Connoisseurship and Science.
The topic of how science can help us identify painters, styles, authorship etc, has figured highly on this blog over the past year. In a July post, I said that Martin Kemp’s and Pascal Cotte’s book on the troublesome La Bella Principessa drawing showed how the two approaches could function for the artistic good, without feeling the need to outdo each other. I’ve received e.mails and comments from top Leonardo scholars/connoisseurs who believe that this compromise augurs well for an age of increasing complexity in museum politics and practice. Yet, despite this attitude of rapprochement, why do some still harbour doubts and clamour for a “return to traditional connoisseurship.” Perhaps that’s valid; one word that didn’t feature much in the National Gallery’s Close Examination exhibition was connoisseurship.
Rediscoveries, Rediscoveries, Rediscoveries!
We ended last year with the rediscovery of a Velasquez at the Met in New York, and guess what? We’re concluding 2010 with another Velasquez (pictured) dredged from the vaults of the Met. I found last year’s attribution completely convincing, but have to agree with Culture Grrl about the lamentable quality of this year’s find, despite the attribution’s support by one of the leading experts on the painter. This seems to be a cumulative trend: curators making claims about the dusty old masters in their basements; claims subsequently endorsed by a leading authority. Some attributions hold water, but I can’t help feeling a little jaded and cynical at the rediscovery phenomenon, particularly with such headline attracting names like Rembrandt and Velasquez. And for every authenticated old master, there is one that simply doesn’t pass the test. I’m looking at that so-called “Caravaggio” St John in Amsterdam, which doesn’t convince me in the least.
Refurbishment, Refurbishment, Refurbishment!.
If there was one word that caused my blood to boil it was the dreaded word refurbishment. It reminded me of Baudelaire’s complaint about Paris being full of road works and construction; or Ruskin’s rants about restoration and dropping cement on classical figures in Venice, all in the name of progress. In much the same curmudgeonly mode, I cry “Excuse me, but do we have to close whole museums, or deprive the public of their permanent collections for such as long time, purely so we can have a 21st museum experience”? Particularly reprehensible is Tate Britain (pictured) which is about to embark on a 45m makeover, necessitating the storing of most of the pre 1900 collection. After writing this post, I got comments and messages from lots of readers who have seen this modern construction imposed on their own museums. And there’s another dimension to refurbishment:, it seems to have replaced loan exhibitions as a way of unintentionally hiding the permanent collection from the people.
Art History and Cyberspace.
What have Facebook, Twitter et al have to do with art history? On the face of it nothing, but look again and you might change your mind. I’ve used Facebook to discuss the iconography, style etc of old master paintings; the messaging system seems to be ideal for that. I’m not exactly a Twitterholic, but the software obviously has its attraction for art enthusiasts who have found my blog through it, and as a communication device, it’s awesome. It’s not yet clear what social networking and the rise of cyberspace can do for art history, but we’d be fools to ignore its potential, especially as education is likely to become more open-source and accessible in the future. As I said here, I think it’s inevitable that web technology will be absorbed into our discipline, especially as the paradigms of publishing change, as they must, due to the mass amateurization of publishing caused by the rise in weblogs, wikis and other on-line resources. That can only mean that we’ll learn more about the benefits of sharing information and ideas on line.
Art and the Age of Austerity.
If there is one word that needs to be re-defined to make it reflect a specific historical moment, it’s austerity and the programme of momentous and callous measures associated with it. From now on we won’t be able to hear that word without thinking of effigies of Nick Clegg burned by furious students, or David Cameron reassuring pensioners their winter fuel allowance was safe, whilst planning to take it away from them, as we learned over the festive season. The austerity programme glanced off the major museums- no admission charge, only a 15% cut, and financial reserves to be accessed, up to 50% in the NG’s case- but the axe hacked mercilessly away at the Arts Council and other arts organisations. Timber! Down they went, the funding for a broad swath of arts ventures, not to mention provincial museums, libraries, and other targets which are deemed too much of a luxury for the incoming Age of Austerity. If we took austerity to its logical conclusion, I would be sitting on the floor of my study with my net book powered by my own battery; and when that packed up, I’d be reading books by the light of the candle, desperately trying to block out the noise of the anti-culture police bulldozing the libraries and universities outside. Still, I guess we should give thanks to the ConDems for not imposing admission charges on the major museum, but can we really believe it’s going to last? Can you really trust a government on culture that is so mean that it gleefully deprives young children of the delight of discovering reading? And what chance has culture and the arts got in this country when it’s represented by people like this?
Art and Protest
Situationist fun or serious engagement with an administration that seems to have abandoned the young to their economic fate? I don’t know, but the outbreak of sit-ins, art school occupations and tactics (as reported on here) that fused the aesthetic and the political certainly caught the attention and imagination of those who had been, hitherto, politically quiescent, myself included. Who can forget the book block as a spirited response to kettling, a word that has huge resonance for the protest movement. I think it’s copyrighted, otherwise I would have shown you an image of a kettle cop laying into Derrida’s Spectres of Marx. Away from the physical fray, the most symbolic expression of young artist rage appeared at the Turner Prize, shaming the glitterati inside who should have opened the door for free education, but settled for business as usual instead. Forget about Susan Phillipsz, the students should have won, since 2010 protest could be the new modern art! Pictured are the Arts Against Cuts movement who briefly occupied the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern, whilst enroute to a demonstration.
AHT wishes all its readers a happy new year! I’ll be back in Jan with an overview of exhibitions to look out for in 2011.