Goudstikker collection “Reclaimed” from Nazis

Appeared in Jan. 2010 Glasstire

Jan ver der Heyden's "View of Nyenrode Castle on the Vecht" (Courtesy McNay Art Museum)

In 1940, the influential Dutch Jewish art dealer Jacques Goudstikker, his wife Desi and their one-year-old son Edo fled the invading Nazis on a cargo ship bound for England. But within 48 hours of their escape, he died in a freak accident, falling through an open hatch on the ship’s deck and breaking his neck.

Fortunately, though it would take more than 60 years for his heirs to benefit, Goudstikker carried in his breast pocket a little black book detailing his inventory of more than 1,400 works, mostly paintings, by artists such as Rembrandt, Peter Paul Rubens, Jan Steen, Vincent van Gogh and Titian.

Hermann Göring, the Nazi’s second-in-command and a rapacious art collector, showed up on the doorstep of the Goudstikker art gallery in Amsterdam just two weeks after the 42-year-old art dealer’s death. Göring orchestrated a forced sale of the Goudstikker inventory in what is now recognized as one of the largest art thefts from an individual perpetrated by the Nazis during World War II.

In 2006, Marei von Saher, Edo’s widow, successfully concluded a 10-year legal battle with the Dutch government to reclaim 200 of Goudstikker’s paintings from the Dutch government – one of the first and largest claims to Nazi-looted art that has been resolved. Forty-six of the works can be seen in “Reclaimed; Paintings from the Collection of Jacques Goudstikker” on view through Jan. 10, 2010, at the McNay Art Museum.

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Michele Monseau’s “swing song”

Appeared in Winter 2009 Art Lies

Michele Monseau's "swing song" still (Courtesy McNay)

Generally, the landscapes at the McNay Art Museum, like landscapes everywhere, are anchored to the wall, the iron rule of the horizon line splitting land from sky at a satisfying and reassuring 90-degree angle to the floor. But Michele Monseau plays with our expectations of landscape etiquette with her video installation “swing song.” Mirror images of a reflective lake with a mountain in the background and dramatic clouds appear to dance with each other, rocking back and forth until you can feel a stomach-dropping sense of vertigo. Her rocking landscapes suggest a similar systemic failure to the rigidity of reality as the undulating Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse filmed in 1940. She shot the video at Canyon Lake near San Antonio, though the location doesn’t matter so much as the mythic elements of water, land and sky.

As the motion grows more violent and chaotic, the sense of landscape collapses and abstract forms emerge like a moving Rorschach test. A cascading soundtrack of rushing water, the artist’s humming voice and a reverberating bass provide a soothing contrast to the turbulence of the video. The clouds appear to reach out from the sky with long, ghostly fingers. The intersection of earth and sky begins to twist into a cosmic vortex that contorts the horizon line into a spiral and, briefly, transforms the lake into a mountain. The landscape appears to morp, but it doesn’t. Gradually, the motion slows and the world comes to rest when the horizon line is restored. Short but intense, “swing song” shakes up our perceptions of reality by upsetting our ho-hum preconceptions about the conservatism of the landscape genre.

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Leigh Anne Lester’s “Franken-flora”

Appeared in Fall 2009 Art Lies

Leigh Anne Lester's plant mutation (Courtesy artist)

Derived from historical botanicals, Leigh Anne Lester’s graphite and colored pencil drawings on translucent Mylar appear delicate and beautiful. However, each depicts what the artist calls “Franken-flora,” ominous amalgams inspired by the threats and promises of genetic modification. The boundaries between the naturally-occurring and the manmade blur as Lester combines various flowers, vines, seed pods and ferns into individual works of single organisms. Each hybrid portrayed has the potential to upset the natural order of the world, though usually under the guise of improving humankind’s chances of survival.

The purest expression of this conundrum is a deceptively alluring black-and-white realistic illustration, Amalgamate Fusion Untitled. A single root ball branches out into different plants, ranging from acorns to ferns. These unrelated florae appear to form a harmonious unity, though all they really share is Lester’s flawless draftsmanship. Viewers may admire the elegance of this new creation, but on close examination, the construction is obviously unnatural and somewhat menacing – a mutation. Like Dr. Frankenstein’s monster, Lester’s imagined genetic modification may seem like genius in the laboratory, but the impact for good or bad can’t be determined until it is set loose in the world.

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Meg Langhorne romances nature

Appeared in Fall 2009 Art Lies

Meg Langhorne is inspired by romance novel covers (Courtesy Cactus Bra)

The rape of nature takes a romantic twist in San Antonio artist Meg Langhorne’s “Animal,” featuring exquisite gouache on paper paintings of burly, macho men embracing swooning creatures with deer heads attached to voluptuous women’s bodies. Derived from the covers of romance novels, these paperback book-size works are humorous but also a little sickening. Langhorne, who works in a used bookstore, has developed an appreciation for the artists who create these seductive images for the seemingly endless waves of romance novels washing across the shore of the American imagination.

While widely disdained, romance novels also are among the most wildly popular products of pop culture. Harlequin, for example, publishes 1,200 new titles annually. Romance is a $1.3 billion a year business satisfying 51 million mostly female readers, but the majority of the cover illustration artists are male. The covers are as codified and formulaic as the novels themselves, filled with masculine iconography such as swords, bulging biceps and bare chests.  But Langhorne also sees parallels between romance and hunting, which both require men to use all their predatory skills.

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“Communion of Saints” at David Shelton

Ann-Michele Morales' "Life's Pimples" (Courtesy David Shelton)

“A Communion of Saints” brings together 12 artists from cities that share a Spanish colonial heritage, six from Santa Barbara and six from San Antonio, to see if perhaps there are any similarities. But in a fragmented art world fractured along conceptual lines, it’s hard to see much of a sense of place.

Rather than dealing with local issues, they look inward, exploring personal concerns with universal implications. Curator Miki Garcia, executive director of the Santa Barbara Contemporary Art Forum, has assembled a lively show brimming with wit and cleverness, revealing that what is most common to this group of artists is a quirky sense of humor.

Ann-Michelle Morales uses a rubbery frog/man/guinea pig figure that recalls simple but politically-charged Eastern European animation. The figure serves as a sad sack everyman in these dueling diptychs, though his troubles tend toward the romantic. In “Pomoandro,” he stands forlornly before Miss Perfect SA, an ad for a topless joint, and makes a target out of a background consisting of the phrase “HeShe” repeated endlessly in tiny handwritten letters. “Frustrated Chinaman” features a man staring through a keyhole at the confusion of China, with a background that reads “You Will Like It Here.” In “Abstract War,” he tries to fend off a swarm of bright splashes of color.

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South Texas artists heart Blood and Tissue Center

Estevan Arredondo’s “Indigenous” (Courtesday South Texas Blood & Tissue

The South Texas Blood and Tissue Center strives to deliver the highest quality blood and tissue services for the lowest possible cost, but the center still manages to devote 1 percent of its construction budget to building a remarkable collection of contemporary art by San Antonio artists.

The center’s board recognizes the connection between healing the body and nurturing the soul. Many of the works in the center’s collection are made from recycled materials, celebrating the generous donors who share their life-giving blood.

The Donor Pavilion, the latest addition to the campus designed by Garza-Bomberger, features newly commissioned works ranging from a flock of box kites suspended over the main hallway by Stuart Allen, who created the reflective panels on the new Museum Reach of the San Antonio River, to a large photograph of an empty heart-shaped chocolate box by Chuck Ramirez, made poignant by the fact that the artist has undergone heart surgery.

“This is one of the best places in the city to see a broad range of work by local artists,” said Donna Simon, an artist who served on center’s selection committee. “I think the collection really does provide a glimpse into the city’s artistic soul.”

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Tom Slick — International Art Collector

Appeared in Glasstire September 2009

Pablo Picasso’s “Portrait of Sylvette” (1954) (Courtesy McNay Art Museum)

Pablo Picasso’s “Portrait of Sylvette” (1954) (Courtesy McNay Art Museum)

Though a plane crash ended his life prematurely at age 46, San Antonio businessman and philanthropist Tom Slick Jr. had enough adventures for several lifetimes. He founded the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research, the Southwest Research Institute and the Mind Science Foundation, but he also found time to travel the world and lead expeditions in search of the Loch Ness Monster and the Abominable Snowman.  Heir to an oil fortune – his father Tom Slick Sr. was known as the “King of the Wildcatters” — Slick had the resources to pursue whatever struck his fancy, from developing the Brangus cattle breed to campaigning for world peace.

In the late 1950s, he worked with famed San Antonio architect O’Neil Ford on the design of an ultra-contemporary house that was constructed using the Youtz-Slick Lift-Slab method, a quick and inexpensive way to erect low-rise slab buildings Slick helped develop, which Ford also used in the construction of the Trinity University campus. Slick spent the last few years of his life filling the house with some of the best art of his time, including works by Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson, Isamu Noguchi, Georgia O’Keeffe and Pablo Picasso.

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“Lonely Are the Brave” elegy for an era

Appeared in Glasstire August 2009

Curator Hills Snyder provides a poignant end to an era with “Lonely Are the Brave” at the Blue Star Contemporary Art Center . Inspired by the 1962 film starring Kirk Douglas that serves as an elegy to the finale of the Western frontier, the exhibit is also the last show celebrating one of San Antonio’s hottest traditions, Contemporary Art Mont in July. Though there’s been much discussion about exactly when CAM started, the consensus now is that it began in the summer of 1986 in conjunction with the first show at the Blue Star, a Salon des Refuses mounted in response to a survey of San Antonio artists cancelled by a local museum. For the past 24 years, the Blue Star summer survey has been the centerpiece of CAM. But times have changed, and the artists who cleaned up an old warehouse and founded the Blue Star are now just as out of time as Douglas’ crusty cowboy, Jack Burns, stuck in the middle of a highway with automobiles whizzing past his trusty steed, Whiskey. A new generation has taken over the reins and plans to move CAM to March, which may be a more civilized, and certainly cooler, time for contemporary art in South Texas.

The movie “Lonely Are the Brave” has gained critical recognition over the years as one of the best Westerns ever made, despite being less than a box office bonanza. Douglas’ Burns wars with a modern world that has passed him by. The itinerant ranch hand rejects most technology, even refusing to carry a driver’s license or Social Security card. He gets into a fight with a one-armed man (Bill Raisch, who later played the one-armed man in “The Fugitive” TV series) in order to get thrown in jail so he can bust out his best friend (Paul Bondi), who’s serving time for aiding undocumented workers from Mexico. His friend, however, would rather finish his sentence, and Burns breaks out alone and heads for the hills riding Whiskey. But his horse, who steals the show, is no match for the jeep and helicopters used by the lawmen played by George Kennedy and Walter Matthau.

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Public art enhances new Museum Reach

Donald Lipski's giant longear sunfish swim beneath I-35 along the Museum Reach (Courtesy San Antonio River Foundation)On the upper part of the new Museum Reach of the San Antonio River Walk, you walk into the gaping jaws of a jaguar as you descend from street level into a grotto with dripping stalactites and a splashing waterfall, a $3 million fairy tale creation by San Antonio artist Carlos Cortés . He carved the craggy faces of the men who worked with him on the project into the walls of the spectacular cavelike grotto, a folk art fantasia that would dazzle Walt Disney. The concrete faux bois – or false wood – style has been a Cortés family tradition for generations.

He learned how to hand carve concrete into drippy, dreamlike forms from his uncle, Dionisio Rodriguez, who built a bus stop resembling a palapa, or thatched-roof hut, in Alamo Heights in the 1920s. Cortés, who built the H-E-B Science Treehouse at the Witte Museum and an outdoor pavilion of twisting oak tree trunks holding up palm fronds at the Hannah Landa Memorial Library, also built a palapa at the intersection of Camden and Newell streets overlooking his grandest folly. This once forlorn and forgotten corner of the city has been transformed as part of the $250 million public/private San Antonio River Improvements Project creating a 15-mile linear park through the heart of the city from the headwaters at Brackenridge Park south of downtown to Mission Espada.

Cortés said he studied the old grottos of Europe and Latin America as well as cave formations before embarking on his biggest project to date. He added quirky follies such as the portraits of his workmen and shell work mosaics on the outside of the grotto along the river. Benches, recessed lighting and the waterfall make the grotto a cool place to retreat from the South Texas heat.  Modeled to resemble a natural rock formation, it contains the silhouette of the Virgin Mary formed within the carved concrete form that sticks up above street level like a gnarly steeple.

The San Antonio River Foundation commissioned the grotto, along with another $2.2 million worth of public art projects, for the new two-mile extension that opened this summer, connecting the better-known central tourist zone of the River Walk with the San Antonio Museum of Art and the revitalized Pearl Brewery to the north of downtown, extending from Lexington Avenue to Josephine Street. San Antonio has had its share of public art controversies, but the city is now touting tours of its new “floating art corridor.”

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“Texas Draws” at Southwest School of Art & Craft

SA artist Regis Shephard considers his own mortality (Courtesy Southwest School)

In “Confounded,” Corpus Christi artist Jimmy Pena combines an upside-down male torso with the right-side-up torso of a female, seamlessly joined at the mid-section in a maddening metaphor of our financial consternation. The skin of the headless figure with polar opposite genitals is plastered with headlines about last fall’s economic meltdown. But Pena, despite having arthritis in his hands, eschewed the use of a computer and created the image by drawing

“I thought a lot about the financial crisis before this image came to me just as I was waking up,” Pena said. “I used a couple of models. And I had to make the male stand on his head. But I just cut the photographs in half and put them together. They didn’t match exactly, but I was able to make the drawing by working it out in my head.”

Putting pencil to paper remains the simplest way to tap into the subconscious, but it’s been overlooked in Texas. The Southwest School of Arts and Crafts is establishing the first statewide exhibit with “Texas Draws,” featuring13 Lone Star artists on view through Sept. 6.  Curator Kathy Armstrong said the exhibit is planned as an annual event and a lot of research when into selecting the artists. Various techniques are represented, but content is emphasized – so there are some startlingly realistic images, though usually in surrealistic or abstract contexts.

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