Sunday, December 26, 2021

International Art Transport 2.1

Art transport within the United States is not that complicated as long as it is properly insured, and you use an experienced art packer and shipper. A carton for a painting that a fork-lift can go through will not arrive in the same shape it left.

For International shipments it is not so simple, you need a company that is familiar with the ins and outs. One of the biggest issues is that of customs regulations in different countries. There are forms to fill out and knowledge of customs duties. For instance, an antique coming into the U.S. is usually duty free, but it must be at least hundred years old. JFK’s rocking chair would not qualify while Abraham Lincoln’s top hat might and there may be an exception for objects of historical importance. This is where your experienced and specialized customs agent comes in.

One of the companies we used to use when we were shipping to and from France was Chenue. No newcomer to the field, André Chenue founded the company in 1760. Chenue became the Royal trunk maker for Marie-Antoinette. They were responsible for packing her first layette which included a great deal of linen for mother and child as well as a crib. When all went well the company was entrusted with the manufacture of all cases, crates and trunks for transport and storage for the monarchs clothing. From there they developed the concept of being fine art shippers with a reputation that rests on delivering works of art safely and expeditiously.

We often take these things for granted, but that is a big mistake. There is always someone cheaper but as I have told friends and clients alike, “you get what you pay for”. You disregard that at your own risk.

Heading the parent Group ESI, a 100-year-old leader in the global fine arts shipping and exhibition industry, Amaury Chaumet, founded “ThePackengers” in 2018. Note the name is a single word and has an interesting spelling.

Hôtel Drouot the venerated Paris auction house founded in 1852 sells all qualities of old masters, drawings, books, jewelry, wines where many great discoveries have been made as well as many disappointments, has hooked up with this new company.

ThePackengers have crossed the Atlantic opening facilities first in New York and now in Los Angeles. They have made the very smart move of joining forces with the leading auction houses Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Bonhams as well as poaching some of their top shipping talent. What ThePackengers offer that all the other shipping companies do not is, according to M. Chaumet, their advanced digital ability. Online art sales have risen substantially and even more because of Covid. For instance, if you are considering buying a work of art from an auction house, before you have even put a bid on it you can get an estimate for packing, transport, and customs issues just by giving the company the details and you will have the answer immediately. Should you succeed in your bid, all will be taken care of with no more effort for you as the purchaser. Their mission statement is simple: “Instant pricing & e-logistics for unique objects”. Staff tee shirts say, “ThePackengers – Pick, Pack & Track”

We are living in a digital and technological age and every-once-in a-while it even improves on a business model that has already worked for several hundred years. We become spoiled as some things get easier, e.g. I have not had to use “white-out” once while writing this missive. Although this art transport service is one, I have never tried, it certainly sounds like it could make a complicated system easier on our nerves.

This is my last Missive for 2021 and on to 2022. I thank all my readers who have born with me and wish all a most happy and healthy 2022.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Artistic Talent

My father always said we were art dealers because we could not create art.

How true it is. I love singing but the only way I could get into my school glee club was to have an upper classman with perfect pitch stand behind me singing. In shop I wanted to make a car but could not cut a wheel. I used my allergies (which were for real) to get an excuse because of the sawdust. Paint? Draw? I could not draw a head or a circle without a compass!

For all these failings I respect and am in awe of those who have the ability and talent to work and be successful in more than one form of the arts.

The most famous multi-disciplinary artist was, of course, Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). He is best known as a painter who worked through quite a number of the styles of the 20th century starting out grounded in reality in his blue period but the style in which he had the most influence was Cubism beginning in 1907 with his “Demoiselles d'Avignon”. Painting was not enough for him and he created sculpture and ceramics as well. While his greatest success was in painting his other work still brings good prices.

Have you ever seen a 65-page entry in Wikipedia? That is what I found when I tried to print the entry on the English rock and roll singer David Bowie (1947-20016). Born David Robert Jones, he always dreamed of being an entertainer and formed his first band at the age of 15. He studied art, music, and design, including layout and typesetting, so was ready for anything. While working with a tutor who came out of avant-garde theater, he became immersed in the creation of personae which went on to become icons of fashion. Their ever-changing wardrobe influenced some of the greatest designers such as Armani, Jean Paul Gautier and Katy Foreman. He developed a sexually ambiguous alter ego, Ziggy Stardust, then killed off Ziggy Stardust to develop a new alter ego Aladdin Sane who he portrayed on a 1973 album cover with a red and blue lightning bolt painted on his face.

Between 1995 and 1997 he painted a series of portraits he called “Dead Heads” using models from his band, friends, and himself. In June of this year one of his paintings, “DHead XLVI” came up at auction in Toronto with an estimate of $9,00-$12,000. Instead, it sold for $108,120!

Other noted performers who painted were Paul McCartney of the Beetles, the great actor, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Dennis Hopper actor and filmmaker, and Rosie O‘Donnell who created disparaging portraits of our former president with whom she had a vendetta predating his presidency. There are many more.

But believe it or not there may be an artist who today outshines them all and dare I say it, may be even better known than Picasso, -- that is Bob Dylan (1941-). I still think of him as the young man with a harmonica and guitar I saw on the stage at the Café Wha in Greenwich village in the early 1960’s. In 1963 I acquired his second album, which he titled “The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan” and I still have it today. Soon after he switched to the electric guitar and electronic music for which he took a lot of criticism from many including me. After all it is a totally different sound, as if Beethoven had suddenly switched to Jazz. Dylan was ahead of his time. He continued to write songs which today total over 500 that are sung by thousands of artists all over the world. For that he received the Nobel Prize for literature in 2016.

As if that was not enough, Dylan was a painter. Like everything else he has accomplished Dylan did it big. From the 1960’s when he used some of his drawings for album covers, he has gone on to paintings, sculpture and large-scale installations shown in gallery and museum exhibitions, and, most recently, a retrospective which is touring through 2022. Here is his mural in Minneapolis completed in 2015.

All of these performers are pigeonholed by the general public and the press for the activity for which they are best known. Their talents in the fine arts however, have offered them not only a form of escape and peace in their hectic lives, but also the opportunity to communicate through a one-on-one experience with the individuals who see the works of art they create.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Art Theft: For Love or Money

Doesn’t everyone enjoy a heist story and particularly one that involves art. I came across a whole list recently and I thought I would give you a sampling.

The first art theft I ever heard of was that of the Mona Lisa which my father told me about when I was 6 years old, and we visited the Louvre. The theft occurred in August 1911, just a month after he was born -- what better alibi! The caper was pulled by Vincenzo Peruggia, an Italian artist and museum worker, with two cohorts. They hid in a broom closet overnight and before the museum opened the next morning they took the painting off the wall, got it out of its fame and protective glass, and walked out with the painting under a blanket. A bit over two years later Peruggia tried to sell the painting to a dealer who informed the police, and the picture was returned to the museum. In a sense, Peruggia did the Louvre a great favor since the Mona Lisa had not been regarded as such an important picture until its theft, but from then on people flocked to the Louvre to see the painting, and nothing has changed.

Another famous robbery took place in 1990 at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. It was an audacious heist where two thieves posing as policemen were let in by guards, who were then tied up while the thieves made off with 13 paintings including 3 Rembrandts, a Vermeer and several Degas drawings. The crime has never been solved and the empty frames have been left in place lest the search should escape anyone’s memory. The FBI has estimated the value at about $500 million but today, who knows. Should you see any of the missing works you might want to report it to the FBI because the Museum has offered $10 million to anyone leading to their recovery.

This crime was called to mind again when earlier this year a man was arrested for breaking into the same museum but never entered the building. He smashed a glass door and threw something inside, prompting the police to call the bomb squad. It turned out the man had thrown a blanket-covered painting he had stolen from a private gallery some days earlier. Why? Who knows?

Last year a thief, taking no chances used a sledgehammer to break into a small museum in Laren, the Netherlands, to steal an early van Gogh, “The Parsonage Garden at Neunen”. That was the only picture he took, and he left with it under his arm. The painting had been on loan from a better-known institution, the Groninger. Was he a picky collector or was it a commissioned deal? In any case, the painting has not yet been found though photographs were circulated in September of this year by the unknown perpetrator.

When you look up art theft on the web, 90% of the reports are about paintings but what about the decorative arts? They don’t get ignored, it is just that most people steal for a possible cash reward or hold their loot for ransom or even use it for collateral on loans, and paintings are worth more.

Decorative arts, however, were the focus of one Dr. John Quincy Feller, a professor of history for over 30 years at the University of Scranton. Living in a modest brick apartment on the edge of town, he was the last person you would suspect of larceny. He wrote scholarly books and articles and had access to museums through his friendship with staff members. He clearly would not have had the same eagle eyes on him than unknown visitors. He was proud to have been invited to become a trustee of the Peabody Museum at Harvard University. His particular passions were for porcelain and glass of the 18th and 19th centuries, especially pieces with historical associations. Once in a while he would even lend objects from his purloined collection for exhibitions.

Some of the museums he stole from were the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Rhode Island School of Design Museum, the Wadsworth Athenaeum and the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford England. A late 18th century porcelain saucer with the great seal of the United States that he had donated to the State Department in Washington D.C. was seized by the FBI. It was one of the roughly one hundred objects the FBI concluded the professor had stolen. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 18 months in prison and a $30,000 fine. He stole for his love of objects. How can you hate a guy like that?

One more before I leave you to find your own crime stories. Another thief from Pennsylvania, Thomas Gavin, had gone on his crime spree in the 1960’s and 70’s. His passion was for firearms and found his loot in a dozen East Coast museums. He seems to have also stolen for the love of the objects and not for quick money. He was only recently caught when he raised suspicion as he tried to sell a private collector an American Revolutionary War rifle with an estimated value of $175,000 for $4,000. This says to me that he was trying to sell to survive not for vast profits, or maybe in the end he wanted to get caught and confess. The statute of limitations had expired on most counts and the one that remained when he was sentenced at the end of November this year was trying to sell a stolen article of historical importance. This carries a maximum ten-year sentence and a $50,000 fine. However, since he is now 78 years old, and in a wheelchair, he was given just one day in the slammer. Here is an image by Yong Kim for the Philadelphia Inquirer of the rifle.

There is always more sympathy for one who steals for his love of art and not just for profit!

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Mackintosh: A Very Special Traveling Exhibition

How very lucky the Albuquerque Museum in New Mexico is to have a Museum Director like Andrew Connors, to snag a show worthy of the greatest museums in the world. It is called, “Designing the New: Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Glasgow Style”.

The show was organized by the curator of European Decorative Arts and Design at he Glasgow Museums, Alison Brown, in 2018 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Mackintosh’s birth. Even though Covid put it on hiatus it is continuing its tour of just four venues in the States.

Mackintosh and his collaborators were known as ‘The Four’ comprised Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928), James Herbert MacNair (1868 - 1955), and the sisters, Margaret Macdonald (1864 - 1933) and Frances Macdonald (1873 - 1921). TheFour had met at the Glasgow School of Art and Mackintosh married Margaret and MacNair married Frances. Together they came up with innovative designs that influenced design and style for generations to come.

Mackintosh, as architect, and designer became the main exponent of the style. The Four were best known for their decorative arts and this exhibition has 165 works including Furniture, textiles, posters, drawings and glass. While artists may wish for control of the space their work will occupy, they rarely do. Mackintosh worked as an architect designed every detail of his buildings using the full range of media, thus “owning” the entire environment.

The imaginative interiors he created from 1896 to 1917 for Miss Catherine Cranston’s four tearooms in central Glasgow are his best known works. Here is an image of the lady herself and one of the high-back chairs from her Argyle Street Tea Rooms. (Images Catherine Cranston and one of the chairs)

A highlight of the exhibition is a large frieze by Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh. created in gesso on burlap with painted string, glass beads, thread, tin leaf, papier-mache and steel pins. It was a partner panel to a frieze by her husband, Charles, in their collaborative decoration of the Ladies Luncheon Room for Miss Cranston’s Ingram Street Tearooms. They had international impact as they were shown in the Vienna Seccession exhibition of 1900 before installation in the Tea Rooms. Here is the entire image and a detail.

Personally, I love the posters and on-line you can still buy copies. Here is one Mackintosh did in 1896 for the The Scottish Musical Review.

I couldn’t resist this design for a music room (1905) by George Logan (1866-1939) a furniture designer, musician, and poet. It was inspired by the “Choric Song” from Alfred Tennyson’s “Lotus Eaters.”, note the motto inscribed along the picture rail. The patterns of flowers on the walls and textiles and the attenuated shapes of the furniture are typical of the Glasgow Style.

Similar forms can be found on the cabinet designed by Mackintosh for Mrs. Ellen Pickering in 1898. The cabinet was intended to store music books and sheet music. Its design drawing shows that its lower shelves would have been hidden by a linen curtain embroidered with a delicate rosebush and bluebells.

Maybe it’s just my prurient instincts but a good way to end this Missive is with a door that Mackintosh designed in 1907-8 in his later geometric style for the gentlemen’s basement restroom cubicle. It demonstrates his concern for detail, -- and where else but for the Ingram Street Tea Rooms. Here is the full door and a detail.

While I must confess to not loving every object in the show there was enough to enthrall for both the layman and the scholar. A film takes you through Mackintosh’s major architectural commissions and there are detailed timelines, along with labels that are unfailingly illuminating. The show will remain at the Albuquerque Museum until January 23, 2022.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Color and Black & White

No, this is not a blog about photography but about some very real issues politically and socially and how they play out in the art world. Last month I wrote about the 1971 acquisition of the portrait by Velazquez of Juan de Pareja by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

What has changed since then?

For one thing, like everyone else who watches television we have noticed how many people of color are now featured in commercials. Then there is a television series started in 2016, “Lucifer”, where the hero from hell, i.e. the devil, (Tom Ellis) is played by a white individual, while his brother, an angel, (D.B. Woodside), is played by a black man. If you’ll excuse the expression, “what a contrast”. We find that these two disparate characters are underneath, extremely similar.

Quite rightly we are being acclimatized to equality of color and the sexes. As the younger generation who are still being molded into maturity, hopefully more will become both color blind and less sexist. It has been pointed out to me that there are now more female anchor people on television, albeit in the daytime and at night more male. It would seem that the networks are catering to their perceived audiences as to when more women or men watch the telly ...

The staid museums come a bit late to the party but slowly and surely they too are realizing their lack of inclusiveness. I learned something interesting after writing the Pareja Missive from Nancy Hoving, widow of the then Director of the Metropolitan Museum, Thomas Hoving. She wrote, “Looking at all the great painting and painters we see today I can't figure out where (TH) and I were. Kerry James Marshall and others were around but we never saw them. I can’t understand how this happened because I know (TH) would have liked him as much as I do. And there are others.” In 2015 the Met did finally buy a painting by the artist of his Studio. It was painted in 2014 and acquiered through the art dealer David Zwirner. The Met then followed up with a Marshall retrospective the year after.

Why? It would be easy to say that the museum curators were just not interested or was it that the name dealers who they relied on were not showing art by people of color. Of course, there were many below 57th street but that was a country away.

I also wonder whether it was thought of as appropriate that the art of the other be in a separate museum. Who knows? “They” had their own museum such as the Studio Museum in Harlem. From their website: “The Studio Museum in Harlem was founded in 1968 by a diverse group of artists, community activists and philanthropists who envisioned a new kind of museum that not only displays artwork but also supports artists and arts education.”

Another example of this concept one might call euphemistically, separate but equal is The Museum of the American Indian/Heye Foundation which was established by wealthy collector George Gustav Heye in 1908. Heye began collecting American Indian art as early as 1897. His collection rapidly increased over the next several years but was devoted to traditional tribal material. Only since it became the National Museum of the American Indian in 1989/96 did it expand its focus to contemporary work.

My father who started out his life as a strictly orthodox Jew and only became conservative after his son was born as he did not want him to be extreme in this democratic country. He did not support the Jewish Museum because he said there was no such thing as Jewish art. Art was art far as he was concerned. Maybe it is because of that last bit I too believe all art is equal and paintings are paintings, furniture is furniture and jewelry is jewelry, etc. and sometimes they may rise to the exulted heights of the current definition of art.

Art is a reflection of people and their life experience. Visitors to museums can ask how works of art by artists of different ethnicities relate to their life experience. What better way to teach than to show the different approaches that African American, Native American or Japanese Artists see the world or even similar subject matter?

Traditionally our encyclopedic museums turn out to be a series of separate fiefdoms each of which are separate but not equal. The galleries that get the most space are often the European Paintings and the Chinese art or African art are given less gallery space. You can mix those priorities in a different order for different museums but the attitude is that never the twain shall meet. You hear people visit just one section of a museum never being exposed to another. In my opinion the main galleries should have a mixture of cultures then you can have sections that specialize for those who wish to concentrate on a specific field. I am pleased to say that the Metropolitan Museum’s relatively new Director, Max Hollein is now encouraging curators to communicate with those in other departments to this end.

Just think of how thought provoking it would be to see the Anglo traditional image of Thanksgiving by Norman Rockwell and this one by Paula Peters, a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe. Members of the tribe gathered near Plymouth Rock in 1991 for a day of mourning in response to the Pilgrims’ Thanksgiving.

Suzanne Kreiter—The Boston Globe


Sunday, November 21, 2021

The Strange Lives of Works of Art

I have written on similar subjects before but am always fascinated how works of art have lives of their own. Often it is just a question of moving from collection to collection be it private or public. Over time any work of art may not seem as desirable as it did when first acquired. Private collectors may deaccession for financial need or a change of taste. In our case, our former collections did not seem to fit our lifestyle in Santa Fe as they did in New York.

Even museums wish or must sell from their storerooms. A museum may acquire a work from a donor in hopes of getting more from them. Later on, it may be felt that the donation is not of the caliber of other works in the collection or better examples have been obtained. So, the original donation goes into storage and when it reaches the bottom of the ladder, or the museum no longer needs so many similar works, it gets deaccessioned for the next collector to acquire.

But there are other ways in which works of art have their own lives. What prompted this Missive is an article I read last week, entitled “The Girl with a Pearl Earing’s Lavish Jewel May be a Fake and 4 Other Secrets Scholars Have Uncovered in the Work of Vermeer”. What word stuck in your mind from that long title? I will bet it was the word “fake”! Sometimes I don’t concentrate enough when I read and I read the title, as I would bet many others did, that the painting was a fake. That is not what the article said, but it did get your attention.

The article goes on about how the most popular painting in the Mauritshuis in the Hague and four other Vermeers may have been altered or “edited”, either by the artist himself or others later in some cases because of possible suggestions of impropriety. For example, The Girl Standing at the Window reading a letter in the Museum in Dresden, when cleaned revealed the painting of a cupid on the wall which might imply that the girl at the window was reading a love letter from a suitor. In 17th century Holland that might have been considered scandalous. Does that make the picture worth more or make it more attractive? The good and evil is in the mind of the beholder, and it depends on the standards of the era.

Here are images of the painting before cleaning and after.

Sorry, this is not an issue of fakes but part of the history of the paintings. In the case of “The Girl with A Pearl Earring” jewelry experts said the pearl was too big to be an authentic jewel of Vermeer’s time. Happily, the few brush strokes that enlarged the pearl have been found to be consistent with the artist’s highlighting. From a dealer’s point of view, this kind of question would affect the value if this painting were on the market. If a buyer were to think the pearl had been enhanced later to make it more prominent, he might not want to pay the “full” price of a Vermeer. The senior partner of my gallery, Saemy Rosenberg of Rosenberg & Stiebel used to say in German, “They can kill you with their science”. Which certainly could be true as far as value is concerned.

What should a museum do if a painting in their collection is called a fake or painted by a less important artist? I have probably mentioned before the “Polish Rider” by Rembrandt in the Frick Collection. The “experts” decided at one point that the picture was not by Rembrandt, but the Frick, in a courageous act, refused to take it off wall. Low and behold, the next experts came around to once again fully attribute the picture to Rembrandt.

Also revealed recently is that Jacques Louis David’s portrait of Antoine Laurent Lavoisier and Marie Anne Lavoisier, donated by Jayne & Charles Wrightsman to the Metropolitan Museum in 1978 had also been reworked. This was done by the artist because of the changing politics of the time. I will let you read the Met’s analysis for yourselves and see the transformation in the painting.

There are so many more examples of revising art history through scientific discovery. Whether this is progress or just disturbing the status quo is up to your own way of thinking and possibly your age as well!

Sunday, November 14, 2021

The Library is Leaving

Almost exactly a decade ago I wrote a Missive titled “The Library Arrives”

A couple of months ago I wrote about deaccessioning not only my gallery archive but also our art history library. Now it is happening! 

The library is on its way to the Birmingham Museum of art. We meet the librarian, Laura Woodard from the Birmingham Museum of art at the Albuquerque airport. Next morning, she picks up a huge rental truck from Penske then settles in to check which books will go in addition to those already listed.

My wife and I have a last-minute panic that we can’t part with this book or that.

Four fellows from Zen Movers come to begin packing the books in our basement as well as in our studio:

Coming up from the basement library with the packed and taped book boxes they begin loading the truck. The cartons are so heavy they need to bring the dollies up the ramp backward onto the truck.

While we thought the job would take 3 days or more, but the men finish in 7 hours.

The next morning Laura with her friend, renowned keyboard artist Matt Slocum, take off for the 18 hour drive back to Birmingham.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

The Thanksgiving Play

The other night we went to the theater for a play, a treat we have had precious little of in the last 18 months other than in the box in our TV room.

Up front, I need to mention that it was an extra pleasure because our son was in the play. This is not a review; however, I am sure you are well aware that any theater piece that one’s son or daughter are in, is perfection. Here is the cast from left to right, Kate Bergeron as Logan (the teacher) – Patrick MacDonald as Caden (the Professor) - Jess Haring as Alicia (the actress) and Hunter Hans Stiebel as Jaxton (Logan’s Paramour).

What interests me for the purpose of this Missive is the concept and ideas behind the play. “The Thanksgiving Play” is a comedy written in 2015 by a Native American, Larissa FastHorse, who had received the coveted MacArthur Genius Grant. It has been staged across the country from the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles to off-Broadway, at Playwrights Horizons’ Peter Jay Sharp Theater. It is playing now at the Santa Fe Playhouse timed with Native American Heritage Month. Here is a trailer from Playwrights Horizon:

I feared it would be a heavy exposition on how historically wrong the Anglo celebration of Thanksgiving is. Instead, knowing it would have a mostly Anglo audience, the author took a far more accessible approach, a satire making fun of the Anglos for their naivete, their pride in their fantasies, as well as their ignorance of history. I have rarely laughed so much in a theater. In fact, some of the audience laughed so loud one would miss a line here and there. Seems we have the same issue regarding “Critical Race Theory”. Come to think of it there is not much difference.

Surprising myself, I only thought of the messages that the play had after the piece was over. This 4-person play is a send up of Political Correctness. The premise is that a fourth-grade teacher must put on a play for her students for which she has received a grant that specifies that she will have Native American input. She used the money to hire a Native American only to find out she is an actress who only plays the part of an Indian when she is not playing other ethnicities (Jess). Larissa FastHorse says one reason she wrote the play was in response to people who said they could not find Native American actors. It did not take me long to think of the first one I saw: television in the 1950’s and The Lone Ranger and his side kick Tonto who in real life was Jay Silverheels a Canadian Mohawk. 

One of the men in the play is a history professor (Caden) who has always wanted to work in theater with “real” actors, though he is not sure in what role. He joins the group having already written a script with no idea that the concept of the teacher/director (Logan) is that they would come together with the Native American to develop it from scratch. Every once in a while, he inserts uncomfortable facts about the “settling” of the United States. The teacher keeps worrying, will she lose her grant; is this concept too difficult or not appropriate for the kids; how will the school board react, --- all issues that every teacher must now worry about. This dilemma is exemplified by one of the characters who says, “We don’t need actual Native Americans to tell a Native American Story. I mean, none of us are actually Pilgrims, are we?” Here are frustrated Logan and Jaxton in a similar scene in Santa Fe and at the Geffen Playhouse.

Larissa FastHorse requested that each theater where the play was produced do something that connected to their local Native community. In the case of Santa Fe, at the end the four actors come to the front of the stage, stretch out a sheet for projected images that relate to the Tewa, tribes with pueblos along the Rio Grande. who share a common language.

A theater professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst has said, “The importance and value of this play is theater being this mirror to hold up to society.” Isn’t that what good theater should always do and as a result make us think? In this case it also makes us laugh.

Sunday, October 31, 2021

State of the Union?

Simple question, What Union? Does it still exist? I do like to stick with the arts but from time to time I need to comment. In fact, since I am lucky enough to have a platform from which to express my views, I feel it my responsibility to do so.

We watched the hour and a half documentary on HBO called “Four Hours at the Capitol”, really an incredible piece of reporting. I would highly recommend seeing this program when it streams. Even if you feel you know what happened on that dreadful day, which will go down in infamy, but most especially if you believe the fiction that January 6, 2021 was a normal day at the Capitol.

The program was based on records of photographers and videographers present on January 6, private individuals and reporters, including at least one from the New York Times. The quality of the images and sound was far better than the rough clips we have seen on the news and they were edited into a coherent sequence.

The documentary starts with the crowd from the main trump rally on the lawn in front of the Capitol where we see the “Proud Boys” and other groups of that ilk. There is even one participant in a wheelchair commenting on the process as the group turns into a mob and they march toward the Capitol. Each time they move forward there are Capitol Police trying to hold barricades up until the rioters are hitting Police over the head with the barricades. Once inside you see a few individuals not sure where they are going before the violent crowd assaults the Capitol tunnel.

Watching the former president start to rally his followers claiming the election had been stolen from him, I wondered how I would react if a president that I had respected said that. I believe I would begin to question and delve into the issue to find the evidence. I would certainly want to know how it was possible for my party to win so many seats in the House and Senate on the same ballots as the my President lost. I think I would figure my President was in error and those around her/him had fed the President a pack of lies.

One thing I am sure of is that no matter what I believed I would not storm the Capitol in order to harm those who were in there. Even if I were somehow dragged into the Capitol, I would be careful of its architecture and its historic art commissioned for the Capitol and works left behind by former presidents. The headline of an Artnet article by Sarah Çascone read, “The Curators of the US Capitol Art Collection Say They Need $25,000 to Fix Paintings and Statues Damaged in the January Attack”.

We recently learned that even after every claim of election fraud was defeated in the courts, and state officials refused pressure to decertify ballots, a small task force at the Willard Hotel near the White House, developed plans of how to overturn the results and keep the former president in power.

As I was writing this, I went out to pick up my lunch and as I was walking down a main street here in Santa Fe, which is fundamentally a liberal town, a pickup truck drove by with a large banner flying from the truck bed that read “F…k Biden”. Is that what this country is coming to? If not insurrection, then anarchy (a state of disorder due to absence or nonrecognition of authority)? Or autocracy like the competing world powers of Russia and China?

Even if you don’t agree with my politics, I think you will agree that If no one can tell the truth anymore and be believed, the result will be the collapse of our democratic government. The HBO program “Four Hours at the Capitol” presents the evidence of how close we came on January 6.

The House Chamber in the Capitol 1-6-2021

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Does the Ethnicity of the Artist or the Sitter Matter?

I have earth shattering news today … the world has changed! The last place you usually find that happening is in our art museums.

I learned a new term reading my art blogs … at least it was new to me. That is BIPOC, i.e., artists who identify as Black, Indigenous, and/or People of Color … The topic of this particular article in Artnet News was that museums are becoming more “woke” and listening to the public outcry to acquire art by BIPOC artists and portraits of BIPOC subjects.

Don’t know about you but to think that way never dawned on me … Should it have? When I go to a museum and like a painting, I will look at the label to learn the name of the artist and never think what race they are. I sometimes think of it in 20th and 21st century art because of the subject matter or style so I become convinced that the artist must be a Black or Hispanic, but when I look up that individual, I am often wrong.

I totally understand that every group wishes to be recognized but at the same time don’t they want to be recognized as great artists and not great (fill in your ethnicity) artists? From a personal point of view, I would feel if I were referred to as a great Jewish artist, I would think does that mean I am a great artist considering that I am a Jew?

In the article I was reading Brian Boucher, a well know writer on the arts, praised the Metropolitan Museum for its bold, trail-blazing purchase of Diego Velazquez’ (1599-1660)painting of person less exalted than the subjects of his royal commissions- Juan de Pareja, an enslaved artist’s assistant of mixed blood.

I didn’t remember reading anything of the sort at the time, so I looked up what the New York Times had to say. John Canaday, chief art critic for the Times wrote about the acquisition, May 13, 1971. Why?... because of the price, $5,500,000, then a record for any work at auction. He also mentioned the deal the Museum made with the art dealers, Wildenstein to acquire the picture for them. The Met defended the expenditure in a news conference where the President of the Board, Douglas Dillon, and the Director, Thomas Hoving, assured the public that the funds had been given years before specifically for acquiring works of art. Canaday also mentioned the conservation and cleaning of the painting by Hubert von Sonnenberg, that had revealed the unexpected subtlety of the colors and also that the edge of the canvas had been folded under so the painting was even larger than had been thought. In the article the work was identified as “Velazquez’s portrait of his Moorish assistant, Juan de Pareja” without another word about the subject’s race. Here is a photo of the period showing Hoving, Dillon and Juan!

Of course, our museums should acquire works by Black, Hispanics, Asian, Native American and every other ethnicity you can think of within the framework of the institution’s collecting mission, but they should not do it just for the sake of doing so but rather because the work is of great quality by an artist that they believe in and that their audience will/should appreciate.