Koons to set new record?

March 14 2011

Image of Koons to set new record?

Picture: Sotheby's

A sculpture by Jeff Koons, Pink Panther, is set to sell for up to $30m at Sotheby's Spring Contemporary auction in New York. Sotheby's press release said:

'Representing the highest tier of Jeff Koons' artistic achievement, Pink Panther is immediately identifiable as a masterpiece not only of the artist's historical canon, but also of the epoch of recent Contemporary Art...

In Pink Panther, the display of the woman's semi-naked body is sensual. However, with the bizarrely incongruous cuddly Pink Panther toy clinging to the literal embodiment of carnal desire, Koons strikes an outrageous contrast between the competing powers of adult and childhood associations. 

The artist's painstaking selection of media is central to the conceptual project, contributing directly to the importance of the work. The terms of its execution are flawless: the contrasting textures of the porcelain surfaces are rendered in dazzlingly vivid colours that reinforce the object's artificiality, while the transparent glazes simultaneously evoke the fragility of thin glass and the ethereal nature of a reflective liquid.'

I rather like it. But if it's still worth $30m in 50 years time, I'll eat my trousers.

Friday amusement

March 11 2011

Image of Friday amusement

Picture: Spike Milligan

More Caravaggio in Rome

March 11 2011

Image of More Caravaggio in Rome

If you're a Caravaggio fan, it's a good time to go to Rome. Not only is there the exhibition of Caravaggio documents in the State Archives, but now a new exhibition at the Museo Diocesano brings together sixty masterpieces by Caravaggio and his contemporaries. It opens today, until 3rd July.

Fraudulent dealer's 'Mission from God'

March 11 2011

Image of Fraudulent dealer's 'Mission from God'

More details are emerging about Lawrence Salander, of the Salander O'Reilly gallery in New York, better known as the Bernie Madoff of the art world. He had a habit of selling multiple half shares in paintings, and then never telling the owners when he had sold them. He pleaded guilty last year and was jailed, but by doing so avoided a full trial. Now, in the trial of his staff, the full workings of his business are starting to emerge.

No less than Robert de Niro is to testify at the trial of Leigh Morse, Salander's former gallery director. Salander sold a whole batch of paintings by de Niro's father, not only without the actor's permission, but without ever paying him. Andrew Kelly, Salander's former assistant, is also testifying and said his former employer was 'on a mission from God to enlighten the world' whilst busily 'cooking the books' with fraudulent invoices. 

You can keep tabs on the trial via Bloomberg, here.

The £100m/£20k Leonardo - its implications for auction attributions

March 10 2011

Image of The £100m/£20k Leonardo - its implications for auction attributions

There’s an interesting piece by Simon Hewitt in this week’s Antiques Trade Gazette on the Leonardo/not Leonardo drawing, above. The article isn’t online, so I can’t link to it. 

Christie’s sold the drawing for $19,000 in 1998, but recently Martin Kemp, a leading Leonardo scholar, said it was by the great master. If it’s ‘right’, some say the drawing would be worth £100m. If it isn’t, then the original valuation is probably right. There’s nothing in between. 

The picture is now the subject of a lawsuit between a previous owner, Jeanne Marchig, and Christie’s. Mrs Marchig claims that Christie’s were negligent in selling the drawing as ‘German School, 19th Century’, when in fact it was by Leonardo. However, Christie’s are sticking to their guns, and say that although Martin Kemp believes it is a Leonardo, many other scholars do not, and neither do they. [More below]

However, Simon Hewitt points out that so far Christie’s are winning the legal battle only because Mrs Marchig’s claim is outside New York’s six year statute of limitations. The question of is it or is it not a Leonardo has yet to be discussed in court. Mrs Marchig is appealing the latest decision, saying that the statute of limitations does not apply. In which case, as Simon Hewitt points out;

‘The case also raises the question as to whether a disclaimer in a consignment agreement (to the effect that an auction firm makes no representations or warranties as to the authenticity of an object) relieves the firm of a duty to attribute the object correctly; and whether the statute of limitations should still apply if fresh evidence comes to light, however late, that shows due diligence was not performed at the time of sale’.

In which case, all bets are off on auction attributions. 

If the case does proceed to a full trial, the precedents for a Leonardo attribution being discussed in court in New York are not good from Christie’s point of view. In 1920 the celebrated art dealer Lord Duveen lost a libel case when he stated publicly that a replica of Leonardo’s ‘La Belle Ferronniere’ was not another version by Leonardo, but a copy. The picture’s owners, the Hahns, sued Duveen, and even though the picture was universally accepted to be a copy by scholars, an emotionally swayed jury found in the Hahns' favour, who were portrayed by their lawyer as plucky Americans standing up to snobbish European 'experts'.

The Hahn picture was finally sold in 2010, as ‘Follower of Leonardo’, for $1.5m (by Sotheby’s). 


Landseer in the Highlands

March 10 2011

Image of Landseer in the Highlands

Picture: Mallams

This small and rare landscape sketch by Landseer, estimated at £8-12,000, sold for £70,000 yesterday.

Update 20.3.11: it isn't the highlands, it's Devon apparently. I saw the picture at Maastricht. 

Rodin nicked

March 10 2011

Image of Rodin nicked

Picture: AP

A bronze statue of Balzac has been stolen from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. The work, cast in 1892, was taken during renovations three months ago. The theft has only now been made public, which is perhaps rather late. Like the Henry Moores stolen in England recently, I suspect it has already been melted down. Who knows, bits of it may already be in the circuitry of your new mobile phone.  

Important Turners donated to Abbotsford

March 9 2011

Image of Important Turners donated to Abbotsford

Picture: Art Fund. Left, Abbotsford, right, Newark Castle. 

Two watercolours by JMW Turner have been donated to Abbotsford, Walter Scott's home. They were painted in 1831 to illustrate the 1833 edition of Scott's poems. The donor, Phoebe Barrow, chose to donate them through the Art Fund so that they were safeguarded in perpetuity - a smart move in this world of increasing deaccessions. More here

'The man who said museums should charge for entry.'

March 9 2011

Image of 'The man who said museums should charge for entry.'

Tristram Hunt has re-opened the debate on entrance fees for museums. He says that in an age of arts cuts, particularly for regional museums, it is unfair that London-based museums such as Tate get funds for free entry, but not the Potteries Museum in his own Stoke constituency. [More below]

Hunt is going firmly against Labour policy, and his willingness to debate the issue must be applauded. For too long there has been a sort of fatwa on the subject. I used to work for Hugo Swire, who, when he was Shadow Culture Secretary, was denounced by the Daily Mail, and later others, for daring to suggest that if some museums wanted to re-introduce charges, he would consider allowing them to do so. 

Personally, I think free entry is a Good Thing. But if a board of independent trustees wanted to charge because they thought it would be better for their museum, why should the government stop them? The money they receive from DCMS to supposedly make up for free entry is not nearly enough. And Hunt points out that 'when it came to broadening audiences for art and culture, free entry didn't achieve that much.'

Should British taxpayers be subsidising the over 15 million overseas visitors who benefit from free entry? If the British Museum could charge even half of its 3.7m overseas visitors the same as the Louvre, 9.5 Euros, it would raise an additional £14.4m. The equivalent figure for Tate would be £12.5m, and the National Gallery almost £7m.

I'm glad that the current government is committed to free entry, with 'no ifs and no buts' as Jeremy Hunt said. But I'll continue to be puzzled by the fact that in Paris, it's free to get into Notre Dame, but not the Louvre, while in London it's free to get into the National Gallery, but not Westminster Abbey.


Unsettling sculpture of the week

March 9 2011

Image of Unsettling sculpture of the week

Meet Petra, a life-size sculpture of a female German riot officer. Petra is squatting and urinating. The piece has caused a stir in Germany, but has also won a prestigious prize from the Lienneman Foundation. Its creator, Marcel Walldorf, said;

'The public response has been overwhelmingly positive, and I don't understand why people are attacking Petra. She even contains a special mechanism by which a liquid can be made to flow out of her genitals. But to avoid damaging the gallery's floor, I have substituted a puddle of simulated urine made from gelatine for this exhibition.' 

Goliath's Revenge?

March 8 2011

Image of Goliath's Revenge?

Like the Mona Lisa, Michelangelo's David is always good for a few column inches on a slow news day, no matter how far-fetched the story. I've watched this story grow from an obscure press release to, now, the world's media. Apparently the statue is in danger of collapse, because the new Roman metro system will pass over half a kilometre from it. Fernando De Simone wants the city to build a special underground viewing room for David. He says:

'The tunnel will pass about 600 meters (2,000ft) from the statue of David, the ankles of which, it is well known, are riddled with micro-fissures. If it’s not moved before digging begins, there is a serious risk that it will collapse.'

By the way - Fernando de Simone is an architect specialising in... underground construction.

Turner installed at Getty

March 8 2011

Image of Turner installed at Getty

Picture: Getty.edu

See it and weep.


March 7 2011

Image of Geschlossen

Picture: Tate.

Greetings from Berlin, where I've come for the day to see a painting. Sadly, all the major galleries are geschlossen on Mondays, so there's not much art historical to report. I'm now at the airport, wondering if the implausibly cheap little chunks of 'Berlin Wall' on offer are real. Probably not.

In other news, the world's most expensive painting has gone on display at Tate. Naturally, it's a Picasso. I'm glad they've organised some half plausible art handlers for the photo-op - but I wouldn't recommend trying to hang your own $100m painting whilst standing on a ladder...

Chardin at the Prado

March 4 2011

Image of Chardin at the Prado

Picture: The Louvre

The Prado has an excellent micro-site for their new Chardin exhibition (ends 29th May). You can zoom into the paintings in great detail while listening to commentary in English. There is also a charming video with Pierre Rosenberg, Deputy Director of the Louvre. Worth a click.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the museum...

March 4 2011

Image of Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the museum...

Tate Modern will host a Hirst retrospective in 2012 as part of its plans for the Cultural Olympiad.

Cuts, cuts, cuts

March 3 2011

There was a strange piece on the Today programme this morning about cuts in arts funding. Ed Vaizey, the Arts Minister, was 'grilled' by leading arts practitioners. But the whole discussion (between five people) was edited down to just three and a bit minutes, so it was rather confusing. Ed said there was only an 11% cut; the arts gurus said 30%.

Which is true? Would you believe me if I said that the arts are being cut less than the police? Here's a handy guide to those arts cuts figures: [more below]

  • The DCMS budget has been cut by 25% from £1.4bn to £1.1bn over the next four years.
  • National Museums and Galleries, the 21 directly funded by the DCMS, will see a 15% cut in their annual revenue. This means that national museum funding in 2015 will be what it was in 2007.
  • The Arts Council England annual revenue has been cut by 30%. This cut has come with an 'instruction' that 'frontline' arts bodies will be cut by 15%, as with the national museums, and that ACE admin is reduced by 50%.
  • The ACE budget is now £449.5m. In 2014 it will be £349m. This means that by 2014, ACE will be providing revenue to arts organisations at the level it was in 2004, in real terms.
  • From 2012, capital funding from the National Lottery (the money to build extensions, galleries etc.) to the Arts will go up by £50 million a year. Heritage will also get £50m a year extra. This is thanks to changes in the distribution of good cause money, which Labour had reduced from 20% to 16.6%. 
  • The overall cut to arts spending, therefore, is, as Ed Vaizey said, 11% over the next four years in real terms - that is, the combined figure for grant-in-aid and Lottery capital. To put that into context, policing and criminal justice will be cut by 20%

Under the last government, the total arts spend (lottery capital plus government revenue) went down. Revenue went up, but Lottery went down by more. However, such is the reliance amongst arts bodies on government revenue that few complained. Now that the revenue is going down, it seems not to be noticed that the Lottery money is going up.

Vaizey has done well so far to get the spending package through without too much complaint - the arts could have been a very awkward constituency for the coalition last year. But now the tendency of the government to perform u-turns is giving heart to increasing protests amongst the arts sector. Personally, I think it would be a mistake for the arts to become overly politicised on this - they have an opportunity to widen their funding base, and thus their audience. Will too much whingeing merely alienate that audience?

New V&A Extension Shortlist

March 3 2011

Image of New V&A Extension Shortlist

Picture: Snohetta & Hoskins

The V&A has revealed the shortlist of architects for the Exhibition Road space. More on the V&A site here and images on the BBC site here. I like the Snohetta & Hoskins option, above. Cool, eh?

National Gallery Podcast

March 3 2011

Image of National Gallery Podcast

This month's National Gallery podcast is worth a listen. Susan Foister and co discuss the new Gossart exhibition and also the zippy Google Art Project, which features Holbein's Ambassadors in super high-res.  

A new Mabuse?

March 2 2011

Image of A new Mabuse?

A reader has kindly sent me this image, which is an old photo of a painting stolen from a Croatian monastery in 1972. The Madonna and Child was believed by the Franciscan monks of Dubrovnik to be by Mabuse, or Jan Gossart, the star of the National Gallery's new show.

Of course, it is impossible to tell at this distance, but the painting is certainly Mabuse/Gossart/Gossaert-like. The composition is similar to that seen in the c.1520 Mauritshuis/Rijksmuseum Virgin and Child with the Veil, which is no.10 in Maryan Ainsworth's splendid new monograph.

The features and drapery in the Dubrovnik picture seem rather hard, and the pattern was quite widely copied. Nonetheless, it is worth a closer look - so if you know where it is, pray tell...  [More Below]

Robert Edge Pine

Jadranka Beresford-Pierse, who kindly sent me the Mabuse image, is particularly keen to know where this painting by Robert Edge Pine is. It is a portrait of Roger Boscovich, a Croatian polymath who was painted by Pine in London in 1760. This painting was also stolen in 1972. Please spread the image far and wide, and send any hints to Jadranka at the International Trust for Croatian Monuments

Antiguos Maestros Europeos!

March 1 2011


Rare good news for the museum world - the world's richest man, Carlos Slim, is sinking $34m into a museum to display his 66,000 piece private collection. The Soumaya Museum, in Mexico City, will feature an impressive art collection, with works from Rubens to Rodin.  

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