Saturday, November 20, 2010

Nazi Art Spoliation

I saw the documentary The Rape of Europa this past week in Concord, NH.  The viewing was a collaboration between the Red River Theatres and the Currier Museum of Art in conjunction with their Secret Life Of Art exhibit.

It is an exhibit which aims to demystify why and how a museum operates. It includes a recently restituted pair of alter paintings from an Austrian Museum to the grandchild of its original owner. The grandchild, 81 year old Tom Selldorff, opened the movie with a moving account of his struggle for restitution of the artwork.

I will not take up a lot of space rehashing the film, suffice it to say that it is well worth seeing. It tells the story of the destruction and looting of Europe's great museums by the Nazis. It cannot be separated from the story of World War II- a powerful story that we all need to be reminded of once in a while.

I was unaware of the extent of the systematic destruction and looting of museums and libraries that the Nazis practiced. I was also unaware that the Allies had created a special unit, The Monuments Men, to mitigate the destruction of European art. They helped in the planning of bomb drops to ensure that museums and cultural artifacts were avoided. They were instrumental in coming in after major battles to prevent looting.

It begs the question of what is Culture and what is its importance. In view of the Nazis desire to exterminate certain cultures it became clear that Culture is the shared history of a group told through their collection of art, books, architecture, religion and language. By removing those things physically the Nazis tried to remove their identities.

It was made evident how important Culture is by people's willingness to put their lives on the line for it. There were powerful still shots of the curators and residents packing treasures of the former Tsars of Russia to be shipped to Siberia before the siege of Leningrad. Later these curators lived in the bombed out museums to safeguard remaining treasures from exposure to the harsh Russian winter. In Occupied Paris a mousy art historian, Rose Valland, was forced to help the Nazis catalogue and move artwork to Germany. By night she recorded where works went to aid in their retrieval after the war. This belies the argument that "Yes, art is important, but...."

I cannot overstate that part of the experience of this film was viewing it collectively with 150 other people. I do not often go to movies and have forgotten the power of being swept into a story and to hear others reactions to the more horrific or brutal scenes. There was an elderly audience member who had intimate experience with the Holocaust. She was obviously hard of hearing and was unaware of how loudly she conversed with her friend. She confirmed that many of the events in the film were true and happened to her family. It was humanizing by being both funny and emphasizing our safety to express ourselves, out loud in our community.

This was an example of how the collaboration of two institutions- Red River and The Currier strengthened their abilities to tell a story by reaching out to other mediums. If you have a chance- see both the movie and the exhibit. And by all means, don't miss their next collaboration!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Small Views

C. Chin, Stilling Street, Boston
 McGowan Fine Art announces the opening of “Small Views” featuring small works by Cathy Chin, Melissa Anne Miller, Shane Neufeld and Sandy Wadlington.

The show will run from November 30 through December 31, with an artists’ reception on December 3, from 5 to 7 PM. The public is welcome.   The reception takes place the evening of Midnight Merriment in Concord. The Main Street will be closed to traffic from Pleasant to Centre. Caroling and hay rides will be taking place to celebrate the start of the Holiday Season. For more information visit Main Street Concord.

Inspired by the most recent work of artist Cathy Chin, gallery director, Sarah Chaffee worked to put together a show featuring similarly sized works. “Cathy’s small, urban studies - motivated by a road trip - had a fresh feel that I thought people needed to see,” said Chaffee.

S. Neufeld, Green Fundy After Storm
It coincided with a recent batch of watercolor studies by Shane Neufeld who since becoming an architect has not had much free time to paint. A trip to Nova Scotia this past summer, with its sparkling light and dramatic bay served as an impetus to start again. This show is rounded out with the talent of artists Melissa Anne Miller and Sandy Wadlington.

S. Wadlington, First Snow of the Season
Landscape has a fascination for people as both a respite and a reflection of our place in it. In the respite category are the small pastels of Sandy Wadlington that minimize the human impact on the landscape. “Frosty Morning,” a view of a pine grove provides opportunity for Sandy to display her technique and mastery of atmospheric effects. A careful weaving of small strokes builds up a rich surface texture. The pale silvery grays feel like a winter fog settling over the dark trees. “Working small is also quite intimate and peaceful. You are in your own little world. Every little mark has a purpose, and you put it there, or erase it, or something in between,” says Wadlington.

S. Neufeld, Pines Over Studio,
Penguin Island
Another view of the landscape as romantic respite is Shane Neufeld’s watercolors of the Bay of Fundy. They are more color studies with their broad, wet strokes of pigment. “Pines over Studio, Penguin Island” is a symphony of greens contrasting against white, sunlit buildings.

C. Chin, Tailgating
Both Melissa Anne Miller and Cathy Chin take to the city streets for inspiration. Cathy’s diary of images provides us unlikely subjects of beauty- McDonald’s restaurants, old gas stations and exit ramps. In “Tailgating” her brush turns to a tangled mass of signs and phone wires dominated by the tail end of a car. The red of brake lights bleeds into the enameled blue of the trunk- a tour de force in color. In “Stillings Street, Boston” (at top) Ms. Chin breaks down the buildings and signs into sun-drenched planes - blues, viridians and grays. It is a veritable quilt of color.

S. Wadlington, Frosty Morning