Sunday, September 26, 2021

History Repeats Itself

It is currently fashionable to dump on social media and the problems it raises for kids. I was reading an article in the Wall Street Journal that, for instance, teenage girls become upset and depressed when they see perfect looking women on Instagram. Where did they get the idea of how the perfect looking person looks? Did it not start at home? I am male and my mother wanted to be sure my hair was trimmed and combed. Also, I had to be properly dressed in case we met a friend of theirs of a client of my father’s. In the 50’s this was just proper upbringing. These concepts are fed to children from parents, teachers, classmates, magazines and everywhere you look.

The upset with the media is nothing new. In 1954 Estes Kefauver, Senator from Tennessee, became chairman of the committee to investigate the comic book industry to show that comics contributed to juvenile delinquency. According to an article by Betsy Gomez written on the event’s 60th anniversary, at the hearings Kefauver featured Fredric Wertham, his star witness, who “frequently targeted Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, crime, and horror comics, using pseudoscience to claim that comics caused juvenile delinquency, homosexuality (then considered a mental illness), violent crime, and more.” Today, we read about students killing other students, so it seems the juvenile delinquent issue has gotten even worse and what good did curbing comics do?

An article from June 4, 2020, in the New York Times is titled “Is the News Too Scary for Kids?” There it recommends that you wait until the age of 7 before exposing the innocent. The article goes on to speak of responsible parenting, not hiding the news but guiding your child through it by teaching what is good and bad.

There have always been tabloids such as “The National Enquirer”. At the grocery store or many other places such as news boxes around town your child is exposed to the salacious news that these tabloids feed off of.

Why not stop the sources that feed these ideas rather than dump on social media which now comes to us in a much more easily accessible manner? Why? Because it is much easier to go after the low hanging fruit.

Recently, from the Washington Post, “In one of dozens of recent (media) appearances, Ohio attorney Thomas Renz was claiming that Coronavirus vaccines were more harmful that the virus itself.” At the same time, across the screen a request came to donate to his cause including his website.

Why not boot him and his media facilitators off the air? In this country you cannot stop someone from saying something because of the first amendment but you can or at least try to stop the source from which it is reported. You want to restrict social media but not Fox News?

No, it is not social media that led to the January 6 insurrection but individuals who started the whole idea. Yes, I agree social media should try to delete misstatements of fact or the promotion of violence, but to tell you the truth I could have never imagined that this kind of misinformation and action could actually start in the White House … and you want to blame social media? Excuse me ...

I personally don’t believe social issues, from teenagers’ behavior to attempts to bring down democracy can be blamed on social media. It is just a means of communication and spreading misinformation like television or the tabloids.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Does Anything Ever Change?

In the late 1950’s and early 60’s I loved to go down to Greenwich Village in New York and go to the coffee houses, where no alcohol was served, and listen to the folk singers who adopted the Village as the home for their art. There were many coffee houses to choose from. At one of these, the “Café Wha?” Mary Travers may have actually served me a coca cola and fries! I went with friends wherever our favorite singers were performing, Joan Baez, John Denver, Judy Collins, Odetta, Pete Seeger, Josh White, Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs. The latter two even sang together. Their songs were not necessarily dissimilar, but only one of them made it big.

The songs that always got the most attention were the protest songs, and then as now there was plenty to protest. I might have mentioned this before, but my younger son asked once whether things were as bad then as they are now. I reminded him that the 60’s are remembered for war and assassinations, JFK, RFK and MLK ---if you are too young for the initials to be familiar look them up!

I will give a few examples and let you judge the protest songs for yourselves. Some started out as poems to which the music was added later by another. All the folk singers sang each other’s songs but where possible I have tried to find performances by the original lyricists.These songs involved issues that are still relevant today: Civil Rights from segregation to George Floyd, endless wars from Vietnam to Afghanistan, and through it all, there is always politics.

In 1948 Pete Seeger, (1919-2014) adapted a song with a long history dating back to the eighteenth century which was published as a gospel song in 1901. Seeger made it a mainstay of the Civil Rights movement under the the title “We Shall Overcome”, recording it with added verses and the banjo background that he was so well known for. Have a listen.

In 1965 Tom Paxton (1937- ) wrote “Lyndon Johnson Told the Nation” as a protest song about Vietnam. Until I started this missive, I did not remember that Vietnam was also a 20-year war. The then arch conservative Barry Goldwater who ran against Johnson in 1964 wanted us to stay strong in Vietnam while Johnson promised not to send more young men to be killed over there. We know what happened in the end.

Woody Guthrie’s (1912-1967), “Plane Wreck at Los Gatos (Deportee)” is about a 1948 plane crash that resulted in the deaths of 32 people, 4 Americans and 28 migrant farm workers who were brought into the country in order to harvest the crops and then were being deported from California to Mexico. Guthrie became upset when the New York the Times published the news but none of the names of the workers, identifying them only as “Deportees”. I found a comment on line posted below this song that seems perfect for our time: “Sure, you can secure a border. However, you can never stop the human desire to have a better life by any means necessary. I hope that we can remember that while we fence ourselves in.” Here, Arlo Guthrie’s, Woody’s son, sings his father’s, “Deportee”.

Phil Ochs (1940-1976) did not make it as big as Bob Dylan, but he did have a following. He wrote what is in my opinion one of the most powerful protest songs, “Here’s to the State of Mississippi,” released 1965. Though the song is focused on Mississippi and the murder of three Black men, to me it shows how little has changed, e.g.George Floyd. It also shows the continuing division between regions, as well as the left and right, on so many issues. Substitute any state or states you wish for Mississippi.

Sadly, as the French say, “Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.” The more things change the more they remain the same.


Sunday, September 12, 2021

The Other Side of Collecting

Looking back at the past 14 years of Missives I see I have made reference to donations to institutions in many different ways but hardly ever regarding our own collections.

For the most part we are well past our collecting mode with only two acquisitions in the past three years. In what is our last quarter we have been making more and more donations to institutions. A few months ago, I wrote about some of what goes into such a process:

Over the first 25 years of our marriage, we collected Art Nouveau. We sold the furniture when we moved to the Southwest where it simply did not fit in. We knew that the Cooper Hewitt Museum had lacunae in Art Nouveau as Penelope had worked on their exhibition “Rococo the Continuing Curve”. So, in addition to a prime example of Rococo gilt bronze, we gave them our Jugendstil metalwork, and a couple of Dutch Art Nouveau ceramics, in all 32 pieces.

I can’t say I learned a whole lot studying for my master’s degree at Columbia University, but I do remember a couple of professors fondly. When two visitors from Columbia came to Santa Fe to reach out to alumni who might be interested in the University art collection, we offered them the 17th and 18th century medals with portraits of Louis XIV and XV which I had given over the years as presents to my wife. These were accepted as particularly appropriate to the University, relating to the fields of history as well as art.

We did not hang the collection of photographs we assembled over 35 years in Santa Fe because we felt they would fade in the bright light of New Mexico, and also our Native American collection was taking over the house! We sold a number of the photographs but offered others to a curator, Brian Young, who we had met at the The Arkansas Art Museum. He had moved on to become director of an institution new to us, the Baum Gallery at the University of Central Arkansas. Both Brian and the Photography Professor were enthusiastic. Surprised by the press release regarding the donation and the exhibition to be mounted around our images, we followed up by giving the University all our books on photography. Here is one of the photos donated.

Wendell MacRae, “Rockefeller Center” circa. 1934

Leaving New York permanently, we were concerned about our painting “The Happy Family” by Marguerite Gerard. It is in pristine condition but on wood panel and we feared that in the dry climate of New Mexico it might warp, or worse split. Further, left in a warehouse, nobody could predict what might happen. We were friendly with the director and curator at the Birmingham Museum of Art in Alabama, and they were more than happy to take it on long term loan. After close to a decade, we decided to make it a gift. In spite of the fact that they have had it hanging in their galleries for all that time we are still waiting for the trustees to approve the acquisition later this month, but we are rather optimistic!

While we were going through the donation process, I mentioned to the new Curator, Robert Schindler, our 4,000-book art library. As a serious German scholar, he jumped at the chance of acquiring it and soon had the Librarian and Director on his side. They are arranging the transport as I write. This was the greatest miracle of all. Most institutions would want to cherry pick, taking a few books and leaving the rest! Our next-door neighbor who was leaving Santa Fe said he had to bribe the library here to take his books (bribe, of course, meaning make a cash contribution).

Last year our friend Beth Wees, announced her retirement from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She was curator of silver and jewelry in the American Wing which now includes Native American Art. Thirty years ago, we acquired an exceptional concho belt by the Hopi silversmith Roy Talahaftewa for more than we had ever spent to date. Each of its eight silver plaques depicts a different katsina scene. The Met had no examples of Indian silverwork so, with the approval of the new curator of Native American Art, Patricia Norby, we donated this exceptional piece in honor of Beth so her name will appear on its labeling. The first image is the artist holding his belt, the second is a detail of the work.

Closer to home we gave several pieces of Hopi silver to the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian here in Santa Fe and were so proud when we saw them prominently displayed in their gallery of Southwest Indian jewelry.

More recently we asked Elysia Poon, Director of the Indian Arts Research Center at the School of Advanced Research, for advice on our Native American textile collection. They already have a major collection of textiles, but we thought she could guide us to an institution where ours may be needed. To our surprise we learned that although their collection was strong in Navajo textiles, they lacked the Pueblo weavings we collected, so ours would make a meaningful addition to their holdings. The Registrar is scheduled to pick them up this week.

The last donation I will mention is the most important of all, my gallery’s archive which is going to the Frick Collection in New York. It covers over 75 years’ worth of records and photographs of works of art and documents of dealings with institutions and private collectors as prominent as members of the Rothschild family, John Paul Getty, Helen Clay Frick (daughter of Henry Clay Frick) and the Estée Lauder Family.

It is not easy to part with pieces from our past, but, on the other hand, as my family keeps reminding me, it is most rewarding to know that these chunks of our lives will not be sold or tossed out by future generations, but live on for the continued enjoyment and education of others.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Religious Sculpture of a Different Sort

This past weekend we went to the New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe to see an exhibition called,“Go West Said a Small Voice: Gustave Baumann and Dreams of New Mexico”. As a child Baumann (1881-1971) immigrated with his family to the United States from Germany. After returning briefly to study applied arts in Munich, he became a successful commercial artist in the U.S, and it was only in 1918 that he settled New Mexico.

I have written about and mentioned the artist several times in my Missives. If you go to the Missives from the Art World website, and put Gustave Baumann in the search box you can scroll through the Missives.

Baumann is best known for his lyrical colored woodblock prints that capture the unique colors of the Southwest. Being the contrarian I am, I focused on a different aspect of the exhibition, the sculptures which included a number of the artist’s marionettes. They are quite different from his prints, and one does not remind us of the other, most unusual for an artist. In the 1930’s Baumann and his wife, Jane started doing puppet shows in their house attracting young and old alike. Even before he started his own puppet theater, he collaborated on Zozobra the annual pagan ritual here wiping away the troubles of the past year by burning a huge puppet of Old Man Gloom.

The word marionette comes from the French, meaning little Mary, referring to the Virgin Mary, and early marionette theater was based on religious themes. Here is an image of Baumann’s Saint Francis (Patron Saint of Italy) puppet circa 1940 that was given, as were all his puppets in the show, to the museum by his widow.

I must apologize for the images I am using because I had to take most of my photos through plexi vitrines blurring some of the images.

Another Baumann puppet, dating around 1940, represents San Isidro, the pious farm laborer. As the patron saint of Madrid he is still celebrated there in a five-day festival. Bauman would have encountered him in New Mexico where he is hugely popular as the patron of farmers and represented in local Hispanic paintings (“retablos”) and carved wood figures (“bultos”).

Baumann’s puppet of the Eagle dancer pays homage to the Native culture of his adopted home in the Southwest. The Eagle Dancer to the Hopi Nation represents strength and power and can carry a person’s dreams up to heaven. Kwahu, the Eagle Katsina is treated as an honored guest among the Hopi, who give. them presents like they do their children. We know that Bauman had actually seen an eagle dance at Tesuque pueblo as he depicted it in a print of 1932 which is in the exhibition.

Marionettes have become part of Santa Fe lore and are not reserved for any one group. An outstanding example in the exhibition is the life size puppet of the Yellow Horse Dancer created In 2013 by a Navajo sculptor, Armond Lara. It was a gift to the Museum by the artist and the Zane Bennett Gallery. It represents strength and power and is ruler of the sky and messenger to the great spirits. Among the Hopi he is sacred and magnificent Katsina, the protector of all. For the Navajo there is no religious significance but at pow wows the Native Americans do have a horse dance. What better way to imitate the dance through art than a marionette.

Moving to sculpture that is not a marionette but certainly follows a religious theme is a group representing the Temptations of Saint Anthony (1991) by Luis Tapia, a New Mexican master of the bultos tradition. It was lent to the show by the Museum of International Folk Art. Though Bauman did depict Hispanic religious carvings in his prints, none were as raucous as this. I am not sure with all the times this subject has been covered by artists there were ever so many temptations. Obviously, St. Anthony has his cross to ward them all off. I might be tempted by those the nude ladies but note that one has a snake tail ready to strike. Other temptations include the bribe from the fellow on the right with cash at the ready. I presume the skeleton is there to do away with St. Anthony if he succumbs. Not only is it fun spotting all the details but I am sure you could also do an Ethics as well as a philosophy course around this object.

This exhibition, “Go West Said a Small Voice”, curated by New Mexico Museum of Art Assistant Curator Jana Gottshalk, provided stunning, unfamiliar examples of the local cultures that drew Baumann to Santa Fe.