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My book on German Expressionist artists


Being surrounded by beauty
Eric Kandel Scientist
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I took a wonderful course in history of art when I was at Harvard, and it really sparked my interest in art. And when I met Denise she also had an interest in art, and she had an interest quite profound which she derived from her mother in objects - vases, furniture. Her mother had a wonderful collection of Art Nouveau furniture, and she gave us a fantastic Gallé table as a wedding present. She then later for my birthdays gave me several vases, and we have a wonderful collection of vases, of porcelains, of lamps, and of furniture from that period. And in Paris, we have Art Deco furniture which is somewhat later.

So Denise has a fantastic taste for being surrounded by beauty, really remarkable. I mean, you walk through our apartment, it's just riddled with what Jews would call chachkalas, little things that… well, even look at my office for god's sakes, most people don't have a crazy office like mine. That's number one. Number two, when we spent a year abroad in '62/'63, we first began to buy art. So we bought a painting by Weissbuch that reminded me very much of a Kokoschka; we could afford the Weissbuch, it was, you know, $150 or something like that. We bought a wonderful Picasso lithograph from the Vollard Suite which was $400, an artist and his models. And Denise liked another etching from the Vollard Suite even more. It cost $450 and we couldn't quite afford it, so for a recent birthday I've come back and bought it for her.

Then when we came back to Boston, we began to go to the galleries a little bit and we began to buy some Kokoschka etchings, and Schiele etchings. And with time, you know, as our income grew and we came to New York, we developed a very nice collection of German and Austrian Expressionists. So among the Germans we have a wonderful collection of Beckmann including two oils. Now, you tell people you have two oils, their eyes glaze over. These are two of the earliest oils he did, they're from about 1903. He visited his niece for a weekend at the seashore. She had a house there and as a present he painted these two seascapes. And we bought one of them about eight years ago and I wanted to get the second one then, but Denise didn't want it but I convinced her subsequently. This was from Jürgen Mars, a dealer in Berlin that we visit almost annually. We have wonderful etchings and lithographs of Beckmann, the Man With The Bowler Hat, several self-portraits, Edelbar, you know, a scene in a restaurant. We have his political commentaries, the conservatives and the radicals, really wonderful stuff. We have Kirschners, we have wonderful Noldes. And then we have the Austrians. We have a wonderful Kokoschka adolescent nude, we have a Schiele nude. The Kokoschka adolescent nude, this is… I'm showing off. The Obere Belvedere, Austria's most important Expressionist… Austrian Expressionist museum which had the original… not the original, it had the Klimt, a Bloch-Bauer. And so, they're having an exhibition on Klimt and Kokoschka, Schiele's women.  And two things:  they invited me to write an essay on that, but they asked to borrow one of our works of art. And it was this adolescent nude of Kokoschka's that they borrowed. Unbelievable that somebody would borrow… this is not that valuable, but nonetheless, it's a very nice image. For my 70th birthday Denise bought me a fantastic Klimt drawing, just fabulous, of a woman, elegantly dressed woman. And many people think the Klimt drawings are his best art.

So we've enjoyed this a great deal. We are constantly on the lookout. Not that we buy that much. We go to museums a great deal. We, for example, there was an Israeli artist called Moshe Kupferman, and we have a wonderful collection of Moshe Kupferman; we probably have the best collection of Moshe Kupferman in the city. Torsten Wiesel also has a good collection. And actually, we were in Israel together one time doing some scut work for the Israel Academy of Science, and they said, how can we pay you back? And Torsten said, well why don't you get a car for us to take us to the north of Israel, Kupferman works in a kibbutz there. And so we came and visited him, and he lived like a saint. He served lunch out of a… served us lunch, gave us a can of sardines, he opened up, and we all had a little sardines. And we saw wonderful stuff there, both of us bought something. So he's really like Jasper Johns, sort of an abstract artist, but we have maybe ten or 12 Kupfermans. We have one whole wall that is Kupferman. Actually have more than 12, I think that wall itself has 12 pieces. And he said as we were leaving him, 'I dream - and I'm getting too old to dream - that someday I'll have a major exhibition in New York'. Torsten and I turned to each other - New York, I mean, this is our town, I mean, you know? So we formed a committee, Ann Temkin was on the committee, this was when she was still in Philadelphia. And we began to call around. The Metropolitan Museum occasionally shows a modern artist, and they said, of course, we have several Kupfermans, but he's not for us. We called up the Guggenheim, we called up MoMA. All of them recognized and respected him, but didn't think they would do something. We call up the Jewish Museum and they said, you know what, he's not Jewish enough for us. So that was… So a mutual friend, who was affluent, brought him to New York so he could get at least to know the dealers, but unfortunately a year or two after that he died. But anyway, we have some wonderful stuff of his.

Eric Kandel (b. 1929) is an American neuropsychiatrist. He was a recipient of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his research on the physiological basis of memory storage in neurons. He shared the prize with Arvid Carlsson and Paul Greengard. Kandel, who had studied psychoanalysis, wanted to understand how memory works. His mentor, Harry Grundfest, said, 'If you want to understand the brain you're going to have to take a reductionist approach, one cell at a time.' Kandel then studied the neural system of the sea slug Aplysia californica, which has large nerve cells amenable to experimental manipulation and is a member of the simplest group of animals known to be capable of learning. Kandel is a professor of biochemistry and biophysics at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University. He is also Senior Investigator in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He was the founding director of the Center for Neurobiology and Behavior, which is now the Department of Neuroscience at Columbia University. Kandel's popularized account chronicling his life and research, 'In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind', was awarded the 2006 Los Angeles Times Book Award for Science and Technology.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Obere Belvedere, Gustav Klimt, Moshe Kupferman

Duration: 7 minutes, 21 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2015

Date story went live: 04 May 2016