Previous Posts: January 2013

The value of government indemnity schemes

January 21 2013

Further to our discussion below about whether governments should support exhibitions by effectively insuring them for free, a reader alerts me to this nugget of information from the National Endowment of the Arts in the US:

The National Endowment for the Arts administers the U.S. Government's Arts and Artifacts Indemnity Program on behalf of the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities (FCAH). The Indemnity Program was created by Congress in 1975 for the purpose of minimizing the costs of insuring international exhibitions. In December 2007, Congress expanded eligibility under the Program to include coverage for works of art owned by U.S. entities while on exhibition in the United States. The Program has indemnified more than 1000 exhibitions, saving the organizers nearly $335 million in insurance premiums.

As a number of readers have pointed out, major exhibitions simply would not be possible without state indemnification. For example, the recent Late Raphael exhibition at the Prado was indemnified to a value of EUR954m

Update - a reader who knows all about the government indemnity scheme here in the UK writes:

As someone who was "involved" for over a decade, I will defend it with passion.  It is a brilliant scheme and should not be knocked, although it will be by those who seek to profit by selling commercial premiums - especially unnecessary ones such as for War Risk. 

GIS probably saves our museums and galleries well over £15 million a year in commercial insurance, without which, as others have pointed out, so many exhibitions would simply not be possible because of the enormous costs of commercial insurance.  This is a substantial public benefit and government auditors have given it a clean bill of health, for the time being at least 

However, it depends absolutely  on every single person involved at every stage of the process behaving impeccably and taking the greatest possible care of every single object and never running any careless risks.  All need to be aware that these days there is no special "contingency" fund, so that any large claim would fall to be deducted from the overall allocations to the sector.  Also borrowers should be quite certain that the objects to be borrowed have a clear and clean provenance - but that is another story. 

GIS also depends on owners (especially trustees) not insisting on unreasonably high valuations.  If they do and the Scheme's administrators insist on a more realistic and defensible valuation, then the borrowers are in the awkward position of being asked to take out top up, commercial insurance which strictly they are not meant to do - as Government and Gov't funded bodies should not be paying any commercial premiums.

Update II - Michael Savage writes:

There's no disagreement that government indemnity schemes make possible exhibitions that otherwise wouldn't take place.  But the 'saving' of $335m in US/£15m p.a. UK isn't a real saving.  It's the market value of services that the government is providing with no charge.  I think it's wrong to consider it nearly free just because there haven't yet been huge claims.  It's like saying Russian Roulette is really safe because I played it three times without dying, or that slot machines are a great investment because my mate won £20 on a £1 game.  The idemnity is a real cost that should be calculated as the probability of loss multiplied by the value of loss, and the question is how it should be allocated.  Currently the state seems just to write a blank cheque.  A really big claim could have a catastrophic impact on overall funding to the arts if the government re-balances the books.

It encourages museums to mount the most spectacular shows of the most valuable works, because it makes no difference to them whether they borrow something worth ten thousand or ten million.  Curators crow about how they've cleverly managed to negotiate loans of the most precious and most delicate paintings, when these loans are actually the most dangerous and shameful.  How is it decided that the goverment will provide a subsidy of, say, £15 a head to people visiting a Van Gogh show, £20 for Leonardo or a few pounds for Barocci?  The answer seems to be no one.  Tax money is being arbitrarily allocated to subsidise the most risky enterprises, simply because the costs aren't properly allocated and accounted for.  Meanwhile basic security measures are being cut back, and museums can't afford enough guards to stop morons scribbling on their paintings.  There is a much stronger case to be made for providing more funding to look after existing collections.  

It's a subsidy that appears to be free, because no one seems to be picking up a tab at the end.  But the cost is real, it incentivises the wrong behaviour, and subsidy would better be directed at basic preventative security.  And to give full disclosure - yes, I loved seeing Late Raphael and I'm looking forward to Young Van Dyck.  Maybe that makes me a hypocrite, but it doesn't undermine the case against indemnities.  

 As an aside, surely the Prado show was under-insured at EUR954m?  It included:

Nine studies by Raphael for the Transfiguration.  One sold recently for ~35m EUR.  Not all are that good, but it included the Ashmolean study, which is the best of them all, so let's say 250m for the group.

St Cecilia altarpiece - can't think of anything like it on the open market for well over a century.  More important even than anything in the Mellon purchases from the Hermitage.  Surely 200m?

Baldassare Castiglione, Great Holy Family and Self Portrait with Friend - say 500m for the three, putting each at less than twice Munch's The Scream.

The other 4m then has to cover three or four other portraits, other Raphael paintings including St Michael, St John Baptist in Wilderness, Small Holy Family (etc...), the works by Giulio Romano & Penni, and all the other drawings.  That obviously excludes exhibits from the Prado's own collection, which wouldn't be covered.

Waldemar on 'Mona Kate'

January 21 2013

Video: ArtFund

Tucked away at the end of Waldemar's Sunday Times column was this reappraisal of his view on the Kate portrait:

The other much-hyped portrait of the year so far is the first painted likeness of the Duchess of Cambridge, by Paul Emsley, unveiled last week by the National Portrait Gallery. Some of you must have seen me disliking it on the BBC news, because you have kindly written in to point out that I, too, am no oil painting. No arguments there.

Yet I realise it was wrong of me to describe it as “disappointing”. I apologise unreservedly. It is substantially worse than that. It’s not just that the composition has been crudely borrowed from a passport photograph, or that the lack of proper texture gives Kate the complexion of an embalmed corpse. The very worst thing about the picture is that Emsley has managed to make Kate Middleton look like Edwina Currie.

Working both ends (ctd.)

January 21 2013

Image of Working both ends (ctd.)

Picture: New York Times

The court room travails of mega dealer Larry Gagosian continue to shed interesting light on the art dealing world. Eric Konigsberg has a fascinating article in New York Magazine on the latest revelations. Of chief interest to me is the note of a conversation between AHN's favourite 'collector', Alberto Mugrabi, Sotheby's, and Gagosian, about a forthcoming auction of a work by Warhol, Hammer & Sickle, which was in danger of failing to sell, something Mugrabi and Gagosian, as holders of numerous Warhols, were keen to avoid. It highlights the inappropriate way in which many in the art world take commissions from both ends of a deal - and how, in an auction setting, it can give rise to substantial conflicts of interest:

[...] according to a word-for-word record of Mugrabi’s end of the conversation, witnessed and transcribed by an associate who was at Claridge’s, he [Mugrabi] agreed to phone Sotheby’s again to negotiate. It appears that Gagosian told Mugrabi to try to float by Sotheby’s a price of £350,000, for one particular work with an estimate of £500,000, and then call Gagosian back.

What the two dealers were apparently attempting to do was thread the needle on the two lesser Warhols. To bid high—as much as the consignor was hoping to get—might serve to prop up values for the Warhol market at large, but would be expensive and make the paintings that much more difficult to sell down the road. When Mugrabi got off the phone with Gagosian, he immediately phoned Alexander Rotter, a Sotheby’s director. “The Hammer and Sickle will be difficult,” Mugrabi said. “This painting should be much less than that, you know?” He told Rotter that “at the height of the market,” he had sold “a painting like this” for $3 million. “But it’s insane that the market has gone down and I have to pay the same price because there is some stubborn guy?”—meaning Froehlich [the vendor] —“That’s surrealist. He’s a surrealist.” When Rotter attempted to say his piece about the consignor’s attachment to the painting, Mugrabi got agitated. “Obviously, he’s putting the painting because he wants to fucking sell it, not because he wants to, you know? If he wants to sell the picture, tell him to be realistic … Which is only better for him and better for me.”

Rotter doesn’t remember the specifics of the deal, but says that “as a rule we don’t disclose the reserve to a buyer. We have conversations with the seller throughout the process. The buyer can’t say, ‘I’ll give you this’ and make it a sure thing, but we can relay that information to the consignor and say, ‘This is a good price, you might consider lowering your reserve.’ ”

Regular readers will know that I find this practice most curious. Either the auction house can be most effectively working for the buyer or the seller, but not both? How can an auction house ever think it is appropriate to tell a potential buyer what the reserve is? That is, if the auction house's prime contractual responsibility is to the vendor, how can it ever say to a buyer, 'by the way, you don't need to make you offer higher than $x'. And then how, if a reserve is set by the vendor on the advice of the auction house, can the auction house then in good faith change its advice to the vendor, on the premise that the buyer's much lower offer is suddenly 'a good price'? In such cases it seems to me that the auction house is failing in its duty to the vendor. But then since the auction house ultimately takes most of its commission from the buyer, who can blame them?

New director for the Fitzwilliam

January 20 2013

Image of New director for the Fitzwilliam

Picture: NMDC

Congratulations to Tim Knox, who has become the new Director of the Fitzwilliam museum in Cambridge - a most covetable role. Tim was formerly at the Soane Museum, which he has transformed through an ambitious, multi-million pound restoration project. I'm not really one for predictions, but I suspect Tim will do similar wonders for the Fitzwilliam, and with ease.

At the top of his list should be the museum's website. Regular readers may remember that I occasionally whinge about the Fitzwilliam's introspection, and particualrly it's inability to keep its site up to date. It comes as no surprise, for example, to find that there is no mention of Tim's appointment. More of a surprise, however, is the fact that The Lamentation by Marcantonio Bassetti, which the museum bought for £225,000 in October 2011, is still not listed in their online database. Happily, at least the Fitzwilliam's bold acquisition of Poussin's Extreme Unction is given appropriate coverage.

Is art history only for poshos? (ctd.)

January 20 2013

Image of Is art history only for poshos? (ctd.)

Picture: British Museum

Reader Dr Ben Thomas from the University of Kent's art history department writes with news of an interesting example of pioneering spirit from the art historical front line:

There have been some very interesting responses to your question ‘is history of art only for poshos?’. Your readers may be interested in some developments in the university department where I work since 2006.

Widening participation in art history has long been a concern for us at the University of Kent, where the majority of students come from state schools. It is clearly more difficult for students from less well-off backgrounds to support themselves through unpaid internships, and this does tend to mean that opportunities to get valuable work experience fall to those who can afford them. This is one of the reasons why at Kent we have been devising ways in which students can acquire the skills and experience that would make them more employable in the art world while they are studying for their degree. We have an internship module that at least allows students to earn credit for their degree while working voluntarily for an arts organisation or business, and this can be extended to a ‘year in industry’.  We also have ‘practice-based’ modules where students learn through engaging in projects that have a vocational focus. For example, my ‘print collecting and curating’ module involves students devising an exhibition based on the Kent Print Collection – a collection where only undergraduates can acquire works of art - and then realising it through making purchases or negotiating loans, and then curating the show and writing the catalogue. As well as learning how to contextualize the works they haveselected art historically, the students also learn how to manage a budget, work with partners and to deadlines, and to organise and promote an event. The catalogue for the last exhibition from this module can be found online here.

The four catalogues produced by students taking this course have been reviewed favourably by Print Quarterly and were recently described by Art in Print as ‘exemplary’. Another module of this type is ‘visual arts writing’ where the focus is on critical writing, and where students who have graduated from this module maintain a blog.

These courses are practical examples of ways in which students from all backgrounds can acquire relevant skills and experience, and hopefully start to challenge the perception that art history is a subject only for posh people.

Excellent - clearly, more art history departments should follow Kent's lead.

New Walpole Society online guide

January 20 2013

Image of New Walpole Society online guide

Picture: Walpole Society

The new editor of the Walpole Society, Jacob Simon, has been in touch, with news of a handy guide to online art historical resources.  

Did you know that membership of the Society is a snip at just £45? Well worth joining if you can.

700 year old painting's export blocked

January 20 2013

Image of 700 year old painting's export blocked

Picture: DCMS

A panel by Pietro Lorenzetti has had an export licence deferred by the government. It is apparently the only picture in the UK to have an unquestioned attribution to Lorenzetti, although the press release says the picture has 'only recently come to light'.

Institutions now have until April to attempt to raise the £5.2m required to keep the picture in the UK. More details here

Update - a reader writes:

If you check Christies website entry for the actual auction last July, you will see that it was estimated at £1-1.5M.  As it was from an established British collection, I assume it might have been possible for a UK collection to acquire it by private treaty at something like 2/3 of the upper estimate; ie around £1M.  Now we’re looking at five times that.

An unwanted art collection in New York

January 20 2013

Image of An unwanted art collection in New York

Picture: Brooklyn Museum

The New York Times reports on an attempted mass deaccession from the Brooklyn Museum, to include the above portrait of Louis XI of France:

The Brooklyn Museum seemed to have garnered a bonanza in 1932 when it received a large bequest from the estate of Col. Michael Friedsam, president of the elegant retail emporium B. Altman.

But eight decades later that cache of Dutch and Renaissance paintings, Chinese porcelains, jewelry and furniture has become something of a burden.

A quarter of the 926 works have turned out to be fakes, misattributions or of poor quality, and the museum potentially faces a hefty bill to store the 229 pieces it no longer wants.

The obvious solution — to deaccession (to sell or give away) the relatively worthless items — has been blocked, however, by clauses in Colonel Friedsam’s will that require the museum to obtain permission from the estate’s executors. The holdup? The last executor died in 1962, said Francesca Lisk, the Brooklyn Museum’s general counsel.

I'm tempted to make an offer for the lot...

Update - a reader writes:

[Brooklyn] sold a Hals in the 1960s (I believe thinking it to be a copy) - it was a highlight of the Met's recent Hals exhibition, and is now recognised as authentic and important.  Hope they do better this time...

Fakes everywhere? (ctd.)

January 20 2013

Image of Fakes everywhere? (ctd.)

Picture: NPR

Ken Perenyi claims to be a master forger, and has been touting his new book, 'Caveat Emptor' quite widely recently. You can hear a new interview with him here on US public radio. He claims to have painted thousands of fakes, which have ended up in galleries and museums around the world. I'm afraid I don't entirely believe that Perenyi operated on anything like the scale he claims (for example, he does not point to any examples of his work on public display), but he does seem to be yet one more reason to be careful when buying modern works by less well-known artists. More AHN on Perenyi here.

The Mannerist Queen

January 20 2013

Image of The Mannerist Queen

Picture: Telegraph

It's been quite a week for woeful royal portraits. Hot on the heels of 'Mona Kate', we now have a mannerist Queen Elizabeth II, as seen in a portrait that has only now gone on display some 61 years after it was painted. It has since been hidden because officials in Liverpool, where the picture was commissioned, thought the Queen's neck was too long. More details in The Telegraph here

Met acquires Santi di Tito 'Madonna'

January 20 2013

Image of Met acquires Santi di Tito 'Madonna'

Picture: Metropolitan Museum

La Tribune de l'Art alerts us to new acquisitions by the Met, including the above Santi di Tito. You can zoom in on the image here.

Woeful service...

January 17 2013

...from AHN lately I'm afraid. I've been filming most days; today in Northamptonshire for The Culture Show, and tomorrow (snow permitting) in Yorkshire for 'Fake or Fortune?'. Hope to catch up with things here over the weekend.

Update - didn't make it to Yorkshire in the end. I got as far as Birmingham, for my first appointment of the day at the wonderful Barber Institute. But with at least half an inch of swow falling, I decided to get back to London before the trains ground to a halt. The Swiss half of me is embarrassed at the English half...

If you're in Canada...

January 16 2013 can watch episode one of 'Fake or Fortune?' here. And if you're in California, you watch episodes two and three this Sunday and Monday.

Lowry show at Tate

January 16 2013

Image of Lowry show at Tate

Picture: Christie's

In The Guardian, Charlotte Higgins has news of a forthcoming Lowry exhibition at Tate Britain. See if you can spot the show's possible PR angle from this:

LS Lowry – the quintessential painter of northern, working-class life – is among the most divisive of British artists. A household name, beloved of the public and commanding huge prices at auction, he is at the same time wildly unfashionable in the art world, derided for his apparently naive images of "matchstick men and matchstick cats and dogs" set among the industrial landscapes of Salford, Pendlebury and Manchester.

But this June Tate Britain, in London, is to mount the first major retrospective devoted to Lowry since the artist's death in 1976. The show is co-curated by one of the world's pre-eminent scholars of French impressionism, TJ Clark.

According to Clark, Lowry is "an artist who is taken for granted and condescended to. The reaction from London art world friends over the last year and a half, when I have said I am working on Lowry, has been of deadpan incomprehension and disappointment."

There has, said Clark, been a "metropolitan resistance to taking the north seriously as a subject for art". He added: "It may now be possible to look beyond that condescension at a time ... when the limits of the London art world's view of art are pretty obvious." He said: "It is extraordinary to me, this image of him as an amateur, as someone who could barely paint, won't die. To me it is absolutely astonishing. And coded into this conversation by the metropolitan elite is the idea that someone who paints this subject matter can't be taken seriously."

What is this 'art world' in which Lowry is so unpopular? I don't recognise the one described here. As a London-based art dealer (albeit in older artworks), I can genuinely say I've never encountered the sort of condescension mentioned above, and certainly not amongst the many dealers I know who sell Lowrys to enthusiastic collectors. I suspect that this false accusation of a 'metropolitan art-world' bias against Lowry is in part being constructed to mask Tate's own long-term reluctance to show Lowry's work properly. Either way, it would be a great shame if the Lowry exhibition became enmeshed in such a debate. Let us just appreciate his art.


January 16 2013

Image of Alarming...

Picture: BG

I'm a fan of LED lighting, so was concerned to read this in The Independent:

Scientists have discovered that the bright-yellow pigment featured in several famous artworks becomes unstable under LED lights and, over time, turns a shade of brownish green. A sample of 14 works from the period between 1887 and 1890 were tested for the reaction which affects the oil paint colour known as chrome yellow. It was favoured by 19th-century artists and has been found in important works by Paul Cézanne and Paul Gauguin.

Researchers have now warned galleries and museums to reconsider the use of some LED lighting to prevent the colours in such paintings deteriorating further.

Claus Habfast, from the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in France, where some of the artworks were studied, said: "LED lights appear to have many advantages but museums should carefully consider that paintings from the Van Gogh era could be affected by them.

"Paintings that have moderate darkening will find this accelerates in the coming years.

A congress on art authentification

January 15 2013

Three Pipe Problem helpfully alerts me to an interesting planned conference on 'art authentification', to be held in 2014:

For quite a long time there has been a latent need within the international art community for a congress in which participants from different countries and from various professional backgrounds can meet one another to evaluate authenticity investigations and to exchange information about recent developments in the field.

The very first symposium on authentication issues ‘Authentication in the Visual Arts’ was held in Amsterdam on the 12th of March, 1977. Thirty-five years later the need for a new conference has become more eminent then ever before. It all seems to come together now: major changes forced by a new generation of thoroughly trained scholars, the economic boost on the value of paintings, a new generation of collectors with a strong focus on asset value, improved techniques for research and objective scientific research and, not least of all, the social and financial pressure coming from the law field as well as from the public.

During a meeting on May 25th 2012 a number of representative peers from the fields of art history, painting conservation, material sciences, the art market and the academic field of art and law came together in The Hague to discuss and review authentication developments and to sense the feasibility of a new congress. It was decided unanimously that a congress on the topic would be an absolute necessity. Further evaluation proved that the best time frame for organising such a congress would be May, 2014.

It seems quite a mysterious set up, with no invitation for papers. I've also looked in vain for the word connoisseurship. I wonder who is behind it? It looks from the supporters page that it's being led by technical art analysis groups. But remember, science can usually only tell you what a painting is not, not what it is.

Guffwatch - it's 'Mona Kate'!

January 15 2013

Video: The ArtFund

Ye Gods, it gets worse. Here, Christopher Lloyd, formerly of the Royal Collection and a trustee of the ArtFund, through whom the portrait was commissioned, compares the portrait to a Leonardo (really).

In centuries to come, will art historians wonder what 'Mona Kate' was smiling about?

Update - a reader writes:

If you were to cast and script this as comedy, it would look and sound no different. Hilarious!

Bonhams to the rescue

January 14 2013

Image of Bonhams to the rescue

Picture: Bloomberg

Scott Reyburn on Bloomberg reports that the famous record-setting £51.6m Chinese vase sold at a regional auction house in London in 2010 has finally been sold by Bonhams for about half that, after the original buyer refused to pay. 

Mozart discovered in miniature?

January 14 2013

Image of Mozart discovered in miniature?

Picture: Stiftung Mozarteum

There were few details available in the English press, but if you're German is good enough you can read here details of what seems to be an exciting new discovery of a portrait miniature of Mozart. In a nutshell, the miniature above, long uncertainly called Mozart, has been firmly identified as him by the Stiftung Mozarteum in Salzburg  thanks to an engraving done in 1829 by Gottschick after a portrait by Joseph Grassi, whom Mozart is known to have met in Vienna.

Where have all the blokes gone? (ctd.)

January 14 2013

Image of Where have all the blokes gone? (ctd.)


Following on from the discussion on whether art history is an elitist subject, art historian Meghan Callahan turns the light back onto the gender balance, at both ends of the art historical tree:

Reading art history can be meant in the British sense of choosing it as a major in college, or the broader sense of reading art history books or blogs. Choosing it as a major in college is often seen as the choice of the elite, or of women. I'll get into class issues of people in the class later, right now I'm thinking about women in art history. I don’t have the numbers, but art history classes I have taken and taught were all majority women. There were one or two men. Somehow though, the few men who do art history in college, or in postgraduate degree programs, manage to become the directors of museums, influential dealers, and chairs of art history departments and heads of art history schools.

More art historical gender discussion here, and here.

Update - a reader send this important nugget of information:

Here’s a useful stat for your discussion on the missing art history blokes. The Times Good University Guide records a male:female ratio of 17:83 at the Courtauld Institute. Based on my postgrad year I would say that’s unexpectedly high! I will consider the subject further after I plan my future executive career.

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