Thought-Pourri: Flamethrower Edition

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.

Degas

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.

Monet

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.

Shepherds

 

 

 

 

 

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Thought-Pourri: Exclamations Edition

Among my fellow practitioners of popery there have been a great many dumbfounded exclamations on social media since yesterday, when The Met announced that the theme for the 2018 Met Gala will be – wait for it – “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination”. The idea appears to have been suggested by the upcoming loan of historic vestments and other liturgical garments from the Vatican, for an exhibition which will open at The Met on May 10th. I find it difficult to understand why Rome would allow itself to serve as the touchstone for a parade of tarts, gigolos, and social parasites who openly hate the Church, but then the inherent tackiness of the present occupant of the chair of St. Peter is something which has been more than apparent for years now. I hope Cardinal Dolan has better sense than to attend this event.

Now, on to some more interesting news.

Ah, Venice!

After many years of complaints from residents, art and architecture historians, and international cultural organizations like UNESCO, Italy is finally taking steps to ban jumbo cruise ships from the center of Venice. Over the next two years, the mega-liners will be diverted from the Giudecca Canal, which merges with the Grand Canal to lead into the Piazza San Marco. The behemoths will now dock at a newly-constructed facility on the North Canal at Marghera, on the Venetian mainland. While not a complete solution to the many problems faced by La Serenissima, from depopulation to pollution, hopefully scenes like that pictured below, of a tacky monstrosity looming over the historic core of the city, will soon be a thing of the past.

Venice

Bah, Berkshire!

Despite last-minute interventions by both the Rockwell family and the Massachusetts Attorney General, it looks as though the sale of the Berkshire Museum’s two Norman Rockwell paintings will be going ahead at Sotheby’s next week as planned. Readers will recall that the Berkshire decided to sell off a significant portion of its art holdings, including two paintings gifted to the museum by Rockwell himself (one of which served as the Saturday Evening Post cover pictured below), as well as a number of other significant works of art in the collection, to become some sort of experiential tourist destination. Barring some last-minute appeals, the museum is now free to reinvent itself as the nonsensical, irrelevant, lowest common denominator institution which its current leadership wants it to become. My prediction is that a decade from now, it will have ceased to exist entirely.

Rockwell

Bello, Bernini!

A major exhibition featuring almost 80 works by the greatest master of Italian Baroque architecture and sculpture, Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680), has just opened at the Borghese in Rome, should you happen to find yourself in the Eternal City in the coming months. What’s particularly interesting about “Bernini” (no other exhibition descriptors were thought necessary) is that, in addition to a number of the artist’s most famous sculptures, as well as a newly restored work, and drawings and models for buildings such as St. Peter’s, the show features several of his paintings – for yes, Bernini could paint, too. Note for example the wonderfully direct frankness and overall simplicity of this 1632 portrait of Pope Urban VIII (1568-1644), which is on loan to the Borghese show. I particularly like how Bernini handled the red of the garments in this picture, so as to give the viewer a real sense of it being the kind of dense, close-cropped velvet that has little or no sheen to it. “Bernini” runs through February 4, 2018.

Bernini

Golly, Guido!

Speaking of the Italian Baroque, Bendor Grosvenor – whom I read every day and you should, too – reports that the National Gallery in London has recently determined that a work presumed to be by assistants of the very influential painter Guido Reni (1575-1642) has now been determined to be, at least in part, from the hand of Reni himself. Though not quite a household name today, Reni was *the* most popular Italian Baroque artist of his day, and indeed for centuries afterwards; dozens of important artists came to study in his studio, and his pictures were widely sought after by collectors all over Europe. “The Toilet of Venus” was painted sometime between 1620 and 1625, but it has been a dark and dingy thing for many years. Thanks to a recent cleaning, it has regained the almost porcelain qualities of flesh and jewel-toned fabric for which Reni is justly famous. Intriguingly, as Grosvenor mentions in his piece, another painting that was gifted to the National Gallery as part of the same bequest was also believed to be a copy executed by Reni’s studio assistants. I suspect that the museum is now going to turn its attention to funding the cleaning and restoration of this one, since it would be just as major of a rediscovery. At this point, the painting is so grimy that you can only barely see the threatening Kraken swimming about at the lower left of the picture.

Perseus

Thought-Pourri: Art News Roundup

I’m continuing with this weekly roundup of interesting news items about art, architecture, and design, because so far it seems readers are reacting positively. I’ve not settled on a permanent title for this feature, so if anyone cares to make suggestions on a more clever moniker, please share your thoughts in the comments! And now, on to the roundup.

Event: “Beauty and the Restoration of the Sacred”

This looks to be quite an event, if you are going to be in the Chicago area on October 29th – but you need to act now.

The Catholic Art Guild will be holding a day-long conference titled “Beauty and the Restoration of the Sacred” at The Drake Hotel (my favorite watering hole in the Windy City), featuring some of today’s most prominent voices advocating for the creation, preservation, and greater appreciation of beautiful art. The speakers will be writer and philosopher Sir Roger Scruton, architect Duncan Stroik, art/architecture professor Dr. Denis McNamara, and artist Anthony Visco. If you’re a fellow conservative interested in the arts, these are all individuals with whom you are already very, very familiar. The opportunity of getting to hear and meet all of them at the same event is an opportunity not to be missed.

The day will begin with Latin High Mass at the magnificent Baroque Revival church of St. John Cantius, which is without question the most beautiful church in Chicago, and then proceed to The Drake for presentations, dinner, and a concluding panel discussion. Frankly, if I could manage it with my schedule, I’d be there myself. So you’ll have to attend for me, and share your reactions with the rest of us in the Comments section.

PLEASE NOTE: Tickets must be purchased in advance, as they will not be available at the door, and you *must* book by Monday, October 23rd.

Conference

New Exhibit: Norwegian Nonsense

By way of complete contrast to the preceding, but demonstrating why such conferences are critical in this day and age, the four finalists for this year’s Lorck Schive Kunstpris – the most “prestigious” art prize in that country – are now on display at the Trondheim Kunstmuseum. Among these, perhaps the silliest is Mattias Härenstam’s “Limitation”, which features a dead birch tree attached to pulleys that drag the dessicated specimen around the gallery. I’m sure this is all very profound if you’re a Norwegian atheist with more bad taste than brains, but not falling into any of those categories myself, my recommendation would be to just ignore this show entirely, and instead go explore Trondheim’s superb Nidaros Cathedral, built between about 1000-1300 A.D.

Trondheim

Follow Up: Dalí, Disinterred

Regular readers will recall from these pages my reports on the long-standing efforts of psychic Pilar Abel to prove that she was the illegitimate offspring of the great Catalan Surrealist Salvador Dalí (1904-1989), as the result of a (ahem) dalliance which she claimed took place between her mother and the artist back in the 1950’s. After many years of wasting everyone’s time and resources in several unsuccessful attempts to establish her paternity claim, it appears that the courts have finally had enough. A judge in Madrid has now dismissed the suit, and ordered Ms. Abel to pay associated costs, including those incurred during the disinterment of the artist’s remains back in July.

Dali

New Exhibit: Dalí, Designer

Speaking of Salvador Dalí, one genuine, platonic partnership which the artist actively engaged in during his lifetime was with Italian fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973). To mark their many years of collaboration, the Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida has just opened a new exhibition examining the work of the artist and the couturier, running through January 14th. Although today Schiaparelli is far less known than her contemporary and rival, Coco Chanel, for several decades until her retirement in the early ‘50’s, Schiaparelli was a force to be reckoned with in the design world, creating haute couture for women who wanted something more edgy than the more sensible, minimalist designs presented by Chanel. Schiaparelli collaborated with Dalí on a number of designs which blurred the line between art and clothing, including the famous “Lobster Dress”, worn here by the infamous Duchess of Windsor.

Windsor

New Exhibit: French King, Dutch Art

Another exhibition worth taking in, should you be so fortunate as to find yourself in Paris in the coming months, is “François I and Dutch Art”, which has just opened at The Louvre and runs until January 15th. King François I of France – sometimes jokingly referred to as, “Le Roi Nez” due to his prominent beak – was a major art collector and patron at the dawn of the French Renaissance. He famously managed to coax an elderly Leonardo Da Vinci to leave Italy, and go into semi-retirement at a country house located near the king’s principal residence in the Loire Valley. As this new exhibition points out however, François’ substantial art collection included much more than just the “Mona Lisa”, as he was particularly keen on acquiring or commissioning altarpieces, portraits, and scenes of everyday life from contemporary Dutch artists. Among the most interesting works is this very early genre scene by Bartholomeus Pons (active 1518-1541), depicting workers taking barrels down into a wine cellar. The picture has the crystalline precision one expects of Dutch painting from this period, combined with keen observations of everyday life, and a superb understanding of the complexities involved in rendering believable architectural perspective.

Pons