This conversation is part of a series of interviews with families and individuals who collected and preserved the legacy of painter Carl Heidenreich. On October 5, 2017 KunstWorks' Alla Efimova interviewed Richard Buxbaum about how he reconnected with Emanuel Wolf, the largest collector of Heidenreich's art, making it possible to appreciate the full extent of the artist's legacy.
Below, the interview has been excerpted for clarity and brevity.
Alla Efimova: Richard, could you talk about the milestones in your family's intersections with Manny Wolf’s—intersections in terms of Carl Heidenreich.
Richard Buxbaum: My father and he had stayed in touch because of course at the time of Heidenreich’s death—and they already knew each other—my father had suggested to Manny, and Manny was very kind about it really, to do a bulk purchase of all of the items found in Heidenreich’s atelier, which was in the high hundreds or even low thousands. And then as executor, my father handed that money over of course to Monica [Smith]. That was for her legacy, so to say. So I knew, although I’d never met Manny at that point, that my father and he had been in touch and stayed in touch.
That was 1965. My father was able to arrange an exhibition at the Goethe-Institut in New York in 1971. To this day, I don't know how he did it. He was hardly somebody who was in those circles, but he managed to do it. Manny Wolf came to that. I wasn't there, but we have a nice photograph of Manny and my father together looking at things at that exhibition. And of course, I knew who Manny Wolf was and what he had done and so forth.
Then of course in the 70s my father was mostly busy writing or dictating his own memoirs. I wasn't very much involved. I did buy a couple of Heidenreich paintings myself, actually from my father—it was funny, but I wanted to have my own, so to say.
My father had been very busy of course, even after the death, after his principal duties as executor, trying to hold on to the lists of people who had Heidenreich's [paintings] and so forth.
And I should say I believe, I'm quite sure about this, that Manny Wolf who had gotten to know my father because of his friendship with a doctor who happened to also practice in Canandaigua—George Holton. I knew that they had had an occasional visit of that sort.
Well, the long and the short of it is that after my father's death in 1979, when I took on doing these things, my main concern was just to keep everything in storage, get it moved to California. My nephew, my sister's oldest son David Kadish, was an aspiring artist. He helped a lot with that, figured out what kind of protection of paintings there should be, what kind of shipment and so forth.
We needed, of course, a professional mover for this kind of thing. I arranged for the availability of all these storage units. We didn't do the whole job at once. That is, in the 80s we moved some of them, but we still had a lot left in our family—that is to say, I’m not talking about Manny Wolf’s storage, but ours.
But then when my mother died in 1988, I finally finished the job and we got everything out here. And then I got serious about trying to do something about the legacy. So the 90s was the period when I was really working—starting really in already in the 80s, but I got more into it in the 90s.
So now came the question of where was Manny Wolf. I had no contact. The address that we had for him through my father's records was long gone; it was a New York City address. Manny had been the CEO of a small company, but one listed on the New York Stock Exchange, named Kalvex. I had that link, and I remember going to the New York Public Library to the business records and finding out what happened.
That company had gone bankrupt after Manny had left it, so there wasn't much in the way of records of it. I knew that they had had one or two of the paintings, because there had been an annual report of that company which I had seen, on which one of Heidenreich’s paintings was the cover picture, which was very nice.
That had happened also in the 60s when IG Metall, the German Metalworkers Union, was in the hands of a man named Brenner and he had known Heidenreich through the Spanish Civil War. When he once had one of the quarterly issues of IG Metall, which was not only a union but had a magazine, he had a front page cover of one of Heidenreich’s paintings, so I had that as well.
So in any event, now I'm looking for Manny Wolf. I had assumed he had stayed in New York, so of course, while there are many many Wolfs in the New York telephone directory, there are not all that many Emanuels—but there were some.
I started trying to track some of them and I finally found him, I thought. He had been an accountant and I had heard that Manny Wolf had been an accountant, so this man seemed right. He had had an office that I still remember at 280 Park Avenue South in Manhattan. So I went there and checked.
There was no Emanuel Wolf—I didn't really expect he’d still be there—but I found one of the supers who brought me to the management company that leased offices; this is an office building. And so they checked the records and there had been indeed an Emanuel Wolf there.
I checked out some other records. My friend, the late Stanley Mailman, helped me with that too. We found a death certificate for Emanuel Wolf and a widow, Ellen Ryp-Wolff, who was still living in Manhattan. I thought, finally we have it.
I made an arrangement—it took a little explaining, you don't just jump in on somebody like that, of what I was doing. Anyway, she finally granted me a visit. And so I went to her apartment and the first thing I see on the wall is a Heidenreich painting.
I was certain this was them. She said, "Yes, oh yes, we love the Heidenreich painting, but no, my husband had nothing to do with ... yes, he is Emanuel Wolff, but he has nothing to do with the estate. I don't know where you got that idea." She was sort of, I wouldn’t say miffed, but she thought, "What the hell are you talking about."
It turned out that this was an Emanuel Wolff who had found and enjoyed a Heidenreich painting, but it wasn’t the Emanuel Wolf. It was really ridiculous.
Well, then Catherine and I found an address in upper Manhattan. We just checked every Emanuel Wolf, everyone there, and there was no Emanuel Wolf there anymore, but there was a super who had said, “Yeah, there had been a guy here. Yeah, it sort of sounds like what you're talking about.”
So I did have this address in upper Manhattan, 58th Street, Eastside somewhere. We went there and checked all of the boxes and found nobody of that name, but there had been somebody there. I asked the super, is anybody here who has lived here for 20 or more years. So he introduced me to some tenant, or maybe some owner of a condo. And he said, "Oh yeah, there was an Emanuel Wolf but he left. I don’t know what he did."
So I was at a dead end. Then, I had a flash of inspiration based on the fact that I'm a lawyer.
I knew that Kalvex had gone bankrupt and there was a system built about 10 years before this in the United States called the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation; it was a public, in other words, a government-owned entity, but it was a separate corporation. It wasn't a department of any government unit. And it was funded with premiums which corporations had to pay so that if some corporation that had had a benefit plan went bankrupt and couldn't honor it, this was the insurer that jumped in. I remember this very well, they didn't pay the Cadillac plans as they're called, but they paid a basic pension.
Next time I was in Washington D.C., I went to the offices of the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation, which was quite a fortress. It was hard even to get in the gate you might say and it took a lot of explaining what I was looking for; finally, whoever ran the gatekeeping did call upstairs and said, "Yes, I think this is the office you want to see."
I wanted to see records, whether there had been a record of him. Well, I get up there and a very nice but rather suspicious woman took a lot of explaining. Slowly, I got her to understand that this was kosher, it was not some kind of a scam going on. And I said, "Can you tell me if there is such a person." She said, "Well, all I can tell you is whether we still have a record of a beneficiary receiving benefits. I cannot tell you his name and I cannot tell you his address."
I said, "Since I know his name, I'm only asking you whether there is such a person. Whether it's the right one or not is another matter."
She checked it and said, "Yes, there is an Emanuel Wolf receiving pensions." I said, "Great, may I get his address?" She said, "We can't do that."
Well, I sort of got into an I'll-show-you-mine-if-you-show-me-yours. I said, "Well, was is this address, let me at least go that far." I had this 58th Street address and she said, "Oh, well, it's close but that isn't it, and anyway, sir, that's not the address we have on file anymore now."
Well, she left the room for some reason. I don't want to speculate why. So I kind of partly went over the railing and took a look at the screen and it didn't show much but it showed that this person was receiving benefits under a list of Californians. So now, when I went back to Berkeley, I was starting to look for an Emanuel Wolf who was in California. There were about eleven of them.
I think on the third one or so—it didn't take all eleven—I got lucky. I still remember the conversation and I knew later why he spoke as he did.
I said, "Is this Mr. Emanuel?"
He said, "Who wants to know?"—because he had apparently been threatened with a lawsuit on a copyright issue concerning the movie Cabaret. He had made up a poster [for Cabaret], because he had been a producer on it before he was then pushed off it. That always stung with him. He felt he had been the real producer—and he had! He had gotten the stars together to agree to appear and to sign a contract. But somehow, the thing got away from him and some studio took it over.
So I think he thought I might be a person involved in trying to make a demand of him about this thing.
But then when I explained what it was, first of all he was quite amazed, and then he was just terrific. So he immediately invites me down to look at everything.
Within a week I was there in Carlsbad at his place. From there on, the connection got remade.