A Force to be Reckoned with

And other inspirations..

I am still at mourning, or rather I am still in one of the stages of grief as per Elizabeth Kübler-Ross—which are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance—the Depression stage. A lot of people I know are. And knowing me I am worried about the one that’s following, the Acceptance stage because it might also be a kind of resignation, and a loss of will to fight, always a bad idea wherever we are, what with all that’s happening.

I mean I didn’t ask for something that bad, which was to wake up on the 9th never to hear of he-who-must-not-be-named’s name (I am sick of hearing the name and the reason I don’t want to utter the name is not fear at all, but rather because it evokes a feeling of “hate” in me which I thought didn’t exist in me.) And hate won, my wish didn’t come true and instead I received two calls, from the two men in my life who have been present from birth, my father who doesn’t like talking much anymore, and my brother, whom we usually communicate via WhatsApp.

They were condolence calls. And they were sincere. Their anticipation that I would be crushed made me realize they knew how passionate I was for the rights of women, minorities, LGBTQ people, and those with disabilities. My dad, the eldest of the family, knowing I must be mourning as a feminist, said “I am really sorry. You know I truly wanted, and sincerely believed that the female trifecta of the Fed, IMF, and the President would have made the world a better and honest place.” He is the type to think that the root cause of all problems of the world are socio-economic, or rather economic which eventually effects everything, is his thinking. In fact, he does believe, always, that it’s “the Economy, stupid!”

My brother on the other hand, tried to console me by first making me laugh, and reminded me how the day before he had predicted that the rural areas were problematic. To which I had then erroneously replied, “No, no, women would vote for a woman like them. ‘One of us did it!’ Why would anybody not?” After all, the only time my mother, and grandmother ever voted for a candidate of a party of the right was when its candidate was a woman, which in fact it turned out to be my mother’s last vote ever. Evidently now, I was wrong. There is no sisterhood. And the patriarchy is ever strong.

The shock led to denial, anger, bargaining, and stayed on depression. Not knowing what will happen with a lost past that never will come back. A you, that has forever changed and will never be the same you. In a bad world getting worse every day, somebody told me this must be the worst time in history what with all that is going on, to which I said, “No. I think there were worse times. How about the Inquisition, the Middle Ages? Think about all that happened with the Reformation and how in the name of religion so many got tortured and persecuted. And, which eventually led to the Renaissance.” Which became my mantra, my survival mechanism so to speak: Whenever I get depressed, I think that a Renaissance will be coming: “Don’t worry, art, music, literature, creativity in general will save it all. And ignorance will be beat.”

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, by Robert Henri

Credit: Whitney Museum of American Art

So I turned off all TV sets and went back to reading the two books that I was half way through on my bedside table, and write about them as the last blog entry for 2016. One book is The Whitney Women and the Museum They Made: A Family Memoir, written by Flora Miller Biddle about Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, the founder of one of New York’s most important museums, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the other is Rebels on Eighth Street: Juliana Force and the Whitney Museum of American Art, by Avis Berman about Juliana Force, the Whitney’s first director without which the museum would not have existed to begin with.

Now to give a little bit of a background, Gertrude, a tall and smart woman was the daughter of Commodore Vanderbilt (Their home was where Bergdorf Goodman is today). Gertrude married Harry Payne Whitney, a man from a rich family like hers but with older money. All Gertrude was expected to do in her life was to dress nicely, have teas, and do that kind of stuff, and nothing else. Instead she became an artist herself, a sculptor, and really worked for her commissions. In the meantime, disappointed with the infidelities of her rich husband, she focused on collecting works by American artists and truly support them. Mind you, at the time, real art was considered to be art of European origin and American art was classified as folk art only.

To make a long story short, along the way Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney came across Juliana Force, a woman with an impeccable taste and a determination to succeed, who had re-created a whole new life story that was the opposite of her humble roots. One day, Gertrude wanted to donate her more than 600 works of American artists to the Metropolitan Museum of Art with a $5million donation for the building of a new wing to house them, and it was Juliana Force who went to the meeting. Force, before she could even mention the donation part, upon hearing that the Met would not accept “American” art, stormed out of the meeting, fuming, met Gertrude and convinced her to start her very own museum. Gertrude agreed she would do so only if Force were to direct it. Eventually the Whitney Museum of American Art, which first opened on Eighth Street (it later moves to another location before moving into its former location at the Breuer Building on Madison Avenue), and now is settled at its new building designed by Renzo Piano at the Meatpacking District. Of course it was Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s money and collection, which her daughter, granddaughter and even great-daughter still continues to support to this day, a matriarchy that dedicated herself to the institution, as is told lovingly and caringly in Gertrude’s granddaughter Flora Miller Biddle’s book, but if it weren’t for Juliana Force, who also started and directed the museum herself, the Whitney would not have existed at all.

Juliana Force, by Cecil Beaton

Credit: Whitney Museum of American Art

This made me think of another museum, and its many satellites around the world, the Guggenheim in New York which stands out with its architecture, and more importantly for its dedication to Modern and Contemporary Art since its inception. The museum bearing the name of Solomon R. Guggenheim, is in fact in existence because of a woman again: Hilla von Rebay, a young baroness—an artist herself—who moved to New York in 1927 and became friends with Solomon R. Guggenheim and his wife Irene, née Rothschild. Hilla von Rebay becomes instrumental in her guidance for building a modern and contemporary art collection for Guggenheim, which she later had him turn into a museum. Even more, she herself selected and wrote to Frank Lloyd Wright to design the landmark building in New York to be a “museum-temple”. Her words exactly.

Hilla von Rebay

Credit: Guggenheim Museum

And of course New York’s Museum of Modern Art, had Dorothy Canning Miller, the museum's first educated curator, a woman. (It also needs mentioning here that it was thanks to Abby Aldridge Rockefeller, who together with her friends Lillie P. Bliss and Mary Quinn Sullivan started the museum. They are not directors or curators per se but they just didn’t have to do anything, just be pretty I guess, yet worked hard to create the museum.) It is thanks to Dorothy C. Miller and the exhibitions of Americans she curated which travelled through Europe and introduced Europeans to American art and artists, making them realize and accept that American artists were a major presence.

Dorothy C. Miller, of the Museum of Modern Art

Credit: Particular Passions

Last, but not least, I come to Marcia Tucker, who was the curator of painting and sculpture at the Whitney Museum of American Art but was let go after the heavy criticism of an exhibition she curated in 1976. She went and accomplished a feat that is no easy task at all: start a whole new museum. My favorite museum in terms of exhibitions: The New Museum. Tucker is such a pioneer. She herself chose to step aside as the director of the New Museum after years. I would have really loved to have met her.

Marcia Tucker

Credit: The New Museum

All those museums are in existence thanks to the talents and dedication of these women whose names are not known to so many. Can you imagine a major city without any museums dedicated to modern and contemporary art? I mean, without these institutions what are we left with? Can you even talk about a civilization, despite all the money and wealth, when there are no institutions supporting art such as those founded by these women?

As I was finally getting ready to put the finishing touches of all this writing, I got a notification from the New York Times about the latest bit of news, which later got unnoticed by everybody because of really terrible events that happened later in the day. It was that Christine Lagarde, the head of IMF was found guilty of charges of misuse of public funds during her period as finance minister of France. And I got scared. I said, it is happening. All will be dismantled. The patriarchy will always win, and will topple even the smallest advances now. Because, quite frankly, it’s “the misogyny, stupid!”

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In this new year, I sincerely wish that more art, music and literature that touches many many more are created and that museums become the temples that save us all.

I myself will continue to point out successes and advances by women, will fight for their rights and demand justice for them. Point out all misogyny. Continue to be a part of the Sisterhood, an alliance, and pledge my allegiance to it.

Needless to say, I will always visit museums, the Temples of Muses for inspiration…

With love... And acceptance...

#WhitneyMuseumofAmericanArt #JulianaForce #Guggenheim #HillavonRebay #MuseumofModernArt #DorothyCMiller #AbbyAldridgeRockefeller #NewMuseum #MarciaTucker #NewYorkMuseums

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