Sunday, May 28, 2023

Hector Guimard

Have a great Memorial Day … as soon as you have finished this Missive!

In New York we went to see an exhibition at the Cooper Hewitt: Smithsonian Design Museum. It was aptly named, “Hector Guimard: How Paris got its Curves”. It was organized by the Cooper Hewitt and the Richard H. Driehaus Museum in Chicago. In situ, or from the movies, or in an illustration for a book there is a good chance that you have seen an image to one of the old Paris Metro (subway) stations. Hector Guimard (1867-1942), received the contract in 1898 to design the entrance to the Paris underground which was developed in anticipation of the Paris Exposition of 1900. Guimard effectively introduced the art nouveau style into popular culture.

His design for the Metro was created in cast iron which I am sure was appealing in it being inexpensive for a mass transit system. The exhibition could obviously only show a photograph but you can still see some in Paris today.

Other designs in Iron are also shown such as a bracket for a bench. How often do you actually think about who designed the two sides of a park bench you may be sitting on, but when you do look you might see a pleasing and original design.

Richard H. Driehaus Collection

Guimard built the Hôtel Guimard (1909-1912) for himself and his new wife Adeline (1909) at 122 Avenue Mozart, in the fashionable 16th arrondissement. It had an architectural studio for himself and a studio for his wife, a water colorist. Her father, Edward Oppenheim was a member of a major German Banking family, so Adeline was able to be her husband’s benefactor as well.

The show exhibits many of the media that Guimard designed for. One that I found most unusual was a wall panel that looked like leather but was actually made from linoleum. It was created for the Castel Béranger (1896-98) which is also in the 16th arrondissement. It was Guimard’s first solo project and an important transitional work for his career. An inscription on the façade reveals that the building won the coveted prize for Paris’ most beautiful façade in a contest held in 1898 by the City of Paris.

Credit: Musée d’Orsay

I love Guimard’s furniture designs though we never had a piece by the artist in our own collection of art nouveau. Here, however, is an object that I do not think I would have wished to acquire. It is a side-chair (1900-1903) with a frame but lacking a back support. We can be sure it is a Guimard design because the drawing is shown beside it.

Credit: Lent by the Richard H. Driehaus

Credit: Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Between 1900 and 1901 Guimard produced three designs for the French porcelain factory at Sèvres. Only five of the largest model were made and the Metropolitan Museum lent their example known as the Binelles Vase (1903).

We gave our collection of Art Nouveau pewter to the Cooper Hewitt before moving to Santa Fe because the style did not fit in our newly adopted part of the country. However, one of the smallest pieces in the show I would make an exception for. It is a doorbell that would not be out of place on our front door.

After Guimard died, Adeline moved back to New York and worked on preserving her husband’s legacy. She donated works of art as well her husband’s drawings and papers to a number of different institutions. In the exhibition is the embroidered silk collar from the White Satin Coat her husband designed for their wedding day. Adeline donated it to the Cooper Hewitt in 1949.

Photo Credit: Matt Flynn

As I wrote this Missive, I realized that I miss our art nouveau collection though we did save 3 objects for our current home.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

The Frick Madison

I have written a number of Missives about the Frick Collection and Henry Clay Frick’s daughter as well.  There is even one about what would happen when the Frick had to leave it’s home while a building renovation was happening at the Mansion.

So it moved to the former Whitney Museum which was built by Marcel Breuer in his brutalist style. It is the antithesis of the Frick’s home. In 2020 I wrote I would be jealous of anyone who saw this new installation which was scheduled to last for 2 years but like all construction the Frick Collection will remain there for another year.

Finally, after 4 years, we were in New York again and this was our first destination. We were so pleasantly surprised. They did not try to recreate the Frick Mansion style but rather show the works of art to their best advantage by creating smaller rooms in some cases and using the Breuer architecture to its best advantage in others. The installation Is on the 2nd, 3rd and 4th floors with paintings, sculpture and decorative arts organized by period, geographic region and media.

Wisely, they did not try to squeeze too much into the space, instead, have a wonderful representation of what my father would have called “their greatest hits”. If I tried to list them it would just be volume one of the catalog.

Instillation is so important to get the most out of a work of art. On the first exhibition floor you are greeted by this bronze angel from 1475 by Jean Barbet. She is by herself, greeting you as the doors to the elevator open, such a wonderful moment and introduction to the collection.

Tastes change and as a boy, I would have taken home the famous Giovanni Bellini (circa 1430 – 1516) “St. Francis in The Desert”. Here it has been isolated, giving it it’s own space so the viewer is not distracted by other masterpieces along side. Every time I see the painting I see something new. This time, though I preferred seeing it in the mansion, in its new bright light, I could see more detail. I discovered that St. Francis has a cane near his bible. Using a cane these days, I could appreciate that!

Photo Credit: Joe Coscia

Detail from above

Today, however, I would like to leave with a much smaller masterpiece. It is the Duccio di Buoninsegna (circa 1255 – circa 1319) “The Temptation of Christ on the Mountain”. I find it such an enticing fantasy, not trying to paint an actual scene but rather an evocation of the moment.

My Wife’s favorite work, which always has her tears, is a great Rembrandt self-portrait. In it he shows himself off as just as important as any of his clients. He has no problem promoting himself which I guess an artist in any field needs to do in order to be recognized and a financial success. Photography is not allowed in the Frick but it has been placed with two other Rembrandts, a nice but not great portrait and another favorite of mine titled, “The Polish Rider”. This photo will only give you a vague idea of the space.

A few have suggested that the Frick should stay where it is now. The Frick, however, is renting the space from the Metropolitan Museum that had leased it from its owner, The Whitney Museum for which it was built. Also, the will of Henry Clay Frick was very specific and so much would be lost for the city of New York. The Frick mansion with the collection that its owner bought for it is a rare commodity and gives a totally different ambience for an old master and decorative arts collection than the twenty-first century concept of showing works of art against stark white walls where in many cases, with their flat lighting might as well be posters.

Congratulations and thanks to Director, Ian Wardropper, chief curator Xavier Salomon and curator Aimee Ng for making this impossible transition and transformation into such a wonderful temporary experience.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Fernando Botero at The Museum of Latin American Art

We visited family in Long Beach in Los Angeles County and wanted to see a museum where a friend from Santa Fe, Stuart Ashman, had been President and Chief Executive Officer. It is the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) . We had a nice surprise that they happened to have a Fernando Botero exhibition. It was not a very large show but with wonderful large works of art in a big gallery as well as a 2018 film which gave one great insight into the artist with his daughter as guide and the artist himself giving commentary on his view of painting.

Botero was born in 1932 in Medellin, Columbia and recently celebrated on his 91st birthday. He had no formal training but studied the masters in his native Bogota, Columbia and all over Europe, France, Italy and Spain … what better art education? Something you may not know was that he was originally trained as a Bull fighter!

He says he lives for his art and his daughter says when he walks into his studio he is young again. He refers to his overly large individuals and even in his still lives as “generous”. He loves the colors and richness of the figures and the viewer responds. He has exhibited all over the world and his works have been collected by many museums along the way. Also, much of his work can be found in the Museo Botero in Bogota which, I gather, is devoted mainly to the artists of the first half of the 20th century.

His subject matter for the most part is drawn from his own Country. However, the torture by U.S. guards of their Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib affected him greatly and he devoted 14 months to a series of paintings to these events. He donated 56 paintings and drawings from the series to the Berkeley Museum of Art, which is closely affiliated with the University of California, Berkeley.

This exhibition is not at all dark but more about family. The chief curator at MOLAA, Gabriela Urtiaga, sees the exhibition as a dialog between the artist’s sculpture, his drawings and paintings. The exhibition starts outside the museum with a monumental sculpture which I am not sure would even fit into the museum, if they wanted it to. It is a fraction more than 132x77x76 inches and a wonderful way to introduce Botero’s voluptuous work. I was once asked by an artist to help him give titles to his works for an exhibition because a gallery insisted on it. Botero does not worry about such details, this Bronze is titled “Reclining Woman”. You cannot argue with that, Botero wants his art to speak for itself.

Inside the show is this small bronze sculpture of a duo, the artist has captured the moment when the couple are waiting for the music to start and they can begin the dance.

He was quite the draughtsman as well and in these two drawings you can see what happens when the dancing couple get going!

In this large painting is a family where the parents loom large and both the son on his hobby horse and grandma in her wheelchair are very small in comparison. I keep wondering why is grandma depicted as diminutive. I will let you decide, but I do not believe it is to diminish the older woman since the grandmother is very important in Hispanic families, the “Abuela” often takes care of the kids while both parents are at work.

Even when Botero is painting a still life the canvas is large 68 ½ x 74 ½ as are the fruits, and I am dying to have a piece of that chocolate cake! Here the title is Still Life with Watermelon. Note the small size piece of watermelon on left and on the right is the entire very large watermelon! That is known as artistic license!

To be honest, I cannot say that Fernando Botero is my favorite artist, this show, however, gave an excellent introduction to his work and the film brought it all into perspective and allowed me to appreciate what he had in mind and why.

Sunday, May 7, 2023

Art as Promotion in Advertising

I guess there is nothing new in the use of art by advertisers but I have not paid much attention to it. My wife called to my attention that the Consolidated Cigar Corporation produced “Dutch Masters Cigars” with an image of a 1662 painting of the Syndics of the Drapers’ Guild by none other than Rembrandt van Rijn, now in the Rijksmuseum. The image appeared on every box.

As a self promoter in his own time Rembrandt would have probably been delighted seeing it as free advertising for his studio. Today the appropriation of this sort is decried, and artist rights organizations protect against it in the case of modern and contemporary artists.

What made me think about this subject recently was an article from the April 26 edition of The Art Newspaper by James Imam titled “Botticelli’s Venus as ‘Influencer’ in tourism campaign”. I only recently learned what an influencer is in our day and age. We are speaking of the internet and social media, of course. You can be considered an influencer with as few as 1,000 followers if you are in a niche market and there are celebrities with half a million to a million followers although most are in the 10 to 50,000 follower category.

The idea of course, is that these individuals will lead people to the advertiser’s products which in this case is an effort to bring more tourists to Italy. Sandro Botticelli’s, “Birth of Venus”, aka by some as “Venus on the half-shell” which resides in the Uffizi Museum in Florence is our influencer. In these adverts she appears in different forms in various cities including Rome and Venice in front of well-known landmarks: the Coliseum in Rome and the Campanile in Venice. Obviously, she has made the the 245 mile journey from Rome to Venice by bike! Guess what? The purists, art critics and even government officials find this act by the Ministry of Culture and The National Tourist Board to be “humiliating”, according to an article in Artnetnews by Jo-Lawson-Tancred. Every criticism imaginable including the flaws in translations of the text into different languages has been thrown at it in articles, social media etc.

If I were one of those who thought this campaign up, mainly the art critic Vittorio Sgarbi, Under Secretary of the culture ministry, I would be delighted with all the attention this brings to the campaign. Personally, I love it when art can be used in different ways and it may even bring the curious tourist to Florence to see the original!

You might expect see the Mona Lisa in advertising but you would think that the most famous religious Old Master painting, Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper” was sacrosanct. Of course, it has been replicated and adapted by artists throughout history. We even own a print of a 2015 photograph by Cara Romero (member of the Chemehuevi Indian Tribe) called “The Last Indian Market”. Indian Market is one of the most important events of the year in Santa Fe. Cara has photographed` some of the leading artists of the moment posed in the Coyote Café one of the city’s best-known restaurants to replicate Leonardo’s composition.

However, some felt that an advertisement by an Irish Casino apparently crossed the line. The reported result was, “Irish bookmaker Paddy Power has been forced to withdraw an advertising campaign featuring Jesus and the apostles gambling at the Last Supper following a deluge of complaints from outraged Christians”. 

There are many more examples and it is heartening, in a sense, that beloved Old Masters can demand great loyalty and their use in advertising can offend to the point of outrage.