Sunday, January 27, 2013

WWII & NYC


Years ago when the only way to get to Europe was by steamer one had to go to the West Side piers in New York City to board the ship.  Many New Yorkers never went to the West Side except to travel abroad therefore, there was an old joke, if you went to the West Side  you should bring your passport.

Since every once in a while it’s nice to have a change of venue, the other day, back in New York, I got out my passport and went across the park to the New York Historical Society on Central Park West and 77th Street.   The attraction was the exhibition, “WWII & NYC”, a subject that interested me from several points of view.

When you walk into the show you hear this blast from the past, Edward R. Murrow broadcasting from London in 1940.  His voice comes crackling out of a 1930’s or 40’s plastic radio like this one.



In the next gallery comes the real shocker.  A poster declaring “Support the Axis – The Pro American Rally”.  How could that be?  Well, it had only been 20 years since the World War I, “the war to end all wars” where 10 million soldiers died as well as millions of more civilians.  People wanted to get on with their lives and spend their money at home.  Ironically, in the end, the war boosted the economy which continued to boom for decades.  But next to the Pro American Rally poster I see another.  It says, “Stop them over there now – Smash the Axis”.  That, of course, was New York  before Pearl Harbor; after that eye opener, the entire country got behind the effort and joined the Allies abroad.

New York had the busiest harbor in the world even before WWII and it was closest to Europe so it naturally became the main port for embarkation of personnel and supplies heading for the European Theater.

I had not understood before why the development of the atomic bomb was known as the Manhattan Project when the bomb was built in Los Alamos, New Mexico, The site of a boys’ school that was literally taken over in total secrecy. It had no address and mail came to Santa Fe, New Mexico an hour or more away.

So why the Manhattan Project?  It turns out that the initial scientific study for the possibility of creating an atomic bomb began in New York at Columbia University.  The New York Times covered the logistics of moving into the Historical Society building the actual huge Cyclotron that had demonstrated the ability to accelerate particles and release atomic energy.

Librado Romero / NY Times

FDR had received several letters from Albert Einstein informing him that scientists in several countries were developing atomic energy as well as the possibility of a nuclear bomb.  Therefore, Einstein believed that it was important for the administration to establish lines of communications with these scientists and that this country put a greater effort into developing nuclear energy.  He also facilitated a meeting between FDR and at least one scientist who was a leader in the field.  It was after this that FDR authorized the work on the atomic bomb and sanctioned the Manhattan Project, which eventually spread to over 30 sites both in this country and abroad.

There are many personal stories in the exhibition but the one that is most graphically illustrated is in a 22-minute film by a pacifist who became convinced that he had to join the army and was appointed to a film-making unit.  On his own time he made a film that starts with images of maneuvers state-side and then moves on to his being stationed in London and finally to the front lines and landing at Normandy Beach.  There you see the true horrors of war in man to man combat.  In the end 60 million people lost their lives in the war.  Film became an important part of the propaganda war and after Pearl Harbor Hollywood joined in this effort.

To end on a lighter note, the most Iconic photograph of World War II was taken by the German-American photographer Alfred Eisenstadt who snapped this picture in Times Square.  A returning sailor grabbed the first nurse he saw and kissed her in gratitude for what the nurses had done for our armed forces during the war.



Sunday, January 20, 2013

Master Drawings New York


My father always told me that time went faster as you got older and these days it simply whizzes by!

Here we are in 2013 and it is time for Master Drawings New York again.  Twenty-seven  dealers in works on paper will participate plus Sotheby’s & Christies who will have their auction sales at the end of January and beginning of February. On view at the galleries will be works dating from the 15th to the 20th centuries.

 For all the details go to  http://www.masterdrawingsinnewyork.com .  An easy to carry brochure with the list of exhibitor and where they are showing can also be found at any of the participating dealers.

Every year we put up some items that we have shown before as well as new acquisitions.  Even though it is called Master Drawings you will find that the exhibitions’ bottom line is works on paper in various Techniques.  We, for instance will show a few marvelous prints by Lucien Freud.

"Ib" by Lucien Freud

When you have been in this business as long as I have it is not just the big names that are of interest. I find it exciting to find works by less well known artists where they surpass themselves. For instance, on our announcement card you will find such a work; a portrait of a man by Jean-Baptiste Menuisier (1783- after 1819) who was a student of Jean-Baptiste Isabey.  You may remember that we had a wonderful oval portrait of a young lady in the same tradition by Isabey a few years ago.  Both works date from the first Empire and represent the intensely detailed portraiture of the period.

"Portrait of a Man" by Jean-Baptiste Menuisier

Next, I want to draw your attention to what at first looks like an architectural fantasy which caught me up in all its mystery and intrigue.  What are we looking at, where is this edifice?  Is it where Hansel and Gretle were held by the wicked witch?  Upon research it turns out to be one of the so-called “troglodyte” structures hollowed out of limestone formations in various areas of France. The drawing is by a  French artist by the name of Henri Brunet who was active in the 1930’s and exhibited with the “IndĂ©pendants” between 1931 and 1935.

"Troglodyte Structure" by Henri Brunet

Finally, the most interesting and scholarly of the lot.  A drawing by Nicolas Cochin (1610-1686) titled “Perseus and Andromeda Pay Homage to the Young Louis XIV”.  Cochin is better known for his prints and his drawings are rare, but others are known in the BibliothĂ©que Nationale and other French collections.  This image is so much a piece of propaganda that it may have very well been made in preparation for a print that either was never done, or not as yet found. The unusual aerial perspective of the background panorama is a device used in a book of the conquests of Louis XIV that Cochin illustrated.

"Perseus and Andromeda" by Nicolas Cochin

Oh yes, we do have a number of well known artists such as Delacroix, Pissarro, Mallet, LePrince and Gabriel de Saint Aubin on view as well that will interest you; but if you are also looking for a little adventure in your collection, take a look at some of our other offerings.

This Friday there is a universal opening at all the galleries. That is January 25 from 4pm until 8pm.  We hope that you will stop by then or during the following 10 days.  When you come do take a look at our price list, we have some pleasant surprises in store for you.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Graffiti Debate


The definition of Graffiti is, “Writing or drawings scribbled, scratched, or sprayed illicitly on a wall or other surface in a public place.”  Of course, we put paintings and murals in the same category unless they are commissioned for the space of the proprietor.

The debate started at home.  My wife has a real problem with graffiti and she calls the city every time she sees graffiti in our neighborhood.  Naturally, in the relatively small town like Santa Fe  they are far more responsive to this kind of complaint.  Also, the town is very proud of their “Santa Fe Style”.  We have, however, argued a great deal about it.  I think a little color often improves the look of some spaces such as the New York Subway system which is one of the drabbest places you can be.  If, however, it covers the windows of the subway cars that interferes with my riding experience from the inside.  Penelope has admitted that her biggest problem is with “tagging” when someone puts their symbol or monogram on a wall or a utility box.

"No Loitering" by Banksy (New Orleans)

I would make several distinctions, if the tag is on a building which is in the possession of someone else, then rights are being violated but if it is on a utility box which is an ugly gray square a little color, in my opinion, makes it a bit less of an eyesore. 

Thinking about this subject and looking what might be presented on the web I have found that a great deal has been written already.  Wikipedia alone has about 20 pages!

"Steamroller Warden" by Banksy (London)

Where is the distinction between Graffiti and a work of art?  These days we call scribblings by every child a work of art and the child an artist!  Taking the latter out of the equation I believe that damning art as graffiti is often just a question of whether it was done for a public space.  If the latter is true, was it commissioned or randomly placed on someone else’s wall.   We all want to choose our own works of art and not have them inflicted upon us.  Which brings us to another dilemma, what if the work was commissioned but it is offensive to your public.  If you are the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles you might take it down in order not to offend your constituency or your neighbors.  The Museum Director, Jeffrey Deitch who had promoted protest art in his gallery in New York, commissioned the Italian Street Artist Blu to create a mural for one of the museum’s buildings.  In his gallery he had encouraged provocative work by his artists but it turned out to be a different matter for a public institution.  The artist created a 3 story mural the entire length of the building representing row after row of coffins covered with dollar bills.  What made it truly offensive was that it was being done right next to a war memorial.  Obviously, this was not going to fly with the museum’s viewers and visitors.  So when the director returned from a trip he cut his losses and had it white washed.  I guess he learned his lesson that in the future he had better find out in advance what the artist had in mind when he was not dealing with a simple work on canvas.

LACMA mural by Blu (Los Angeles)

We can’t call it graffiti because it was a commissioned work but why would this be different from the case of Banksy who referred to himself as a street artist as well.  He was born in Bristol, England in 1974 and began his career around 1992 with his illegal, or shall we say illegally placed, images.  Much of his work is anti government and protest art.  What makes his case interesting is that he has slowly come to be considered legitimate even though the police have been after him and often his work is over painted by over zealous government employees in the interest of the law, and I presume, sometimes because the owners of the spaces painted upon have objected.  Personally, I could imagine appreciating a pleasant image, shall we say, on my garage doors?

"Washing Laundry" by Banksy (Timbuktu, Mali)

As he has become better known Banksy has had exhibitions in galleries and even museums and a market has been established through galleries and at auction where in 2007 for an image called “Keep it Spotless”, 8 by 10 feet and with an estimate of $250,000-$350,000 Sotheby’s New York received $1,870,000 from an eager buyer.

Like so much in art everything is not black and white (pun intended) but nuanced and one man’s graffiti may be another man’s art.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Our Annual Open House


I was not planning to write about our New Year’s Day event this year but then after the positive reaction to the Christmas Missive I thought that I would follow up with New Years January 1, 2013 before returning to the art world.

As many of you know, when traveling by air and having to submit to their hub service one can be stuck anywhere from 1 to 4 days in a town where you planned only to make a stop over to change planes.  We were naturally concerned about that since there were storms across the continent around Christmas time and we were traveling from Santa Fe to Northern Michigan and back with our annual open house scheduled for January 1.  There are only two ways out of Traverse City for us, one is through Detroit and the other is Chicago.   Since we committed over 25 years ago to do most of our flying with American Airlines which goes to most of the places we travel and at this point is the only  airline that flies directly into Santa Fe airport, we went through Chicago which is a hub for American.  Miracle of miracles we had no delays going or coming back while people flying through Detroit missed their flights and had to spend an overnight there.



As a result, we were back in town in plenty of time to get the perishable supplies for our annual event.  This is the 13th year we have done given our open house.  An additional concern, however, was that our son, Hunter, stayed with his brother, niece and nephew over New Years and he and Dana had been the caterers for our party in recent years.

Happily we demonstrated to ourselves that we are able to still function on our own.  We just bought much more food than we thought we would need.   We usually expect between 30 and 40 people out of the over 100 we invite.  Then there is the phenomenon that people will write, email and call with the loveliest messages of why they cannot attend.  Top reasons are travel, skiing and New Year’s Day Indian dances.  We had a lovely party’s worth of people regretting our invite!

I always go through the same syndrome of being sure that the party will be an utter failure and no one will come.  But what has always held true for each and every party is that there are different mixes and they all somehow work out.  For years a director of a Native American arts collection seemed to hold things together on her own.   She knew everyone but then she moved back to her native Los Angeles and was not here for a number of our parties.  She actually came back this year and we loved seeing her but she was not the only one who came.  In fact to our utter amazement we had twice the number of people we expected.  Believe me when I tell you we did not have too much food.  Penelope kept popping things in the oven and, of course, we had the usual shrimp, smoked salmon, cheese and fruit as well as various cookies and dairy free, gluten free and vegetarian offerings.  People devoured caramel corn as if it was the only thing on the table.



To our delight a number of children, who are always invited but don’t always come, stopped by with their parents.  For that reason we pulled out the toys belonging to our 32 year old son that he had played with as a child.  So the blocks, Lego, and stuffed animals were a great hit.  Some children are extremely shy and others love people and attention no matter what their ages… come to think of it true of adults as well.  One little boy of 5 had made up a game with his own Lego set which he immediately enlisted me to play with him!  It was a very long game and eventually I explained that I now had to talk to some of the other guests.



When it was all over we had the usual lament that we did not have a chance to talk with all our friends, and even if we did, we did not have enough time to get into any single subject.   Of course, nobody missed us!  People love to mingle and get to meet new people and see and speak with a lot of friends they may not have been in touch with lately. So yes, we plan to keep up our January I tradition and if you are going to be in Santa Fe January 1, 2014 do let us know!