Guffwatch - 'nonprojections'

March 2 2015

Image of Guffwatch - 'nonprojections'

Picture: Tom Bisig/Basel

Video art has at last found its equivalent to the blank canvas. A new exhibition at the Guggenheim in New York by Paul Chan shows projectors wirring away, but there's no actual film to see. It's a 'nonprojection'. Or, as the Guggenheim website states:

Nonprojections (2013–) [is] a body of work comprised of video projectors and jury-rigged, power-conducting shoes that are connected by specially designed cords. Although the projectors’ lenses flicker and strobe as if outputting videos, there is no corresponding surface on which imagery might appear. Holding their contents within, these would-be projections remain illegible phantoms, replacing a passive experience of moving images with one that Chan characterizes as “inner-directed, like the ghostly visual impressions that one conjures up in one’s mind when reading a good (or bad) book.”

'Holding their contents within...'

Nonblogpost

March 2 2015

This blog post is holding its contents within.

National Museum of Iraq re-opens

March 2 2015

Image of National Museum of Iraq re-opens

Picture: Reuters

From Iraq, some slightly better news. The National Museum (above) has been re-opened for the first time in 12 years. But, as the BBC reminds us, many items are still missing, having been looted after the dumbest war of modern times 2003 invasion. 

The Iraq Museum estimates that some 15,000 items were taken in the chaos that followed the toppling of Saddam Hussein. Almost one-third have been recovered.

How the V&A secured Wolsey's Angels

February 27 2015

Image of How the V&A secured Wolsey's Angels

Pictures: BG

I recently went to see the V&A's splendid new purchase, the four c.1524-9 bronze angels by Benedetto da Rovezzano. The angels were originally designed to go on Cardinal Wolsey's planned tomb in Westminster Abbey - but the tomb was never built after he was charged with treason.

In the Antiques Trade Gazette, Roland Arkell has the full story about how the angels were discovered, and how the V&A was able to acquire them.

First, the discovery:

The first suggestion of the existence of the angels emerged in the early 2000s. Italian scholar Francesco Caglioti chanced on a pair of bronzes owned or part-owned by the Parisian works of art dealer Guy Ladrière. The world authority on Benedetto, Caglioti compared the sculptures with those catalogued in an inventory of Wolsey's possessions in 1530, and the details matched exactly.

The V&A became aware of the discovery, but it was not until 2008, when a second pair of angels was tracked down at Harrowden Hall, a country house in Northamptonshire, that the case became more compelling.

It was a remarkable discovery and offered the unexpected opportunity to reunite four works of sculpture so intimately connected with the course of British history.

What a great piece of scholarship and connoisseurship from Francesco Caglioti. Amazing.

But - as Arkell writes:

[...] there was a problem.

It emerged that Harrowden Hall, owned since the 1970s by the Wellingborough Golf Club, had displayed all four sculptures from the tops of gateposts until as recently as 1988 when two were stolen. [...]

The remaining pair had been taken down from their prominent display for safer keeping inside the hall.

It emerged that the stolen pair had resurfaced six years later at an unwitting Sotheby's when, unillustrated and catalogued simply as being 'in Italian Renaissance style', they sold for just £12,000. Guy Ladrière (now of Galerie Ratton-Ladrière), acquired them soon afterwards in good faith and oversaw their repatination with a coat of 'bronze' coloured wax.

So what to do?

As soon as the club learned of the angels' provenance, they lent their pair to the V&A and were keen to monetise their asset. But any transaction would be far from straightforward.

The club were unable to sell their pair at auction because they formed part of the Grade I listing at Harrowden Hall.

Under English law the club also retained title to the stolen pair - but how would their claim stand up in France where Ladrière had acquired them in good faith and years had passed since the statute of limitations had expired?

Ultimately, a pragmatic compromise was reached, with the club ceding their claim to the stolen pair on the understanding that a syndicate created for the purpose would offer all four statues for sale on behalf of both the club and Ladrière. The resulting windfall should bring the club more than £2.5m to secure their future.

This raises some interesting points. First, it seems to me that the club have blundered by ceding so easily their title. The two angels were stolen, pure and simple. It should matter not a jot that someone subsequently bought them 'in good faith'. They're stolen goods. If we were dealing with two items that had provably been looted from, say, a jewish family by the Nazis, there would be no question of returning the works. 

Second, I'd be interested to know how the V&A has gotten around the question of the grade 1 listing. The ATG piece states that this would have prevented the items being 'sold at auction' - but as I understand it, the listing means they shouldn't be removed at all. 

And finally, the re-patination. I hope the V&A takes the newly applied 'bronze' wax off. It's ghastly, as you can perhaps see in the photo at the top. The angels look like cheap chocolates. They look infinitely better in their original state (above). 

Update - here's Hilary Mantel on the origin of the angels. 

Update II - a reader sends this helpful clarification:

I think the issue with the Angels is conflict of law - under English law, the golf club has title. Under French law, the new owner has title. It's unlikely a French court would accept jurisdiction of English law, so the golf club's claim is probably unenforceable in France. But it means they could sue for resitution if they're ever moved abroad, so their value is diminished. There was a similar case recently with the Marquis de Sade's papers, which were illegally exported from France to Switzerland. In that case the Swiss owners had title under local law, so a financial settlement was agreed there too.

I wonder what the value of two knowingly stolen works by Benedetto da Rovezzano would be in France alone? Ie, works that a new owner would know they could never export outside France? Not very much I shouldn't think. If the golf club settled for anything less than the great majority of the total £5m figure, they were (in my view) poorly advised.

Update III - a sculptor writes:

'I also enjoyed seeing  'Wolsey's Angels' the other day at the V&A. Unfortunately the wings which would have fitted into the slots on the shoulders are missing and would have mader them even  more splendid (see drawing). Concerning the original patination, I am sure Wolsey and Revezzano the sculptor would  have wanted them gilded like the angels on Torrigiano's tomb for Henry VII in Westminster Abbey, then recently completed, which surely would have been a great influence.

The nice green patina, originally on two of the angels which are now a brown colour , would probably have been sandblasted to remove the green patina before being re-patinated the brown colour. This is standard foundry practice. So reverting to the green colour, caused simply by being exposed to the weather for a long time would mean a complex re-patination process.

To save time in sculpting, and to maximise his profit, I speculate that Revezanno, like Torrigiano before him would made a left and a right handed angel- rather than four different sculptures. Two sets of each would have been replicated in wax in only two moulds, and worked on with added details to make them slightly different from their twins. All four would then have been cast by the 'lost wax' process.'

The Royal Fig Leaf

February 27 2015

Image of The Royal Fig Leaf

Picture: BG

I had a look at the V&A's newly restored cast galleries on Wednesday, and very fine they are too. I was delighted to see, on the back of the plinth for their full-size copy of Michelangelo's David, the above plaster fig leaf. It used to be fixed to David's, er, Goliath for royal visits. Apparently, it hasn't been used since the early 20th Century. How times change...

The $37 Picasso

February 27 2015

Image of The $37 Picasso

Picture: NY Post

A painting by Picasso stolen from the George Pompidou centre in Paris sometime in 2001 (they don't quite know when) has surfaced in New York, after it was sent by Fedex from Belgium. Cunningly, the contents of the package were listed as 'art craft', and valued at $37. More here.

Barbarians at the (Nineveh) gate

February 26 2015

 

Fuckers.

More here

Update - a reader writes:

I started to cry, I couldn't finish watching it.  I asked myself why and have no answers, just sadness.

Another says:

I hope the desecrators are punished.

Another reader makes this wider point:

I'll never forget my first visit to the British Museum...it was hard to pull myself away from the Assyrian reliefs.

I've just finished a course on the Early Middle Ages (Yale Open University) and remember Professor Freeman talking about how the Catholic Church was instrumental in preserving and communicating the knowledge of the Roman world.  And so it was with Britain et. al., saving knowledge of these pre-Islamic cultures.  All is forgiven.

While another reader sends in this photo of Sir Austen Henry Layard, who first excavated Nineveh in the late 19th Century, and says:

Should have taken all of them.

The Director of the Met Museum, Thomas Campbell, also put out this statement yesterday:

Speaking with great sadness on behalf of the Metropolitan, a museum whose collection proudly protects and displays the arts of ancient and Islamic Mesopotamia, we strongly condemn this act of catastrophic destruction to one of the most important museums in the Middle East. The Mosul Museum’s collection covers the entire range of civilization in the region, with outstanding sculptures from royal cities such as Nimrud, Nineveh, and Hatra in northern Iraq. This mindless attack on great art, on history, and on human understanding constitutes a tragic assault not only on the Mosul Museum, but on our universal commitment to use art to unite people and promote human understanding. Such wanton brutality must stop, before all vestiges of the ancient world are obliterated.

Update II - another reader writes:

Please remind any pacifist art historian friends what happens when ISIS reaches Cairo and Istanbul and then Athens.

Update III - another reader writes:

What I found interesting was the museum director saying we watched the video closely and there are things missing from the museum floor. Apparently ISIS knows how to make a buck or two.

Buckers.

Update IV - another reader adds a longer perspective:

Dreadful, stupid….. Although does it not remind us of the barbarities committed upon artworks by of some of our own fundamentalist puritan ancestors (historical ancestors, whether or not genetically ours)?  That is no excuse, of course, especially today.  “[T]he worst / are full of passionate intensity….”; and the rest of Yeats’ poem is no less apposite — I just hope his pessimism is unjustified.

Always, beware religious extremists with hammers.

View from the Artist - no. 16

February 26 2015

Image of View from the Artist - no. 16

 

A loyal reader reminds me we haven't had one of these for a while. Can you guess the location and the artist? No prizes, just for fun...

Update - well done to those of you who got it right: Canaletto's view of Walton Bridge in the Dulwich Art Gallery. 

And thanks to the reader who sent in this:

I reckon that today's "View from the Artist" is a detail from  Old Walton Bridge by Canaletto.   A feature familar to me as I drive across the current incarnation of it a least twice a day.  Sadly the latest bridge is not nearly as quaint (see attached illustration)  and the traffic is considerably more congested.  Fishermen still a frequent sight but the washerwomen have been supplanted by flocks of Canada geese.

Apologies...

February 26 2015

Sorry for the lack of service yesterday - I was away filming in that London, for the first day of the new series of 'Fake or Fortune?'. I was in the Tate archive for some of the time, which I've never been into before. It's deep in the basement of Tate Britain, which has huge metal waterproof doors, like the kind you see on a battleship. They're in case the Thames floods.

Always look at the back

February 24 2015

Image of Always look at the back

Picture: Art Daily/Barnes Foundation

Staff at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia have found two sketches by Cezanne on the back of two works in their collection. More here on Art Daily

How many years does it take to change a label?

February 24 2015

Image of How many years does it take to change a label?

Picture: BG

Answer; 6. And counting...

Six years after I first proved that the above portrait is not Bonnie Prince Charlie, four years after the Scottish National Portrait Gallery agreed to change their cataloguing, and one year after I made a telly programme about the whole business and found a better replacement portrait, the National Museum of Scotland (which I visited yesterday) is still misleading its visitors by displaying the above image as 'Bonnie Prince Charlie'.

It's a simple print, and would take about five minutes to replace. So it can't really be a question of time and effort. Is it instead that many people just don't care about these things? Worrying if so...

Update - a reader writes:

I loaned a minaiture to the [leading London museum] and it took [...] 4 months for them to have a label printed with my name on it and a brief description of the sitter... think it was in total 5 lines! I provided the info too although very easy to find in about 3 seconds online. Apparently 'that department' (printing lot...always take ages...) 

Raphael in ultra-high resolution

February 24 2015

Image of Raphael in ultra-high resolution

Picture: GAP/SKD

A number of pictures from the Dresden Gemäldegalerie have been put onto the Google Art Project in ultra, ultra-high definition, including Raphael's Sistine Madonna. Impressive (but not so good if, like me, you're stuck on BT Broadband). More here.

New online journal for British art

February 24 2015

Image of New online journal for British art

Picture: Yale Center for British Art

Good news - the Yale Center for British Art and the Paul Mellon Centre in London have announced a new online journal for British Art. The first edition of British Art Studies is due to be published in Autumn 2015. Says the Yale Center:

The Yale Center for British Art and the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art are pleased to announce their collaboration on a new online, open-access, peer-reviewed journal. The aim of British Art Studies is to provide an innovative space for new research and scholarship of the highest quality on all aspects of British art, architecture, and visual culture in their most diverse and international contexts. The journal will reflect the dynamic and broad ranging research cultures of the Yale Center for British Art and the Paul Mellon Centre, as well as the wider fi eld of studies in British art and architecture today.

The editors are keen to encourage submissions that will make the most of the journal’s online format and want to publish articles that propose visually stimulating ways of presenting art historical research. British Art Studies will be one of the few completely open-access journals in the field of art history, providing a vital forum for the growing debate about digital scholarship, publication, and copyright. An editorial group based in London and New Haven will manage the journal and an international advisory board will offer advice and support.

The first issue of British Art Studies is planned for autumn 2015, and the call for submissions, together with guidelines for writing for this new and exciting venture, has just been released.

Full details here

Museum attendance - have we reached bursting point?

February 23 2015

Image of Museum attendance - have we reached bursting point?

Picture: Independent

In the UK, museum attendance is up - there were 49 million visits to the 16 'national' museums funded by the Government's culture department (DCMS). That's a rise of 4% from the previous year (47m). Can all our museums cope with the rise?

But - the BBC's Will Gompertz points out that both the National Gallery and Tate have lost 'domestic' visitors:

The Tate has lost around a million domestic visitors in the last six years, dropping from a high of 4.5 million in 2008/09 to 3.55 million last year.

The National Gallery has seen its domestic visits fall by more than half a million, from 2.9 million in 08/09 to 2.3 million last year.

According to DCMS' latest figures, the National Gallery's visitorship is made up (in the last year) of 61% overseas, and 39% domestic. For Tate the figure is 50/50. Go outside London, and the figures swing much more towards UK visitors - the National Museums Liverpool, for example, has just 16% of its visitors coming from overseas.

Anyone visiting the National Gallery can tell that the number of overseas visitors has increased. It may be something to do with the reduction in blockbuster exhibitions, or it may even be that the crowds are putting off regular UK visitors. The National Gallery has seen an impressive growth spurt; from 4.4m visitors in 2008/9 to 5.9m in 2013/14. The headline numbers for Tate, by comparison, show on average the total figure is quite stable between: 7m and 7.5m since 2008/9. Indeed, last year it saw an overall decline in its visitor numbers, from 7.75m in 2012/13 to 7.03m in 2013/14. You can look at the data here.

The Grumpy Art Historian is worried about the implications of more and more visitors to places like the National Gallery:

Dozens of the greatest masterpieces are now almost impossible to see. But visitor numbers are an easily quantified 'performance indicator',  and everyone pays obeisance to the gods of access and inclusion, so no one wants to talk about it. The global population is about seven billion. If we assume seventy sentient years and one visit per person per lifetime, that implies visits to the world's greatest museums will rise to a hundred million (about a fifteen fold increase for the busiest English museums). However you play with the numbers, a bigger and richer population with increased leisure time and disposable income will mean increased museum visits. And it will be simply impossible for everyone to enjoy equal access.

It is true that the National Gallery can sometimes feel that it is bursting at the seams. At least in the more popular rooms. It's always quiet in the French 17th and 18th Century galleries, for example. Some worry about time limits, re-imposing visitor charges, or re-visiting the photograph ban. But whether we like it or not, rising museum attendance is here to stay - and that's a Good Thing. I'm delighted that more and more people are interested in art, even in 'old' art, and well done to the National Gallery for building its audiences so successfully.

For me, the solution to this problem is perfectly simple: open longer, and build. 

First, opening times. I'm not surprised that the number of UK visitors is declining in places like the National Gallery: most of us are at work when it's open, and somehow we've all gotten busier, so weekends are often taken up with other things. The occasional late night opening is helpful, but it's usually on a night when you're not free. However, if places like the National Gallery were regularly open till, say, 8pm or 9pm, then many who work in London or nearby would be able to visit more regularly. Many come up to London for a play or other evening event - why must visual art only be a day time activity? Obviously, the same goes for other institutions all over the UK. I'd also wager that later opening times would help with fundraising, for you'd get in an entirely different audience than, say, the overseas tourist who is hardly likely to become a long-term gallery supporter.

And secondly, building: the National Gallery has been too small for some time now. And yet it owns the freehold of a vast site behind the Gallery, on Orange St, which is currently a hotel and office block. It needs to be turned into a new extension, and swiftly - but the Gallery trustees are wedded to the idea that it should be kept as a cash cow, by letting out the site. In fact, the site is quite decrepit, and costs a lot to maintain, so that in 2013, the last year for which I can find figures, it pulled in only £2.3m. 

An entirely different and more radical solution to the problem of visitor numbers has been arrived at by the Liechtenstein collection in Austria. The Prince of Liechtenstein decided that the vistor numbers there were so low, and dwindling, that he would shut the museum, and instead take the art to the people, so to speak, with an expanded programme of loans. In this new interview, the Liechtenstein Museum's director, Johann Kraeftner, speaks about the problem of reacting to shifts in vistor patterns:

On the one side, the prince didn’t want to keep the museum open daily from 9am till the evening because the attendance was low. It is a general trend. I’ve just been in Munich and there too the museums are empty. All the people seem to focus on the big museums, like the Louvre in Paris or the National Gallery in London. In Vienna just the Kunsthistorisches Museum is attended, while the rest is empty. What we want to do is to bring our pieces to the people around the world and set our aims. Collectors are getting more and more public, more and more famous so we get a lot of request to collaborate and put on display our exhibitions. We will contribute to an exhibition in Mexico. By the way we are also discussing some possible exhibitions in the Middle East, when these museums will be ready.

As I'm not one of those who frets about moving paintings around (they're generally much tougher than people think), I'm all in favour of the Prince's new direction. That said, I was lucky enough to go around the Museum in Vienna last year on a private tour; the Rubens/Van Dyck Decius Mus paintings, for example, was a great treat to see in private (and well worth the eye-watering admission price of €500).

Update - a reader writes:

Last week I visited  the current John Singer Sargent exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. Despite there being tickets for timed entry, the rooms many very small, were completely packed. I saw some great pictures but there may have been many more I could have seen if only I had not needed to peer over the six deep crowds in front of every picture. As a viewing experience it was really very poor indeed. Surely our  National Galleries in London can do better than this?

Another reader writes:

I am one of the overseas visitors to European museums.  When I first began to travel to Europe, I  would visit "the must sees" the National Gallery, Louvre etc, and I am so very glad I did.  Now I look for the smaller gem of museum such as the Dulwich Picture Gallery and the Courtauld Gallery that I will visit for the first time in November.

I would call too many museum visitors a good problem but, I would suggest finding a way, not only in the UK but in the US of promoting smaller museums for visitors to explore.

While another asks:

I visit a national museum in London at least twice a week, I've never been asked my nationality during my visit, on what evidence is the assertion that the number of domestic visitors is in decline?

The Battle of the Goya Self-Portraits

February 23 2015

Image of The Battle of the Goya Self-Portraits

Pictures: Musée Goya and Musée Bonnat-Helleu.

On Hyperallergic, Benjamin Sutton has a neat summary in English of the story of a newly authenticated Goya self-portrait in France, above. The picture belongs to the Musée Bonnat-Helleu in Bayonne, and was authenticated by the central French government service for museum art restoration 'using scientific imaging and analysis'. Yikes.

The trouble is, those who authenticated the above picture have decided that another version (below) which belongs to another French museum in Castres, the Musée Goya, must be a copy. Nonsense, says the rather splendid chief curator of the Musée Goya, Jean-Louis Augé; the Bayonne painting is a study for the Castres picture, which is also genuine. You can see Augé's response in the video here.

It's hard to judge on the images of course, but I'm with Augé. It's perfectly possible for both pictures to be 'right'. The Castres picture is more worked up than the Bayonne one, so the Bayonne picture could be a preparatory study, and the Castres picture a more finished second version. 

Beware restorers making attributions. 

On a wider point, it's been the case for some time now that Goya connoisseurship is in some disarray.

Fake sheikhs, money and Goyas

February 23 2015

Image of Fake sheikhs, money and Goyas

Picture: Independent

The Independent has an extraordinary story of two brothers who bought a dud Goya (above) for a fortune, and then tried to sell it for even more, but were arrested when police found their stash of fake Swis francs. A candidate for the most inept piece of art dealing ever.

Getting the hump

February 19 2015

Image of Getting the hump

Picture: Dukes Auctions via Timothy Medhurst on Twitter.

I know this is both vulgar and childish, but I couldn't resist. It's for sale today. Have you ever seen anything like it? Here's the catalogue description:

TWO INDO-PERSIAN MINIATURE STUDIES one showing a tiger hunt 4.5 x 7 ; the other a man mounting a camel 7 x 5 ; 19th / 20th century (2)

Estimate: 100-200

Update - a reader writes:

Crikey that makes 50 Shades look tame!

There is always something new to discover in sleepy old Dorset....

Another writes:

Must be a female camel- did you buy it?

Not quite my thing, alas.

And thanks for all the unprintable camel/desert jokes...

Update II - another reader adds:

Your re-tweet from Timothy Medhurst made me chuckle: it reminded me of one of the cleverest lines I've ever heard in a TV programme.

It was in an episode of Jonathan Creek written by the excellent David Renwick.

"It is easier for a rich man to enter a camel if he stands on a box."

Snigger.

Update III - another sniggering reader writes:

Yes - I bought and sold a small collection of Persian bestial illuminated manuscripts about ten years ago now. The attached image being one example, though it's a bit more graphic than the one you've linked!

Ooph.

Job Opportunities

February 19 2015

Image of Job Opportunities

Picture: Landmark Trust

Two nice curatorships coming up; the first is at Historic Royal Palaces (as Curator of Collections at Hampton Court, Tower of London etc.) and the second (as Curator of Northern Art) is at the Ashmolean. The former closes tomorrow, so act fast. The latter on 6th March. The HRP gig pays £35k, and the Ashmolean one £44k-£51k. Good luck!

Before 'n After: Le Brun's 'Jabach & Family'

February 19 2015

Image of Before 'n After: Le Brun's 'Jabach & Family'

Pictures: Met

There's much re-touching still to do, but the Met's cleaning of their new acquisition, Le Brun's Portrait of Everhard Jabach and Family is now finished. What colours have emerged! More here on Keith Christiansen's excellent blog. 

Re-framing Titian (ctd.)

February 19 2015

Image of Re-framing Titian (ctd.)

Picture: National Gallery

The National Gallery's campaign to buy a new frame for the above picture by Titian has been a success. Hurrah. The £27,000 target was the NG's first online fundraising initiative. Well done to all involved. Now do more.

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