The Eye of the Shaman

During the last 10 years, a good number of people have come here to my home to see my collection. There have been all types: artists, collectors, critics, dealers and curators. But others, who have come to the house for other reasons, have also seen it: friends, neighbors, relatives, workmen, as well as parents of the kids who come to my wife’s preschool.

Most gratifying are those visitors who love the art right away, and can’t stop looking. They’re energized and delighted. Many of the people who work with their hands, have this reaction. Then there are those who are guarded or who keep talking to avoid facing the fierceness of the art. Art critic, Piri Halasz, barely glanced around, sat down, and began to write! Many go to the shelf where I display N.N.P. books and catalogues and start reading! Then there are North American and European artists who are intrigued and truly searching. They find my web site and come to see the works themselves. They’ve come to be inspired.

Most disappointing to me are those who don’t even acknowledge that the room is full of large, visually aggressive paintings which are virtually jumping off the wall. To them the visual world is a closed book.

There are also a whole group of artists, who come out of the same tradition as the N.N.P. but who won’t come, and find the whole notion of a post-Olitski development threatening. They’d rather not know. The painter Susan Roth dismissed my invitation saying that she and her husband, Darryl Hughto, had seen “all we need to see.” And of course there are also those who do come, but without an open heart. They come to say they came. Finally, there are those who are only interested in big name artists, the Salon Stars, and find my collection incomprehensible.

My most amazing visit came four years ago. The father of a little girl, Kayla, at our school, Ralph Peña, is a specialized nurse who worked with several Westchester hospitals. He also had a unique passion: studying the traditions of shamanic healing in indigenous tribes in the Amazon rainforest of Ecuador. He himself had been there many times, and had also led small groups from the U.S. into the jungles to visit with real shaman. Ralph had become a good friend of ours and had seen my collection. One day he came to pick up his daughter and asked me if I would show the collection to two guests whom he had in his car. One was a shaman! Ralph had just picked him up at the airport. His name was Don Esteban and he was from the Achua tribe. Ralph had brought him here to visit with, and conduct rituals for, a group Ralph had formed. His other guest was a New York painter, Donald Knowles, who was also part of Ralph’s group, but who had not met Don Esteban before. As we came into the gallery, I mentioned to Knowles that all of the painters in my collection looked back to Pollock as the founder of their way of painting. He immediately had a hissy fit, declaring Pollock “a complete fraud”. He walked back and forth ranting and raving (but not looking.). It all made him very angry.

The shaman, on the other hand, was beaming. He thanked me profusely and said he felt very privileged to “be in a place with so much energy”. He meant, of course, spiritual energy. He didn’t know from Pollock or even Picasso or Rembrandt. According to Ralph, who was translating, Don Esteban was from the “deep jungle.” He didn’t go around to each individual painting. Rather it was the sum of these that moved him. To me, this was another confirmation that visual art, like music, comes through at the deepest human level. I had the same sort of confirmation in 1993 when I had the privilege of visiting Lascaux Cave in southwestern France.