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:

https://www.geraldstiebel.com/2021/06/donating-to-museum.html

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.

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/people/52015469/objects/

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, http://geraldstiebel.com 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. https://www.geraldstiebel.com/search?q=zozobra

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.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

The Natives Have Returned

Of course, I am speaking of the Native Americans who have returned for Indian Market in Santa Fe which could not be held last year. Many of the Pueblos are still closed to Anglos for Dances and Feast Days but since Indian Market is outside and most of our population is vaccinated, we are as safe as you can be these days. There are still mask mandates inside. As far as I can tell locals obey the rules more readily than those from New Mexico’s neighboring states.

To mention everything that goes on during what I call Indian Week (actually about 10 days) would be a list a blog long. I will focus on a couple of the events we attended.

The Ralph T. Coe Center for the Arts, where I am on the Board, has expanded its campus from the main exhibition building that houses the collection to an adjacent building which will be the Project Center. Here artists will be able to work, show visitors their techniques and display some of the pieces they make there. Therefore, taking advantage of Indian week we had a celebration of the opening of the Project Center.

The most exciting of the activities that evening was the performance of dancers from the Lightning Boy Foundation which teaches Native American young people (from the age of two up) the art of hoop dancing, not only instilling a Native tradition but also the discipline that you need in life. The great thing is that the kids really love the skill that they develop. Here is a video of a small part of one dance.


After all the hoops have been picked up they are connected in different arrangements, a butterfly, a horse, etc. Another image shows the dancer with the hoops shaped into a globe being photographed by well-known Native Photographer Will Wilson (also a Coe trustee) who set up a temporary dark room in the Project Center building.


Getting back to Indian Market, it is still very uncertain times so the Southwest Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA) limited the number of booths to about 500 when some years there might be as many as a thousand. Still, with often more than one artist to a booth (there are often more than one artist in the family) there was plenty to see. Also, for the first time they were charging for tickets and were collecting them. Aside from those who signed up online, 3,000 visitors paid at the check points around the Plaza and connecting streets At the beginning of the morning most were wearing masks but later as more tourists arrived it was another matter. When one area became too packed, we just moved to a different spot.

There was so much to see and I just took a couple of photos. One of the prize winners signified by the ribbons he won for Pueblo Figurative Carvings and Sculpture was a Hopi, Arthur Homes, Jr. On the table you see two unfinished pieces and the prize winner on the left. Another photo I took because it was so unusual to see at Indian Market was a Cradle Board by Elias Not Afraid, from the Crow Nation in Montana. He exhibited in the category of Diverse Arts.



Aside from the art being sold one goes to see artist friends. We have known three generations of the Growing Thunder family, all gifted beadworkers. It was heartwarming just to be able to say hello once more. The matriarch, Joyce, was a close friend of Ted Coe, who had founded the Coe Center. There were three generations of the family exhibiting in two booths. A great honor for them considering many artists who had exhibited in the past could not ger in this year.

As SWAIA reduced the number of booths on the Plaza several other markets opened about town. It seemed that a number of artists booked or paid for more than one space, so if they were not juried into the SWAIA market, they could show their wares elsewhere. One small group of established artists who one would have thought would qualify, decided to set up booths around the Wheelwright Museum. This institution devoted to Indian art offered a more tranquil space on Museum Hill. We made it our first stop as did other knowledgeable collectors. Next to the courthouse downtown The “Free Market”, so-called because it charges no booth fees was extremely crowded; too much to be enjoyable, while a newly organized market in the parking lot of Buffalo Thunder, a resort north of town proved a disappointing experiment.

In the week before the SWAIA Indian Market dealers from around the country offered vintage material in markets at two different venues. Needless to say, many galleries in town show contemporary Native American Art and the top ones had, must see exhibitions.

I believe Santa Feans and collectors from all over, as well as all the artists, themselves were grateful to be together again.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

The Conservator and The Novelist

In 1997 Daniel Silva gave up journalism to become a writer of best-selling novels. 21 years ago, he published his first book in the Gabriel Allon series. It is now 21 books long. It is amusing to me that way back then I was reading these books and today I listen to them in my car. Yes, things change.

Gabriel Allon started out as an assassin for Israeli Intelligence and became a master spy with others to do the dirty work. His avocation, and passion, however, is as a restorer (these days called a Conservator) of Old Master paintings. Allon sees this as a way of healing of all he feels he must destroy for the good of Israel. While Allon works on a 17th century painting, he plays classical music, one example being Puccini’s La Boheme. For us art interested people there is plenty of culture to enjoy along with the intrigue.

Daniel Silva looks like he could be Gabriel Allon

The lengthy Wikipedia discussion of Silva’s characters explains where the hero found his talent: Allon’s grandfather was a well-known Berlin-based German Expressionist painter who passed his talents onto his daughter (Gabriel’s mother) before he was killed at Auschwitz in January of 1943. She in turn passed these talents on to her son, Gabriel.

In his novel, “The Fallen Angel” Allon is working on “The Deposition of Christ” by Caravaggio and there are discussions of the risks and rewards of restoring a painting. The theme continues for objects as well. Many other paintings are mentioned in the novel. Also mentioned is a visit to the Villa Giulia where Allon sees the Euphronios Krater (returned to Italy by the Metropolitan Museum) and comments on the fact that it is where few will see it. This evolves into a discussion of getting collections from a private hands into museums. The Carravagio Depoisition is in the Vatican.


So where does all this insider knowledge on art and restoration come from? Silva recounts how he had the good fortune to meet David Bull, a conservator at the National Gallery in Washington D.C. at the time. Bull was born in Bristol, Great Britain and worked at British museums as well as a private restorer. When he moved to the United States, he worked for the Norton Simon Museum and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles eventually becoming conservator of paintings at The National Gallery. He continued to take on private commissions, though rarely, including one of the paintings from my gallery.

David Bull

Bull became the eminence grise behind Gabriel Allon. Bull recounts that only once was he upset with Silva who wished to have Allon roll up a van Gogh, that was definitely a “No-No”.

Conservators are rarely known outside of the rarified art world, so Bull has enjoyed his celebrity. He has even been called Gabriel Allon but he does not wish to be taken for a spy. He says, “I would be very bad at it. I don’t think I could shoot straight.”! Silva will check with Bull on the most minute details of restoration so that his character is absolutely accurate in the pursuit of his avocation

In Silva’s most recent novel, “The Cellist”, classical music of all sorts comes into play as does a newly discovered painting, “The Lute Player” by Orazio Gentileschi, father of the far better known Artemisa Gentileschi. Orazio’s original Lute Player is in the National Gallery, Washington, D.C.


If you, like me, enjoy mystery and spy novels and want a touch of art and music mixed in, try Daniel Silva’s series. When asked if it matters where you start reading the reply is no. However, once you have read and enjoyed one you will want to go back and start at the beginning so you can learn how the fascinating characters develop and once in a while change.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Lily Hope and the Chilkat Protector

As we are getting older, we are doing less collecting and instead donating to various institutions. Occasionally, however, we come across a work of art that we cannot pass up, assuming it is affordable.

There is a magazine devoted to Native American Art called, “First American Art” and the cover of a recent issue showed a fellow wearing a stunning face mask. Not so surprising these days when one sees masks of different types all over.


This mask, however, was really special, beautifully woven in the Chilcat tradition. I looked up the artist, Lily Hope, online and liked what I saw. Concentrating on the art from the southwest pueblos we had never collected Indian art from the Northwest Coast so I asked my wife if we should acquire a mask like this and she was equally enthusiastic. It so beautifully marks a moment in time.

I got in touch with the artist last April and told her I wanted a mask like the one on the magazine cover. She replied that she would only have a chance to make it in July. I agreed. She wanted me to sign a contract, something I had never done before for a commissioned piece. But, of course, Lily had never met us, so I read her contract and signed. In section one she describes the work:

Artwork: Chilkat Protector Mask, 2021 (“Artwork”)
Materials/Techniques: Chilkat weaving techniques using thigh-spun warp of merino wool and cedar bark, Merino weft yarns (in the original Chilkat blue), Ermine tails, Tin cones
Dimensions: approx. 7.75 in x 4. in. woven, plus 3-4 inches fringe

It arrived at the end of last month as described.


From Wikipedia: “Chilkat weaving is a traditional form of weaving practiced by Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, and other Northwest Coast peoples of Alaska and British Columbia. Chilkat blankets are worn by high-ranking tribal members at civic or ceremonial occasions, including dances.” Here is Lily Hope wearing one of the traditional blankets she created so you can see how she adapted the motifs for her masks.


Lily Hope (1980-) is a Tlingit Indian of the Raven clan, born and raised in Juneau, Alaska. She learned the traditional Chilkat and Ravenstail weaving techniques from her mother and grandmother. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications and Theatre as well as a Business and Entrepreneurship Certificate from Institute of American Indian Arts. Further she wrote to me “I am two classes away from finishing a master’s in teaching, Elementary Education, but I will never finish that degree, as my life work is obviously to teach and continue weaving Chilkat and Ravenstail textiles.” She might not have a certificate, but she has so much more. Lily has the experience of many generations to pass on through the non-profit, “Spirit Uprising” she co-founded to maintain Tlingit traditions and their weaving arts.

Her work can be found in private collections and a number of museums. including, The Eiteljorg Museum of American Indian and Western Art in Indianapolis, Indiana, The Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon, The Museum of Nature & Man, Freiburg, Germany, The Anchorage Museum and The Museum of International Folk Art, Santa Fe. I had already commissioned a mask from Lily, when I saw the one she created for the exhibition “#mask: Creative Responses to the Global Pandemic” at the Museum of International Folk Art here in Santa Fe.

It was only the encouragement of several people that that lead Lily to create her first mask. In an interview with First American Art Magazine, she recounted:

“I wasn’t making it with the intention of selling it. Which is funny to think I didn’t have a buyer in mind, and since then I have woven ten of those masks. I really wasn’t looking for something else to do but it came up and there was enough interest that I was like, ‘Oh, I should probably keep doing this’”

The video link here shows more than Lily Hope’s weaving technique. As she put it, “My video artist statement kind of sums up my work philosophy.” It may seem a bit mystical to some, but it expresses the true emotions of many Native American artists I have met.


Sunday, August 8, 2021

Eye to I: Self Portraits from the National Portrait Gallery

We recently went down to the Albuquerque Museum to see a show called “Eye to I: Self Portraits from the National Portrait Gallery.” The exhibition belongs to a category of “travelling show” meaning it will go to different museums on a tour which can be on the road for many years. This show’s original title was, “Eye to I: Self-Portraits from 1900 to Today” and several of the 60 works on paper from the Gallery’s permanent collection have been rotated since it began travelling around the country in 2018.

I haven’t been to that Washington D.C. museum since I was a young man. When I go to D.C. there are a whole bunch of museums I would visit before the Portrait Gallery. I had always thought of this branch of the Smithsonian as a place where you find very dark paintings of Presidents and other famous people from history, a kind of two-dimensional Madame Tussauds without the sense of humor.

We were in for a great surprise. The works in this exhibition are all self-portraits by noted artists The Smithsonian’s press release for the show suggests the explosion of selfies posted on social media is an extension of the tradition of artists’ exploration of identity through self-portraiture. When I decided to write about it, I thought it would be interesting to find photographs of the artists to compare them with the images they created of themselves.

The contemporary symbolist, Francesco Clemente’s self-portrait from 1981 is an etching called “Self-Portrait #4 ....


As you see the snake is biting its own tail, the ancient symbol of infinity, death and rebirth. Andy Warhol took a polaroid print of the artist in the same year, and you can see the same penetrating gaze.


Claes Oldenburg is clearly messing with us in his lithograph 1971 clownish self-portrait which does have references to several of his works but sure does not look like him. A photo taken in his studio by William Crutchfield shows the artist, seriously at work.



David Alfaro Siqueiros‘ selfie from 1969 is also a color lithograph. Siqueiros was part of the Mexican mural movement of the 1920’s to 40’s together with Diego Rivera. I referred to him in a previous Missive entitled “Musings on an Exhibition” in a show about Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. When you look at the photograph, you notice, though it is black and white, it is still very much the same person.



Edward J. Steichen is famous as a photographer, but he was also a painter, and this is how he shows himself in his photographic self-portrait of 1901 where he holds a brush and palette. I looked for a photo of Steichen taken by another photographer but could not find one, probably because he took so many selfies before it was fashionable. In this first of his self-portraits he even added brushstrokes and an atmospheric effect unlike later ones which became his trademarks.


My favorite self-portrait, perhaps because I am such a fan, is the one of Jacob Lawrence. He created this an ink drawing in 1993 when he was 76 years old. The image conveys the brooding character hinted at in an unattributed photo of Lawrence that I found on the web. In the drawing he used elements of abstraction to create the same kind of power as in his vibrant “Migration” Series.



The exhibition is a fascinating exploration of the different ways artists see themselves and suggests a personal lesson of how we see ourselves.


Sunday, August 1, 2021

Exploiting Old Masters

I am going where angels fear to tread. I was intrigued by the headline, “Louvre Sues PornHub” as well as a similar headline about the Uffizi in Florence. The stories are about the “Classic Nudes” project on the PornHub website which features 30 works of art with verbal commentary and, in some cases, recreations of the scenes with members of a porn troupe.

You will forgive me that I have not gone on the website, but I do not wish to receive emails from them for the next 3 years. In any case, I believe our imaginations will be much more graphic than the real thing. I further fear that images of old master paintings will be deleted and that would be another level of censorship since some of those images are in the most important museums in the world. Instead, I will give the links so that with a click you can look them up online without fear. Don’t worry these are by major masters and some are considered icons of art history. Here is one of the offending images, “The Brunette Odalisque” by Francois Boucher circa 1745.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Brunette_Odalisque#/media/File:Odalisque_brune_Boucher.jpeg

From Hypeallergic, the free art news site, “But PornHub’s attempt to heat up art history has not been met with universal arousal by the institutions whose prized artworks were chosen for this noble mission: the Uffizi Gallery in Florence has taken legal action against the free porn provider, claiming that the company used its images and other content without permission.” Here is the image mentioned from the Uffizi. The well-known “Birth of Venus” by Sandro Botticelli, circa 1485. 

https://www.uffizi.it/en/artworks/birth-of-venus

Use without permission is obviously the legal reason to back up the museums’ objection but I bet there is a subtext here that the museums feel that the artworks are being defiled by being associated with porn.

Another institution mentioned in these articles that has announced that it does not plan to join the suing institutions is the Metropolitan Museum. It has a most explicit nude by a young art student whose name you may also recognize, the Impressionist Edgar Degas with his “Male Nude” of 1856.

https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/438857

A video ad for PornHub says “Porn cannot be considered art, but some art can be considered porn”. I am not promoting porn and not saying a lawsuit claiming use without permission is not an issue, but my question is what is the harm? The painting is owned by a public institution not a private individual and it is not for sale. In fact, in the case of the Louvre it is not even allowed to deaccession its paintings.

No one goes to a site such as PornHub unless that is what they are looking for. However, is it not a good thing if we can encourage people who a former director at Public Television used to call, “the great unwashed” to visit our museums. In the process of seeking out the nudes that might be on view they might become acquainted with what is considered great art and perhaps learn something of the history behind it.