Sunday, April 20, 2014

Nampeyo : Namingha – Tradition & Transition

The next stop on our road trip was Flagstaff, Arizona and the Museum of Northern Arizona.  It is one of the most important museums for Indians of the Southwest.  It sits at a virtual crossroads of the Navajo, Zuni and Hopi.  Every year the museum does a fair for each of the tribes individually.

The feature exhibition that I had especially wanted to see was “Nampeyo: Namingha - Tradition & Transition.”  Last summer, we were invited by the director of the Museum of Northern Arizona, Robert Breunig, to come to a reception at the home of Philip M. Smith in Santa Fe.  He collected works of art by Dan Namingha a painter and his sons, Arlo a sculptor and Michael a photographer.  Dan’s great great grandmother was the most famous Hopi potter of all time known as Nampeyo.  Many of her descendants are also well thought of potters.  It therefore made sense to collect their work as well.

Iris Nampeyo (ca. 1860–1942), known simply as Nampeyo was responsible for the revival of the style of pottery excavated by the archeologist Jesse Walter Fewkes in 1895 at Siky├ítki, a site that had been occupied by the Hopi from the 14th through the 17th centuries.  Nampeyo grew up at Hopi on First Mesa in the Tewa Village.   In her own words,  “When I first began to paint, I used to go to the ancient village and pick up pieces of pottery and copy the designs. That is how I learned to paint. But now, I just close my eyes and see designs and I paint them.”  This is one of her Siky├ítki revival jars, circa 1910 from the collection of the Museum of Northern Arizona.

In addition to the restaurants and hotels that Frederick Henry Harvey (1835–1901) developed along the railroad lines the Harvey Company promoted “Indian Detours” to teach the Eastern tourist about the Native Americans of the Southwest and built Hopi House at the Grand Canyon.  Here Nampeyo demonstrated and sold her works in 1905 and 1907,  slowly but surely becoming the first celebrity Indian potter.

The exhibition at the Museum of Northern Arizona shows the tradition of her  family and their transition to the contemporary world.  The exhibition was in honor of a large donation that Philip M. Smith was making to the Museum of Northern Arizona as part of an eventual bequest.  Most of the exhibits are from Mr. Smith’s collection.  Although Mr. Smith attended the opening, he passed away shortly after, and the Museum will receive more of his collection sooner than expected.

As usual, I have picked a few favorite pieces from the 44 works in the show, one by each artist. This is one of my favorite Native American forms, the Wedding Vase by Nampeyo’s great-grand daughter Dextra Quotskuyva, circa 1980, from the collection of Arlo and Nicole Namingha.

Dan Namingha, who is Dextra’s son, uses Hopi design but paints more abstract images.  Here is one called “Desert Moon”, 2006, from the Phillip M. Smith collection.

Native photography is fairly new in that the little we left the Native Americans with, they were not eager to share. They do not permit outsiders to photograph their villages and ceremonies but we are beginning to see photography by Indians with images that relate in non-obvious ways to the native experience.  Michael Namingha’s  photos are think pieces where you can guess what the artist had in mind or just make up your own story. I love this called “What Was What Could be (Voyeur)”, 2012, Museum of Northern Arizona.

One of the most effective works in the show is a sculpture by Arlo Namingha called “Sandhills”, 2008, Philip M. Smith collection, which captures the desert mesas and the life circle behind the walls of Hopi villages.

Why did Philip Smith leave his collection to a museum in Flagstaff instead of one in Santa Fe where he lived?  I can only surmise that it was because he knew the director and saw for himself what a good job he did. Flagstaff is also close to the spiritual heart of Hopi, as in the Hopi religion the San Francisco peaks, that dominate the town, are home to the Katsina Spirits that bring blessings to the people. What more appropriate place to celebrate the artistic blessing of a Hopi family.

Sunday, April 13, 2014


During a recent road trip we paid a visit to the Sky City Cultural Center that houses the Haak’u Museum at Acoma Pueblo.  We had been given an introduction to the director, Emerson Vallo, by one of the curators of their current exhibition of Masterpieces of Acoma Pottery, Landis Smith. She is a conservator from Santa Fe who had been with the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. for over a decade. For this exhibition she worked with other members of a curatorial committee which included Brian Vallo, the brilliant first director of the Haak’u who was instrumental in the design of their great building which opened in 2006.  Others on the committee were Stephanie Riley the young curator, a member of the Acoma tribe who has a degree in Anthropology as well as Museum Studies, Melvin Sarracino, also Acoma, the  “museum specialist” who has stepped in and run the museum whenever there was a gap in the leadership, and in an unusual step, an Anglo trustee, David Rasch who lent many major pieces to the show.

Their guide for the exhibition was an exhaustive catalog on Acoma pottery researched and written by Dwight Lanman, former director at Winterthur, and Francis Harlow, a theoretical physicist.  The loans came mostly from the School of Advanced Research and the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe as well as the private collection of David Rasch. The pots range from 950 A.D. to modern times and much of the work is amazingly exacting and precise.

Of course, the hope of any exhibition is to entertain and educate visitors. This  show had a special  purpose as there are many ceramic artists who work at Acoma today. Landis Smith explained, “Our goal was to bring important Acoma pottery back to the pueblo - for the community as well as to educate the public.” She remarked on the number of artists who came to the opening, and saw “pottery made in the old ways” where there were no shortcuts.

Though photography is generally not permitted Emerson Vallo allowed me to take some for this missive.  This vitrine is of the earliest pieces in the show and come from the Haak’u’s collections.

The museum occupies two large rooms in the Cultural Center but the  building itself is really inspirational, even without knowing its derivation.   As Landis says, “it incorporates elements of Pueblo architecture, values and art.” The four cardinal directions, have special significance to each tribe and here windows to the north, south, east and west frame the incredible rock formations around the pueblo.  Even the roofs are “decorated” with their traditional ladders and a few large chimney pots.  The Architect, Barbara Felix of Santa Fe clearly studied up on the tribe and it's traditions guided by the director at the time, Brian Vallo.  The quality of materials in the building is first rate including the wonderful wood furniture with carvings derived from Acoma pottery.  Ms. Felix has on her website a mission statement which most of the time anyone in a certain field can say but hers, as I can testify, is right on having had the experience of seeing this example of her work first hand:  “We create Woven Architecture™ by integrating each client’s project vision, beliefs, and stories with the elements of light, material and space. The result manifests a unique sense of place having deep personal meaning and cultural significance.”
Photo Credit: Jennifer Esperanza

Emerson Vallo, the director of both the museum and the Cultural Center, holds three advanced degrees, one of which is in management.  He was formerly a research analyst in the air force working on flight simulators for fighter pilots.  He has lots of plans for development beyond building the collection of Haak’u pottery and other art that shows the history of Acoma.  On the second floor of the Cultural Center is a small library with many empty shelves just waiting for donations.  Since the tribe has always been involved with the issue of water rights, a major concern in the southwest, they expect many volumes regarding their battles.  Vallo looks forward to digitizing what cannot be physically put into the library. Besides developing tourism, he is actively working on attracting corporate retreats equipping his auditorium, classrooms and conference room with the latest technology.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

William Zeckendorf, Jr. (1929 - 2014)

We went to a Memorial Service for William Zeckendorf, Jr. the New York builder and developer who had moved to Santa Fe where his ancestors had come before. During the talks from all his friends, family and business partners I realized in how many ways he had touched my life though I had only met him once.

As I may have mentioned here before my best friend in grade school was T’ing Pei the eldest son of I.M. Pei.  I remember when T’ing came to school very excited -  we must have been in 6th or 7th grade at the time and announced that his father had won first prize at the Brussels World’s Fair.  I really did not know what that meant at the time but I knew that his father was an architect because I had stayed at his country house which his father, of course, had built and it was very contemporary.

At that time Pei was working for William Zeckendorf.   At the service, his son Will referred to Pei as his father’s in-house architect which, of course, he was.  Will went on to say that Pei had given his father an appreciation for quality architecture.

I also was aware of the Zeckendorf name as head of the board of trustees at Long Island University which I attended before going abroad and then to Columbia University.

The next time the Zeckendorf name touched my life was a direct invitation from the man himself for my father and me to have lunch with him.  Believe me, when I tell you, we were totally mystified.   We were served a very nice lunch which, if I remember correctly, was served on a platform raised above his office with a great view.  Not that we really had a chance to see the view as Mr. Zeckendorf was so intense.  We soon learned his objective.  He wanted to buy the apartment of a client of ours, Anita Young, the widow of Robert R. Young, the railroad magnate. My father and I looked at each other, what did we have to do with this?  Mr. Zeckendorf had the idea of making an offer on the apartment with its furnishings (very fine French 18th century pieces, many of which had come through our hands) and sell the collection to help offset his cost. Until I heard all the tributes at the Memorial Service, now probably 30-40 years later, I did not fully appreciate this minor intrigue.  What he might not have realized was that Mrs. Young had estates in Newport and Palm Beach and had no intention of selling the furniture.

 As an aside, one day when I asked Mrs. Young whether she might be interested in seeing some of our French 18th century paintings, she replied that she was quite content with her sister’s paintings.  Her sister was Georgia O’Keeffe.

Of course, the reason that the Memorial Service was in Santa Fe is that Zeckendorf has been living here for more than twenty years and he and his wife, Nancy, have done untold wonders for this town.  His lawyer, who worked on the deal to build the Eldorado Hotel here, told us of the problem they had as to where they wanted to locate the hotel.  It seems that it was too close to a church to be able to obtain a liquor license.  Bill Zeckendorf’s solution… move the church.  This turned out to be of a double benefit to Santa Fe.  Not only was the church pleased with the move to a location with much needed parking space, but   the building  that took its place is today the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum!

One of our great loves in this town is the Lensic Performing Arts Center, an old movie palace which Bill and Nancy renovated into a state of the art theater giving Santa Fe a venue for theater and dance as well as simulcasts from the Metropolitan Opera and London’s National Theater.  For us as two New York transplants who love the arts, it is a great quality of life benefit.

Bill loved music and Nancy gave him full credit for the Lensic but it was clear that without her as lead fund-raiser, and the brilliant impresario, Bob Martin, whom they enlisted from the start, it would not have happened.  I am sure that Bill saw the benefit of having a performing arts center within one block of his grand hotel, the Eldorado.  Just like with Mrs. Young’s apartment he could see an issue from many different sides.

One more connection with the Zeckendorf family is that Bill’s son Will came into our New York gallery on a number of occasions with a keen interest in the arts of France, so I got to know another generation of Zeckendorfs.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Degenerate Art: The Attack on Modern Art in Nazi Germany, 1937

Why is it so often that what or whom I want to see is somewhere else or somewhere I just left?  Two friends who had not been in Santa Fe for quite a while, one from New York and the other from Dallas finally came within the same 10 days that we were in New York.  When there is an opening in Santa Fe inevitably I will be in New York or somewhere else and so it goes.

Now, there is an exhibition that seriously interests me at the Neue Galerie in New York.  As you know the museum concentrates on late 19th and first half of the 20th century art from Austria and Germany.  The current exhibition is about what the Nazi’s referred to as Degenerate Art.  This was the avant-garde, the new art of the 20th century in Germany.  Like artists of every generation, they were trying to break the mold and produce something new.

Max Beckmann (1884-1950) "Departure" from MOMA New York    

Hitler, however, who had failed to make it into the Austrian Academy of Art  in Vienna, thought it decadent and only wanted to see classical and medieval art, He believed  paintings and sculpture should look like what they were supposed to represent and not be distorted.   He had no patience with abstract art nor atonal music for that matter.

This is the first major exhibition on the subject since the 1991 show in Los Angeles.  In 1993 Muse Film and Television, on whose board I served at the time, produced a film called “Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art)” directed by David Grubin.  The narrators included the art historian and curator Peter Selz and the author who made art and social criticism come alive, Robert Hughes.  It is based on the exhibition at the Los Angeles Museum of Art which endeavored to reproduce the exhibition that Hitler arranged to show the art that he felt was unworthy before selling or burning it.

The Neue Galerie goes a step further.  It looks at the time in which the original exhibition is set.  Hitler has just had his Museum called the House of German Art built in Munich to show the art that is healthy for the state.   Immediately thereafter he opened his degenerate art exhibition to contrast for the citizens what was good for them and what was not! 

The show lasted for 3 years starting in Munich in 1937 touring throughout Germany and Austria and by the time it closed it was the most viewed exhibition ever, totaling 3 million visitors. Of the total 16 to 20,000 modern works eventually confiscated by the 3rd Reich from the German people, 650 works were crammed together in small rooms and at the wrong heights.  One witness to the exhibition described graffiti with derogatory comments written on the walls.  The condemned art was not just that of the Expressionists but started in 1910 including all the isms, such as Fauvism, Cubism, Dadaism etc.

The Neue Galerie often has very dramatic exhibitions and this is no exception.  The curator Olaf Peters uses all sorts of juxtaposition, photographs, posters etc. in order to give full effect to the moment.  For instance, he shows on two sides of a gallery, examples of both 1937 exhibitions, both what Hitler disdained and what he approved of.  There are also dramatic examples of empty frames where the works have been ostensibly torn from their frames.  It is a propaganda exhibition to show the evils of the Nazism.  The sinister way they went about influencing the populace on what was good and what was bad art. 

Though we all have our own opinions, we are influenced, as well, by the authorities of the day.  Today it is usually the better-known critics and collectors, but since the critics were censored in 1937 Munich, and it was dangerous to speak out against the Reich, there was only Hitler and his henchmen to say what was acceptable.

The Neue Galerie is showing examples of all the greats of the period such as Max Beckmann, George Grosz, Erich Heckel's, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Paul Klee, Oskar Kokoschka's, Emil Nolde and a number of others.  It demonstrates the great art of Germany that was destined for destruction, just like the book burnings, which had already started in 1933.  It was a strange kind of luck that in 1939 Hitler decided to sell many of the paintings that he had stolen at auction in Switzerland in order to pay for his war effort. 

Adolf Ziegler (1892-1959) "The Four Elements: Pinakothek der Moderne"
from Bayerische Staatsgemaeldesammlugen

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938) "Berlin Street Scene, 1913"
from Neue Galerie/Private Collection

Many of the artists left Germany when they found that their art was disdained and emigrated abroad.  One interesting fact is that of the 112 artists exhibited in the Degenerate Art show only 6 were Jewish.  Being a member and supporter of the Nazi Party was also not a free pass.  One such artist at the forefront of the Expressionist Movement was Emile Nolde, and though he did not leave Germany, he was relegated to the hinterlands to do small landscapes and paintings of nature.

In the light of all the works of art that were recently found in the possession of Cornelius Gurlitt, this exhibition gives hope that other works of art that were thought to be destroyed might again come to light.