Last chance to see Samuel Cooper
December 5 2013
The Samuel Cooper exhibition here at Philip Mould ends this Saturday at 4pm. You'll probably never see such a good collection of his work together for a few decades. Unmissable!
Leaky roof closes museum
November 22 2013
[...] it is no longer possible to guarantee that the roof of the building housing the exhibition The Heritage of Rogier van der Weyden is watertight. In order to prevent any eventual problems and as a precaution, the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium in Brussels have decided to close the exhibition permanently.
Please rest assured that this difficult and painful decision for our institution is dictated by concern with the preventative conservation of this exceptional cultural heritage, and that our team will make every effort to ensure optimal management of the situation.
The exhibition had opened on 12th October, and was due to run until 26th January. I'm sure visitors wouldn't have minded the odd bucket on the floor.
The show had a good and informative website, which you can still see here.
Update - a reader writes:
I am shocked to read about the museum in Brussels having to close the Heritage of Rogier van der Weyden exhibition. I visited the exhibition on Tuesday when it reopened after having closed down for the previous week, apparently due to leaking water. I had booked my ticket well in advance and took a day trip on Eurostar. It was an excellent exhibition, really well displayed in the spacious basement galleries, with numerous works of art by anonymous Brussels painters gathered together from as far away as Australia and plenty of interesting new research. I was very lucky and it's a shame for all those who will be disappointed.
The gratuitous girl in white gloves shot (ctd.)
November 22 2013
Picture: The Times
It's the unwritten rule of saleroom and museum photo-calls: when the photographers arrive, you have to have a young, female, and preferably good-looking member of staff on hand to pretend to 'hang' a painting, or look at an object. And that person always has to wear white gloves (despite the fact that nobody really uses them anymore).
Above is a great example of the genre in today's Times, where a member of staff at the Royal Collection 'observes' a screen of works by Thomas Rowlandson.
The Rowlandson exhibition is now on at the Queen's Gallery in Holyroodhouse. More details here.
Update - a reader writes, and asks:
Yes, but isn't this at least a funny riff on the hackneyed motif? and one that, as a caricature itself of the good-looking-girl-pretending-to-hang-a-painting, refers cleverly to subject of the exhibition, the Rowlandson cartoon caricatures? The "gratuitous girl"'s magnified teeth even resemble one of the ways Rowlandson caricatured his targets.... So this particular photo isn't really "gratuitous" at all, is it?
BTW, a question from ignorance: if white gloves aren't worn any more, why not? is something else worn, or don't paintings need the supposed protection?
The problem with white gloves is that they make it harder to handle things, because you can't grip, and your fingers become clumsy. You're more likely to drop a painting, or rip a piece of paper (try reading a book in gloves). The best thing is to just wash your hands. Sometimes, latex gloves are used.
The only time archivists ever use white gloves is when they're being filmed - otherwise they get a deluge of people writing in, saying 'why don't you use white gloves?'
Update II - a reader notes:
most print rooms do insist on white gloves when handling mounted drawings, because it avoids sweaty hands staining the mounts at no risk to the drawing itself. Counterintuitively - but sensibly - gloves are not used when handling unmounted material.
What's the greatest painting in Britain?
November 22 2013
Picture: English Heritage
In The Guardian, Jonathan Jones makes the case for Rembrandt's self-portrait at Kenwood, which is now open again after restoration:
This majestic work of art is about to go back on permanent public view when Kenwood House in north London reopens its doors on 28 November. It has been closed for repairs and restoration by English Heritage, and if you have been missing it, or have never been, an artistic feast awaits. Kenwood has a staggering art collection, including Gainsborough's Countess Howe and Turner's Iveagh Sea-Piece.
But the Rembrandt is something else. You don't have to take my word for it: when Kenwood was closed, this painting was excitedly borrowed by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which showed it as one of Rembrandt's ultimate achievements alongside its own masterpieces by him.
Rembrandt, at the age of about 59, looks at us from the depth of his years, and with the authority of his craft. He has portrayed himself holding his brushes, maulstick and palette, in front of two circles drawn on a wall. Why the circles? Do they represent a sketch for a map of the world? Or is Rembrandt alluding, with this drawing on a brown surface, to stories that say the first picture was a drawing made with a stick in sand?
His eyes contain so much knowledge and melancholy that even looking at this painting on a computer screen, I get the eerie feeling that Rembrandt is looking back and weighing up my failures. You can deduce the power of the original.
Curate your own contemporary art show!
November 20 2013
Ever fancied curating your own exhibition of contemporary art? Well, the Hayward Gallery is inviting everyone to have a try:
Hayward Touring invites proposals for an exhibition of contemporary art to be shown in four UK galleries in 2014/15. You don’t have to be a professional curator or exhibition-maker to submit an idea. We welcome suggestions for innovative projects from artists, writers and imaginative thinkers in all walks of life, as well as from people working in galleries and museums. Your proposal might be for an exhibition that re-invents the way we think about art; it might be a new and surprising take on a well-worn subject; there may be a theme or tendency in contemporary art and visual culture that you think deserves to be explored in new ways; or a theme that you have always thought would make a great exhibition.
Go on, have a go. How hard can it be? A recent Hayward exhibition was their 'invisible art' show (above), so the bar will be set very low.
Plug! Our Samuel Cooper exhibition (ctd.)
November 18 2013
What - you haven't been yet? Tut tut. In case you needed persuading, even the Grumpy Art Historian likes the show. Thanks GAH!
Guffwatch - Waldemar wades in
November 18 2013
Good news. Momentum continues to build in the battle against art-world Guff. Now, Waldemar has launched a sharp attack on the latest salvo of Guff to emerge from Tate, in its new 'Painting Now' show. In his review, he writes that:
The five painters have been chosen by no less than three curators (1.666 artists each?), whose ramblings in the catalogue are a disgrace to the English language and an insult to the few poor souls wandering through Tate Britain on the day I visited. No wonder there was hardly anyone there. Why should anyone visit an institution so insensitive to the needs of communication that its catalogues contain sentences that proceed “As painting is no longer in a position of autonomy — alone and apart — this also entails a move away from an idea of medium specificity, defining a practice as ‘painting’ or ‘film’, and towards a post-medium age, what a recent conference at Harvard examined as the ‘medium under the condition of its de-specification’ ”?
Update - a reader writes:
It's interesting that the Tate is showing five contemporary painters with such a fanfare. Ten years ago painters were meant to be extinct and even five years ago they were an oddity. Now painting is everywhere and it's the installations that look old hat.
I wondered if you could thank Damien Hirst for this, for overdosing everyone on rotting animals and chemist's shops and for hard-pedalling painting again.
Watch a Turner being cleaned
November 14 2013
Picture: Bowes Museum
This looks like fun - the Bowes Museum is cleaning their 'Lowther Castle - Evening' by Turner, and all in public. You can go along and watch if you like. The picture was recently acquired through the UK government's Acceptance in Lieu scheme. More details here on the museum's blog.
Plug! Samuel Cooper exhibition
November 12 2013
We've finally finished installing our Samuel Cooper portrait miniatures exhibition, and the catalogues have arrived. So my work is done. But yours, dear loyal readers, is only just beginning - you have between tomorrow at 10am and 5pm on December 7th to visit. We are also open Saturdays from 12-4pm. Despite working on such a small scale, Cooper was not only the first internationally recognised British artist, but also one of the best portraitists this country has ever produced.
The show is the first on Cooper for 40 years, and features loans from, among others, the Royal Collection, the V&A, the Fitzwilliam, the Ashmolean, and the National Portrait Gallery. The title, 'Warts and All', comes from Oliver Cromwell's famous instruction to Cooper, when the Protector sat for his portrait in about 1653.
New 'Raphael' of Julius II on display at the Staedel Museum
November 8 2013
Picture: Art Daily
Regular readers may remember that a couple of years ago the Staedel Museum in Germany announced that it had bought a newly discovered 'Raphael and Studio' portrait of Pope Julius II. At the time, I was more than a little sceptical, as you can read here (check out the woeful hands and the crude under-drawing). Now (Art Daily reports), the Staedel has put on a new exhibition explaining their logic, and comparing the new discovery to other versions of the painting. Happily, the National Gallery original has not been lent, and is represented in the photo above by a life size reproduction.
I still think the Staedel picture is most likely just a copy, and not by Raphael. But the compiler of the new Raphael catalogue raisonne thinks Raphael had a hand it in.
Update - the Grumpy Art Historian has been to see the exhibition, and is also unconvinced.
Update II - a reader writes:
The Gallery deserves credit for a responsible, careful effort, though, don't you think?
Daumier at the RA
November 4 2013
The new Honore Daumier exhibition at the RA seems to be going down well. Waldemar liked it, as did Laura Cumming in the Observer. Alastair Smart wasn't so keen though in the Telegraph, and gave it just two stars. There's a video about the show here.
Installing Samuel Cooper
November 4 2013
Great excitement here at Philip Mould & Co. as we begin to install our Samuel Cooper exhibition.
The photo above shows the first completed case. In case you're interested, installing five miniatures takes well over an hour. Each one has to be carefully checked, and then pinned into place with special plastic covered pins. The fabric on which they will rest has been 'Oddy tested' to make sure it isn't toxic for any aspect of the miniature or its frame, and the board behind the fabric, made of Plastazote, is also free of any harmful chemicals. The base of the specially constructed, reinforced glass and steel case has been filled with Artsorb to keep the humidity at a steady 50%. Things you can't see in the photo include humidifiers, light meters, and two ex-army security guards. These are just some of the things you need to think of when exhibiting museum items like this.
The exhibition opens on 13th November, and runs till 7th December. Attendance is of course compulsory for all AHN readers.
Canalettos return to Warwick Castle
November 4 2013
Picture: Adam Busiakiewicz
Here's a clever thing - Warwick Castle has borrowed, from Birmingham Museum, two Canalettos which used to hang at the castle. They were sold off 35 years ago when the 8th Earl of Warwick sold the castle to Madame Tussauds. Many of the pictures were sold seperately.
There was an outcry when the castle was sold to Tussauds, but on my visits there I've always found it well run, and busy. And it's good to see a (gasp) 'commercial' owner taking an interest in such things as 18th Century landscape art. The pictures are on display throughout November. In the picture above, former Warwick Castle employee Adam Busiakiewicz, whose idea the loan was, admires Canaletto's Warwick Castle, the East Front, (which, the ArtFund website tells me, was bought by Birmingham Museum for £275,000 in 1978).
'Britain's Sistine Chapel'
October 21 2013
Picture: National Trust
Regular readers will know of my anorak-like fascination with war art, so it's exciting to read that Stanley Spencer's WW1 murals, normally housed in Sandham Memorial Chapel in Berkshire, are coming to London. They will be on display from November 7th till January 26th at Somerset House. Needless to say, the PR hype that these murals are somehow 'Britain's Sistine Chapel' is a bit de trop.
Have we run out of good art to sell?
October 21 2013
Video: Channel 4 News
Paul Mason of Channel 4 News wonders if the profusion of works by lesser known 20th Century artists on offer at Frieze Masters is because there isn't enough good art to go round, or rather the good stuff is just too expensive. One dealer, exhibiting the work of an entirely unknown Hungarian dentist (above), says somewhat unconvincingly, "This is not about finding something else to flog".
Update - an Old Master dealing reader writes:
Your post "Have we run of good art to sell" was a pleasure to read and see.
Indeed, even though the old masters are oft lamented as being almost depleted, it seems that modern and contemporary masters face the same problem.
Where with the old masters it's more a problem of shrinking supply, the modern masters have had to cope with huge and growing demand, surging prices and an influx of new "collectors". Nowadays it seems easier (not to mention cheaper) to get your hands on a decent Brueghel than it is to acquire a half-decent Monet, Van Gogh or Picasso.
Frieze Masters (ctd.)
October 18 2013
I enjoyed Frieze Masters, where I went yesterday evening. It's a well presented and well run fair, and has the potential to be one of the best in the world. A highlight was the above pair of Monet drawing and painting (above), on offer at Simon Dickinson for just over £8.3m.
But from an Old Master point of view, I found the offering a little underwhelming. The fair seems mainly to have stands from dealers who exhibit at TEFAF in Maastricht. And since TEFAF is still the world's pre-eminent Old Master fair, it's hard not to go around Frieze Masters thinking, 'I've seen that before'. Some of the pictures I recognised from TEFAF two and even three years ago. Major art fairs should really have a rule that prevents exhibitors wheeling out the same old pictures.
Another rule all fairs should have is one about labelling and pricing the works on offer. Fairs are retail environments, not the first floor galleries many dealers are used to. Not putting prices on the wall makes punters, especially new ones, feel uneasy.
The worst offender in this respect at Frieze Masters was the Gagosian Gallery (below), which is so lah-de-dah exclusive that it refuses to put any labels on the wall at all. So you have no idea who made what, and (I suppose this is the point) are made to feel lowly and un-cultured by daring to ask. It's an unforgiveably pompous way to treat people, don't you think? I don't understand why, in my world of selling Old Masters and British art, we bend over backwards to explain everything possible about a picture (attribution, identification, context, provenance, condition), and yet in the modern and contemporary world you can get away with saying nothing at all. Is that because there is in fact nothing to say?
Update - a reader points out that the Barber Institute has another version of the above Monet, for which they paid just £1,428 in 1938.
Update II - a dealing reader writes:
Your comments about presentation of work that’s already been seen are absolutely right.
The labelling issue vis-à-vis modern and contemporary rumbles on and is a reflection of the snootery and elitism that is rife, all to do with deep insecurity and anxiety I expect.
Update III - another reader writes:
Just a short message to let you know I completely agree with your review of Frieze Masters; I had exactly the same feeling at Gagosian - "yeah that's a Rothko (but if you have to ask you're too stupid to become a client of us" - extremely pompous indeed.
Old masters isn't my core interest but I did have some déja-vu's too - and I saw the Velazques portrait you discussed earlier on your blog.
For Modern art FM is definitely at the same level at Tefaf in my view, but there are still some holes, for example the almost total lack of anything new or old from the Asian continent.
Great location in the park too, a fine excuses for a day-trip to London - and such great weather!
Update IV - a reader alerts me to this excellent article on how to navigate the Friezes, by Peter Aspden in the FT:
1. Act rich. For all their democratic brio, people who sell art are only really interested in people who can afford to buy it. The average price of an artwork at Frieze is £20,000, which is more than an Alfa Romeo. But acting rich is not as easy as it used to be. Pressed jeans and Tod’s loafers are a uniform of the past. Assume a casual, studied air. When confronted by a work designed to make you laugh, don’t laugh. Haughty disdain goes a long way, although if you can match that of the gallerist, you are made of ice. Don’t be embarrassed to ask the price of anything but never, ever, mention any currency denomination (see point two).
2. So you quite like the look of something, and you ask how much it costs. “Two,” may be the reply. The air of vagueness is a test. You will know, from your studies of the artist in question, whether that means £2 (no), £200 (unlikely), £200,000, or £2m. But if the gallerist’s assistant is American, she (almost always a she) may be talking dollars. Don’t ask. Make a rough calculation in your head that covers all possible options. Any physical reaction is ill-advised, other than the barely perceptible raising of an eyebrow. Finally, ask if she will accept roubles. You’re on the front foot now.
3. Don’t check in your sense of humour at the VIP lounge. Take it with you, wherever you go. There is no need to LOL but a steady, wry chuckle as you wind your way round the aisles will serve you well. If asked your opinion on anything, there are some stock phrases that will come in useful: for example, “referencing Duchamp”, or “rethinking the space between the artist and the spectator”. Almost all contemporary art references or rethinks something or other. As an exercise, try and talk about art without using any word that begins with “re”. Don’t ever use the word “postmodern”, which is dated and not very funny at all.
Update V - a major contemporary artist (apparently) writing under the pseudonym Shirley House on has this interesting snippet on Pinkers Post about the datelines at Frieze Masters:
right now the mix is a total disaster. I was told by one of the organizers that they came under huge pressure from some of the very large contemporary galleries to include them, as they wanted to show off expensive minimalists. Many of the larger galleries, and even some mid-size ones are busily hoovering up the estates of dead artists (they have all learned the art of dodgy editions). The fair obviously cannot refuse them as they are too powerful, and bring too many collectors there, but it really risks the future integrity of the fair. The organizer told me confidentially that they are waiting a few years to push further back the date remit - I imagine to the start of the 1980's, but we will have to see if they do it. If there is one way of deciding how to draw a line, it may be to decide who is already in an established cannon, and who is not. The Masters fair would be a perfect vehicle to investigate these parameters. Koons has added to the post-Warhol debate, so he is in. Damien Hirst and Takahashi Murakami are yet to be decided.
Guffwatch - bouncer special
October 17 2013
Picture: Melanie Gerlis
The Art Newspaper's Melanie Gerlis reports on Twitter that at Gagosian's Frieze stand there are more bouncers than punters. Above, two guards look as they're really enjoying standing watch over Jeff Koons' Tweety Pie.
Sewell on Tate's iconoclasm show
October 16 2013
I enjoyed the Tate's new 'Art Under Attack' exhibition. It's about iconoclasm, but Tate were told they couldn't call it that, because people wouldn't understand what it meant. There are some beautiful objects on display, like the above c.1500 defaced statue of Christ, which I found strangely moving. Such things make you realise how much we lost in Britain during the Reformation. So thanks for that, Henry. We so rarely think of an English tradition in religious art, but it must have been a deeply embedded one, with practically every painted surface in a church decorated with something. As my boss, Philip Mould, always reminds me, the history of art is the history of what survives.
Still, iconoclasm is a difficult theme for an exhibition to pull off, as the Great Brian points out in the Standard:
The problem for this exhibition, until it reaches the end of the 17th century (when the Puritans too behaved as perversely as Henry’s men), is that the iconoclasts destroyed almost everything that was once worth exhibiting and it exists — if it exists at all — only in fragments and in such records as paintings and prints. Two rouge marble fragments from the tomb of Thomas Becket in Canterbury — one of a thousand pilgrimage shrines destroyed — are of no interest in themselves but only provide evidence that some structural part of it was in this rich material; without the legend these could as easily be fragments of a Georgian fireplace. Fragments of lead and carved stone from Rievaulx are exactly that too — fragments of architectural evidence. Larger sculptures, headless and handless, are evidence of the physical effort involved in destruction. Fragments of small alabaster sculptures even have something of the fetish souvenir about them.
We then move on to the tumbling of statues — away with William the Turd and George I, Nelson and the Duke of Cumberland — and to defaced coins, among them one with a noose about the neck of George III and another of Victoria scarred with the legend “I love shag”. Such trivia from the local junk shop make for a very thin exhibition, and it is hardly thickened by its treatment of the suffragettes from Manchester — a couple of the 13 paintings the glass of which they smashed, and from the National Gallery a photograph of Velázquez’s Venus, hacked by stupid Mary Richardson with a butcher’s cleaver, and one of the five Bellinis attacked with her cane by the equally stupid Freda Graham. These are not to be recognised as examples of iconoclasm, for any painting of anything would have served as well, or badly, to draw attention to their cause; had they attacked the paintings in Roger Fry’s Post-Impressionist Exhibition of 1912, they would have attracted just as much attention and won the public to their side.
October 14 2013
Been playing around with the cover for our Samuel Cooper catalogue today. Looks good, don't you think? Slightly alarming that the ink came off in my hands, but apparently this is normal, at this stage.
Less than a week to print... Exhibition opens 13th November.
Vienna Portraits, 1900
October 13 2013
Video: National Gallery
Quite a cool video for the National Gallery's new Vienna portrait exhibition. Tho' doesn't the Schiele self-portrait look like that angry fellow from Ryanair?