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!

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Our Immigrants

There is so much in the 21st century world I do not understand at the age of 76 but one of the most perplexing is the fear of immigrants.  Go back far enough and if you are not the child of a Native American you have immigrants in your family tree.  Remember it was immigrants who came over on the Mayflower in 1620 making America Great for the first time and they were soon rampaging across the continent massacring the Indians.

I wonder of today’s anti-immigration Americans if they ever buy from Amazon (founded by Jeff Bezos, son of immigrants from Cuba) or use Google (founded by Sergey Brin from Moscow and now run by Sundar Pichal from Chennai, India) or follow advances in electric cars, batteries and space made by the founder of Tesla, Elon Musk, (born in South Africa). These are just a few of the foreign born who have founded and head the biggest companies in the United States.  Many of which have brought new-found innovation and wealth to this country.

Sergey Brin

The Vilcek Foundation was founded by Marica and Jan Vilcek, immigrants from Czechoslovakia who were grateful to this country for the opportunities it offered them. Marcia Vilcek is an art historian, and her husband Jan is a microbiologist whose anti-inflammatory invention became hugely successful. They decided to use the profits to create a foundation with the purpose of raising awareness of the contributions in the arts and sciences of immigrants to the United States. Its annual awards honor foreign-born artists and scientists as well as advocates of immigrant rights. Since its founding in 2000 the Foundation has awarded over 5 million dollars in prizes to foreign-born individuals and made grants in the same amount to various organizations ...

Marica & Jan Vilcek

As a personal aside, serving on the boards of two arts organizations in Santa Fe I can tell you that, particularly in the last year, they have been struggling.  We are so grateful for grants we have received from private foundations that allow us to keep these arts organizations going.

Since World War II the art world in the U.S. has been enriched by the talents of many European immigrants. A recent museum recruit was Max Hollein, an Austrian and son of the renowned architect Hans Hollein.    Before his appointment as Director of the Metropolitan Museum, Max was Director of the Staedel Museum in Frankfurt, Germany, and Director of the San Francisco Museums. Earlier generations of distinguished Met curator/scholars included the German-born Richard Ettinghuasen Dietrich von Bothmer and Helmut Nickel who headed the departments of Islamic Art, Greek and Roman and Arms and Armor, respectively.

Max Hollein

Though at times they do not like to admit it the museums need art dealers to find works of art for their walls and installations.  In that category we can count Klaus Perls (1912-1998) born in Berlin.  The dual focus of his interest was French 19th century art and that of the Benin Empire.  He wrote several monographs ranging from the 15th century artist Jean Fouquet to 20th century French artists.

There are a host of art dealers of that same generation who came to the U.S. and that would include my father, Eric Stiebel, who came over from Germany with his brother Hans and cousin Saemy Rosenberg to form Rosenberg & Stiebel.  With their foreign connections were able to find Old Master paintings and European decorative arts for museums throughout this country.

I cannot omit the Viennese Serge Sabarsky (1912-1996) who championed the art of German and Austrian Expressionists in his gallery and numerous travelling exhibitions. Thanks to his close friendship with collector Ronald Lauder the Sabarsky legacy is perpetuated in the Neue Gallerie in New York run by a long- time associate of Serge’s Renée Price.

Today we have Alexandre Gertsman, an art dealer from Russia whose New York gallery is a major cultural meeting spot for the local Russian creative community.   His gallery exhibitions have been acknowledged in the Washington Post, The New York Times, the New Yorker and he has also curated shows of contemporary Russian art for museums in the United States, Europe, and Russia.  These ignored 20th century Russian artists because of National Politics will surely be eventually collected by museums all over the United States.

I don’t know where the United States would be, nor who would want to live here, if it were not for all the immigrants who have contributed so much to our lives in every possible way.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

In Memoriam: Richard L. Feigen (1930-2021)

Though Richard L. Feigen led a long and fruitful life I was sad to learn that on January 29, 2021 he succumbed to Covid-19.

As long-time colleagues in the art world, Dick and I were both members of The Art Dealers’ Association of America.  He was greatly respected by all.  His mere presence elevated the group.   Though professionally he was hard driving and a tough negotiator, I found that he treated everyone equally and never had a superior air.  I remember at one of our Art Dealer Association meetings someone saying, probably in the early 1970’s, “I wonder if we could get the young trump to start collecting art” and Dick piping up and saying, “I tried to get him to buy some important painting coming up at auction.  I told him this could really put him on the map in the art world and be good PR, but he was not interested.  He will never be a collector.”  Here he is early in his career.

Dick enjoyed entertaining at his home where we were included in the annual Chinese dinner he held for those who had convened for the Old Master auction week in New York. The walls were hung with his fabulous private collection. A great quote of his is, “I am a collector in dealer’s clothes” which he wrote in his book, “Tales from the Art Crypt”.  He also wrote, “Masterpieces are increasingly unavailable, but I never encountered one that was overpriced, only ones I could not afford”.  Sometimes, reluctantly, he had to sell at auction, for liquidity, to take advantage of opportunities in the market, or more recently for estate planning as with his 2019 consignment of a group of paintings to Christie’s. Here he is at home hanging some of his art.

Armed with a Harvard MBA he bought a seat on tha New York stock exchange but left Wall Street to open his first art gallery in 1957 in Chicago focusing on Surrealism and German Expressionism, most especially the work of Max Beckman. In 1962 he opened a second gallery in New York selling not only Modern Masters but cutting edge artists such as Francis Bacon, Joseph Cornell and Claes Oldenburg.  He explained, “I think I was interested in the future potential of things”.  My point being is that at the time these works would have been considered, Modern, and in today’s parlance, Contemporary. Though he never abandoned them he became increasing involved in Old Master paintings, whether they were for himself or resale.  Here is an image by George Grosz (1893-1959) “Lovesick Man”  of 1916 sold to the Museum in Dusseldorf, Germany.

As a dealer his approach was more high powered than the older generation in the profession like  Klaus Perls, who had a gallery in the same Upper East Side neighborhood and used to say, “I never sold a painting, but once in a while I allowed someone to buy something.” Though I believe Richard would have subscribed to that philosophy his drive and financial background aligned him with a clientele of modern moguls.  In his Italian collection is a wonderful photo of Danae by Orazio Gentilesch (1563-1639) which ended up in the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum.

Richard Feigen’s legacy lies not just in the paintings he donated to his alma mater Yale and to the Metropolitan Museum, but in his role as a dealer, esteemed for his acumen and his “eye”, who enhanced many important private collections and museums around the world for half a century.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Peter Schjeldahl ‘s Art of Words

I wrote about Peter Schjeldahl last year and I believe I could write about him every week without becoming boring.   Charles Finch in his review of Schjeldahl’s book “Hot Cold Heavy, Light” in the New York Times called him “a great artist”. He paints his pictures with words, giving the reader an intimate understanding of the art he has viewed or the music that he has heard.

A published poet before he became an art critic, he even taught at Harvard for four years. I wonder if the year he spent in Paris turned him onto the visual arts because, born in Fargo North Dakota and working as a reporter for local newspapers, he did not have this background.   He has certainly become over his lifetime a 20th and 21st century Renaissance Man!

In 21019 when Schjeldahl was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and was not expected to live long the New Yorker had asked him to write a memoir. He did it, in a way, calling it, “The Art of Dying” in which he reviewed his life chronologically but skipped his year in Paris.  Right off he said that he is glad he did not die at a young age because he would have been embarrassed if people said, “He. Smoked you know… “ Though he says there is no art to dying  as “everybody does it”, he described death as “like a painting rather than a sculpture because  it’s seen from only one side”. 

Outliving all expectations, I see that he wrote a review in the January 25th edition of the New Yorker, which proves him still to be at the top of his form, at least as far as his art criticism is concerned. His subject was an exhibition at the David Zwirner gallery in New York, a show of two artists, the German Josef Albers and the Italian, Georgio Morandi.  I have a particular interest in the latter because my father’s best friend and my adopted “uncle”, Herman (Maenne) Goldsmith,  was his dealer.  Maenne took my parents to Morandi’s home in the mountains of Italy. The artist had the most beautiful view of the country side, but was fixated with the bottles and other objects in his studio which he painted for half a century.  Schjeldhl describes the work as “Often woozily drawn and always tenderly brushed in muted colors, the tableaux look but don’t feel repetitive."

He points out the “deeply poetic” Morandi  and the “academic and even pedantic” Albers “were brothers in perserverance”.  Albers “wedded himself to a format of three or four nested hard-edged squares on square supports – ‘Homage to the Square’ he called them – centered a bit below the pictures’ vertical midpoints.”  I shall illustrate it here though after that description you hardly need it.

Schjeldahl even describes the gallery in lyrical tones, “The Zwirner show is one of the best installed that I’ve ever seen. Its four large rooms host rhythmic arrays and alternations that induce that crackle: the soft cosmos of Morandi is both relieved and refreshed by the architectonics of Albers, and vice versa. The artists share an intensity of artistic vocation.”

A couple of months ago Schjeldahl wrote for the same magazine, “The Metropolitan Museum at a Hundred and Fifty”. He described the Met’s acknowledgement of its birthday as “celebrating in a pandemically muted manner”. As he pointed out “A hundred and fifty is a lot of years, though a mere flicker compared with the five millennia’s worth of objects from the permanent collections that are sampled in the show.” He criticized the Met particularly for it’s early blind spot to modern art and artists of color but conceded “Oh the other hand, and meanwhile, c’mon.  The Met is our Home Depot of the soul.”

I do hope that someday someone will write a comprehensive biography of this consummate artist of words.