Category: exhibitions

Guffwatch - 'Vernissage TV'

April 16 2013

Video: Vernissage TV

If you've ever wondered what goes on at trendy contemporary gallery openings, but were too afraid to go, then check out The above video gives you a good idea of how opening nights work - bizarre artworks which nobody looks at, random 'performances', and people standing around wondering what the hell is going on.

'Elizabeth I and her People'

April 15 2013

Image of 'Elizabeth I and her People'

Picture: National Portrait Gallery/Government Art Collection

The National Portrait Gallery's 'major Autumn exhibition' will be - 'Elizabeth I and her People' (10 October 2013 - 5 January 2014). The exhibition will, says the NPG, be:

[...] the first exhibition to focus in depth on Elizabethan society. As well as gathering together important portraits of Elizabeth herself, and building on fascinating new research, the exhibition will explore the lives of men and women who lived and worked during her reign from courtiers to country gentry, explorers, bankers, physicians and lawyers, artists and writers.

The exhibition will consist of rarely or previously unseen loans from private collections as well as iconic portraits from historic houses and museum collections.

Picasso's Child with a Dove goes to Qatar

April 15 2013

Image of Picasso's Child with a Dove goes to Qatar

Picture: Tate

The sale of Picasso's Child with a Dove, which I first revealed here on AHN, seems to have been completed. After no UK museums stepped forward to try and buy the painting, it will be heading, so The Art Newspaper reports, to Qatar. 

A reader writes:

I find this extraordinary.  Yes, dismissed by many as 'cute kitch', it is, in fact, one of P's most iconic paintings.  Having just seen it in the (brilliant!) early Picasso show at the Courtauld, it simply is a phantastic image and the paint is beautiful.  I suppose the response was negative due to over-exposure?  A bit like Ravel's 'Bolero' we are all so sick and tired of?


April 11 2013

Video: Bilston Craft Gallery

Stand back everyone, this one's good. It's Guff-ing genius in fact, probably the best we've yet had here on AHN. Watch the whole thing if you can. As an appetiser, here's the blurb:

Letter worker, graphic designer, type designer and action calligrapher Timothy Donaldson created a new piece of calligraphy at Bilston Craft Gallery. The piece was commissioned by The Harley Gallery as part of Signs for Sounds. This touring exhibition curated by Jeremy Theophilus explores the contemporary practice of letter-forming from traditional calligraphy to the use of digital technologies and performance. It considers the impact of letter form, an art that we are surrounded by everyday – from traditional calligraphy to hi-tech type design. The event was beautifully captured on video by Anthony Davies for Last Phoenix Films. We witness the creation of a calligraphic work of art, as gesture becomes calligraphic movement becomes word, whose meaning is gradually obfuscated until it becomes meta-text. Timothy eloquently comments.

From the scratch of the quill curling across the page, to letters painstakingly chipped and carved from stone, Signs for Sounds looks at the ways that artists use the age-old shapes of letters to amplify the effect of words. This exhibition examines the traditional skills of letter-forming, along with how we use lettering in the modern world – with artists’ films of graffiti and virtual typography where visitors can experiment with Jason Edward Lewis’ virtual typography to re-shape poetry on touchscreen monitors. Featuring examples of outstanding skill in letter-forming by leading practitioners, the exhibition shows how writing communicates meaning and how this is changing with the use of new media in the digital age. Exhibitors include letter-engraver Tom Perkins, calligrapher Ewan Clayton and performance artist Julien Breton, who dances letter forms using light. There is also a family-friendly activity area, and a display of creative writing by local writers’ groups Bilston Writers and Bilston Scribblers on the theme Sights and Sounds of Bilston.

This 'drawing' was funded by the Arts Council - in other words, you and me. I like his line about incorporating words from the audience in his 'writings', but couldn't on this occassion because everone was so quiet. Probably they were just pissing themselves laughing. It's a shame we weren't allowed to see the audience. Perhaps there was nobody there. If that's what Donaldson does though, I'm definitely going to his next performance, with a mega-phone. 

Lend, lend, lend!

April 11 2013

Image of Lend, lend, lend!

Picture: BBC

Are oil paintings put at unnecessary risk by lending to exhibitions, and moving them about it? Short answer, no. But lots of people think they are. So I was surprised to read, following my rather unkind appraisal of the Museums Association 'vision' document, Museums 2020, that the MA agrees with me. Page 19 of Museums 2020 says:

Museums can take greater risks in the way they use and share collections. Handling and lending rarely cause significant harm.

This is true, and worth emphasising in light of a recent article in The Art Newspaper suggesting that, because of the risk of damage, museums should lend less often. Blake Gopnik says we need far fewer exhibitions, and cites:

[...] the physical risks run by works of art every time they are moved; as recently as 2008, at the National Gallery in London, a panel painting was dropped and broken as workers took down the great “Renaissance Siena” show. We also have to worry about the wear and tear that will diminish every well-travelled picture or sculpture. (Conservators wouldn’t fill in condition reports on every loan if there had never been a thing to note on their forms.)

Well, it's now 2013, so the National Gallery's dropped picture debacle was five years ago. Of all the major exhibitions in the world, one damage every five years is, I would say, not enough to argue for fewer exhibitions, the activity around which is the life-blood of any museum. In my experience of moving (lots and lots of) pictures, there is very little risk of damage or ‘wear and tear’, because - and here's the great secret everyone - these things are pretty damn tough. Much tougher than us, in fact.

The fuss made over loans and handling by conservators has reached levels of new silliness. Did you know, for example, that curators at one of London's major museums aren't actually allowed to pick up and move paintings? To move a picture, a curator has to book a team of art handlers. I once watched another London museum use 12 people to hang a single painting. All this costs money, of course, and leads to unnecessary strictures on the handling and lending of objects. 

What is especially curious about the increasing nervousness over art handling is the varying approach taken by museums. Some museums are still happy with a relaxed and common sense approach to loans. For a recent loan exhibition here at Philip Mould & Company the most valuable item arrived, via the Underground, in a curator's handbag. In the same exhibition, however, another object cost more to transport than every other exhibit combined. It had to be flown first class, in a large crate, and accompanied by a specialist courier who was put up in an expensive hotel for three days each side of the journey. It was a miniature. And then there's the inconsistency of museums keeping objects in a cold basement, but demanding that they be housed in a permanently stable environment with the temperature at 21 degrees and the humidity at 50%, were it ever to be put on public display.

Now it is hard to disagree with the idea that we must be as cautious as possible with the handling of museum objects. And yet if preservation was our sole aim, we would never display anything. Some museum conservators would undoubtedly prefer it this way. But we must strike a balance between care and display, and I would argue that we have lately gone too far in the wrong direction. The result is that exhibitions have become harder, and more expensive, to mount. At some institutions there is now almost a presumption not to lend objects. The procedures to approve a loan are so tedious and time consuming that for many curators it's not worth the effort. The captive grip of the museum basement is getting stronger and stronger. 

Update - Michael Savage, aka The Grumpy Art Historian, disagrees, and wonders why we need exhibitions at all.

Global attendance figures

April 10 2013

Image of Global attendance figures

Picture: TAN/Asabi Shimbun

There are two interesting numbers in The Art Newspaper's annual round up of exhibition attendance. First, that Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring drew over 10,500 visitors a day in Tokyo (I hope the Mauritshuis got a good share of the proceeds). And secondly, that more people went to see a single Leonardo at the Louvre, the recently cleaned Virgin and Child with St Anne (3,985 a day), than went to the National Gallery's Leonardo exhibition (3,856).

Incidentally, that Tokyo show must have been busy. I don't know how long it was open for every day, but let's assume from 10 till 6. That means each visitor would have had just over 2.5 seconds in front of the painting. 

Meanwhile, in Puerto Rico...

April 5 2013

Image of Meanwhile, in Puerto Rico...

Picture: Museo de Arte de Ponce

A reader alerts me to what looks like a fine exhibition of British art in Puerto Rico, at the Museo de Arte de Ponce. The show includes works by Lawrence, Gainsborough, Burne-Jones, and the above landscape by Thomas Seddon. All in the caribbean. Who knew?

Update - a reader writes:

If you read the blurb on the website the so called exhibition in Puerto Rico is not an exhibition at all but it is the permanent collection of British Art. However they are calling it an exhibition as they are doing a scholarly catalogue of their Victorian paintings, which is good news. Perhaps you might alert your readers to this. (Try turning on the English language button on the website and all will be revealed) It is a collaboration with the Tate - encouraging to hear of some good things the Tate is doing even if they are thousands of miles from London.

You ask: who knew? Well, anyone seriously in to the Pre-Raphaelites knew of this collection and I am surprised a seventeenth century enthusiast such as yourself doesn't know the museum. Julius Held was one of the advisers to Luis Ferrer in forming the collection and it has fantastic European baroque holdings.

When I went there I was shown round by Ferrer himself, alas now no longer with us, but then in a wheelchair. He had lots of anecdotes about his bargain hunting, for example his advisers told him not to buy Leighton’s Flaming June, but he did so anyway, for £2000 (1963). Victorian painting and baroque painting were both cheap then and he got some great things. 

Next time you are in the USA go there, it is not that difficult, you fly to San Juan and then change to a small plane to Ponce a rather charming but sleepy town, with one really good restaurant that Ferrer took me to. The waiters all bowed when we arrived.

Update II - another reader writes:

The Ponce Museum of Art is unforgettable.  I was there 30 years ago, and aside from Flaming June by Frederic, Lord Leighton, and other British Masters, it has an extremely large and important collection of Russian 19th century artists.

Don Luis Ferre was a former Governor of Puerto Rico, and he told me that he had an engineering degree from M.I.T., before going into the family business of concrete and cement construction.

He was, of course, a dedicated art collector, advised by Oscar and Jan Klein, of The Central Picture Gallery in NYC, and by Professor Julius Held ( Rubens, Rembrandt, Van Dyck) of Columbia University.  When I was there there were galleries dedicated to Oscar and Jan Klein, and to Julius Held ( all gone, as is Don Luis ).

Don Luis told me that every year he would get higher and higher offers from British Dealers to buy Flaming June. 

He and Julius Held both told me that when he started to collect, he went to Professor Held for advice, and ever after, he would pick out paintings, and vet them by Professor Held, to see if they were museum quality.  Don Ferre showed me around his home and personal collection - I remember that he had several impressive paintings, and an important Antonio Gaudi window grill.  But the best things went to the museum.  ( see Wikipedia ).

Aside from this, Ponce is fun.  It houses one of the most charming Victorian buildings in the whole world - the Ponce Fire House.

Pre-Raphaelites in the US

April 2 2013

Image of Pre-Raphaelites in the US

Picture: New York Times

The Pre-Raphaelite exhibition at Washington's National Gallery (formerly at Tate Britain) has gone down like a cup of cold sick with Roberta Smith of the New York Times:

If you are genuinely interested in art and emerge from this show thinking that you have seen scores of outstanding paintings, you should spend more time studying other examples. For comparison the galleries adjacent to this exhibition contain two outstanding works by the Pre-Raphaelites’ French contemporaries, Eduard Manet’s “Dead Toreador” (probably 1864) and Paul Cézanne’s portrait of his father reading a newspaper (1866). Consider the simplicity, directness and mysteries of these paintings against the moralizing and endless intricacies of the Pre-Raphaelites. It is a contrast between the complex and the merely complicated.

Pre-Raphaelite art is a volatile, highly complicated mixture of questionable intentions, literary erudition, ironclad nostalgia, meticulous realism, lavish costumes and a prescient technicolor palette. The brotherhood was formed in 1848 by William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, three disgruntled students at the Royal Academy of Art. Barely 20, they were repelled by the decadence of art and society, much of which they ascribed to the Industrial Revolution. 

Tate follows Kensington Palace display ethos

April 1 2013

Image of Tate follows Kensington Palace display ethos

Pictures: Anon.

Disturbing news from Tate Britain. Senior managers and marketing staff have been so impressed by the new picture display at Kensington Palace that they're planning to copy it themselves. This means that the new hang of the 'historic collection' in Tate Britain's newly refurbished galleries, due to open this autumn, will use many of the features employed by Historic Royal Palaces in their £12m revamp of Kensington Palace.

For example, a nervous curator tells me that an order has been issued to re-write all picture labels along the lines of those now used at Kensington Palace. My source has sent me a photo from Kensington Palace of the sort of thing that is now in vogue (above), where George II is described as 'a bit boring'. They tell me:

It's been decided that labels like this are the best way of widening access to what is now called our 'old stuff'. The removal of any useful information from the labels for our recent 'Looking at the View' exhibition [as covered earlier on AHN here] was considered a success, so we've been told to use descriptive terms that are 'more relevant to a younger audience'. The new policy is, in portraits, to describe sitters as 'a bit dull', 'quite cool', and 'really fit'. The access team are still working on new terms to describe landscapes, but I've heard that 'totes amazeballs' was only narrowly rejected by the Future Label Forum.

More worrying still, I've been told that Tate managers were so impressed by the flock of flying and squawking paper seagulls in the picture gallery at Kensington Palace (below) that they've commissioned Jeff Koons to come up with a similar design for the Duveen galleries. The funding for the commission will come from savings realised by last year's curatorial redundancies, and by a new organic cafe, to be built in the space formerly occupied by Tate's photographic archive. Alarming...

Update - Check the date! Quite a few readers were fooled by this, but as a former Tate employee says:

Really enjoyed your April Fool - not really all that far from the truth!

Another reader couldn't quite believe that the label I showed from Kensington Palace was actually real:

It is very unkind of you to pretend that the Tate is following the Historic Royal Palaces in its moronic labelling, and that the example from Kensington Palace is real! Some of the more cynical among us might easily have believed you - so thank goodness it is 1 April!

One reader points out some of the information that should have been on the Kensington Palace label, but wasn't:

Your photo of the caption just shows how un-informative these are: visitors may wonder how Copley came to paint someone who died before he was born.  As you probably are aware, unlike anyone less informed looking at the work in this context, the painting a copy by Copley of a work by an earlier artist, Morier.

Indeed. Or at least that is how the picture is catalogued on Your Paintings. I can't see any mention of the picture in Jules David Prown's catalogue raisonne of Copley's paintings. 

One reader has volunteered to help Kensington Palace with their future label writing efforts:

"George II was punctual...."  Perhaps that explains why they called him 'King George the second'.

The Grumpy Art Historian refers me to an alleged label writing exercise in advance of the Ashmolean Museum's re-opening. Says his source:

The labels that ended up in the final display had apparently been written, revised and dumbed down innumerable times thanks in large part to the efforts of the outside experts who even forbade the use of the word ‘century’; ‘too confusing for the general public’ was the message (there was, I gather, a rich moment when a curator asked at one of their regular public meetings ‘How then do I describe the 17th century?’; ‘the seventeen hundreds’ came the reply’).

A reader shares their view of the new Kensington Palace display:

I visited England last September and spent more than a week in London - had a ball, however the one disappointment was Kensington Palace. We visited after hearing that the whole place had been done up. We didn't enjoy the display theme - it was vaguely ridiculous and very distracting from the actual paintings and other pieces. As a comparison, Apsley House was fabulous.

Finally, another does so in a stronger vein:

My wife and I visited the palace last month, together with some of her German relatives, I couldn't believe the inept displays, and the even more inept descriptions & potted histories that accompanied them. It left our visitors much bemused, who couldn't understand why, with all our history, and the objects to accompany the story of it, we would choose to dress it in a manner more in keeping with the windows of a department store.

I agree with both the above comments. The new interior display at Kensington Palace is nothing short of disastrous, and, worse, a monumental waste of money. With its daft labels such as that shown above, swirly carpets, constant drive-you-mad sound recordings, and an overly liberal use of bargain basement bunting, it seems deliberately aimed at four year olds. And like nanny it insists that everyone must be spoon fed. There is no concession to anyone with an intellectual age greater than about ten. It isn't possible to enjoy the paintings on display without being distracted by hidden speakers blaring woefully scripted 'whispers', as imagined 18th Century courtiers whitter on about their corsets, or something similarly tedious. Every other wall is graffiti-d with vapid text. There is a constant belittling of the palace and its history, to the extent that a building built for majesty is now utterly devoid of it. As I overheard one visitor saying, it's like being in a bad dream.

Historic Royal Palaces [HRP] so often gets things right, and has in the past been excellent at combining accessibility with serious historical presentation, and preservation. The new 'Secrets of the Bedchamber' exhibition at Hampton Court Palace is great fun, but also conveys some serious historical messages. But at Kensington Palace HRP have gone completely mad. Bringing history to life for children is commendable, but not to the extent that it takes second or even third place in a nauseating theme park. I chose to ridicule the label of George II because it tells us all we need to know about the failure of the Kensington Palace approach. You might have thought that a child's interest would be piqued by George's most memorable achievement; that he was the last English King to lead his troops into battle. Indeed, the painting on display shows him doing this, at Dettingen. But there is no mention of this on the label, where instead we are told that he was merely 'a bit boring'. This dumb approach to history isn't just daft, it's treason. 

Simon Schama at the new Rijksmuseum

March 30 2013

Image of Simon Schama at the new Rijksmuseum

Picture: Wikipedia

Simon Schama has an interesting essay in the FT on the soon to open Rijksmuseum (shut for ten years!), which henceforth is to be known as 'The Museum of the Netherlands'. He tells us that the museum is to have a new display ethos, with galleries including numerous objects from a related period, from paintings to cutlery, rather like the V&A:

What has been done with the museum is less a restoration with some fancy contemporary design than the inauguration of a curatorial revolution. When you see those early Rembrandts or the great mannerist “Massacre of the Innocents” of Cornelis van Haarlem with its ballet of twisting rumps, you will also encounter, as would those who would first have seen them, the silver, weapons and cabinets that were the furniture of the culture that made those pictures possible. You will enter the historical world of the Netherlands at a particular moment. And, because the objects are housed in frameless, edgeless displays in which the glass is of a stunning invisibility, nothing in one’s field of vision separates images from artefacts.

The new displays mean that:

History and art have their natural companionship restored, for – although historians condescendingly suppose images to be “soft” evidence of the past, and art historians suspect historians of obtuse philistinism – the truth is, as Huizinga knew, they need each other to reconstruct the reality of lost worlds. History without the eloquence of images is blind; art without the testimony of texts is deaf.

Too true.


March 29 2013

Image of Yesterday...

Picture: BG

Apologies for the lack of service yesterday, I went to the Prado for a final visit to the excellent exhibition, 'The Young Van Dyck', along with Philip Mould. Above is a photo of Philip beside a fine study [Private Collection] for 'Suffer Little Children Come unto Me' [National Gallery of Canada], which he discovered in 1993 in a minor auction in London. The study's inclusion in the exhibition was a nice endorsement of how the trade can advance art history.

I'm hoping to have a fuller review of the exhibition here soon. If you haven't yet been, you have two days to go!


March 27 2013

Image of Really?

Picture: CNN

CNN reports that the Gagosian Gallery is to have an exhibition of George W. Bush's paintings. Hard to believe. Still, Gagosian had to make up for the loss of Hirst and Koons somehow.

The art event of the year

March 26 2013

Image of The art event of the year


I can't wait for this.

Vermeer and Music at the NG

March 26 2013

Image of Vermeer and Music at the NG

Picture: National Gallery

The National Gallery has released details of their summer exhibition, Vermeer and Music. Details here

Durer in Washington

March 25 2013

Image of Durer in Washington

Picture: Albertina

The Albertina's prized collection of watercolours and drawings by Albrecht Durer goes on display in Washington today in a new exhibition. More details here

Sewell on the V&A's new Royal show

March 15 2013

Image of Sewell on the V&A's new Royal show

Picture: V&A

He doesn't like it:

It is with some regret (for I am fond of the V&A and owe it a great debt in terms of education and aesthetic nourishment) that I conclude this to be an exhibition on the cheap, based on rummaging in cupboards to see what can be done with things in hand, or a desperate effort to provide a setting for the ghastly silver-gilt ewers, livery pots and flasks perhaps offered in exchange for a related V&A loan to Moscow. Was the Moscow Coach ever intended to accompany them? Was it withdrawn at the last minute, as used so often to be the case with loans from Russia during the Cold War? As it is, the exhibition promised by its admirable catalogue fails to live up to its ambitious title and is as disappointing and haphazard as Antiques Roadshow.

Art pun of the year

March 14 2013

Image of Art pun of the year

Picture: BG

Spotted this great headline in the Evening Standard the other day. The exhibition is on at the Museum of London till 14th July. Definitely going to go - Caine's a legend.

3 National Gallery highlights on tour

March 12 2013

Image of 3 National Gallery highlights on tour

Picture: National Gallery

From the National Gallery's press release:

Three much loved works from the National Gallery Collection – Manet’s The Execution of Maximilian, Canaletto’s A Regatta on the Grand Canal and Rembrandt’s Self Portrait at the Age of 63 – will be visiting galleries and museums around the country between 2014 and 2016. The Masterpiece Tour is part of the National Gallery’s aim to promote the understanding, knowledge and appreciation of Old Master paintings to as wide an audience as possible. This opportunity to bring hugely popular National Gallery paintings to the public’s doorstep is being made possible by the generous support of Christie’s.

New Leonardo anatomy exhibition in Edinburgh

March 12 2013

Video: Royal Collection Trust/Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

This summer, the Royal Collection will mount a new exhibition at Holyroodhouse on Leonardo's anatomy drawings, called 'The Mechanics of Man'. 3D animations (above) and imagery will be used to fully explore Leonardo's drawings. From the RC press release:

An exhibition that sheds new light on Leonardo da Vinci’s anatomical work opens at The Queen’s Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse, in August. Long renowned as one of the finest artists of the Renaissance, Leonardo was also one of the greatest anatomists the world has ever seen. Almost 500 years after his death, Leonardo da Vinci: The Mechanics of Man, part of the Edinburgh International Festival, uses 21st-century technology to explore the modern relevance of Leonardo’s anatomical research. Thirty sheets of his groundbreaking investigations into the workings of the human body will go on display alongside images prepared using the latest medical technology. The juxtaposition shows how far-sighted Leonardo’s work was, and how relevant he remains for anatomists today.

More details and images here.

Liz & Bob together at last

March 7 2013

Image of Liz & Bob together at last

Pictures: BG

I went to the opening of the new V&A show, Treasures of the Royal Courts, last night. The exhibition allows you, as the blurb says, to:

Experience the majesty of the courts of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I to Ivan the Terrible and the early Romanovs in a major exhibition at the V&A. From royal portraits, costume and jewellery to armour and heraldry, Treasures of the Royal Courts tells the story of diplomacy between the British Monarchy and the Russian Tsars through more than 150 magnificent objects.

A star of the show was the 'Hampden Portrait' of Elizabeth I, which was almost entirely unknown until we here at Philip Mould & Company bought, restored and published it, with the help of Tudor historian Dr David Starkey. It used to hang, unloved, in the judges' changing room at Aylesbury Crown Court. I was delighted to see Elizabeth hanging next to a portrait of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, her most determined (and possibly successful) suitor. The portrait of Dudley, on loan from Waddesdon, always struck me as being, most likely, by the same artist as the Hampden portrait. I think that more than ever having seen the two pictures together last night. Not that my opinion matters very much - if you think connoisseurship is frowned upon amongst art historians, wait till you try discussing it amongst 16th Century specialists. 'Authorship' is mightily sniffed on, and there's a determination to call everything 'English School'. You can read more about the painting and its history here, and about its possible artist, Steven van Herwijck, in my British Art Journal article here

The exhibition comes highly recommended from AHN - I greatly enjoyed it. Being a multi-disciplinary exhibition, with everything from costume to statuary, it's one of those shows which shows the great value of a good curator. So great praise then to the V&A's Tessa Murdoch, whose selection of objects gives the perfect overview of what one might have found in a Tudor diplomatic baggage train wending its way to Moscow. The fine catalogue, which has the Hampden Portrait on the front cover, is also well worth having.

Update - a reader writes:

Was wondering how they got the loan of Bob from Waddesdon but checking on the website confirmed that it’s not part of the permanent collection there – which never lends – but one of the objects on loan from the Rothschild family trusts.

I think you’ve remarked before how unhelpful it is for specialists to be averse to attributing 16th portraits to particular artists or their circle.  What’s worse is the approach is inconsistent: going through the PCF records as I have done there are cases where versions of the same portrait are, depending on the view of the collection curators, are in one case given to a named artist and in another to English School – or even British School.  Aargh!

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