Sunday, July 25, 2021

Pens With Customer Service

As we all know the world changes and the term “New and Improved” drives me crazy because as we get older, we often crave what we had in the past, e.g. I collect fountain pens.

I have written twice before about this passion of mine. In those postings in 2014 and 2016, which you can find by going to Missives from the Art World and putting Fountain Pens in the search box, I wrote about Santa Fe’s local pen shop, called as you would expect, Santa Fe Pens. I am happy to report it survived the Pandemic and is still functioning.

As I have learned different fountain pens write differently on different kinds of paper, and different nibs help you write differently, I started to collect more and more pens! As nice as Santa Fe Pens is they have a limited selection and I wanted to learn and see more.

A friend who also collects pens suggested that I focus on one area. I love wood so I particularly enjoy wood fountain pens and found online, Lanier pens. Jim Lanier is a wood worker who loves pens. From his home workshop in Washington state, he started a company in 2005 handmaking signature pens. He has a nice choice of different woods but in the end it is the same pen with a different shell. Aside from wood he answers any enquiries personally.

Still there are so many other types of pens that I cannot resist. Several pen stores have come to me through the post or email. One which had an incredible choice of pens was very unresponsive to me and gave me a hard time, so I forgot about it. Just like a bad meal at a restaurant you won’t go back to, although the chef may have changed three times in the interim.

Another email was from a pen store in Columbia, Maryland called appropriately enough “Pen Boutique”. It is both, small in size, and 20 miles from Baltimore … a far piece to go, just to look at pens, but through the internet I learned about the company owner, Leena Shrestha-Menon. In 2004, she had the idea to start a business in a field she was passionate about. … She just loved pens and found it was easy and enjoyable to speak to people about them. She was particularly fond of fountain pens which “glide on the paper”. According to Leena opening her shop, “was not as easy as I thought. Distributors were skeptical, mall management was not swayed by beautiful pens, and financiers thought I was out of my mind.” but she persevered

Leena says, and I believe her, that Pen Boutique’s most important asset is her belief in Customer Service. Once on the mailing list you will certainly get ads telling you about the newest hot pen or ink available, but you also will often see a personal story from Leena about her kids or an illness in the family. When she wrote that she was the victim of a hate crime, she got so many responses she could not handle them all and wrote a general thank you. I have asked her some personal questions a while back like, like where she was from, and learned that she is from Nepal. This is not just a hobby, and she is a businesswoman, so her emails often end, “Keep on Writing” with a selection of pens and ink etc. In this day and age, to feel so close to a business, particularly one online, is incredible. An email that came in recently: 

To prove again my point about Customer Service, I forgot which pens I had bought from Pen Boutique, I wrote, not having much hope of receiving an answer. But sure enough, and to my pleasant surprise, by that afternoon one of Leena’s employees sent me the list. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could have such a personal relationship with more businesses that we interact with? I believe it would make for a much more copacetic world.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

In Memoriam: Richard Brockway Stolley

Richard (Dick, as he was known) Stolley died on June 16. I considered him a close friend though I never even dined with him. I am honored to say he was a loyal fan of these Missives.

Richard Stolley at Time/Life Magazine, 1972
Photo: Neal Boenzi/The New York Times

I met Dick on the board of the Lensic Performing Arts Center in Santa Fe. He was a most self-effacing person and I only learned from others that he was the founding editor of ‘People Magazine’ which became one of the most successful publications in the country. According to The New York Times, it “changed the course of American publishing with its personality driven approach to Journalism I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to point out Facebook, Linked In, & Twitter are its internet age spinoffs.

Dick Stolley was with Time, Inc. for six decades . As a major writer for Life Magazine, he covered the Civil Rights movements of over a half a century ago. His greatest coup was acquiring for his magazine the Zapruder film of the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy (JFK). I remember the scramble of journalists to get ahold of those frames. How was I to know that over 50 years later I would be meeting that hero of the time.

Dick Stolley looking back

In an interview in the 1970’s he said “pretty sells better than ugly, young sells better than old, movies sells better than TV, TV sells better than sports and anything sells better than politics.” Unfortunately, I fear the last is no longer true.

In 2019 I wrote a Missive about an interview I had with Dick, with other anecdotes.

I have been writing these Missives for about 12 years now and, of course, I love it when people write to say they enjoyed this or that Missive but when someone of Dick’s stature with his background tells me he likes my writing, for me, it validates my efforts.

Unfortunately, in his last few years he moved to a retirement home in the Midwest, so our conversations were left to email. He replied to most of my Missives on Monday morning with just simple statements. I wrote in one Missive that my wife, an art historian, did not agree with me on a matter. His reply was, “Art in America is more powerful because experts like you and your wife do NOT agree!!!”

I told Dick once that my wife edited my blog and then I sometimes reedited it. His reply “more to the editorial point, to the rewrite belongs the victor!”

I do hope many of my readers can identify with his greatest compliment to me, “This gave me something to do and enjoy for 20 minutes, thus relieving my boredom for a change, and I am jammed with gratitude! Merci bien, Dick.”

Sunday, July 11, 2021

The Kids Have Arrived

For 4 days at the end of June we had 3 children and 3 grandchildren with us: An embarrassment of riches. Unfortunately, as much as New Mexico needs it we had rain showers and storms during that time interrupting many of our activities.

What is the substitute for actually doing something? You probably guessed it … eating. I am justifying this segway in my Missives under the rubric, the Art of Food.

The first night our son, Hunter hosted an outdoor barbecue, grilling delicious hamburgers and cheeseburgers and his wife, Mallory, prepared all kinds of sides, guacamole, chips, salsa and salad. The next night we went to El Farol, a tapas restaurant. During the pandemic they built a large patio behind the old restaurant and even had a fountain set in with a crane, which our 20-month-old granddaughter adored and kept running around it.

As you probably know in Spanish cuisine tapas are small dishes, so everyone shares and passes them around. In the end it turns out that you eat a lot more food than if you had just one main plate! The good news ... it was all delicious.

I won’t do any other restaurant reviews, but we ate out for a couple of other lunches and dinners. The last night that we were all together was a bit mysterious. I was told it had to do with my Father’s Day present and that was it. All I could think was what other restaurant could we be going to and why was that a gift for me.

Again, we had rain and spent much of the day inside and during the afternoon there was much discussion of a promised delivery. The later it got the more urgent everyone felt it was, by then I realized it was dinner that was coming. When I learned delivery had been guaranteed before 7pm, I went on about how a shipment I had been told “was on the truck for delivery” and had ostensibly sat on that truck for 3 days before it arrived. Adding to the urgency was the baby’s bedtime that had to be kept in mind. Everyone got nervous enough that my wife and daughter went to the corner store and brought back three roasted chickens and a large salad. My daughter set to work on cutting it up and making a lovely platter. But the chicken dinner that was not to be. 

As soon as they finished the doorbell rang and the delivery was made at 6:30pm.

It turned out to be a Sushi dinner … I LOVE sushi. The twist was that it was”DIY”, Do it yourself sushi! In other words, the rice, seaweed wrap, and fish all came separately with some instructions and an online video, which no one watched.

This was a gift from my older son and daughter, and it came from Blue Ribbon Sushi in New York via the website Goldbelly. That is the equivalent of long distance Grubhub or Doordash. The large box that came had ice inside guaranteed to last for 48 hours or more.

The kids got started. My older son, Dan, heated fried crispy rice in a pan. Then all got together to create a sushi platter Here is my granddaughter, Lucy, preparing a spicy tuna roll and “experienced” hands of my son Dan. 

I could take it easy since it was my present! In truth, I wouldn’t have had a clue how to do it and did not realize that my kids were so expert.

It was an incredible feast with tuna, spicy tuna, salmon, scallops, and shrimp and . soy sauce, wasabi and ginger also included. Here is the beautiful and tasty result. 

We finished every last bit of it. What a Father’s Day present!

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Inspired to be Collectors

Starting where I left off in my last Missive: “Art could never be commercially explained. Why do people fall in love with a piece of art. Unfortunately, in recent times some think of it as investment or fill in the blanks like a stamp collection, but most people still buy for the thrill of discovery and love of the work.”

Since I closed my gallery in New York in 2014 I have called myself an art consultant. Not that I am averse to my former profession and, every once in a while, might sell something! Most of the time, however, I simply encourage people to love art and collecting. This Missive is a prime example.

I guess I should be charging for these consults but since I do not depend on them to eat, I often do it without charge. I believe the one advantage to growing old is all the experience and knowledge we have gained along the way.

Here in Santa Fe, I have a very small office in a small office building. You can imagine my surprise, or possibly not, when a very beautiful woman, a model, came in and sat down opposite me. She was just coming through Santa Fe with a group focused on its art and especially the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and the artist’s home.

She had seen my name possibly from “Missives from the Art World” or the provenance in an auction catalog and mistakenly thought I had a gallery here. I had disabused her of that thought before she arrived, but she wanted to see me anyway. She had bought some paintings in a sale from a former clients of ours, Jayne and Charles Wrightsman. Charles died some time ago but Jayne lived on to 2019 as a powerful trustee of the Metropolitan Museum. She left most of the art in their homes to the Metropolitan but some of what remained, possibly pieces that were already duplicated in the Met, went to auction.

Jayne Wrightsman
(Cecil Beaton/Condé Nast, via Getty Images)

My visitor was a new collector who wanted to learn more about Mrs. Wrightsman and the art world. She asked a very intelligent question, which few ask “Can you recommend some books from which I could learn more.” I was thrilled, here was an individual who wanted to get involved in an area that she clearly had not been able to spend much time studying being very busy with her career.

Another great experience I have had in recent months was contact with a lawyer who is in my children’s age group, and lives in Valentine, Nebraska. Was there really a town by that name? Well, it seems it is very popular around the time of a holiday by the same name as people can send cards with the Valentine post office stamp on their envelopes. My new friend had found me on the web and was interested in the same collector as the model. He turned out to be seriously interested in French 18th century decorative arts, the field in which my gallery had been preeminent. I could not believe it. He was also intrigued by many other kinds of older art, and we began corresponding about the art world. He had particularly enjoyed my missives on the clients we have had over the years. So, to make what has become a very long story short, I have a pen pal and we correspond on a regular basis about art, auction sales and other related subjects.

I am going to end with a story I recently saw online about a couple who live in another small town, Minot, North Dakota. What sparked their interest in art in the first place I have no idea but a trip to a New York art fair sold them on collecting. In my opinion they did everything right learning from the most qualified dealers in vetted art fairs and going on from there. Read their story and let me know what you think.

Mentorship is the most rewarding endeavor whether you give it or take it. Not sure if you would think of it In that way, but after collecting Native American art for about 30 years there is so much that I do not fully comprehend about Native American life and culture, and I am so excited to have a few Native Americans in Santa Fe who are willing to teach me as we go along.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

What’s It Worth?

These days before starting a new Missive I have to look whether I have written on the same subject before. When I searched for this title, I found I had but you probably don’t remember, because it was about 550 Missives ago in 2010. At that time, I was speaking of quality and discussing a French 18th century console table. 

This time it is about paintings and the market in general. Since I do not believe in buying art as investment, I have not been paying enough attention to the incredible prices that some art brings.

In 1962 the Louvre had to find a value at which to insure the Mona Lisa, said to be the most valuable painting in the world. The value that was put on it at the time was an unprecedented 100 million dollars. Why? I would say because of all the hype, that has surrounded it after it had been stolen in 1911. There is now a new kind of bullet proof glass which it hides behind in a gallery where a nearby Titian and Veronese are ignored by hordes of visitors.

In 2017, however, a painting attributed in whole or in part to Leonardo after having long been thought of as a copy and dating from the first decade of the sixteenth century brought a bit over 450 million dollars. I will be honest with you, if you had asked me whether to buy this painting, I would have advised against it considering that if it was doubted before it might fall into doubt again.

If you want to feel a bit better about this figure, with inflation the 1962 valuation of the Mona Lisa would be the equivalent of $860 million today. I am sure that is part of the issue. Today people figure the net worth of a work of at in percentage related to inflation … but how many people can afford that kind of money? Not many, and that is why the art world is thought of as elitist. 

Back to prices. For part of my wife, Penelope’s career at the Met, she worked in the 20th Century Department, at the time, directed by Henry Gelzahler. He was described by New York Magazine as, ‘the most powerful and controversial art curator alive’. He was also the darling of all the artists. He spoke to Andy Warhol every day and Arnold Newman photographed him at home. 

David Hockney solidified his reputation as a great artist with his painting of Henry Geldzahler and his significant other, Christopher Scott (1969). Not the other way around as some people think. The painting, however, never belonged to Henry and Christopher but in 2019 it brought £37,661,250 or $49,557,100 at Christies, London. Why? Because it was a watershed moment for Hockney and Henry who had become a very important personage in the formation of the New York style. 

What is most astounding is that this painting was at the bottom of the list of the ten most expensive ten paintings sold that year. Of course, iconic names topped the list such as Monet, Koons (could have fooled me), Rauschenberg whose painting does include an image of JFK, also Cezanne, Picasso and Warhol.

On the National Day of Reflection in the UK, Banksy's “Game Changer” sold for £16,758,000 having had an estimate of “only” £2,500,000 5o 3,5000,000. The painting appeared at University Hospital, Southampton, England after the first wave of Covid-19. It appeared with this note, ‘Thanks for all you’re doing. I hope this brightens the place up a bit, even if it’s only black and white.”
After 10 months Banksy donated it to Southampton’s Hospital Charity which put it up for auction. The proceeds are to be used to support the wellbeing of University Hospital staff and patients as well as benefiting associated health organizations across the United Kingdom.

Banksy is the “Nom de plume” for a street artist whose work has appeared on buildings and other publicly visible surfaces including self-built physical prop pieces. Though never identified for sure his biography goes on for pages on Wikipedia! So why did that painting bring a fortune? Surely all the publicity his work has gained over the years has helped. His work is popular, his prints have sold very well and, particularly this past year, people want to support the good works of the medical community. 

Art could never be commercially explained. Why do people fall in love with apiece of art. Unfortunately, in recent times some think of it as investment or fill in the blanks like a stamp collection but most people still buy for the thrill of discovery and love of the work.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

The Designer

For the past 12 years since I started Missives from the Art World, my wife has been my editor and we are still married after 45 years! In my last blog on “The Packaged Show” I left out one word that was vital, and she wrote it in! That word was, “Designer”. 

What brought this home was an obituary in the New York Times about Stuart Silver, who was a museum designer who began his career as a designer at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. He was suddenly promoted from making signs and posters to head of the Design Department. The person who promoted him was the innovative director of the Museum at the time, Tom Hoving ...

Silver is best known for his design of the block buster “Treasures of Tutankhamen” which was a travelling exhibition as discussed in my last Missive presented at the Met in 1978. As usual one individual, Stuart Silver, received all the credit. Obviously, the head of a group does not do all the things she or he is given credit for. In this case another young designer in the Met department had originated the Tut entrance concept and continued working out the problems of numerous other blockbusters for Stuart: his name is Clifford LaFontaine. I saw his genius in the one museum exhibition where I curated with my wife called “The Grand Gallery” at the Met 1974-1975. When he went on to become an independent designer my wife subsequently worked with him on exhibitions for other museums and I enlisted him to create installations in our gallery.

As we have remained close friends over the years, I wrote to Clifford about this Missive, and he reminded me to include the critical importance of lighting as it could make or break an exhibition. The genius in that area he developed for Met blockbusters was Lamar Terry, another individual who got no credit for his role which revolutionized how works of art were lit. Penelope called him, “The Prince of Darkness” because before there can be light there is none. To quote Clifford, “He made everyone else, at least, look as smart as they thought they were” which certainly could be said of Clifford as well.

You might not have thought of something Clifford brought up as critical in exhibition design, and that is money. The designer has a budget within which they must remain. In order not to waste money there must also be a comprehensive and detailed plan for the concept and placement of every work otherwise, staff time will be wasted which adds to the cost.

Clifford also stressed that for an exhibition to be considered a success the entry to the show must be enticing and the exit must be memorable. Here is what the New York Times wrote about the Tutankhamen design in the obituary for Stuart Silver “He put visitors in the position of questing archaeologists. They began by walking up a staircase leading to a photo mural of the gloomy entrance to King Tut’s tomb in Egypt. The first gallery was bathed in darkness, recreating a cryptlike atmosphere. Each object in the show appeared in the order in which it had been removed from the tomb.” How much more exciting is that than just putting objects in vitrines.

But let’s look at a much simpler situation, if you wish to exhibit a collection of Mark Rothko’s then the most basic decision is important. What color do you paint the walls? If you put a Rothko on a white or black wall it will pop but if you put it on a green wall it will counteract the effect of Rothko’s very subtle colors.

Here again lighting becomes vital to the installation. My wife recalls struggling to light a Rothko with a series of large abstract paintings by other artists in an exhibition at the Met. After lighting the other canvases, she finally hit upon using just ambient light to allow the Rothko’s colors to softly vibrate.

At the Tate Modern an installation called “Inner Space” is an example of an exhibition playing one Rothko against another and giving visitors a chance to absorb the variations in the artist’s vocabulary.

Photo by David Silltoe for the Guardian

At the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam with the title, “Rothko and Me”. A visitor could become immersed in a single Rothko alone in an intimate setting.

It is amazing how the installation can make a show with the same objects a success in one venue and a failure in another.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

The Packaged Exhibition

I presume all those who bother to read my Missives have gone to special exhibitions at art museums, but have you thought about how they came about?

Often, they are exhibitions brought together from the museums own holdings, possibly a newly acquired work or collection that the museum wishes to feature.

Then there are the shows that are put together from scratch where a single curator or a group of curators or the Director come up with an idea and with the permission of the Director, they scour museums here and abroad in order to find the works that cover their desired theme. The next question is will they be able to get the works lent? They generally seek partner venues to share the expenses.

Today, however, I wish to speak of the packaged or traveling exhibition. This show was not organized by the exhibiting institution but by another entity. There are a few companies that still put exhibitions together and offer them for a rental fee to smaller institutions lacking the resources to originate shows.

Larger institutions wish to show off their collection and put it on the road. This can be a considerable source of income as well as bragging rights, earning publicity for the institution. A prime example is The Barnes Collection founded in 1922, and when it realized its declining finances in the 1990’s began a world tour charging huge rental fees to create an endowment while controversy raged over its eventual disposition.

The Barnes Collection

More recently the wildly popular Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera and Mexican Modernists exhibition from the Gelman Collection in Mexico City arrived at the Albuquerque Art Museum after having been on the road for many years. An exhibition with such popular artists is a boon to the venue bringing in an increased number of visitors. However, funds must be raised in advance as additional ticketing income rarely covers the costs of an exhibition fee plus considerable expenses in relation to shipping, insurance, installation, publicity and staff time.

Diego and Frida

What does the curator on the receiving end do before all the objects arrive? Here is where the creativity comes in. The curator will work with a designer to make the works fit to best advantage in the venue space and convey to visitors the point of the show.

The curator may choose to organize the works chronologically so that the visitor can see a timeline and see how styles might change. Artists develop over time and their styles change along with the years. The curator might also like the idea of comparison for instance taking works from the French Royal Porcelain Factory of S«evres with the German Royal factory of Meissen. The former would be in soft paste porcelain where the color melts into the material and the latter in hard paste where the color stands on top of the ceramic. These would also speak to the sensibility of their time and place. The venue curator can also write label copy to bring home their interpretation to their audience.



Another possibility is to add to the exhibition. Museums may agree to partner on an exhibition because they have related works in their permanent collection. That not only enriches the visitor experience but shows off and validates the museum collection. It might also be an opportunity to bring in related loans. The Albuquerque Museum decided to add photographs of Kahlo and Rivera to show with the paintings and drawings from the Gelman collection and did a complimentary exhibit of prints as well.

This is only a marginal gloss on a subject to which a number of books could be written. Each exhibition has its own issues. Although curators have to work with what they are given, viewing the same exhibition in more than one museum reveals the significance of the role of the curator at each venue.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Donating to a Museum

Donating art is not as simple as you think, and it can get downright difficult. What do you wish to donate? Oh, the painting your grandmother made on her vacation in Europe. If your grandmother was not a known artist, do you think that anyone aside from you or your parents would want to come to see it? 

Let’s say, however, you have a French 18th century painting by a famous artist such as Fragonard, obviously neither the Crystal Bridges Museum nor the Amon Carter would be interested as they collect only American Art. My point being you need to find an institution where it would enhance their collection and one that does not already have ten superior examples in order to have your donation accepted by the institution.

Well, finally you do find such a museum in, shall we say, Nowheresville, USA. In fact, it is the National Museum of Nowheresville, and this is just what they were looking for. What happens, however, if a billionaire from Nowheresville subsequently leaves a bequest of ten Fragonards and sadly your picture becomes inferior and redundant. Do you care that the picture that has come down through your family for three generations is going to be put on the auction block? All will see that the painting your grandparents treasured is being rejected from where you hoped it would reside in perpetuity. Why didn’t you think of donating your painting with the stipulation that it could not be sold? Works of art have been donated in that manner by a number of collectors, but increasingly museums negotiate an agreement to keep the work in the collection for a certain number of years. Don’t forget to discuss whether you wish your art work’s label to say, “Given by with your name” or “Given by you in honor of your grandmother.”

Congratulations, your painting was accepted under your conditions but what you cannot do, is guarantee that it will always be on exhibition, and it may very well be put in storage. You probably can request that the picture be up for a certain amount of time after the donation but that is probably all you can guarantee. If, however, you are giving a Leonardo da Vinci or a whole collection that you want shown together then you will have greater leverage in your negotiations. This was the case with the Jack and Belle Linsky collection of Old Master paintings and European decorative arts donated to the Metropolitan Museum 1982 on condition that it be permanently shown together in a series of dedicated galleries. Fortunately, there was no prohibition on changes in attribution as the centerpiece of the Linsky Galleries, the famed Rospigliosi cup, was eventually downgraded from a Renaissance masterpiece by Benvernuto Cellini to a copy by the 19th century goldsmith Reinhold Vasters. It is now labelled as such, though it still occupies its position of honor.

These issues can get so complicated that you may very well require a lawyer, not to mention an accountant but I will come to that in a moment. You are effectively drawing up a contract with the museum which has financial consequences … or you may not care and just sign the papers the institution gives you.

If you don’t live anywhere near Nowheresville, I hope you remembered to discuss with the museum as to who is paying for packing, shipping and insurance in transit. The museum registrar usually makes the arrangements, but it may be left to you.

Hopefully, the negotiations go smoothly and both sides are pleased with the result. If it is a valuable work of art, however, you will probably want the tax deduction that goes with its donation. Once upon a time, you could pretty much claim any reasonable value and it would be accepted. However, after too many donors took advantage of this ability, the IRS started to require professionals who had to get a degree as appraisers to write an extensive report with details of how they came to their conclusions. This includes the condition, history of the work, publications it might have appeared in as well as corroborating auction sale records, art dealer sales and any other backup they can supply. As you can imagine this time-consuming service is not inexpensive and the donor must pay the cost. This is the actual tax form the appraiser must also submit.

I have not gone too far into the weeds here and I am sure I have left out many permutations of gift giving. As usual just trying to get my readers to think about the ramifications and results of a situation. Also, I am certainly not trying to discourage making contributions to our cultural institutions but only wish to show that it takes some forethought before doing so.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

A Park on the Water

It is amazing how a project can allude you until it is actually realized. In this case it is in my hometown, New York ... a park has been built in the Hudson River ... yes, actually in the river!

When I was young in the 50’s I went to Europe by ship and we left and docked at the West Side Piers on the Hudson River. There were always people on the dock waiving with handkerchiefs either good-byes or welcoming friends and family. Of course, from the 60’s on I flew and never thought about what happened to those unused piers.

For the past two decades there have been various projects to revitalize this neglected part of Manhattan Island with recreational sites under the auspices of the Hudson River Park Trust.

Little Island, however, is different. It was conceived in 2014 to replace Pier 54 on Manhattans’ West Side near 13th Street. Typical of such a venture the estimated cost of $35 million skyrocketed to $260 million. The project was funded by Barry Diller former CEO of 20th Century Fox and his wife, fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, two marquee names. Of course, no good deed goes unpunished and as so often happens a mega real estate individual threw several legal challenges in its path. Diller, disgusted with the delay, and probably the lack of appreciation for his efforts, bowed out. Enter the Governor of New York, Andrew M. Cuomo, who brokered a deal between the billionaires so the project could move forward.

The island was designed by Thomas Heatherwick who has done another project on the Hudson. Let him spend 2 minutes telling you about the Little Island project.

The approximately two-and-a-half-acre plot stands out among all the rest because it has been built on what are known as “tulip pots”, pilings of different heights so the paths of the park can wind around hills. Michael Kimmelman wrote in the New York Times, it is, “in the theatrical vein of 18th century English garden follies – not least because Little Island can remind you more of a private estate than a city park.”

To reach most islands you need a floating craft of some sort but to reach Little Island you can take one of two footbridges.

The plantings trees, flowers and grass are clearly outstanding and there is an outdoor amphitheater that seats 687 with sunset views as well as a smaller space for more intimate performances. There is also plenty to entertain the kids. Considering what a draw this new space will be there will be timed reservations required from ages 3 and up, which can be made 4 weeks in advance. If you booked tickets for a performance, you can spend the day at the park. The park will only be closed for 5 hours a day 
meaning that it is open from 6am to 1am!

For the next twenty years Diller has committed his family foundation to paying to keep Little Island in the same shape as it is in its opening this month. Hopefully, the city will find the funding to maintain it long after that. It is certainly a destination I look forward to visiting.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Has Political Correctness Gone Too Far?

In response to my Missive “Ethics and Philanthropy" ...

A friend wrote, “At what stage of infamy do you reject gifts? If made anonymously, that is that you will not be celebrating the donor with a name on a wall or some such, would that make a difference?”

The dictionary definition of Political Correctness is, “the avoidance, often considered as taken to extremes, of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.”

From that definition I believe it has been taken to an extreme. Why? If we try to make up for lost time by making sure our Boards of Directors are diverse and our museums have a serious selection of art from formerly ignored other cultures and we continue to make up for our errors of the past these actions are positive. But we should not collect trustees, artists or any other category just because they are of another culture, they need to be qualified otherwise we have defeated the purpose of diversity, and all will be ill served. It also makes no sense to me to eliminate history in the process for then we will just have dismissed the past and not stood up to it.

I recently read the following in a notice from a Bard Graduate Center Bulletin: “Jonathan Michael Square will present his research on Brooks Brothers’ connections to slavery. Brooks Brothers was founded in 1818 and, in the first few decades of its operation, provided merchandise to elite gentlemen as well as livery for their domestics. Some of those domestics were enslaved people. In this talk, Square will use two Brooks Brothers coats worn by enslaved men as a point of departure to explore the history of this “heritage” brand.” Are we now trying to denigrate the men’s store that went into bankruptcy a few years ago? To what purpose?

I sent the Bard announcement to a female friend abroad who replied, “This really takes the cake. I mean, REALLY! Will they, then, blame shoemakers who shod the “enslaved persons”? And right down the line? Passemanterie makers who produced the braid on their liveries? Brooks Bros. also made Abraham Lincoln’s clothes (and the Kennedys’, and Andy Warhol, et al. and some Northern Civil War generals. Every man in my life swore by Brooks Bros., even if none dressed exclusively there.

I guess I will never get my name on a gallery because I bought my underwear, pajamas and suits from them for many years. Originally, on the advice (insistence) from my ex-mother-in-law!

A positive side of Political Correctness was recently demonstrated by the Metropolitan Museum in recognition of a lost fact of history they announced: “Met Installs Plaque Honoring Lenape People – The Metropolitan Museum of Art has installed a bronze plaque on its Fifth Avenue facade to honor and recognize the Lenape, the Indigenous people who owned the land on which the museum sits. Recognizing that it is in the homeland of the Lenape diaspora, Lenapehoking, it reads: “We respectfully acknowledge and honor all Indigenous communities—past, present, and future—for their ongoing and fundamental relationships to the region."

“The Lenape tribe is known for their Native American beadwork and basketry products. Like other eastern Native Americans, the Leni Lenape also crafted wampum out of white and purple shell beads. This beadwork was originally culturally important as adornment, but it became used as a means of trade with Europeans.”

“Wampum beads were traded as a kind of currency.” Does that sound familiar? Bitcoin, a few hundred years later?

Hope I have left you thinking!

Sunday, May 16, 2021

How Should I Collect?

This is a follow up to a Missive I wrote almost a dozen years ago. In fact, it was one of my first and it was titled, “What Should I Collect?”

You may be thinking, what’s the difference?  The difference is, once you have decided, what kind of art you want to collect, what are your goals in building your collection. If your interest lies in photography, do you wish to acquire Black and White photography or Color or both.  Do you want to concentrate on still lives, landscapes or portraits?  Are you concerned about how many images are in the edition?  Possibly, if the artist is well known and for one photo of which she only made ten prints. It might or might not be worth more than the one where she made hundred  prints. Is rarity important to you or is it the image or the photographer?

Oh, did you say it was for investment.  This is what I tell everyone to stay away from, yet many do it anyway.  We have collected in many fields where, by the time we were ready to sell, the value went down.  If you insist, however, you need to figure out (or is it guess) which artists will be remembered 25, 50 or 100 years from now.  Of course, Picasso comes to mind. In London recently the art market decalred “Picasso week”. It was  led by an auction sale and art dealers pulled out whatever they might have that related to the artist.  However, I consigned a Picasso drawing to a friend in London and after that week it still sits where it was! A family friend gave a Picasso ceramic plate to my wife and some years ago I looked it up and saw another version had brought $16,000!  I am sure it originally cost a few hundred.  But that is only for that specific artist and that specific plate.

Picasso working on one of his ceramic plates

Are you trying to collect a complete set? I just read a book by Leonard Lauder, eldest son of Estée Lauder. Leonard ran  the cosmetic company for many years. In the book he said he felt strongly that he had to collect the entire history of Cubism and he searched high and low for what he felt he needed to do so.  He did not bargain.  He could afford to buy what he wanted and did.  He finally donated the collection to the Metropolitan Museum where his concerted effort to acquire a chronological history of the period with noteworthy works of art by well-known artists were of particular value. 

Then do you want to collect only at auction, or at art fairs or from art dealers? From my point of view, you start at art fairs where you can get a taste of a little bit of everything and find dealers that you would feel comfortable with.  Then you visit the dealer in his or her gallery where they have more time to talk to you.  A collector once said to me it is the only place of business that you can walk into, where the owner will take a long time to talk with you and it won’t cost you a cent.  I also read that one dealer gave his prospective client a reading list!  When you have enough confidence in your knowledge of the field you wish to collect, only then venture into the art casino known as the auction house.

The European Fine Arts Fair 2019

Then, of course, comes the big moment.  You take the plunge and believe me it is scary!  You suddenly think, “What have I done?” Why did I spend this money on a piece of paper, canvas, or piece of wood etc.  I have probably told this story before, but it is pertinent here.  The first photographs I ever bought were a pair of still lifes by Edward Weston, a very important artist.  The dealer who we bought it from, Lee Witkin, a preeminant dealer of his time, believed that the important part of a photo purchase was the image.  Coming from a different art world we believed it had to be totally original.  The two still life photographs  we acquired were images  taken by Edward Weston but printed by his son Cole, a serious photographer in his own right. Still the images were most enjoyable and we kept them until the entire collection had to go.  Though we made a small profit in the intervening fifty  years, they did not bring nearly as much if the had been printed by Edward Weston.

My wife and I have been able to work together and make “discoveries” that we enjoyed for many years and learned a lot in the process. Collecting for us has been a very rewarding experience.  

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Ethics and Philanthropy

As my mother often said, “In former times”, I now find myself using the expression frequently meaning, in our world before the Pandemic.  Many of my ideas of what to write about were instigated by an active art market and museum exhibitions usually viewed first-hand. Today, it is often an idea from a family member or something I have recently read about.

 “Woke” is a recent addition to our dictionary.  It is no longer the past tense of wake but rather, a term that refers to awareness of issues that concern social and racial justice. A laudable thought indeed, particularly in the case of “Black Lives Matter” where, I believe, the term originated.  But now it has spread, for one thing, to eliminating history.  I am against removing statues of our historic leaders including one of my childhood heroes.  I grew up believing Robert E. Lee to be a hero because he was an honorable soldier in the service of his people, even if his cause was not what I was taught to believe in.  If we destroy our past, how can we possibly learn to save our future. 

One area of our culture that has, so far, preserved our past is our museums.

Which brings me to the latest “Woke” subject, --the “atrocities” of high net individuals on the Boards of Directors of our art museums. No one is perfect and some are even less perfect than others. We cannot expect that only people we all approve of will support our museums.  As it says in the bible, “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.”  Do we judge every prospective donor to a museum on moral grounds and turn them away if we do not like the way they earned their money?  

Depending on your politics, it is for better or for worse that our government does not fund our cultural institutions.  Therefore, someone of means must, or they will no longer exist.  Miss Frick, as she was always known (Helen Clay Frick daughter of Henry Clay Frick), after I found precisely the work of art by the artist she had requested. The message was relayed the to me, “Though it was exactly what she was looking for, I am afraid, Mr. Stiebel, that Miss Frick will never purchase anything that had belonged to the Vanderbilt’s.”  She could afford to say that our museums cannot. (For this and a couple of other stories about Miss Frick please visit,

The Museum of Modern Art is now under siege for having Leon Black, co-founder and former-CEO of Apollo Global Management, tainted by his association with Jeffrey Epstein, on their board.  He has stepped down as board chair and we are yet to find out whether he resigned his purse as well.  Where should the money and collections come from?

A new book on the Sackler family, “Empire of Pain” by Patrick Radden Keefe, details a complicated deal a former Director of the Metropolitan Museum, James Rorimer, made with the pharmaceutical mogul Arthur Sackler, well before OxyContin was created.  Sackler bought Asian works from the Museum’s own collection and then donated them back in order to have his name as their donor on the Museum wing named for the family, The Sackler Wing.  Moreover, he was given his own private enclave in the Museum to store his personal collection of Asian art in the hopes that it would be left to the Met someday.  My wife, when she was a curator at the Met worked with collections in three different departments storage areas and had a key to open most of the doors in the Museum but if the elevator stopped at the “Sackler” floor the key was useless. No Museum staff had access.  A couple of directors down the line and the bond was broken with mutual disdain and the Sackler collection went elsewhere.

So, was Rorimer right or wrong?  I am sure that if the museum had gained what was considered the most important collection in the field, he would be hailed as a visionary, but the bet did not pan out. Any leader has to take chances and if his or her successes are more fruitful than their failures, they are praised long after they are gone. In this case, Rorimer’s successes far outstripped his failures.

In 2019, bowing to pressure on account of the OxyContin scandal, the Met agreed to turn down future funds from the Sackler family but decided not to change the name of the Sackler Wing.  Mind you this was before the Museum had to close because of the pandemic.  Would they have decided differently if they had been able to predict the financial crunch of the following year?  Was it a right decision for the Met?  Could a poorer institution afford to make the same decision?  How would you decide these very thorny issues?

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Street Food

This idea all started as a joke.  Our son, Hunter, and his family moved to Santa Fe recently and he and his wife were interested in trying out the many food trucks in Santa Fe.  So, I emailed him some locations and then wrote about my car difficulties.  He replied, “I think the cart food topic is more interesting than the SUV for a blog!” I thought about it and, after all, cuisine as an art form.

Looking online I found out that mobile dining and street food have existed in this country since the late 17th century and could be found first in larger cities on the East Coast.  I grew up in New York City and while I can remember food that you could grab from an indoor vendor in a train station, at the airport or an outdoor sports arena but the only street vendors I can remember were the small ice cream push- carts and, of course, the traditional New York hot dog vendors.

I learned that already in 1691 New York City, then New Amsterdam, started regulating street vendors selling food from push carts. In 1866 Charles Goodnight invented the chuck wagon which fed cattlemen and wagon trains traversing the old West.

Good Humor vending trucks started in the 1920’s, Back, in the 1950’s I do remember, The Good Humor Man, but not in my neighborhood!

As we all know things move faster in the twenty-first century. Early on Portland Oregon became known for its varied food truck cuisine. By 2008 you could find such delicacies as Asian-infused tacos on the streets of Los Angeles. By 2010 you had the Southern California Mobile Food Vendors Association and in 2014 a National Food Truck Association.  Who knew?

In 2012 you could purchase a book called “Running a Food Truck for Dummies”!  I do find that a bit scary, but it shows how far we have “progressed” since the chuck wagon.

Enough of the Past.  Santa Fe has some of the best restaurants I have ever been to and in many of those with an international bent where the chef is from the country where the cuisine originated.  Even so we have growing number of food trucks, but I have never seen an ice cream cart!  At different locations several trucks feature Mexican cuisine. At the end of the Old Santa Fe Trail in a former parking lot are 5 different trucks, one with tacos, another with coffee and donuts and yet another with some of the best barbecue I have had anywhere.  To my surprise there is now even one with an Italian menu, Fettucine Alfredo, anyone?

I had joked with my son that if I tested and reviewed them all I would have a massive stomachache.  Looking it up online I found that according to Yelp there are 42 food trucks in Santa Fe, but I suspect that that does not account for the itinerant ones. Therefore, I decided not to attempt it!  Maybe another time.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Musings on an Exhibition

We just made our first trip out of Santa Fe in a year plus.  Our journey was a mere hour drive to the Albuquerque Museum to see, “Frida Kahlo – Diego Rivera & Mexican Modernism – From the Collection of Jacques & Natasha Gelman”.

In one carnation or another the Gelman exhibition has been showing around the country for many years now but every museum can put their own spin on it.  In the case of the Albuquerque Museum, they have amplified the Gelmans’ works with photographs from Throckmorton Fine Art gallery.

At the beginning of the show, we get to see Frida’s masterpiece. “Diego on My Mind”, 1940. I particularly like the photographs of Frida  and Diego together.  Here is a photo by Bernard Silberstein taken while Frida was painting “Diego on My Mind” with Diego watching.

Hung next to that painting  is one of Diego’s most famous paintings of The Calla Llly Vendor (1943).  In this the vendor all but disappears behind the wall of lilies he holds; see his hat upper center.

Flowers figure in many of Diego’s paintings and further on in the show we get his “Sunflowers” where children are playing in front of a huge vase of the over-sized  blooms.  Now, may I disagree with the curator of the show? Sure, I can. That is what art is all about, losing oneself in a picture and making up your own stories.  Clearly the boy on the right is choosing among two masks, which one will he pick for his costume?  To me the individual on the left looks like a girl while the label says it’s a boy and my immediate thought was that having made the two dolls (one is completed under the tree) she is now taking them apart.  Isn’t that what all young kids do, first they put things together and then enjoy destroying them again?

Did you ever wonder how an exhibition is funded?  There is a lot involved beyond hanging the pictures.  A curator and possibly the director, as well, must see the collection that they wish to show no matter where that may be.  Then shipping back and forth plus insurance must be paid. There is a lot more than that, but we can leave it there.  Although most museums charge for special exhibition tickets, which most museums do, they still need to apply for grants which are often not easy to come by because there is so much competition. There may be what my father called, a “sugar daddy” who for one reason or another may decide to fund a major part of the costs of the show.

Then there is another way; increasingly venues ask individuals to sponsor a picture or two.  We are fans of the Albuquerque  Museum and when we were asked to be a sponsor we decided on a few photographs as well as a painting my wife picked. It is a self-portrait by the muralist, David Alfaro Siqueiros, painted in 1930.  The dark, powerful painting shows the character of the artist who was what we would call today an activist. A Communist to boot, he was arrested for being a labor organizer and spent time in prison.

A photo we sponsored was by the Mexican Modernist photographer Lola Alvarez Bravo, called the “Dream of the Drowned”, circa 1945.  My wife having been a former ballet dancer, of course, loved this picture. It is actually a composite work put together with images of dancers from the Mexico City Ballet.

The Gelmans wanted their portraits painted as well. This portrait of Jacques Gelman from 1945 was painted by Angel Zårrga.  Here Jacques is seen as the confident movie producer he was, on a set, the movie light, cables and camera giving him the image he had of himself.

This portrait of Natasha was commissioned from Diego by Jacques, in 1943, where his wife looks as if she is a star in one of his films.  I would guess it was loved by the Gelman’s and snickered at by their guests behind their backs!

I think a fitting way to close this Missive is with a more serious portrait by Rafael Cidoncha showing her as a life-long collector, seated in front of one of her prize Frida self-portraits. It was painted in 1996, just  two years before Natasha passed away.

There is so much more to see, and the show is well worth the visit.  There are only a few more days to see it in Albuquerque as it closes May 2  and you will need to book a reservation.