Sunday, April 19, 2015

Guilt and Nazi War Loot

Years ago I went to see the Belvedere Palace in Vienna, an extremely impressive building with beautiful grounds surrounding it.  My only memory of the museum, however, is of one wall with five paintings by Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), the Austrian Symbolist painter who was the most important artist of the Vienna Secession movement.  Little did I know at the time that there was going to be a great deal of contention about the ownership of those pictures.

We went the first day of the showing in Santa Fe of the film, “Woman in Gold”, the story of Maria Altmann (1916-2011) who desired to retrieve her family’s treasures stolen first by the Nazis and then by the Austiran government.  The centerpiece of the wall at the Belvedere was one of the most impressive paintings by the artist representing Altmann’s aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer (1881-1925).  Bloch-Bauer was one of Klimt’s favorites and the only woman of whom he painted two portraits.

Photo Credit: Assieme (1978)

Adele Bloch-Bauer died at the age of 44 of meningitis in Vienna long before Hitler arrived in Austria.  Her will included a request that her husband leave this particular portrait in his will to the Belvedere Palace.  In 1941, however, the Nazis came and seized all the family’s art eventually murdering the mother and father of Maria Altmann and many other friends and members of her family.  Maria, however, managed to escape Austria with her husband and sister.

Helen Mirren convincingly portrays Maria in the movie, that closely follows the actual case, as she  realizes through press reports that attitudes in Austria and Germany were changing during the second half of the 1990’s. An old friend from Austria recommends her son, a young lawyer. who becomes captivated by the case when he realizes how his family was also affected by the holocaust.  His grandfather was the Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg.

Though Maria has sworn never to return to Austria she goes back to Vienna with her lawyer where they meet up with an investigative reporter, Hubertus Czernin, who wants to help them and make up for the sins of his father who was a rabid Nazi.  With his help they find the will of Adele Bauer-Bloch’s husband who died in 1945 leaving everything to his two nieces (in fact a nephew was also included).  The Austrian government had interpreted the request by Adele Bloch Bauer that her husband bequeath the portrait to the museum as her will, but the will’s actual wording left the picture to her husband. Since the Nazi’s had taken the painting from the walls of the Bloch-Bauer home in 1941 before he died, the case was that it should be restituted to his legal heirs.

After the Austrian government restitution commission finds against them they return to the U.S. to pursue the case here.  In a precedent setting decision they win the right in the U.S. Supreme Court to be heard in U.S. courts.  Realizing, however, that they cannot afford court costs either in Austria or in the United States, they make a deal to bring the case back to Vienna for arbitration, where Altmann finally wins back the family’s Klimts.  Today the portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I can be found in the Neue Galerie in New York.

Along the entire process Maria repeatedly hesitates and sometimes wants to put a halt to the venture altogether.  In a final heart-rending scene in the movie Maria finds that winning brings none of the sense of celebration and relief that she expected, but just the guilt of having escaped and left so many behind to die at the hands of the Nazis.  This hit home with me.  My parents got out of Hitler’s Germany shortly after my father was thrown out of University in 1933, the year before he would have received his doctorate.  He never wanted to speak of it and said only, “I knew when I wasn’t wanted”.  He was 22 years old at the time.  Like many of his friends he wanted to enlist in the U.S. Army but to his further upset he was classified 4F, unable to serve.  He could only join the civil defense and never left the U.S.  His guilt feelings were profound and acknowledged more in what he did not say that what he did.  I hadn’t realized what it meant when I was told as a child that my mother went back to Germany in 1937 to get a wedding dress because she could not afford one and money could not be gotten out of Germany by then.  My grandmother only left after the Anschluss in 1938.

I personally have a case with Germany, which was published in the Wall Street Journal on February 24, 2015:


My father would never have agreed to it.  He had a philosophy “Lass die Toten ruhen”  ironically translated “leave the dead in peace”. He was grateful to be out of Germany safe with his family and being able to lead a good life.  For me, however, over the last decade it has become a desire to seek justice for my family.  We have been after works of art taken from the family in Germany and The Netherlands and refused at every turn.  Although, in a political decision, we lost before the advisory restitution committee in Germany, since I have partners in the current venture and lawyers who believe in the case, it Is being pursued.

I am not sure why so many movie critics did not care for the “Woman in Gold” though they admit that Helen Mirren as Maria is superb.  She was so good that I truly believed she could have been one of my parents’ refugee friends. One of the critics I read found Maria’s statement that it was not about the money, disingenuous, but I can tell you that while money, of course, is part of the package it is about so much more.  I have learned where my parents really came from and it has opened my eyes to the horror that already started in 1933.  Those who lived through it wish and need to forget, but those that come after must always remember!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Frits Lugt and the Fondation Custodia

To anyone with an interest in Old Master drawings the name Frits Lugt (1884-1970) is of great significance.  Lugt was born in Amsterdam, Fredrik Johannes (Frits) Lugt.   By the age of 15 he had written a biography of Rembrandt with photographic reproductions.  In 1921 he published his first major work, “Les Marques de Collections de Dessins & d’Estampes” (Collectors Marks on Drawings and Prints).  Private Collectors and Institutions often put their own marks on works on paper.  These are usually in the form of stamps.  This is from the collectors point of view a good way to prevent theft or if not prevent it be able to identify their art when retrieved.  From a dealer or museum’s point of view it is an excellent way to establish provenance.  Until recently no dealer who dealt in drawings or prints could afford not to have these 2 volumes in their library.   Besides collectors’ marks and institutional stamps, one could find the marks of dealers, mounters and editors as well as studio stamps.

New marks are discovered and invented all the time and in 1956 Lugt published a supplement to his compendium of marks.  By 2010 there were 4,000 additional marks to be added to the 5,216 marks that Lugt listed in his 1921 and 1956 compilations.  Interestingly enough, though more volumes were contemplated, it was decided that it would be too complicated and too expensive to do. Slowly but surely all the marks are being put on line for one and all to use. To use the database, CLICK HERE.

Another Lugt publication is the “Répertoire des catalogues de ventes publiques intéressant l'art ou la curiosité”, where one can find more than 100,000 auction catalogues from 1600 to 1925.  These 4 volumes were published between 1938 and 1987.  Most of the catalogs were in his  own collection which he donated to the Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie/Netherlands Institute for Art History, known as the RKD, in the Hague.

Lugt owned over 7,000 drawings, 30,000 prints and 220 paintings.  His collection included Dutch, French, Italian and German drawings ranging from the 15th through the 18th centuries.  Add to that another 40,000 artists’ letters he acquired and you have not only a very major collection, but a major resource for art historians. To house his collection Lugt established the Fondation Custodia in the 18th century Hôtel Turgot located behind the Assemblée Nationale in Paris.  Because of the fragile and fugitive nature of their works on paper it is not heralded as a museum and has been open by appointment only.   However, an appointment can be made by any serious art lover, they need not be accredited scholars.

The director of the Fondation Custodia, Ger Luijten, believes that the Fondation should stay alive by continuing to collect.  He recently commented that the annual Fair in Maastricht was a place to see what the dealers had “fished out of the pond”.  A few years ago the Fondation put on a small exhibition art the fair in the section devoted to works on paper.  He believes as I do to that to be able to hold original works of art and the letters of artists in your hand leads to a better understanding of the artist’s work.  For one to be able to accomplish this the Fondation is the ideal place.  Ger also believes that there should be a place for the general public to view art as well. Therefore, he decided to open a section of the building for public exhibitions.  Currently there is an exhibition of Italian drawings borrowed from the Staedel in Frankfurt am Main Germany.  It includes works by Raphael, Titian & Michelangelo.  The Staedel was my parents’ hometown museum.  My father always said that the Staedel didn’t have a vast collection but they had a masterpiece by every important artist.  Their superb drawings collection has continued to grow over the years.

Another exhibition that will be coming to the Fondation Custodia up in the near future is devoted to oil sketches. A friend of mine who is a collector will lend to the show from her collection along with the Fitzwilliam Museum, the Oskar Reinhart Foundation and another private collector with additions from the Fondation’s holdings.

The Fondation Custodia is another gem of the art world where you can immerse yourself in art in an intimate setting.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

According to Hoyle

No, this is actually not going to be about Edmond Hoyle (1672–1769) the writer best known for his works on the rules and play of card games.  This is rather about an actor by the name of Dan Hoyle and his rules.

Dan Hoyle, as well as being an actor is also a playwright based in New York City.  He has won awards for his one-man shows, which he takes to theaters across the country from New York to San Francisco.  He also has done tours of the Universities and it seemed to me that his ruminations were often aimed at a young audience still into the Philosophy of Life.   He stopped at the Lensic Theater in Santa Fe for the second year in a row with a new piece about his philosophy and observations.

Dan Hoyle came to his art naturally.  His father was from Yorkshire and an actor.  Dan was born in 1980 in Malta where his father was playing in the film “Popeye”.  Dan graduated from Northwestern with degrees in Theater and History.  He has a keen interest in people and obviously a great deal of empathy.  Even when he is dealing with red neck prejudiced Americans as he demonstrates in his play “The Real Americans” where as the New York Times said, “it brings into contact two worlds that usually prefer to stay apart: the liberal achingly hip, moral-relativism of gentrified city life and the conservative absolutist and often hostile populism that Hoyle found overflowing in small-town America.”… “Frequently grateful for their hospitality, often perplexed by their beliefs, he sought to see the world through their eyes and understand their anger.”

This empathy was brought home again in “Each and Every Thing”, the show he recently presented in Santa Fe.  He interviewed people, as he said, “out of his comfort zone” such as the drug dealers in the neighborhood telling them he would like to include them in his one-man play.  One asked whether it would be a musical because he loved musicals!  He then portrays these characters using their accents and mannerisms, not to mock them but to that take the viewer into their milieu. A recurrent character was Protim, his best friend from India, and in effect his guru. Following Protim’s advice he traveled to India and in a final scene he took us into a Calcutta teahouse to meet people who had clearly become his friends and shared their outlook on life.

In this show he made a case that we are too hooked up to our electronic media and cell phones and miss out on human interaction.  Though my wife and many would agree with him, I do not.  There was a wonderful bookstore in New York for artists and art historians called Wittenborn.   It was a great meeting place and salon though Mr. Wittenborn would yell through the small second story shop on a typical Saturday afternoon, “This is not a library!” and shoo students out who he felt were just using his books for their homework.  This was in the 1960’s and not too long afterwards stores such as Barnes & Noble and Borders not only had seating areas but also coffee bars.  We have the same at our wonderful local bookshop here in Santa Fe, Collected Works.  They found that the longer they could keep the customer the more apt he or she was going to buy something and if not this time, the next.

Personally, I believe the same is true with social media.  First of all, through a site like Face Book we are in touch with many people that we might never dream of phoning.  Then often we become comfortable enough through written contact to pick up the phone.   I know one story where a small child using her cell phone at the dinner table was chastised by a parent.  Only to explain that she was playing a game with her aunt sitting across from her!  I think all interaction is good.  I have a friend with whom I discuss history and politics in email regularly.  Then we get together for lunch or dinner to delve deeper into these subjects.

In some cases social media becomes the icebreaker or actual introduction to an individual.    After one of my Missives an artist, art historian and teacher got in touch with me because we had gone to the same school for art history in London a decade apart.  We had an on and off conversation on Face Book until she announced that she was coming to paint and lecture at Ghost Ranch, where Georgia O’Keeffe had a second home near her house in Abiquiu.  My Facebook came down through Santa Fe and we could finally have our first face to face conversation over lunch.

Of course, like everything in life moderation is important.  There always comes a point to put down the email as there is a point at which to put down the phone.  Messages left that outrun the time on the tape do not help anyone!  A date can also go on too long, we used to have a guest at our New Year’s Open House which was scheduled from 2-6 pm who we would still find in our house at 9 or 10pm.  There is the concept of too much of a good thing!

I like the fact that a performance like Dan Hoyle’s can get one to think about the philosophy of life even if one is of a certain age!!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Ted’s Totem Pole Finds a Home at the Coe Foundation

A large totem pole is a rare sight in Santa Fe yet one 14 ½ feet tall has just been installed at the Ralph T. Coe Foundation.  I have written before about the Foundation and Ted Coe (1929-2010), its founder.  Aside from being a great scholar in several different fields he was also a voracious collector.  His main personal interest was in tribal art and in particular that of the Native Americans.  In his early days of collecting as a young man he could collect in this field with very little money earned in scholarly or advisory roles.  Early on he was able to buy well and make discoveries where others may have missed an opportunity. 

Ted’s parents were great collectors of art as well including tribal arts and Impressionists that they had bought at the beginning of the last century.  Unfortunately, through the vicissitudes of the Depression and later on age and health issues many of these paintings had to be sold.  Ted, however, was able to preserve a few pieces and in particular a great painting by Claude Monet of “Monet’s Garden at Giverny”.  As he got older and published and advised less he began to sell shares in the latter and eventually sold the picture at auction.  This gave him more serious funds near the end of his life and he was able to buy works of art that had become more expensive and that he could not afford before.

The totem pole known as a Hams’pek Pole, was carved by Calvin Hunt of the Kwakwaka’wakw tribe (Kwakiutl) in British Columbia.  On a visit to Portland, Oregon in 2007, Ted saw the pole lying on the floor of the Quintana Gallery.  According to Cecily Quintana, the gallery had to cut through a beam in order to set it upright in their space, but Ted had decided on the spot that he had to have it.   By January of 2008 it was fully paid for.  It took a while to ship the pole and decide when and how it would be possible to put it up in his small back yard.  He wanted to make sure that there would be a proper welcoming ceremony that he could invite his friends and family to.  Here is an image of the artist with Ted.

Photo Credit: Antonio Ferretti

At the end of August 2008 Calvin Hunt, the carver came with his wife Marie and other members of his family to raise the pole and do a Pole Blessing.  When the pole was erected it stood almost as high as Ted’s house and way over the adjoining fence.  Friends and family had been invited, including his sister and brother-in-law, Nancy and Bill Wixom, from New York.  Penelope and I were lucky enough to be included.  The artist and his family, a troupe called the Copper Maker Dances said the blessing and did a ceremonial dance where others including Ted joined in.

Photo Credit: Antonio Ferretti

The Hams’pek pole plays a role in the initiation to the Kwakwaka’wakw tribe’s most secret society of the Hamatsa.   An initiate is usually the oldest son in an important family.  When the dances are over there is much feasting and many gifts are given so the family must also be well to do.  The Hamatsa is a Cannibal ritual based on legends of bird monsters that ate human flesh.  There are 4 dance cycles of 3 years each and with each cycle the initiate rises in cultural stature.  At the end the initiate is taken to a forest where he is taught the secrets of the society and when he returns there are four  days of feasting and gift giving.  The entire ceremony is far more complicated and here is a link to one of the better descriptions: CLICK HERE.

After Ted died, his niece, Rachel Wixom, came to Santa Fe as President of his Foundation. She wanted to put the pole in an appropriate place and since the Foundation had no permanent home at the time she gave it on loan to the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) where so many Native artists have studied.  There it stood on the plaza with a great Santa Fe Landscape behind it for almost three years.  At the welcoming ceremony a student now, graduated, Crystal Worl of the Tlingit Nation in Alaska did the blessing.

Unfortunately, the weather got the better of the pole and when a conservator for the Smithsonian and the Santa Fe State Museums, Landis Smith, recommended it be taken away from the elements Rachel had just the place for it in the new home of the Foundation at 1590 B Pacheco Street. 

Before this could be done, however, there was a small farewell ceremony at IAIA. Steve Fadden of the Mohawk tribe said a few words and sang, with board members from the Coe and Native students in attendance as well as the director of the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, Patsy Phillips and the President of IAIA, Robert Martin.   

After transport to the Coe Foundation building the pole was literally laid to rest with blankets around it just inside the loading dock for about 4 months to give it as slow as possible chance to acclimatize to its new home.

Then a couple of weeks ago it was resurrected on a newly constructed base in the center of the Coe’s exhibition space.

Last week a ceremony was held at the Foundation with about 30 in attendance to welcome the Pole Rachel Wixom did welcomed everyone and Alvin Sandoval, from the Navajo Nation (Diné), who works at IAIA explained what the pole was about and gave a short blessing.  From the few English words that he used and I could understand he included the foundation and its staff in his blessing.


All these ceremonies were deeply moving and personal in different ways.  I think that the fact that Native Peoples from different Indian Nations have added their blessings give the Hams’pek Pole an additional aura fitting for the Foundation as a nexus, a study center and a place for those interested in tribal art to meet.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Mateo Romero

Our first acquisition of a painting by the artist Mateo Romero (b.1966) marked a significant change in our collecting of Native American art.  We had been totally focused on works by the Hopi until we “discovered” this artist from Cochiti and Pojoaque Pueblos and fell in love with his work. He has since become one of a very few artists that we have collected in some depth. 

We met Mateo in 2002 when he was just finishing up on a Dubin Fellowship at what was then called The School of American Research, today, The School of Advanced Research.  The fellowship offers a two-month residency program where the artist can develop his work on the School’s campus in Santa Fe.

At the end the artist gives a brief talk about what his aims and accomplishments are.  The audience is invited to the studio where he or she has been working and many of the works of art are for sale.  That is when we bought our first Mateo.  It is called “Pot Hunters” referring to archeologists and collectors who have illicitly taken ceramic objects found buried on Indian land and grave sites for their personal collections or that of their institutions.  The painting also includes many of the other subjects of interest and concern to the Indians. On the right you can see men working at Los Alamos Laboratory suited up for their hazardous work on nuclear energy polluting the land.  Lower left though very difficult to see in the photo are a number of Pac-man like heads with feathers mocking the logo of the Cleveland Indians baseball team.  In the center is a portrait of Mateo in a Buffalo dance.

Mateo’s father, Santiago Holly Romero, was from Cochiti Pueblo and studied with Dororthy Dunn at the Indian School in Santa Fe.  He met Mateo’s mother, Corneria, when he was recovering at a Naval hospital in Oakland California from wounds suffered in Korea.   Corneria was studying anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley.  Mateo grew up in Berkeley, California and went to  Dartmouth College where he graduated cum laude and then went on for an MFA at the University of New Mexico.  His partner for the last 20 years is Melissa Talachy from Pojoaque pueblo where they live today with their 3 children.  She worked at the Poeh Museum on the pueblo and is currently working in the tribal government offices where her brother is Governor of the Pueblo.

Melissa is a noted ceramicist in her own right but to my knowledge has only collaborated with her husband on one piece and that was a vase of micaceous clay on which Mateo has used a photo transfer process to impose images of a number of native dancers.  The piece was in a vitrine at a special exhibition at the Poeh Museum in Pojoaque.  From our knowledge it was a unique effort and there might never be another opportunity to acquire such a collaboration, we asked the price and bought it then and there.

Mateo’s nephew came back from Iraq suffering from all the stresses that many other soldiers do and stayed with his uncle and Melissa for a while trying to decompress.   He brought with him an album of photos of his exploits that became the genesis of a body of work for Mateo.  He presented it in an exhibition called “War Paint”, 2007, for which he was a co-curators. The show was an incredible expression of artists against war spanning work from Vietnam to Iraq.   Before it opened Mateo showed us the work in his studio.  I remember an upside down Pieta, which was far too big for our house.  There was, however, a medium sized painting of a soldier with his rifle standing over five body bags.  We knew the subject because we had seen the original graphic photo but here the bags were somewhat impressionistic.  It was rather upsetting particularly when Mateo added that his nephew had 5 definite enemy kills, 5 possible and 5 kills from “friendly fire”.  Here is the painting in Mateo’s studio.

Though my wife appreciated the poignancy of the painting she was very worried about living with it and asked where I planned to place it.  I said I would store it if I had to, but it was important and needed to be preserved.  I must have been prescient in this case.  These paintings were a total break with Mateo’s usual pueblo themes.   A museum that was a big backer of Mateo’s work and a curator that had been encouraging him to push the envelope felt that they could not acquire such anti-war images when the war was still going on.  It was a sad commentary on the courage of our public institutions and unfortunately no surprise.  Mateo became so discouraged that he painted over his “War Paint” canvases.   Sadly ours is the only souvenir of that moment in his oeuvre and it hangs in my office.

As you know or can tell from this Missive I like the unusual and probably the most unusual Mateo we have acquired is a pair of Toms shoes.  In case you are not acquainted with Toms they fall between a moccasin and a sneaker.  A number of Indian artists were asked to paint these shoes for a benefit auction event at the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts.  All the other artists painted on top of the shoes as if people would buy them to wear.  Mateo painted the soles with images of deer dancers.  As soon as I saw them I knew I had to have them and as a result caught auction fever and behaved truly stupidly.  As I put my first bid down on the silent auction sheet someone came over and stood over my shoulder and every time I put a bid down he took the sheet and raised the ante.  I was furious at this unsportsmanlike behavior and said, “I am going to buy those.”  Finally the other man stopped and I got them.  As any poker player knows, you don’t show your hand!  Later I found out he was the Anglo president of the board of the museum and he was just making more money for the benefit.  I can promise you, however, I would be much more upset today had I walked away and not gotten them!

I will end this missive with what we consider his best painting in our collection in terms of painterly mastery.  It started out when Mateo asked us to do him a favor and he asked could he give us a painting as a thank you.  We told him that I had seen a very small picture once in a gallery of his daughter and that we would love it if he would make us a similar portrait of his partner Melissa, a subject we had not seen before.  When Mateo came with the painting it was about 6 times the size that we expected and was a total masterpiece.  It shows Melissa with a mesa in the background.  When I asked him to identify it, Mateo call the mesa “Tunyo” in the Tewa language.  “Kind of like if Black Mesa and Pedernal south of Abiquiu had a baby together (The Pedernal is the mesa that Georgia O’Keeffe said was god’s personal gift to her and she painted it often!)

Mateo recently asked if I would consider opening a gallery and handling his work as well as other very talented members of the Romero family.  It was certainly one of the greatest compliments an artist could possibly pay me.  I am afraid, however, I am not prepared to start another gallery but I certainly want to support his efforts to go as far as he can go.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

America Meredith and “First American Art”

The Inaugural issue of the new quarterly publication “First American Art” appeared in the spring of 2013.  It took a few issues before I became aware of it.  I was surprised at what a polished publication it was both from the point of view of image and content.   When you open it you do not get lost, articles are not split up but are kept neatly together.  In every issue there are several articles that focus on individual Indigenous artists in all media and a lot more.  The paper quality is thick and glossy, the print is large and clear and the photography is excellent.   America Meredith who is both publisher and editor has written, “We hope First American Art Magazine provides primary research from which to draw”.  I believe she has begun to do that and in a few years one will have a resource for an encyclopedia of Native artists.  It will become a necessary resource for any library.
I became curious as to why does someone decide that they want to start a magazine.  What is the goal?  I met with, America Meredith, a member of the Cherokee Nation, on her visit to the Ralph T. Coe Foundation.  I immediately saw this very intelligent person with an extremely high level of energy. Her questions and ideas came out on top of each other as if she would explode in a hundred different directions.  It was, frankly, sometimes difficult to keep up!

I did have one planned question and I asked America how she got her first name.  I was surprised to learn that she was named after her great-great-great, grandmother, Mary America Schrimpsher Rogers, Will Roger’s mother.  I had forgotten that the famous actor (1879-1935) known as Oklahoma’s favorite son and whose famous quote is so oft repeated, “I never met a man I dident [sic] like", was Cherokee.

Both America’s grandmothers were Swedish and both grandfathers were Cherokee.  Her parents are also both from the Cherokee Nation.  Her mother is a museum director and curator and her father is an author and professor.  She grew up in Oklahoma and is the 6th generation of Oklahoma Cherokee.  Her ancestors arrived in the early part of the 19th century before the “Trail of Tears”, the deportation of tribes from the Southeast to designated Indian territory in the West, following the law of 1830.

America received her BFA in painting from the University of Oklahoma and her MFA in painting from the San Francisco Art Institute but the first college she attended was the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe where so many well known American Indian artists have gone.  She is an award winning artist and between 2008 and 2010 taught Native American Art History at IAIA.  This is the image that she posted in her inaugural issue.  It is a gouache she painted called, “Bringing Harmony into the World” and as you can see from the tools in the image she is using the arts to accomplish this.

America became absolutely passionate about her desire to educate but she wanted more.  She wanted to communicate between the many art worlds in all Native American communities throughout the Americas.  She realized that in order to reach so many constituencies she would need to write.

A magazine seemed to be the best vehicle with which to cast the widest net.  To get started she raised funds using the Kickstarter program, an internet funding platform.   When that was not enough she added her own funds and borrowed money from her family.

Her magazine covers Native Arts throughout the Americas, which includes Canada, the United States and South America.  Her interest is art, something for which there is no word in the Native American languages.  Why? Because it is integral in their culture.  An Indian child learns how to draw, paint, weave, bead etc. from the time they are tiny tots.  I am guessing it is to some extent like learning to play games, its just part of life.  Her magazine is not about ethnography or history in their own right but only how they pertain to art.  This is an image of one of her magazine’s covers with partial contents.

While Anglos have written about Indian art for some time, Native young people have only recently begun to study their own art history.  These are the voices, which America feels are missing today and wants for her magazine.

Hers is a niche publication among the few magazines devoted to Native American culture, some of which are focused on a specific region.  It currently has a print run of 5,000 which she intends to expand.  She is presenting her publication at as many Indian art shows and markets as possible.  She even went so far afield as to  go to the College Art Association whose annual meeting was in New York this year.  She said she was particularly well received there by other minority constituencies like the feminist contingent and the Black American Art Caucus.

In her first issue America wrote, “There are thousands of Indigenous tribes, nations and villages in the Americas, who speak thousands of different languages” and these are the people she believes she can unite through the language of art under the umbrella of her publication.  It may a bit of a Utopian idea but the concept fills a vacuum that can only have a positive influence on the field.  Take a look at the website and subscribe.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

David Bradley's Indian Country

The exhibition “Indian Country: The Art of David Bradley” at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture focuses on a Minnesota Chippewa artist who grew up in the Anglo world. David Bradley (1954-) writes that before coming to Santa Fe 37 years ago to attend the Institute of American Indian Arts, “I was like a tumbleweed blowing in the wind.  But New Mexico had such an immediate impact on me I knew that I would live the rest of my life here.”   I liked his comment on his work, “Each viewer brings something of their own life experiences to it, and their interpretations are often as valid as mine”.  Not all artists feel that way.  Some want you to understand the art in the context that they believe is “correct”.  Both are valid but we cannot help but bring our own experience and interpretation to a work of art. 

Bradley’s work is certainly social commentary on this part of the world.  Santa Fe has become very “Anglofied” by all the tourists and summer residents changing the Spanish town in Indian country. These constituencies feel that in many ways it was better before we came.  Yet, assimilation is inevitable and the Anglos have brought some things that everyone  can appreciate.  Bradley’s work is researched and he records in his inimitable style Society, Social Movements and Culture.  His work shows his sense of humor in the incongruous groups he forms including locals, celebrities, many of whom visit or live here, as well as those deceased and fictional characters.

I have many favorite pictures in this exhibition and many others that are included in the catalog by Valerie K. Verzuh, curator at the museum and friend of the artist.  Unfortunately, there has been a clearly conscious decision in most cases not to identify characters in the paintings which I am sure is often because there are too many figures to identify and also to protect the guilty!

Let us start, however, with the Mona Lisa or rather “Pow Wow Princess, Southwest”, 2009.  It was purchased by the Museun of Indian Arts & Culture.  Bradley has done a series of these including one of the artist Georgia O’Keeffe as the Mona Lisa.  In this case, the sitter is also identified by her Miss Indian Universe sash which is, of course, not only a commentary on the enigmatic Mona Lisa but also on the Miss Universe Contest.  I am sure someone in the area will know who this young lady is.  One can see on the rampart a dollar bill which might well refer to how much money is spent on art these days especially in a town that bills itself as the 3rd largest art market in the U.S.  Then another interpretation might be that Miss Universe usually ends up promoting products once she has the title.  Note the sitter’s watch which has the figure of a dying Indian on horseback slouched over as in James Earle Fraser’s sculpture called, End of the Trail.   Santa Fe is the end of the Old Santa Fe Trail and the city’s name is displayed on a hilltop in the background.  Her smart phone says “Hollywood Agent” with a phone number, a commentary on many aspects of Santa Fe not only do actors live here also many movies have been made in this town.  As you read this Tina Fey is filming “Taliban Shuffle” here, characterized as “Drama, Comedy, Biography” it is based on the memoirs of an American journalist in Afghanistan which apparently has a similar landscape to New Mexico.

 Bradley has done a series of dollar bills a hand colored lithograph that we own is called, “Santa Fe Indian Market Dollar”.  It is about the money spent at Indian Market in Santa Fe over a single weekend.

The painting “El Farol, Canyon Road Cantina”, 2000, is a gift from James and Margie Krebs to the New Mexico Museum of Art, 2004.2.7  It shows a restaurant a short distance from our home where we go every once in a while to have tapas and sangria.   There are many art galleries on the street so El Farol is a famous watering hole for the community with music in the bar area.  Here you see Bradley playing sax on stage with some of his friends.  Bill and Hillary Clinton have stopped by and are sitting at the “Reserved” table.  Georgia O’Keeffe is at the far left and Van Gogh is passed out at the bar!  Something for everyone!

Photo credit: Blair Clark
I have always loved the Lone Ranger and Tonto.  I am old enough to have listened to the show on the radio and later watched it on television.  This picture is titled, “End of the Trail: Tonto and the Lone Ranger Revisited”, 2008.  It has been loaned by Jan Musial from Flagstaff, Arizona.  At first I thought the Lone Ranger in Bradley’s 2008 painting was suffering from allergies which is a common problem out here but this picture actually is placed in Los Angeles.  You can tell by the Hollywood Sign upper right and the Grim Reaper coming out of the pollution from the smoke stacks above.  Tonto is pointing an accusatory finger at the Lone Ranger who is crying asking for forgiveness for what the Anglos have done to Indian land.

The largest picture in the show is called, “Santa Fe Indian Market” 2002 lent by the University of Wyoming Art Museum, Laramie.  There is so much in this panorama I wish I could identify more.  On the right a woman potter poses for a TV cameraman while her Anglo husband sells to a line of clients each, holding cash at the ready to buy something that might remain from what the prize-winning celebrity brought to the market. While couples fight over their acquisitions another potter, who unlike her neighbor has no prize ribbons, sits alone and dejected. In the window at the center we see a Mona Lisa type and to her right is Georgia O’Keefe staring or glaring at her. All the way on the left are the Lone Ranger and Tonto and to their right is a Koshare, an Indian clown who lends comic relief to the dances , on his a skate board carrying a stereotypical watermelon.  Behind them are the Natives’ booths erected in front of the shops around the Plaza and, of course in the foreground you see the ubiquitous tourist photographer.

The one sad note about this show is that, as acknowledged in the catalog, David Bradley has been diagnosed with ALS, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, better  known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, which is considered terminal.  His expressed concern is, however, the work that he still wishes to complete in this life time.