Open Studio with Jared Bowen

FULL EPISODE

Whistler's Mother, the Naumkeag Estate and Anthony Amore

AIRED: August 28, 2015 | 0:26:46
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TRANSCRIPT

>> BOWEN: Welcome toOpen Studio,

WGBH's weekly spotlight on arts and culture

from around the region and the nation.

I'm Jared Bowen.

Coming up onOpen Studio...

In the art world, she's the mother of all mothers.

>> He saw it not only as an artistic breakthrough,

but it was, of course,

a portrait of his mother with whom he was very close.

>> BOWEN: Then, unearthing the roots of a new art to gardening.

>> They would gather in the afternoon

and have some martinis, and they would be thinking

about the next project.

>> BOWEN: The Gardner Museum's head of security Anthony Amore

joins us about the art world's most notorious fakes,

frauds and forgeries.

>> It is chilling to think what you're looking at

might not be what you think it is.

>> BOWEN: And women in film and behind it.

>> Over half of the population is women.

We want to hear our stories told.

>> BOWEN: It's all now onOpen Studio.

This week we make a couple of stops in the Berkshires,

where the arts scene is pulsing.

First, the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown

is putting up a special visitor all summer long.

Whistler's Mother is making a rare U.S. appearance

and the museum gives us the backstory on how a man

and his mother created one of the most enduring portraits

of all time.

She sits serenely, if not sternly,

an older woman dressed in mourning clothes,

staring into a room equally devoid of color.

She is Whistler's Mother,

a painting much beloved... and bastardized.

But roiling with artistic furor.

>> He saw it not only as an artistic breakthrough,

but it was, of course, a portrait of his mother

with whom he was very close.

>> BOWEN: By the time James McNeill Whistler

painted his mother in their London flat in 1871,

the artist was already the darling of an artistic circle

that included Oscar Wilde, Degas and Rodin,

a long way from his birth in Lowell, Massachusetts.

A prolific portrait painter,

he was long on ego and eccentricity.

>> He had this white lock of hair.

He had a very bad temper a lot of the time.

So he was known to have sued people.

>> BOWEN: Jay Clarke is the curator

ofWhistler's Mother at the Clark Art Institute.

Landing the painting is a coup for the museum

situated in the Berkshire Hills of Williamstown.

It normally resides at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris

and rarely travels abroad.

Here the Clark explores how the picture came to be.

The 67-year-old Anna McNeill Whistler,

Clarke says, was as she appears,

which was the antithesis of her son.

>> Because of her very conservative,

religious appearance,

she was able to act as an anchor for him

in this very sort of eccentric way that he led his life.

>> BOWEN: Anna Whistler championed

her son's artistic career just as an agent would.

She loomed large in his life,

even taking precedence over this voluptuous vision

Whistler once captured.

>> He had a beautiful redheaded girlfriend

named Joanne Heffernan, who was one of his models.

And he kicked her out promptly before his mother arrived.

That part of his life was certainly not something

he discussed with his mother.

>> BOWEN: This marked the first time Whistler

ever painted his mother, and it was spur of the moment.

>> As the story goes, his model did not show up for the day.

And so he said, "Mother, will you stand for my portrait?"

So she started out standing, but then after two days,

she became tired and he changed the arrangement

so she could be sitting down and more comfortable.

>> BOWEN: The piece's formal title is,

Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 1,

and it was a direct move by Whistler to depart

from his previous work,

to be bold and radical.

It was not, he said, a portrait.

>> When it was first shown in London

the year after it was painted, in 1872,

people marveled at the emptiness of it.

What was popular in painting at the time was a lot of detail,

subject matter, narrative.

And the art critics said things like,

"Why didn't you paint your mother when she was alive?"

>> BOWEN: The less catty critics were also struck

by Whistler's technique.

He was inspired by the noir-ish River Thames

just outside his studio walls,

a subject he returned to again and again.

>> One of the things that interested him at this time,

the idea of a sort of hazy reflection on water.

He was trying that for the very first time in this painting,

this idea of a sort of hazy, symbolic light.

There's one quote that people described it as,

"like breath on glass."

>> BOWEN: Whistler loved the portrait.

His mother, we're not so sure.

He refused to part with it until bankruptcy forced its sale

to the French government 20 years later.

The painting gained fame in America decades after that,

when it toured the country during the Great Depression.

>> And that's really when it became an icon of motherhood,

of solace and safety and security-- the mother.

After the stock market crash, the breadlines,

it was a very difficult time in America.

>> BOWEN: Today the painting has all the appreciation

Whistler wished for and the satire he'd despise.

Whistler's mother is an icon and a shill,

a touchstone for all that is sacred and profane.

She is an arrangement in grey

and a study in the power of painting.

Now we head to Stockbridge,

summer retreat for Mabel Choate in the Gilded Age.

It's where she teamed up

with one of America's most renowned landscape artists.

They spent 30 years turning the estate

of her Downton Abbey era cottage into a gorgeous mélange

of modern-day gardens.

These eight scenic acres in the Berkshires

are where two avant-garde Americans began cultivating

a new kind of landscape design in the 1920s.

They put European traditions in the shade.

>> Here you see sleek, you see Art Deco,

you see whimsy.

And not only was it unique for the Berkshires,

but nothing of its kind had been done in America.

>> BOWEN: After decades of deterioration,

the curving paths of this estate's rose garden

are fresher, the flowers fuller, and the paint brighter.

It's all the handiwork of the Trustees of Reservations,

led by Barbara Erickson.

The group has invested several years and millions of dollars

to rehab the summer home left to their care in the 1950s,

a little 44-room cottage named Naumkeag.

>> We have long believed that the story of the people

that lived in these places is as important

as the natural landscapes,

and what we call a comprehensive conservation

is really unique.

>> BOWEN: It all started under this oak tree,

where the Choate family picnicked during their search

for a New York City getaway.

>> And it still stands today.

Even within the garden designs that came later,

the oak tree is quite an important part.

>> BOWEN: When the Choates' spirited, unmarried

and globetrotting daughter, Mabel,

inherited Naumkeag in 1929, she teamed up

with an equally well-traveled modernist

she had met at a garden club.

His name was Fletcher Steele.

>> What we think is so remarkable and unique about it

is the 30 years of effort she put into the garden rooms.

When she received the house from her parents,

it already had very European-style gardens.

But her own artistic interests,

combined with landscape architect Fletcher Steele,

really become a landmark that Naumkeag now can celebrate.

>> BOWEN: Mabel and Steele's first collaboration

was the Afternoon Garden.

Eyed perfectly from her second-floor bedroom,

its Venetian color and gray gargoyles

ferried her back to the Mediterranean.

Thanks to the original plans,

the Trustees' statewide curator, Mark Wilson,

knows every little thing about their creative process.

>> They'd gather in the afternoon

and they would have some martinis,

and they would be thinking about the next project.

From here we know that they would meet

at 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon

and they'd be talking about trees

that needed to be trimmed.

>> BOWEN: Down the property's hillside,

following a trail of running water,

you find one of Steele's most celebrated Art Deco works.

And Mark, these are the Blue Steps,

which I've heard so much about.

How famous are these steps?

>> It's on the cover of books, postcards;

it's in numerous wedding photographers.

I mean, if people know Fletcher Steele,

these are the piece that they think of.

And they're called the blue steps

because originally the front face of these stairs

were painted blue.

And then after two years of some experimentation,

they just brought the color into the fountains alone.

And part of the restoration was to go back

to this original deep blue color,

which had been lost over time.

>> BOWEN: Like trailblazers through the jungle,

conservators hacked back the brush along the Linden Walk,

uncovering a fountain,

and further into the woods, a pet cemetery.

This is incredible, that things are here

that you didn't even know about. >> Didn't even know!

>> BOWEN: Mabel had a vision for every piece of the garden,

whether flaunted on a hill or tucked away in the trees.

>> She was an artist; her mom was a trained artist.

They read, they traveled widely around the world.

And for them, this house and these gardens

became an expression of those travels

and the ideas that they brought back here.

>> BOWEN: Throughout the gardens are souvenirs

from Mabel's travels to East Asia:

the serene Korean sculptures on the Top Lawn,

the Chinese pagoda on the South.

The Chinese Temple Garden, which held her art collection,

wrapped up Mabel's 30-year project.

It's the last and thorniest part to rebuild.

>> The entire interior of the garden was dismantled.

All the stones, the water runnels,

all the pathways were numbered and removed.

So we're putting solid foundations underneath

so that as we put the stonework back,

it will stay in place for all time.

>> BOWEN: And serve as a firmly rooted reminder

of when the art of landscape design

blossomed into something new.

Next, this year marks the 25th anniversary

of the infamous Gardner Museum heist,

when thieves gained late-night access to the museum

and made off with a stomach-churning trove

of priceless art.

It was a haul that included a rare Vermeer

and Rembrandt's only known seascape.

As more details of the theft have trickled out

in recent weeks, the museum's present head of security,

Anthony Amore, has just released a new book:

The Art of the Con: The Most Notorious Fakes,

Frauds and Forgeries in the Art World.

>> BOWEN: Anthony Amore, thank you so much for coming.

We're here, of course, to talk about your book,

The Art of the Con, but there has been so much

about the Gardner

that's come out about the heist in the last couple of weeks.

I just want to start asking you about that.

In terms of... there was a big splash

about the 25th anniversary and a big push

for information about the theft back in March.

A lot has come out since then.

How much progress has been made in the investigation

since the beginning of this year?

>> I believe we've made a lot of progress.

For me, though, progress could be baby steps.

I just feel as long as we're moving forward every day,

that's progress for me.

Because I mean it is a long haul, as everyone knows,

25 years.

But I would say since the 25th anniversary,

even before, for me my personal mark

was when Anne Hawley said that she was going to be moving on

at the end of the year.

>> BOWEN: The director, of course, of the Gardner.

>> Right, thank you.

She is such an inspiration for not just me, but even

for the FBI agents that work on the case and the prosecutors.

We all really have this renewed push

to try to get something back before she leaves.

>> BOWEN: You just said baby steps

might be significant for you.

Can you elaborate at all what those baby steps might mean

in terms of moving the investigation forward?

>> Sure.

It could be a variety of things but in the general terms,

I've often said that this investigation is like looking

for 13 needles in a haystack.

So if you have this haystack and you can make it smaller,

even by one or two pieces of hay, you're making progress

because you're getting closer to where the pieces are.

So even if I'm working on a lead, an existing lead

and I'm able to discount it, that's progress to me

because that's putting that aside and getting closer

to focusing on the right avenues.

>> BOWEN: The Department of Justice, along with the FBI,

just recently released this video showing a man

inside the Gardner Museum a little bit after midnight

the night before the heist.

What's the significance of that individual being in the museum?

>> Well, it's significant in a number of ways.

First of all, this person that was let into the museum

was unauthorized.

So anytime you see that unauthorized people

gain access with ease, it raises a lot of questions

about what the guard might have been doing that night

or his thought process.

Of course it leads us to believe, "Who was this person?"

It was almost exactly 24 hours before the heist.

You cannot just look at this video and say,

"Oh, it could be anybody."

The public should know that before we released it,

we spent an extraordinary amount of hours-- many--

looking at this and trying to determine on our own

who it was.

So we didn't just throw a video out there.

We've worked really hard to try to figure out on our own

who was this person that came in.

We'd really like to talk to him.

And now that we were unable to do it using our own resources,

we decided, all three of us--

the U.S. attorney, the FBI and the museum-- we decided,

well, let's put it out there,

sort of like a crowd-sourcing endeavor.

>> BOWEN: Well, as I mentioned, you're here also

to talk about your book. >> Sure.

>> BOWEN:The Art of the Con.

This is fascinating.

You talk about the fakes, frauds, and forgeries

that have existed in art history--

throughout history, centuries, you talk about,

going back to Gilbert Stuart.

How is it that it is still so prevalent?

>> It's true and, you know, I've written that I think

that art forgeries have existed as long as art has,

maybe one day less.

And you're right, it does go back to Gilbert Stuart

here in the United States.

I think that in the earlier days of art forgery,

you didn't have the scientific advances where we can take

a painting and take one little, tiny specimen

that you wouldn't even notice was missing, and examine it

as if it was DNA to see, is this consistent

with the materials the artist used?

That wasn't always the case, but today it is.

And what I have found, when I did the research

for this book, is that the art of art forgery

isn't so much the talent of the artist

in tricking the eye, it really exists in the ability

to come up with a clever backstory,

to come up with this phony provenance for an artwork.

That is what seems to sell it

when they're pulling these scams.

>> BOWEN: Why isn't it their skill that matters?

Because I was also struck... you talk about,

I mean, there are very prominent people

that have been duped-- gallery owners, art historians.

A gallery was taken down by a major fraud...

>> Right.

>> BOWEN: And is it because they look past the skill,

or is the skill that good that they have to buy

into something else?

>> The skill is very good, don't get me wrong.

I think the greater point is that there are many artists,

say here in Boston, who can make really strong,

believable copies, especially of impressionist works

and abstract expressionist.

Those are the ones you see copied most often

in these big flimflams-- I love that word.

And that's important.

You have to be able to trick the eye for these people.

You have to be able to pass some sort of connoisseurship.

But I think there are a lot of people who can do that.

>> BOWEN: One of the things I find so infuriating

and you talk about how lenient

these sentences are-- in fact, they are so lenient

that some of these forgers have turned around

and the moment they're back out,

they engage in the forgery again.

Why is the justice system so light in these cases?

>> You know, I think the justice system looks

at something like this, and I've spoken to people,

in doing interviews for this book, who say,

"Well, it's sort of a victimless crime."

And at first glance you'd think, well,

the general perception is who's getting fooled here.

Very, very rich people.

So there's some sort of class war going on there,

I think, in public perception.

People don't realize that, for instance,

when you make a forgery or a number of forgeries

of a Max Ernst work,

you're affecting that man's life's work.

You're affecting the value of it.

You're affecting his reputation.

Whenever people go to museums in the future and they see one,

they might have this shadow of a doubt-- "is this real?"

You know, Thomas Hoving said that 40% of all the art

in galleries and museums is fake.

>> BOWEN: I wanted to ask you about that.

I mean that is chilling-- is it not?

I mean, you are the director of the Gardner Museum.

Do you believe that 40% of the Gardner's holdings

might be fake?

>> Well, I would say none of it is,

because the Gardner is, as you know,

it's a unique institution--

the way Mrs. Gardner collected her art.

We just had a meeting about it:

her careful cataloguing the provenance behind the work.

>> BOWEN: But this was happening in her time too.

>> It was.

So I think museums in general, I think the bigger problem

might be misattribution rather than some purposeful fraud.

But when I think about that 40% figure, I think,

that's probably high and if you speak to people

in the art world, they'll agree.

However, let's suppose it's high by a factor of ten.

Well, that's still four percent of all the work in a museum.

And museums have thousands of pieces.

So it is chilling to think what you're looking at

might not be what you think it is.

>> BOWEN: I was wondering as I was reading this too,

how much these frauds and forgers are helped

by what happened after World War II

and during World War II when a lot of this art

was confiscated and it went into this vacuum

and suddenly documents were lost and attribution was lost.

How many people are leveraging

that very dark period of history?

>> You are exactly right.

And in my book, the two most profitable scams by far

were the Beltracchi scam

and the one involving the Knoedler Gallery.

And in both cases, the art that was put forth

by the con men was purported to be "degenerate art"

that was hidden from the Nazis in private collections

and now, left to descendants, grandparents passed away,

and now we're bringing it forward because it's safe.

And here's this quote-unquote "degenerate art"

that we want to sell.

That has had the biggest impact in terms of dollars

of the cases that I've researched.

But you're dead on.

It's this World War II provenance issue.

>> BOWEN: And can it... is there anything to guard against it?

A lot of the documents are just lost.

That's how it will always be, right?

>> Well, a lot of the documents might be lost

but the careful examination of the backstory,

because, you know, there's no standard for provenance.

It sort of is what it is.

It's whatever someone puts forth to try to convince you.

Beltracchi uses a photograph he took of his wife

posing as her own grandmother, with the paintings on old paper,

on old film to fool people.

But fortunately, as you began this conversation,

the science that's available to examine this art is tremendous.

And there are scientists who are also art conservators

and art historians and when they combine that,

those fields of knowledge, they're able to discern

whether things are fake pretty accurately.

>> BOWEN: Well, Anthony Amore, the book isThe Art of the Con.

As tough as it is to read, it's better armed, right?

Better to know this.

And we didn't even get into people creating artwork

that never even existed, which is

a whole other fascinating chapter you write about.

ButThe Art of the Con.

Thank you so much for joining us.

>> Thank you, Jared.

>> BOWEN: And finally we take a look at a film festival

in Denver, Colorado, showcasing the voices

and perspectives of women,

both as subjects and storytellers.

>> Stories go back so far to our very roots

and that's how we pass down our culture,

that's how we pass down our history,

that's how we learn about ourselves

and what's happening in our world.

I think that film, movies, to me, are the most impactful way

of passing on those stories.

>> Film can influence the way we see the world,

film can influence the way you and I interact,

film can bring about change.

I pitched the idea of the festival five years ago

to the Denver Film Society.

When I was watching films to program for the festival

there was a documentary about a woman who brought

12 of her family members over from the Congo

during the genocide and she wanted to go back

and start reconciling with her country.

So there was a line in the documentary where she said,

"If we don't speak up, nobody will know we are here,"

and the light bulb went off in my head and I said,

oh my gosh, that's the name of the festival, is Voices,

because part of the mission of the festival

is to bring stories of women from around the world

to the public and to our viewers.

>> It's so important to have a woman's voice

in the storytelling in the world.

I mean over half of the population is women.

We want to hear our stories told.

And we see the lack of women in the stories

because most of the stories are written by men,

so I think we're seeing a lack of women's touch in film.

>> That's not what this documentary is about anymore.

This documentary is you finding truth.

>> We started filming Bernie and that's when we realized

the depth of what she was going through.

>> What is the worst fear you have?

>> It's kind of like all the pieces of my life

are coming together in this one big day.

Why am I doing this?!

>> When you look at women between the 1920s to mid-'60s,

they say there were really only two women in Hollywood

that made movies.

With the big studios from 2009 to 2013,

466 movies were made and only 22 were made by women.

That's 4.7 percent.

And it's a little bit better in the independent movies.

There's about 17% are made by women

and documentaries about 35%.

Now it goes up and down over the years

but really it hasn't changed a whole lot.

>> Camera women, it's two percent,

directors, it's at seven or eight percent,

and only, I think, three of four women have ever

been nominated for, you know, best director.

So, I'm really excited to be back here

at the Women + Film screening series.

I really love that they empower women

and encourage female filmmakers.

>> Anything that we do that improves their self-image

and their confidence,

not to be seen as objects, not to be manipulated,

to trust their heart, to trust their instincts

and to be ambitious, I think is all to the good,

not just for the girls, but for all of society,

because you improve the woman, you improve the family,

you improve the next generation.

>> The festival is such a wonderful way

to create community around film.

So many people come together

and we'll do introductions of the film and show the films,

but we'll always have somebody there with the film

to discuss it afterwards.

>> Meeting the actual filmmakers, talking to them.

"How did you come up with this idea?"

"What are you going to do next?"

"What were your challenges?"

"Is there any way I can help?"

It's just invaluable.

>> I love doing the Q and As at the end of the film

and engaging with your audience, so you have an impact.

You see that excitement, right after they walk out

of the theater, there's just like,

if they really liked the film, there's just a spark,

and to capture that and have a dialogue,

and to have that engagement with your audience,

is so important to me as a filmmaker,

because you made it for them and to inspire them

and to encourage them to act.

>> Whenever it comes to showing films,

one of the biggest things to look for is,

are we entertained?

And by that, that doesn't mean necessarily that it's fun...

>> She told me that she's going to be there for a little while,

but she told me that...

That I'll be sad because she's always there.

>> Even if it's a hard topic that we might be showing,

I just can't say enough about how many people

have come up to me after a film

and said, "Oh, my God, I didn't know."

So I'm always surprised at how many people

we are actually educating by showing our films.

Why I love film festivals so much is the ability

to connect an audience with a story,

and I don't think there's any other medium that does that.

>> There's just an energy about it,

and an empowerment that comes from that,

and encouraging the other future filmmakers.

>> Film can do that.

It certainly has helped me, and I think it helps

a lot of other people as well.

>> Films can create empathy,

they can promote understanding,

and they can even create social change.

>> BOWEN: That is all for this edition ofOpen Studio.

Next week, coming of age and coming to terms.

Benjamin Scheuer joins us about his smash hit musical,

The Lion.

And with the discovery of a staggering collection

of photographs come the fascinating stories

of black life in Victorian England.

Until then, I'm Jared Bowen.

Thanks for joining us.

As always you can visit us online at:

wgbh.org/OpenStudio.

And you can follow us on Twitter:

@OpenStudioWGBH.

>> The con men came up with a great backstory, well,

they're degenerate art, and they were hidden

in Switzerland for years, my client's name is Mr. X,

I can't tell you the client.

Now that, you do start to say, why would you believe that part?

But it's this want to believe, it's this desire to say,

"I found something no one else has.

I'm going to make a splash."

And they suspend disbelief.

Captioned by Media Access Group at WGBH, access.wgbh.org

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