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?” 

https://www.geraldstiebel.com/2009/12/what-should-i-collect.html


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, https://www.geraldstiebel.com/2010/11/miss-frick.html)


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. 


Sunday, April 18, 2021

Unlimited Dimensions

Almost 60 years ago I went to C.W. Post College, part of Long Island University.  I was never a great student and most studies bored me to tears.  I had dreamed of becoming a criminal lawyer – in my dreams! I decided on art history. Post offered no such course but there was a fine arts course with a professor who included art history in his classes. Thank goodness, because I could not draw a circle and still can’t!  

The professor turned out to be a known artist, by the name of Walter Gaudnek.  As luck would have it, he needed a ride between Manhattan and Long Island, so I often drove him in my Volkswagen Beetle. Walter turned out to be most interesting. We had no trouble finding lots to talk about and became friends.


I remember once he asked me to come back to his studio to help him give titles to some of his paintings because he had an opening at a gallery the following day, and they insisted that his paintings have titles.  I doubt I was much help, but, in return for my efforts, he rewarded me with a few of his drawings which I have to this very day!

Collection of Gerald Stiebel

As you would expect we lost touch after I graduated college and went on to Columbia for my MA in art history.  But at my age, and with Covid on top of that, I have taken to reaching out to old friends, so I looked up my college professor who responded immediately.


Walter Gaudnek has had an amazing career. On one bookstore website I found 20 catalogs which included his art. Born in 1931 in the then Czechoslovakia, he moved to study art in Germany and then in 1957 received a Fulbright Scholarship to UCLA (University of California, Lost Angeles) to study and teach. A decade later he received his PhD from New York University.  His thesis was “The symbolic meaning of the cross in American Contemporary Painting”.  He continues to delve into the area of religion both for his teaching and his art.


In the 60’s he was part of the current movement of “Happenings”, with his model and later his wife, Audrey Gail Goldman. Here is an image from that period.

At age 90 he has just retired after 50 years of teaching at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. Now, he and Audrey split their time between Florida where their daughter, Yve, is currently studying film arts at the University of Central Florida and Altmünster, Germany where, in tribute to his mother, he has a small museum where his art is shown.


Between 1960 and 1986 Gaudnek worked on an installation called “Unlimited Dimensions” which consists of 112 paintings in 3 different sizes forming an immersive labyrinth which is mesmerizing in many ways. You will see how my drawing relates.



1986-87 the installation was shown at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. “Unlimited Dimensions” was the final exhibition under the Director Henry T. Hopkins, who brought the Museum to national prominence. (In 2009 the headline of one of his obituaries was “Henry T. Hopkins dies: Put ‘Modern’ in SFMOMA”.) Hopkins wrote of Gaudnek’s labyrinth “One is reminded of the settings for German Expressionist films of the 1930’s, where the scale and density of the images reduces the adult viewer to child scale and re-introduces to him the fantasy and insecurity of child-hood dreams.”


Now, Walter would like to donate the work to an American museum. When I asked him why, he replied, “I want to give it not only because I do want to give something back---but it was created in New York City--it's totally American--and it belongs in the USA. “


I want to write so much more but I have always promised to keep these Missives short.  If I have stimulated anyone’s imagination as to an appropriate museum to acquire this remarkable work (which is made to fold into relatively little space), please let me know at: gerald@stiebel.com.


Sunday, April 11, 2021

Family Feud

This is going to shock all my readers; my wife and I don’t always agree and that has been going on for about half a century. In other words, it started even before we got married!

What happened:  for many years the American Association of Museum Directors (AAMD) has accepted the concept of de-accessioning art from a museum’s collection as long as the proceeds went into buying other works of art.  Then came Covid and museums lost major parts of their funding and are surviving by contributions from charitable donors and trustees.

After Covid hit, the AAMD amended their rule saying that funds received from deaccessions could also be used for care of the collections, including conservation or security and other aspects that fall under that rubric, or the funds could go into the museum’s endowment.  This change was to last for just two years.

Art critics such as Christopher Knight for the Los Angeles Times asked questions like, the market is doing great why, can’t all those wealthy trustees put up the funds.  One museum director, Ann Pasternak, at the Brooklyn museum asks why, should the trustees alone support a public institution.  Further, she makes the point that donors will support the Manhattan museums, think the Met and MOMA, rather than the ones in the outer boroughs, no matter how much they may have to offer the public.

One of many flash points in this debate was the deaccessioning of a small Jackson Pollock, Red Composition (1946) Oil on Masonite, 19 1/4 x 23 1/4 inches from the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, New York.   Though it was one of Pollocks early drip paintings. The Everson still has an important Pollock drawing in its collection.


The director of the Everson, Elizabeth Dunbar, said that they did not have a large collecting base in the Syracuse area nor billionaire trustees. She asked, rhetorically, “if this picture is so important why has it never been requested for a major Pollock retrospective?”

Jessica Arb Danial, the president of the museum’s board of trustees, which has the ultimate responsibility for deaccessions said the sale would “enable the Everson to significantly intensify our strategic efforts, particularly during this critical time in our nation’s history.”  Therefore, they plan to use it, in part, to acquire art by minority artists.

In further defense of the museum’s decision, though Christie’s estimated the painting to bring between 12 and 18 million it “only” brought the minimum, still a huge injection of capital for the Everson.

To quote my wife she argues “that the purpose of an art museum, centers on its permanent collection as opposed to a kunsthalle which exhibits but does not collect. A museum holds works in public trust. That is why a donor of a work gets a tax deduction. Selling duplicates or lesser works to buy better examples and improve the collection is one thing. Selling to keep the institution afloat, however, is contrary to the purpose of its existence. She argues the case of the Everson Pollock was presumably donated to expose Syracuse residents to the aspect of his art which has earned him a place in art history. The Everson has an important Pollock drawing, but due to light restrictions, only the painting could be accessible on permanent view. An influx of dollars may be a boon to those drawing up the institution’s balance sheet, but future art-interested citizens of Syracuse will have to evaluate Pollock’s drip paintings from reproductions. The Everson cites wanting to fund a full-time conservation position, but conservation of what if not what is generally agreed to be the most important work in their collection?”


I do not agree because a deaccessioned work of art is not being destroyed.  Title is just passing to a new owner and that owner just paid Christie’s twelve million dollars so they too will not destroy the picture and in the scheme of things who is to say that it may not someday enter another museum.  Here is a famous painting ”Rainy Day” by Gustave Cailebotte that was owned by Walter Chrysler, Jr. which he did not wish to put in his museum so it eventually ended up in the Art Institute of Chicago.


Additionally, taste and expertise change on a regular basis and who is to say what will be considered more important in the future … maybe it will be an NFT!

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Working Remotely

Both by desire and happenstance I am writing about a subject that I had not planned on and that is “working from home”.  What if you must work remotely because your employer has emptied your offices for concerns of contagion. This must be particularly difficult if you are used to an open office plan. Working from home has normal advantages and disadvantages and I am sure each of my readers can make their own list.


Even before the pandemic I had found, a small office for myself in a downtown Santa Fe building where no one needs to interact. I found, however, friendly faces in the offices down the hall and we soon became friends. (All have been faithful mask wearers.).


We are of course hugely dependent on email. Think of the havoc an interruption in service could cause in each of your lives. What if your employer were writing asking why you have not supplied whatever he or she needs? One of my daily activities is working on these Missives I rely on replies from the many institutions and colleagues that I need in order to gather the information to write.  


As it happens, last week, the tech company partially responsible for my email (who should have known better) disconnected mine. For 14 hours I was out of luck until a couple of friends who are techies restored me to normal, but still I have lost a day’s worth of emails. I experienced just how stressful the loss of email was, even for a day!  My Missives go out on Monday and many readers respond on the same day, and those are the emails I lost.  I feel that not answering is bad form but beyond that, some emails could be vital.



I almost said, picking up the New York Times, but, of course, I was thinking of reading it on-line, I saw an article on the subject of working remotely and that it is not going away.  To my surprise I l earned the music and media streaming company, Spotify Technology, whose headquarters are in Stockholm, Sweden with offices in 17 countries, occupies 16 floors in a lower Manhattan office building. Those floors will never be fully occupied again as Spotify has told its employees that they can work from anywhere they wish.  Why? Because businesses have learned that it is not necessary for everyone to be working together all the time. The compromise is to have staff come in a few days a week such as Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.  Real estate owners, of course, do not want to see this emptying of office buildings, not to mention the restaurants and food vendors in those neighborhoods.  It is estimated that at this time 90% of workers in Manhattan are now working remotely.  Even though the Mayor of New York and the Federal Government need the economy to be healthy it is doubtful that things will go back to the “old” normal.  We have found out that there are alternatives, and we will have to pivot to get used to it.



 Having said all that, I know that there are exceptions such as, you can’t run an art gallery remotely.  Some one has to get the art in order to show the art and then cater to the patrons who might make a purchase.   You probably have heard the statement that some buyers will buy with their ears more than their eyes.  Those individuals need to hear the whole story of what they are looking at. This is not just sales talk, but collectors want to know provenance and history.  For instance, a statement that this work of art that hung in a museum for 50 years was finally restituted to the family from which it was taken.  This confirms that the work was not stolen from the museum that it had hung in and does not make a bad story for the owner to tell his friends, even if it doesn’t add value. The image of a work and its documentation can be relayed online but, when education is involved, a one-on-one relationship is always the more effective and better option.  Here is an image of famed art dealer, Leo Castelli, explaining to clients Andy Warhol’s Brillo & Cornflakes Boxes.


I am glad that I do not have to make difficult decisions for the younger generation.  The choices they need to make will give the following generations a new paradigm which they will accept and function under. It’s the transition that is difficult.


Sunday, March 28, 2021

Museum Exhibitions after Covid

The pandemic has not had many plusses, but it has helped in advancing innovation mostly through technology.  I have written about how art museums, deprived of local visitors and tourists, have come up with online programs that can reach folk across the world. As well as seeking new sources of support museums are looking at how technology can save them money. 

We know there is no substitute for seeing an original work of art so travelling exhibitions will return once museums reopen and new methods are being explored to cut the costs.  The day I started writing this Missive I saw an email from Artnet about the fortune that museums can save just on shipping and courier fees.  They even may be able to have their curator, conservator or registrar supervise a loan virtually thus not only saving money but also keeping their staff where they are needed most.  It is a delicate balance. The negative side is that these trips result in professional development with exposure to institutions, collections, methods and colleagues from around the world that directly benefit the home institution. 


Today, a curator can sit at home and supervise the installation of a loan to an exhibition via Zoom or similar technology. Previously he or she had to be there in person. But first, the work of art had to be sent with a courier to ensure its safe delivery. This meant that the courier stood on the tarmac watching the crate being loaded onto the plane.  He had to have at least a business class seat to be sure to get off the plane first to watch the cargo being taken off the plane and then to the museum.



If the work of art were too large for a passenger plane it had to go on a cargo flight where courier accommodations are less comfortable. Most loans require some trucking and if the distance was long, the trip would  be non-stop with alternating drivers and the courier sleeping in the cab of the truck. Once on site the currier had to be put up in a hotel with a per diem allowance. Then, don’t forget the works must go onto the next venue and home again after the show.  For a large exhibition with loans coming from different sources the transportation costs could easily run to a million dollars!



A personal courier is no guarantee either.  One registrar recalled a courier who watched his crate go on the plane, signed the paperwork – and then missed the flight.  It doesn’t happen often but there can always be snafus in any system.


As I was looking on-line for material for this Missive 99% of what I found was information from transport companies that have their own personal currier services. These companies that specialize in moving exhibitions around the world will surely have to find new ways to function in this digital age.


You know how you can track your package when you order from Amazon or other places.  The museums will have their own systems.  They can use an art logistics app.  Artcheck, which allows for a virtual courier system with transit information, quality check and communications between parties all in one place.  The packing of a work of art can include a tracking device and sensors that transmit movement, temperature, and exposure to light.  Of course, skilled art handlers and a knowledgeable conservator are still necessary on the receiving side to inspect the art and do a detailed check of its condition when the crate is opened. However, this can now be done with the participation and guidance of the home curator through the internet.


It’s a whole new world out there where a decade ago is the ancient past.  It is scary but I find it a fascinating subject that I shall return to.


Sunday, March 21, 2021

Will Shuster’s Santa Fe (1893-1969)

The happy news of this Missive is that my wife and I went to the New Mexico Museum of Art for our first museum visit in a full year! There we saw the exhibition, “A Fiery Light: Will Shuster’s New Mexico”.  

Maybe Shuster was not the greatest painter of all time, but he was an effective visual reporter who conveyed the life and spirit of Santa Fe, its surroundings, and its communities.  He moved to Santa Fe in 1920 to recover his health after being gassed in World War I and it was here that he took up painting, mentored by the Ashcan School artist John Sloan who had become a regular visitor to New Mexico.


New Mexico became a state in 1912 and already by the early 20’s was established as an arts colony.  Five artists, one might say, were the founders of this tradition.  They were Jozef Bakos, Femont Ellis, Walter Mruk, Willard Nash and Will Shuster.  They called themselves “Los Cinco Pintores” but were known affectionately as “five little nuts in five mud huts” referring to the adobe houses they built for themselves in the Santa Fe tradition.  They lived on a road that is just above town.  Today it takes 5 minutes by car to get there, but in those days, I would guess, it took quite a bit longer.


The exhibition title, “A Fiery Light”, is particularly well illustrated in Shuster’s painting “Fire at Bustos Midway Cash Store” lent by Zaplin/Lambert Gallery. The event took place in Pecos, New Mexico, in 1947.  Pecos is a small village not far from Santa Fe.  At the time of the fire the population was about 1,200 and has not grown that much since.  Schuster captured the small-town drama vividly.


The story of Santa Fe is that of three cultures, Native American, Hispanics and Anglo.  Only this past year’s Covid restrictions prevented Santa Fe’s annual Spanish Market and Indian Market which are both sales and commemoration events. Members of all cultures are welcomed to most dances in the nearby pueblos under certain rules of respect.   Although photography, and even sketching, by non-tribal members is no longer allowed there was no such concern in Shuster’s day. Here is his 1929 depiction of The Santo Domingo Corn Dance that the artist donated to the Museum.


Shuster’s “Sermon at the Cross of the Martyrs” of 1934 from the Museum’s permanent collection portrays the religious devotion of the Hispanic community. Today the hilltop cross is a tourist attraction for the panoramic view of Santa Fe it offers but it was created for a much more serious reason. It was erected to commemorate the death of 21 Franciscan friars during what is known as the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, a successful indigenous rebellion against Spanish colonial occupation of what is now New Mexico. On Fiesta weekend in September a candlelit procession to The Cross of the Martyrs from Saint Francis Cathedral occurs after a special Mass.


Santa Fe wouldn’t be Santa Fe without Zozobra, referred to as “Old Man Gloom”. Everyone is invited to contribute records of their misfortunes to be stuffed into the giant puppet recreated every year whose burning prior to Fiesta is a cathartic celebration. Believing that an event was needed to bring all parts of the community together Shuster created Zozobra in 1924 with the help of his friend, artist and puppeteer Gustave Baumann. With Newspaper editor E. Dana Johnson, they came up with the name Zozobra by picking a word from a Spanish-English dictionary that means “anguish, anxiety and gloom”.  No crowds were allowed to gather this past year to chant “Burn him, burn him” but Santa Fe’s worries and troubles went up in flames with Zozobra, nonetheless. Here is “Viva La Fiesta” a model of the event created by Luis Tapia in 1996 as well as an image of the actual burning.




Sunday, March 14, 2021

NFT’s In Art

Twenty-five years ago, my gallery had its own website.  There was nary another art dealer who had one.  I was explaining the concept to many well-known art dealers who did not have a clue what it meant or why they needed one!  Today, I am happy to know how to turn my computer on and from there on I need assistance!

A week or so ago my older son, Dan, sent me an article saying, “Thought this might be good for an art blog for someone who can’t leave the house because of a pandemic… If you can understand it …”.  I thought the last part was rather a sarcastic remark made to the older generation.   Boy was I wrong!  

If you are as clueless a I was you may be interested in learning something about this New Art World of NFTs. When I first read the article from an Apple-published virtual magazine called “The Verge” I had no idea what they were talking about.  So, I dId what everyone else does, I Googled.   I found an article from the hard copy magazine “Art in America”.  Then in a recent email I saw the headline, “The world’s first ‘Major’ NFT Art Exhibition is about to take place in Beijing, Headlined by Beeple, Fewocious, and Mad Dog Jones”.  This week articles about NFT’s have been flooding in.

Mike Winkelmann, known in the Digital World as Beeple

An NFT is short for non-fungible tokens which are unique digital assets, individually identified as a block chain which allows one person to own a widely disseminated digital artwork, ie the “chain” links it back to the owner and it is blocked from anyone else owning it.


One of the best ways to describe an NFT is as a sort of digital certificate of authenticity, and for some it's become a desirable collectible. Last month an NFT of the 10-year-old meme Nyan Cat sold for $580,000, and a video clip of basketball player Lebron Jones went for over $200,000.


What I find quite amazing is that these NFT’s have been around for a decade and I never heard about them before, and now suddenly every art email I receive seems to have something to say about NFT’s.  Is it possible this is because one of the largest and best-known auction houses in the world, Christies, had its first auction of this material this month.? In that sale one of Beeple’s works titled,  “Everydays — The First 5000 Days,” had a starting figure of $100 and brought sixty-nine million dollars! In an interview I saw at the end of last week Beeple said it took him 13 years to complete!


You won’t be surprised to learn that this market has been driven by tech investors in cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin. At the moment you can’t buy your groceries or pizza delivery with Bitcoin ,but you can buy an NFT with digital currency.  Can you do this at Christies? Possibly, but will Christie’s accept their commission in Bitcoin?  

History will tell us if NFTs and digital art will continue to have high values.  Art is always a question of taste. The fields I dealt in for decades a for substantial sums now bring pennies on the dollar, but tastes change and what people do not value now can become popular again. Material works of art will be around through change of taste but will NFT’s survive the changes in computer technology? 


Whether Digital Art will survive is a more difficult question than will the concept of the Block Chain survive.  Just before finishing this Missive, I spoke with my son again.  He is in the real estate business and has also been studying bock chains. He said he would not be surprised if the real estate business went in this direction. The transfer of ownership of a house requires a great deal of paperwork. But what if, instead you would just need a block chain transaction to guarantee that ownership?


Sunday, March 7, 2021

Did the U.S. Presidents Appreciate the Arts?

After a discussion with one of my office mates I set myself what I thought would be a simple task to see what U.S. Presidents had to say about the arts.  It turned out to be far more difficult than I thought.  Not all went on record on the subject but the attitude of those who did is of interest.  We have so unfortunately learned from the last administration much of the general public follows and believes their Commander in Chief, something which I would have said some years ago is as it should be.

How did some of our Presidents show their appreciation of the arts?  As a matter of fact, our first President George Washington was a great supporter. He wrote “The Arts and Sciences, essential to the prosperity of the State and to the ornament of human life, have a primary claim to the encouragement of every lover of his country and mankind.” He also wrote “To encourage literature and the arts is a duty which every good citizen owes to his country.”


Thomas Jefferson called Monticello his "essay in architecture." Designed in an American form of Neoclassicism it is a monument to his scrupulous study of the architecture of Rome. He acquired a considerable art collection which he personally catalogued around 1809 itemizing numerous paintings after Old Masters, as well as several sculptures by Houdon, and their distribution among the rooms at Monticello. In the spirit of a true collector, he wrote “Never buy what you do not want because it is cheap: it will be dear to you.”


I could not find a direct quote about the arts from Abraham Lincoln, but I did enjoy his comment on a portrait done of him, “I presume, sir, in painting your beautiful portrait, you took your idea of me from my principles, and not from my person.”


One President who was often associated with the arts was John F. Kennedy.  He said, “The arts incarnate the creativity of a free people," and once wrote, "When the creative impulse cannot flourish, when it cannot freely select its methods and objects, when it is deprived of spontaneity, then society severs the root of art."  (I can testify to Jackie Kennedy’s interest in art for the White House as a friend of hers requested we donate a specific object that was needed, which of course we did. Years later another friend brought her to visit our gallery.)


Among the Presidential quotes posted online by artist Marvin Mattelson is one from an unexpected source, Lyndon B. Johnson: “Art is a nation’s most precious heritage.” 


Many Presidents had their portraits painted, but a few were, or attempted to be, artists themselves. Surprisingly among these is Ulysses S. Grant. He painted this rather accomplished landscape when he was 18 years old.


Other Presidents who found a satisfying hobby in painting are Dwight D. Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush.


I will finish my meager tale with a story I just read recently, and you may have seen.  It is about a painting, not by a U.S. President, but by another great statesman, Winston Churchill. Titled “The Tower of the Koutoubia Mosque” it was painted in Marrakech in 1943 shortly after the allies met in Casablanca and decided that only unconditional surrender from Germany was acceptable.  Churchill gave it to President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a symbol of the special relationship between two allied Nations.  What makes the story even more interesting is that after changing hands a few times it was acquired by Angelina Jolie’s family in 2011, reportedly as a gift to the actress from Brad Pitt.  It was recently sold at a Christie’s auction for $11.6 million dollars.  What a difference provenance makes!



Sunday, February 28, 2021

Will Wilson, Photographer

I don’t believe I need to tell my readers of my life-long interest in photography but for most of the last few decades I have shifted to a deep interest in Native American Art.  It is a great pleasure when these two loves of mine come together, as in the art of Will Wilson.

I am privileged to know Will as we both serve on the Board of the Ralph T. Coe Center for the Arts.  I have written about a dozen Missives about Ted Coe and the center over the years.  If you want to know about the Center CLICK HERE and scroll down through them.


Will Wilson (Diné/Navajo) was born in San Francisco in 1969 but spent his formative years on the Navajo Reservation.  He has a B.A. from Oberlin College and Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of New Mexico.  His credits could take up the rest of this Missive, but surfeit is to say that he has had visiting Professorships at the Institute of American Indian Arts, Oberlin College and the University of Arizona.  Here is a self-portrait he did for his Air Series.


As you can imagine Will is a multifaceted artist, who has created many different kinds of images. Most of his work is in black & white but he often visualizes a work in color.  He likes to work in series and here is an image from his Connecting the Dots series.  The subject is Shiprock Disposal Cell, the site of a uranium processing mill and thousands of tons of tailings and radioactive waste.  It is part of a survey of 521 abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Nation an area heavily mined by the U.S. government during the development of the atomic bomb leaving Navajo communities contaminated with radioactivity.


Will is not happy that the Euro-American vision of the American Indian is frozen in the images of Edward S. Curtis (1868-1952) and wants people to understand the Native American of today as part of a continuous and living culture. He writes “Ultimately, I want to ensure that the subjects of my photographs are participating in the re-inscription of their customs and values in a way that will lead to a more equal distribution of power and influence in the cultural conversation.”


With that understanding I want you to know what Will has done for the Coe Center.  He usually works in mural size images and his smallest are still quite large, but he has created a special edition of what I would call domestic size of 11x15 inches for a tintype print created exclusively for the Coe Center. It is titled, “Madrienne Salgado, Jingle Dress Dancer/Government and Public Relations Manager for the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, Citizen of the Muckleshoot Nation.”  For those of you who do not know about the Muckleshoot they are a tribe in the state of Washington near Seattle.  Will feels that this work blends 19th and 21st century storytelling and imaging technologies. 


In this image Madrienne is doing the Jingle Dance traditionally associated with the healing process.  This dance was inspired by a vision during the 1918 flu epidemic and has become particularly relevant in the current pandemic.


Although Wilson uses historic techniques, a large format camera and the mid-19th century wet-plate collodion development process, he has embedded the image of Mareinne Salgade with technology that allows the dancer to be animated with the Talking Tintypes App (a free download and at this time only available on apple devices).


Here is the opportunity I am presenting today.  My readers have a chance to buy this photograph for $300 (plus $30 to cover packing and shipping within the continental United States).   Each print of this special edition of 50 

is inscribed by the artist in pencil along the lower edge with the title, his signature, edition number, and Coe dedication. 


Needless to say, all proceeds are for the benefit of the Coe Center.  I have never written a Missive that tried to sell a work of art but when the work is so inspiring and the cause so important it seems well worth it!