Before sharing some (good) news stories from the art world this week, I need to beg the reader’s indulgence in allowing me to give vent to what I believe to be a very, very bad one. If you are a subscriber or a regular reader, you know that I usually try to keep things fairly positive and informative hereabouts. For the most part, that tends to be a more effective way of sharing what I have to say.
But sometimes, you need to light up the flamethrower.
More details of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s forthcoming “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination” exhibition and associated Met Gala have been released. As I expected, the whole thing makes my skin crawl. Described as the largest exhibition ever mounted in the history of the Met, spread across 25 galleries, the show will feature 40 items from the sacristy of the Sistine Chapel, along with religious art, high fashion and couture garments, and other objects assembled from various collections.
On Monday, Met curator Andrew Bolton spoke at a press conference in Rome flanked by Gianfranco Cardinal Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Vogue Magazine doyenne Anna Wintour, fashion designer Donatella Versace, and others. Bolton seemed to be aware of the fact that this forthcoming carnival sideshow has rankled many even before it opens on May 1st:
While the fashions that are featured in the exhibition might seem far-removed from the sanctity of the Catholic Church, they should not be dismissed lightly, for they embody the storytelling traditions of Catholicism. Taken together, the fashions and artworks in ‘Heavenly Bodies’ sing with enchanted, and enchanting, voices.
The “storytelling traditions of Catholicism”, as he puts it, are not merely “stories”. They are articles of faith for the 1.2 billion Catholics who currently live on this planet, and for those now-deceased billions who, over the course of the last 2,000 years, have believed, suffered, and died for it. They did so all the while spreading what was originally viewed as a tiny heretical Jewish sect to the four corners of the earth, in obedience to Christ’s Great Commission before His Ascension to “Go teach all nations.”
Catholics do not share tales about the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, or the humility and grace of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or the persecution of martyrs, or the spiritual teachings of the doctors and mystics of the Church, in the same way that we might talk about what we did on vacation, or what happened on the most recent episode of “Homeland”, or how Cinderella had a magical fairy godmother who gave her a pair of glass slippers. We do not represent these things in paint, textile, or metal merely for the purposes of decoration, as if they were nothing more than representations of some old chestnut or fish story from a murky past with which we no longer have any connection. Moreover, even with the promised segregation of sacred objects from secular fashions in this show, the visitor will be confronted with a montage whose very title – particularly the term “Heavenly Bodies” – when spoken aloud suggests concepts which ought not to be considered in the same breath.
I have no doubt that some of the objects on loan from Rome are splendid, in themselves, and had this been an exhibition solely about liturgical or papal vestments, textiles, or the like, standing independently, I’m sure it would have been a fascinating display of centuries of history. But that’s not what this is: it’s an ill-advised attempt by Rome to try to seem hip and current, and will provide those who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular with plenty of ammunition to fire at the Church. I find the entire concept of this exhibition to be offensive, tacky, and grossly ill-informed – much like this Papacy – and shame on the Vatican for even considering being a part of this travesty.
I urge my fellow Catholic readers in particular not to go see this show, nor to have anything to do with it.
Here endeth the rant. Now, on to some better news.
Missing Degas: Found
In one of the strangest art recovery stories I’ve read in some time, news outlets have been reporting about the recovery of a stolen work by Edgar Degas (1834-1917), “Les Choristes” (1877), which was found by French Customs inspectors on a bus parked at a gas station outside of Paris. The work was one of a number of pieces left to the French nation by Impressionist painter Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894), a close friend of Degas, and had been stolen nine years ago while on loan from the Musée d’Orsay to an exhibition at a museum in Marseilles. The Orsay has now announced that the piece will be part of a Degas exhibition next year, which will eventually travel to the National Gallery here in DC.
Missing Monet: Found
A long-lost painting by Claude Monet (1840-1926) is now back home – in Japan. “Water Lilies: Reflection of Willows” (1916), a study for the artist’s set of water lily paintings now in the Musée de l’Orangerie, was purchased in the 1920’s by Japanese industrialist Kojiro Matsukata, who amassed one of the first great collections of Western art in his country. The painting was moved to France for safekeeping during World War II. No one seems to know for certain exactly how it ended up in the Louvre, but in 2016 it was discovered in a storage area of the museum, rolled up and heavily damaged; currently, the surface is being held together by tape, as you can see below. The piece is now undergoing restoration at Japan’s National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo, and will subsequently be placed on public display.
Missing Caravaggio: A Clue?
You may recall that back in November, I shared a story about the search for a stolen altarpiece by Caravaggio (1571-1610): his “Adoration of the Shepherds” (1609), a detail of which appears below, which was painted for the Oratory of St. Lawrence in Palermo, Sicily. At the time, well-known art detective Charley Hill indicated that he believed he was on the trail of the missing painting, which was allegedly stolen to order by the Mafia. The latest development, according to a crime informant anyway, is that the painting was sold to a now-deceased Swiss art dealer, and cut into pieces so that it could be shipped to Switzerland undetected. Let’s hope that it still exists somewhere.