Archive for February, 2009

Lenny

The Sedona, Arizona Gallery Art Scene

By the time that this posts, I will be airborne heading West to Sedona, AZ, and I thought that it may be a cool idea to rehash some of my older thoughts on the area for all the newbies to the blog.

While there’s no doubt on the planet that Sedona, Arizona is one of the most beautiful places on the planet, as I discovered while visiting there the last two years, it is also one of the key spiritual magnets to a variety of religions and beliefs, including the significant number of people attracted to Sedona as a result of its “energy Vortexes.”

Let there be no doubt that this is an area of profound beauty and full of a palpable sense of energy and power. I loved it and will be back many times, as there are dozens and dozens of trails and vistas to explore. This visit may get interesting as far as hiking, as I am nursing a really sore Achilles tendon (too much basketball).

On my last trip in 2008, I focused some time and comments on the Sedona art scene, a “scene” with some national footprint, regardless of where you stand on the planetary scale of the art world. in fact, within a few minutes of anyone discussing that they’re going to Sedona, someone will immediately pop in and describe the city’s great art scene.

Last year I approached those views with the prejudiced eyes of the artsy Easterner, accustomed to white cube galleries, minimally presented with austere framing, white matting, and where even title and price labels are often eschewed in preference of a discrete price list on the gallerist’s white or light wood postmodern design table.

Let start with Sedona art galleries, which seems to have shrunk a little in membership since last year - probably as a result of the economy.

But first, extrapolating from to the city’s website, the city probably has around 12,000 people, about 90% of them non-Hispanic whites, and last year with a median household income roughly $100,000 less than Potomac, Maryland and paradoxically (also last year) with a median house price about $100,000 more than Potomac’s pricey homes. I’ve been watching those house prices dive bomb over the last year, but they’re still up there.

But this dollar discordance is the first of many paradoxes about this gorgeous place.

Depending on who you believe, Sodona also gets between four and five million visitors a year.

The Sedona Visitors Guide tells these millions of visitors that Sedona “not too long ago had 300 residents, now has 300 artists and more than 40 galleries.” We also learn from the guide that Sedona averages one gallery per 300 residents, and for every dollar spent on art, the art buyers spend $12 on other Sedona stuff.

I often wonder how the granularity on these statistics take place.

The guide also claimed last year that statistics show that approximately 33% of the city’s visitors are attracted there by the art, and that these art aficionados thus spend between $200,000 to one million dollars in various Sedona businesses each day. We thus can extrapolate that around $16,666 to $83,333 dollars are spent each day on art in this small town.

One issue appears to be clear: it’s the tourists who buy art, not so much the locals (does that sound familiar?). This makes sense, after all, how much art can 12,000 residents buy from 40 galleries?

“Locals don’t buy any art,” told me last year a former Sedona gallerist, who prior to opening a gallery in Sedona had been a dealer in Chicago. “There are a lot of retired people here [the median age is around 55] and although there are some very large multi-million dollar homes, there are also a lot of modular homes [a fancy way to described a souped-up trailer].”

To the prejudiced and minimalist Easterner eye, the riot of color, subjects and presentation that characterizes most Southwestern art is an assault to long-held visual sensibilities created by the black and white world of the East Coast and Left Coast artworlds and its European and Latin American brethren.

I am shocked to discover that perhaps there’s something of an elitist in all of us, as the preconditioning of being an artist, an art critic and an art dealer raised in all those aspects, and mostly along the Eastern states, prejudices my eyes to what I’ve referred previously as “coyote art.”

My better half, who many years ago interned in Santa Fe with the legendary Gerald Peters Gallery (and Peters is credited by many as energizing the interest in Southwestern art and placing Santa Fe and the Southwest in general on the art scene), tried over the last couple of years to educate me somewhat as to the different sensibilities between what she labels “an Easterner, with an East Coast vision of what a gallery should look like, looking at a Southwestern space.”

It will take time, but then again, at one point in his life Duncan Phillips hated Impressionism and then eventually was seduced by it and became the American champion for it.

On the other hand, Wisconsin farm girl Georgia O’Keefe, even in her Southwest years always kept her austere black and white world where colors were generally reserved for her paintings.

So for the last two years I have proceeded with as open as a mind I can have, maybe somewhere between Phillips’ eventual enthusiasm and O’Keefe’s steadfast minimalism in personal tastes.

I am curious to see what changes the economic downturn has wrought but there were a lot of spaces in and around Sedona that sell artwork. I’m not really sure if there really are 40 galleries, unless one includes a lot of spaces that sell a lot of Native American and Mexican crafts.

Sedona itself is sort of divided into two areas, and as one comes to it from Highway 179, Uptown Sedona is to the right and the other Sedona to the left. Most art spaces are either located on 179 itself or Uptown Sedona.

The first set of galleries one comes across on 179 are located on a shopping area to the right as one enters the city, with a spectacular view (from the shops) of the Sedona rocks and the city itself.

And when you drive up Highway 179 into Sedona, one of the first galleries that you come across is the huge Exposures Gallery, which is located on the right side of 179 as one approaches the city.

exposures gallery in sedona, arizona

Over 20,000 square feet, not including the outside sculpture gardens (I assume) make this the largest art gallery in the state, and probably one of the largest in the nation.

There’s no gallery in the world, in the many, many galleries in nearly all continents that I have visited, that I can compare to this place.

Exposures is a perfect example of what makes most Southwestern art galleries so different from most other fine art galleries in the world; galleries which follow the white cube example of white walls and minimalist hanging styles, coupled with total lack of information about prices, etc.

Not so in the Southwest gallery model, and Exposures is a perfect example of this model for Southwest galleries.

Upon entering the huge spaces, the East Coast gallery sensibility is immediately assaulted by a riot of colors and by a fear of empty space that yields a huge gallery space filled to the brim with art, photography, sculpture, crafts and jewelry.

This is 21st century salon style presentation married to the joy of colors that is the Southwest.

There are probably a few thousand pieces of art hanging and displayed in this gargantuan space. In fact, so much artwork, and so much variety, that the snobbery of the art world would immediately tend to dismiss this gallery as another “art store” filled with “wall decor.”

Not so fast.

There are plenty of art galleries in Sedona that offer wall decor, and the same in the Southwest, and for that matter all over the nation.

Don’t be fooled by the sheer scale and invasion of the senses that Exposure offers. This is a very successful galleries which offers some very good artists, some so so artists and some mediocre artists. In other words, just like any other reputable art gallery, but definitely not a cheesy art store. This is a very good Southwestern gallery working flawlessly on that model.

Exposures’ success is clearly evident not only in its size, but in the small army of people that it employs, as well as its history, which essentially repeats the usual gallery story: art-loving couple moves to Sedona, open a small gallery; they do well and open a huge one.

And because Sedona’s art buying market is comprised mostly of visitors, this gallery has to operate on the model of exhibiting everything that it has to offer all at once.

It works for them.

So once we get past the fact that this overcrowded gallery space has found its formula for success, and we begin to look at the artwork itself, as I stated before, we find the same mix of great, good, average and mediocre that one finds in any gallery in the world because art truly is in the eyes of the beholder — or in this case the husband and wife team that picks the artists that they choose to represent and sell.

And sell they do…

On exhibit are works by more than 100 artists; yep, 100… and prices, I was informed, range from $29 to $290,000.

The catchy price range seems to have done wonders for both the artists and the owners.

Not everything is about money and sales; but money and sales make most artists, and definitely most gallery owners happy.

About the artwork itself…

Nearly all of it shares a flawless technical skill and delivery that would make most postmodernists elitists raise their noses a few inches higher. As an admirer of technical skill, I have learned to respect technical skill, but also have learned to then look past it and see content, ideas, context and intelligence in the work.

But before I get to the few artists that stood out for me last year, I must note that the one thing that, in spite of over 100 artists, the gallery lacked was monochromatic or black and white works in this wildly colored universe of art. It could really use a few drawings here and there to break up the dominance of color and painting. But I am biased.

As far as I could see there were only two artists working in drawing. Of the two, the two delicate small graphite drawings by Charles Frizzell stood out like little orphans in an ocean of color.

The charcoal and watercolor pieces by an artist named Yuroz also could mostly be qualified as drawing, but the works themselves were rather forgettable, as Yuroz seems to be channelling several of Picasso’s periods — including a rather mediocre stab at cubism — in his paintings and drawings. There is too much Picasso in Yuroz, but there is also too much of Yuroz in Exposures, which in economic terms means that someone must be buying lots of his work. I didn’t like any of it.

Let me tell you what I did like.

There was some very good photography by Scott Peck, and yet I personally test all flower photography to the spectacular work of Andrzej Pluta, or Joyce Tenneson, or Amy Lamb. In fact if Peck’s work is doing well in Exposures, then the art dealer in me is sure that Tenneson, Pluta and Lamb would do even better at Exposures.

Upon entering any business in Arizona that sells imagery, one is bound to find photographs of the desert rocks and formations. By the time that you visit a dozen galleries, one is sick and tired of desert photography.

And yet, one of the most memorable artists in Exposures is a photographer named Martii, whose spectacular desert shots, coupled with superb presentations, make his or her photography one of the best finds in the gallery. And in writing this, I think that another photographer whose work would do well here, would be the split reverse image digitally manipulated split desert photographs by John DeFabbio, who works out of the Washington, DC area. For years DeFabbio has been trekking around the world photographing nearly everything that he sees, then digitally mirroring each half of the image to discover amazing new images in the manipulated work.

But back to Exposures.

The best work in this amazing gallery when I visited last year were beautiful abstract pieces by a Brooklyn-born artist named Eric Lee, one of the rare non-representational artists in the space. Lee creates wonderful reverse paintings in glass that are standouts of skill and delivery. They are fresh and beautiful and add a calming effect to the gallery’s riot of color.

There are two galleries in Sedona claiming to have been voted the best gallery in Sedona. I’m not sure who the voters were, but of the two, Exposures is by far the best and certainly one of the most amazing art spaces in the entire Southwest.

And now I have used the example of Sedona’s huge Exposure Gallery to discuss what I call the Southwest gallery model — a gallery packed to the gills with art in a riot of color and fear of empty space — as opposed to the more standard gallery model of a minimalist white cube for a gallery.

There are a lot of art venues in the Sedona area, nearly all of them, with one notable exception, follow this Southwest model. Most of the better spaces are listed in the Sedona Art Gallery Association website.

Of these, last year Kinion Fine Arts seemed to offer a blend of the two gallery models. In 2008 they had recently moved from the Hozho Center (located at 431 Hwy 179 and home to several galleries) to uptown Sedona, relocating the gallery to a former bank building, safe room and all. The Kinions have divided the gallery into two rooms; at the entrance the Southwest model is in place, but the bank’s vault is used for solo shows apparently hung in the cleaner, less cluttered style of the white cube. They’re also one of the few art spaces in town where not everything is Southwest art centric.

A new gallery just up a few steps from Kinion Fine Arts, located at Hyatt Pinion Point, is the very beautiful space of the Vickers Collection (there are three of these galleries in total and the one in Sedona is called VC Fine Arts), opened just a year ago and by far the only gallery in the area that fits the cleaner white cube model.

Vickers uses the white cube model, and also offers the most diverse set of artists, not just a heavy-handed focus on Southwest art (as most Sedona galleries do, driven by the tourist art market).

It will be interesting to see if Vickers can survive as the sole Sedona gallery (at least that I’ve seen) that offers a diverse set of artwork; the type of art that could easily be seen in New York, or Philly or DC. I’ll let you know later this week after I drop in again.

At VC I quite liked the bronze sculptures of Bill Starke, a refreshing change of pace from all the bronzes of horses, bears, javalinas, Indians, deer and cowboys that inundate most of this beautiful town’s galleries.

I also liked Chris Nelson’s smart and intelligent reverse paintings on plexi, which upon further examination are more than just paintings, since the artist also routes the verso of the plexi so that the textured reverse plexi interacts with the acrylic paint to actually create grooves and channels that on the front of the work create smart landscapes. As interesting as this work is, this artist has to be careful that he doesn’t fall into a repetitive pattern in his work.

Since I have been in the advice-giving mood, an artist that would be a perfect fir and would actually sell like gangbusters all throughout the Southwest are the amazing storm paintings of the Washington DC area’s Amy Marx, who recently had her first solo in New York and whose breath-taking, hyper realism captures massive storms and weather patterns like no artist that I have ever seen.

Another East Coast artist who would be an instant hit in the Southwest is Alexandria’s Susan Makara, whose beautiful stacked stones series sell as soon as she is finished with them from her studio in Alexandria’s Torpedo factory.

Still in uptown, the Sedona Art Center rounds up a very good artists’ run membership gallery of local artists.

There are also quite a few galleries located in a faux Mexican village called Tlaquepaque; after two trips to Sedona, I still can’t pronounce it. From there you can cross Oak Creek by foot and visit a whole bunch more galleries on Hwy 179, although the ongoing construction on 179 seemed to be really hurting the gallery business on that road.

Last year I also drove up to Jerome and was very pleased with their galleries.

Jerome, Arizona sits straddling the side of a mountain about a mile high from sea level and less than 30 miles from its more famous cousin Sedona.

“America’s most vertical city” — I am told — is home to about 400 people, but once boasted 16,000 inhabitants and a brothel madam who was Arizona’s richest woman.

Although I think that the whores are long gone, today the town still manages to attract a few million tourists a year, not only for the spectacular views that it affords from nearly every vantage point in this tiny and beautiful town, but also because of a budding gallery scene that although seemimgly having fairly established roots, it only seems to be blossoming out recently with a significant number of art galleries and venues and a rather successful monthly art walk on the first Saturday of the month. With 30 galleries and artists’ studios participating in the art walk, it reflects the huge impact of the fine arts in a town of 400.

Most of Jerome’s art galleries seem to fit the Southwest style of galleries that I discussed earlier in reference to Sedona. However, and very surprising to me, Jerome’s art spaces seem more individual and original — in most cases — than Sedona’s cookie-cutter model of galleries.

There are several cooperatives that I observed, most noticeably the Jerome Artists Cooperative, where the hilarious (and smart) watercolors of Dave Wilder were on exhibit on that day that I visited in 2008. Full of irony and delivered with superb technical expertise, Wilder flexes well-developed observational skills that challenge the genre of “cowboy art” in a new refreshing manner.

Big Hat by Dave Wilder

The Spirit Art Gallery, although an independent commercial art gallery, seems to be run like a coop as well, with work by 30 artists on display at once, with some very good talent among them.

My Mind’s Art Gallery, which features the work of its owner, Ukrainian painter Joanna Bregon, a surrealist artist who has found a home in this unusual little town, also stands out from the cookie cutter cluttered gallery model.

It was refreshing to see diversity in art and rugged individuality in each art space, regardless of how one feels about the quality of the art itself, in some cases.

And then, while walking through the various galleries and talking to some of the owners and artists, it dawned on me that the Jerome galleries and shops is what I had expected to see in Sedona: unique, one-of-a-kind shops, art venues and art galleries.

I also discovered that nearly everyone that I talked to in this tiny town seemed to know everyone else, and also seemed to have a grudge against either the land developers and the expansion of homes in nearby areas (and competition for water) and/or against the Jerome city fathers for a variety of reasons, most dealing with construction issues.

Finally I trekked down to the town’s former High School, an ancient multi-story set of buildings that has been converted into artists’ studios and workshops - 20 of them.

There the work of Michael MacDonald and Derryl Day really stood out, especially some of Day’s older portraiture works, which were exquisite color pencil pieces full of personality and grace, as well as tremendous technical skill. But the key here, with an exception here and there, is that these were all artists in the overall, rounded, sense of the adjective — not just “Southwest art” artists; it was refreshing and interesting.

As small as Jerome is, it’s clear that the town’s colorful past, coupled with its amazing location and vistas, and more recently married to a creative artistic community and over-protective city fathers, all act as an irresistible magnet to the hordes of tourists that visit it every year.

It’s also clear that there’s something special about this place; it can be felt in the air, in its people and in its streets, and the dealer in me wonders if this special spot would not be an ideal place for some sort of very specific and focused art fair - a mini model of my “new art fair model.”

Sedona and Jerome are like kissing cousins of the Arizona tourist draw. I think that together, they can also become complimentary partners for an art draw of its own.

As the above words are being published, I am airborne and heading West to Arizona, eager to see what changes have taken place, and what new spaces may have emerged, and in the coyote-eat-coyote world of art, which gallery has closed.

Stay tuned… more later.

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Lenny

On the return of stolen Cuban artwork

There are a lot of museums in Europe, mostly France, and a lot of collectors in Europe and Asia, and several major auction houses that are nervously looking to what happens in Cuba once its brutal dictatorship finally ends.

They are nervous because worldwide courts have consistently recognized the right of original owners to the return of artwork which has been looted by governments and dictatorships, confiscated, sold and re-sold.

It has taken in some cases several decades for the artwork to return to the familial descendants of the original and rightful owners, but essentially international law is pretty clear on the subject that generally no government can confiscate private property.

There are, of course, many dictatorships worldwide where one of the foundations of those regimes is that private citizens under their yoke cannot own private property.

It occurred to me recently that when the current Cuban dictatorship took control of that unfortunate island on January 1, 1959, one of the first things that they did after they executed thousands of people, burned and banned books, jailed all political opposition, and closed down newspapers and magazines, was to confiscate most private property.

And there was a lot of artwork confiscated in Cuba; stolen from their rightful owners. A lot of that artwork in now in Europe.

We’ve been led to believe that in 1959 Cuba was just another Latin American cesspool, but the facts are that in 1959 Cuba had one of the highest standards of living of any nation in the Americas and a higher per capita income than several European nations and higher than Japan, as well as a positive immigration flow from Europe to Cuba, as well as the third highest protein consumption in the Western Hemisphere. Today the island’s food rations are actually lower than the slave rations mandated by the Spanish King in 1842.

The island also had the lowest infant mortality rate in Latin America and the 13th lowest in the world, ranked ahead of France, West Germany, Belgium, Japan, Austria, Italy and Spain. The average wage of a Cuban worker was higher than for workers in West Germany, France, Denmark and Belgium and in the late 50s Cuban labor received 66.6 per cent of the nation’s GNP, again higher than several European nations (the US figure is 68%). And the 8 hour week was mandated by law in Cuba in 1933, five years before FDR’s New Deal got to doing it in the US. And in the 1950s, 44% of Cubans were covered by social legislation, a higher percent than the US at that time.

And while we’ve been led to also believe that Cuban peasants and farm workers lived in a near feudal state, the average farm wage in Cuba in 1959 ($3.00 a day) was higher than those of farm workers in France ($2.73), Belgium ($2.70), Denmark ($2.74) or Germany ($2.73). In the US it was $4.06. And in 1959 only 34% of the Cuban population was rural and the nation had the lowest inflation rate in the Americas, 1.4% - the US was at 2.73%

So this was not a nation mired in poverty, as we have been led to believe, but a nation under the yoke of a very brutal dictator in the person of Fulgencio Batista.

The very wealthy Cuban upper and business class hated Batista and became the financial backers of the Castro Revolution, raising millions of dollars for the rebels. They also owned many art masterpieces from both European and Latin American masters.

As a thank you, nearly all of this work was confiscated by the Castro dictatorship and by 1961 most of the best work had made its way to government-owned museums and collections, and most of the owners had made their way to the United States in the largest proportional mass exodus in contemporary history.

When the abomination known as the Soviet Union collapsed in the 90s and Cuba’s sugar daddy stopped sending billions of dollars in subsidy to the Castro brothers, the Cuban economy collapsed, and one of the results of that collapse was the mass selling, by the Cuban government, of those confiscated masterpieces, most of which found their way to European museums and European and Asian private collections via French auction houses. Thus many masterpieces once owned by the Fanjul family, or the Bacardi family, or by sugar magnate Julio Lobo (whose interest in Napoleonic memorabilia led to him amassing one of the world’s largest collections of Bonaparte memorabilia such as weapons, furniture, paintings, letters, etc.) were sold to European museums and collectors.

But now I think that the end of the brutal Castro dictatorship is nigh, and one day soon, when the rule of law and democracy and freedom returns to Cuba, one of the first things that the descendants of those families should do is to go after whoever now possesses their families’ stolen artwork and goods, and in some cases even copyrights.

And the details of these illegal sales have left bloody footprints. For example, according to Maritza Beato’s excellent article in El Nuevo Herald titled “El Saqueo del Patrimonio Cultural Cubano” (The Looting of the Cuban Cultural Patrimony), the sale of the Julio Lobo Napoleonic collection to a French museum was orchestrated by a French official attached to the French Embassy in Havana. His name is Antoine Anvil.

And if I was one of those auction houses or museums in Europe or collectors or dealers around the world, I’d be a little nervous.

What goes around comes around.

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Lenny

Vagina Monologues at Theatre Widener

Awright, so it’s a little departure from reviewing galleries and museums, but one of the great benefits of living in any area with universities and colleges is the terrific and affordable opportunities to enjoy the theatre and the visual arts at most of them.

Theatre Widener at Chester, Pennsylvania’s Widener University is currently producing The Vagina Monologues the well-traveled Obie Award winning play by Eve Ensler that has been raising eyebrows and making people laugh and cry for over a decade.

The Vagina Monologues has been described as a “hilarious and poignant tour of the last frontier, the ‘Ultimate Forbidden Zone.’” At is core, to many people it is often just a very diverse and entertaining celebration of female sexuality. Eve Ensler now classic play delivers real women’s stories of the most intimate nature, sometimes funny, often revealing a surprising vulnerability, and nearly always some sort of sexual self discovery.

The Widener production is directed by Bohdan Senkow, the Director of Theatre Widener, and this production features an outstanding cast that includes Heather Astorga and Lauren Greenberg, two undergraduate seniors, Lisa Eckley-Cocchiarale, a staff member who directs the Widener Fresh Baked Theatre Company, and Roni Cibischino, Shanna Tedeschi, and Jennifer Woo, three graduate students from Widener University’s Human Sexuality program.

All six performed superbly at opening night, and Senkow made some great choices in the assignment of individual monologues to specific actors, and the chemistry between them was palpable and added a very positive effect to the overall production. This is not your typical play, there’s no plot or music and a very austere set, so success is based on the players’ ability to grab your attention with their stories and interaction with each other.

Cibischino and Greenberg were terrific and nearly flawless in their delivery and interpretations of their specific monologues and Lisa Eckley Cocchiarale had the audience cracking up from the beginning. Jen Woo easily had the hardest and most difficult monologues, especially the one dealing with the “C word,” which she delivered in a funny and valiant performance.

Shanna Tedeschi was also surperb and often very funny, especially when she donned a hat and scarf and related an old lady’s experiences with her “down there.”

Also superb was Heather Astorga, who delivered two of the most moving monologues of the evening, one dealing with wartime rape and another with a young woman’s discovery of her sexuality. For some constructive criticism, the very pretty Ms. Astorga should refrain from biting her cheeks during her colleages’ monologues. I suspect that she’s not aware that she’s doing it (neither is this writer when he does it), but it is very distracting once you see her doing it in the background of someone else’s monologue.

Profits from this very well done production will be contributed to support organizations that combat abuse against women.

The Vagina Monologues opened on Thursday, February 12 and will be presented on Friday and Saturday, February 13, 14 at 7:30pm, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, February 19, 20, 21 at 7:30 and Sunday February 22 at 2:00pm. Widener Students and Staff are invited free of charge, Staff Guests are just $8. Adults are $15 and Non-Widener Students are just $8. To make reservations please call Theatre Widener at 610-499-4364.

Theatre Widener is at 15th and Potter Streets at Widener University in Chester, PA.

Image Courtesy of Widener University.

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Lenny

White House art suggestions to the Obamas

Isn’t it interesting that life itself has an interesting way of forcing us to sometimes either reversing what we once thought were final positions, and other times life offers us a chance of defending both sides of a position?

Be careful what you opine today, as it may be different tomorrow!

I have been generally against the segregation of artists by race (Black, Caucasian, Asian or Native American) or by ethnicity (Hispanic, Semitic, etc.), and yet sometimes a void or need is so egregious that the solution is very clear and may cross lines that we may have thought as cast in concrete.

When we all discovered a couple of years ago that 66% of all the artwork by black American artists currently in the White House art collection had been acquired by the Bushes, depending on what side of the political aisle you stand, that fact either raised an eyebrow from some right wing nuts or some sort of conspiracy theory from vast left wing nutttery.

But when we also discovered the fact that only three works (out of an estimated 375 pieces) were by black Americans, both sides of the aisle should find that surprising… and maybe in need of attention by the Obamas.

A little recap and an update: In 2007 I reacted in my usual self-righteous, irate manner to having American artist and my former professor Jacob Lawrence described as a great African-American artist, rather than just a great artist. And then the Washington City Paper in the process of policing that whole issue, came up with an interesting fact.
Jacob Lawrence
Jacob Lawrence, pen and ink, circa 1980 by F. Lennox Campello
In an Private Collection

According to the Washington City Paper, Betty Monkman, the curator of the White House, revealed that, “while Lawrence’s painting isn’t the sole piece by a black artist in the executive mansion, it’s close to it — there are only two others.”

That’s now three out of “an estimated 375 total in the White House’s art collection.”

Geez Louise, I mean Betty.

That implies that Simmie Knox’s portrait of President Clinton is not considered part of the White House’s art collection, which doesn’t make sense. Knox is a DC area artist by the way, and a brilliant painter.

So let’s take off the first century and a half of the White House’s art acquisition process. During that time we can safely assume that they probably just focused on American artists from one of the four races, and somewhat let me reverse my stand on segregating artists by race, rather than just artistic merit, and let me take the uncomfortable side of trying to again ask the question, “Why aren’t there more works by black artists in the White House art collection?”

Even if one ignores skin color, and just looks at the art and artistic achievement, there are plenty of great American artists, who happen to be black, whom I think would make a great update to the White House collection.

Some art greats, by artistic default, I would think, would have to be Black, or Asian, or Native American, not just Caucasian artists of all ethnicities - after all, all four races of mankind create art and all four and their many mixtures, live in America.

Back in the 1980’s, Jacob Lawrence was awarded the National Medal of Arts from President George Bush The First. Why did it take 27 years for one of his paintings to become part of the White House’s permanent collection?

The City Paper research identified the other two paintings: “Henry Ossawa Tanner’s Sand Dunes at Sunset, Atlantic City (1885), which hangs in the Green Room, its home since 1996, and an 1892 painting by one “Bannister” (possibly Ed Bannister) acquired in 2006 and which was then undergoing conservation.

So two of the three have been acquired by the Bushes, and before 1996 there wasn’t a single work of art by any black artist in the President’s home, in spite of the fact that artists such as Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden, Sam Gilliam, Martin Puryear, Alma Thomas, and others are all just great American artists, period, and have even broken the National Gallery of Art code, and should all probably have been acquired by the White House years, and years, and years ago.

Makes my head hurt.

And let’s agree, as Jonathan Melber notes in the HuffPost, that the White House’s collection is not exactly, ah… contemporary.

But let’s say that a traditional acquisition focus on painting were to remain, and thus we would immediately unfortunately eliminate a lot of good contemporary choices. After all, the White House is not an art museum, and the case could be made that it sort of “feels” that it should be an art collection where all things somewhat say “America” in a variety of traditional visual ways, and I submit that for that goal, painting is still first among equals. That still leaves Romare Bearden, Sam Gilliam, Alma Thomas and others I am sure.

So if the Obamas were to continue what President Bush started, and expand the White House’s collection to be more representative of American artists and the American people, I would suggest that (in addition to perhaps more Lawrence), Romare Bearden, Sam Gilliam, Martin Puryear, and Alma Thomas would be a good start.

And, if as Malber suggests, the Obamas should expand the White House collection to more than just paintings, then in addition to some Lawrence collages, I would suggest work by other blue chip artists such as Kara Walker, Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons (who is not only a brilliantly accomplished artist, but also happens to be both Hispanic and Black) and Lorna Simpson.

But I don’t know if the Obamas personally collect art, and even though I am one myself, I don’t really buy the idea of a staff White House art adviser.

If the Obamas are like most people, they probably don’t “really” collect art with a focus or intensity to say, the Podestas in DC or the Rubells in Miami (either one of whom, by the way, would make excellent unpaid volunteer art advisers to the White House, if having an adviser was the choice made to change the visual arts acquisition status quo).

So… since the odds are that they would be beginning collectors, then I would suggest the same thing that I do to all beginning collectors: start looking first at emerging artists, which generally can be acquired for much less money than a well-established artist from the upper crust of the rarified artmosphere. Do this until you establish your tastes, desires and somewhat of a focus, and then, if your financial status allows it, begin expanding into the big museum-level names.

And if the Obamas listen to Malber’s excellent point of looking locally (as Clinton did in selecting Simmie Knox to do his Presidential portrait), then I would add one of the terrific works by Rikk Freeman to the White House.

A huge Freeman painting would do wonders for the White House collection and also do wonders for Freeman. Not only would it add a presence and feel to the collection that is missing right now and which is an integral part of American history, but it would also set a new, fresh change of venue of how artwork has been acquired in the past, and the kind of artists that get acquired.

See Freeman’s works here.

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