ARTS & COLLECTIBLES
KNOWING YOUR ART DEEPLY
An art collector’s personal space captures the breadth of his collecting passion that includes a 19th century Persian Bakshaish carpet on the floor and collectible Caucasian tribal rug on the wall.
One statement that has sustained me during my lifelong passion for antique Oriental rugs is this:
To know art deeply is a great adventure that yields extraordinary rewards. To be nurtured by great art and the inclusion of this appreciation in our daily lives can be the sustenance that helps us to become refreshed and balanced, even in stressful circumstances. For great art allows us to value life more fully. Art reminds us that we each have an inner life that wishes to be expressed.
Remarkably, the emotional value of substantial art has been celebrated since the earliest of recorded history. Haunting, richly detailed drawings created 30,000 years ago on the walls of the Chauvet Cave in southern France suggest that there have always been artists among us who have been moved to communicate their sense of wonder at the world. Building a relationship with art, either as its creator or as a viewer, taps into a basic human need and offers one of the most satisfying experiences we can have. Great art communicates substantially without the need for words. I relate to Abstract painter Mark Rothko, who said, that “people break down and cry when confronted with my pictures.”
Seichur Kuba tribal rug, circa 1875 Representing the tremendous variety of geometric rugs woven in the Caucasus Mountains during the 1800s, the striking heraldic “St. Andrew’s Cross” pattern emblazoned with rich, expertly dyed tones.
Persian Tehran, Late 19th century An astonishingly detailed “Tree of Life” tableau for which this city’s rugs are renowned, with a highly imaginative bevy of exotic birds and menagerie of animals, including a seldom-seen elephant.
I have always been deeply attracted to art, studying early statues of Grecian and Roman deities, Old Master and Impressionist paintings, reading Goethe, Dostoyevsky, and Joyce, listening to Beethoven and Chopin. But it was my exposure, at an early age, to the art of the finest antique Oriental carpets that was the most enriching. Through the end of the 19th century, the most dexterous Persian carpet weavers were the recipients of an unbroken artistic tradition that spans more than 2,500 years, one that married form and color into a profound expression of universal significance.
Although collecting art brings many dividends, the most precious is when an artwork touches this essential aspect. I have long held two experiences as my standard: I expect art to affect me nonverbally and non-conceptually.
One was when, while still in college, I visited Florence and saw Michelangelo’s David for the first time. I recall the experience vividly. For the next two hours, there was nothing I desired but to converse with this towering form. I understand now that my harmonious impression nourished a deeper aspect of myself that I had seldom been in touch with.
Starry Night over the Rhone, Vincent van Gogh 1888
The second experience came well before I started my gallery four decades ago; I bought my first truly great Oriental carpet, an elemental turn-of-the-19thcentury Dragon and Phoenix Persian Bakshaish that hangs in my office at my gallery to this day. It was a rare find then. In today’s market, it would be monumental. Though I’ve written and lectured about rug symbolism for decades, I’m more entranced by the power of this carpet today than when I first viewed it. Within a grand uncluttered medallion, four dragons face the minimalist depiction of phoenix heads, representing the masculine and feminine forces blending on the cosmic level.
Characteristic of great art, each time I look at my Bakshaish carpet, I perceive something that I had not seen or contemplated previously. Around the dragons and in its borders, numerous stylized animals, flowers, and plants prance and meander, serving as microcosmic reflections of the universal forces depicted in its medallion. In his book, “The Shock of The New”, The New York Times art critic Robert Hughes wrote, “The basic project of art is always to make the world whole and comprehensible, to restore it to us in all its glory not through argument but through feeling, and then to close the gap between you and everything that is not you, and in this way pass from feeling to meaning.”
As the president of an antique Oriental rug company for the past 40 years, I always talk to clients, in addition to discussing provenance and caliber, about how a carpet affects me personally and help them see what lies below the surface. After a while, even a novice begins to discover, or “receive,” the piece’s atmosphere. Their prejudgments fall away. “How beautiful,” some clients will say, while others simply grow quiet. It’s clear that something timeless has been communicated to them. Many of my clients consider themselves connoisseurs or collectors, while others simply enjoy being surrounded by beauty. For both groups, this aspect of interacting with great art is the same.
In their mountain home with a towering ceiling, these clients display a spectacular Tree of Life Persian Sultanabad in the foreground and a 170-year-old Persian Serapi at the rear.
I cannot know my art intimately without becoming sensitive to color. By studying rugs and other artworks, my clients’ eyes open and they learn to distinguish many more hues. They become sensitive to nuances and the interplay between various tones. They discover that as color interacts with form in a completely balanced way, the overall impact is greatly heightened.
And more. When color and design come into perfect harmony, they can create a sense of awe. When I stood in the same room with Van Gogh’s “Starry Night Over the Rhone,” at one moment, I saw through the myriad hues of blue in the sky and the river, how vast and integrated the universe is. And yet, like the two tiny lovers in the foreground of the canvas, I am a small, yet integral part of it.
The experience of watching the sunrise over the Grand Canyon was remarkably similar. In that twilight before dawn, I had stood with a group of strangers, all of us involved in various conversations. Then, just as the sun began to rise and the canyon wall lit up in an exquisite spectrum of hues, we collectively became silent. Faced with Nature’s monumental interplay of color, form, and light, together, we were enraptured by this display of the art principle of the highest magnitude.
On a smaller scale, the deeply patinaed colors of the antique rugs on the floors and walls of my home are profoundly affected by the changing light throughout the day and the seasons. The continual changes of their shades of color reveal seemingly myriad hues. The lanolin-rich wool, which long ago absorbed natural dye pigments deep into its fiber, produces a tremendous luminance and a mesmerizing depth that I rarely experience in other art forms. My rugs have taught me to appreciate firsthand the emotional effect that harmonious colors bestow, a sensitivity that greatly amplifies the enjoyment of my surroundings as a whole.
Persian Ferahan, circa 1875 A eminent example of the art of the Persian Ferahan weaving style with soft striations of rare honey and soft gold in the background supporting a delicate display of botanical motifs.
I recognize that I can only know an artwork deeply when I’m willing to enter into a “conversation” with it without preconceptions. We all have had the experience of speaking with a person we’ve already formed an opinion about, and thus we cannot really hear what they’re saying. Or listening to another person when we are relaxed and receptive. The same is true when looking at art.
Experiencing what a work of genuine art has to offer is analogous to the opening of a door, not only into the artist’s inner life, but to our own. It’s not unusual to become so intrigued by a specific artwork that it propels us to embark on a fascinating journey into learning about the artist, his or her regional aesthetics, period and influences, even the specific techniques employed to create the artwork. Art inspires us to gather knowledge willingly and to relish the study.
To begin to look receptively, we must suspend concepts of “value” and “importance,” even so far as to separate ourselves from what knowledgeable people, even experts, may have said. Analysis can come later, but at this moment, what matters is to simply experience the impact of looking, the effect the artwork has on us. To be moved by it without trying to figure out why. Aesthetic balance and harmony are not merely theory. They are something that can be experienced by anyone willing to look receptively, to tap into what Ralph Waldo Emerson called “what lies within us.”
I gravitate to art that simultaneously impacts me emotionally, intellectually and physically, which suspends my inclination to evaluate and ignites new insights, not only into the work at hand, but also into life in all its aspects and my place within it. This is a caliber of art that energizes and nurtures me, always enhancing, never diminishing. Having worked with clients at my gallery for four decades, I am renewed and tremendously gratified whenever we share that emotional vision.
Persian Hadji Jallili Tabriz, 3rd quarter, 19th century. Exemplifying the breath-taking beauty of this stellar city workshop, with an almost three-dimensional effect created by the elegant soft green medallion on a regal copper field.
Turkish Bergama, circa 1850 Reflecting the mesmerizing character of the finest 19th century Turkish area rugs, the field occupied by a powerful double “Sunburst” medallion and numerous ancient symbols.
Experiencing what a work of genuine art has to offer is analogous to the opening of a door, not only into the artist’s inner experience, but to our own. Regardless of the medium — music, literature, sculpture, theater, the intrinsic artistry of great weavings, or the natural majesty of the Grand Canyon at dawn—interacting with great art gives us a glimpse of our innermost aspect, a place of meaning beyond logical thinking and analysis.
What a longtime client told me, speaking about the many spectacular antique carpets and rare photographs he and his wife have assembled over four decades, can apply to any great piece of art: “My rugs provide a particular emotional reward that makes our lives more fulfilling.” And, as one extremely seasoned connoisseur told me near the start of my career, “Art stems from love. The response to it that we experience in our hearts is art.”
“The rugs show us that a sense of wonder is as valuable as ‘knowing.’ They reflect a life experience we have no access to,“ Winitz observes, “something we get a glimpse of when we spend extended time in nature. They invite contemplation and, in so doing, encourage us to do things fully. They nurture us both intellectually and emotionally.” Such magnetism was diluted, and eventually lost, as weaving morphed from a profound tribal art form to the “programmed” factory workshops of the early 20th century and beyond. Simply put, the ancient Caucasian weavers believed that process was as important as product, that each step—from raising the sheep, spinning the yarn and creating the dyes, to finally weaving the rug should be done to completion. Quality was never compromised for quantity, a value system increasingly absent today.
This is something above and beyond the rugs’ considerable decorative appeal and their value as collectibles and rare tangible assets. “By encouraging contemplation and reflecting the harmony that is omnipresent in nature, these folkloric weavings provide negative ions,” Winitz believes, those elusive, electrically charged, mood-elevating, anti-depressant molecules most likely to be found in proximity to waterfalls, thunderstorms, and exuberant plant life. No small thing, when you consider that the World Health Organization cites depression as a major contributor to disease, both physical and mental, across the globe.
“Over a half-century ago when I first met impassioned collectors, the engagement with Caucasian rugs was already strong, and their following continues to grow today,” Winitz stresses “and as long as premier examples can be found, they will continue to speak to some of our deepest emotions and our sense of wonder.”
The best of 19th century Caucasian weavings are a phenomenon that will not come again, as the circumstances that allowed them to come into being have been lost to history, technology and “progress.” That said, they are a gift passed down to a future the weavers themselves would not have been able to recognize, or imagine, but a gift immensely valuable nonetheless.