The Duke of Sutherland is awfully rich.
And now he's even wealthier thanks to the £95m of largely public funds that were used to pay for two of his Titian paintings.
These masterpieces were produced in the 16th century by an Italian artist for a Spanish king.
It's amusing to think that they have now been "saved for the nation". But shouldn't this be "saved for the state"? What happens if Scotland votes for independence? Will the two "nations" get one each?
And when will all this nonsense end about saving things for nations?
How many paintings would remain in the National Gallery if everything had stayed in its home nation?
Source: Stuart Burch, "The national question", Letters to the Museums Journal (UK), issue 112/04, p. 22-23, 01/04/2012, http://www.museumsassociation.org/museums-journal/comment/01042012-letters
_ Earlier today I decided to brave the crowds in order to experience Turner, Monet, Twombly at Sweden's Moderna Museet.
As so often happens at these so-called "blockbuster exhibitions", the main things on show were the backs of people's heads. This was exacerbated by partition walls inserted into the large gallery space. They made it feel like we were sheep being rounded up into our artful pens.
Acting like an art-loving Luke Skywalker in the garbage compactor, I squeezed through a narrow gap at the end of one angled partition. Frantically pushing aside the forest of infrared audio-guides being wielded like lightsabers, I reached a relatively unpopulated scrap of wooden flooring.
Despite this comparative lull in proceedings I began toying seriously with the idea of making an early exit. The only reason I decided to stay was thanks to the sharp eyes and keen imagination of a girl who must have been about six or seven years old.
She'd clearly been giving her mother an impromptu guided tour because I overheard a slightly frazzled voice asking, "Where exactly is the rabbit?" Following the line of a small finger, my eyes settled on the top left hand corner of a large canvas: "It's up there!"
Remarkably, all this eagle-eyed connoisseur got as a reward for her investigative work was a less than convinced, "Oh, um, yes..."
And with that, they were gone, leaving me alone with the rabbit. Because it really was a rabbit. Grown-up art historians like the exhibition's curator, Jeremy Lewison would no doubt mistake it for the letter "V" at the start of the word "Victory" in Cy Twombly's unhelpfully labelled work, Untitled (1992, private collection, courtesy Thomas Ammann Fine Art AG, Zurich).
Lewison is incapable of seeing rabbits on account of being awed by "the immensity of the sky" and the fact that the canvas features scribbled quotations from the likes of Rilke and Baudelaire. This, he urges, "links [Twombly's] work to feelings of man's insignificance before the infinite, his vulnerability and intoxication."(1)
This is great big piles of mystification.(2) I can no more share Lewison's wordy nonsense than I can his insistence that there is a "small boat bobbing on the sea" of Twombly's Untitled.(3)
And, anyway, what sort of magician is Jeremy Lewison if he can't even pull a rabbit out of a Twombly?
So, next time you find yourself at a blockbuster, ignore all the artspeak mystification and follow a child's logic. Because "sometime we see a cloud that's dragonish".(4) Or, if you're very lucky, a Twombly that's rabbitish.
(1) Jeremy Lewison, Turner Monet Twombly: Later Paintings, Tate, 2012, p. 59.
(2) Stuart Burch, "Pistoletto piss-take", 17/09/2011, accessed 05/01/2011 at, http://www.stuartburch.com/1/post/2011/9/pistoletto-piss-take.html.
(3) Lewison, 2012, p. 59.
(4) Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra, 4.14, line 2.
Paralabel for Danish & Nordic Art 1750-1900
Denmark's national gallery - Statens Museum for Kunst - is currently carrying out a major rehang of its permanent collections. In May of this year a suite of rooms reopened under the title "Danish and Nordic Art 1750-1900". A leaflet accompanying the display explains that "[t]his part of the gallery collections unfolds the overall lines in Danish and Nordic art through 150 years."
Some of these "lines" are, however, noticeably broader and longer than others. If my maths is correct, nine out of ten works are by Danish artists. Holland, France and Switzerland are as well represented as Finland, i.e. by the presence of a single artwork for each country.
So, despite its title, this is not really an exhibition about Nordic art. Even if notions of national identity, taste and interpretation are occasionally questioned, this presentation of Danish art follows the same "line" as that taken by Denmark’s first art historian, Niels Laurits Høyen in an essay from 1863 entitled, "On National Art". An extract from this publication appears on one of the gallery walls (room 218A). It reads:
"Believe me! The safest, surest, and straightest road to building ever closer ties with our brothers
in Sweden and Norway is to affirm ourselves as Danish, including in our art; to bring our nationality,
our country, our myths to bear; to show that we need no borrowed feathers for our adornment." (1)
If Høyen were alive today he would surely be delighted to see that, in the year 2011, Statens Museum for Kunst had the audacity to give the title "Danish and Nordic Art 1750-1900" to an exhibition in which 356 out of 392 works are by Danish artists.
(1) This text is included in Høyen's Skrifter of 1871 (p. 182) and reads: "Tror mig! den sikreste og retteste Vej til bestandig at komme i nærmere og nærmere Forbindelse med vore Brødre i Sverig og Norge, er at hævde os selv som Danske, ogsaa i vor Konst at gjøre vor Nationalitet, vort Land, vore Sagn gjældende, at vise, at vi ikke behøve at bruge fremmede Fjer for at smykke os med."
This blog posting has been developed further and used as the basis for the following article:
Burch, Stuart (2011) "Ude godt, men hjemme bedst: Dansk og Nordisk Kunst 1750-1900",
Danske Museer, Vol. 24, No. 5, pp. 9-13
Today - 19th August - is Afghan Independence Day. This marks the signing of the Treaty of Rawalpindi of 1919, an event which signalled the end of British control over Afghanistan. In happier times such an occasion might be a trigger for celebration and rapprochement. Alas, today's anniversary is a literal trigger. Militants have stormed the offices of the British Council in Kabul. The timing of the attack was deliberate: Taliban spokesmen made the link between their murderous assault and the events of nearly 100 years ago.
Commemorative events reveal more about the present than they do the past. For proof of this we can look to the year 2019. How will the centenary of Afghan independence be marked? Will it feature musical performances and history assignments written by Afghan schoolgirls? If so, it will be apparent that at least some of the goals of the Western forces have been met. If not, it will probably be because the Taliban have resumed full control. They too will no doubt mark the centenary, but in a manner that will accord with their norms.
We can at least take one positive thing from all this: history matters. For as soon as we begin to explore the past we start to address the issues of the present. That both are equally contested is bloodily apparent to the people of Afghanistan and the soldiers that are waging a war in their midst.
Listening to the news broadcasts on BBC Radio 4 this morning (20/08/2011) brought home to me just how important anniversaries are when it comes to framing present-day events. Three of the top news stories were given temporal, commemorative frames:
Have you ever stopped to read a label in a museum and, instead of finding the object to which it refers, come across yet another label? An example of this can be seen by clicking the image to the left. It refers to a portrait of "Mrs Carré, dancer" by the Swedish artist, Lorentz Sparrgren (1763-1828). At the time the photograph was taken the object had been removed from its usual place amongst the miniatures of Sweden's Nationalmuseum. It could instead be found in another room of same museum, this time as part of a temporary exhibition entitled "Lust and Vice". The little portrait of the rather scantily clad Mrs Carré might not have moved very far, but its relocation meant that it had been reframed to tell a very different story.
This is a reminder that the meaning of things is neither fixed nor inherent. Instead, it is the physical and temporal context of an object that determines its significance. That's what makes museums such interesting places: their collections can be reformulated in all sorts of minor and major ways. Each change inside (and outside) the museum will alter the nature of the collection. So, even if Mrs Carré is destined to return to the comparative obscurity of the miniatures collection of Sweden's Nationalmuseum, she will have gained new-found exposure. Perhaps her fame might spread? The next time you look for her another label might have taken her place informing you that Mrs Carré is currently touring the great museums of the world in a glare of publicity. Like everyone, of course, she will at some point have to come back home. But what memories she'll have! Her exploits will be charted in lavishly illustrated exhibition catalogues, books and postcards. Who knows, she might one day become a saucy fridge magnet...
The Western Mail reports that a painting owned by the National Museum of Wales previously thought to be "a fake" is, in fact, "almost certainly genuine".
See: Evans, Gareth (2011) "Doubts held over Turner painting vanish in the mist; after 50 years art work at museum is declared genuine", The Western Mail, 01/08, p.15, accessed 01/08/2011 at, http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/2011/08/01/doubts-held-over-turner-painting-vanish-in-the-mist-91466-29154179/ (text available here)
The reporting of this story is worth considering in detail.
We are told at the outset that the painting entitled Off Margate was purchased by the museum in 1908. However, later on, Beth McIntyre (a curator at the museum) is cited as saying that the "painting was part of a large bequest to the museum in 1951 and shortly after it arrived, an expert questioned its authenticity. In those days, working out authorship wasn't a question of science as it can be today, it was a question of 'this doesn't quite feel right'."
However, unnamed "experts" working at Tate in London have now declared that Off Margate is "entirely characteristic" of the work of J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851). Yet we are not told how they reached this decision: was it "a question of science" or just their "expert" eyes that determined if it was authentic or not? It seems that artistic style played a key role in questioning the painting's authenticity in the first place. McIntyre remarks that, "while it was identified as a Turner, the 'late' style was questioned at the time.” This was despite the fact that the "painting had good historic provenance" meaning that McIntyre and her colleagues "could trace its ownership back a long way". To what extent did this supporting evidence influence those unnamed "experts" at Tate?
Interestingly, the Western Mail journalist who wrote this newspaper article chose to add the following statement:
"Turner remains one of Britain’s most celebrated artists. His work is instantly recognisable
and remains, some 160 years after his death, among the most sought-after in the world."
If his work is "instantly recognisable", why was it so difficult to decide if Turner painted Off Margate?
We are told that it was McIntyre who thought of asking "Tate experts" to examine the work. This, adds the journalist, was a "decision [that] paid off." But in the article this "payment" is expressed solely in terms of financial rather than artistic value:
"The precise value of Off Margate is unclear, but a painting by Turner depicting a
Welsh castle drenched in the orange glow of a sunrise last year fetched more
than £500,000 at auction. The watercolour sketch over pencil of Flint Castle,
which dates from the early 1830s, sold to a private collector at Sotheby's for £541,250.
A piece by another English artist depicting what some regard as a quintessentially
English view of Wales – William Dyce's Welsh Landscape with Two
Women Knitting – sold for more than £500,000 in 2009."
Whilst we are informed about the potential auction price for Off Margate, we are not told how much the museum paid for it (assuming that it did indeed purchase the painting in 1908).
The Western Mail's framing of the story, with its inclusions, exclusions and points of emphasis really matters given that recent changes to the UK's Code of Ethics "now allows financially motivated disposal... in exceptional circumstances" (section 6.14).
The story of Off Margate touches on important museological issues regarding the use and interpretation of objects; the role of "experts" and of how decisions are reached when it comes to authenticity. This leads to additional questions: Were doubts about the painting conveyed to the public from the 1950s until today or did it hang in the gallery without comment? Or was it locked away in the museum store? What additional "fakes" might be similarly forgotten about in the "worthless" reserve collection? Does the museum own other artworks of debatable authenticity? Are there examples of works that the museum considered to be genuine but have later been labelled "fake"? Do experts always agree and, if not, how do we decide who to believe? What impact do technological developments have on opinion-making? And what role do personal contacts play in getting the support of "experts"?
Instead, by focusing just on money, the Western Mail newspaper encourages this sort of comment:
Who cares: it's either art or not.
Oh! sorry it's either money or not.
siarad 9:27 AM on August 1, 2011
This was the only reader's comment that followed the article at the time I accessed it. But "siarad" shouldn't be blamed for reducing the Museum of Wales's art to a question of money. The fault lies with the way the Western Mail newspaper has framed the story. It encourages its readers to look upon the National Museum of Wales as primarily a place of financial rather than cultural capital.
On Sunday 17th July 2011, two oil paintings by Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) were sprayed with red paint by a visitor to the National Gallery in London. This could and almost certainly should be condemned as an act of mindless vandalism. But it can be framed in others ways too.
Compare it, for example, with the exhibition Banksy versus Bristol Museum (2009). The museum apparently allowed the anonymous Banksy to do whatever he liked in the galleries, even to the extent of displaying fakes and introducing graffiti into the hallowed environment of the institution. The museum management explained to the visitors that:
"This exhibition presents work by a local graffiti artist called Banksy. Everything on display has been produced legitimately for the purpose of exhibition. The museum does not support or condone any form of illegal activity, regardless of its artistic merit."
From this we can conclude that definitions of what is and what isn't art are not fixed; and that the issue of "artistic merit" is not the sole criteria. Anything can qualify as "Art", so long as it is sanctioned and legitimised by the art world, i.e. museums, directors, dealers, art critics - and individuals purporting to be Artists.
In addition, consider the way in which the Poussin story has been framed by the Daily Telegraph:
Waters, Florence (2011) "Poussin vandalism sparks museum fee debate", Daily Telegraph, 19/07, accessed 19/07/2011 at, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-news/8647250/Poussin-vandalism-sparks-museum-fee-debate.html
Why bring the issue of entrance fees to the fore here? Is the newspaper reporting a connection or seeking to make that association for its own purposes?
The framing of the incident - e.g. the parallels I draw with Banksy or the Daily Telegraph's mentioning of entrance charges - frame the story just as decisively as the ornate golden border that circumscribes Poussin's The Adoration of the Golden Calf, as can be seen here in its vandalised state:
Jones, Jonathan (2011) "Why Poussin's Golden Calf was a sitting duck at the National Gallery", The Guardian, 18/07, accessed 19/07/2011 at, http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2011/jul/18/poussin-golden-calf-national-gallery-security
Para, jämsides med.
En annan sort.
Bevingaren, 1980: 90
Even a parasite like me should be permitted to feed at the banquet of knowledge
I once posted comments as Bevingaren at guardian.co.uk
Note All parasitoids are parasites, but not all parasites are parasitoids
Parasitoid "A parasite that always ultimately destroys its host" (Oxford English Dictionary)
I live off you
And you live off me
And the whole world
Lives off everybody
See we gotta be exploited
By somebody, by somebody, by somebody
<I live off you>
Germ Free Adolescents
is a short step.
The word is
now a virus.
key words: architecture | archive | art | commemoration | design | ethics | framing | freedom of speech | heritage | heroes and villains | history | illicit trade | landscape | media | memorial | memory | museum | music | nordic | nottingham trent university | parasite | politics | science fiction | shockmolt | statue | stuart burch | tourism | words |