Thursday, November 29, 2012

MoMA Gains Treasure The Met Also Coveted

The above headline appeared on a recent front page article in The New York Times; 
It signifies a recent episode in a  battle of titans.

Above: Robert Rauschenberg,"Canyon," the work of art in question.

In 1880, The Metropolitan Museum of Art was opened in its current location with
an extensive collection of antiquities. Gradually, it began to acquire wide ranging
historical collections that embraced virtually every culture of the world.  Contemporary
art, especially contemporary American art, never appeared among its priorities. In 1949,
director Francis Henry Taylor, hired Robert Beverly Hale, an instructor at the Arts
Students League, to be curator of contemporary American art. At one point, MoMA
contemplated giving some of its modern masterpieces to The Met so that it could
concentrate on more recent developments.

 In the 1960s, Met director James Rorimer, appointed Henry Geldzahler, curator
 of contemporary art, and later curator of 20th century art. At that point, The
Met began to acquire a visible presence in the modern art scene. Geldzahler, was
a high ranking member of the Warhol inner circle.

 Above, Andy Warhol, Below from left to right: Henry Geldzahler, David Hockney, David Scott He curated a landmark exhibition,
New York Painting and Sculpture: 1940-1970, which included his favorite
contemporary artists and became the talk of the town. This exhibition established
The Met, for the first time, as a major player in the New York modern art museum

Prior to that, from the mid-1930's until the mid-1960's, the Museum of Modern
Art totally dominated the interpretation and presentation of modern art in New York.
Founding director, Alfred H. Barr. Jr., developed his Eurocentric interpretive
modern art canon which was visualized in the presentation of MoMA's collections.
These galleries influenced the way in which at least two generations viewed the
evolution of Western European modern art from the late 19th century to the mid-
20th century. Below, is a diagram accompanying MoMA's 1936 seminal exhibition,
Cubism and Abstract Art, which elucidates Barr's theory. Although some avant garde 
American artists of the post-1913 Armory Show generation were represented in 
MoMA's collections, they were viewed as peripheral according to Barr's thesis. 

In the wake of Post World II abstract expressionism,  MoMA presented a series 
of "discovery" one-man exhibitions of emerging American artists. At the end of 
1956, there was a Jackson Pollock exhibition. Alfred Barr called Jackson Pollock
the most important American artist of his day. MoMA's authority and supremacy
were never questioned.

During the 1960's, New York was a  seething caldron of new American art.  There
was "pop art," "op art," "minimalism," "fluxus" and more. Grace Glueck, art critic of  
The New York Times, said to me, "it seemed as though a new art movement was 
born every day." A new generation: Warhol, Johns, Lichtenstein, Rauschenberg,
Oldenberg, Judd, Indiana, Samaras, and Segal, among others, were being shown 
in midtown and downtown galleries.

When Alan Solomon, director of The Jewish Museum, presented a series of major 
one-man shows of this new avant-garde, the established museums were caught off 
guard and scrambled to catch up. It was at this point that fierce competition between 
the major museums erupted. Frank Lloyd Wright's recently completed Guggenheim
Museum joined the fray. 

Although an earlier generation of abstract expressionists obviated Alfred Barr's 
canon, he embraced them - possibly because they were following the painterly
path of Western European art tradition. However, the next generation rejected
that tradition, utilizing a bewildering array of materials and techniques, such as 
Rauschenberg's combine which is at the center of the recent Met/MoMA flap.

While The Met was beginning to embrace modern American art in the late1960s,
a serious rivalry with MoMA was yet to erupt. Geldzahler was replaced by Thomas
Hess, who, in his brief tenture, broadened the scope of The Met's  contemporary art
collection and exhibition policies. Following him as head of the Department of
20th Century Art, was William S. Lieberman, a former curator at MoMA.

A sometimes mentor and good friend for many years, Lieberman was a brilliant
curator of early 20th century School of Paris art. Lieberman had been a protege of
MoMA's founding  director, Alfred H. Barr, Jr. In 1979, after William Rubin had
been appointed Director of the MoMA's Department of Painting and Sculpture,
Lieberman decided to abandon MoMA for The Met. During his years at MoMA,
Lieberman did what all curators do - develop a coterie of major collectors whose
collections eventually come to your museum. Bill was extremely adept at this.
He was trusted and admired by major collectors.

Lieberman brought masterpieces of modern European art from two major private
collections to The Met.  Florene May Schoenborn (Mrs. Samuel Marx) left 18
works of masterpiece quality, including Picasso's 1915 " Guitar and Clarinet on
a Mantlepeice," (below) to The Met.

In 1998, Natasha and Jacques Gelman donated 47 paintings and 3 bronzes by
major School of Paris artists to The Met. Philippe de Montebello, Director of
The Met, said, "This outstanding collection, the most generous and significant
to the Department of Modern Art - in fact one of the most important gifts of
art ever bestowed on any area of the Museum ..."

Pierre Matisse, "The Young Sailor," 1906

Thomas Campbell, the current director at The Met sees modern art as an important
area of focus. He has proposed that The Met utilize the Whitney Museum's soon-to-
be vacated Breuer building on Madison Avenue to house its modern art collections
and to present exhibitions.

Does this suggest that The Met and MoMA are on a collision course? Does this
suggest that The Met and the Guggenheim are going to become competitors?
Are there other scenarios unfolding? Unfortunately, there are no solid answers
available at this time. The situation is unfolding and we have to wait and see what

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Channeling the Destruction Wrought by Super Storm Sandy on the Red Hook Winery

The Red Hook Brooklyn waterfront is one of the few extensive vestiges of
original 19th century architecture remaining in New York. The above
undated map illustrates the configuration of the waterfront that has changed
little since the Post-Civil War era when Brooklyn, unto itself, was a thriving
commercial and industrial metropolis. The buildings seen below, called
"stores" served as warehouses for goods shipped to the East Coast along the
Erie Canal. From there, they were transported to American and European
markets. Frozen solid, the Erie Canal was not operative in the winter.
Canalers and their families wintered in Red Hook as seen below.

Although I have spent a lot of time in Brooklyn, mostly Brooklyn Heights,
the rest of Brooklyn has been a mystery. It was not until our son, Abe,
a Napa valley wine maker, began to work with his distributor, Mark Snyder
 of Angels Share Wines, that Mary, my wife, and I began to explore Red
Hook. We had dinner at The Good Fork and loved the food.

Mark Snyder,  an excellent distributor,  had a pervasive dream - to create a
 "serious winery" in his native Brooklyn. Abe became a sweat equity partner.
Mark raised the money and created the first Red Hook Winery on the corner
of Dwight and Van Dyke. (See first below.) Not a very inspiring location.
Mark wanted to be in one of the CivilWar era stores. (See second below.)

Mary and I went to the Dwight Street winery for Thanksgiving dinner,
served on the sidewalk.  See first below. Second below: Abe, Mark and

Above: Mark at the stove. On occasion," starred "New York chefs would
appear as cooks, often working with Mark and his girlfriend Sandra.
    One year later, we dropped in on another party planned by Mark and
    Sandra; we were invited to stay.

Incredible vibes! Great food! Great wine! Wonderful company!

Never satisfied with Dwight Street, Mark moved the winery to Pier 41,
Door 325, in one of the authentic  Civil War era stores facing the open
ocean. I was there just before they opened to the public in April 2012.

Above: French oak casks containing two years' vintages of grapes from the
 north shore of Long Island and Seneca Lake in Upstate New York.

What had Mark, Sandra, Abe and the rest of their crew created in The Red
Hook Winery? It was an extraordinary jewel that contributed to the on-
going expansion of the Brooklyn food scene, as well as establishing a new
standard for excellence within New York City's food and wine firmament.
They had released relatively small amounts which were accorded modest praise.
Their serious participation in the New York wine market lay ahead.

It's a twenty-minute trip on the New York Water Taxi from the South Street
Seaport to the pier in Red Hook. One would be transported from the frenetic
pace of Manhattan to another world in Red Hook where quality of life and
of course, quality of wine,  reigned supreme.

It is the nature of great cities to constantly invigorate old neighborhoods and
reconfigure them. In Paris, Le Marais, an extensive area of 18th century hȏtels
(mansions), the Jewish Ghetto and recently the Musée Picasso, is now a lively
and fashionable offbeat neighborhood. In Rome, Testaccio, a mountainous
dump of amphora dating back to the Roman Empire, has recently become a
hub of artistic activity. In London, Canary Wharf, once the locus of Indian-
British trade, was transformed into a vast complex of office towers and
commercial spaces. Incidentally, there is an active vineyard in the Montmartre
section of Paris.

However, Red Hook is not about nostalgia only. There is a huge Ikea store,
a cruise line terminal, a container port, and a gigantic Fairway food market
occupying the ground floor of one of the stores.

Several weeks ago, I heard Chris Anderson, the geek god retiring editor of
WIRED magazine, speaking on technological innovations. He just bought a
 3d printer for his kids because it represents the next wave in consumer
electronics. How or why this remark slipped into his presentation, I don't
know? He said with clear admiration, "And then there is artisanal Brooklyn."

I, too, admire the spirit and fruits of Brooklyn's artisanal restaurants,
bakeries, salumerias, along with The Red Hook Winery. To me, they
represent alternatives to our global consumer culture which seeks to
homogonize every commodity so that it no longer has any personality,
individuality or taste, which incidentally is what Robert Parker has inflicted
on the global wine market. As a nascent counterpoint,  The Red Hook winery
qualifies as an authentic Brooklyn artisanal phenomenon.

On the evening of Monday, October 22, Super Storm Sandy unleashed its
full wrath leaving a path of destruction along the Atlantic Coast from the
Carolinas to Maine.  The Red Hook Winery, among thousands of other
businesses and residences had the misfortune to lie in Sandy's path; it was
demolished. In Manhattan, Chelsea art galleries experienced destruction of
exhibition spaces, storage facilities and art. Sections of Battery Park City were
flooded. Neighborhoods in Far Rockaways and Staten Island were wiped out.
The full extent of the storm's damage is yet-to-be assessed. Losses at The Red
Hook Winery are estimated to be in the neighborhood of one million dollars.
No flood plain insurance was available. No FEEMA.

While others have seen their worlds shattered,  it is necessary for me to grieve
for The Red Hook Winery on that and other grounds. The intent was to
transform wine making in New York state. Having possibly lost two years'
vintages,  there are no bandaids available, The devastation at The Red Hook
Winery is not just the loss of inventory, or damage to equipment. It is a dream
shattered by an accident of nature. In LA, I weep.

Can and will there be a recovery? I hope so!

Below is a message that Abe sent to his Scholium Project customers.