Losses, Surprises and Hopeful Signs

- January 1, 2012

"A New Year filled with hope and promise..."

As I turn the page on my calendar from 2011 to 2012, I find it important to sum up what has gone before and what might be ahead. For me, there have been losses and surprises, but also some hopeful signs of the future.

Here are just some of the legendary creative people we have lost in the past year:

Sam Rivers – A saxophonist and composer, he helped define the avant-garde jazz scene in the '60s and '70s. His legacy is defined by his pioneering spirit in the post-bop jazz scene, working with Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and T-Bone Walker in the '50s and '60s.

The classical music world has lost Peter Lieberson, composer of orchestral and chamber music and the opera, Ashoka’s Dream, performed in 1997 by the Santa Fe Opera.

Also: Singer Phoebe Snow; jazz pianist George Shearing and film composer John Barry (Out of Africa).

Visual Artists and Architects
Two major losses this year were the American artist Cy Twombly, regarded by many as one of the giants of 20th-century modern art, and British portraitist Lucian Freud, the grandson of the pioneering psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud.

Also: American painter Helen Frankenthaler; Czech playwright and politician Václav Havel; American sculptor John Chamberlain; Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta, whose elegant buildings grace Santa Fe; and American architect Andrew Geller.

Actors and Actresses
We lost a superstar and great humanitarian in Elizabeth Taylor, though her legend lives on with the sale of her jewelry at Christie’s New York for nearly $116 million.  However, the $64K that Kim Kardashian spent on one of those trinkets will not change my opinion of her.

We also lost several other fine acting stars of screen, stage and TV: The very talented Tony Curtis, star of so many roles but also remembered for his hysterical turn in drag in Some Like it Hot (right up there with Nathan Lane and Gene Hackman in Birdcage); and M-A-S-H star and Emmy Award®-winning character actor Harry Morgan.

Writers and Pundits
Christopher Hitchens, a Washington, D.C.-based author, essayist and polemicist, who waged verbal and occasional physical battle on behalf of causes left and right. Known as “Hitch”, he wrote for The Atlantic, The Nation, Slate, Salon and Vanity Fair, among other publications. His memoir, Hitch-22, was published in June 2010.

Andy Rooney – Resident curmudgeon on CBS’s Sixty Minutes, he merged the caustic wit of Dorothy Parker and Oscar Levant with a heart of gold.

A Fond Farewell
Though choreographer Merce Cunningham passed away in 2009, it is only now that the company he founded and guided has come to an end, with a grand international farewell tour. But, his legacy lives on in his company’s Legacy Plan, which carefully detailed how the works he produced over nearly a half century – many with his creative and life partner, John Cage – would be preserved for the future. In some ways it is modeled after the Balanchine Trust, whereby the exclusive rights to perform Mr. B’s dances are strictly controlled and passed down. 

The Book of Mormon on Broadway – Even people who never attend the theater have been buzzing about this new musical juggernaut from the irreverent creators of South Park. This irreverent, ribald comedy ended up being a hit in every imaginable way,

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark didn’t die on Broadway, though many thought it should have been put out of its misery during the ENDLESS cycle of on-again, off-again previews. It did, however, produce several casualties, including the injuries of a few actors during those previews and director Julie Taymor, who was fired from the production as everyone sought a scapegoat for this nightmare of a production. I guess Bono and the Edge were untouchable though, I believe their limp score should have received equal or greater blame.

The National Sept. 11 Memorial – Its simplicity of design and thought-provoking approach to our national loss overcame the stultifying obstacles of bureaucracies and politics.

Hopeful Signs for the Future
The Crystal Bridge museum, built in Bentonville, Ark. by Walmart heiress Alice Walton, has turned out to be far better than most in the art world feared. I look forward to my own pilgrimage there soon.

Resale royalties – Are artists entitled to a cut of the money made by the resale of their works? The question is central to a recently-proposed bill working its way through Congress. This is way overdue, as EU countries already have this royalty protection in place, with England the last hold out in the west.

Pacific Standard Time (Known, simply, as PST) – The Getty's ambitious survey of Southern California art was launched this year with more than 100 exhibitions and events across the area and will continue for another six months. David Richard Contemporary in Santa Fe covers some of this same territory. I look forward to some of their upcoming, winter shows.

Ai Weiwei – No, he’s not sorry and he won't apologize. China's most famous living artist spent 81 days in secret detention this year, presumably for his activist work. He emerged from the ordeal even more brazen and resolved than before.

Occupying the Arts, a Seat at a Time – In this thoughtful piece by New York Times music critic Anthony Tommasini, the relationship between the Occupy Wall Street protesters and the arts is examined. This is excellent arts journalism that goes well beyond previewing and reviewing concerts, and puts a discussion of the arts in society in the midst of the very passionate brew of feelings about our society in this second decade of the millennium. I find it important reading at the end of one year and the beginning of the next. Read it in The New York Times.

Over the River – In November I reported that Christo, the artist best known for the Wrapped Reichstag in Berlin years ago, the Gates in Central Park and for many other site-specific art projects, has received a green light from the BLM to proceed with his plans to suspend 5.9 miles of silvery, luminous fabric panels high above the Arkansas River along a 42-mile stretch of the river between Salida and Cañon City in south-central Colorado.

But our loss is not just about the “stars.” 

I have always believed in the journeymen – those artists, musicians, actors, writers and other creative people, who labor in their art form day in and day out. They are the Ralph MacDonalds, the percussionist and songwriter who wrote songs for or played behind the stars and passed away in 2011. You see, read or hear their work around you every day. It is this work I revere – work, that, like soil and water, nurtures our lives from the bottom up. For me, the work of the journeyman is the foundation of all the arts.

We have lost several this past year in Santa Fe and they are our stars:

Weaver, James Koehler, whose work is in many private, corporate and museum collections, including the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Mary Hunt Kahlenberg, a leading authority on historic textiles and co-owner with her husband of TAI Gallery in the Railyard gallery.

Guitarist, Don Lovato – From old, lovelorn Spanish favorites to a rockin' Chuck Berry lick, Lovato knew how to make his electric guitar sing.

Lara Morrow – Beloved executive director for New Mexico Arts, the state’s arts agency.

We also lost Owen Lopez to retirement from the McCune Foundation. So many of us in the arts have benefited from his grace and wisdom. We wish him well.

With the turning of this calendar page, I salute the past and wish you all a New Year filled with hope and promise.