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 RenĂ©e 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.

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