The Story of How Pop-Artist Icon Peter Max Saves the Statue of Liberty - 1981
Park West Gallaries
I HAVE MENTIONED PARK WEST GALLARIES in a couple of other hubs I have written, mainly criticizing some policies Carnival Cruise Lines has. Now you are wondering what this has to do with Peter Max and the Statue of Liberty; I am getting there. I ran into Park West Galleries back in 2004, on Carnival Cruise Lines because they hold art auctions on all of their ships as well as Norwegian and Regent Cruise lines. I knew nothing about art back then and what little I know now is a result of attending the classes and auctions they held on the six cruises I have been on since; oh, I also bought a little art.
Now, the nice thing about Park West, who is the, or one of the biggest, art galleries in the U.S., is their idea of making money is to introduce art, very good art, to regular people like me; they do a very good a job at it. I ignored them on the first cruise, then got pulled in on cruises two through five but was able to restrain myself, with my wife's help. On cruise six, however, my wife succumbed and we ended up getting the what you see on the right. Fortunately, several of those were give-aways or winnings from raffles but the Max, Gockel, Agam, and Britto definitely were not; my credit card is still whimpering, as is my wife.
But, one of the surprises from that purchase was I received an invitation to a Park West VIP land action at the Gaylord Palms hotel in Orlando, FL, which almost brings me to the point of this hub. This event is the next step up. It was fully paid for by Park West and included a Blue Man Group show one night as well as a private show by a wonderful magician who goes by the handle of Hannible, who only does corporate events (if you want his price and contact info, let me know).
The highlight of the show was that Park West brought in four major, internationally known artist to speak to us, be photographed with us, and simply hang around. They were Alfred Gockel, Tim Yanke, Nano Lopez, and the piece de la resistance, Peter Max. Gockel showed up Thursday evening and stayed through Sunday, Yanke and Lopez came in Saturday and stayed through Sunday, while Peter Max came in Sunday for the day. Each, accept Max, spent their time formally and informally talking with us, answering questions, getting photographed, signing autographs and making art. When left alone, you would find both Gockel and Yanke sketching away while watching the activities up front, simply amazing for just regular folk like us to observe.
The art around us was also the next step up from what you will find on a cruise ship, as well as the prices. You had a lot more work on canvas rather than serigraphs and you had sculptures, which are generally too expensive to present on-board ship; although Carnival is thinking about putting Nano Lopez's gorgeous works on permanent display on their ships (so long as he is still alive; they don't allow dead artists works on their "Fun" ships; dead artists aren't "fun", you see.) The prices ranged from around $200 to about $60,000.
While there were works of art from many artists scattered around in the two rooms in the convention hall Park West was using, most was devoted to the artist of the day. On Sunday, all you could see were variations of Red everywhere on canvases that ranged from 6" x 6" to 5' x 8'; it was Peter Max's day and he just loves bright colors. Even though he got to the airport at 6AM in New York, he arrived late because even the great Peter Max can get stuck on an airplane that breaks. But, arrive he did.
Peter Max's Interview
ENTER PETER MAX
SEVERAL HOURS LATE, Peter Max finally strolled in to meet us; nobody really cared that he was late. Max is on the diminutive side at 75, but not frail at all. He was very well dressed and soft spoken and as humble as you can be knowing that you are an icon and worth a billion or so; it was pleasant being around him.
He took a seat and began speaking for awhile about his early life and how he grew up and became an artist. He talked about what led him away from the classical art that he was taught to the pop art he became so famous for. Once he was done with his monologue, it was question and answer time; I wish I had a better memory. The only vignettes I remember is about how came about his inspiration for his "Umbrella Man" paintings and who is in the profiles he paints. For the latter, this is in memory of his first wife, Elizabeth Ann.
In the case of the former vignette, Peter Max spied, one rainy evening, Pablo Picasso leaving an establishment with a companion; they were walking away from Max and the companion was holding an umbrella for the two of them. All the great Picasso was doing was just walking slowly away, head scrunched down in the cold. On the other hand, to Max, the companion was the man of action; he was holding the umbrella, doing something useful. Hence, the Umbrella Man was born.
Then, someone in the audience ask Peter to relate the story about saving the Statue of Liberty. Max looked wistful, introspectively, he smiled and said he would be happy to. I won't relate much of the story he told, only fill in parts missing from the YouTube Interview offered to the right and to give some background.
Max has a magnificent flat in Manhattan with a view of the Hudson and the Statue of Liberty. In 1976, he decided to celebrate bicentennial by painting the Statue of Liberty. The following year, he and friends decided to continue and completed two pictures of the statue; the next year three; the next four. In 1981, he was going to paint six pictures, these are eight foot by four foot paintings, by the way, when one of his associates said he had a call from Nancy Reagan, the newly installed First Lady; "yeah, right". Max said ... it Was the First Lady. Well, Max relates, in more detail what I just covered and a little bit more in the YouTube interview, so I will skip to filling in some details.
The gist is, Max was invited to the White House to finish his paintings. While there, he was up on the scaffolding, painting away (we were hearing this, now, all ears, not the interview audience in the YouTube piece) when he notices a group of men approaching him from a distance; Max keeps painting ... and watching. Pretty soon (the White House garden lawn is rather large) the group was only 10 yards away or so when they split open and out walks President Reagan who proceeds up the steps of the scaffolding.and greets Peter Max.
Max says he is awestruck, being next to the President and knowing the Reagan's had collected 51 of his paintings so far. During the conversation, President Reagan reached down and picked up a brush and dipped it in some light blue paint, Peter relates to us. Straightening up, Reagan holds up the brush and asks, "do you mind?" There is Peter Max standing next the President of the United States who is holding a paint brush asking to apply his talent to one of Max'x masterpiece, what's he gonna say ... NO? Of course not, Peter says, he looks at the President and says, with great pride, "of course, you may, Mr. President."
On the painting Max was working on were to long "S" shaped curves, one white, one red; he had Reagan add a blue "S" to the pair. So now there is one of the six 1981 Statue of Liberty paintings by Peter Max that has a touch of President Reagan in it; how American is that!
From there, Peter Max went back to New York where he met New York businessman and Statue of Liberty historian, Bill Grace which leads us into a world of immense power and wealth and the saving of the Statue of Liberty.
POWER and WEALTH CAN MOVE MOUNTAINS
ACCORDING TO PETER MAX that Sunday afternoon, when he got home from the White House, Bill Grace, who is not named in the YouTube piece, talked his way into seeing him. From there, the stories between what you will hear on the YouTube version and what Peter told this audience, who was so silent you could hear the proverbial pin drop, are relatively similar. Grace convinced Max that the Statue of Liberty was doomed by 1986, if something wasn't done quickly. In our version, Max was quite humble about his ability to affect a change but said he would see what he could do. Again, in our version, after Grace left, he sat back, turned on his TV and saw something about Chrysler and Lee Iacocca which then brought to mind an old advertising friend of his who now owed a major ad company and who happened to work for Chrysler. Again, Peter mentions his name to us, but now I have forgotten it, darn it, but in any case he calls him and relates the story; Max is told someone will get back to him; by the way, this was also when Chrysler's "Buy America" campaign was just beginning.
Not very many minutes later, this is still the same night Max had returned from the White House, mind you, Lee Iaccoca's secretary calls him and wonders if "Lee" couldn't stop by around 11:30 sharp the next day ... again, what is Max going to say, NO? Of course, "Lee" can. From there, the stories are almost identical, except for the amount of money Iaccoca raised the next day when he showed up. I think in the YouTube piece, he raises $3 million in a few minutes and in our talk, he raises about $20 million; inflation, you know. From there, the story quickly ends noting that somewhere in the neighborhood of $350 million was raised by corporate America and the Statue was saved; not only then, but forever for enough money was raised to maintain the Statue of Liberty in perpetuity.
One thing you will hear in the YouTube interview that we didn't get is that Max went back to Reagan to ask for government help in repairing this National Monument, this symbol of America. Through Michael Deavers, the Presidents Deputy Chief of Staff of Media Management, he was given a polite no, this wasn't in the governments purview to fix; not in the purview of the government to fix one of the most iconic and important monuments to America in America; go figure.
MY ONE PETER MAX (still waiting to be hung)
This is quick look at how things can get accomplished among the rich and famous; what money and power can get you. It is good example of Corporate Power put to good use; granted, it was for marketing purposes, but, hey, this is America, and I for one, don't begrudge them one dime of it.
What I do find disconcerting, of course, is the White House's reaction, taking an entirely hands off approach to something that is clearly in America's interest. What if, for some unknown reason, corporate America had not stepped up to the plate; had not seen the marketing potential in this, and did nothing? Would Reagan have simply let the Statue of Liberty collapse under its own weight in the name of fiscal Conservatism?
Fortunately, that didn't happen, and because of the efforts of a forgotten Bill Grace, and a not so forgotten Peter Max, America has a new Statue of Liberty,
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© 2011 Scott Belford