Previous Posts: January 2012

Axes fall at Tate Britain

January 16 2012

In The Sunday Times yesterday, Dalya Alberge had details of some impending redundancies at Tate Britain. I won't name any names here before the news is confirmed (find them behind the paywall if you must), but it seems that the gallery is about to discard some serious scholars, including world-renowned experts on Constable and Turner. This seems a shame to me, for Tate is essentially junking their investment in building up a generation of expertise on two of Britain's most celebrated artists. Some have said for a while now that Tate no longer seems interested in being a centre of expertise; these redundancies might appear to confirm that.  

Everybody out!

January 16 2012

Strikes are planned by room warders at the National Gallery on 19, 28 January and 2, 4 February. The stoppages may mean the Leonardo exhibition has to close. The warders, who are frequently on strike, want the Gallery to always have one warder per room, rather than one for every two rooms as the Gallery would occasionally prefer. The warders may be right that one per room would be safer. But it would be safer still if they didn't spend much of the time standing next to each other, having a good old chinwag.

Works by this artist made $506m at auction last year. Who is he?

January 13 2012

Image of Works by this artist made $506m at auction last year. Who is he?

Picture: Wikipedia

This is Zhang Daqian (1899-1983), or if you prefer, 张大千. Last year his paintings sold for more by value than any other artist in the world. Qi Bashi, whose works totaled $445.1m, finishes the year as runner up. Picasso, who has been no.1 for years, only made it to fourth place, behind Warhol. Full details at Reuters here

Friday amusement - adult edition

January 13 2012

Video: Etam

Art History doesn't get much racier than this: a French lingerie firm has filmed an undercover advert in the Musee D'Orsay. The museum is upset at this breach of their strict no photography rule, a reaction which seems a little... de trop. I wonder if the National Gallery in London would be upset too - anyone care to find out?  

ps - when you play it again (which I know you will) see if you can spot the peeping pierre whipping his phone out for a cheeky snap. Must have made his jour.

Van Gogh's house to be saved

January 13 2012

Image of Van Gogh's house to be saved

Picture: TAN

The Art Newspaper reports that a house in Belgium where Van Gogh lived (and which, by the look of it, he also painted) is to be saved from dereliction by the local council. More details here

Spotmania - there's no end to it

January 13 2012

The Spots are producing some great candidates for guffwatch. Or perhaps we should have a new competition, Spotballs. Please send me good examples if you see them. If nothing else the exhibition is useful for flushing out the true believers, those Hirst disciples who, at this defining moment of revelation, still cannot see that it is all just meaningless. 

Here's the normally sound Adrian Searle squeezing out 900 Spot words for The Guardian, largely by explaining the bleeding obvious:

So here come the spots: a quarter century of two, three, four and five-inch circles, with some as big as 40in across, and others just a couple of millimetres. Never mind the shifts from imperial measurements to metric: they're all just spots. Clean and flatly painted circles of household gloss on white or off-white backgrounds, they cover canvases large and small in unremitting grids. No two spots touch, and no colour is repeated on the same canvas, although some are close as dammit to being the same hue.

And so it goes on.

More worryingly, here's the Director of Tate Modern, Chris Dercon, whom Christina Ruiz spotted:

...leaving the show when I finally manage to corner him. He is beaming. “I’m a really, really happy person having seen that,” he says. “It proves that these spot paintings are not a gimmick at all. They are part of an incredible system and they are a very serious exploration of what colour can do.”

You may get the impression that I don't like Damien Hirst. On the contrary, I am a great admirer. Not of his art, which is mostly no good, but of his brazenness, his financial success, his knack for publicity, and above all his ability to exploit the madder parts of the contemporary art world, and to reveal them for what they are, which is empty. I feel sure that one day he will turn around and say 'ha! fooled you!'. That's why he deserves his place in history (and his money). He will probably be remembered not as an artist, but as a comedian, one of the greatest of his age. And the joke was on us.

If you haven't yet been...

January 13 2012

Image of If you haven't yet been...

Picture: National Gallery of Scotland the excellent Gainsborough landscape exhibition at the Holborne Museum in Bath, then go soon, for it closes on 22nd January. But if you miss it, fret not, for it will be at Compton Verney from 11th February till 10th June. So you have no excuse not to see it. 

The Dulwich mystery picture - some answers?

January 13 2012

Image of The Dulwich mystery picture - some answers?

Picture: BG

Didier Rykner of the excellent Tribune de l'Art, has published two suggestions from art historians for the artist of the recently restored picture St Cecilia at Dulwich: Alessandro Morandotti has suggested Carlo Bononi (1569-1632), while Chris Michaelides suggests Alessandro Turchi, called Orbetto (1578-1649).

A new portrait of Robert Hooke (d.1703)

January 13 2012

Image of A new portrait of Robert Hooke (d.1703)

Picture: BBC/Rita Greer

There was a nice piece on the Today programme yesterday about a newly commissioned portrait of the great English scientist Robert Hooke. There is no known likeness of Hooke, but, using contemporary descriptions of him the artist Rita Greer has painted a portrait of what he might have looked like (above, unveiled yesterday at the Institute of Physics). Imagine-the-portrait is a fun game to play with great historical figures for whom we have no likeness (like Jesus, for example). But in this case the result is rather terrifying. 

Spotmania - 300 suckers sign up for 'The Challenge'

January 13 2012

Christina Ruiz, editor-at-large at The Art Newspaper, has bravely taken up the 'Complete Spot Challenge', which is to see all 11 Hirst Spot exhibitions in return for a free Spot print. Apparently 300 people have already signed up to do the same. Ruiz has written an excellent blogpost about her impending quest, which is well worth a read. Of her first Spot experience, in Gagosian's Britannia St. gallery in London, she writes:

There are 60 canvases here with spots ranging in size from 60 inches in diameter to just 3mm. One example from 1994, entitled Arginine Decarboxylase, sold at Christie’s in London for £881,250 last February, making it one of the more expensive spot paintings to sell at auction. To me it looks no different to the paintings on either side of it.

By the second room, the spot fatigue, and panic, start to set in. 

I know how she feels - Christina, I wish you good luck. Still, a word of warning if you're one of those hoping to travel round the world pointlessly looking at the same thing: the 'Spot Challenge' rules state that;

Acceptance and use of the Spot Print constitutes permission (except where prohibited by law) to use your name, image, likeness, and photograph (all at the discretion of the Sponsor) for future advertising and publicity in any and all media now or hereafter devised throughout the world in perpetuity, without additional compensation, notification, or permission.

In other words, you have to trade a lifetime of shame for your poxy print. 

It's all go at the Met

January 13 2012

Video: AFP

Not only has the Metropolitan Museum in New York seen a record rise in visitor numbers (to 5.6 million, and that's despite putting the entrace price up), but they've also opened a swish new wing dedicated to American painting, sculpture and design. The new wing will display a staggering 17,000 objects.

I shall look forward to seeing it when I go to New York next weekend to view the Old Master sales. There's always an interesting moment at the Met on the Sunday before the sales. Because the museum opens at 9.30am, it is the perfect place to pass the time till the auction house viewings open at midday. So usually you'll find a gaggle of European dealers (who, being jet-lagged, have been awake since about 5am) milling around the galleries, getting their connoisseurial eye 'honed in' on whatever artist they're hoping to scoop up at the sales. It's a good chance to see what the competition is interested in...


January 12 2012

Yesterday saw the opening of Damien Hirst: The Complete Spot Paintings 1986-2011. The exhibition features some 300 paintings in eleven galleries across the world, from LA to Hong Kong. There are big spots, and there are small spots, there are coloured ones and there are monochrome ones. Five of the paintings are by Hirst himself, the rest were made by anonymous assistants. To celebrate the opening of the exhibition, Hirst posed for photographs with his fingers up his nose (above). A Complete Spot Challenge has been organised by the Gagosian galleries, hosts of the exhibition; anyone who visits all eleven locations will get a signed spot print by Hirst ‘dedicated personally to you’.

I have a hope that somewhere, in a parallel universe, none of this is happening.

This post has been sponsored by Lemsip.


January 12 2012

...I'm battling heroically against manflu, the cruel affliction sometimes derisively called 'the common cold'. I feel confident I shall prevail, but it means blogging might be a little thin.

In praise of...

January 11 2012

Image of In praise of...

Picture: Dulwich Picture Gallery

...good restoration. I recently went to Dulwich Picture Gallery, where I saw the newly restored Saint Cecilia. I don't know who did the work, but it is a first-rate example of good retouching. As you can see from the photo on the left, there was a lot of conservation to do. To whoever did it, well done!

Olympic art

January 11 2012

Image of Olympic art

Picture: Government Art Collection/Martin Creed

The Government Art Collection is getting in the Olympic mood with a series of 12 works commissioned to celebrate the games. This month they're featuring 'Work No.1273 by Martin Creed':

A stack of colourful brushmarks in the official Olympics colours creates a deceptively simple but striking image in Martin Creed's 'Work No. 1273'. Resembling an extended podium, the colours are arranged in either ascending or descending order, depending on how you choose to look at it.  By depicting five instead of the usual three places of bronze, silver and gold, Creed's image indicates respect for all those who take part, not just the top three. Since 1987, Creed has numbered each of his works, rather than use descriptive titles. By doing so, he hopes to express the theme of each work in a more direct fashion.

For a minute there I thought this heading towards Guffwatch. But actually I think it's quite cool, and look forward to seeing the rest of the series. 

Totally missing the point

January 11 2012

Damien Hirst fights back, in an interview with Reuters, about his spot paintings:

Q: Is it true you painted only five of the some 1,400 spot paintings? How can you put your name to works with which you are only very loosely linked? Or is that to miss the point?

A: "Totally missing the point, and it amazes me that I still get asked these questions. You have to look at it as if the artist is an architect, and we don't have a problem that great architects don't actually build the houses."

I get it now - Hirst doesn't paint paintings. He builds them.

Fake scandal grows

January 11 2012

Image of Fake scandal grows

Picture: The Art Newspaper

The Art Newspaper has further news of the fake scandals currently causing alarm in the modern and contemporary art world. Headlining the piece is an alleged $17m fake Jackson Pollock, and a 'Spanish Elegy' (above) attributed to Robert Motherwell. Both were bought from the now closed New York gallery Knoedler (above right). These US fakes come hot on the heels of the German fakes produced by the recently jailed Wolfgang Beltracchi.

So far so shocking. But I'm always amused by the excuses given by those whom the fakers have fooled. Says The Art Newspaper:

Both cases and the Beltracchi investigation lay bare the inherent problems of authenticating works of art in an industry reliant on reputation and trust—and the apparent ease with which determined forgers can pass works through the system.

[art dealer Marc] Blondeau, who was also a victim of Beltracchi, says that: “We are facing a very serious problem, especially because markets are so overheated­—historically, when markets are strong, forgeries appear.” He adds of his own involvement: “I was fooled—the works were an incredible quality.”

Isn't this all phooey? Even a casual glance at the Beltracchi fakes (here and here) tells you that they are rubbish paintings. The real problem, surely, is the inability of those who work in the modern and contemporary world to tell if a painting is actually any good or not. Today, too much modern and contemporary art is judged primarily by hype and value: the name on the label is more important than the paint on the canvas. It's no wonder that such a system is susceptible to fakes. 

Waldemar in 'Leonardo'

January 11 2012

Guercino at the National Gallery

January 10 2012

Image of Guercino at the National Gallery

Picture: National Gallery, London

A reader writes:

...did you know that the National Gallery "bought" Guercino's The Cumnaean Sibyl with a Putto from Denis Mahon in 2011.  I guess it came to them immediately on his death last year...

I knew that it had been on loan from Sir Denis' collection while payments were made (covering the rent of his flat I think), but not that the deal had now been completed. Thanks!


January 10 2012

Image of Geschlossen


The Liechtenstein Museum in Vienna, which houses one of the greatest art collections in the world, is to close. From this year entrance is only possible if part of a pre-booked group.

Sadly, I've never been. Many years ago I was skiing in Switzerland, and, thinking that the Liechtenstein Museum was in, well, Liechtenstein, drove all the way to the tiny capital, Vaduz, only to be told I was in the wrong country. This prompted my boss to suggest that if I wanted to see the Mellon Collection, I should go to Tesco.  

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