2018-02-Bank-of-America-Art-Conservation-Project-2017-Delaware-Art-Museum-Andrew-Wyeth

Who Gets the Conservation Dollars??

Ruth Osborne
2013-09-11 - Bank of America Art Conservation Project

Bank of America: The Art Conservation Project.

The Bank of America Conservation funding program has been lauded for providing large numbers of museums around the world with grant money to restore works in their collections. This program has been going on since 2010 (see here for our earlier background article). While no numbers or even estimates of these funds is given in public documents, nor of the approximate costs of works’ restoration in previous years, it can be assumed that these amounts are staggeringly high.

Take, for instance, some of the masterworks awarded conservation grants in 2013:

Jackson Pollock, Number 1A, 1948 (1948)

Alfred Bierstadt, Sunset Light (1861)

Daniel Maclise, The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife (1854)

Pheonix and Armada portraits of Queen Elizabeth I (c. 1575 and c. 1588)

Rembrandt van Rijn, Scholar in His Study (1635)

Titian, Ecce Homo (1543)

Gustave Courbet, L’Atelier du peintre (1854-55)

 

2018-02 - Bank of America Art Conservation Project 2017 Delaware Art Museum Edward Loper

Edward Loper Sr., Elfreth’s Alley, 1948. Courtesy: Estate of Edward Loper Sr.

Considering the auction prices for works by these artists range somewhere in the realm of $1 mil+, the conservation price tag for the above pieces are likely tens of thousands of dollars. One would therefore hope that the institutions receiving such large grants, in whom much trust is being placed by Bank of America’s Conservation program, would be ones who’ve proven their trustworthiness to the public that is ostensibly the noble reason behind a conservation project.  Then why is the Delaware Art Museum – yes, that museum whose Board slapped the faces of several authorities in arts stewardship just a few years back with its deaccession and sale of important works – receiving money to conserve not one, not two, but thirteen of their paintings?

 

In case you need a refresher, here’s our 2014 post on the DAM’s decision to auction off works by those same artists upon which its reputation has been built over the past 100 years. These included the auctioning of paintings by Andrew Wyeth, Winslow Homer, and Pre-Raphaelite William Holman Hunt. The latter brought in some underwhelming profits, which made the public fear the desperate Museum go even further with more deaccession sales. The DAM blacklisted by the American Alliance of Museums, the Association of Art Museum Directors, and various other highly-regarded arts professionals.

 

But let’s take a look at how these 13 paintings factor into the overall 2017 list of BoA award recipients:

(1) Art Institute of Chicago  – El Greco

(2-4) Saatliche Museen zu Berlin – 3 Renaissance sculptures

(5-10) Brooklyn Museum – 6 Assyrian palace reliefs

(11) Cleveland Museum of Art – Krishna Lifting Mount Govardhan

(12) Courtauld Gallery – Botticelli’s Holy Trinity with Saints Mary Magdalen and John the Baptist

(13) Des Moines Art Center – Heith Haring Dancing Figures

(14-18) Crocker Art Museum – 5 paintings by Wayne Thiebaud

(19-31) Delaware Art Museum – 13 regional paintings

(32) Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco – Morris Louis painting

(33) Isabella Steward Gardner Museum – Farnese Sarcophagus

(34) Hirshorn Museum & Sculpture Garden – 2 works by R Rauschenberg

(35) James A. Michener Art Museum – Henriette Wyeth

(36) Mexican Cultural Institute of Washington, D.C. – 3 fl mural panel

(37) Minneapolis Institute of Art – Frank Stella painting

(38) Musée national Picasso-Paris – Picasso mixed media work

(39) Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid – Joan Miró

(40) North Carolina Museum of Art – Statue of Bacchus

(41) Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan – Giovanni Battista Tiepolo painting

(42-62) The Studio Museum in Harlem – 21 works by Romare Bearden, et. al.

(63-65) Tate Modern – 3 Modigliani paintings

(66) San Diego Museum of Art – Noguchi sculpture

 

Not only does the DAM make the list with many world-renowned collections of art, but their award makes up nearly 20% of the works to be conserved with this year’s conservation grant! On top of that, the award will go towards at least one work by Andrew Wyeth, whose name was on one of those the Museum sold in lieu of endowment funds a few years ago.

2018-02-Bank-of-America-Art-Conservation-Project-2017-Delaware-Art-Museum-Andrew-Wyeth

Andrew Wyeth, Pennsylvania Winter, 1947. Courtesy: Andrew Wyeth.

2018-01-12 - La Salle University Art Museum

Another Loss for Arts Stewardship: La Salle’s Sale

Ruth Osborne
2018-01-12 - La Salle University Philadelphia College Hall

College Hall at La Salle University (Philadelphia, PA). Courtesy: La Salle University.

The art world seems to be laughing (or crying?) at yet another museum’s plan to sell a large chunk of important masterworks from its collection in order to add to their endowment to benefit something other than its art. La Salle University, founded 1863 in Philadelphia, has had a museum on its campus since 1976, founded on the collection of Brother Daniel Burke.

Brother Burke also has an endowment in his name used for “the Art Museum’s education community outreach initiative” for K-senior visitors. Since then, the Museum has added works by Thomas Eakins, Henri Matisse, Dorothea Tanning, Dominque Ingres, Georges Rouault, etc..The 4,000+ collection of paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, and decorative arts is housed in a series of period rooms in the lower level of Olney Hall on the University’s main campus. But it is these aforementioned artists who are to be the ones tossed out the door in favor of some $2.3 million in order to – reportedly – help fund teaching and learning initiatives at the University.

 

The alarming nature of this news comes from the fact that this museum has only been in existence for 42 years. It only took 42 years for the University to decide it was worth selling off a major portion of the collection at its “a one-of-a-kind art museum” in order to float the money to other areas of the institution. Furthermore, who are the people behind this decision?

 

2018-01-12 - La Salle University Art MuseumCertainly the University President as been at the focus of attacks on this plan to sell forty-six works from the Museum’s collection through Christie’s this spring. But take a look at the University Museum’s staff directory. It includes only a Director/Chhief Curator, a Curator of Education and Public Programs, and a Collections Manager/Registrar ; no mention of any advisory board or board of trustees. This for a collection of over 4,000 objects whose staff is surely also responsible for strong education initiatives for its college-level audience as well as the local public. Now, take a look at La Salle’s Board of Trustees. We see here the President & CEO Stephen Zarrilli, the University President, Dr. Colleen Hancyz, and then a long list of trustees from education, religious ministry, pharmaceutical, medical, consulting, accounting, investment, technology, and various other business backgrounds. Who’s there to protect the art collection?

 

2018-01-12 - La Salle University Art Museum gallery

Gallery at La Salle University’s Art Museum. Courtesy: Historic Germantown.

The University has repeatedly declined to comment on the deaccessions and sale. President Hancyz has simply defended the decision by insisting upon its ” significant impact on advancing the student learning experience”. But how does the Musuem’s director feel? “Shocked” is all she’s been able to admit.

How precisely will the learning experience students in the School of Arts & Sciences be impacted by this sale? Is it not they who will most directly utilize the Museum’s collection for the furthering of their own education? La Salle’s Art History Department boasts that it is the only university in the Philadelphia area to have its own permanent display of international paintings, drawings, and sculptures from the Renaissance through today. And for prospective students:

2018-01-12 - La Salle University Museum Ingres Virgil Reading the Aeneid Before Augustus

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Virgil Reading the Aeneid Before Augustus (1865). Oil over print, engraving by Charles-Simon Pradier. Courtesy: Collection of La Salle University Art Museum.

The mission of the Art History program is to:

• promote visual literacy, which is the ability to interpret and find meaning in objects, artifacts and images;

• foster empathy for others, past and present, through the study of their visual art and culture;

• provide students the critical thinking and writing skills to excel in careers in art history or in other disciplines, and to become life-long learners.

• hire and retain collegial faculty and staff dedicated to the mission of the program and of the university

 

 

Department Chair Susan Dixon has signed a letter stating:

“This sale breaks faith with […] Burke’s legacy, as well [as] the integrity of a critical component of our mission – to deepen students’ ethical sensibilities.”

Another department chair has called for a forum on campus to discuss the issue, with the hopes that the proceeds will end up actually being reinvested into the art museum. He has further suggested that the sale is part of the “difficult decisions” being made “to help the university recover from a small freshman class a couple years ago.” The school had a budget deficit of about $12 mil when the current president stepped in three years ago. That is NOT the responsibility of the artworks gifted to students currently studying there.

We’ve requested more information on La Salle’s Board of Trustees and the decision-makers behind the Museum. There does not appear to be a separate Museum Board, nor even an advisory council or a clear representative of the Museum’s interests and initiatives on the Board.

 

If you are curious about the list of items set to be sold, they reportedly include:

Dame Elisabeth Frink’s sculpture Walking Madonna

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’ Virgil Reading the Aeneid Before Augustus (1865)

Dorothea Tanning’s Temptation of St. Anthony

Georges Rouault’s Le Dernier Romantique

Albert Gleizes’ Man in the City (L’Homme Dans la Ville)

 

UPDATE (Feb 6, 2018):

Brian Allen, art historian and former director of the Addison Gallery of American Art at Philips Academy in Andover, MA, writes also on the responsibility of the auction houses involved in sales of art from lesser-known small university museums, a disastrous reality he calls “art-world ambulance chasing”:

I am convinced that Christie’s and Sotheby’s have taken this profile and gone from museum to museum, college to college, looking for weak points. This does not require too much espionage. Based on my own, hardly proprietary, knowledge, I could tell them which collections to target.

Not too long ago, auction specialists saw themselves as connoisseurs and as stewards of their clients, with whom they often built long-term, trusting relationships. It was business, but auction house owners, directors and senior management knew when to put on the brakes. For the sake of their own image, they understood that raiding museum collections is a lowdown business practice. It is sad to see this side of the art market disappear.

The American arts community is vast, principled and noisy. I hope it gathers its might to hold the auction houses to account.

Brian Allen, The Art Newspaper, 5 February 2018

For more: https://www.theartnewspaper.com/comment/auction-houses-must-share-the-blame-for-university-sell-offs

2017-12-29 - Berkshire Museum exterior

Museums & the Public Interest: More Questions for the Berkshire Museum

Ruth Osborne
2017-12-29 - Berkshire Museum exterior

Courtesy: Ben Garver — The Berkshire Eagle

 

An opinion piece appeared earlier this month by an economist at George Mason University (D.C.) that emphasized the right of the Berkshire Museum Board to make the decision to sell art and shift its focus to “new areas where they can be strong and discard some older activities”. He compares the Museum Board in question with the actions of other museums to add to their displays either more recent artworks or those by minorities in order to expand their offerings and diversify their audience. But to empty out ones galleries of prized works as a way to keep the Museum itself afloat is an entirely different scenario. The Berkshire is not simply changing with the times and becoming more “high-tech”, nor is it shifting focus because art isn’t as captivating as science and technology are to contemporary audiences. The latter alone has been proven by the hoards of Museum members and locals advocating legal action against the deaccession sales.

The author does ultimately admit that the Museum Board’s decision “isn’t exactly the original intent of the museum”, and that the rather careless attitude towards the American art in their collection is a “sad truth”. The dismissiveness of the Berkshire Museum Board towards its own collection and founding 1903 mission of connecting art and natural history for the public is alarming. Why choose one over the other? Was it because the sale of works of art instead of natural history specimens promised more financial uplift to their endowment?

Just two weeks ago, previously detained documents were released that reveal some less-than-savory details about the Board’s process in making their final decision to sell of collection masterpieces (read: money-makers).

The documents contained reports to the Museum Board from TDC, a Boston-based museum consultant group. Under TDC’s  “summary of capitalization needs”, the Berkshire Museum needs around $2 mil would be required to pay down debt and upwards of $6 mil on top of that to improve the site’s facilities. In addition, TDC advised that $23 million in permanent endowments (the Museum’s current is just over $7 mil), would round out their ability to “stabilize [their] operations on multiple dimensions.” The report insisted that a scenario involving no deaccessions, and therefore no sales, would be absolutely “unsustainable”. From looking at this report, without  deaccessions, the museum would seemingly have no other choice but to close. Anyone see any issue here with how the Museum’s mission is being perceived?

2017-12-29 - Berkshire Museum Board Meeting report

Courtesy: artnet

These scenarios place the institution itself over the importance of the works for which the institution was founded. Between April and October of 2016, around the same time that TDC’s “Scenario summaries” were issued to the Board, they also welcomed both Sotheby’s and Christie’s to take valuation of its collection and see what could fit the bill to make a little cash. Turns out that the artworks they put on the chopping block – 40 out of tens of thousands in the collection – accounted for about 90% of its total value. How are the works that only make up 10% of the collection’s value to support such a sharp shift in mission? Will new audiences actually turn out in the numbers needed to justify this campaign?

Besides being scolded by the many community members it is supposed to serve, and directors at the renowned Peabody Essex Museum (Salem, MA), the Berkshire’s flinging off of AAM regulations has resulted in the loss of its Smithsonian partnership. The AAM, along with the Association of Art Museum Directors also issued a statement on the Berkshire’s decision that read:

Such a sale sends a message to existing and prospective donors that museums can raise funds by selling parts of their collection, thereby discouraging not only financial supporters, who may feel that their support isn’t needed, but also donors of artworks and artifacts, who may fear that their cherished objects could be sold at any time to the highest bidder to make up for a museum’s budget shortfalls. That cuts to the heart not only of the Berkshire Museum, but every museum in the United States.

2017-10 Fragonard Young Girl Reading National Gallery of Art

Fragonard’s Layers & the Promotion of Conservation Treatments

Ruth Osborne

2017-10 Fragonard Young Girl Reading underdrawing

X-Rays. Lasers. Multi-Spectral Imaging. We’ve posted on these before: how newly developed technologies like the Er:YAG laser are promoted with such “promising” results, despite persisting doubts from other conservation professionals as well as publications on the risks of its application.

At ArtWatch UK, past coverage has highlighted the business interests involved in conservation technologies as the field finds new ways of convincing the public of the importance of new treatments.

The latest work of art to be put through the ringer – or, rather, a “custom-built…high sensitivity near infrared hyper spectral imaging camera and an x-ray fluorescence (XRF) imaging sensor” is Young Girl Reading by Jean Honoré Fragonard. On this painting, a team of three at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. also used high-res color photography, reflectance imaging spectroscopy (or IRS), reflectance transformation imaging (or RTI), and mercury analysis alongside the previously-mentioned XRF imaging.

2017-10 - Fragonard Fantasy Figures sketch

Jean Honoré Fragonard, “Sketches of Portraits” c. 1769. Courtesy: National Gallery of Art / Wall Street Journal.

The team of a senior conservator, imaging specialist, and paintings expert at the NGA insist that this recent treatment was to discover more about Fragonard’s intriguing “fantasy figures” (portraits of his opulent social circle in masquerade style) and their connection with this finished work of a girl reading. A recently identified page of preparatory sketches by the artist discovered at a 2012 Paris auction. And that these sketches included one for Young Girl Reading in its originally intentioned form. That’s all very interesting. But beyond setting the newly-discovered preparatory sketch side-by-side with the painting in question, what more is actually being uncovered about Fragonard’s fantasy figures, especially if the artist himself decided not to paint her in the first place? And if the sketch does not feature a name underneath, pointing to the potential original sitter or patron?

2017-10 Fragonard Sketch Young Girl ReadingWhat is the investment value of examining the work with these custom-built tools? If the conservators today acknowledge the previously incorrect 1985 conclusion from conservators that a man’s portrait lay beneath the surface, how accurate will this new muddled image of a woman with a headdress askew be in concluding who from his circle Fragonard had originally intended to depict?

2017-10 Fragonard Young Girl Reading layers

Courtesy: Mandel Ngan / AFP.

We’ve reached out to the National Gallery of Art conservation studio on the motivations behind, and future intentions of, the treatment of the art. They have not yet responded, despite multiple attempts. We’ve also asked for more detailed information on how the new custom built machinery was used to achieve the views of the woman facing forward beneath Young Girl Reading. How helpful were previous studies in revealing the, now reportedly truer, underlayer? It was reported that the NGA team used a tiny cross-section taken from the painting from around the time of the 1985 restoration on the work. But just how did all the new the x-ray fluorescence and spectroscopy imaging tools enable them to see the final underlying image? What was the hope behind investing significant funding into these new conservation tools? After all, members of the NGA team are quoted as saying “It was not a painting about which we imagined making further discoveries” and “You start off this research not knowing what you’re looking for”.

2017-11 - Fragonard Young Girl Reading copy Braun et Cie

Editions Braun & Cie. (French, 19th/20th Century), After Jean-Honoré Fragonard (French, 1732-1806) Stamped “…Editions Braun et Cie” on the reverse, inscribed “Braun…” in ink on the stretcher. Photo-mechanical reproduction on paper laid on canvas, 22 1/4 x 16 in. Courtesy: Skinner Inc. Auctions, July 2011.

As for known extant copies of the work, there are several, but all from after the late nineteenth century, so far as we have found. And all which celebrate the finished image of the unidentified girl reading, none that hint at any layers beneath.

Just to give a further sense of how greatly media outlets work to increase  public intrigue in conservation science…

Reports also make mention of the inscriptions beneath the sketches identifying either a sitter or patron of the fantasy figure portraits, though the sketch made for what turned out as Young Girl features none. So, in fact, they have failed to point out just how these new “findings” identifying sitters are at all related to Young Girl Reading.

According to the reporter for AFP, “NGA experts used techniques akin to those NASA deployed on its Mars rovers to dispel any doubt the work belonged to a boldly experimental series by a young Fragonard.”

…and the new claim:

“Yet more discoveries possibly await”.

This is how the article ends.

A recent review through Forbes even likened the use of laser examination of this piece to the work of encouraging connoisseurship in today’s art world:

In the age of social media, connoisseurship has often been reduced to “likes.” Fad and fashion permeate the 21st century art market, where there is rare justification for greatness. Exhibitions like FRAGONARD: The Fantasy Figures require the museum-goer to reconsider the history and context of art making. New technologies unmask details, propel connoisseurship…

Exactly how do they propel connoisseurship? Isn’t it the desire for new “discoveries” – and more museum visitors and funding – the reason these new technologies are so prominently highlighted in exhibitions? There is a whole history to this work to be considered and learned from – things like Fragonard’s studio sketches and the painting’s ownership history – but is this highlighted by the press? Clearly there is some confusion as to what “connoisseurship” entails.

The exhibit at the National Gallery of Art runs through Dec 3rd, 2017: https://www.nga.gov/exhibitions/2017/fragonard-the-fantasy-figures.html 

Museum Mismanagement On Trial: The Berkshire Museum Taken to Court.

Ruth Osborne

2017-11-13 - Thomas Wilmer Dewing The White Dress

Thomas Wilmer Dewing, The White Dress, 1901. Courtesy: Berkshire Fine Arts.

The story of the Berkshire Museum’s massive deaccession sale and change of mission over the past 5 months has been one that mirrors a rapidly tottering see-saw.

 

We reported a few months back on the Berkshire Museum’s planned sale of 40 masterworks in its collection due to failed finances and a decision to “rebrand” their institution. First, the Board of the Museum had decided to sell the works with Sotheby’s before it actually cast votes in June and the public became aware. According to Keating, attorney for the sons of Norman Rockwell (two of whose works were deaccessioned and slated for auction), the Museum “could have avoided [the sale] if they perhaps…had been willing to discuss this two and a half years ago when they decided to sell the art”. Keating has also told reporters that the Museum in fact engaged in talks with auction houses as early as 2015 in light of a failed capital campaign.

Then, two lawsuits were brought by several important members of the national arts community as well as the Museum’s local community have taken a stand against the sale. These included the Massachusets State Attorney General, the family of Norman Rockwell, and current and former Museum members. On Wednesday, Nov. 1st, the Superior Court began hearing arguments.

Just 7 days later, on Nov. 8th, the AG’s office submitted an emergency motion late in the day in order to try and halt the sale, which had been announced for November 13th. However, despite these measures, the judge proceeded to the decision that the Museum was acting within its rights.

AND THEN, after the AG launched yet another motion in an attempt to halt the sale on Friday morning Nov. 10th, Friday evening the judge agreed that the AG should in fact receive more time to complete the investigation into the sale. Due to this decision, works slated for auction this week have been removed from their sales at Sotheby’s. The AG has reportedly been granted until December 11th to consider the legality of the sales.

 

2017-11-13 - Normal Rockwell Shuffleton's Barbershop

Normal Rockwell, Shuffleton’s Barbershop, 1959. Courtesy: Berkshire Fine Arts.

As of this moment, the American Art sale at Sotheby’s New York is ongoing, BUT there are several lots missing. Those being nos. 10-16:

10. Normal Rockwell, Shuffleton’s Barbershop, est. $20,000,000-30,000,000

11. George Henry Durrie, Hunter in Winter Wood, est. $400,000-600,000

12. John La Farge, Magnolia, est. $200,000-300,000

13. Thomas Wilmer Dewing, The White Dress, est. $600,000-800,000

14. Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Diana of the Tower, est. $250,000-300,000

15. Albert Bierstadt, Connecticut River Valley Claremont, New Hampshire, est. $600,000-800,000

16. Normal Rockwell, Blacksmith’s Boy – Hell and Toe, est. $7,000,000-10,000,000

Click here for more lots listed as “upcoming” in other sales at Sotheby’s, particularly for this week’s Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale (tomorrow @7pm) and Day Sale (Wednesday @10am). All these works are still to remain at Sotheby’s until future decisions from the court.

2017-11-13 - Sotheby's auction site

The Museum has also been issued a “Modern Concern Advisory” from Charity Navigator, an organization that evaluates non-profits based on financial documents and, in particular to the Berkshire case,  any “allegations of illegal activity, improper conduct, or organizational mismanagement”.

2017-11 - Saadiyat Island

Satellite Museum Dreams and Misgivings in Abu Dhabi

Ruth Osborne

The long-awaited opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum is actually happening. On November 11th, the site is set to open to fan-fare: “workshops, tours, music, and international performances and a few surprises along the way”.

 

2017-11 - Louvre Abu Dhabi

Courtesy: Christopher Pike / The National

This is all thanks to generous loans from the Musée du Louvre in Paris, a lending relationship we’ve covered previously. But it seems this Abu Dhabi satellite museum may not be joined by its loan-heavy partners – Guggenheim and Zayed National Museum – for another several years. These three museums, along with a Performing Arts Centre and Maritime Museum are all part of the world-class leisure destination and cultural center that developers hope Saadiyat Island will be.

News broke this week that the British Museum has prematurely ended their 2009 agreement to loan objects valuing up to £1bn to the ZNM. But this isn’t the full picture. A communications personnel from BM has told ArtWatch that the contract was actually “to deliver consultancy services” to ZNM in its development phase. Furthermore, “The Museum had never agreed a loan list with ZNM…To clarify the relationship hasn’t been terminated, but the development phase concluded in spring this year. The contract runs until 2019.”

Reports that the contract ended are, according to this representative, misguided, and “the ongoing development of the collection will be undertaken by a dedicated in-house team at TCA” [Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority]. But the ZNM is still experiencing construction delays. It was scheduled to open its doors in 2013, but now Foster + Partners, the architects responsible for executing the ZNM building, estimate completion in 2020.

And it was earlier this year that Thomas Krens, former Director of the Guggenheim Foundation, betrayed his own misgivings about the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi site (scheduled to open 2012).  In an interview in March, Krens emphasized the naïvety to plan construction of so many huge museums all at once in Abu Dhabi: “we don’t need all five of them up and running at the same time”.

2017-11 - Saadiyat Island

Saadiyat Island rendering, with the Louvre (left), ZNM (center), and Guggenheim (right). Courtesy: Saadiyat Cultural District website.

So why is it that these seemingly beneficent plans for public museums in Abu Dhabi are fraught with mishaps and delays? Amidst the media excitement for shining new museum buildings and the optimistic promises of a center where global culture and art to intermingle, one thing that has been left out is the actual physical risk of transporting all these loan objects from London to Abu Dhabi. Art is fragile. It becomes accustomed to a climate and is open to risk of destabilization once it is shocked out of that climate. Once a work is removed from a gallery or from storage, it would be boxed or crated, would make its way to a large truck, be driven over roads and highways and loaded onto a plane, then raised thousands of feet in elevation for over 3,000 miles, touch down in Abu Dhabi, and then be trucked again and finally installed in a completely new climate. Works have been easily torn, broken, and warped in transit by major museums in the past. Increasingly so with the opening of international traveling exhibitions and satellite museums in different countries.

Those objects at risk in the Louvre’s loan agreement include:

Leonardo da Vinci, La Belle Ferronniere (Musee du Louvre)

Vincent van Gogh, Self Portrait (Musee d’Orsay)

Balthasar and Gaspard Marsy, Horses of the Sun (Palace of Versailles)

Paul Gauguin, Children Wrestling

Piet Mondrian, Composition with Blue, Red, Yellow and Black

We encourage our readers to remember the implications of transporting these – and future – works of art. And also to ask – who is really benefiting from these initiatives?

Albert Bierstadt Giant Redwood Trees of California

Master Plan? Or Master Disaster? The Nation’s Arts Community Reacts to the Berkshire Museum’s Plan to Sell 40 Works.

Ruth Osborne
2017-08-04 Berkshire Museum Facade

Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield, MA

The argument for museums and cultural institutions established by generations past to be more relevant to the needs of communities has been going on for years.

It appears when museums find themselves without the resources to keep the lights on or repair major structural damages to their historic buildings. When philanthropy and funding patterns change dramatically, and cultural institutions can’t keep up, do we say that we’re to blame for mismanaging a collection or its finances? Or do we make the art the scapegoat and throw it out instead of opening our eyes to its ability to connect with different areas of society – scientific discovery, warfare, political revolutions, racial discrimination, etc. – and visually magnify one’s understanding of society and of human development.

Another collection has recently come under fire – and rightly so – for planning to sell off FORTY works of art in its galleries in favor of a $20 mil renovation and $40 mil for its endowment. For this, the Berkshire Museum has received an appropriately negative reaction from the American Alliance of Museums for deaccessioning works of art in order to sell; AAM’s measure follows policies we’ve outlined in past posts regarding similar unfortunate occurrences at the Delaware Art Museum and the former Corcoran Gallery. If the art is noteworthy enough to produce that much expected revenue, how can it be thought beneficial to remove these works from their public? This recent story of the Berkshire has been covered in both local and national outlets, including news that the Museum has hired more outside consultants to deal with probing questions on its new plan.

Albert Bierstadt Giant Redwood Trees of California

Albert Bierstadt, Giant Redwood Trees of California (1874). Courtesy: Google Art Project.

But ArtWatch would like to ask its readers if the sale of art by cultural institutions does not send the message that art – a visual expression of a cultural experiences – is not relevant to us today? The Berkshire Museum reportedly plans to shift their mission to focus on science and natural history. But what about the representation of human’s interaction with science and natural history as represented in works like Thomas Moran’s The Last Arrow, Albert Bierstadt’s Giant Redwood Trees of California, or even Saint-Gaudens’ bronze Diana of the Tower? Do not these landscapes convey to viewers the natural history of the American East and West, and the characters who lived in, battled with, studied, and fought to battles to preserve it? Or what about the ways sculptors throughout history learned about the scientific properties of metals and manipulated them into form? Laura Norton Moffatt, director of the Normal Rockwell Museum for 30+ years, concurs, saying in a recent op-ed in the Berkshire Eagle that “artworks and natural artifacts are not mutually exclusive, but mutually enriching”. What about the ways Pieter de Hooch’s Music Party or Rockwell’s Blacksmith’s Boy – Heel and Toe convey lively scenes of everyday life that capture human culture and craftsmanship in ways a violin or blacksmith’s anvil standing alone cannot?

2017-02-13 Mucha Slav Epic Installation 2011

UPDATE: Mucha’s “Slav Epic” in Transit

2017-02-13 Mucha Slav Epic Installation 2011

Mucha’s Slav Epic during installation in 2011. Courtesy: The Art Newspaper.

Readers – An update on our post of February 2017 – Mucha’s “Slav Epic” On Tour –  is in order, as the works by now have opened in exhibition in Tokyo, and the risks inherent in their travel will be made evident soon. 

Patrick Connors, a painter with 35 years of extensive professional practice, has written to ArtWatch, insisting that there is “little argument for any legitimate reasons that these fragile works should travel.” He writes on the cultural significance of the works themselves:

 

My mother’s family is Czech and much of  the family still resides in Strakonice, about 90 miles south of Prague. I have seen these marvelous canvases in person in Czech on several occasions. The Mucha canvases are a cultural legacy to the Czech people […] 

That they are now seen as simply a ‘cash cow’ for those in charge of their welfare is worrisome to say the least. On the impact of travel overseas on the canvases’ condition: Although it did not specify what type of tempera was used, it may refer to several vehicles, painting layers especially on large canvases are prone to physical and chemical instability when circumstances are good. The stresses and traumas that these works of art will endure as evident from their previous travel, ensures further substantial damage.

Essentially the three main components involved in these paintings: 1. canvas, 2. oil, and 3. tempera each have inherent physical and chemical properties that make adhesion problematic when atmospheric or physical changes occur. Each component expands and contracts at different rates and will cause a microscopic break or fissure with the other. Part of the insidious way oil paintings deteriorate is due to the damage not showing immediately but later with flaking, visible cracks and worse.   We hope this brings even greater light to the implications of traveling works abroad on blockbuster exhibitions.  

 

By Ruth Osborne / Patrick Connors

2017-04-28 de Soles Knoedler Trial
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Review: Center for Art Law Event “F for Fake”

Ruth Osborne
2017-04-28 Orson Welles F for Fake

Orson Welles in “F for Fake” (1973)

Last week, the Center for Art Law hosted an event at the Brooklyn Law School regarding the (unfortunately) highly relevant topic of fakes and forgeries on the art market.

Irina Tarsis, Esq., Founder and Director of the organization, introduced Orson Welles’s 1973 film F for Fake” to begin a discussion on the various parties involved with forged artworks and their respective motivations.

 

A presentation followed by Aaron H. Crowell, Esq., a partner at Clarick, Gueron, Reisbaum LLP who was a member of Eleanore and Domenico De Sole’s litigation team during the massive Knoedler trial in 2015-2016. Crowell brought up the issue of which side gets the most blame in these cases, and in Welles’s film: the art experts. The art experts are the ones who appear (misleadingly, and sometimes unbeknownst to them) as verifiers of a forgery. The art experts are the ones who can insist a work is authentic, only for a scientific test to prove it’s a forgery. But, as Crowell insisted, the focus on the experts as villains misses a more prevalent issue enabling the steady stream of fakes onto the art market.

Rather, the art world and the public at large act willingly as voyeurs looking for another “newly discovered” work, seeking the thrill of viewing a work by one of the old masters. That the art world at large still holds onto the Renaissance myth of the artistic genius is very true. But is it something that we can truly move away from? Would the public value of artworks risk being diminished if we did move away from this myth?

2017-04-28 de Soles Knoedler Trial

The de Soles at Trial in 2016. Courtesy: ArtNet/Elizabeth Williams/Illustrated Courtroom.

This discussion should serve as a reminder to approach connoisseurship – not avoid it entirely – in a manner that seeks as objective a point of view as a flawed human can have. In doing this, we might be more aware of potential shortcomings in our ability to truly see a work of art for what it is, to critique its value, aesthetically and monetarily.  Another essential matter to consider that always lies in the background of art market forgeries is that it is in fact a commercial market, in the sense that a market and its players can act wildly in order to drive up demand for a work to drive up a value. These market forces themselves have a rather deep impact on the prevalence of fakes, on what is authenticated and why, and on the ultimate valuation of an artist and his or her real or imagined oeuvre (see here for Scott Reyburn’s review of “insider” books on the art market today).

2017-04-28 Rothko fake Knoedler

Painting sold by Knoedler as a Rothko to the de Soles. Courtesy: ArtNet.

 

The “crisis of connoisseurship” that we are seeing in today’s art market and museum world has been thoroughly addressed already at the December 2015 conference “Art, Law and Crises of Connoisseurship” (put on by ArtWatch UK, the London School of Economics, and the Center for Art Law). We encourage our readers to take a look at the topics each speaker addressed, and to be on the look out for the upcoming publication of papers from this conference.

By Ruth Osborne

 

2017-04-11 Conservator Rodin Absolution

Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way: Rodin’s Fragile “L’Absolution” Treated for Display & Travel?

2017-04-11 Auguste Rodin Absolution

Auguste Rodin, L’Absolution (c. 1900), before treatment. Courtesy: The Art Newspaper (14 March 2017).

Ruth Osborne

The Art Newspaper reported last month on an extremely fragile piece by sculptor Auguste Rodin, held in the collection of the Musée Rodin in Paris, that is now to go on exhibition and on the road.

The work, titled “L’Absolution”, was created from plaster and cloth by Rodin, approximately around 1900. Its complicated construction consists of over 6′ of plaster sculpture in three pieces created in the 1890s – the torso of a seated Ugolino [of Dante’s Divine Comedy], a martyr’s head, and the Earth – draped delicately over with a cloth molded by the artist in a thin layer of plaster. You can find archival images of the work in black & white from the Musée Rodin here.

The upcoming move is described by the new chief curator of collections Christine Lancestremère as “a little scary”, and the article acknowledges she also “[suspected] that its fragility prevented it from going on display before”. Then why is this display and move still happening? According to the report, the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Rodin’s death demanded this item go into the “Kiefer Rodin” exhibit (Mar-Oct 2017), which will highlight several works by contemporary artist Anselm Kiefer conceived as responses to sculptures and drawings by Rodin. The exhibit is also set to travel to the Barnes in Philadelphia in November, and will be on display there thru March 2018. After that, “L’Absolution” will move to the Musée Rodin in Meudon to be on permanent display there.  You can find a list of the sponsors of this joint exhibition on the Barnes’ website here.

But first, of course, a little handling by conservators to try and make the work more “stable” for travel and display. After all, the cloth makes structure of the work itself so delicate that it must be displayed behind glass “to prevent the fabric from moving with the wind”. Safe movement of the piece alone made some of the plaster on the cloth fall off.

2017-04-11 Conservator Rodin Absolution

Conservator examines Rodin’s L’Absolution. Courtesy: The Art Newspaper (14 March 2017).

Conservator examination of the sculpture involved:

(1) Recently fallen plaster restored.

(2) Securing fabric back into original position on the sculpture.

(3) “Cleaning” of the entire piece.

Meanwhile, there is very little documentation on the work itself from the artist. Lancestremère admits that they don’t even know if it is finished or not. All they had to work from in this treatment was one photo of this rather complicated 3-dimensional object: “Rodin did not make a marble or terracotta work from it, which is rare for the artist, and there is nothing in the archives about the piece except for one photograph.”

However, upon visiting the Musée Rodin’s online collections portal, we found these three black & white photographs, though they have no visible date associated with them.

The funding for the treatment was awarded by TEFAF for “restoration and reconstruction of the never before seen work”. TEFAF itself was originally founded in 1988 by a group of art dealers as an art fair, and has only 5 years ago established its Museum Restoration Fund. Upon ArtWatch inquiring about why TEFAF was chosen for funding the restoration, Lancestremère said that this was the choice of the Museum’s selection committee, and that the remainder of the operation was being financed by the Museum’s budgeted funds for restoration. TEFAF itself has an interesting, if questionable, history related to (1) forgeries appearing at its fairs (see here) and therein (2) vetting its own experts (see here).

A quick overview of TEFAF’s Museum Restoration Fund on the website shows that it “was launched to mark TEFAF’s 25th anniversary in 2012”.  Since then, it has restored a mixture of paintings and sculptural objects – including ancient Egyptian coffins and a sarcophagus – at major museums in the U.S. and Europe. But why is an art fair – which makes money off of the success of art sales and a space in recent years wherein one expects to uncover new “discoveries” and attributions – supporting such a questionable conservation project and exhibition?

TEFAF’s report at the announcement of the award itself is telling:

This is the first time it has been restored since its creation. Absolution resembles no other work by Rodin and it testifies to his bold and modern outlook. 

Being connected with such a rare, unique work is certainly a selling point for TEFAF as a “bold”, “modern” art fair. This statement also makes it clear that TEFAF is getting in on the ground floor, so to speak, of understanding and analyzing the work, as it is “the first time” there have been hands on this work other than Rodin’s. For technical details on how the conservation actually worked, TEFAF’s announcement went on to say:

The restoration of this work is particularly complex and requires two different kinds of expertise from two specialists: a painting restorer for the drapery and a sculpture restorer for the plaster elements. Currently, the three plaster sections have come apart, and need to be repositioned and fixed. The fabric pieces have lost their folds and shape and there are many losses in the plaster coating that held the drapery in place, with splinters that are in danger of breaking off.

So from this, one would be remiss to ask how did the three plaster sections come apart? Did they fall spontaneously or were they moved? According to our conversation with Lancestremère:

It seems that the three plaster subjects remained together until the 1980s. We do not know when exactly they were dissociated, but it is probable that it occurred perhaps on the occasion of a move from one reserve to the other […] the whole was considered too fragile, and it was preferable to separate the most prominent elements, the head of the Martyrdom, and the body of the Earth. The elements did not fall on their own because they are not broken. On the other hand, the textile had already had to slip and the folds to be discarded because, in the 1980 photographs, there are already numerous losses of material and a positioning of the drape which is not compatible with the remains of plaster present on the textile.

So the damage due to the piece over time and various potential moves while remaining in storage was not well documented. But if damage occurred to a piece that has only ever been in storage, would this fragility not concern the conservators in preparation of its travel outside the Musée Rodin to two different locations? When asked about how the multi-part piece was stabilized, Lancestremère let us know that the splintered pieces and the plaster-coated textile were stabilized by a mixture of adhesive and magnets: The three gypsum elements were reattached to each other with a reversible system composed of metallic elements fixed on the plaster by bonded resin studs (reversible adhesive) inside the plaster test. In the case of draped plaster fabrics, the gypsum scales raised were fixed with a fixative on the fabric. And the textile is held in place thanks to magnets of different sizes.

The piece has since gone on display at the Musée Rodin, where we will see how well these repairs hold up under the gaze of thousands entering the galleries. ArtWatch has also asked Lancestremère if, given the vulnerability of the sculpture, the Musée Rodin is concerned about its vulnerability in traveling overseas, but the exhibit opening it seems has kept the staff quiet for now. We will keep you posted on this development. In the meantime, take a look at their press packet for the exhibition here, which shows this photo (below) of the work on display in the center of one of the galleries.

L'Absolution Kiefer-Rodin exhibit

L’Absolution on display in Kiefer-Rodin exhibit, Musée Rodin, Paris, March 2017. Courtesy: Musée Rodin, Paris.

 UPDATE:

We’ve just received an update from the Musée Rodin in Paris on the treatment of Rodin’s L’Absolution and its travel status for the Kiefer Rodin exhibit. We would also like to thank the Musée Rodin staff for the below photographs of the work during treatment.

Lancastremère writes:

the Absolution sculpture will not go to Philadelphia. It is much too fragile for such a long and complicated journey […]The very large presence of the textile, which can not be supported or genuinely wedged, makes the packaging very complex and inevitably very “fragile”. Vibrations and other shocks are a risk both for assemblages between the different subjects in plaster and for the textile coated with gypsum, the very fine scales of which are liable to fall.

2017-04-11 Absolution Rodin Conservation

Treatment of L’Absolution. Courtesy: Musée Rodin, Paris/ph. P.Hisbacq.

2017-04-11 Absolution Rodin Treatment

Treatment of L’Absolution. Courtesy: Musée Rodin, Paris/ph. P.Hisbacq.