The New York Times picks up on the Peggy Cafritz fire in Washington, DC that destroyed a distinctive collection of African-American Art and tells how Ms. Cafritz is dealing with the aftermath:
“I’m hoping I can be strong enough not to be hit by that ton of bricks, not to become dysfunctionally sad,” said Ms. Cafritz, 62, as she sat on a couch in her temporary home this week. “Right now my emotions are submerged, like under water.”
The destruction of the collection is being mourned in museums and galleries too, particularly among connoisseurs of contemporary African-American and African art. Thelma Golden, director of the Studio Museum in Harlem, praising Ms. Cafritz’s “unique eye and incredibly refined aesthetic,” called it “a great loss.” Jack Shainman, the New York gallery owner, lamented the destruction of “a singular vision.” […]
Some of it was politically provocative. In addition to abstract paintings, nudes and more formally inventive pieces — an inflatable baby that looked as if it were breathing, stereo speakers bedecked in sequins — the collection included a slave ship fashioned from wood and African fabrics, by Yinka Shonibare; a painting of George W. Bush in a cowboy hat, firing pistols in a rain forest (“Bush Gardens,” it was called), by Thales Pereira; a photolithograph of a naked black woman titled “Not Manet’s Type,” by Carrie Mae Weems; and an ink-jet image of a black basketball player dangling from a noose, entitled “Hang Time Circa 1923,” by Mr. Thomas.
It was a collection that rarely left viewers unmoved, according to several artists and museum officials who saw it, though it certainly didn’t appeal to everyone, said Michael Chisolm, a New York art historian who completed an appraisal of the works last year for insurance purposes.
Traditionalists “would probably be appalled and horrified by Peggy’s collection,” said Mr. Chisolm, who, like Ms. Cafritz, declined to divulge the collection’s value. “But it was the kind of thing that a museum could take in its entirety and fill galleries with. It was really, in a sense, a monument to the place that artists of color, particular of African descent, have taken in the art world.” It also reflected the life and sensibilities of Ms. Cafritz, a wealthy African-American woman who is a prominent patron of the arts and a political fund-raiser, one who has long considered herself a bridge between the haves and have-nots in a city still polarized by race and class. Born in Mobile, Ala., she was for many years the wife of Conrad Cafritz, a white real estate developer from a prominent family. (They divorced in 1998.)
The Times adds a second story investigating the fire’s devastation, particularly the trouble firefighters had finding sufficient water pressure in several hydrants nearby to fight the blaze:
But fire officials added, in a preliminary report on the fire, “While low water flow unquestionably impacted the time needed to put out the fire, it is not clear that higher water pressure would have saved the house.” In the last two years Washington has had a spate of fires that have leveled major landmarks, including the historic Eastern Market, the Georgetown Library and a large condominium in the city’s popular Adams Morgan neighborhood, raising questions about the preparedness of the city’s fire department and the local water authority.
A Collection’s Ashes, a Heritage’s Seeds (New York Times)
Art Collection Burns, and Officials Offer Reasons (New York Times)