21st Century

Caroline Campbell on 'The Power of Art'

November 13 2023

Image of Caroline Campbell on 'The Power of Art'

Picture: The Bridge Street Press

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

Caroline Campbell, the Director of the National Gallery of Ireland, wrote an extended piece this weekend for the Belfast Telegraph. The article explains her reasons for writing her new book The Power of Art: A World History in Fifteen Cities, a publication which was released last month. Amongst the paragraphs that struck me was the following:

Art undeniably gains its power from its ability to fuel and drive our feelings. Because it is able to appeal to our inner beings, it can give solace and connection, linking us to lives and experiences far removed from us by time or distance. Just as potently, it can foment difference and dissent, intensifying our sense of dislocation, rage, or violence. Growing up in Belfast during the Troubles particularly sensitised me to this issue. Art is dangerous, and it can influence us in eloquent and sometimes uncontrollable ways. But it is also uniquely able to connect us to the peoples and worlds of the past.

The publication is out and available now.

200 Works of Art Still Missing from UK Parliament

November 13 2023

Image of 200 Works of Art Still Missing from UK Parliament

Picture: Daily Mail & PBC

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

The Daily Mail published a story last week explaining that the UK's Parliament is still missing 200 works of art from its collection. This story first broke back in 2018, but a recent freedom of information request by the newspaper has shown that a large number of works are still unaccounted for.

According to a spokesperson quoted in the paper:

'Parliament is continuing to address collection objects historically identified as missing or not located through ongoing audits and regular reviews across the estate,' they said.

'The number of objects catalogued as missing or not located is only true at the time of request and may differ over time. 

'Parliament has an ongoing programme to address the matter, through comprehensive and regular audits, recently resulting in a 5 per cent reduction in objects identified as missing since 2021.'

Berlusconi's Art Collection

October 20 2023

Image of Berlusconi's Art Collection

Picture: The Guardian

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

The Guardian have published an incredibly curious story on the fate of the former Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi's art collection. The collection of artworks, which is said to number 25,000 works and cost the former PM  €20m, is said to be 'worthless'. 

To quote the article:

Vittorio Sgarbi, an undersecretary at the culture ministry, art critic and close friend of Berlusconi, said the compulsion for buying art sold through TV auctions began in earnest in 2018 as a result of “sleepless nights”.

He told Report, the investigative series broadcast on Rai, that Berlusconi spent an estimated €20m on what Sgarbi described as a collection of “daubs”, and the focus appeared to be on quantity rather than quality.


The family is believed to be considering turning Villa San Martino, where Berlusconi hosted business and political meetings as well as some of his famous “bunga bunga” parties, into a museum.

Looking at the press image supplied, it is quite clear that these are mostly very late copies of famous Italian Old Master paintings. It is a mystery to me how they might have totted up to €20m. Very odd.

Rijksmuseum places Olaf Photograph next to Verspronck

September 29 2023

Image of Rijksmuseum places Olaf Photograph next to Verspronck

Picture: Rijksmuseum

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam have hung a photograph by the late Erwin Olaf next to Johannes Verspronck's Portrait of a Girl in Blue in their main galleries this week. This gesture was made in honour of the photographer who died unexpectedly last week at the age of 64.

Rijksmuseum director Taco Dibbits was quoted in 2018 as saying:

"Erwin Olaf is one of the most important photographers of the last quarter of the 20th century. His work is strongly rooted in the visual tradition of Dutch art and history."

What will happen to Birmingham's treasures?

September 28 2023

Image of What will happen to Birmingham's treasures?

Picture: birminghammail.co.uk

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

There is much speculation in the press currently regarding whether Birmingham Council will safeguard its historic collection of art from asset stripping in wake of its bankruptcy and £87m deficit for the years 2023-24. Cultural organisations are rallying to encourage administrators to preserve and protect collections and historic assets kept in sites such as the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Aston Hall (pictured) and the Library of Birmingham. It is hoped that the actions of Croydon and Northampton Councils, who sold off publicly owned works of art in 2013 and 2014 respectively to find money for other projects, won't set a precedent for this particular case.

Vanishing Point

April 10 2022

Image of Vanishing Point

Picture: FT

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

The Financial Times have published an interesting article on Barbara Walker’s new exhibition Vanishing Point. The show is currently on at the Cristea Roberts Gallery in London until 23rd April 2022. As you can see, these graphite drawings (combined with blind embossing) hone in on black figures that feature within old master paintings.

To quote the artist:

I spend a lot of time in the National Gallery, and when I’m looking at those beautiful paintings, I’m looking for me — how we are represented, how we are viewed — and to understand our journey. Often the black figures are in the corner or with their backs turned to us. The viewer sometimes doesn’t see these individuals. But I’m making them high-definition and bringing them to the forefront: here, they are not just props.


I’m duplicating an Old Masters painting and I want people to see the original in my work. So the black figure is still in situ; I don’t completely wash away the white figures, as I’ve done previously, or rub them away or paint them out. I want the audience to see the dynamics.

Botticelli on a Bra

April 5 2022

Image of Botticelli on a Bra

Picture: Peach John

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

Regular readers will know that Old Masters can be found on all sorts of clothing these days, including jumpers, shortssocks and shoes. It was only a matter of time before a lingerie brand decided to stitch them onto women's underwear. Here we can see Peach John's latest Botticelli bra, which will set you back a mere 4,378 yen (the equivalent of £29.34).

According to the article linked above:

These pieces are part of the Peach John line of lingerie called “Kyosho no Bra”, or “Master’s Bras”, which include lingerie embroidered with other famous works of art like Monet, Alphonse Mucha, Pieter Bruegel, Van Gogh, Gustav Klimt, and even Hokusai. We’re looking forward to finding out what work of art they’re going to recreate next.

Royal Albert Hall joins NFT bandwagon

April 1 2022

Image of Royal Albert Hall joins NFT bandwagon

Picture: Royal Albert Hall

Posted by Bendor

The Royal Albert Hall has decided to enter the NFT market. The disturbing news was revealed on their website today:

“Think MySpace squared,” said the Hall’s chief executive, Craig O’Follipar. “We’re talking Yahoo! in five dimensions. Our ultimate goal is to build a framework of millennial policy hardware featuring synchronised matrix approaches, in collaboration with the world’s leading performers. We’ve already got two of G4 on board, and the other two are interested.

”The NFTs depict a dozen unforgettable moments in the venue’s storied history, including on-stage appearances from the likes of Queen Victoria, Adele and Matt Goss.

Problematic Dave, who has previously worked with brands like Iowa Special Meat and Iowa Dog Track, said the chance to collaborate with one of the world’s most renowned venues was a dream come true. “Yeah, it’s been alright,” he said.

More here.

Update - this was of course an April Fools. But just day's later, the actual Treasury here in the UK has said it really is getting in on the NFT craze. Crazy. More here.

New 'Restoration' Scandal in France

March 29 2022

Image of New 'Restoration' Scandal in France

Picture: france3-regions.francetvinfo.fr

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

News has been emerging from Chatonrupt-Sommermont in the Haute-Marne, North-Eastern France, of a rather curious restoration scandal. The story revolves around a town Mayor who commissioned a retired soldier called Patrick Quercy to 'restore' a set of nineteenth-century Stations of the Cross. These rather damaged paintings had recently been rediscovered in the bell tower of an old church. Quercy's work had been featured on a regional news programme where several commentators spotted that the work was far from satisfactory (see the comparisons above). Didier Rykner of La Tribune de l'Art used words such as 'vandalism' and a 'massacre' to describe this most misguided campaign of restoration. He has also drawn attention to the vulnerable position that so many religious artworks of 'no commercial value' are placed in.

Art Basel & UBS Art Market Report

March 29 2022

Image of Art Basel & UBS Art Market Report

Picture: artbasel.com

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

Art Basel and UBS have just published their 2022 Art Market Report (click on the link to read the free report in full). As to be expected, the report is full of rather interesting statistics.

Here are just a handful of noteworthy points I've picked out from the paper:

1. After a decline of 20% in 2020, aggregate sales in the dealer sector reached an estimated $34.7 billion in 2021, increasing by 18% year-on-year, but still below the level of 2019.

2. After a challenging year in 2020, the auction sector rebounded strongly in 2021, with high demand and strong sales both online and  offline, particularly at the high end of the market, as well as an influx of new buyers. Sales at public auction of fine and decorative art  and antiques reached an estimated $26.3 billion, an increase of 47% on 2020.

3. The largest international auction hubs remained the US, China, and the UK, with a  dominant share of 78% of public auction sales by value. China was the largest market with a 33% share (down by 3% year-on-year), marginally ahead of the US (32%). 

4. Just 6% of dealers had sold NFTs in 2021. A further 19% had  not sold NFTs but were interested in doing so in the next one to two years, whereas just under half (46%) reported that they had not done so and had no interest in doing so in future. The remaining 29% were unsure whether they would sell NFTs in future or not.

Click here to read a full write-up from The Art Newspaper.

MET Actors Recreate Las Meninas

March 24 2022

Image of MET Actors Recreate Las Meninas

Picture: @metoperaactors

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

Re-creating historical paintings never goes out of fashion, it seems. The actors of the Metropolitan Opera in New York have recreated Diego Velázquez's Las Meninas to help promote their latest production of Verdi's Don Carlos. A good effort, I think!

Saving Ukranian Cultural Heritage & Art

March 14 2022

Video: The Guardian

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

Alongside the horrific human suffering due to the ongoing war in Ukraine, many media outlets have also been covering the brave and heroic efforts of cultural and museum officials in saving their cultural treasures. Whole museum collections have been hidden away into safe places. Important historic buildings in cities like Lviv and Odessa have been scaffolded and covered up in hope that they will be protected against potential shelling.

From the Russian museums side of things, large institutions like the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg are demanding that all international loans are returned by the end of the month. This has particularly affected some exhibitions in Italy, it seems. The National Gallery in London will also "no longer be seeking" a Raphael from the Hermitage for their upcoming show.

Manet and Renoir given the McDonald's Treatment

March 1 2022

Image of Manet and Renoir given the McDonald's Treatment

Picture: DDB Athens & McDonald's

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

News from Greece that the advertising agency DDB Athens have just completed a new ad campaign for the fast-food giant McDonald's. The campaign features McDonald's packaging inserted into various paintings by Edouard Manet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir with the tagline Meant to be Classic written underneath.

Here is the Courtauld Gallery's A Bar at the Folies-Bergère given the chicken-nugget treatment:

And here is the MET's Renoir featuring a greasy paper bag:


None of this is brand new, of course. Famous paintings have been featured in ad campaigns for many decades now. Will this be an increasing trend in the age of Open Access images, I wonder?

Sell the Dalí to Afford Council Wages says Trade Union Boss

February 28 2022

Image of Sell the Dalí to Afford Council Wages says Trade Union Boss

Picture: dailyrecord.co.uk

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

The latest call for UK Councils to sell off prized artworks has appeared in Glasgow, Scotland. During a fierce debate to encourage Glasgow City Council to pay equal wages, top GMB Trade Union Boss Gary Smith has suggested that high value assets should be sold off to help foot the £500m bill. The Kelvingrove Art Gallery's Christ of Saint John of the Cross Painting by Salvador Dalí has been the focus of attention in this particular example.

According to the article linked above:

“If the council really thinks it can fix this alone then it had better start making plans to flog the Dali, because there is no way this discrimination is going to be paid for off the back of hard-pressed workers in a cost-of-living crisis.”

It seems that a similar suggestion was made in 2001 in relation to paying off the City Council's debts.

A council spokesperson has also been quoted in response to the story:

“We’re negotiating with trade unions and others representing claimants. We will only know the cost of settling claims once we have a deal – and that will determine any financial strategy.”

NPG cuts ties with BP

February 22 2022

Image of NPG cuts ties with BP

Picture: The Guardian

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

The National Portrait Gallery (NPG) in London has announced the cutting of ties with its 30-year sponsor BP. The gallery has said that it will not renew its contract with the oil company when it comes up for renewal in December 2022. Although director Nicholas Cullinan has said that gallery is "hugely grateful" for the decades of money and sponsorship, increasingly loud pressure groups have maintained that the NPG should be a "forward-looking institution that’s on the right side of history”.

The NAL Reopens after 22 Months

January 27 2022

Image of The NAL Reopens after 22 Months

Picture: V&A

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

The National Art Library at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London reopened yesterday after being shut since March 2020.

I've pulled out what I find to be the most important sections of the museum's blog about the reopening:

In 2021, as a result of the financial impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, the V&A underwent a major restructure, creating new curatorial departments and bringing the National Art Library and Archives together with the V&A’s Research Institute. Together with this move, we began a comprehensive review of the NAL and Archive services, led by two independent consultants, Dr Sarah Thomas and Anna Jobson. Sarah and Anna were tasked with examining how, in the extraordinary context of the pandemic, the library could – and should – move forward as a core part of the V&A’s mission, considering the place of the NAL within a national and international library landscape, how libraries have changed in response to the pandemic and wider trends in digital and technology and, in particular, how we might broaden access to the NAL and our archives.


To that end, we are embarking on a transformation programme to take the National Art Library into its next phase, with renewed commitment to make our collections and resources accessible to all. We’ll shortly be appointing a Chief Librarian to lead this process, and we will be working behind the scenes to make our digitised collections more discoverable, to make more of our unique and distinctive collections, and to improve remote access to our resources. While financial constraints mean that we’re not able to act immediately on all of Sarah and Anna’s recommendations, we are committed to renewing and reinforcing the NAL, making it more sustainable, connected and inclusive, serving more people nationally and internationally as a fundamental part of the V&A’s 21st-century mission.


We’re delighted to be able to welcome readers back to the National Art Library’s reading rooms from 26 January, with increased opening hours and capacity. We’ll be opening every Wednesday from 11am and 5pm, with a walk-in service: and we’ll be increasing our opening hours later in the spring.

...'accessible to all', but only if you're free on a Wednesday from 11am till 5pm. Let us hope this is swiftly extended, due to the demand of this most vital of art resource!

Nicholas Penny on the new Courtauld Gallery hang

January 20 2022

Image of Nicholas Penny on the new Courtauld Gallery hang

Picture: The Guardian

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

The London Review of Books have published a free article by Nicholas Penny, former director of The National Gallery, on the picture arrangement in the newly refurbished Courtauld Gallery.

As Penny explains:

The art of hanging paintings is little acknowledged, even by art historians, but has consequences that can equal the most eloquent criticism. When to defer to – and when to deviate from – expectation involves fine judgment and sensitivity. 

The Courtauld Institute Teams up with Kings College London

January 20 2022

Image of The Courtauld Institute Teams up with Kings College London

Picture: courtauld.ac.uk

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

The Courtauld Institute of Art in London have announced a new ten-year strategic relationship with Kings College London (KCL). Both institutions, which share occupancy of Somerset House on the Strand, will initiate new collaborations with Masters courses, undergraduate module sharing, co-supervision of postgraduate research and interdisciplinary research opportunities.

Which areas will this new collaboration touch upon? Here's a quotation from KCL's Principal & President, Professor Shitij Kapur:

The Courtauld, as a specialist institution with a global reputation, distinguished history and founding principle of “art for all”, has a deep-rooted commitment to make change for the better, to be progressive, relevant, and resilient, and to push forward the understanding of the visual arts at a time when the arts have never been more important.  King’s, a large multi-Faculty Russell Group institution, has strengths in all areas from the Arts & Humanities through to Medicine and Health Sciences, Psychiatry and Psychology, the Social Sciences and Natural & Mathematical Sciences, and is committed to excellence, inclusion, and service to society in making the world a better place.

The National Gallery send 3D Printed Painting to Winchester Cathedral

January 19 2022

Image of The National Gallery send 3D Printed Painting to Winchester Cathedral

Picture: BBC

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

The National Gallery in London have sent a 3D printed copy of Jan Gossaerts's Adoration of the Kings to Winchester Cathedral for a special exhibition called Sensing the Unseen: Step into Gossaert’s ‘Adoration'.

According to the exhibition's website:

The exhibition is a multisensory experience, transporting you into the world of Jan Gossaert’s ‘Adoration of the Kings’. The 3D perfect facsimile of the painting (produced by Factum Arte) showcases the depth of the paint, the vivid colours and exquisite details of this 16th century masterpiece. It is complemented by a soundscape, the squawking of birds, the chink of the bridles and the voice of King Balthasar.     

Using digital technology, you can experience one of the National Gallery’s most popular paintings like never before. The exhibition space will comprise of the full scale facsimile painting, spot lit and flanked by three yurt-like pods. Inside each pod, you will encounter a digital image of the painting, which has been ‘sonified’ using soundscapes, spoken words, music and a poem. As you step into the experience you can discover and navigate previously unseen elements.


Regular readers might know that I'm not a fan of 3D printed artworks. See - (1) (2).

The NFT and 'Metaverse' phenomena are but only recent examples that our world is giving up on the idea of what is real. Paintings show us things and places that our eyes will never see, but, they are still living objects. For me, I adore historic artworks because they are a refuge from the never-ceasing mundanity of the modern world. They were made by human hands, flesh and blood. This is why going to see art in the flesh can be such a magical experience and why vast sums of money are spent on otherwise worthless bits of canvas, wood and marble.

Why didn't they send the actual Jan Gossaert to Winchester? 'Conservation reasons' will surely be the reply. However, I can imagine that more hearts would be won by showing visitors the original painting than a lifeless plastic fake, especially housed in such a sublime setting as Winchester Cathedral. I'm sure a way could have been found to bring the original there, if enough resources were focused on such a worthy task.

Instead, eyes and attentions will go along with the novelty value of this experiment. 'You can't tell the difference', they will say. The day we start having regular cues lining up to watch a machine sing Schubert Lieder will be the day I will give up this line of thought.

Update - A reader has been in touch with the following:

I went to London a decade ago for a Gossaert exhibition at the NG, but I wouldn’t go around the corner to see a 3-D printed copy. The Adoration of the Kings is a major work and the original deserves to be shown in Winchester. 

New Entrance to the NPG

January 18 2022

Image of New Entrance to the NPG

Picture: AB

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

I was walking past the National Portrait Gallery in London last week and decided to peer through the boarding covering the areas of construction work. As you can see, the new doors, which have been blasted through the old windows that look onto St Martin's Place, are starting to take shape. Will it be ready for Spring 2023, I wonder?

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