Three Generations Champion Rebel Painter Carl Heidenreich: KunstWorks to Lead the New Foundation

Left: Richard M. Buxbaum in his Berkeley home, September 2016 Right: Henry Buxbaum at the opening of Carl Heidenreich’s exhibition, Goethe Institut, New York, 1971

Left: Richard M. Buxbaum in his Berkeley home, September 2016

Right: Henry Buxbaum at the opening of Carl Heidenreich’s exhibition, Goethe Institut, New York, 1971

For half a century, the Buxbaum family cared for the artistic legacy of the German-American artist Carl Heidenreich (1901-1965). Henry Buxbaum, a German-born doctor started collecting Heidenreich’s paintings and works on paper in the early 1950s and championed the artist in the United States and Germany throughout his life. Richard Buxbaum continued his father’s project. A distinguished legal scholar and Professor Emeritus at UC Berkeley Law, Richard Buxbaum worked to preserve the artist’s work, to steward the network of his collectors and friends, and to stimulate research, publications, and exhibitions. He now serves as the President of the Carl Heidenreich Foundation. On September 26, Alla Efimova interviewed Buxbaum about his family’s loyalty to this riveting artist. Below are the excerpts from the interview.

Alla Efimova: Can we start by talking about your father and his life in Germany?

Richard Buxbaum: My father, Henry Buxbaum, was Jewish; my mother wasn’t. He was born in 1900 in a really rural village in Hessen, Assenheim, which I visited often afterwards. And when he was eight, thanks to the initiative of his mother, they moved to Friedberg. By good luck, the Oppenheimer family of diamond fame (in South Africa) originally came from Friedberg. The son of the Oppenheimers came to Friedberg once and left “a purse,” as it was called in those days, with the local rabbi to support a worthy Jewish boy, who would otherwise not have the means to study. Gymnasium— the college-bound secondary school— was really for the middle and upper classes who had the money; very few people went to gymnasium at that time, I would say under ten percent of the age group. So my father was lifted out of a very poor family.

In his own memoirs, which were published in Germany, he always said, and I saw it in him, that he was never as comfortable as when he was with other people of limited background, because that was how he had grown up. And he was always a little defensive around more educated people, even though he got to the Gymnasium , and in those years you learned Ancient Greek, Ancient Latin, and in his case, Ancient Hebrew as a curricular supplement.

During World War I he was drafted into the army, in late 1917 or early 1918, and ended up in a medical unit and not on the front, unlike his older brother. He then went to medical school, worked for five or six years as a substitute doctor around the Hessen villages, which he knew very well, and met my mother in Friedberg where she was the women’s fashion buyer for a department store. Then he bought a practice—it was all socialized medicine at that time—in 1930 from the widow of a doctor in Griesheim, which was an even smaller village.

In 1933 he was kicked out of this official system by the Nazi regime but opened his own practice. He was the last Jewish doctor to practice with a general patient community because there was no other doctor in Griesheim. When the Nazis passed the penal laws in 1936, prohibiting an Aryan from treating a Jew and vice versa, he was the only one who still continued. And he did until 1938, so almost too long.

AE: So let’s now turn to post-immigration, your family’s life in Upstate New York, and the relationship with the German émigré community?

RB: After emigrating to the United States, my father bought a practice in Canandaigua, New York, a beautiful community, and that’s where he practiced until he died in 1979 at age 79. Around 1950-52 he got interested in art. In Upstate New York there was a community of both émigrés and artists.

My father got very interested in Carl Heidenreich through other German émigré friends. He started buying paintings from Carl, and often could give him a kind of payment, a couple hundred for a painting, as regularly as possible.

AE: What’s your memory of Carl Heidenreich?

RB: I met Carl around 1957. My father was invited to a New Year’s Day celebration at Hannah Arendt and Heinrich Blücher’s house through Carl. That is, Carl got that invitation for us. They were teaching at Bard College but their apartment was in Manhattan.

I’d read all of Hannah Arendt’s work, and to be invited to her soiree, or more precisely an afternoon matinee party, was really thrilling to me. I really enjoyed that, and enjoyed Carl and my father being welcomed there. Most of the guests were New York glitterati, so he didn’t fit in particularly. But Arendt and Blücher were wide-ranging people, they had a tremendous network of old friends: Jewish, communists, socialists, etc.

AE: There’s just something about this combination in Carl Heidenreich, his particular rebelliousness, risk-taking, and kind of recklessness, that is very appealing.

RB: Oh, absolutely. We all would love to have a background like that—Spanish Civil War, anti-Stalinist, Trotskyist, free—but none of us was in the mood to risk it, or at least in those days. My father came from too poor a background to be anti-bourgeois! For him that was the aspiration!

AE: What happened at the end of Heidenreich’s life and what was your father’s role?

RB: It was clear to my father already two or three years earlier, and I recall some vague conversations that Carl was living with cancer, and stomach cancer wasn’t an easy cancer to cure, or even to get into remission. Carl was in New York, he had an émigré community there, he was very well placed. He was a member of a circle around Oskar Maria Graf, who created a famous Bavarian beer and Weisswurst roundtable in Yorkville. Graf was a left-wing writer who had gotten to know Carl quite well in that time.

In the last stages of his life, with considerable help from my father, Carl was able to get some very good shows in Berlin, thanks to some of his old political allies in the state government and state media institutions. My father got to know these people there and in Frankfurt.  He really worked hard using these connections to get a very important Frankfurt show. It had a big success: there were good sales and reviews in the German papers.

AE: What’s important to you about the Heidenreich story, and what do you think is important about it to remember and preserve?

RB: Even if I would not have gotten connected to the work through the family, I wouldn’t stay connected if I weren’t convinced this was very good quality work, and it should be part of a canon. My main concern right now is to get the next generation into continuing the project, and fortunately with my daughter Hannah Buxbaum and Joachim Rosengarten, and I hope with Roger George and Elissa Wolf-Tinsman (trustees of the Carl Heidenreich Foundation), that this is going to be in place. And that’s the most important thing to me right now.

Understanding the term "legacy"

The term legacy is widely used in a variety of contexts—law, history, business—yet it is porous to the point of being hollow. In my professional work with artists and artists’ estates, I encounter situations where ambiguity of the term translates into ambiguity of planning and strategy. The term also begs to be better defined as it anchors the emerging field of Legacy Studies within Art History.  

The refrain to a song by Eminem includes the lines:

This is my legacy, legacy, yeah
There is no guarantee, it’s not up to me, we can only see

Indeed, the key to finding meaning in the current cultural application of the term legacy is in its intentionality. To what extent can it be destined or guaranteed?

Etymologically, legacy is derived from Latin legare, generally meaning something bequeathed. There are two diverging applications of the term. The first indicates a negative, stubborn residual— something that influences the present. Such is its sense in “the legacy of colonialism” or “the legacy of communism.” The cultural, economic, or political burden inherited by one generation from another, is thus seen as not intentional, but baked into the societal framework in a lasting, unyielding way.

Nicole Dextras, Legacy, Ice, 8 foot high ice text on the Yukon River, Dawson City, Yukon. 

Nicole Dextras, Legacy, Ice, 8 foot high ice text on the Yukon River, Dawson City, Yukon. 

A contrasting sense of legacy postulates an intentional gesture, a gift structured to benefit the future. In a legal context, a legacy is a gift of property left in a will. In the cases of artists, writers, and musicians, this intentional sense of legacy can be further separated into two distinct categories:

1) An artist can bequeath real estate, cash, and other tangible assets (such as art) to an institution that will steward them to advance the individual’s vision. One’s legacy will be maintained by a benefiting future generations through a charitable mission. As an example, a year prior to her death in 1985, Marie Walsh Sharpe established a foundation, bequeathing her estate to support gifted American visual artists. For nearly a quarter of a century, the foundation offered free studio space for year to artists selected by a jury of fellow artists. Legacy planning or legacy gifts in this sense mean a transfer of liquid assets to public institutions in order to operate programs to further the donor’s intent. In this case, legacy is not necessarily tethered to the donor’s creative output.

2) An artist may desire to secure a cultural legacy based on a lifetime’s work. In the past, public recognition or oblivion were seen as a matter of fate. In the words of Eminem, “it’s not up to me, we can only see.” Vagaries of the art market, trends in scholarship, and museum politics, contributed to canonizing certain artists while obscuring the names of others. In the last two decades, however, artists have been encouraged to be proactive about legacy planning. Institutions such as the Joan Mitchell Foundation, the Marie Walsh Sharpe Foundation, and Artist Trust, have run programs and issued guidelines for artists, ranging from assistance in cataloging their work to recommendations on estate planning strategies. Last year, Research Center for Art and Culture (RCAC) launched the Elder Artists' Legal Resource, a website based on nearly a decade of research into the needs of aging artists. The website provides advice and templates for inventory development, valuation and taxation issues, and estate planning. By now, over three hundred artists across the U.S. have opted to start their own foundations to ensure the long-term impact of their work. The Aspen Institute’s Artist-Endowed Foundations Initiative identifies them as “a rapidly emerging force in cultural philanthropy and artistic heritage stewardship.”

The idea of intentional control and premeditation of an artist’s legacy as  positive cultural contribution to future generations is rather new. It stands in sharp contrast to the romantic notion of a sensational discovery of an unrecognized genius and a random sleight of fate. The growing approbation of legacy planning by living artists indicates a trend to consider visual artists’ work as an asset than can be controlled by the maker rather than the market. Envisioning the footprint one leaves on the culture should not be solely the privilege of those who possess tangible assets to be bequeathed. At KunstWorks, our goal is to help artists find new ways to assert influence over their intellectual property and legacy.

Findings #2: Charles Fahlen: One Nebulous Pig

I am haunted by a strange pig. Rather, a pig print. When looking through the work in the studio of the late sculptor Charles Fahlen (1939-2010), I pulled out a number his printmaking experiments from the 1960s. The pig challenged me.

Charles Fahlen. Pig, 1960s. Print. Estate of Charles Fahlen

Charles Fahlen. Pig, 1960s. Print. Estate of Charles Fahlen

The image undeniably refers to the ubiquitous pork-butchering diagram. The contoured, flat profile is unmistakable. Yet, Fahlen pig is smudgy and nebulous, floating on the very large sheet of paper. It is grounded by the purple symbol, as if stamped with a seal. Does the symbol stand for something or is it simply a graphic element that pins the pig to the page, reminding us of flatness? 

Pork Butchering Diagram. St. John Restaurant, London

Pork Butchering Diagram. St. John Restaurant, London

Nöelle, Fahlen’s widow, keeps the airy studio in Gurneville, CA meticulously organized. There is serenity and clarity in the entire setting: the house, the cottage studio, the garden nestled among the redwoods, not far from the Russian River. 

Fahlen taught sculpture at Moore College of Art in Philalphia, PA, for over thirty years before moving back to his native California. In the last decade of his career he was mostly known for wall-hanging sculptures, created of multi-layered grids, made of variety of industrial materials. Several of these sculptures are installed in the Guerneville studio. Frenzy, for instance, is made of steel, copper, and aluminum, and arranged in a strict matrix of metallic strips.

Frenzy, ©2009. Steel, copper, aluminum, epoxy, and pigments. Estate of Charles Fahlen 

Frenzy, ©2009. Steel, copper, aluminum, epoxy, and pigments. Estate of Charles Fahlen 

In another sculpture, Flammox, a metallic matrix takes on organic form, protruding from the wall like a giant tit pulled forward by the weight of many nipples. The multicolored balls, resembling fish net weights, are handmade epoxy forms. On close examination, their pigmentation is cloudy and irregular, contrasting sharply with the strict geometry of the sculpture.

Flummox, ©2009. Brass, aluminum, copper, stainless steel, epoxy, and pigments. Estate of Charles Fahlen 

Flummox, ©2009. Brass, aluminum, copper, stainless steel, epoxy, and pigments. Estate of Charles Fahlen 

The epoxy balls of Flammox give me a clue to the mystery of Pig.  The whimsical, cloudy pigmentation on their surfaces resist the rigid organization of the supporting structure. Similarly, the nebulous pig wiggles away from the flat, mechanical surface of the print.


Findings #1: Irving Guyer

As I visit artists' studios and storage spaces, look through drawers and boxes that had not been opened for many years, peek into garages and attics, I am bursting with the joy of discovery. There are exquisite objects, lovingly and intelligently made, waiting to be found, admired, appreciated. In this series of blogs, Findings, I will focus on a single object from an artist's estate that particularly thrilled me. Some estates are clients of KunstWorks, some are not.

I will start with the estate of Irving Guyer (1916-2012), brought to my attention by his daughter Leonie Guyer.

Irving Guyer, Pinetum VI (Evening I), oil, acrylic, ink on four-part canvas, 48 x 60 inches, 2007 

Irving Guyer, Pinetum VI (Evening I), oil, acrylic, ink on four-part canvas, 48 x 60 inches, 2007 

91-year old artist, whose eyesight was compromised by macular degeneration, living in the Sierra Foothills, made a series of paintings of tree trunks. For Pinetum VI four smaller stretched canvases were connected to create a large canvas. The painting is both gigantic and intimate. The viewer is asked to see the trees but ignore the forest. There is light and darkness, luminosity and texture, order and imperfection, depth and veneer. 

 In 2011, a year before he died, Guyer wrote:

Art movements do not mean progress, they represent the search for interstices others may have passed over. And they also bear witness to the overwhelming urge to join the band of brothers who search for life with paint, hands and minds. (italics mine)

Art as the "search for life with paint, hands and minds..." He does not mention eyes but refers to art-making as a purely tactile process--a powerful idea.

 Irving Guyer did find life. According to Leonie, he was still a charming bon vivant, smoking, drinking, and joking into his late age.

"White Cube" no more

The essays in Brian O'Doherty's influential book Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space (The Lapis Press, 1986) first appeared in Artforum in 1976. O'Doherty was the first to explicitly confront a particular crisis in postwar art as he sought to examine the assumptions on which the modern commercial and museum gallery was based. One of the assumptions concerned the display of modern art on sterile, white walls of rectangular gallery spaces. It has become so familiar that it is still rarely questioned. Works of art, plucked out of messy studios and cluttered homes, now float against white background, surrounded by ample breathing space and demand singular focus and attention.

Two Bay Area dealers of postwar art defy the convention, mixing modern art with antiques and vintage objects. Artworks are treated as friendly and livable.

Gaetan Caron and Rob Delamater of Lost Art Salon find suitable homes for paintings and works on paper from the estates of lesser known postwar artists by catering to interior decorators. Works are tastefully presented in reconditioned period frames; artists are well researched by a group of graduate student interns; and the artists' heirs are treated with great respect.

Lost Art Salon showroom, San Francisco

Lost Art Salon showroom, San Francisco

Collier Gwin of Foster+Gwin pairs his collection of postwar abstract art and sculpture with high-end European antiques. You will find BayArea Abstract Expressionist paintings next to 17th-century Italian consoles, a Robert Arneson' sculpture next to a French marble tabletop. The effect is unexpected and stunning. Antique furniture and modern art somehow feel more accessible and contemporary.

Foster+Gwin showroom, San Francisco

Foster+Gwin showroom, San Francisco

Online Legal Resource for Elder Artists

In 2007, Research Center for Art and Culture (RCAC) at Columbia University published a study called Above Ground: Information on Artists III: NYC Aging Artists.

The study revealed a great lack of legacy planning in the visual arts community. As an example, 61% of aging visual artists have made no preparations for their artwork after their death.

In response to the study's findings, in 2010 RCAC launched ART CART: Saving the Legacy, an educational program at several colleges and universities in New York and Washington, DC. The program provided aging artists with hands-on support to manage and preserve their life's work, and by provided students with experience and mentorship in the preservation of artistic legacy.

This November, RCAC packaged many of the practical advice and planning guidance developed through ART CART into a website that can be used by artists across the country. The Elder Artists' Legal Resource website is a collaboration among Columbia Law School, the City University of New York Elder Law Clinic, Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, and RCAC, which is now housed at the National Center for Creative Aging. The website provides solid advice and templates for inventory development, valuation and taxation issues, and estate planning.


Artists as Philanthropists

Amidst the deluge of year-end solicitation letters from arts organizations asking for support, two events last week stood out in sharp contrast.

On Friday, December 5, I was participated in a meeting organized by a Berkeley-based artist Edith Hillinger. Hillinger brought together a group of artists, curators, and arts administrators to explore the idea of developing a Bay Area regional repository for the work of women artists. The idea of a collective regional repository is very worthwhile and all meeting participants were excited to continue the conversation while agreeing that it will take masterful planning and strong financial backing to develop a successful, sustainable project.

Meanwhile, Hillinger herself is taking on a philanthropic role. She is making generous plans for her estate to benefit an artist residency program at UC Berkeley. It is truly rewarding to witness the generation of women artists make a difference through significant financial support of institutions and individual artists.

The next day, on December 6, most of the Friday meeting participants reconvened at the De Young for a panel discussion on artists becoming a force in cultural philanthropy. The panel was organized in conjunction with the Aspen Institute, which recently published National Study of Artist-Endowed Foundations, documenting the rise in private foundations created in the United States by visual artists. The Aspen Institute's study, the first research effort to examine this fast-growing field, has documented more than 360 foundations, many created in the past two decades, holding $3.5 billion in assets, including $2 billion in art and intellectual property. 

Women still constitute a very minor part of the field but, summoning their collective power, they may bring about change.

In Memoriam: Albert J. Winn

On the eve of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, I want to ask forgiveness for not acting quicker to help find repositories for the work of Al Winn, a photographer who died last May of HIV-related complications. In the months leading to Al's death, his friends and colleagues worked hard to find a home for his photographic archive. But, alas, museums move at a glacial speed and this kind of acquisition negotiation sometimes takes years to culminate in success. 

I will quote directly from my email correspondence about Al's archive with his friend Sally Stein.

Albert J. Winn, from "My Life Until," 1990s

Albert J. Winn, from "My Life Until," 1990s

May 8, 2014

SS: The reason right now that sparked me to write is that photographer Al Winn, who was a former student of Allan's at CalArts, is terminally ill with HIV-related cancer, and he'd feel more secure if close friends like JH and by extension me (a mutual friend) helped suss out places that might serve as repository for his photographic work.   

May 8, 2014
AE: What an interesting coincidence with Al Winn... I have been in touch with him recently and even included a work of his (AIDS mezuzah) in a book I just finished.  Let me talk to my staff who have been involved in this discussion already and I'll get back to you (or directly to Al?) soon.

May 9, 2014
SS: Given Al's unstable health condition, I urge you to contact him directly asap;  and if his condition declines precipitously so that you have trouble reaching him, I propose that you contact JH, copied above, as she is really in close touch with him and it was JH Al turned to about helping him deal with finding a future home for his work (likewise it is JH who enlisted my help in looking for receptive art & cultural institutions as repositories for his work).

May 19, 2014
SS: Greetings, Alla--sorry to bother you with this up/down-date but I learned this week form JH that Al is in the hospital.   Probably this is impractical in terms of your schedule and museum protocols but if you wanted to move quickly on acquiring work--since I'm sure it will become more complicated once it is in his estate---I'm sure that Al would be gratified by this.  

May 20, 2014
JH: Dear Alla: Al Winn passed away this afternoon. SP, Al's legal spouse is interested in carrying out Al's wishes about finding a home for his work. When things settle down I will discuss with SP. Much thanks for all your help and I am sure we will exchange emails again.


An ingenious approach to disposing art works

In August, San Francisco artist Ronald Chase gave away 600 works on paper out of his Mission Street studio. His charitable action (or performance) attracted significant media attention, including an article by Callier Millner in SFGate and a KQED interview. While for the 80-year old painter, photographer and filmmaker this gesture can be interpreted as part of estate "house cleaning" at this late stage of his career, the practice of massive art give-away is not new. In 2008, 30-year old British street artist Adam Neate scattered 1000 hand-painted pieces (estimated at a million pounds) throughout London for anyone who finds them. From August 1 to August 10,  2012, Ted Mikulski gave away 100 works of art per day in Manhattan as a precursor to his solo exhibition at Dorian Gray Gallery, which opening on August 11. In May 2014, a Vancouver artist Zebulon Austin placed paintings in obscure locations throughout the city, posting pictures on Facebook, from which his followers were able to determine the paintings' locations and claim the works for free. 

A publicity stunt? A playful way to reduce inventory? A way to appreciate the value of art by claiming media attention? A sure way to devalue the work? There is not one answer and the outcome depends on many factors and circumstances. However, for late career artists such a  generous and and joyful action is worth considering.

A blessing or a curse?

Jaye Smith's mother, Carol Carlisle, collected hundreds of photos over her career as a photographer and managing editor of Popular Photography. CreditTina Fineberg for The New York Times

Jaye Smith's mother, Carol Carlisle, collected hundreds of photos over her career as a photographer and managing editor of Popular Photography. CreditTina Fineberg for The New York Times

Paul Sullivan's article in yesterday's New York Times, "A Weighty Responsibility of Inheriting a Collection," vividly illustrates the dilemmas of inheriting art estates without a plan. He writes of Jaye Smith, whose mother left a significant photography collection behind: "Ms. Smith’s inheritance is unique in the value of the works she didn’t know about in her mother’s attic. But her initial feeling of being overwhelmed and uncertain about what to do with a family member’s collection, whether valuable or sentimental, is not." I am delighted to be educating artists, their families and collectors, about strategies for planning their legacies so the responsibility for future generations does not become a weighty burden.