and got a good laugh from the oil change mechanic when I told him my symptoms… oops went in one entrance too early!

Within a couple of days our primary care doctor called to see how we were doing and went through the CDC’s latest recommendations.  Also, as luck would have it because of her staph infection Penelope is still a hospital out-patient under the care of, Dr. Palestine, an infectious disease specialist who had been at the forefront in dealing with the Aids epidemic. In addition, she had made a friend of one of the main nurses for the infusion clinic who gave us wonderful advice and moral support. They all said the same thing, they hoped we had the lighter variety of the disease.  Until then I did not realize that even existed.  

Then more advice came.  There was a new program at the hospital just started two weeks earlier of Monoclonal Antibody Infusions.  Because of my wife’s condition and our age, Dr. Palenstine was able to get us in the program.  The treatment does not cure the disease, but it can lessen the seriousness of symptoms.  It involved a one-hour infusion and one hour of observation in spaces that had been hastily set up in the ER department.

The symptoms we have experienced imitate the flu or a bad cold but there are also chills, diarrhea, exhaustion, and loss of taste and smell.  As my kids would have said when they were little, “I feel “Yukky”!  What the doctors are most concerned about is breathing.  I am all for breathing!  Happily, though our oxygenation, which we can check with a little meter on the finger, has remained high. Our doctors have checked in on us by phone and a nurse from the hospital calls us daily to get our “vitals”, listen to our symptoms, and chart our progress.

Of primary interest to us is that Dr. Palestine confirmed that 10 days after our first symptoms we would no longer shed the virus and put others in danger.  If we would have had a severe case, additional days of isolation would be in order.  We have decided that 2 weeks will do it and we can hug our granddaughter again!

In the meantime, we are lucky indeed to have great medical care in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

The Kiss

I looked at two objects in our collection and though they were created about 100 years apart they stuck me as similar, having   a universal quality and meaning. Their common subject, The Kiss. The Kiss is found in many cultures though it might take on different forms.  When it is on the cheek that could have many meanings, but on the lips … It is surprising that it is rarely depicted.

The first, I have mentioned before so suffice it to say that it is a Katsina group carved by a Hopi artist Ros George around 1995 representing a clown and a fertility Katsina kissing.

The other is an Art Nouveau Inkwell with an intertwined couple kissing as they emerge from ocean waves.  It was created by a Czech Artist, Peter Tereszczuk (1875-1963).  He was an Austrian-Ukrainian sculptor working in Vienna who specialized in small bronzes in the Art Nouveau style. The piece in our collection is an inkwell signed and dated 1900.

Of course, when I said to myself, The Kiss, the most famous came to mind, the sculptures by August Rodin: The Kiss and Eternal Springtime. Both are known in several versions and countless replicas too familiar to illustrate.

Then there is the sculpture by Constantin Brancusi, 1916, limestone, in the Philadelphia Museum. The Romanian modernist sculptor was showing off his proto-cubist style.  I look at it as an introduction to abstraction.  The plaster for this piece was shown in the landmark 1913 Armory Show, of which he had already made several between 1907-1908.

The Art Nouveau period has always been one of my favorites and the greatest proponent in painting might very well be Gustav Klimt. Austrian symbolist painter (1862-1918).  He painted one of the more passionate kisses. The Belvedere Museum in Vienna owns the painting, and it is said that the museum bought the picture before the paint was dry between 1907 and 1908.  The following I have taken whole hog from a website

"The Kiss" is a ménage of different schools of art. The gold leaf hearkens back to such Byzantine artworks as the mosaics in the Church of San Vitale. The composition of the work reflects the influence of Japanese prints that was also evident in some earlier Impressionist paintings. The contrasting patterns of the two lovers' cloaks reflects the Arts and Crafts movement of the era and overall, Klimt imbued "The Kiss" with elements of his signature Art Nouveau style.” 

I shall finish with a most unusual kiss by Marc Chagall painted in 1915 shortly before the marriage of the artist and his beloved Bella.  I can understand being so in love that you are walking or, maybe, flying on air.  The painting is in the Museum of Modern Art.   Chagall’s muse, Bella, worked hard to discover when his birthday was in order to surprise him and he recorded the event maybe not from a strictly realistic point of view but over the next 23 years, nothing much had changed as you see from the additional photo!  What a wonderful fantasy!