Previous Posts: January 2014

Guffwatch - Koons edition (ctd.)

January 30 2014

Image of Guffwatch - Koons edition (ctd.)

Picture: Christie's

News that Christie's are to sell a Koons Cracked Egg in London in February brings plenty of Guff-tastic lines in their press release. Read the whole thing here. This is a good bit:

Cracked Egg (Magenta) plays with the fragile nature of the egg to explore themes of the ephemeral and the eternal. The fragments of shell emphasize the fusion of opposites, appearing simultaneously organic and synthetic, fragile and resilient. To contrast the vulnerability of the eggshell, Koons managed to perfect casting techniques that result in a mirror-sheen surface that is virtually indestructible. As the artist explains, “I was interested in the dialogue with nature and aspects of the eternal, the here and now, the physical with the ephemeral... the symmetrical and asymmetrical, a sense of the fertile …” 

In just this one paragraph we can see a whole range of the generic phrases that one needs to create contemporary art guff: 'explore themes'; 'fusion'; 'simultaneously'; 'contrast'; 'dialogue'. These are the key words any guff sentence needs, because they allow you to do the old art guff trick of combining opposites - 'the symmetrical and asymmetrical' - which sounds terrifically learned, but of course says nothing of any substance at all.

The estimate is £10m-£15m. If you buy it at even the low estimate, that's enough (with premium) to have bought the entire Christie's Old Master Part 1 sale in New York yesterday. 

Update - a reader writes:

The Koons Cracked Egg guff would have been even better if they had used "dialogue" as a verb.  Such a missed opportunity on their part.

Update II - another reader writes:

Reminded by your piece on Koons of this (below) from Lear.  As is often the case, the Fool is wise: as he says earlier in the same scene, 'Truth's a dog must to kennel; he must be whipped out....'  It's worth noting that, were one available, you could buy a First Folio for significantly less than a Koons 'Egg' (cracked or not).

King Lear Act 4 Scene 1

Fool; Give me an egg, nuncle, and I'll give thee two crowns.

KING LEAR; What two crowns shall they be?

Fool; Why, after I have cut the egg i' the middle, and eat up the meat, the two crowns of the egg. When thou clovest thy crown i' the middle, and gavest away both parts, thou borest thy ass on thy back o'er the dirt: thou hadst little wit in thy bald crown, when thou gavest thy golden one away.

Update III - a curious video from Christie's on the Egg here, in which you get an explanation of the bleedin' obvious.

Christie's New York Old Master results

January 30 2014

Image of Christie's New York Old Master results

Picture: Christie's

The talk before the sale had been of a total for the week in excess of $75m, but so far Christie's main Old Master sale totals (which includes the 'Old Master' sale at $15.8m, and their curiously seperate 'Renaissance' sale at $45m) is just under $61m, including premium. The minor sales are still to come, today. Casualties included the Artemisia Gentileschi self-portrait (above), which was estimated at $3m-£5m, but which, to my surprise, stalled at $2m. The consensus seemed to be that Sotheby's had the better sale, so it'll be interesting to see what they make later today.

The Christie's sale total was boosted by the hefty $8.9m (inc. premium) realised by Jacopo Bassano's Adoration of the Shepherds, which hammered at $7.8m against the $8m-$12m estimate. The picture had been guaranteed before the sale. I believe the price represents a new record for Bassano by some way. Obviously, if the guarantor bought the painting, then we cannot be absolutely sure if the price is the price, so to speak.

The Rothschild Prayerbook sold for $13.6m (inc. premium), against an estimate of $12m-$18m. The book last sold at Christie's in London in 1999 for £8.5m. So irrespective of premiums, inflation or opportunity costs, the latest price represents a slight loss. 

Update - Christie's have recently announced that last year was their best ever, in terms of overall sales in all categories. More here

Update II - I should add that Christie's Old Master drawings sale has yet to be added to the total for the week.

Update III - the total for the week at Christie's was $64.2m.

Update IV - a reader alerts me to this Bassano in the Norton Simon museum, which sold for a very hefty £273,000 in 1969. 

Gurlitt haul research continues

January 29 2014

The New York Times has the latest on that haul of potentially Nazi-looted art found Munich.

Up next on 'Fake or Fortune?'

January 29 2014

Video: BBC

It's Chagall. Or not. Find out Sunday, BBC1, 6pm. (One of our best films yet, by the way, well worth tuning in). More here

Update -the outcome of the programme was trailed in advance by the BBC on its website and also the Sunday papers. I didn't think this was a good idea - and from the reaction on Twitter so far, neither did our audience. Sorry about that... 

Tiepolo does comedy

January 29 2014

Video: Sotheby's

I enjoyed seeing this drawing by Tiepolo at Sotheby's New York, though I must admit it didn't have me rolling on the floor. It's for sale today, with an estimate of £400,000 - £600,000. Lot notes here

David Zwirner on the Renaissance

January 29 2014

Video: Christie's

Here's an interesting video from Christie's, in which famed contemporary art dealer David Zwirner (our neighbour here in Dover St., London) talks about his interest in Renaissance art. It's reassuring to see a contemporary dealer talk about Renaissance art like this - bravo! 

'Tim's not-Vermeer'

January 29 2014

Video: Sony Pictures

The daft-sounding new film Tim's Vermeer, in which a felloow called Tim sets out to prove that Vermeer was just a clever copyist using a camera obscura, has been rightly taken apart by Jonathan Jones in The Guardian:

Tim's Vermeer is a film about a man who totally fails to paint a Vermeer.

That's right – fails. This is not how the acclaimed cinema documentary by American TV magicians Penn and Teller bills itself or how it has been received by reviewers. Inventor Tim Jenison, we're told, set out to discover how the 17th-century artist used optics, hoping to prove his theory by painting his own version of Vermeer's The Music Lesson. The result, we are told, is almost uncannily convincing – Tim uses simple technology to create a perfect Vermeer.

At the risk of offending the education secretary, I have to quote Blackadder here. It's a brilliant theory, with just one tiny flaw: it's bollocks.

Tim's painting does not look anything like a real Vermeer. It looks like what it is: a pedantic and laborious imitation.

In the clip from the film above, Tim concludes that Vermeer's pictures are 'unusual' in having no under-drawing. Which is just wrong. Plenty of great artists didn't rely on under-drawing. And you might think that if Vermeer did rely on a camera obscura, then there would have to be under-drawing. How else would he get the image down onto the canvas?

There is no solid evidence that Vermeer used a camera obscura. The whole camera obscura theory is of course a sad reflection of the fact that nobody can paint like the Old Masters any more. The skills (and the patience) required are gone forever, because the continual, centuries-old link through which such skills were passed from master to apprentice has been broken. You can't learn how to paint like Vermeer, or Rubens or Rembrandt from a book (or even a film), you need to learn it by continual observation over a number of years. And so it only takes one generation to stop painting like, and appreciating, traditional painters for a whole history of skills to vanish with alarming rapidity. And because so few people can paint in the traditional way these days we try and fool ourselves that in fact not even great artists like Vermeer could do it either, and that he was just cheating. It makes us, and it makes modern artists, feel better to think that. As Jonathan Jones says, it ignores the role of the genius.

I'm reminded of my favourite Kenneth Clark line about the history of art; 'Above all, I believe in the God-given genius of certain individuals, and I value a society that makes their existence possible.'

Update - a reader who has seen the film sends in this well-argued demolition of Tim's theory:

Thanks for posting the article about Tim's Vermeer earlier today. I'm glad someone has finally had the guts to refute Tim's claim of discovering Vermeer's 'secret'. As an artist trained in the traditional crafts of painting, drawing, carving and gilding I went into the film as an open-minded skeptic, looking forward to some solid circumstantial evidence that Vermeer may have used such a device - I left the cinema with a huge grin on my face. What Tim was suggesting is laughable both from a technical and practical perspective. The film was full of contradictions and cryptic messages. Had Tim or any of those involved in the project actually bothered to research the methods of Vermeer or consulted an artist who studies and works in a similar manner to the old masters, obvious flaws would come to light. I'm glad Jonathan Jones attempted to take apart the theory, however his article unfortunately didn't touch on the facts that completely disprove Tim's idea. I've wanted to write an article based on fact, but unfortunately I'm no journalist, I'm a young artist, so I have no idea what I would do with it!

The film was full of contradictions and historical errors from the very start. Tim and his pals claimed that Vermeer didn't make use of underpainting or 'dead colouring' - well he certainly did make use of it! All scientific and forensic tests of Vermeer's paintings show a monochromatic layer where Vermeer would have identified tone, lighting and composition. One of the better examples of this is ironically, 'The Music lesson', the very painting Tim was 'copying'. The National Gallery has a good article on Vermeer's technique here. Why on earth would Vermeer be painting a monochromatic underpainting if he was using a mirror? Had he used Tim's device, he would have to turn the colour reflection from the mirror into monochrome! It makes no sense whatsoever! 

Vermeer, like all masters, used glazes, the application of thin paint to give subtle transitions in colour and tone. The application of paint in this manner gave works a degree of transparency and depth.  Using a mirror, the artist would be expected to mix the exact colour and paint with it. Working in a single layer in this way shows inexperience and a lack of understanding. Vermeer used glazes, so a mirror cannot have been used.

Tim also compared an early Pieter de Hooch with a later Vermeer in the hope it would 'prove' Vermeer had a secret. I was surprised that the directors had the guile to compare a work by a developing artist with a masterful painting by Vermeer at the peak of his ability. Incredibly distasteful considering Pieter de Hooch's later work can rather easily be mistaken for a work by Vermeer by an untrained eye.    

Tim and his team apparently didn't use artificial light. I'm incredibly skeptical about this. Light conditions obviously can change in a second. If the sun disappeared behind a cloud would Vermeer be forced to drop his brush? Well if he was using a mirror, then yes. It's simply impractical! Had Vermeer used a mirror, he would have had to be able to control the sun, the seasons and the clouds. Perhaps he did have a secret after all? Tim didn't once mention the use of natural light once he sat down to paint - presumably he realised it was impossible and resorted to using artificial lights. 

He clamped the heads of his models? Seriously? Need I say more? I could go on, but thankfully I'm not having to prove to you that the idea is heavily flawed.

Dadd watercolour discovered on Ebay

January 29 2014

Image of Dadd watercolour discovered on Ebay

Picture: TAN

The Art Newspaper reports that a watercolour by Richard Dadd, painted while he was imprisoned for murdering his father, has been found on eBay for just £200. More here

Van Gogh sunflowers re-united

January 29 2014

Video: BBC

I've come to this a little late, but if you're in London it's well worth going down to the National Gallery to see two of Van Gogh's sunflower paintings hanging together for the first time since 1947. In the clip above, Martin Bailey, who has just written the definitive book on Van Gogh's sunflower paintings, 'The Sunflowers are Mine', explains the history of the two pictures.

Both sunflowers are at the National till 27th April. You can read more about the display here

Update - a reader writes:

I joined the queues at the weekend and enjoyed the opportunity to see them side by side – I hope it’s not too partisan of me to say so, but it’s actually a reminder of how good the London original is!

The much-vaunted display of ‘new research’ is a bit bizarre – the information panel about the x-rays they have done reveals absolutely nothing that can’t be seen by the naked eye from a few feet away.

And one more minor grumble – I was disappointed to read that that there had been no discussion of the possibility of showing these paintings (where the impasto application of paint is especially important to the effect) without a glaze, given that they could have had an attentive security guard each for this sort of special occasion. My eyes may have been playing tricks on me, but it seemed like the glass was more reflective and disruptive on the Amsterdam version.

Kid plays with sculpture horror!

January 28 2014

Image of Kid plays with sculpture horror!

Picture: Stephanie Theodore/ABC News 

Much indignation on Twitter at the above prents, who let their child play with a sculpture by Donald Judd at Tate Modern. Stephanie Theodore, a gallery owner who witnessed the event and took the above photo, Tweeted:

Holy crap. Horrible kids, horrible parents.

To which we might add, 'horrible sculpture'.

Update - a reader writes:

Strangely, I saw that Donald Judd sculpture a few days ago and thought that interspersing the blocks with people would be a marked improvement. Little did I know that my thoughts had such power.

Update II - another reader adds:

please do not diminish your position by having a "Munnings" style rant about Judd !!

you know perfectly well that the man is a god in the eye of many, some of them as well educated and brung-up as you !

Yikes. I'd never heard of him. Truly.

Update III - A reader further educates me:

You may not notice but you see the influence of Donald Judd's sculpture in almost every shop you go into.  From the boxes you walk round to the shelves on the wall.  You've seen copies of his work probably without even realizing it.

4.53 pm, February 5th, 1883

January 28 2014

Video: Slate

That's when a team of scientists say Monet painted Etretat, Sunset, based on tide charts, Monet's letters, and the position of the sun. More here

I knew Monet was a quick painter, but, incroyable...

Plymouth bids for Reynolds' first self-portrait

January 28 2014

Image of Plymouth bids for Reynolds' first self-portrait

Picture: Plymouth Art Gallery

Here's a noble cause, Plymouth Art Gallery are raising funds to buy Sir Joshua Reynolds' first self-portrait in oils (above), painted in c.1746. I'm not sure what the total asking price is, but bodies such as the Art Fund are helping out with a generous £63,000, and to help unlock funds from the HLF, the Friends of the museum have pledged to raise £10,000. They have already raised £6,500 so, need just £4,500 more by March. More details here.

I've done my bit. If you can, please do yours!

Art history & the male mind

January 28 2014

Image of Art history & the male mind

Picture: Robert Doisneau, 1948

This photo has been doing the rounds on Twitter. I'd never seen it before, but a spot of Googling leads me to the Iconic Photos blog:

No other photograph was this thoroughly analyzed — or, overanalyzed. The above photo, Un Regard Oblique, has been a fixture in sociology, psychology, psychoanalysis, and gender studies circles since it was taken by Robert Doisneau in 1948.

A couple looks at the window and the man is enthralled by the portrait of a naked woman (very salacious one  by the standards of the time) while his wife talks to him about a photo which is presumably more modest. A simple image, but not quite a decisive moment.

For his Life magazine assignment, Doisneau hid his Rolliflex behind an antique chair on display at Romi’s art gallery in the 5th arrondissement. With his usual flair for humor, he had set his camera at the correct angle to the nude to take a series of furtive photos of male admirers. The above photo was his last shot.

New Ashmolean director announced

January 23 2014

Image of New Ashmolean director announced


It's Dr Alexander Sturgis, currently director of the Holburne Museum in Bath. More here

Update - by the way, only one of the museums and galleries directly funded by the UK government (the Imperial War Museum) is headed by a woman. Just sayin...

£14m Poussin at risk of export

January 23 2014

Image of £14m Poussin at risk of export

Picture: DCMS

A temporary export bar has been placed on the above fine Poussin, which has been sold by the Duke of Bedford's trustees to an overseas buyer for £14m. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport says:

The painting by Nicolas Poussin depicting the moment the infant Moses trampled Pharaoh’s crown, will be exported overseas unless a matching offer of £14,000,000 is made. The Culture Minister issued the temporary export bar in the hope that a UK buyer can be found in the time allowed.

Ed Vaizey took the decision following a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA), administered by Arts Council England. The RCEWA made its recommendation on the grounds that the painting is of outstanding aesthetic importance and significance for the study of Poussin’s art.

Of the 30 or so paintings by Poussin in UK galleries and museums, none are quite so insistently severe in either their colouring or composition as this piece.

The decision on the export licence application for the painting will be deferred until 22 April 2014, although this may be extended until 22 October if a serious intention to raise funds to purchase the painting at the recommended price is made.

More here.

"Restoration Factor"

January 23 2014

Image of "Restoration Factor"


In Italy, cash-strapped museum officials are asking members of the public to vote on which works of art they want restored. From NPR radio in the US:

Here's how it works: The government selected eight pieces of art from across Italy deemed to be in need of repair, ranging from an ancient Roman marble horse to a painting by Renaissance master Pietro Perugino. Then, it posted pictures of them on Facebook, and asked people to vote for the work they felt was most deserving of a fix-up. The work that draws the most clicks wins the money raised at these late-night events.

"The strength of a democratic institution is listening to its citizens," says Buzzi. "Giving people the right to choose makes them more invested in their own heritage. It makes them care more. If you give the people more responsibility, they're more likely to take an interest in their own culture.

Rome archaeologist Gabriele Cifani describes the program as "extremely demagogic."

Bonkers. A work of art should be conserved on the basis of need, not popularity.

So far, Perugino is the winner. More here.

Also available on Amazon...

January 23 2014

Image of Also available on Amazon...

Picture: Amazon

You can now buy my Samuel Cooper exhibition catalogue on Amazon. But the recommendation to buy a cream for genital warts as well is nothing to do with me...

Rembrandt etching discovery

January 23 2014

Image of Rembrandt etching discovery

Picture: National Gallery of Scotland

Dr Tico Seifert, senior curator at the National Gallery of Scotland, has discovered a Rembrandt etching in the museum's collection. The portrait of Jan Cornelis Sylvius (above) is a second state impression, and the only known example in red ink. From The Scotsman:

The subject of the portrait – believed to be worth hundreds of thousands of pounds – was a relative of Saskia van Uylenburgh, whom the artist wed in 1634. Dr Tico Seifert, senior curator for northern European art, said his curiosity was immediately piqued when he came across the etching in a box of prints because all known copies of the print are in reverse, unlike this one, which was nestled among dozens of copies of the artist’s work.

Further research, including authenticity checks with Rembrandt experts in Amsterdam, found the portrait of Sylvius was the only existing impression of the work in red ink.

Dr Seifert said: “These kind of plates were created through a chemical process which would see the artist polish the plate, cover it with a varnish and then take a very sharp, fine needle and scratch the varnish.

“The plate would then be put into an acid bath, so it was a chemical process rather than a mechanical process. You would take a wet piece of paper, put it on top of the plate and run it through a roller press. The big difference with this work is that it was printed in red ink. When I contacted colleagues in Amsterdam to find out about impressions in red ink, which are generally very rare, to my great surprise and delight they told me that this was a unique print.

Guffwatch - the Random Exhibition Title Generator

January 23 2014

Image of Guffwatch - the Random Exhibition Title Generator

Picture: Rebecca Uchill

Stuck for a contemporary art exhibition title? Then try out Rebecca Uchill's excellent Random Exhibition Title Generator. 

Up next on 'Fake or Fortune?'

January 22 2014

Video: BBC

It's John Constable. BBC1 6pm Sunday (4.30pm in Scotland). More here.

Love the boom shots in the National Gallery...

Update - a reader from the telly world writes:

A technical TV point AHN .. You love the jib shots in the National Gallery, booms are just for sound.

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