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.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

A New Museum in a Town of Many

I read quite a number of art blogs and informational sites. Some of the stories I see intrigue me enough to look further. One I read recently about George Lucas (1944-) qualifies.

George Lucas is probably best known for creating the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises. He also formed the company Lucasfilm and spinoffs from that. He owned 100% of the former which he sold in 2012 to the Walt Disney Company transferring his $4 billion proceeds to a private philanthropy that will focus on education issues in the United States. Never fear for his remaining fortune, Forbes Magazine estimated his net worth at $7 Billion.

Now Lucas and his wife, Mellody Hobson, Co-CEO & President at Ariel Investments, areready to branch out into another world, that of museums.

They are in the process of building and opening “The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art”. Narrative Art? That is what I dealt in my entire life, European art of the 14th through the 19thcenturies was always narrative, starting with the religious, the mythical and historical events, all narrative art. But Lucas can add other dimensions photography, the first photograph circa 1826 and more importantly the moving picture, 1895, being a huge jump in the development of narrative art.

George Lucas & Mellody Hobson

By my count there are 8 art museums in Los Angeles including the Los Angeles County Museum, The Huntington and The Getty. Earlier attempts by Lucas and his wife to build their museum in San Francisco and then Chicago were thwarted by politics and neighborhood objections. L.A. seemed to be most hospitable to the idea. Also, influenced by Hobson, Lucas was attracted to the idea of having his new institution being used as a teaching tool for young people and there are plenty of schools and universities in L.A. to draw from.

The flowing futuristic museum building by architect Ma Yansong will feature new public green space, cinematic theaters, a research library, and space for onsite education. It was supposed to be completed this year but due to Covid issues will only be finished later next year and plans to open in 2023.

Rendering of the Lucas Museum

Just building a collection can be complicated but multiply that by a thousand if you wish to establish a museum. In 2014 Lucas wisely hired an advisor, Don Bacigalupi who was a curator specializing in contemporary art and popular culture and Director at several museums including Toledo Museum of Art before joining The Crystal Bridges Museum which he helped Alice Walton develop.

You might have thought that the Lucas Museum would deal with just film and photography. What is not well known is that Lucas also has a serious art collection by artists such as Norman Rockwell, Thomas Hart Benton, Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden, Maxfield Parrish, Kerry James Marshall and Frida Kahlo. While the bulk of the collection includes 20thand 21st century art, there are old masters as well. Here are three examples of Narrative Art from the collection: (3 Images, Captions Below)

Norman Rockwell (American 1894-1978)
“Shuffleton's Barbershop”, 1950

William Hogarth (British 1697-1764)
from his series “The Rake’s Progress”, 1732-34

Artemisia Gentileschi (Italian 1593-1653) and associate,
The Triumph of Galatea, about 1649

His new museum with its 80,000 square feet of exhibition space will include paintings, sculpture, photography, movies, illustration, comic art and “Star Wars” ephemera. When Lucas said, “Why I have 15,000 works of art is because I can’t let go of them” he was being modest because including the other material, his collection now numbers around 100,000 works.

“The focus of the Museum is to open up people's imaginations and inspire them to dream beyond what is considered possible,” Lucas explains, “Narrative art and storytelling stirs our emotions, shapes our aspirations as a society, and is the glue that binds us together around our common beliefs.” Appointed in 2020 as Director and CEO of the Museum, Sandra Jackson-Dumont comes from the Metropolitan Museum of Art where she was Chairman of Education and Public Programs Department. She faces the challenge of realizing a museum with the Lucas concept,-- to dream beyond what is considered possible.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

A Tale of 3 Works of Art

As promised last week I am returning to the painting called “Revelation” by Patrick Muniz McGrath in the exhibition, Los Tres Modernos at Evoke Contemporary in Santa Fe. All the images were supplied by the artist.

The large-scale work, (46x 60) inches, painted this year is an example of what the artist says himself, “the artist gathered personal myths, memories, and dream imagery through the past 22 years of painting them”. The composition is worked around a Madonna inspired by the traditional Spanish Colonial images of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Our Lady of Charity. The man working on his sketchbook in the boat on the left of “Revelation” is Patrick at a younger age. He writes that the PR1996 on the side of the boat represents his native Puerto Rico and 1996 is the year he started sketching daily.

Patrick repeats themes but never paints an image exactly as he has the last. We know the figure of the monk centered below the Madonna as it is the subject of a 2018 painting by Patrick that we own. In ours you can see enough of the face to recognize Patrick’s self-portrait. As we know for every artist the closest model is the artist him or herself. In Patrick’s case, however, it is also the fact that he sees himself in various mystical and contemplative situations. Our monk holds a skull rather than the hourglass, but the symbolism remains the same.

I noticed a smaller painting in the show, called “The Guide”, 36 x30 inches, also dated 2021, that repeats in reverse the group on the right of “Revelation”. Death wields a scythe and places his hand on the shoulder of the artist who holds his paint brushes and his 4-year-old son on his lap. In his notes on the work Patrick has pointed out 20 symbolic points that he ruminated about while he was painting, like his son’s pose with finger on his lips indicating silence and holding his stuffed lamb representing his innocence. Patrick lost friends and relatives in recent times and to the left of “The Guide” you see a man carrying a machete, a close friend and Puerto Rican countryman of Patrick’s who died last year. He is shown with his pet dog guiding him in the afterlife as he points to a small white skull indicating his never-ending search for archeological finds.

A preliminary drawing for “The Guide” titled “Meditationes Matutinae” (morning meditations) seems simpler and more sympathetic with a contemplative artist and his son with angel wings, proud to be with his father, but here too is an hourglass which shows the passing of time from son to father to death. As we get older, we see how time passes so quickly. Among the other symbols is a bird on Patrick’s head which actually does have the previous president’s face. It was drawn in October of 2020 when as the artist says, “Not only is it sitting on my head (thoughts) it is leaving a hideous dropping over my head, like Stymphalian bird spoiling everything on its path, including my own mental sanity.” Oh, how I can sympathize with that!

“The Guide” is a classic Memento Mori, from the Latin, “remember you must die” where the artist has made the macabre into an intensely personal statement. I might not have responded to its symbolism a few years ago, but now, at the age of 77, and having a granddaughter of 2 years, I wonder how old she will be when I pass on.

I always tell my readers not to dwell on all the writing about works of art, but look at them first and only then, if you are interested, learn more to deepen your appreciation and understanding of the work. In Patrick’s case he gave me “20 points of light” each, into two of the paintings above but few artists can express their visions in their paintings in words like Patrick McGrath Muniz!

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Santeros Modernos

Santeros are artists who paint and or carve images of saints. It is one of the oldest traditions of religious devotion practiced by Hispanics from Central and South America, the Caribbean, the Philippines and naturally, the United States.

At Spanish Market and Folk-Art Market and many of the shops in Santa Fe you can find their works, some of which have lately included social commentary as they deal not only with religion but the ideas positive and negative that are part of their/our daily lives.

As we like several of the artists that one Santa Fe gallery represents, we visit from time to time and have even made a couple of purchases there. Whether planned or not, the gallery’s name, Evoke Contemporary, could also be the title of their current exhibition which they call, “Tres Modernos Ride Again”. The three artists are Nicholas Herrera, Patrick McGrath Muniz and Thomas Vigil.

Nicholas Herrera (1964-), considered a founding father of the Santos Modernos, lives in in a small town in rural New Mexico. At the age of 26 he sold a piece showing Christ sitting in the back of a police car to the Smithsonian Museum of American Art and since then his work has been shown in many museums. You really don’t need to know much about him in order to appreciate the message of his life experience. What stronger imagery can you have than one in Evoke’s exhibition, a large carved figure of a farmer on his tractor/death cart with his saw on one side and a cloaked skeleton holding a cross and a gun. Unfortunately, these days the latter two symbols often go together. It is just the opposite of the biblical reference “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.” –Isaiah 2.1-2

The second artist in this show, Patrick McGrath Muniz (1975-) was born and brought up in Puerto Rico but currently lives in Houston, Texas. He explains his work in his artist’s statement, “Through satirical narratives and anachronisms present in my art I'm able to explore, understand and question the Imperialist agenda with its colonial roots. and the ruling Corpocracy with its Neo-colonial ramifications and environmental consequences in our time.” Not many artists can express themselves in words as well as in their art. We have long admired his work and over the years we have acquired three of his paintings. In this show there are many pieces I could be tempted by. The largest is titled “Revelation” painted this year. He explains that he has gathered myths, memories and groups of images from the last 22 years of his life. Many of these themes have been repeated in earlier paintings which always include religious and contemporary symbols I will come back to this in my next missive.

The final artist in this trio, Thomas Vigil (pronounced Vihil) (1980-) lives in Espanola, New Mexico, a town known for its problems of drugs and alcohol. His religious images are painted over discarded street signs. He says of himself, “Graffiti changed the definition of ART for me. I developed an addiction for art in public spaces at a young age. I indulged in my fair share of unlawful expression. It was in the streets that I received an education that I would have never found at any conventional art school…. My artwork has always been a constant pursuit to find a harmony between my cultural, religious beliefs and my love for controversial, low brow art forms.” Here are two images one of a Madonna and child titled “Never Ending Struggle for Peace and Quiet” the other with Christ in agony and the same word “WARNING” in the background. Is there any more to say?

In our current turbulent times, it is somehow reassuring to know that we are not alone in our anguish. The exhibition is open until November 30 and do see it if you happen to be in Santa Fe.

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