Art Agonies: Politics Over Preservation

At present we live in a climate in which lovers of great art must put up with the strangely tortured and often ill-informed opinions of others. From nonsensical tweets about the nature of art by celebrity astrophysicists incapable of dressing themselves properly, to lowest common denominator garbage from princes of the Church who have been inexplicably tasked with matters of culture, it’s enough to make this writer want to throw up his hands and just walk away from all of it. I would probably have much more fun simply interviewing and highlighting the work of creative friends and acquaintances – painters, cosplayers, musicians, chefs, writers, etc. It tires me to read about risky decisions being made about art for the sake of political popularity.

A perfect example of this may be found in a recent interview with Françoise Nyssen, France’s Minister of Culture, given on Thursday to Europe 1 Radio. Mme. Nyssen floated the idea of sending the most famous painting in the world, Leonardo’s “Mona Lisa”, out on tour in order to combat what the Minister calls “cultural segregation”. If any of my readers can explain how a work of art is “culturally segregated”, when it is on display to everyone in a public museum, by all means do your best in the comments section. As an aside, I shudder to think what the insurance premiums would be on moving and displaying such an important object, which for decades The Louvre has not even dared to attempt cleaning.

This is not the only half-baked idea to come from the government of France’s greatest aficionado of sheer cover foundation, President Emmanuel Macron. Another ill-conceived project is to send the Bayeux Tapestry, which commemorates the Norman Invasion of Britain and the ensuing Battle of Hastings, across the English Channel to be displayed in a British museum. Like the “Mona Lisa”, the Bayeux Tapestry is an incredibly fragile object, arguably the most famous of its type in the world, and has not left its home in France for many years. Many French historians, preservation specialists, and locals are appalled at the notion of even attempting to move the Tapestry off-site, let alone send it out of the country, but for political reasons Monsieur Maquillage seems determined to proceed with this idea.

Exhibitions which allow works of art to travel from one institution to another are not bad things in and of themselves. When handled properly, they can bring to new audiences objects which they might never be able to visit otherwise. Consideration of the state of preservation of such objects, particularly when of significant age, fragility, or difficulty in transport, must be given absolute priority: Michelangelo’s “David” is never going to leave Florence to go on tour, for example.

However, placing irrational, politically-motivated thinking ahead of issues such as preservation and integrity (and yes, Your Holiness, appropriateness) is morally reprehensible. It plays Russian roulette with the ability of future generations to see, appreciate, and learn from these objects, all for the sake of temporary political popularity. Those who engage in such games by putting at risk the cultural patrimony under their temporary care should be publicly criticized and called to account.

Harold

The Courtier In The Federalist: How To Enjoy Art In An Age Of Selfies

Since I’m now *officially* The Federalist’s art critic – or that’s what my byline over there says, anyway – here’s a link to my latest for said publication, about how the phenomenon of selfie-taking has been affecting the art world. Special thanks to my editor, Joy Pullman, who is always extremely generous with me when it comes to the rather excessive length of my articles. If you’d like to comment on the piece, please consider doing so over on The Federalist website rather than here (although your comments are always welcome here, as well.)

Federalist

 

Gotta Catch ‘Em All: Summer Exhibitions

Gotta Catch ‘Em All: Summer Exhibitions

Much as I’d like to, I can’t possibly visit and review all of the art shows I’d like to see this summer. So for my readers who find themselves in the following cities, here are a few exhibitions that you may want to put on your calendar. If you happen to visit one of these shows, be sure to leave your feedback in the Comments section on this post, letting us know what you thought of the exhibition.

BERLIN
Gemäldegalerie
El Siglo de Oro. The Age of Velázquez
July 1 – October 30

The “Siglo de Oro”, i.e. the “Golden Age” of Spanish culture, occurred between about 1550-1650. It was a century-long flowering of the arts and literature that included most of the greatest Spanish Old Master painters, such as El Greco, Murillo, Zurbarán, and of course, Velázquez, among others. This was my specialty subject when I was studying at Sotheby’s, and an area of art history that is always close to my heart. While overall the best place to see Siglo de Oro art is in Madrid, with the cooperation of the Spanish Crown and a number of international institutions, Berlin has managed to put together what appears to be a fairly comprehensive overview of this period, with 130 examples of painting, sculpture, and drawing.

BOSTON
Museum of Fine Arts
Della Robbia: Sculpting with Color in Renaissance Florence
August 9 – December 4

Opening a bit later this summer, the MFA’s look at the work of the Della Robbia family and their colorful Renaissance ceramics promises to be especially popular. The Della Robbias combined elegant human figures, and delectable renderings of fruits and vegetables, in what became the signature style of their workshop – a style which ceramics manufacturers still copy today. For me the standout here is the loan of Luca Della Robbia’s magnificent “Visitation” of 1445 from San Giovanni Fuorcivitas, a church in the Tuscan town of Pistoia, a work which has never traveled to the United States before. Created nearly 600 years ago, it is just as fresh, poignant, and beautifully observed now, as it was then.  

CHICAGO
The Art Institute
America after the fall: Painting in the 1930’s
June 3 – September 18

The Great Depression not only brought about an end to the high life of the Roaring ‘20’s, it also ushered in a new era in American painting wherein artists took a more serious, sometimes dour (or even sinister) tone. The Art Institute’s examination of this period features masterpieces that are well-known images – Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” and Edward Hopper’s “Gas” for example – as well as important works displaying the wide variety of styles explored by American artists during that era, from the surrealistic dream images of Georgia O’Keeffe, to the seedy social realism of Paul Cadmus. If you are interested in learning more about the development of Modern Art in America between the Wars, this appears to be an excellent opportunity for you to do so.    

While you are there, be sure to check out the Art Institute’s newly-acquired “Christ Carrying the Cross” by Sebastiano del Piombo (1485-1547). While del Piombo is a bit of a derivative hybrid of Michelangelo and Raphael at times, his figures often have a wonderfully sculptural quality, and he employs shadows and angles that almost anticipate the development of Tenebrism. This picture is the first del Piombo in the Art Institute’s collection, and although he painted several variations and copies of this composition – there is one in The Prado for example, whose shading is a bit more subtle, although perhaps a bit overcleaned – it is well worth seeing if you are unfamiliar with his work.

WASHINGTON DC
The Phillips Collection
William Merritt Chase: A Modern Master
June 4 – September 11

Portraits painted by William Merritt Chase (1849-1916) usually lack the beauty and style of a good John Singer Sargent, as the subjects often come off as a bit defiant and slightly unrefined. Yet in their directness, they are images of an increasingly confident America at the turn of the previous century. Chase not only painted powerful portraits and casually elegant still lifes, he also played a huge part in making oil pastels popular in this country – a medium which, if you have ever worked in it, is simultaneously wonderfully tactile and frustratingly delicate. This survey of Chase’s output features a number of his portraits, still lifes, interiors, and pastels, as well as his typically Impressionist works of languid ladies lunching in landscapes.

image

The Visitation (detail) by Luca Della Robia (c. 1445)