I have read with interest Mark Fefer's articles ("Seattle's Nazi Matisse," 9/3, "Sympathy and 'Fair Compensation,'" 10/8) focusing on the issue of the Matisse Odalisque currently in the Seattle Art Museum's collection. My interest is, of course, twofold. First, as one generally and very concerned about the issue of art spoliated by the Nazis and the difficulty that the families who have been able to identify their works as such have faced in attempting to recover them. Second, as chair of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project [HARP], which does archival research into the ownership provenance of works suspected of falling into that category.
Mr. Fefer's work is certainly to be praised, and Seattle Art Museum is certainly to be encouraged to be as forthright as possible about getting to the bottom of the issue of its Matisse so that it ends up in the appropriate hands. But in contrast to any number of museums that have simply engaged expensive lawyers to prevent them from having to do any research into their collections, SAM has taken the first step, both in funding research and in widening the circle of responsibility and awareness to include prominent galleries and auction houses; it seems clear, from this vantage point, that SAM's intention is not simply to draw the Rosenbergs into an impossibly expensive lawsuit.
The initial phase of such research represented more than 30 days of work (more than 200 hours) done over a good number of months on the part of HARP; I was either misquoted, misunderstood by Mr. Fefer, or possibly by my own slip of the tongue misstated that research was merely 30 hours. SAM has begun the painstaking process of ascertaining the absolute truth regarding its Matisse; representing the museum as simply putting stiff-necked resistance in the path of justice is not fair at this time.
Ori Z. Soltes
chair, Holocaust art restitution project
Mark D. Fefer replies: I appreciate Mr. Soltes correcting the misinformation we published. He makes an important point that is worth emphasizing: that, unlike other museums facing claims, SAM has shown a willingness to seek the truth about Odalisque and its history. However, my stories have raised questions not about the museum's desire to conduct research but about SAM's decision to tie up the Rosenbergs' claim with the museum's own effort to extract compensation from Knoedler, the gallery that last sold the painting back in 1954. This tactic (which Mr. Soltes concedes is "disturbing") very likely will force the Rosenbergs into impossibly expensive litigation.
While it is good to hear that our city officials are more accessible through new computer technologies (and, indeed, seem to be getting swamped with messages, according to your story "E-maelstrom," 10/22), we should not overlook the fact that the new media are largely the preserve of the middle and professional classes. Thus, not all citizens are getting an increased ability to influence policymakers.
A number of studies now confirm that the distribution of computers (especially in the home , where operation is most comfortable) is highly skewed according to class (as well as gender and race). And despite the repeated claims of the technocrats that this is, somehow, a "democratic technology," all reasonable prognostication suggests that it isn't going to change all that much in the future. After all, although we have had national policy for more than 60 years to promote universal telephone service, 18 percent of African-American households don't have that technology (same for Latino families).
A number of years ago, several of us community activists tried to get the city to consider developing computers as a municipal utility, hooking up all households, in order to democratize this technological capability. The City Council at that time wasn't interested. Maybe it's worth looking into again?
Back to nature?
The article "The City Sleeps, the Bull Dozes" (10/22) documents the usual problems with many public agencies: understaffing, ignorance, complacency, and arrogance. At least the public process stopped some of the damage. However, the last line of the article is unduly pessimistic. It is not "more or less impossible to un-bulldoze a piece of property." Presentations at a recent meeting of the Restoration Ecology Society in Tacoma demonstrated many examples of creation, restoration, and enhancement of wetlands.
Success depended on careful and knowledgeable engineering and follow-up monitoring. In fact, when the dynamiting, bulldozing, excavating, recontouring, and replanting were done, it was remarkable how fast the land recovered and began to regain ecological functioning. Not every project works, of course, but it's definitely worth the effort.
Herbert Curl Jr.
Whaling on the Makahs
The Northwest has lately been witness to a flurry of illegal and unethical anti-Indian activity (e.g., the violation of NAGPRA law by refusing to let Kennewick man be buried, the violation of Makah sovereignty by the Sea Shepherd Society). As for the Makah "controversy," I am amazed at the ignorance and muddy reasoning displayed by the Makahs' opponents (see "Harpooning Conspiracies," 11/12; "Eat Mo' Whale," 10/15; "Wait and Switch," 10/8; "Free Buddy," this issue, p. 18). There are more gray whales now than we have ever counted, and it is estimated that there are more now than there were before commercial whaling began.
So why save the whales? Because they're big fuzzy mammals? Indians, being human (something that often gets forgotten) are fuzzy mammals too, but I'm not seeing the same level of concern displayed. As for the so-called "compromises" like "counting coup" on a whale, (I can't believe I even need to say this), Makahs are not Plains Indians. They are a separate people, with a separate culture. Whaling is vital to the resurgence and sovereignty of Makah culture—they've made that clear. There are plenty of whales for them to take five or less in five years, and they've been given the legal rights to do so. If you're really interested in preserving life and the environment, why not focus on ecosphere and biodiversity issues in the Northwest, like preserving salmon runs, something that NW Coast Indians have taken the lead in for years, and which (probably not coincidentally) has been ignored by mainstream media.
The disrespectful tone to your notice of the Seattle visit by acclaimed Cuban photographer Alberto Korda (Goings On, Visual Arts, 10/29) was inappropriate. You ran Korda's photo of Cuban revolutionary leader Che Guevara titled Guerrillero Heroico with the gratuitous remark that Che "could have been a shoo-in for a guest role in Planet of the Apes."
Your photo "critic" is entitled to his or her opinion—though the decision to remain anonymous may have been the only good judgment exercised. Your cynical snipe says more about you than either Korda or Che. Korda's photo—one of the most reproduced images in the history of photography—has inspired countless millions on every continent for more than 30 years. Why? Because the Cuban revolution remains a powerful example throughout the world. And Che, who gave his life in the struggle against exploitation and oppression, remains a beloved inspiration to those who continue to fight.
By the way, notwithstanding your cynical dig at this respected artist—and his subject—more than 300 people, overwhelmingly young, turned out to greet him and hear him speak at Seattle University on October 30.
Seattle Cuba Friendship Committee
Assistant Editor Soyon Im replies: Ms. Ahlberg, I may have cracked a bad joke, but I did not mean to be disrespectful to either Alberta Korda or Che Guevara. I am well aware of Korda's importance. In fact, not only did I publish that picture, noting in the caption that it was one of the most reproduced images in history, but I also announced Korda's lecture and exhibit twice in the Visual Arts calendar, under "Events" and "Alternative Spaces." I put a star next to both listings, indicating my recommendation. Wouldn't it be fair to guess that at least a few of the "300 overwhelmingly young" members of your audience were encouraged to attend because of what I had written?
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