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Peeks and Piques!
Europe, 2005


ART TIMES March, 2005

OVER THE PAST 20 years, our trips abroad, though invariably pleasurable, have always been business-related, this past one to Europe, our tenth, no different from the rest. Our trips to France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Belgium, Spain, Austria, the Czech Republic, England, Ireland — as with our trips to China, Singapore, Costa Rica, Barbados, have always included visits to major museums, palaces, cathedrals, art centers and other institutions and/or cultural sites where I have delivered papers and lectures — all of which we have reported on in these pages. For the most part, these trips have enlarged our cultural horizons and, we trust, have enriched the readers (if only vicariously) of ART TIMES. It is with considerable misgiving, therefore, that I find myself bringing back little to report on for this latest trip, since it was one on which we looked forward to extending our travels eastward to include Vienna and Budapest. As I noted in our last issue in my review of Peter Paul Rubens, Vienna was hosting three separate exhibitions of Rubens’s work at three different museums, touting the ensemble as one of the largest showings of the artist’s work in one city — and, as I said in my article, it was my intention to “take a look” when we got there. Furthermore, Vienna is the home of the Albertina, one of the world’s largest holders of Dürer’s work, and it was also my intention to have my first real encounter with that artist’s work other than in reproductions — so it was with considerable anticipation and excitement that we looked forward to our first visit to Vienna. Bureaucratic nonsense held us up from seeing any of Rubens’s work (they accepted my AICA credentials but refused to acknowledge Cornelia’s credentials without a long rigmarole of office hopping — time which we could not afford on our limited stay in the city). Paying an entrance fee was certainly no problem, but not having access to information and images would have thwarted our purposes. The closest we got to Rubens was to see a reproduction of his painting of his second wife at our hotel (The Regina). As for the Albertina, the only work on view were traveling exhibitions, and a handful of reproductions of Dürer’s etchings! We were told by the press officer that original work (other than the transient shows) in the museum’s holdings were “never on view” and could only be seen by academics with special pre-arrangement. When we requested information on their permanent collection, the public relations office had none to offer. We left the Albertina with not a scrap of information. I consoled myself with the thought that I would at least have the opportunity to expand my knowledge of Hungarian art and artists when I got to Budapest to visit their National Museum of Art. What I got when I arrived, was more frustration. Our West German friends (and hosts) explained that we were getting a first-hand lesson in the legacy of Socialist bureaucracy. Again, as with our experience in Vienna, our credentials proved ineffectual in our being able to obtain any information about individual artists or the museum’s holdings in general. We were offered the services of a guide — if we would pay her — but who could only give us information about the building — she knew nothing about individual artists. She informed us that only a “curator” could help us, but that none were available. When we asked for press information about the artists we were pointed in the direction of the gift shop where we could purchase books on the artists! Needless to say, we again came away empty-handed though, from the brief look I had, I would have gladly shared with my readers my comments and observations about two painters in particular, Mihály Munkácsy and László Paál — marvelous painters from what I could see! As representatives of the press and especially as publishers of an arts journal, we have almost invariably been treated with both courtesy and a wealth of information (press packets, catalogues, images, etc.) that, after all, can only help publicize the places we visit. It was extremely difficult to contend with the shortsightedness of museum functionaries who seemed intent on keeping their institutions “secret” from the public. What a pity I cannot share with you any insights into the collections of such places as Vienna’s the Albertina and the Museum of Fine Arts, or Budapest’s National Museum of Art that might whet your appetite and encourage a visit! Aside from my disappointment insofar as art was concerned, our trip was a resounding success — as you can readily see by reading Cornelia’s “Report from Europe”. Vienna’s coffee houses, the Spanish Riding School, the gypsy and other outdoor markets, the palaces and churches, the view of the Danube from Gellert Hill in Buda, the food, the music, and the guided tour provided by Budapest’s Tourist Office (very helpful, incidentally) along with the personal shepherding by Jacky Sparkowsky, Jörg Iwan (our Berlin hosts) and their Hungarian friend, László Fésüs, were all and more than what we expected. The trips to Lago di Garda, Vallegio, Verona and Venice with Gaby and Norbert Wittmer (our Munich hosts), after viewing “Die Welt als Mikrokosmos” (The World in a Microcosm), a retrospective showing of Heinrich J. Jarczyk’s oils, watercolors, etchings, and drawings in Munich, made the second half of our trip through Europe equally exciting and wonderful. Three days in Cologne at the home of Heinrich and Christiane Jarczyk capped a very rewarding time of gracious hospitality, generosity, and friendship both at the respective homes of all of our hosts as well as along the way from destination to destination. That trip was a resounding success! We closed our travels with some time in Barbados at the home of Barbara Gill (friend and owner of our courier service, Valley Courier of Kingston, NY) where I took the opportunity of visiting the painter, Gordon Webster, whom I had only known through the mails (he had suggested a trade of a painting for a copy of my book, The Art Students League of New York: A History — a swap I gladly accepted.) It was nice meeting face-to-face at his gallery, “Gang of Four.” The time between our return and getting out this issue was not only brief but filled with days of catching up on 5 weeks of mail — so there was little time to visit and write about any shows on the local scene. I had a slight echo of the frustration I encountered in Europe when I sneaked in a quick peek at a landscape show in Woodstock, hoping to include at least one critique in this issue. Much to my chagrin the gallery had no checklist available — a simple courtesy extended by most professional galleries for the reviewer since it precludes having to copy down titles, mediums and sizes, a time-consuming annoyance that detracts from the creative process of critiquing a show. Gallery owners and artists take note: having such lists available greatly enhances the chances for a review/critique. Such a practice facilitates a writer’s job by preparing a ready, correct, and complete list that allows for pertinent note-taking rather than imposing on the reviewer the necessity of a tedious transcription of specifics that, in the heat of concentrated evaluation, can often lead to errors. A ready-made press packet ought to be available to the press at all times, and artists seeking press coverage have the responsibility of seeing that the people who represent them have such materials on hand. I’ve walked out of more than one gallery that did not extend such professional courtesy, sometimes deciding against a critique or review of work that I was initially moved to write about. ‘Nuff said. I also stopped in at the Hopper House in Nyack, NY, featuring the Subway Drawings of Elijah Silverman, an artist I have long admired and written about. Unfortunately, the show closes on Feb 28 but will (with some additions and deletions) be re-opening at the Belskie Museum, 280 High St., Closter, NJ, Mar 6-27. Another exhibit (I have only had the opportunity of browsing the catalogue) which seems promising is “Renaissance and Baroque Bronzes from the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge” at The Frick Collection in NYC, (thru Apr 24). I think both of these shows warrant your attention. 

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