Sunday, September 25, 2022

Cultural Property III

This is going to be my last Missive in my Cultural Property Series for the time being. As important as the issues of International Cultural Property are, I believe, one has to be sure to cover issues at home before trying to change things abroad.

Having lived now in the American Southwest for a substantial amount of time my regular readers know of my interest in Native America. In the westward expansion of the United States Native Americans were treated almost as badly as any indigenous group anywhere in the world. It has surprised me how well they have adapted to the dominant Anglo world and still been able to retain their own cultures.

Anglo contemplating Hopi Katsina Doll

The United States Government has created some laws to protect Native American property. Neither Canadian nor American Indians are able to own land on their Reservations, so they cannot build equity. Reservation land is held “in trust” for Indians by the federal government. The goal of this policy was originally to keep Indians contained on certain lands. Now, it has shifted to preserving these lands for indigenous peoples.

You may have heard of “unceded land”. It means that the American Indians and First Nations (as the Canadians refer to their Indigenous people) never ceded or legally signed away their lands to the government. This fact has been recently admitted in statements like the bronze plaque The Metropolitan Museum of Art added to its façade on May 11, 2021, which acknowledges the homeland of the Indigenous Lenape diaspora.


It follows that tribal cultural property is also not individually owned but held in trust by an authorized Native American caretaker or caretakers for the tribe as a whole. Under traditional tribal law, these caretakers have no rights to sell the property in their possession.

The United States has laws of recent vintage to protect Native American art and artifacts. The Archeological Resource Protection Act (ARPA), 1979, addresses taking or dealing in material from Federal or Indian Lands. Another is The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), 1990, which mandates the return of Native American human remains, therefore requiring archeological exploration before building on land that is likely to have had burial grounds. Additionally, NAGPRA establishes the right of repatriation from museums of sacred objects and those claimed as cultural patrimony taken from tribal lands. It also covers areas of unceded land that First Nations (read Native Americans) traditionally occupied. The United States and Canada, naturally have a great deal of land that qualifies.

Both laws cover roughly the same material requiring respectful treatment of human remains and returning them to an individual or tribe. They also cover “but are not limited to pottery, basketry, bottles, weapons, weapon projectiles, tools, structures or portions of structures, pit houses, rock paintings, rock carvings, intaglios” etc.

As I have said, none of this is simple. For instance, a Katsina is a spirit being in the religious beliefs of the Pueblo peoples. Small wood sculptures made in their image orginally served as teaching tools for the young but developed into collectibles for Anglos. For more information click on this link published by the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona that has one of the great collections of Native American Art. https://heard.org/katsinadolls/faq.html The museums in Santa Fe have collections of Katsina “dolls” but will no longer display them because some of the subjects are considered sacred. Still, there is no law preventing their sale by galleries and directly by Hopi and Zuni artists participating in various markets. Here you can see some of the Heard Museum’s collection on display. As this museum is in Arizona, it has not been subject to the political pressure of the New Mexico pueblos.


Misrepresenting works as Indian made, if they are not created by a Native American, is another matter and a problem for both artists and collectors. The 1990 Indian Arts and Crafts Act was passed by Congress to address the issue. However, it has proved difficult to enforce as can be seen by the number of misidentified offerings in certain Santa Fe tourist shops priced below authentic Indian works.

Needless to say, there are many different interest groups: those who keep the religion and history of the tribe, the artists from that tribe, the gallery owners and the collectors. This last sentence can be expanded into at least one chapter or a book, but the point is that it is always imperative to try to understand from where each constituency comes and then work to arrive at an equitable solution.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Cultural Property II

You probably caught on from last week’s Missive that I was going to continue on the subject of Cultural Property.

Coming back to a paper I wrote in 1997 and mentioned last week, Is the Collecting of Works of Art a Legitimate Pursuit? “Trading in artifacts may not claim to be the world's oldest profession, but it is certainly among the oldest," so commences John Walker, former director of the National Gallery in Washington DC in his introduction to the catalog “Expert's Choice: 1000 Years of the Art Trade, the 1983 exhibition at The Virginia Museum of Art.

I will reprise what I wrote on the subject in 1997: ”Collecting can be documented for thousands of years in China, Sumaria, from ancient Egyptian times and traced through Greece to Rome. The sacking of Corinth by the Romans in 146 BC led to one of the first and certainly one of the greatest auction sales in history. At the time it was, of course, celebrated not condemned.

Collecting has always been associated with political power and financial means. Art has been collected through commission, purchase and plunder by Emperors, Kings, Popes, Robber Barons and most recently by heads of corporations.”

The tide began to turn in 1815 when the Horses of St. Marks that had been taken by Napoleon for his Louvre Museum were retured to Venice. In the past half century the tempo of change has increased with Ethics, Morals and Mores holding sway. Still it has taken some time for the collecting public and even the public institutions to recognize the fact. During this relatively new century institutions and individual collectors are coming to accept and act on new rules of engagement.


When I opened my computer exactly one week ago today and was about to start writing, sure enough there were a couple of new articles on this subject.

One from NPR had the provocative headline, “A Kidnapped Goddess Returns Home, After Prosecutors Expose Art Thieves”. Another from Hyperallergic was titled, “a Small Community in Nepal Wants Its Stolen God Back”. These are unrelated stories and each could be the subject of a an entire book or movie.

In the Hyperalergenic article Emiline Smith tells the story that in 1999 a sculpture representing Aghoreswora (Nil Bahrahi), dating from 1636, was one of four lingas stolen from the house of their caretaker. As they are central to local celebration of a holy festival it was replaced with a replica. Only recently was the Aghoreswora identified through a posting on Facebook and traced to the Asian Civilizations Museum, part of the Singapore National Museum of Asian Antiquities and Decorative Art. Its repartriation had not been settled as of last week’s article.


In the case of the NPR story also written about in the New York Times the Marble Head of Athena was one of 74 pieces taken out of Italy by a well-known smuggler who was caught decades ago. Through a dealer known for being a middle man and advanced technology allowed the identification and tracing of works he handled. The New York Times story by Tom Mashberg and Graham Bowley reported the return to the countries of origin of 27 antiquities from Rome, Greece and Italy after seizure from the Metropolitan Museum by the New York District Attorney executing search warrants. In an official statement the Met specified that the investigators’ information had only recently been made available to them.


It seems likely to me that many of these works would have been sold by legitimate dealers who were fed a bill of goods by corrupt middlemen. At this point, I do not know. If the case can be proven that pieces were actually the exact same ones stolen and/or illegally exported, the country of origin has every right to get them back.

It is interesting that I grew up at a time that I thought it was inevitable for there to eventually be a one world community. That has obviously turned out to be a huge fallacy, yet in the world of cultural property we are beginning to understand what is important to others. The words in the Met’s recent statement on repatriation is certainly true: “The norms of collecting have changed significantly in recent decades”.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Cultural Property

After 13 years of sending out these Missives it is sometimes hard to remember that I had a life before. Reading an announcement from an Anthropological Institute and Museum that a member of their board of trustees had been appointed by President Biden to CPAC, no not The Conservative Political Action Conference but The President’s Cultural Property Advisory Committee! It brought to mind my own appointment to that Federal Committee by William Jefferson Clinton in 1995. “The Cultural Property Advisory Committee advises the President of the United States on appropriate U.S. action in response to requests from foreign governments for cultural property agreements. Cultural property agreements with other countries are collaborative tools to prevent illicit excavation and trade in cultural objects.”


For over 30 years in one form or another I was involved in the subject of Cultural Property. Being an art dealer and a board member or President of several art dealer associations, I was in a position to defend the profession as a legitimate one. Over the years the subject has become increasingly important as a hot political topic. Recent repatriations to a myriad of countries testify to that fact.


In July 2020 the Yale Law Review published an article by Nikita Lalwani called “State of the Art: How Cultural Property Became a National-Security Priority”. It explores the legislative history surrounding the passage of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (1983), which implemented the (1970) UNESCO Convention in the United States. Lalwani states “the final version of the law reflected a compromise between those who wanted strong cultural-property protections and those who favored weaker ones”. In one case i testified before Congress on an issue related to these discussions. This quote from that article states one of my arguments: “… art collectors and others argued that the bill would do a disservice to great works of art. Great art might be destroyed if the bill forced the United States to return cultural property to its country of origin. According to Gerald G. Stiebel, a former president of the National Antique and Art Dealers Association of America, for example, “the market place”—as opposed to the U.S. government—was best placed to protect art. Art collectors were willing to “make the financial commitment” to ensure high-quality care, he said, and works that ended up in a museum would be safeguarded and preserved for the edification of the public.”

“Is Collecting Works of Art a Legitimate Pursuit” is the title of paper I wrote in 1997 after participating in a 5-day seminar on Cultural Property at the School for Advanced Research. In the excerpt below I again expressed my opposition to the principle that all art should be returned to its country of origin but do explain the other side of the argument.

“With the increased demand for archeological material by collectors and museums, the archaeologists became alarmed. They joined forces with governments in calling for the preservation of cultural heritage thus giving additional legitimacy to the concept that artifacts should not leave their country of origin. The archaeologists' argument is that when artifacts are removed from a site it destroys their context and therefore leaves the site incomprehensible for the purposes of understanding the past. While the archeologist has a valid claim that the context of an artifact should not be lost, to deny that an object can have aesthetic and even educational value on its own is being disingenuous.”

This Missive merely sets the stage for more blogs on the subject in the future. Who knows… maybe next week!

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Crime in Museums

Only recently have I focused on crime in museums, though I know it is nothing new. What grabbed my attention were articles that appeared some months ago about the director of, arguably, the museum with the most name recognition in the world, the Louvre. Jean-Luc Martinez, director of the Louvre from 2013-2021 was charged this year by a French court with complicity in a criminal scheme involving fraud and money laundering in which five illegally exported objects from Egypt were sold to the Louvre’s branch in Abu Dhabi. The French press inferred that he may have turned a blind eye to falsified export documents.

The Associated Press reported in 2014 that In 1999 or 2000 a Henri Matisse painting hanging on the walls of the Caracas Museum of Contemporary Art was swapped out for a copy and the museum only realized it in 2002…so much for the watchful eye of the museum staff. Eventually the original was retrieved when there was an attempted sale in Miami in 2012 and repatriated to the museum in 2014. The image on the left is the original and one the right the replica.


At the end of June of this year the director of the Orlando Museum of Art was replaced after a raid by the F.B.I. where 25 works were seized after the opening of an exhibition of the life and work of Jean-Michel Basquiat. In the F.B.I.’s affidavit evidence was sited pointing to possible crimes of conspiracy and wire fraud, but no charges have yet been filed in the case. The New York Times reported that the investigation revealed “attempts to sell the paintings using false provenance and bank records show possible solicitation of investment in artwork that is not authentic”.


It is not just art museums. In 2003 during a routine audit the Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson, Kansas, near Wichita found that objects were missing. In 2005 the Hutchinson News broke the story that Max Ary, who had been director of the museum for 27 years and in 2002 had become the director of another Space Museum, was sentenced to 36 months in federal prison for his role in stealing and selling space artifacts some of which were on loan from NASA… were they marked “Top Secret”?!


One of the most notorious alleged crimes involving another world-renowned museum, The Getty, was continuously in the news. In 2010 a decade-long investigation and trial in Rome finally ended. Marion True, former curator of antiquities at the museum had been accused of knowingly acquiring for her institution ancient works of dubious origin. The trial ended when the court noted that the statutes of limitations had expired on all charges against Dr. True. I am guessing that the Italy’s objective was to set an example forcing American Institutions to create new rules regarding more careful scrutiny of provenance in their acquisitions. The Metropolitan Museum was the first to make a deal to return 20 works of art to Italy, including the famous Euphronios Krater acquired in 1972, in exchange for some long-term loans from Italian museums. Before it went home note the label for the Euphronios Krater says “On Loan”.


I guess crime always makes news because it is titillating wherever you find it.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Indian Market Week in Santa Fe

For the first time in the over 30 years that we have attended Indian Market in Santa Fe on the first morning, we have never experienced rain. I guess there is always a first time. We went down anyway, and it did not look like it was empty. Maybe not quite as busy as normal but those who were set on acquiring works did not let a little rain deter them. When we went back on Sunday, many artists had already had great sales.

  

I was tempted to call this Missive “Crazy Week in Santa Fe”. Everyone has decided the pandemic is over, we know it is not but we can all feel safer now that most have been vaccinated.

There is so much going on that not only did we have to make choices as what to attend we also found that artists had to make choices as to where they wished to sell their works of art or ask a relative to sit in for them.

It is the 100th anniversary of Indian Market, and all the American Indian Institutions have used the excuse to promote their organizations. I wrote about the Hoop Dance Competition which kicked off the week for us. Then we were invited to a gala for the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) a public tribal land-grant college in Santa Fe, from where many important artists have graduated’ The event, with auction and paddle call, raised $834,000 for their scholarship fund from the packed La Fonda Hotel ballroom!


The Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian had a 3-day benefit sale of Jewelry, Katsinas, baskets and pots from which 30 were sold the first day.

On one of those days a number of well-known artists who were invited by the Wheelwright and were not interested in doing Indian Market had a sales show on the small plaza in front of the museum. While her parents attended the booth their daughter kept herself occupied.


The Ralph T. Coe Center for the Arts had a full day planned. We attended a panel discussion with 5 American Indian Artists. They were writers, editors and creative artists all being identified with more than one designation. The overall topic I would define as identity and how they define themselves. A major point expressed by all is that the Tribes have their own culture and their own language but that does not mean that they are not also full participants in today’s world. Since the ‘Native Americans’ refer to themselves as ‘Indians’, I asked which term they believed I should use in my Missives and the general reply was neither and they suggested I use the name of their Tribe or Pueblo. I replied that I write for an international audience and then one member suggested that I use a prescribed style sheet or use the term ‘American Indian’.

Regarding language I had asked at the IAIA gala, the Governor of the Acoma Pueblo whether the different languages of the Indians had common roots as in European languages and he said a number of pueblos had common roots in their language but others were totally different. I don’t speak Hopi but I had reason to buy their dictionary which comes in at just under 900 pages. Of the 574 Federally recognized Tribes. 23 are In New Mexico.

The day before Indian Market we went to an exhibition of many of the works that would be for sale at Indian Market and the prize winners, such as Best of Class, ie painting & photography, Sculpture & Katsinas, Bead Work etc. There is also one winner for Best of Show. Here is the pot made by Russel Sanchez (San Ildefonso Pueblo) that received this award. He called the Pot “100 Years in the Making!”. It contains about 400 pieces of Turquoise and Hematite beads inlaid by the artist.

Of course, there was a luncheon connected to that.


Finally, the cold and wet first day of Market we were invited by IAIA to an outdoor luncheon to publicize a relatively new American Indian organization called The Forge Project in upstate New York. The New York Times sums it up as follows: “The Forge Project, based in the Hudson Valley, is Becky Gochman’s initiative to raise the profile of the artists and find homes for their work in collections and museums.”

To sum up the past week, with the addition of a couple of non-American Indian events, I am exhausted but looking forward to next year!

Sunday, August 21, 2022

The Hoop Dance and the Lightning Boy Foundation

The hoop dance is a traditional Native American dance that the medicine men used in healing ceremonies. A number of tribes lay claim to its origin and suffice it to say that it has been an important part of the Native American culture for centuries. In the 1930’s, Tony White Cloud, from the Jemez Pueblo, is credited with being the founder of the modern hoop dance which we see today. He began using multiple hoops in a stylized version of the dance.


In Native culture the hoop has sacred symbolism representing the circle of life. Traditionally the hoop was made with willow and bois d’arc and that is still used but more often replaced with reed and plastic hose or pvc decorated with tape and paint. Pvc is preferred for durability when travelling.

The dance is done to drum accompaniment . Here is Steve LaRance Co-Founder of the Lightning Boy Foundation at the Library of Congress in 2016 explaining the drum beat.



The Lightning Boy Foundation is a Nonprofit organization that offers hoop dance instruction to tribe or pueblo registered youth. Its mission is “nurturing and building confidence and integrity through culture and Artistic expression”. Students as young as 2 years old are eligible. At the moment their youngest is 3 and the oldest is 17. Several graduates of the program (college age) have returned as instructors. For more information, please visit: http://www.lightningboyfoundation.com

The personal histories that lead to this effort are described on the Foundation website: “The Lighting Boy Foundation was established in honor of Valentino 'Tzigiwhaeno' Rivera, “a boy who couldn't stop dancing”. Valentino participated in traditional pueblo dances, traditional hoop dancing, hip hop and break dancing. He was the son of George Rivera (former Governor of Pojoaque Pueblo) and Felicia Rosacker-Rivera. Sadly at the age of 8 Valentino was in a car accident and subsequently died. The following year, 2017, the Foundation was named in his honor, 'Tzigiwhaeno' means 'lightning' in his Tewa language. It was co-founded by his mother, Felicia Rosacker-Rivera, and mentor/spokesman/artist Steve LaRance (Hopi, Assiniboine) with Nakotah LaRance, Steve’s son, as master instructor. Sad to say, in 2020 Nakotah died in a mountain climbing accident at the age of 30. He was not only a nine-time winner at the World Championship of Hoop Dance, he also performed internationally with the Cirque du Soleil.” Here is a clip of one of Nakotah’s dances from 2016. It is 6 minutes so if you do not have time now save it til later. It is well worth watching him working with 5 hoops for the finale.



Last weekend we watched the final rounds of a two-day championship competition in honor of Nakotah organized by the Foundation and hosted by the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture. There were 4 divisions: Tiny Tots Division, 2- 5 year old’s who all get prizes to encourage them to continue their good work, Youth Division 6-12, Teen Division and Collegiate division. In announcing the event, Steve LaRance made mention of hoop dancers as old as 82 though they were not participating in the competition! The judges rated the dancers on Precision, Timing and Rhythm, Showmanship, Creativity and Originality and Speed.

Here are just 18 seconds of Foundation’s young students on the Santa Fe Plaza a couple of years ago.



Needless, to say it is so great to see the superhuman efforts that little ones go to. At every performance there are always small children behind the on lookers practicing and tiny tots trying to pick up a hoop the way the big kids do. Sometimes they look uncertain of what to do with the hoop but they are clearly determined to learn!

Though I understand that this all belongs to a culture which is not mine, I so wish that every child could be introduced to this beautiful dance and learn the discipline that this training can give. It would be invaluable for a lifetime.

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Esports & The Arts

When we bought a television and sound bar awhile back, we were asked if we wanted it for gaming and thought, why would we? I did not understand the importance gaming has in this new world. Graduating from board games and maybe tic-tac-toe on a scrap of paper we graduated to Pong which started in 1972. Then we were aware of the kids having computer games but did not participate ourselves. Keeping up is not so easy as you get older, but learning is what keeps me going.

I had never heard of the word Esports even though it has been around for years, until, I read an article in the July/August issue of Wired Magazine by Brendan I. Koerner. To my great surprise I learned that colleges have Esports teams. I happened to reach my son, Danny, driving my granddaughter, Lucy, to her college, Ohio State University (OSU). I asked him if he had ever heard of Esports teams, and he had not but Lucy piped up that they have one at OSU!


Koerner writes about Madison Marquer who was hired by Laramie County Community College (LCCC) a small college but the only institution of higher learning in Cheyenne, Wyoming. It has just 2,800 full time students, as opposed to over 65,000 at Lucy’s OSU. Richard Walsh an instructor in LCCC’s information-technology program seeing how important gaming was to the students set out to convince the administration how an Esport program could bring in more students and boost the brand to make the school more attractive to applicants. In his interview as a coach for the program Marquer made the case to the administration to show that an Esports team would give students the discipline and purpose to go on to richer lives. He also had to demonstrate how Esports actually was a sport by showing how dexterity, hand eye coordination and quick thinking were necessary to excel.

In an article in Hyperallergic by Jasmine Liu she passes on a quote from Oscar Wilde’s 1889 essay The Decay of Lying: “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life,” Here is one of several images shown in the article

From there it is not so far-fetched how art is linked in so many ways to other activities of life.

What might be the connection between Esports and arts education? The National Endowment for the Arts reports that more than 175 million adults engage with the arts through electronic media. Put that together with the benefits claimed for Esports:

-Improved hand-eye coordination.
-Improved attention & visual acuity.
-Improved basic visual processing and executive function.
-Problem solving & strategy skill development.
-71% of parents report gaming having net positive effects for children.
-Boosts self-confidence and player socialization.

All qualities that a good artist or art historian, for that matter, need to succeed.

Academy of Art University, founded in San Francisco in 1929, currently has around 8,000 students and they started an Esports program in 2016. They write, “Students from all areas of study at Academy of Art are given the opportunity to use their career skills in the Esports Studio Classes. Game Development, Communications, Music and Sound Design, Illustration, and many other majors all come together to produce live Esports productions and events, both online and in-person."


The world renowned Getty Museum has used Egames not only to attract visitors but also to make their visitor experience more engaging. In a collaboration with the University of Southern California (USC) in 2015, a group from their program created games to enhance the Museum experience. One such game, called “Switch” asks players to hunt through the galleries with their smartphones to break a magic spell that is switching details in the paintings. Remain in the Getty at home with egames on line that test your memory for what you saw. In this article a curator at the Getty brings the gamer a link to true art history. https://blogs.getty.edu/iris/meet-the-real-francois-thomas-germain-sculptor-silversmith-of-the-enlightenment/

In 2020 the Markets Insider published a press release announcing the world’s first-ever ‘Visioning Esports in Art’ Exhibition. Note to self: Keep Up!

Sunday, August 7, 2022

“Grounded in Clay” A Tradition

You can learn a subject, but it is far more difficult to understand a culture.

The exhibition “Grounded in Clay: The Spirit of Pueblo Pottery” at the New Mexico Museum of Indian Arts and Culture undertakes the challenge.

About 35 years ago we walked into The Museum of Northern Arizona and there we “discovered” the art of the Native Americans in the Southwest. Something about it just captured our soul. Having lived and worked in a very Eurocentric world my wife and I had to bring ourselves into that culture in order to try to understand a totally different mindset. So began a journey that continues to live with us.

The exhibition consists of about 100 pottery objects selected from almost 4,000 in the Indian Arts Research Center (IARC), which is part of the School for Advanced Research here in Santa Fe, with the addition of 24 pots from the the outstanding collection in the Vilcek Foundation in New York. The exhibition was organized by Elysia Poon, IARC Director, Rick Kinsel, President of the Vilcek Foundation and Acoma Pueblo Governor, Brian Vallo, a former IARC director. The three pots I am illustrating were selected from the Foundation by them respectively.


Originating here in Santa Fe the exhibition celebrates the hundredth anniversary of the Indian Pottery Fund which became the IARC at the School of Advanced Research. Around 60 members of 21 tribal communities including New Mexico’s 19 Pueblos, known as the Pueblo Pottery Collective, responded to the invitation to select and discuss works from the collections.

The Ceramic Vault at the IARC

The art of the potter has been a strong tradition in the Pueblos from time immemorial and continues to the present day. Lonnie Vigil, Nambé Pueblo created this monumental pot in 1995. It is 25 5/8 x 28 3/8 inches He had worked in finance in Washington D.C. before returning to the Pueblo to focus on his pottery. The quote is by Nora Naranjo Morse, KHA’p’o Wingeh/Santa Clara.


The show spans from the 11th century to into the 21st. Here you have a couple of the early pieces from the exhibition. Please do not skip the caption and the quote above. These demonstrate the universally deep meaning of these pieces to Pueblo people.



Some, like like Patrick Cruz, from Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo found pots in the SAR collection made by their ancestors. Cruz wrote about a piece by his great-grandmother, Gregorita Cruz : “I have made pots using Gregorita’s polishing stone and I feel a close-lived family connection to her in ways that photographs and other mementos could never provide.”

The cultural message that these pots live to tell a story of life and history, serving as a link between the generations is expressed in the installation where the pots are surrounded with quotes from the 60 curators and their reponses to the pieces. The interaction is brought to life in the film that accompanies the exhibition.

We were privileged to attend the Community Opening for the show with the curators and their families. After Pueblo prayers and a view of the exhibition there was a feast with great stews and enchiladas as well as other Native foods catered by a family from the Jemez/Laguna Pueblo. We were also treated to a Pueblo dance group. The evening ended with a traditional “Throw”. Large laundry baskets were brought out filled with Chips, Oreos, Krispy treats etc. etc. etc., as well as a few small stuffed animals for the kids, that were thrown onto the tables to be take home.

Next day I wrote to my children:“Last night was incredible. We were concerned about how one could make a bunch of pots interesting and understandable to those unacquainted with the material and culture they came from. We were delighted that the exhibition is enlightening, and the catalog is superb.”

It is hard to explain but for this Anglo “Grounded in Clay” and its community celebration managed to convey the spiritual aspect I have experienced of Native American culture.



The exhibition will end at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture on May 28, 2023, travel on to the Metropolitan Museum in New York in July 2023. followed by the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, and later to the St. Louis Art Museum.  Other institutions around the country are still in discussions with SAR.

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Why Are University Museums Different?

Why are University Museums different? Frankly as an art dealer I never thought of them as different. After all, they may vary in respect to size and quality of their collections, but they have curators and directors with whom I was friendly, and they bought from our gallery for their collections just like any other museum though often their budgets were smaller.

According to the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) there are 35,000 museums of all types in the United States and only 680 University museums and art galleries. The distinction being that a gallery will just have rotating exhibitions while the museum includes a permanent collection. Yet in an Artnet News op-ed column Christina Olsen, director of the University of Michigan Museum of Art, claims that “Museums Need to be Braver” and learn from their smaller brethren.

Michigan University Museum of Art

Olsen believes that campus-based museums play “an outsized role in making the visual-arts ecosystem more equitable and accessible”. I started to think about that and realized that it is true that it is always easier to maneuver a smaller institution than a larger one where bureaucracy and fiefdom politics are endemic. So, what can they teach the big guy on the block?

Of course, the University Museum has the goal of teaching it’s student body. Olsen sees the classic museum as there only to collect and store art. That is pretty cynical, but she has a point. And from this point of view, they put the collection first and people second while the University Museum does it the other way around. The larger institutions do educate however, they have collections spanning large periods of time through which they can convey a broader understanding of the time and culture of works of art. Also, special exhibitions allow a curator to be more specific to the process and docents and/or curators add insight beyond the signage.

It is true that the Metropolitan Museum does not have students on governing boards with decision making power. Further members cannot take objects home on long term loan as from Olsen’s Museum and the Univerity of California, Berkeley. That again is the advantage of a small museum that has a better handle on its audience.


It is easier to find an enrolled student than the thousands of strangers who are members of the Met.


The University of Michigan Museum let the public vote on 1,000 photos available to the Museum and they received a hundred thousand votes and selected 250 for the collection. I hope those photographs were first vetted by curators who understood the history of photography and who printed the images and when. I hope that the objective of this exercise was not to just have a bunch of interesting images on the wall with no thought of what the students would learn about the art of photography. It might not be a bad idea for an exhibition but to make those 250 photos part of a collection seems like a waste of space to me.


I am going to muddy the waters just a bit by saying that University Museums are analogous to the definition of a small museum as opposed to a large one. A museum wishes to enlighten and educate its public no matter what the size.

In her article “Mini but Mighty” Ashleigh Hibbins, in Museum Hack, calls smaller museums “superheroes”. She cites, among their advantages, being able to target their audience directly and speak to local issues. They are de facto more intimate and comfortable for the visitor.

In a University of Toronto blog, we learn that Justine Lyn, who was finishing her under-graduate work, was trying to decide in which direction she wished to continue in the museum world. Having interned in both, she points out that in a smaller institution you have to work in multiple areas as a “Jack of All Trades” while the large institution allows a specialist to work in a single department.

Every individual or institution can learn from the other but I believe neither has exclusive claim to knowing the right way.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

The Art of the Pill

I think I should start out by saying that I have neither medical training nor a great deal of knowledge of the subject. I am just a very curious older person so here is what I found.

It all began this morning while I looked at my dish of pills. I realized why older people speak of their “pill cocktail” it is certainly a medical mix. Looking at my dish a bit longer I started to wonder who comes up with these colors and shapes. I have not, to my knowledge, seen duplicates of the exact shape, color and size of any one of them.


When a new drug comes on the market, naturally Research and Development are involved. The quantity of the ingredients or the desired time release, be it immediate, gradual or long release, may dictate the size of the pill or capsule. Also, it has to be a size that is easy to swallow. Sometimes it is recommended that you take two 25 milligram pills rather than one 50 milligram pill

To my amazement, marketing also plays a role as to a pill’s color. In and of itself it has no bearing on the efficacy of the drug. Still, research has shown the associations patients make with the colors may affect how they respond psychologically to the drugs. There are some colors you rarely see on a tablet, brown comes to mind, though you may find it on a capsule.


I was just curious about this subject, but to some it is a serious concern. At poisoncontrol.com they answer questions such as:

-What's this pill I just found in my teen's pocket?

-Was my prescription filled correctly? It looks different.

-My pills are mixed up. Which pill should I take?

-So why are they so smart? Do they know the secret password?

Well, the answer is, yes, they do. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) requires that every prescription drug has an imprint code, so that not only can poison control and health care providers identify the pills, but also law enforcement and others. The imprint code identifies the size, shape, color, ingredients, strength, plus manufacturer and distributor of the product.

An imprint code can be a single letter, number, combination of letters and numbers, or words, company names, National Drug Code or a mark, symbol, logo or monogram. It is the drug company that makes this decision. There can be more complications but that is not what I set out to write about.




Even though generic drugs are made by different manufacturers and therefore may come in different colors, shapes and sizes, the FDA demands that they have an imprint code.

One final comment … older people obviously have far less understanding of advanced technology than those who grew up with it. As I was doing my on-line research I was astounded by the following question and answer:

“Can I take a picture to identify a pill? With auto capture, the app continuously takes pictures of your pill until a result is found. Smart Pill ID uses Artificial Intelligence to search for your pill in our databases using its inscription, color, shape, and size.”

I remain curious, even if there is an app for everything!

Sunday, July 17, 2022

The Interviewee

The other morning, I was watching a financial channel and the CEO of some company was being interviewed on Zoom or some other app and behind him was a totally blank wall. Far to each side was the frame of a window and above him the very bottom of a very contemporary chandelier. My immediate thought was what is he trying to hide, maybe a sloppy office, maybe how opulent it really was and he did not want his clients to know the fortune they were bringing in for him.

No news to anyone that thanks to Covid 19 our world has changed and for better and for worse interviews more often than not are done virtually. I remember when Rachel Maddow broadcast from her rustic wood home, and Chris Cuomo reported from his basement where his family had relegated him when he had Covid … it was, however, a nicely fitted out basement.



How do people being interviewed at home decide where the interview should take place? I don’t have the slightest clue but like so many others I am fascinated by the places that they decide on.

It is always interesting to see how other people live. You never see a Rembrandt or a Rothko on the wall because who wants to set themselves up as targets for thieves. Sometimes, with less valuable art interviewees may allow it too be seen. Last Monday Rachel Maddow had Barry Berke on her show. He was Chief Impeachment Counsel and prior Impeachment Special Counsel for trump’s impeachment trials. In the background you could see that he has collected examples of African art.


Sitting in front of your library seems a common way to show your education or promote your book. In an article written for Vogue in April 2020 Stuart Emmerich wrote about the subject. He, like me, was trying to figure out the rationale as well as read the titles of the books in these libraries. He said that watching MSNBC anchor Kasie Hunt he noticed that her library was arranged according to color.

Anne Applebaum, a historian and staff writer for the Atlantic, often sits in front of her library showing a group of books on the Gulag. The only one where I could read the author’s name was one she had written. I am quite sure that this was no accident. It is a perfectly legitimate way to illustrate your accomplishments. It made me want to look her up on line, where I learned that she had won the Pulitzer Prize for her Gulag book.


I love Steven Rattner’s library. He was President Obama’s economic adviser. You can’t read the book titles but with the leather armchair and cushion it not only looks very comfy, it is just what you would expect a scholarly person’s library to look like in the movies.


Recently Henry Kissinger, who served as United States Secretary of State and National Security Advisor to Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, was interviewed in his library . Behind him was one of the many books about this great statesman as well as a book titled the Nixon Tapes. There was no agenda here: Kissinger at the age of 99 has nothing more to prove. You could actually see the range of his interests such as antisemitism, with a book called Anti Judaism. I find it amusing that he has the book “Super Intelligence” which might just be a description of himself, but In fact, it poses the question: what happens when machines surpass humans in general intelligence.


The disadvantage for interviewees doing their interviews from home is that peering into their surroundings may distract us from what they have to say .... but it is such fun!

Sunday, July 10, 2022

The Art of the Subtitle

Subtitles are relatively new to opera but have long been used for foreign language films. They can be confusing as you look at the action and are trying to read at the same time but also very helpful. The aim is to translate the sense of the dialog not necessarily the exact words and in opera it is often a distillation of repeated words.

As a destination for tourists as well as dedicated opera fans, the Santa Fe Opera introduced subtitles early on. In what now seems another age Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Antonin Scalia came here together for the opera every summer. The house has a capacity of over 2,000 seats. While the stage was protected, the roof and sides of the seating were part open and people used to get soaked during monsoon season, which is July and August, so they covered overhead and put up baffles on the side to protect against the winds.


At the Santa Fe Opera In front of each seat there is now a little box for the subtitles which can be turned on. What goes into creating these words that come across the screen turns out not to be as simple as you might think. But first some history.

I remember the days when my father insisted that I read the synopsis before we went to any opera. According to an NPR article published a week ago, subtitles, also called supertitles, were first used in 1983 by the Canadian Opera Company for a performance of Elektra in German translating it into English. It was, at that time a glorified slide show of images projected above the stage with the possibility of only 45 letters. Beverly Sills the famous soprano and then director of the New York City Opera became an immediate fan and adopted them for her house.


Like all new technology people fought it at first feeling that subtitles distracted the audience from the music and action on stage. The director and conductor at the Metropolitan Opera, James Levine, said a few years after the City opera adopted them that it would be over his dead body that he would have them in his house. In 1992, however, a patron donated the funds for subtitles mounted on seat backs and Levine gave in.

I learned more from an article by Mark Tiarks in Pasatiempo, The New Mexican newpaper’s weekly culture magazine. The system used at the Metropolitan Opera as well as in Santa Fe was sketched out in 1992 on napkins at Maria’s, a local Mexican restaurant we frequent, by Patrick Markle who was the production director at the Santa Fe Opera together with two Metropolitan technical employees. It was only adopted here in 1999 and in 2019 an even more advanced system was installed by in-house personnel.

Premiere of "The Barber of Seville", Photo by Curtis Brown

The translating, editing and technical side are quite complex. In Santa Fe the process takes five on-site individuals but starts with one person, Christopher Bergen, who is fluent in Italian, German, French and Russian. He translates every opera into English. Then, since we have a large Hispanic population, someone else translates the English into the Spanish option available on the display.

Bergen does not try to give a word for word translation, avoiding issues like rhyme to give just the gist of what is happening on stage. A composer and librettist might repeat a phrase over and over again and it might only appear on your screen once or twice. He needs to find English language equivalents for jokes, and they must be perfectly timed. If the punchline appears in the subtitle too soon, and the audience starts laughing before the singer comes to the actual words, the latter almost always shows how disconcerting it is.

Most difficult is when several performers are singing different words at the same time. There is neither room on the screen nor do you want the audience to be reading rather than watching the staging which can be most entertaining. After the translation has been done and honed a techy takes over and formats for the software required. Two more members of the team cue the titles to appear during the performance. During dress rehearsals the team makes any adjustments that may not have been accounted for.

We recently attended the opening night at the Santa Fe Opera of Stephen Barlow’s new production of Rossini’s Barber of Seville. It was an incredible performance with excellent singers and a great deal of comedy. I realized how much directors must care about subtitles because their audience depends on them for the success of their production. The subtitles in Santa Fe’s Barber certainly helped create the gales of perfectly timed laughter from the audience.

From "The Barber of Seville"

Sunday, July 3, 2022

The Ghent Altarpiece, Most Stolen Painting of All Time

I listen to a lot of books, usually in my car driving to my office and back or anywhere I drive on my own. I try to adhere to a routine of alternating Non-Fiction and Fiction. What I like best are when true events are woven into a mystery, aka a historical novel.

Anyone interested in art history knows the story of the theft of the Mona Lisa in 1911 which took on a life of its own making it the greatest tourist attraction in Paris.


Recently I started a book by Steve Berry, a well-known mystery writer, because the review mentioned the Ghent altarpiece. Also known as “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb”, it is considered one of the most important works of art in the western hemisphere. What might be news to you is that it is also the most stolen work of all time! There have been between 11 and 15 crimes against the altarpiece depending on your sources. I will reveal a number of them below.


The 12-panel polyptych is said to have been painted by the brothers Hubert and Jan van Eyck in 1432. It measures 14.5 by 11.5 feet. Believed to be the first major work using oil paint it marked the transition of the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. It was commissioned by Jodocus (Joos) Vijd. Today we sometimes indicate who commissioned a painting in the label on a museum wall. Then, however, (what makes much more sense) the artist painted Vijd’s likeness on the lower left panel and his wife on the lower right. Here you can see an image showing both the front and back images of the Altarpiece. When the altar is closed you see the donors.


In 1566 “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb” almost fell victim to Reformation iconoclasts. Calvinists did not believe in the worship of images and therefore wished to eliminate them from churches. Realizing the danger Catholics moved the altarpiece from the cathedral to the Ghent Town Hall which they considered their stronghold.

The Mystic Lamb

In 1794 Napoleon’s troops stole four of the panels. After Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo in 1815 and Lous XVIII was restored to the throne he gave the panels back to Ghent as a thank you for having harbored him when he fled the Revolution.

The following year a vicar at Ghent Cathedral, who deemed six wing panels worm-eaten and in bad condition, sold them to an art dealer. They ended up in a Berlin museum. In 1919, however they were returned to Ghent as a condition of the Treaty of Versailles.

During World War II Hitler and Göring wanted the altarpiece as pay-back for the loss of the panels due to the Treaty of Versailles. Hitler also believed the paintings held mystic powers and that possession would ensure his winning the war. When Nazi troops found the altarpiece on its way to the Vatican for safekeeping, they seized it. First it went to Castle Neuschwanstein in Bavaria for restoration and after that it was put with 7,000 other art works looted by Hitler’s army in a salt mine near Altaussee, Austria. After the War It was retrieved and returned to Ghent by the U.S. Monuments Men.

The Ghent Altarpiece in Althaussee Salt Mine

What remains a mystery, however, is the theft in 1934 when a thief stole the lower-left panel of the Righteous Judges and wanted a ransom of a million Belgian Francs. As an act of good faith, so to speak, he (they) returned the grisaille painting of St. John the Baptist which was on the back of the panel. Though a deathbed confession revealed copies of the ransom notes, what happened to the painting remains a mystery. The case is still an open one and a detective with the Ghent police is assigned to it.

After an eight-year restoration, the altarpiece, with a reproduction in place of the missing panel, is now back in St.Bravo Cathedral, protected in a $35 million dollar bullet proof display.

I have written about the strange life of objects before but this one may just be the strangest!