Previous Posts: August 2013

'Art everywhere' (ctd.)

August 8 2013

Image of 'Art everywhere' (ctd.)

Picture: Tate

The 'top ten' British masterpieces have been announced, as part of the Art Everywhere idea. These will appearing on billboards soon. Some curious choices (one day we'll get over the Alfred Wallis thing):

1. John William Waterhouse, The Lady of Shalott, 1888, Tate Britain, London (above)

2. John Everett Millais, Ophelia, 1851–52, Tate Britain, London

3. Francis Bacon, Head VI, 1949, Arts Council Collection 

4. John Singer Sargent, Gassed, 1919, Imperial War Museum, London

5. Lucian Freud, Man’s Head (Self Portrait I), 1963, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester

6. JMW Turner, The Fighting Temeraire, 1839, National Gallery, London

7. Alfred Wallis, Five Ships – Mount’s Bay, 1928, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge

8. L.S. Lowry, Going to the Match, 1953, The Professional Footballers’ Association

9. James Whistler, Nocturne: Blue and Gold – Battersea Bridge, c.1872–5, Tate Britain, London 

10. Cornelia Parker, Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View, 1991, Tate Collection

Nothing older than 1839. 

Update - Dr Ben Harvey points out that of course two of these were made by Americans.

Plug - me on telly (ctd.)

August 7 2013

Image of Plug - me on telly (ctd.)

Picture: Will Pugh

Final reminder that Alastair Sooke and I will be looking at old and new art in Venice on BBC2 at 10pm tonight (Wednesday). The Times calls us 'Laurel and Hardy aesthetes'. Which I suppose is better than, say, Cannon & Ball aesthetes, or the Chuckle Brothers.

Clips etc. here.

Update - a reader writes:

In Germany, Laurel and Hardy are known as Dich und Doof - I['m] sure I don't need to tell you, fat and stupid. I offer no comment on its suitability as a description.

Update II - missed the show? Here it is on iPlayer.

Ye Olde Guffwatch

August 7 2013

Further to my Guffwatch entry below, a reader sends this gem to remind us that such nonsense is nothing new:

The write-up for Pretentious Crap reminded me of what Horace Walpole says ('Houghton: A Capital Collection' in the chapter on HW's Aedes Walpolianae)

"No Science has so much jargon introduc'd into it as Painting. The bombast expression of the Italians, and the prejudice of the French, join'd to the vanity of the Professors, and the interested mysteriousness of Picture-merchants, have altogether compiled a new language. 'Tis almost easier to distinguish the hands of the Masters than the Cant of the Virtuosi."

Guffwatch - Saatchi special

August 7 2013

Image of Guffwatch - Saatchi special

Picture: Guffwatch

Charles Saatchi is to sell a load of installation works at Christie's this autumn. As you'd expect, the Guffmeter goes off the scale in the accompanying catalogue, especially for such gems as the above 'piece' by Zhivago Duncan, which is called 'Pretentious Crap':

Pretentious Crap (2010-2011) is the remnants of a lost world reconfigured, contained within a heavy wooden and glass vitrine. We find towering rocklike formations that Zhivago Duncan has constructed out of Styrofoam and wax, and miniature railroad tracks, aeroplanes, locomotives and brightly coloured plastic monuments. Based on the fictional character of Dick Flash, the work was exhibited in 2011 at Contemporary Fine Arts, Berlin, at a show entitled Zhivago Duncan: Dick Flashs Souvenirs of Thought. The sole survivor of an apocalyptic catastrophe that has wiped out the rest of humanity, Dick Flash, a superhero persona, embarks on an odyssey in exploration of the devasted landscape. Pretentious Crap is one of Dick Flash's relics from his journey, where he has assembled former art objects in order to try and make sense of what has happened.

Embracing a variety of media that often has a gritty aesthetic associated with urban street culture, Zhivago Duncans work comments on contemporary cultural and socio-economic issues. In creating Dick Flash and these surreal recreations of a partially-remembered world, Duncan explores mankind, and the purpose of art within a postapocalyptic landscape, from a more objective perspective.

As Duncan has explained, 'Pretentious Crap is the result of the imaginary journey of Dick Flash, the worlds sole survivor of the apocalypse according to him and his legacy. Semiamnesiac, Dick Flash roams the converted world digging up the fruitful remains of his debauched ancestors. Without any recollection of his personal past, Dick Flash does, however, experience moments of epiphany, in which abstract notions of the origin of self, a collective memory, and the accumulated trials and tribulations of humanity are vaguely delineated, as revealed to him in prophetic visions'.

I think someone has had an irony bypass here.

The auction is a no-estimate, no-reserve sale. But before you think there may be bargains galore, note this nugget of Christie's small print, which is depressing on many levels: 'Extended payment terms are available on request for public institutions'. 

Grim news from the Interweb

August 6 2013

Image of Grim news from the Interweb

Picture: Amazon

Welcome, art lovers, to 'Amazon Art'. Yes, it is now possible to buy a Monet online through Amazon. The above example will cost you $2.5m, but it does at least come with 'free shipping' (really).

I'm afraid I'm not an Amazon fan. You know something has gone very wrong in the world when a small London art gallery, like the one I work in, pays more corporation tax than Amazon.

Keen to see what was on offer from my favourite artist, I typed Van Dyck into the search box, and got this:

Update - some good customer reviews on Amazon's Monet, inlcuding this satisfied customer:

What really sold me was the "in room" picture on this site, where it's next to a chair and side table. I couldn't quite picture it in my house, but after that imagery it was a no brainer.

The best part is that since I'm a prime member, I saved about 20 bucks on shipping. I also purchased with my Amazon Visa rewards card (3% cash back on all Amazon purchases), so I got 75,000.00 back in rewards. Thinking about getting a BMW M3 or perhaps go to college with my cash back.

Should we break up the Royal Collection?

August 6 2013

Image of Should we break up the Royal Collection?

Picture: Guardian

Every now and then someone makes a call for the Royal Collection to be broken up. This time, it's Jonathan Jones of the Guardian, who, in a review of the new exhibition at the Queen's Gallery at Holyrood on Leonardo's anatomical drawings, says:

These drawings and many more by Leonardo belong to the Queen and will be passed on to her successors, right down to baby George and beyond. Why, except as a gross display of inherited wealth, do they need them?

It is unjustifiable, even if you love the monarchy, for the Queen to own so much work by the greatest artist who ever lived. This excessive act of possession adds nothing to the prestige of royalty. Worse, it gets in the way of public appreciation of some of the world's supreme art.

I've tried, for years, to suppress my mystification at why the Queen hangs on to art that would obviously be better used by a public museum. I have met curators of the Royal Collection and admired their knowledge; I've also been lucky enough to study Leonardo's drawings in the Royal Library at Windsor. In many ways, the Royal Collection is well run. But that changes nothing. Windsor Castle is simply not the right place for our most precious art heritage to be held.

Royalty is a silk sheet that covers and veils art, swathing it in pointless luxury. The Queen runs two public art galleries, in London and Edinburgh, and they are both rum affairs with cloying decor and all the paraphernalia of monarchy. That's fine for tourists, but it does not make for serious art viewing. It breaks my heart if Leonardo, of all artists, is made to look irrelevant – but that is what exhibitions by the Royal Collection achieve.

When the National Gallery put on a Leonardo da Vinci exhibition in 2011, it was a stupendous success that drew serious and fascinated crowds. A few months after it closed, an exhibition of Leonardo's anatomical drawings opened at the Queen's Gallery in London – but the excitement did not follow Leonardo across Green Park. There's something about a gallery attached to Buckingham Palace (or Holyroodhouse) that predefines what happens there as fluffy royal heritage. It's not a cool date, is it, "let's go to the Queen's Gallery".

It obviously would have been better to include a show of these marvellous drawings at the National Gallery, as part of its Leonardo epic. Instead, the Royal Collection went into competion with the NG – and lost.

But the real losers are the people. We should be able to look at Leonardo's drawings in our public collections. They should be given to the nation.

I'm a big fan of the Royal Collection. It is true that the two main exhibition galleries at Buckingham Palace and Holyroodhouse are a little on the small side, but that doesn't stop the Royal Collection putting on some of the best exhibitions you'll ever see, with amazing regularity. It also, in my opinion, produces the world's best and most scholarly exhibition catalogues. We would lose an enormous wealth of focused art historical knowledge if the collection was suddenly dissipated amongst our national museums, where most of it would languish in storage. The Royal Collection is also very accomodating to loan requests for exhibitions (on which, incidentally, more soon), so there's no danger of great works being locked away forever in the Queen's private sitting room.

Officially, the Royal Collection is 'held in Trust by the monarch for the nation'. It's not the Queen's to own or sell, so it really can't be described as a 'gross display of inherited wealth'. It's a national collection, built up as most were over centuries by ruling families. Whether you're a monarchist or not, it's hard to argue against the fact that monarchies are good for building up art collections. The Louvre is almost entirely the product of France's imperial and royal families, not its republics. And one of the first things the Parliamentarians did after cutting of Charles I's head was to sell his art collection. Remember that next time you're admiring Raphael's Holy Family in the Prado.

Let's also deal with some of the specific points Jones makes about the Leonardo drawings. The National Gallery'd Leonardo exhibition was about his portraits at the court of Milan. So even if the Royal Collection's anatomical drawings had all belonged to the National Gallery, they would not have been included in that show. And even if they did 'belong to the nation' in the way Jones demands, we could not all look at them all the time. It's just not possible with drawings, unless you want them to disappear. 

You can see nearly all the Royal Collection's treasures in zoomable high resolution here.

Update - a reader writes:

I'd like to say in support of the Queen's Gallery, I attended a very informative talk by Kate Heard, Curator of Prints and Drawings there in February...'Drawing in the Northern Renaissance'. Not only were the slides relevant and interestingly described but we had the opportunity to have a very nice cup of tea and biscuits after the very unexpected, and how very civilised! The Head of Learning, Lucie Amos, is doing a brilliant job.   

And if you buy a ticket and get it stamped and signed, you have free entry to all other exhibitions there for a year....a one year pass. I think that is a generous gesture. The staff were most welcoming and the rooms (it was my first visit) I felt were small and this made for a more intimate experience with the art.  I like to get close to the pictures and examine them.  I loved the Northern Renaissance exhibition.  And I plan to go to the The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion when I get some free time.

I agree that art needs to be accessible but if everything is always available, always on display, doesn't that somehow make it 'less''s good to wait sometimes.  The trouble with the internet today is that we are coming to expect everything on tap 24/7 wherever we may be...I prefer a few mysteries in life and to practice patience.  It makes the joy of discovery so much sweeter.

Another Tweets:

The Royal Collection could help soften this debate by waving scholarly reproduction fees.

Another reader writes:

[Jones] mentions the bigger blockbuster type of shows as being more conducive to looking seriously at art.  My experience of them is that they are too often absolutely crammed to the gills with visitors displaying varying levels of interest, not just with wall-to-wall connoisseurs. In the end it mostly means that looking seriously is the one thing that is hampered as you peer over a dozen heads then push in for a look for 30 seconds. Rather than risk a culture-vulture rigger scrum in front of some loaned pictures by Vermeer, I'd much rather prefer to look at paintings in the relatively quieter and unmolested confines of the Royal collections surrounded by a few wandering Japanese -whether or not the wallpaper is unfashionable to a metropolitan journalist.

 If the National did get the drawings anyway, then where on earth would they show them? There are hundreds. Would they all be seen together permanently in the bright light of a display gallery? It would necessitate a very large new annexe for that methinks.. and who will pay for that? The taxpayer? Where would it be built? Much more likely that they would have to be stored and brought out for a the odd smaller exhibition and loan scheme. But that is exactly what is beginning to happen now courtesy of the Royal collection. And you won't have to don your rugger shirt either.

Update II - another reader writes:

I would like to see the most important paintings and sculptures in the Royal Collection on long-term loan to public galleries. I'm thinking of the likes of Bruegel's Massace of the Innocents, which is more representative of his work than the small panel in the National Gallery, or the St Jerome by Georges de La Tour who isn't represented in Trafalgar Square at all, as we know from a previous post of yours. How good would it be to see Artemisia Gentileschi's self-portrait in the National Gallery's Italian Baroque rooms (she being an artist missing from the collection who's of huge interest to the public), or Lotto's portrait of Andrea Odoni alongside the Lady as Lucretia? The Scottish National Gallery now has a bit of a gap when Titian's poesie aren't on display there, and Cardiff's pre-18th century collection is a little patchy. I'm not opposed to the paintings still legally being part of the Royal Collection, as is the case with Gentile da Fabriano's Quaratesi Madonna (a de facto permanent fixture at the National Gallery), and they could still appear in the thematic exhibitions in the Queen's Galleries. The Royal Collection as a reserve national collection; something for a future king and queen with art-historical educations to think about...

With the Leonardo drawings, though, I think Jonathan Jones has picked the wrong fight. It does seem as if they get displayed in public as much as anyone could reasonably hope for given their fragility, across a pretty wide geographical range. In the past few years I've seen selections of the drawings in Bristol and Edinburgh as well as those which were part of the Painter at the Court of Milan exhibition in London, and to judge from the comments on Jones's piece some have also travelled to Stirling and Hull recently. (A good suggestion made in that comments section: why not have a third Queen's Gallery in Lancaster Castle, as the Queen is Duke of Lancaster?)

I suppose some extended loans might be welcome additions to galleries across the UK, if those pictures are not already displayed in royal palaces. But I must say, I love the Gentileschi self-portrait, for example, just where it is at the moment, which is at Hampton Court. She hangs in a small room chock full of exquisite Royal Collection Italian 17th Century pictures, which you suddenly chance upon after the better known Tudor & Stuart rooms. The room demonstrates the pleasure and great benefit of the Royal Collection here in the UK, which is to have first-class art in royal palaces, exactly where the public would expect to find it. Just think how often you see former royal palaces in Europe, all bare and denuded of art which was long ago carted off to urban museums.

Another reader sticks up for Royal Collection accessibility:

On Royal Collection nonsense, I found Windsor to be one of the very best and most accessible print rooms. JJ[ones] should try the Ufizzi. 

Update III - Amina Wright, Senior Curator at the Holburne Museum in Bath, writes:

At the Holburne we have benefited hugely from the generosity of Her Majesty (and the Royal Collection staff)  in lending us some of their finest paintings for our wonderful exhibition "Rembrandt and his Contemporaries: Paintings from the Royal Collection".  The twenty-three works on show are drawn entirely from the Royal Collection, mostly from among acquisitions made by George IV.  Since opening on 22 May, it has attracted 8,000 visitors, making it the Holburne's most successful exhibition ever. 

The exhibition is open till 29 September.  Find more details (and hear Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall speculating as to why Gerrit Dou's subject is chopping all those onions) here.

It must be the heat

August 4 2013

Image of It must be the heat

Picture: Evening Standard

The Great Brian (Sewell) has found an exhibition he likes; Collecting Gauguin, at the Courtauld. Read his review here.

Plug! Me on telly

August 4 2013

Image of Plug! Me on telly

Picture: Will Pugh

For any diehard AHN fans out there, I'll be on the telly this week (Wednesday 7th August, BBC2, 10PM). The programme is a half-hour Culture Show film about art in Venice. As it's a Biennale year, Alastair Sooke was keen to convert me to the wonders of Contemporary art. I, you won't be surprised to hear, was reluctant to emerge from my Renaissance comfort zone.

More details and clips here. So far, the Times, Telegraph, Guardian and Sunday Times have all kindly made it a pick of the day. 

Quite apart from any ham-fisted presenting by me, the film is visually stunning, so I can recommend it at least from that point of view. The excellent cameraman was Will Pugh, who took the above photo (in a modern carpet-based installation by a famous contemporary artist whose name I can't now remember), and whose exploits you can follow on his blog here

Art history laughs at the Edinburgh Festival

August 1 2013

Image of Art history laughs at the Edinburgh Festival

Picture: The Space

This looks like fun - if you're in Edinburgh this August, then why not go and see art historian Andrew Graham Dixon's one man show on the life of Caravaggio. Details and timings here. I'm going to be in Edinburgh then, making a programme for BBC2 (that's my summer holiday, by the way), so will certainly try to catch the show.

View from the Artist no. 14

August 1 2013

Image of View from the Artist no. 14


Not much news around at the moment, so let's have a bit of View from the Artist. Can you guess what the location is, and who painted it?

Update - too easy this one, it seems, or perhaps you're all just damn clever. Lots of you got it, including this reader:

I doubt if I'm the first to respond, but this is a detail from David Cox's watercolour Antwerp, Morning, dated 1832, at the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven. The clue to the subject is the enormously high tower of the cathedral contrasted with its never-completed twin to the right. 

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