October 31, 2014

From the Editor

For eye-openers, turn to “impact!” on p. 64 for the stunning works of five local artists. We’re hoping they will have the power to move you. The text is written by Donald Miller, who has been a regular and welcomed contributor to Gulfshore Life on art subjects. Just last month, he provided keen insight into Louise Nevelson and her Dawn’s Forest, the spectacular new addition to the Patty & Jay Baker Naples Museum of Art.

Donald’s been an art and architecture critic since 1966, including 43 years at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and has freelanced here in Naples since 2000. “Surely, with all this experience,” I said to Donald, “you’ve got memorable tales to tell and strong
views on the art of art criticism.” And so he does.

Interpret the Art? Oui. The Artist? Non.

“One of my first foreign adventures was interviewing French artist Victor Vasarely in his home east of Paris,” Donald recalls. “When it was time for a cab to the train station, no taxis were available. ‘I will take you in my new mooztoon,’ Vasarely said. We had been speaking French. I was at a loss—until I saw his red Mustang.” Nice vroom service, once recognized.

Wigged Out

Life with the Warhols. “I interviewed Andy Warhol in 1979 and kept wondering why the nape of his neck was darker than it should be.” Later, Donald discovered something about the art of presentation: Andy was wearing a wig. 

Intending to write a memorial piece on Andy 12 years after his death, Donald approached his brother, Paul Warhola. Paul was painting a can of Heinz Baked Beans—not Campbell’s, the way Andy had. “This news sped around the world,” Donald says. “Paul soon appeared on TV’s What’s My Line? He has now had many art shows. Why did he think people bought his work? ‘Because I am Andy Warhol’s brother,’” he said with refreshing candor.

Local Impressions

• “I was thrilled to identify a portrait of John Singer Sargent at age 25 by his friend Antonio Mancini in the Sheldon and Irma Gilgore Museum in Naples.”

• “Master artist Will Barnet, 99, who exhibits at Naples’ Harmon-Meek Gallery, is the only interviewee who said at the end, ‘Now, tell me about you.’”

On Life as a Critic

“A quality I look for beyond talent is an artist’s obsessive-compulsive attitude about his or her work. Of the important art stars I have written about, all knew what their plans were currently and for several years. This awareness separates top creative artists from others who offer little recognizable progression over several exhibitions. A critic wants to see how visual ideas grow over time.

“I am asked, ‘How do you know art work is good?’ First, I let the work speak to me in the gallery, calling my attention to it. I learn if the artist has a recognized standing in the community and art world and has paid the aesthetic dues of professional development. Also important are knowledge of art history and changing styles. They help me make choices. I have found that art, money and politics are closely connected. So are art, fashion and time’s passage. A wise artist and collector are aware of these conditions.

“Of course, as the ancient Romans wrote, there is no arguing about personal taste. Some people love tennis shoes, others dote on Ferragamo. It is a matter of sophistication, knowing what is available.

“Just as an era has a beginning, middle and decline, art movements develop, climax and weaken. Tension and interest grow as an older movement diminishes as a newer one rises. This necessary action is what is called art history. Abstraction’s hold on the 20th century has evolved into different modes from idea art to computer art and beyond. If you, the reader, only like realism, have you learned about newer artistic modes? Learning about art can be very exciting. It has been for me.

“Going to an art gallery or museum is like visiting a clothing store. Some objects have immediate appeal, some have none and others fall somewhere in between. The critic explains the difference, encourages talent and evaluates the result.”

Next month, Donald’s set to give us some new perspectives on Robert Rauschenberg. As ever, his enthusiasm alights on the Ferragamo, not the tennis shoe. Enjoy.