With the tragic death of James Beck in 2007, the art pressure group Art Watch U.K became less visible on the web because their site went dark. But I've just received news that the site has been re-launched.
Artwatch may have been dormant on the cyber front, but they've not been idle in reality. A number of projects have been on-going, including a campaign to alert both professionals and public to the dangers of touring art for high-profile blockbusters.
Artwatch draw attention to a letter they've received from art historians and curators at Krakow concerning the inadvisability of loaning Leonardo da Vinci's 'Lady with an Ermine' – aka 'Portrait of Cecilia Gallerani- to the forthcoming Leonardo exhibition at the National Gallery, London, 2011-12.
As the pressure group say, there are three main points at issue here:
1 That this particular painting is artistically invaluable and irreplaceable and should, therefore, incur no unnecessary risks of loss or destruction;
2 That this intrinsically fragile work should not be jeopardised by the inevitable physical traumas and risks that attend movements across countries in varieties of vehicles and environments;
3 That the especial role and rootedness in Polish cultural and historical life that this work has acquired should be cherished and honoured, not violated.
It is difficult to deprive the public of this lovely painting, but that has to be weighed against its fragility. In a recently published article in the Guardian, Michael Daley, the head of Artwatch U.K., explains that "any movement is dangerous" with paintings on panel. There's also the issue of security: Leonardo is a high profile target for art thieves. What's to stop enterprising art criminals having a go, especially with the lapses in security these days?
Artwatch also reproduce the sorry spectacle of the Sienese painter Beccafumi's "Marcia" after it had been dropped on the ground and smashed in 2008 at the N.G. I well remember that accident that marred another blockbuster, held in 2008: Renaissance Siena. The poignant image of Beccafumi's smashed panel says more about the dangers of moving art than words can.
I don't know what the outcome of this dispute is going to be, but things may get worse for the organizers of the Leonardo show; concern is being voiced about whether others works earmarked for loan are fit to travel.
Welcome back Art Watch UK
(Thanks to Maaike Dirkx for telling me about this)