Open Studio with Jared Bowen

S9 E42 | FULL EPISODE

What the Nazis Stole from Richard Neumann and John Davidson

“What the Nazis Stole from Richard Neumann (and the search to get it back)” at the Worcester Art Museum. Singer and entertainer, John Davidson on “Club Sandwich,” in New Hampshire, Artist Shen Wei and the exhibit, “Painting in Motion” at the Gardner museum, and Reno musician, accordion player Corky Bennett.

AIRED: June 04, 2021 | 0:26:46
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TRANSCRIPT

>> A lot of the more shady art dealers

basically sent them off into private collections,

are much harder to get back.

>> BOWEN: I'm Jared Bowen, coming up onOpen Studio--

how the Nazis looted art and the ongoing quest to get it back.

Then clubbing with legendary entertainer Jon Davidson.

>> ♪ I'm going back to New Hampshire ♪

♪ 'Cause that's where I belong

>> BOWEN: Plus artist Shen Wei

painting worlds you can fall into.

>> You feel like you're thrown into maybe rushing water

or a cloudscape and you're kind of floating above it or in it.

>> BOWEN: And life according to the accordion player.

>> I love music.

and I like to make people laugh and be happy.

(accordion playing)

>> BOWEN: It's all now on Open Studio.

First up, for more than 20 years

there's been a concerted effort

to return art looted by the Nazis

to descendants of their rightful owners.

Part of a prized collection

is now back in the hands of one local family

and they're sharing it with the Worcester Art Museum.

At the end of World War II,

Allied forces made a series of discoveries--

cavernous stores of art the Nazis had stockpiled.

During the rise of the Third Reich,

Nazi officials ordered the looting of some 20 percent

of the art of Europe-- plundering museums and churches

and either stealing or forcing art sales from Jewish families.

Matthias Waschek is the director of the Worcester Art Museum.

>> The Nazis were very much after Germanic art.

They would have even called Rembrandt

"the quintessential German artist."

>> BOWEN: The Nazis targeted art they believed reflected cultural

or nationalistic pride.

The masterpieces were destined for a museum

Adolf Hitler envisioned for his hometown in Austria.

The end of the war brought an end to those plans.

But more than 75 years later,

at least 100,000 works of looted art remain missing.

>> A lot of artworks that had been found by the Allies

in salt mines all over Europe,

and where they couldn't find the original owners,

were given either to Austrian museums or to French museums.

In France they had a label, MNR--

musee nacionaux restitution.

>> BOWEN: In the late '90s, a group of 44 countries

pledged to begin returning looted art.

But it was an imperfect process.

>> There was no systematic effort

to actually get them back.

The onus is still on the families.

>> BOWEN: Including the family of Richard Neumann--

a onetime Jewish industrialist and art lover from Vienna

whose collection was forcibly taken by the Nazis.

A fraction of his pieces is on view in the exhibition,

"What the Nazis Stole from Richard Neumann

(and the search to get it back)"

Tom Selldorff is his grandson

and last saw the family home when he was six years old.

>> At the age of six you don't remember very much.

I remember the big dark rooms and the, and the heavy curtains.

And the fact that

there were pictures on the walls.

>> BOWEN: Neumann's Vienna home was filled with paintings,

fine furniture, and decorative arts.

And, says Selldorff, routinely open to the public

per his grandfather's wishes.

>> He was very interested in having,

in getting people to appreciate art as part of the human,

say, the human condition, one of the things that makes you human

is the appreciation of lovely things and art

and things like this.

>> BOWEN: With the passage of anti-Jewish laws in Austria,

the Neumann family fled to Paris and then ultimately Cuba,

losing their entire art collection in the process.

>> Do I have any bitterness?

Not really, I was...

I was very-- personally very fortunate in that I was able

to miss all of the horrible things

that happened in Europe at that time.

>> BOWEN: With help of Austrian art historian Sophie Lillie,

Neumann's ancestors have had 16 of his pieces returned--

mostly from European museums.

>> It was the customs declaration

that was the basis for our able

to recover six of those from France.

>> BOWEN: The whereabouts of some

50 other works confiscated by the Germans is unknown.

>> A lot of the more shady art dealers basically sent them off

into private collections, are much harder to get back.

And they're beginning to surface at auctions.

And when they do, you have the opportunity to talk

to the consigner and see if you can find some accommodation.

>> One of the paintings, it's a Magnasco, was found

put up for auction and only came to the Worcester Art Museum

for this exhibition five or six weeks prior to the opening.

So it's still ongoing.

>> BOWEN: After a lengthy and onerous process

to prove ownership, Neumann's heirs have given these

returned works to the Worcester Art Museum

as a long-term loan,

and as a nod to Neumann's desire

for his art to be made public.

>> I'm very proud that our museum

is actually part of a form of repair that is done.

I'm really proud of that.

This is indeed not a national heritage,

but it's a world heritage, and as such it should be put on view

in a museum, and we're extremely lucky

that the Worcester Art Museum is qualifying for that.

>> BOWEN: Next, with a smile that doesn't quit

and a love of performing that's equally unyielding,

John Davidson is the consummate entertainer.

Now you can catch that magic up close at his new venue,

the intimate Club Sandwich.

>> BOWEN: John Davidson,

thank you so much for joining us.

>> Thank you. >> BOWEN: I have a big smile

because we've just been telling stories-- I just realized

maybe I should just throw out all of my questions and just

have you tell stories. >> No, no,

you always have great questions.

Thank you for having me back. (chuckles)

A lot of people don't have me back.

(both laughing)

Just kidding.

♪ I'm on the Jared Bowen Show, here I am ♪

♪ I'm on the Jared Bowen Show, here I am ♪

(stops playing) I don't usually sing like that,

I don't know why I'm doing Jerry... whatever.

>> BOWEN: So I just I'm going to ask this

because I just love saying it.

You're about to open Club... Club Sandwich.

Tell me about Club Sandwich.

>> I live in the Lakes region of New Hampshire

in a town called Sandwich.

So I wanted to have a music venue...

(strums guitar) ...where I could play and sing.

And so I'm calling it Club Sandwich.

I said to my best friend, "Look,

I'm going to call it Club Sandwich."

He said, "What is it, a deli?"

I said, "No, it's not a deli... stupid!

It's a musical venue."

And he said, "Well, you've got to let people know

that it's not-- that you're not going to serve hot dogs

and pastrami.

>> BOWEN: And this is such an intimate venue,

only about 40 seats-- and a swing?

(laughing) 40...

What's with the swing, John Davidson?

>> I always wanted to have a swing on stage.

And so I'm doing a lot of songs about New Hampshire

and one of them is on my swing.

The song that I'm singing on the swing is

(strums guitar) I'm doing a tribute to, in the Lakes region,

to Lake Winnipesaukee and summer camps.

So I sing ♪ Hello Muddah

♪ Hello Fadduh

♪ Here I am at

♪ Camp Grenada

Yeah, it's a very funny song

that came out long before you were born.

>> BOWEN: Oh, I do know that one.

>> I see.

♪ White Mountain fever

♪ Got me a singing a song

♪ I'm going back to New Hampshire ♪

♪ 'Cause that's where I belong

♪ All the girls in Dallas think I'm Texan ♪

>> BOWEN: (chuckles) >> ♪ New York City women

♪ Think I'm their toy

♪ Almost left my heart in San Francisco ♪

♪ New Orleans thinks I'm their Cajun boy ♪

Anyway, "White Mountain Fever" is one of the them

and a song that Ernest Thompson--

Ernest Thompson wrote "On Golden Pond."

>> BOWEN: Mm-hmm. >> Which was filmed on...

>> BOWEN: Squam Lake, right? >> Squam Lake in New Hampshire.

And he was also a songwriter, and he wrote,

♪ In the hills of New Hampshire ♪

♪ On a crystal autumn day.

♪ If you're looking for adventure ♪

♪ It's sure to come your way

♪ Meet me north of Henniker

♪ I think you know the spot I mean ♪

♪ You can see halfway to Canada ♪

♪ And every mountain in between ♪

♪ New Hampshire is calling as she always calls to me ♪

♪ And the flotsam on the Androscoggin ♪

♪ Where I'm walking by the sea

♪ Hiking to the top of Mt. Monadnock ♪

♪ Bike in Ossipee

♪ Down the backroads of New Hampshire ♪

♪ Is where I long to be

♪ I'm going home to New Hampshire ♪

>> BOWEN: Well, I do spend a lot of my summer,

as I have my entire life, in New Hampshire.

So I appreciate

all of this music-- so...

how has it been for you to adjust to New Hampshire?

I mean, you're, you're John Davidson.

You've been in movies and on big stages andHollywood Squares.

>> Welcome to the newHollywood Squares,

hello, celebrities. >> Hello, John!

>> BOWEN: Do you just got mobbed

walking down the street in Sandwich?

>> No, no. >> BOWEN: (laughs)

>> My career is where it is now, and I'm enjoying...

my favorite thing, even in my Las Vegas shows,

or on television specials, is to sing with my guitar.

I just love being a one-man band.

And so that's what I'm finally doing in this club

and I'm presenting a lot of other singer-songwriters.

>> BOWEN: Well, you worked with so many people,

so many of the greats... who had the most profound impact on you

in terms of having that understanding of how to be?

>> BOWEN: Well, Sammy Davis, I had his, a lot of his albums

and stuff because he was just such a great entertainer.

I like people who are not just singers,

but who're singer-songwriters, storytellers.

And that's what I'm going to bring into Club Sandwich.

I tend to take something from everyone I work with.

I wouldn't call it stealing, I would call it...

(chuckles) Borrowing attitudes, not direct lines, but...

Jay Leno was my opening act for years in... Vegas

and Reno, Tahoe, Atlantic City.

And I stole some attitudes from Jay Leno working.

I opened for Don Rickles twice.

And some of his-- the way he does it,

I like entertainers who are passionate about what they do.

And I think I've tried to get that passion.

>> BOWEN: What happens when you have such an intimate space

like you will in Club Sandwich?

Because you've also gone from,

as you were just mentioning, the big Vegas rooms.

Does the same personality, does that same energy carry,

whether it's a giant Vegas room or a small venue?

>> Well, it goes along with my age and where I am in my career.

I'm 79.

I'm going to be 80 December 13th.

Bob Dylan just turned 80 and I can relate to that.

At this point, I'm into lyrics.

I love to try to sing as well as I can.

And I'm-I'm a trained singer for Broadway.

And so my, my, my-- I'm singing as well as I've ever sung.

My voice feels great.

But I'm interested in telling the story

and getting into the lyrics more so than I used to be,

you know; I never had a hit record.

I'm, I'm... I've done... I'm a jack of all trades.

I'm a Swiss Army Army knife as opposed to a spear.

You know, a lot of people are spears

like Tony Bennett and Johnny Mathis.

They do one thing and do it very well.

I'm a Swiss Army knife in that I've-I've done sitcoms

and Shakespeare and Broadway and Las Vegas and...

Disney movies, "The Happiest Millionaire"

and "The Family Man," and I like the intimacy

of doing... (clears throat)

of doing tunes on just my guitar.

(strums guitar)

♪ I have a quiet room

♪ A room nobody can see

♪ It's a secret place

♪ That's all my home

♪ And only I have a key

♪ Oh the rest of my life is an open door ♪

♪ Its features can all be known ♪

I think I can share my quiet room, intimately,

at Club Sandwich like I never could before.

>> BOWEN: Finally, you just mentioned turning 80

in December, how people always get...

often get hung up on the big numbers.

How are you feeling about it? >> I remember thinking

at 26, "I don't think I'll make it to 30."

It's kind of a negative thing-- well, kind of, you think?

And so I want to make the most of life.

"Do not go... do not go gently into that good night,

rage, rage against the dying of the light."

I... >> BOWEN: (chuckles)

>> I want to make the most of it.

I want to chew it up and then just fall over on stage.

(chuckles) "Well, what's wrong?"

"Well, he just-- he died,

but he was doing what he, what he wanted to do," you know?

>> BOWEN: It's harder to do when you're in a swing.

>> Yeah, in the swing!

I'll just keep swinging and they'll say,

"I think he's gone,"

"He's still swinging!" (laughing)

>> BOWEN: John Davidson, as always, thank you so much.

>> Thank you, Jared.

>> BOWEN: Your chance to set Chekhov characters free.

It's all a game in Arts This Week.

>> You are now inside the chekhovOS.

>> BOWEN: Arlekin Players Theatre invites you to liberate

Chekhov characters with the virtual play

chekhovOS/ an experimental game/.

ArtsEmerson hosts, along with an artist talkback, Sunday.

At MASS MoCA, artist James Turrell

has transformed a concrete water tank into his largest ever

free-standing circular Skyspace.

Discover his immersive light installation"C.A.V.U.,"

Monday.

Thursday, Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops

begin streamingThe Roots of Jazz: American Voices.

The performance traces the development of jazz

from Duke Ellington all the way to the modern Jazz

of Dave Brubeck.

Thursday also marks the premiere ofAlice In Rainbowland.

The on-demand production, presented by OBERON,

reimaginesAlice in Wonderland through music, dance,

and a celebration of queer identity.

>> The park will open with the basic tour you're about to take.

>> BOWEN: Friday marks the anniversary

of the filmJurassic Park's premiere in 1993.

Directed by Steven Spielberg

and featuring then ground-breaking visual effects,

it set a box office weekend record of $502 million.

>> But John, if the Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down,

the pirates don't eat the tourists.

(roaring)

>> BOWEN: Next, he's not a magician,

but artist Shen Wei is very good at disappearing,

losing himself as he creates, conjuring ethereal lands,

and reimagining the human body.

His work is now on view for just a few more weeks throughout

the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

On the façade of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum,

a woman in red.

She is a figure of passion,

her writhing traced on the ground beneath.

Inside the museum, we see her on film,

a spirit gliding through galleries.

>> There's something kind of surreal about many of his films.

>> BOWEN: He is Shen Wei, a Chinese artist who mesmerized

an international audience of four billion people in 2008

with his choreography

at the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony.

>> That's about as public as you can get.

And he's, you know, celebrated worldwide.

He's, he's a cultural icon in China.

>> BOWEN: But in all the time he has been creating dance

and films for public audiences,

Shen Wei has been very quietly creating work for himself--

these paintings,

some on view for the first time at the Gardner Museum

where Peggy Fogelman is the director.

>> You can see that he was

thinking about cosmic forces, right?

And so many of these paintings in this, in this series,

because there's no horizon line, you know, you feel like

you're thrown into maybe rushing water,

or a cloudscape, and you're kind of floating above it or in it.

>> A lot of times, I felt all the paintings I...

it's more like a journal.

>> BOWEN: We spoke with Shen Wei from his parents' home

in Hunan Province, China,

where he's settled during the pandemic.

He says his towering paintings in the museum are less about

what he's painting than what he's feeling.

Although that never stops people from finding figures,

landscapes, and stories in his work.

Especially in this piece titled "Untitled, Number 8."

>> When I paint that one I really didn't think

I was trying to paint a human figure in the middle.

People think it's a human figure riding like a riding a lion,

flying, crossing a, you know, mountain or flying in the air.

When I paint I didn't think that at all.

I was just thinking that I want to use the black paint

more like, you know, energy.

>> BOWEN: One that consumes him.

Shen Wei insists on being alone when he paints--

sometimes for months on end.

Sometimes even he is not entirely present.

>> The large piece I've faint down twice.

I wake up in the middle.

I didn't even know when... how long I slept.

You know, didn't know I...

because I forgot to eat when I paint.

>> He's like in a form of meditation, deep meditation.

And so it takes him a while to get back on the ground.

And that was very interesting to see.

>> BOWEN: Curator Pieranna Cavalchini invited Shen Wei

to be an artist-in-residence

at the Gardner in 2018--

a stay that led to the inspiration for his film,

Passion Spirit.

It, along with his choreography and painting,

have an ethereal quality born, the curator says,

of his desire to connect to greater things.

>> He has developed this technique, which is where

you have this energy in your body, your heart, your blood,

this idea of being connected to the universe

and it's, it's... it's a very strong spiritual element,

really, in his work.

>> BOWEN: Shen Wei has been a working artist

since the age of nine, when he entered opera school in China.

And as these early notebooks reveal,

he was charting choreography by age 14.

>> I thought, "Oh, this is something all the children do

at school and the teacher makes them do it."

No.

This is something he invented and for himself.

>> I was just thinking, "Oh my God,

"if I forget all of these things teacher taught me,

"what am I going to do?

I love so much."

But then I start to find a way

to write down, to make puppets,

and drawings to write down all the movements.

>> BOWEN: Some 30 years on,

he still maps out his dance and films.

But in his paintings,

he harkens back to centuries of art history.

From the ancient storied scrolls of the Song Dynasty,

to the dark, roiling images conjured by Dante'sInferno,

to 20th century American abstract expressionism.

>> He says, "I am made of

Eastern and Western ingredients."

And he also talks about,

we are all solitary and alone,

but we breathe together.

And it's a beautiful kind of coalescence

of different influences, different techniques,

different art forms.

But then, truly, he's forged his own style.

>> BOWEN: We pay a royal visit now to the King of Reno.

That's the title given long ago to Nevada-based musician

and entertainer Corky Bennett,

whose acclaim has come from the accordion.

>> My legal name is Leighton Wiley Brumble.

Now a lot of people know me as Corky Brumble,

but even more people know me as Corky Bennett,

the King of Reno.

(accordion playing)

I grew up in a little town called Sequim, Washington,

back in the '40s.

When I was

seven years old in 1949,

I heard a guy play the accordion on the radio.

And I didn't know, but it was Dick Contino.

And Dick Contino in those days was a huge, huge star.

I heard Dick play, and I go, "Wow, that's awesome."

So I said to my mom,

"When I grow up, I wanna be an accordion player."

She says, "Corky, you can't do both."

So I became an accordion player.

(playing accordion)

About three years later,

my dad brought home a little 12 bass accordion.

He says, "Here, play this, try it out."

So I play it a little bit.

He says, "You like it?" I go, "Yeah!"

The next week he signed me up for music lessons

at a music store, downtown Seattle,

and I took to it pretty quickly.

About three months after I started,

they put a bigger accordion on my lap and he says,

"How do you like that?"

I go, "Wow, that's beautiful."

He says, "Well, that's good because your parents

just bought it for you."

And I started crying.

I thought that was so cool.

My parents had bought me a big boy accordion.

I was in a band called the Buckaroos,

and we were a little country band, and I was 11.

We played for the Kiwanis clubs, and the Rotary clubs,

and things like that.

Our moms made us satin shirts with fringe all over.

We wore cowboy hats and cowboy boots.

We were slick. (laughs)

The accordion is my favorite instrument in the world

because you can play so many different styles on it.

You can play polkas like...

(playing polka music)

Or you can play jazz.

(playing jazz music)

Country music.

(playing country music)

Or you can play like Cajun music.

(playing Cajun music)

(ends with a flourish)

The first gig I ever had in Reno, Nevada,

was at the old Golden Hotel.

This was in 1963 and then it turned into Harrah's Club.

That's how I honed my craft was doing shows in Nevada.

I do a lot of comedy in my shows.

I just like making people happy.

I was playing at this place called the Hardy House

on California Avenue.

And it was packed.

It was like a Friday night.

A guy comes up to me and says, "You know, Corky,

you're the King of Reno."

I go, "Really?"

Well."

A brand was born. (laughs)

I became the King of Reno.

The accordion works just like the human body.

The bellows are your lungs.

And they push air over reeds,

and the reeds are like your vocal chords.

And the more air you push over it,

hardly a pump or pull, the more air you're pushing

over those reeds and they get louder or softer.

Just like your voice.

And then when you press a key...

...that's like opening your mouth.

That's how the music comes out

and the sound comes out of the grill here.

This is the bass side.

This would be like the left hand of the piano,

where you play a note and then you play a chord.

The thing about the accordion is it covers the whole spectrum.

It can make people laugh, it can make people cry,

it can make people happy, sing along.

Accordion is great that way.

It's the most versatile instrument there is.

♪ Goodbye Joe, me gotta go, me oh my oh ♪

♪ Me gotta go pole the pirogue down the bayou ♪

I get emotionally charged up by music.

When I'm playing at home

I play things like "Rhapsody in Blue,"

Gershwin songs.

I play like "MacArthur Park," a Jimmy Webb song.

I love that kind of music.

It's my whole world.

There's nothing more important to me.

>> BOWEN: And that is all for this edition ofOpen Studio.

We are off for the next couple of weeks,

but you can always find my latest art news and reviews

on the radio--

every Thursday onMorning Edition

and regularly on Boston Public Radio

with Jim Braude and Margery Egan.

That's all on 89.7 GBH, Boston's local NPR.

We'll return June 25th.

Until then, I'm Jared Bowen.

Thanks for joining us.

And as always, you can visit us online at GBH.org/OpenStudio.

And you can follow us on Instagram and Twitter,

@OpenStudioGBH.

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