Rothko 'suicide socks' for sale

May 20 2016

Image of Rothko 'suicide socks' for sale


There's a website called which is, or at least was, selling 'Rothko Socks', described as:

a replica of the pair the great American painter Mark Rothko was wearing at the time of his suicide. Such a tragic event affirms a palette of colours which characterise the artist’s profound existential preoccupations.

Also available are 'non-objective bibs' for EUR 25. The site says:

Arts&Clothes produces clothing accessories based on iconic artists from the 20th century. It explores the myth of the artist by reconsidering processes of production, valuation, distribution and consumption of the art object.

It appears not to be a joke. Though these days you can never tell.

This is not Shakespeare (ctd.)

May 20 2016

Video: Harvey Nichols

A reader alerts me to the above video from the fashion store Harvey Nichols. It uses the Cobbe Portrait (which, in my opinion, does not show Shakespeare) to make a point about fashion and brains. 'Great men deserve great style' is the message, and certainly the nattily dressed sitter looks very stylish with his gold embroidered waistcoat. 

It's more evidence of the way we, today, use whichever historical portrait we like to suit the message we mant to convey, irrespective of historical accuracy. I'm not trying to huff or puff about it, just making an observation. Harvey Nichols would hardly be able to use the Chandos portrait (above, which does show Shakespeare) to make their video. Shakespeare looks plain and portly, and is dressed like a Tudor accountant. In reality, one could deduce, great men don't necessarily dress in great style.

The theory works in the other direction. On the BBC at the moment there's a new comedy about Shakespeare called 'Upstart Crow', written by Ben Elton and starring David Mitchell (above). Mitchell is one of the funniest Brits alive today, but he's no looker and his portrayal of Shakespeare for laughs (with gags about receding hairlines) simply couldn't work if it wasn't based on the Chandos image of Shakespeare.

'Art Detectives' are go!

May 20 2016

Image of 'Art Detectives' are go!

Picture: BBC

I'm very pleased to tell you that the new TV series I've been working on has been announced by the BBC. It's to be called 'Art Detectives', and you can find more details here. My co-presenter is Jacky Klein, the author and art historian who has been a curator at the Courtauld and Tate, and is currently publishing editor at Tate. There will be three, one hour programmes, and the series is scheduled to go out in the autumn. This is the main pitch:

In The Art Detectives, historian and art dealer Dr Bendor Grosvenor and art historian Jacky Klein track down lost and hidden public paintings from local museums and galleries across Britain.

Scouring public museums and great houses across the country, the duo will delve deep into vaults and storerooms to reveal secret stashes of forgotten art - and perhaps even some sleeping masterpieces. A specialist conservation team will use cutting-edge technology to decode and restore the pieces while providing clues for Bendor and Jacky to identify the pictures. Criss-crossing the country, the team will solve the provenance of the artworks before they are valued and hung back in their museums, in pride of place, for the nation to enjoy.

We had our first filming day last week, though the ground work started some months ago. Needless to say, the pressure is on Jacky and I to come up with the art historical goods. Expect many more plugs for this on AHN!

New Francis Towne catalogue raisonné

May 20 2016

Image of New Francis Towne catalogue raisonné

Picture: Paul Mellon Centre, 'Old Walton Bridge', 1785. Francis Towne, Oil on canvas, Yale Center for British Art

The Paul Mellon Centre has published another excellent online catalogue raisonné, this time on the British artist Francis Towne. Their most recent one was on Richard Wilson. The Towne catalogue was written by Richard Stephens, who will be known to AHN readers through his invaluable database on the Art World in Britain from 1660-1735. Says the PMC website:

The catalogue identifies 1080 works by Towne and his circle, doubling previously-described totals. Based on the author’s PhD thesis, it makes extensive use of the papers of Paul Oppé (1878-1957) whose pioneering researches established the artist’s reputation in the 1920s, after a century of neglect. Oppé had discovered the contents of Towne's own studio in the possession of the Merivale family of Barton Place near Exeter. Using the archives of Thomas Agnew & Sons, the Fine Art Society, Colnaghi and elsewhere, Stephens gives detailed provenances for hundreds of the Merivales' Townes that have circulated on the London art market. Towne's biography is established in greater detail than before, using much original research. Resources published alongside the catalogue include an edition of Towne's correspondence and a transcription of Oppé's Barton Place catalogue.

More than 800 works are illustrated with high-quality images, much of it specially commissioned by the Paul Mellon Centre. Towne's sketching tours in Wales, Italy, Switzerland, Savoy, the Lake District and around England are reconstructed with new clarity and detail.

New home for the Museum of London

May 20 2016

Image of New home for the Museum of London

Picture: Guardian

The Museum of London has a great and fascinating collection, but it ain't half difficult to get to, marooned in the middle of a roundabout in the Barbican. I'm sure to London's planners of the 1970s (the museum opened in 1976) it seemed like a good idea at the time. The collections inside are well displayed, and in 2010 the museum benefited from a £20m refit.

But now the museum is to relocate, to the wonderful Smithfield General Market (above) which has been empty for 30 years. Plans to demolish it were recently defeated by heritage campaigners. The new museum will open in 2021, at a cost of about £150m-£200m. More here

Antoon arrives in Birmingham

May 19 2016

Image of Antoon arrives in Birmingham

Picture: Birmingham Museums

The National Portrait Gallery's Van Dyck self-portrait has arrived in Birmingham for the latest leg of its national tour. It's been good to see Birmingham Museums make such a big deal of the arrival on social media, with pictures like the above. I think people really like this sort of behind-the-scenes information. It might even help make museums seem less formal and intimidating to those who find them so. 

Some years ago I had the privilege of opening a crate similar to the above when the self-portrait was delivered from Sotheby's to the Philip Mould gallery in London, where I used to work.

The exhibition around the Van Dyck loan is called 'Turning to see', and is curated by the artist John Stezaker. It runs until 4th September, when, according to my Van Dyck tour t-shirt, the picture heads back to London.

Gang jailed for disrupting art exhibitions (ctd.)

May 19 2016

Video: You Tube / RT

Further to my post below about the silly but not criminal (in my opinion) You Tubers staging a hoax art theft at Tate, today we had Greenpeace scaling the front of the British Museum and closing the site for four hours. Doubtless these protesters - amongst whom I could not see any black youths - will not face 20 weeks of jail, even though the disruption to the public was, in closing London's busiest museum for four hours, arguably more substantial than to the visitors at the Tate.

I cannot imagine that no damage was done to the BM's listed facade as the columns were scaled.

This is not Shakespeare (ctd.)

May 19 2016

Image of This is not Shakespeare (ctd.)

Picture: AHN reader

A reader sends the above photo of a new Shakespeare biography in Italy. A book we can judge by its cover.

Gang jailed for disrupting art exhibitions

May 19 2016

Video: You Tube / Trollstation

Four Youtubers from South London have been jailed for between 16 and 20 weeks for taking part in a 'hoax' raid at Tate Britain and the National Portrait Gallery. The 'internet pranksters' as the Evening Standard described them, walked into two exhibitions at the galleries holding fake paintings and wearing tights over their heads. They then set off a portable alarm and rushed around shouting 'I've got the painting'. Visitors in the galleries can be seen in the video leaving in a sudden rush, or as the Standard says 'running away in panic'. Arrests were made shortly afterwards.

The four men pleaded guilty to causing 'fear and provocation of violence'. Commenting on the case, Detective Constable Anthony Parker, from the Met's Public Order Crime Team, said:

The actions of these five men was outrageous. 

To go into busy public places wearing masks shouting and screaming at a time of heightened awareness of the terrorism threat facing the UK is deplorable. 

The group terrified those visiting the galleries. It is only by pure chance that no one was injured or suffered serious health issues as they fled in what the judge described as a "stampede". 

All five men now have a number of weeks in jail to consider just how unfunny their stunts actually were.

Is that why these men are now in jail, because their stunt wasn't funny enough? I'm no fan of the sort of silliness seen in the film above, but I'm also instinctively uneasy about both the jail sentence and the criminal conviction here. It's pretty obvious from the footage that it wasn't a real art theft. You can see one of the stunts from another angle here.

If these men had been environmentalists protesting against BP's sponsorship of the arts, or well-spoken art students from Central St Martin's making, say, a piece of live art 'exploring the divergent atmospheres of safety and insecurity in a gallery setting', I suspect they'd have been treated very differently. 

What do you think?

Update - a reader writes:

It’s over the top to give them a custodial sentence…this is why fines and community service exist. However they should have not set off the alarm, that was irresponsible. Even in times of heightened terrorism people still have a sense of humour and as you correctly pointed out if it was students performing a bit of this or that the outcome would have been different I suspect. They should have claimed they were making a point about the EU Remain/Leave referendum and they would have got away with it!

Hirst and Koons team up

May 19 2016

Video: BBC

Damien Hirst is a fan of Jeff Koons, and has for a long time collected his work. Now he has put them exhibition in his gallery in London. The above film by Newsnight for the BBC shows Koons seeing the exhibition for the first time.

Sitting there in suits, they come across as two slightly dull middle-aged blokes, the chat only vaguely more interesting than something you'd hear in a North London pub during half-time. Their manner is disarmingly straightforward, even if it is delivered in the sort of half-dreamy haze of people who once spent a lot of time on drugs. There is no guffy artspeak here. I admire - and indeed always have - the honesty and frankness of it all, when it comes from the artist. And the curious thing is, I suspect some might find it hard to accept that this is the real Koons and Hirst - two people whose simple dedication to their own creativity somehow built a platform onto which a thousand pseuds and speculators could project their own fantasies, a new language, and even a multi-billion dollar industry.

New 16thC National Gallery catalogue published

May 19 2016

Image of New 16thC National Gallery catalogue published

Picture: National Gallery

The National Gallery has published the third volume of its new catalogue of the Italian 16th Century paintings, focusing on works from Bologna and Ferrara. The catalogue is written by former director Nicholas Penny with Giorgia Mancini, a former research fellow at the National Gallery. You can order it here for £75. Here's the blurb:

The catalogue defines the special quality of paintings made in Bologna and Ferrara, describing a distinctive and idiosyncratic local tradition but also tracing the influence first of Perugino and then of Raphael and Titian. The entries are informed both by new archival research and technical analysis information and the catalogue also provides a detailed introduction to the work of each artist. In a valuable contribution to the history of taste, their changing reputations are traced and the important collections to which the paintings belonged are described, as is the manner in which they came into the UK’s national collection.

Volume 1 of the series was written by Penny in 2004, with volume 2 (Venice) appearing in 2008. The appearance of this latest volume just after Penny retired from the National underlines the rarity of having a director who was also involved in intimately cataloguing the collection.

£350,000 to save the Smythe family

May 19 2016

Image of £350,000 to save the Smythe family

Picture: DCMS/ACE

I've been meaning to mention the placing of a temporary export bar by the UK government on an important collection of nine 16th century portraits by Cornelis Ketel. The sitters are all members of the Smythe family, and the father of the group, Thomas (above), was an important merchant in London. It's apparently the earliest surviving set of portraits from a non-royal or aristocratic family. 

If anyone has a photo of the whole set, do please send it in!

Update - I'd forgotten that some years ago I helped the owners of the Smythe set add another Ketel portrait to their collection, when it came up for sale at Christie's

Google's new 'Art Camera'

May 19 2016

Video: Google Cultural Institute

Regular readers will know I'm a great fan of the Google Cultural Institute, and in particular its high-resolution photographs of museums and their collections. Now, a new camera is enabling Google to take more photos more quickly:

Simply dubbed the Art Camera, Google’s design — which is supposedly far simpler to use than similar setups — allows museums to easily digitize their collections for preservation. Operators simply point the camera at each edge of the painting and then the camera goes about taking extreme close-ups of the work before sending them to Google’s servers to be transformed into a single gigapixel file and uploaded to the project’s website just hours later. In fact, that aforementioned day-long wait time from years past? It’s been drastically reduced to just 30 minutes for a one-meter by one-meter work.

Google has loaned 20 cameras to museums around the world. More here.

A Koons for $40

May 19 2016

Image of A Koons for $40

Picture: Google

Google has unveiled a phone with a case designed by Jeff Koons. It's not just any phone case, but a 'live case', and it's yours for $40. As a bonus, you get (says Google):

you’ll receive exclusive digital artwork created by the artist and sent directly to your phone.

And in case you wondered why you wanted Jeff Koons' artwork on your phone, then Google has some fine artguff on 'The Importance of Koons'. Note the pointless use of contradictory adjectives and adverbs, which is so prevalent in modern artspeak:

Known for his monumental public sculptures, Koons’s innovative work creates a dialogue between timeless and timely. Vastness and intimacy. From balloon animals to classic figures, his pieces often challenge our perception of scale, weight and even the laws of physics. That’s why we love them.

59 lost Berlin sculptures found

May 19 2016

Image of 59 lost Berlin sculptures found

Picture: TAN

The Art Newspaper reports that, at a conference in Florence on 3rd May, art historians announced the discovery of 59 Italian Renaissance sculptures that had been presumed lost in Berlin after the Second World War. A fire at the flak tower in which many of Berlin's art treasures had been stored was thought until now to have destroyed almost everything inside. For example, most of the Gemaldegalerie's large paintings perished, which is why all the pictures on display in that museum today are on the smaller side. But many sculptures survived, chiefly of course those made of marble and bronze:

For decades, German art historians had no way of knowing what was lost in the fire and what survived in the Soviet Union. But since 2005, dozens of German and Russian museums have been cooperating on a number of projects to investigate the fate of art missing from both countries. The discovery of the 59 sculptures was revealed at a symposium in Florence on 3 May.

"Most of the sculptures were damaged, some are even in fragments," says Neville Rowley, curator of Italian Renaissance art at the Bode Museum, who was part of the research team. "They can’t currently be shown because of the state they are in. But there are plans to exhibit the sculptures at the Pushkin Museum after they’ve been restored."

Imagine if even some of the large pictures have in fact survived...

New Tate Modern director shakes the tin

May 19 2016

Image of New Tate Modern director shakes the tin

Picture: TAN

Frances Morris is the new director of Tate Modern, and has been interviewed by The Art Newspaper. I was glad to see her - as all museum directors must do these days - be so enthusiastic about fundraising. She says:

I love it! I can’t tell you how gratifying it is when somebody says, “I’m going to give you £100,000!” In a sense, I’m never really not fundraising: you are out talking to people and always alive to the possibilities of who you might want to bring on board. Over ten years with colleagues, I have recruited almost 300 patrons to support the acquisition committees. People who give to art are rather special people—they are very rare. One thing I haven’t done much of is corporate fundraising, but I have an appetite for it and the more mixed the economy, the greater the degree of independence.


May 17 2016

...very sorry about the radio silence the last two days. I have been in Wales for the first shoot of my new BBC4 series (on which more soon).

And tomorrow I'm speaking at a conference in London on regulating the art market: a good or bad idea? I think it's a bad idea - but haven't yet prepared my talk. I'd be grateful for any thoughts readers might have either way!

Update - a reader writes:

Regulation generally has a cost and only makes work for solicitors and government bureaucrats. 

Having said that there is a need for some industry standards in the art world.

The first of these is transparency and full disclosure.  Many undisclosed conflicts of interest exist and a buyer or a seller is entitled to a fair deal at auctions and with consultants. 

The conflicts are myriad but auction guarantees and phantom bidders come to mind. Similarly art advisers must disclose when they are acting as agents on commission or fixed fee and when they are acting for their own account.  It is desirable to know the sale history of a work.

A seller should provide a statement of known impediments to a work such as repairs and conservation or challenges to authenticity, title, and provenance.   Such disclosures are required generally for real estate and art is real property that can have similar value.

A mere admiration of what is needed but the introductory caveat must be noted.

Another writes:

On regulating the art market, some common rules on disclosure and transparency might help. Like banks’ communications, which are specified by the Financial Conduct Authority. EG

1)      Salerooms to disclose any guarantee, or interest in an object.

2)      Salerooms to disclose all reserves.

3)      Salerooms and dealers to disclose all attributions/opinions obtained by them prior to sale. (Good salerooms of course do this).

4)      Full provenance to be disclosed ( including the last provincial sale where the vendor bought it for £50).

5)      Something about offerors of lots under in lieu system being obliged to sell.

I agree that one should not need a particular qualification or particular financial resources to operate in the market, like a financial adviser or bus driver, and don’t approve of regulation generally, but transparency is a good thing.

Guffwatch - Turner prize edition.

May 13 2016

Image of Guffwatch - Turner prize edition.

Picture: Tate

The Turner Prize shortlist has been unveiled. It's the usual yawn inducing stuff, the most notable of which is a sculpture of a man pulling his bottom apart (above).

But hurrah for Will Gompertz, the BBC's arts editor, for taking aim at the curatorial artspeak that accompanies the Turner Prize announcement:

Where do they go to learn to produce these texts laden with pseudo-academic speak? Does their dense, mangled prose reflect a lack of confidence in the artists whose status and work - the curators' might think - needs to be elevated by arcane, pompous language?

Or, perhaps, it is insecurity about their own place in the "snobby" artworld (as Laurie Anderson described it to me) that leads them to write such nonsense?

To be clear: The purpose of the Turner Prize is to provoke a conversation about contemporary art among the public. The stated role of the Tate is to "increase knowledge, understanding and appreciation of art".

Both objectives are undermined and poorly served by the incomprehensible "artspeak" used by the institution's curators. It is not clever and it is very off-putting. 

Here, by way of example, is an explanation of Helen Marten's work: "Whilst their complex references might not be made immediately explicit to the viewer there is something alchemic in the way the materials collide, and ideas are often communicated through the obstinate wilfulness of the finished form.

"Marten's objects read almost as hieroglyphics, a visual system of communication that is expressive yet rooted in logic, which makes rational the combination of a pickle with an electrical circuit, or a pillar drill alongside a bowl of fish skins."

You get the point, I won't go on - and nor should the curators who wrote the texts, until they've been on a plain-speaking course or locked in a room with a collection of books by masters of writing about art such as Ruskin, Gombrich, Hughes and - for good measure - Bridget Riley.

AHN is not alone!

Why does the National Gallery only show 'western art'?

May 12 2016

Image of Why does the National Gallery only show 'western art'?

Picture: Chen Hongshou, 'Magnolia and Erect Rock', Palace Museum, Beijing.

In a thoughtful essay for The Art Newspaper, Giles Waterfield looks at the gently shifting remits of institutions like the National Gallery in London. He discusses the National's desire to be less bound by its current 1900 dividing line with Tate, but also says:

What would be truly revolutionary would be if Finaldi suggested breaking out from the National Gallery’s restriction of its permanent displays to Europe, in order to embrace the world in the way that the Tate is doing. A bold start was made in this direction by the former director Nicholas Penny’s acquisition of George Bellow’s Men of the Docks in 2014, the National Gallery’s first-ever modern US painting. Could the National Gallery go much further than crossing its chronological frontiers, and leap beyond Europe too?

These days, inserting contemporary art in amongst more traditional displays is all the rage. In the National Portrait Gallery in London, in which galleries have traditionally been arranged on a strictly chronological basis, modern works have now been inserted into the hang, even in the Tudor galleries. They call it 'contemporary conversations', and slightly to my surprise I thought it worked quite well.* 

But perhaps more relevant to today's globalised world is to obsess less about mixing old art with the new, but instead to have what we might call 'international conversations'. Once you think about it, institutions like the National Gallery present a very sealed view of mankind's artistic achievement. Why not hang a Dutch floral still-life by Roelandt Savery beside the work of Chen Hongshou (1598-1652) (above)?

* Although that said, I thought I counldn't help noticing that in the NPG's contemporary galleries downstairs no older portraits had been introduced into the hang - a shame, for the premise of mixing old and new is valid, and shouldn't be an excuse to try merely jazz up the old stuff.

Verona pictures recovered

May 12 2016

Video: Euronews

Excellent news - the 17 paintings that were stolen in an armed raid on Verona's Castelvecchio Museum have been recovered. According to footage released by the Ukraine authorities, above, they were found hidden in undergrowth near the border with Moldova, wrapped in plastic. News stories last month suggested that Italian police knew the pictures had been taken to Moldova. 

It seems the frames have been lost along the way.

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