2014-01-31 - Nazi stolen art Ellingen Germany

Review of Art Law in 2013: Forgeries, Greed, and 70 year-old Wrongs to be Set Right

Ruth Osborne

Several interesting issues in the realm of art law came up in the last year. These will carry over new precedents into 2014 that will impact the field’s future. The following is a brief review of what 2013 brought under the ever –alert ArtWatch, and what this might mean for artistic and cultural heritage in the near future.

2014-01-31 - Knoedler Gallery

Knoedler Gallery, closed in 2011. Photo: The Art Newspaper.

In New York, new coverage appeared on the Knoedler gallery’s sale of forged abstract expressionist works. Beginning in 2011, the famed 165 year-old art gallery had shuttered its doors due to allegations of sold forgeries.  Beginning in 2007, lawsuits for sales of fakes began with a Pollock and Motherwell and have continued with federal investigation into possible forgeries of de Kooning, Rothko, and other abstract expressionists. Testimonies and court documents trickling in over the last few years have brought out the names of other leading art galleries involved in similar sales. As The Art Newspaper reports, the uncovering of the Knoedler fakes reminds us of the deep underlying problems of authentication in the business of art. This speaks to the ever-increasing, and ever more apparent, level of greed tainting the art market. As Jack Flam, President and CEO of the Dedalus Foundation (founded by Robert Motherwell), states, “Without courage, honest and open communication, forgeries will distort art history and pollute the market.”[1]  While the temptation may be great to follow after the profits of a promised art treasure trove, inaccurate authentication can also lead greater losses. In this case, it has resulted in the closing of a once-trustworthy international art dealership that supplied some of the greatest collections in the last two centuries.

It is the great shortfall of the world of art dealing that, when the market is strong and collectors are trusting, deception is more like to creep in. Collectors have millions to spare, and find themselves more likely to be duped. The temptation to cut corners is certainly greater in periods like these when the number of potential buyers is greater than the number of salable artworks. The surge of forgeries in the art market has also made art historians much more wary of consulting on authentication. When pointing out a fake could lead to a lawsuit, and with an influx of fakes on the market, connoisseurs are more and more hesitant to utilize their deep knowledge base for authentication. As Danielle Rahm (Director and Senior Appraiser at New York Fine Art Appraisers) reports in Forbes, several artist estate foundations dedicated to cleaning the art market of fakes have suddenly stopped authenticating because they have learned this comes with rather burdensome legal fees. She also points out the lack of objectivity amongst authenticators working with art dealers who are in the business of keeping competing works off the market: “Expert opinions regarding art used to be opinions rather than leverage in legal battles, so its little wonder that authenticators are heading for the hills.”[2]

2014-01-31 - Wolfgang Beltracchi Heinrich Campendonk art forgery

Wolfgang Beltracchi in court in Cologne & a painting supposedly by German Expressionist Heinrich Campendonk. Photo: Vanity Fair.

The issue of authentication has also been touched on in recent years with the Beltracchi fakes scandal. Werner Spies, the German art historian who examined a supposed Max Ernst forged by Wolfgang Beltracchi, was the accidental supplier of certificates ensuring the works’ authenticity for interested buyers. As Spiegel reported, “Authorities estimate that the sale and resale of the artwork resulted in total losses to the art community amounting to nearly €34.1 million.”[3]  Beltracchi, it seems, was himself the ringleader in an entire group that circulated forged German expressionist works around the world to internationally-renowned galleries and collectors. Sales of forged Beltracchi have entangled, among others, New York dealer Richard Feigan and German auction house Kunsthaus Lempertz.[4]  As the owner of the Lempertz has found after investing tens of thousands of euros into x-ray machines to test against forgeries, science only goes so far: “[it] only [helps] if the forger used the wrong pigments in terms of date…In the end, you need to ask the experts.”[5] Once again, it seems science is still not the highest measure of proof for authenticity. As ArtWatch UK has pointed out is the case with the Bowes Museum public restoration of a secure Turner painting, scientific analysis still leaves a few questions lingering with regard to restoration treatments.

Our New York colleagues at the Center for Art Law have remarked on the steady stream of fakes being discovered in major galleries, museums, and even exhibitions.  In order to protect boards of art experts, increasingly at the risk of shutting down,[6] the New York City Bar Association is working with a group of professional appraisers on new legislation.  Developing legal parameters that will “address the concern that authenticators have in continuing to provide their opinion on works’ authorship,” this newly formed alliance seeks to provide “a higher threshold and burden of proof for presenting authentication-based claims.” Evidently, this “Year of the Fake” has pushed both the legal and art worlds further together against a common enemy.[7]

As of August 2013, Freedman (of Knoedler) has had her lawyers argue that she was simply the victim to the schemes of New York art dealer Glafira Rosales, who herself is now faced with charges of tax evasion and money laundering connected with arranging sales of works forged by an unnamed Queens artist. Rosales supposedly accomplished the successful forgeries by having her boyfriend put the canvases through exposure to the heat, cold, and the elements in order to achieve an aged look.[8]  Considering this one point further, it is difficult to dismiss the interesting thought that a worn canvas wanting conservation would warrant its authenticity. Imagine if these works had been considered by a conservator after sale, as authentic items needing treatment? Would the purportedly infallible science of art conservation be able to uncover the lies? Or would they simply cover it over even more?

Freedman is also facing accusations of failure to do due diligence when she encountered the works, which she denies based on the involvement of twenty other “experts” she consulted.[9]  The Knoedler scandal as of 2013 has opened up a great deal of discussion regarding art attributions and, in so doing, has drudged up the figure of the untrustworthy art dealer. After all, art is a business, is it not?  It all comes down to a question of whose responsibility it was to examine the art works’ authenticity. If none claims full responsibility, then who in the world of art dealing can be trusted? While it is a business, this past year has certainly made clear the inherent issues of greed and deception that infiltrate the art world as much as they do Wall Street.

2014-01-31 - ICE Subash Kapoor looted antiquities

ICE with seized Items from Kapoor. Photo: Chasing Aphrodite.

December brought to light more actions of questionable legality in the figure of antiquities dealer Subhash Kapoor and a Belgian collector working with Sotheby’s auction house. Chasing Aphrodite has examined the unraveling of Kapoor’s decades-long webs of trickery in the sale of stolen ancient artifacts. According to those who have worked closely with Kapoor, he has been instrumental in laundering looted goods, formulating false ownership histories, hiding stolen art.[10]

On the subject of looted artworks, from Germany came more news on the 2012 discovery of over 1,400 artworks stashed at the Munich apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt. These included pieces by Chagall, Picasso, Renoir, Dix, and Beckmann that his father Hildebrand Gurlitt had acquired during the short-lived Third Reich. Meanwhile, it has also been suggested that there could be several fakes within the collection. Spiegel reported in November 2013 that just under 600 of these works were illegally confiscated from their Jewish owners by Nazis.  Hildebrand Gurlitt was known to have had close connections with members of the Third Reich and was known by American military art inspectors as “an art dealer to the Führer.” Investigators further reported that he served more widely as “an art collector from Hamburg with connections within high-level Nazi circles. He acted on behalf of other Nazi officials and made many trips to France, from where he brought home art collections. There is reason to believe that these private art collections consist of looted art from other countries.”[11] The 2012 seizure of his collection by the German government, as a result of tax investigation, understandably created a spike in coverage about issues of Nazi-looted artworks. One might think this is strange, considering the fact the war ended nearly 70 years ago. However, recent news reports relate that Cornelius Gurlitt is suspected of slowly selling off pieces from his father’s collection over the years. While Gurlitt Jr. claims private property ownership on these now government-confiscated works, his using them as loose capital to pay personal bills would be quite the convenient way to dispose of them into unconnected hands.[12]

2014-01-31 - Cornelius Gurlitt Matisse looted art

Gurlitt (left) and a Matisse in his collection (right) Photo: Vantagenews.co.uk.

Now, Bavarian lawmakers are looking to change a law concerning pieces of art acquired in bad faith. In late November of last year, Bloomberg reported that Winfried Bausback, the justice minister in Bavaria, presented a proposal to the Justice Department that a 30-year statute of limitations on an artwork should be revoked, if that work was fraudulently acquired or inherited.  If previous owners could now demand restitution for looted works, this law change could, as Bausback mentions, “[bring] to light an issue that was not tackled and certainly not resolved after the war.” Now, it is up to the German government to show persistence in researching artworks’ provenance in order to ensure a just end to this story seven decades in the making.[13] According to the Antiques & Fine Art News, the German government has decided to post photo documentation of more than 400 of the allegedly stolen works in the interest of attracting rightful owners’ claims. Yet another news story reminds us that these 70 year-old injustices against cultural heritage are still lingering in our midst: just last week The New York Times reported on the upcoming sale of three paintings seized by the Nazi’s from important French collections.

The upcoming movie Monuments Men (in theatres February 7) brings the issue of looted art restitution to the masses. Director George Clooney has taken on the story of Capt. Robert K. Posey and his band of art-rescuing brotherhood through a Hollywood lens chock-a-block with A-list actors. The film has also spurned a support effort from its producers for the rightful recovery of works of art and archival documents still missing. At the Monuments Men Foundation website, one can report tips and “join the hunt” for “most-wanted” items stolen by Nazi looters.

2014-01-31 - Nazi stolen art Ellingen Germany

U.S. soldier viewing art stolen by the Nazi regime and stored in church at Ellingen, Germany. Photo: U.S. National Archives.


[1] Charlotte Burns, “Knoedler forgery scandal grows,” 9 January 2012. The Art Newspaper, News, Issue 231 (January 2012). http://www.theartnewspaper.com/articles/Knoedler-forgery-scandal-grows/25427 (last accessed 17 January 2014).

[2] Danielle Rahm, “Warhols, Pollocks, Fakes: Why Art Authenticators Are Running For The Hills,” 18 June 2013. Forbes. http://www.forbes.com/sites/daniellerahm/2013/06/18/warhols-pollocks-fakes-why-art-authenticators-are-running-for-the-hills/ (last accessed 24 January 2014).

[3] Scen Röbel and Michael Sontheimer, “The $7 Million Fake: Forgery Scandal Embarrasses International Art Wolrd,” 13 June 2011. Spiegel Online. http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/the-7-million-fake-forgery-scandal-embarrasses-international-art-world-a-768195.html (last accessed 26 January 2014).

[4] Julia Michalska, Charlotte Burns, and Ermanno Rivetti, “True scale of alleged German forgeries revealed: Major auction houses and galleries have been caught up in Beltracchi’s fake art scam,” 5 December 2011. The Art Newspaper. http://www.theartnewspaper.com/articles/True-scale-of-alleged-German-forgeries-revealed/25235 (last accessed 26 January 2014).

[5] Burns.

[6] Irina Tarsis, Esq., “Will the Real Andy Warhol Please Stand Up: the Authentication Board to shut down,” 24 October 2011. Center for Art Law.  http://itsartlaw.com/2011/10/24/will-the-real-andy-warhol-please-stand-up-the-authentication-board-to-shut-down/ (last accessed 31 January 2014).

[7] Hanoch Sheps, “A Plethora of Fakes and a Series of Thoughts: Where Has All The Real ‘Art’ Gone?” 24 December 2013. Center for Art Law. http://itsartlaw.com/2013/12/24/a-plethora-of-fakes-and-a-series-of-thoughts-where-has-all-the-real-art-gone/ (last accessed 26 January 2014).

[8] Laura Gilbert, “Art dealer is believed to be co-operating with federal authorities in fakes case,” 16 August 2013. The Art Newspaper. http://www.theartnewspaper.com/articles/Art-dealer-is-believed-to-be-cooperating-with-federal-authorities-in-fakes-case/30209 (last accessed 17 January 2014).

[9] Laura Gilbert, “Knoedler gallery fakes case heats up,” 11 September 2013. The Art Newspaper. http://www.theartnewspaper.com/articles/Knoedler-gallery-fakes-case-heats-up/30423 (last accessed 17 January 2014).

[10] “Kapoor,” Chasing Aphrodite. http://chasingaphrodite.com/?s=kapoor (last accessed 26 January 2014).

[11] Druckerversion, “Art Dealer to the Führer: Hildebrand Gurlitt’s Deep Nazi Ties,” Spiegel Online. News. International. http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/hildebrand-gurlitt-and-his-dubious-dealings-with-nazi-looted-art-a-940625.html (last accessed 16 January 2014).

[12] Bruno Waterfield, “ ‘They have to come back to me,’ Cornelius Gurlitt demands Nazi-era hoard back,” 17 November 2013. The Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/germany/10455300/They-have-to-come-back-to-me-Cornelius-Gurlitt-demands-Nazi-era-art-hoard-back.html (last accessed 16 January 2014).

[13] Alex Webb, “Bavaria Investigates Law Change to Reclaim Nazi-Seized Artworks,” 27 November 2013, Bloomberg, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/print/2013-11-27/bavaria-investigates-law-change-to-reclaim-nazi-seized-artworks.html (last accessed 15 January 2014).

2013-10-23 - Yenji temple before and after

Qing Fresco “Restoration” Yields Disastrous Results

Ruth Osborne
2013-10-23 - Qing Dynasty fresco Yenji temple

Original Qing Dynasty fresco at Yenji temple. Courtesy: AFP/ Getty Images.

Following last year’s famous botched restoration of the nineteenth-century Ecce Homo fresco by Cecilia Gimenez (Read the ArtWatch UK article here), this month brings an interesting, and equally disturbing, development in the Chinese province of Liaoning.


Earlier in October, images leaked online revealing the destructive outcome of an unauthorized “restoration” of 270 year-old frescoes from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) on the walls of the Yenji temple in Chaoyang. The new, and completely-unrelated, cartoons of Taoist mythical figures that now cover the original frescoes were carried out by a reportedly unqualified restoration company.  Following the temple abbot’s denied application for restoration permits, local authorities of the Pheonix Mountain scenic area  decided to go on with the project anyway.[1] According to BBC News, this indignity was uncovered by a Chinese blogger “Wujiaofeng;” Weibo users in China (similar to Twitter) responded accordingly: “Ignorance is horrible!”; “I feel some people’s brains were kicked by a donkey.”[2]

2013-10-23 - Yenji temple mural restoration

“Restored” mural at Yenji temple.

In considering these under-the-radar restoration blunders, Alasdair Palmer of The Telegraph also calls into account the irreversible harm that can come as a result of professional treatments: “if their interventions do not actually destroy far more important works of art than Martinez’s fresco, there is a growing consensus that they do not always improve them – and on occasion, they may seriously damage them.”[3] While photos of the original seventeenth-century frescoes reveal they were indeed faded and weathered by time, how is it that this condition merited a complete invasion of the temple’s visual aesthetic? The obtrusively noticeable loss of the original artist’s work at the Yenji temple sets an extreme example for just how much “restoration” can cause utterly irreversible damage.

2013-10-23 - Yenji temple before and after

Original 17th century Qing Dynasty fresco and its 21st century replacement.

Authorities of Henan’s Culture Relics Bureau have showed great concern for the irreversible restoration work that has forever destroyed the original frescoes, as was evinced in 1990 after the Sistine chapel cleanings (Read the ArtWatch UK article here). As with the cleaning of Michelangelo’s frescoes, the damages in China occur even under the watchful eyes of the public. Henan archeologist Li Zhanyang states: “They just use the name ‘restoration’ for a new project.”  Furthermore, there are disturbing lingering reports that “restoration” damages like this occur throughout China every year. Two local officials in Chaoyang, the chief of Yenji temple affairs and the head of city’s cultural heritage monitoring team, have since been fired. For those with a keen eye for improving awareness of similar damages, the Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Centre considers incidents at other historic architectural sites. The Centre’s founder, He Shuzhong, comments on issues of harmful over-restoration at the Forbidden City and Great Wall, among other sites. He relates a two-fold issue: the public desires “dazzling, new, high, big things,” while experts and officials often place efficiency over thorough research and preparation.[4]


[1] Oscar Lopez, “Chinese Temple ‘Restored’ By painting Over Ancient Qing Dyansty Fresco Wall Artwork Prompting Outrage.” 22 October 2013. Latin Times. http://www.latintimes.com/articles/9495/20131022/chinese-temple-restored-painting-over-ancient-qing.htm#.Umfn4SioflO (last visited 23 October 2013).

[2] “China sackings over ruined ancient Buddhist frescos,” 22 October 2013. BBC News. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-24625277 (last visited 23 October 2013).

[3] Alasdair Palmer, “Restoration Tragedies,” 26 August 2012. Telegraph UK. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/9498877/Restoration-tragedies.html (last visited 23 October 2013).

[4] Tania Branigan, “Chinese Temple’s Garish Restoration Prompts Outrage,” 22 October 2013. The Guardian. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/22/chinese-temple-restoration-qing-dynatsy-china (last visited 23 October 2013).

2013-07-11 - art conservation SUNY Buffalo

The Education of Art Conservators – Examining the Field at its Foundations

Einav Zamir & Ruth Osborne

2013-07-11 - art conservation SUNY Buffalo

Student at SUNY Buffalo, MA Art Conservation Program.

About ten years ago, popular media outlets such as National Geographic News and the Boston Phoenix started reporting on what has come to be colloquially known as the “CSI Effect.” According to many American legal professionals, jurors in criminal trials increasingly favor forensic analysis over eye witnesses or circumstantial evidence, possibly as a result of popular television programs, such as CSI (Crime Scene Investigation), that inflate the role of forensics in the investigation and prosecution of major crimes.[1] In other words, the general public has come to trust digital scans over their own eyes, test strips over personal experience. A similar trend seems to be happening in the world of art conservation. More and more, historical knowledge and technical skill have been neglected in favor of scientific know-how. This development is perhaps best demonstrated within the training facilities for prospective conservators. In the past few weeks, the ArtWatch team has done its own crime scene investigation in order to determine what young and often impressionable individuals are being taught about the role of conservation in the study of art.

A statement by a recent graduate of a bachelors program in California is particularly illuminating: “My mother is an artist. My father is a family physician. With my new major (art conservation), I am almost exactly in the middle.” [2] Perhaps a more accurate way of putting it would be “I am almost exactly one fourth, if not less, knowledgeable in both areas.” You wouldn’t expect someone who had taken only one or two courses in archaeology to have the skills and expertise to conduct an archaeological survey, but students of conservation are led to believe that with very little training in art history and studio art, they are qualified to make key decisions regarding the treatment of extremely delicate and irreplaceable objects of cultural and historical significance.

Another undergraduate program, based in Chicago, promises to provide solid training in chemistry, materials science, studio art, and the humanities in preparation for either graduate study or for work in the field. Like other BA programs, they offer a studio component, but with little emphasis. They recommend only one studio course for credit each year (Drawing I for 2012-2013) – in fact, only one class is required for completion of the degree. [3] Their mission to foster “a deep understanding of the scientific basis of art and materials conservation,” [4] engenders a sort of mechanical and removed approach to objects, rather than the kind of intimate understanding that an artist might have. This impression is further supported by the fact that the program is housed within the Science and Mathematics Department, rather than Art History or Museum Studies departments. In mentioning this fact to an admissions coordinator, we were informed that “More and more, programs have been moving toward a greater scientific emphasis. We think of our coursework as belonging more to chemistry than to history.” Similarly, the curriculum claims to address issues surrounding the philosophy and ethics of art conservation, yet there is not a single course, aside from a somewhat perfunctory capstone, that addresses anything that resembles basic ethics. [5] Lastly, and perhaps most shockingly, only two Art History courses are required for the degree (Art History 101/102) – not to be taken until the second year. In speaking with the admissions department, we were told that “most conservators have suggested that museums and labs are not interested in art historical knowledge or artistry. They want someone who has the scientific background to perform the processes needed to conserve materials. Any art historical knowledge that you need can be gained throughout graduate coursework or on-site training.”

2013-07-11 - University of Delaware art conservation student lab

University of Delaware BA student in conservation lab.

A third undergraduate institution based out of New Mexico, provides a greater emphasis on both Art History and Studio Art than the aforementioned programs, with an essentially equal credit count for each discipline required for completion of the degree. The program website also warns that “becoming an art conservator requires graduate training.”[6] What does a student actually gain from this additional training, and is it enough to create a qualified restorer?

According to Dr. Joyce Hill Stoner, professor at the University of Delaware’s conservation program (WUDPAC) and Director of its doctoral program: “The NYU, Winterthur-UD, UCLA, and Buffalo programs are all very concerned about these new undergraduate programs that have sprung up in Chicago, New Mexico and elsewhere … In most cases they don’t even have a professional conservator involved with the curriculum or the requirements, have no track record of applicants, graduates, etc.” She goes on to speak of undergraduate art conservation training as akin to pre-med programs intended to lay the framework for future field experience and graduate-level study.[7]   This critique of undergraduate “preparatory” programs implies a need for high standards when educating future art conservation professionals, yet it is unclear whether anyone is actually responsible for upholding these strictures.

Speaking with an alumna of the undergraduate program at Delaware, it would seem that students view this type of study as preparatory. For both Kelsey Adams (’11) and Danielle Swanson (’10), it provided what they believed to be a more interdisciplinary approach to working in museums and historic collections.  After finishing the program, emerging conservators typically complete 2-3 years of training before applying to graduate programs in art conservation. Graduate work is then followed by 2-3 years in additional internship positions.[8]

As it stands, there only four graduate art conservation programs in the country (those mentioned above), and it is also generally acknowledged that professional work requires further training beyond that which these curricula provide. This preparation includes deeper immersion into art history and related fields in order to better understand an artist’s hand before treatment.  Students at WUDPAC are required to take 6 courses in object-based art history during their study. Furthermore, those who are accepted have “more than 2000 hours of practical experience, letters from conservators to vouch for their patience and hand skills, and coursework far more than the required courses listed.”[9] Dr. Stoner maintains it is essential for conservation students at the master’s level to have a solid foundation in art history in order to go on to work professionally in the field: “We want those who go into conservation science and research … to also have a reasonable understanding of how to carry out art-historical research…so they do not think that finding lead-tin yellow pigment PROVES the painting is by Vermeer…”[10]

2013-07-11 - University of Delaware Masters art conservation decorative panel

UD MS student conserving a decorative panel.

Of the students currently enrolled in the masters program, those already possessing degrees in Art History factor greater than those with backgrounds in studio arts or chemistry[11]. However, Delaware’s program also communicates to its applicants that it maintains a somewhat scientific emphasis – the degree offered is a Master of Science[12], rather than a combined Master of Arts in Art History and Advanced Certificate in Conservation (as is offered at NYU)[13]. Tessa Gadomski (’14), a current graduate student at Delaware, characterizes her education within the main framework of conservation treatment methodologies and ethics. She finds this an essential part of graduate conservation training, as art historical knowledge and studio skills can be gained in experience outside the program, but treatment expertise is fundamental in first obtaining these outside internships[14].  It seems from a study of the requirements and curricula of these undergraduate and graduate programs, that the training of an art conservator depends as much, if not more, on their independent experience within the field, than on their choice in university. In every case, there appears to be a strong emphasis on acquiring technical experience through internships (rather than coursework). Gaining art historical knowledge, then, is merely peripheral by comparison.

What’s perhaps most surprising, is the lack of advanced studio training at the graduate level. Typically, these programs require a portfolio to demonstrate “hand skills and mastery of materials,”[15] but do not offer any studio based courses as part of the curriculum. Rather, courses that focus on technical training are strictly lab based and concern treatment and restoration methods.[16] Students are not provided the opportunity to develop as skilled artists. This is particularly problematic when one considers that restorers often rely on their artistic ability to emulate the hand of extremely skilled craftsmen.

The field appears to be less interdisciplinary as one might expect. Art conservation has been described as a three legged stool, with each leg representing the different areas of knowledge required to form a solid foundation – art history, chemistry, and studio art. Experience tells us, however, that the expertise required in each of these fields is far more comprehensive than any coursework, and perhaps even practical experience, can provide. While it is encouraging to hear that on a fundamental level, programs such as that at Delaware understand the need for intensive training both inside and outside the classroom, one must always remember that no-one, regardless of their level of expertise, is entirely infallible. Now that the field of art conservation is beginning to enter its “CSI” phase, and the “stool” becomes increasingly unstable, it is all the more important that we (conservators, art historians, artists, and the general public alike) learn to trust our eyes again and abandon the notion that scientific knowledge somehow supersedes all other considerations when ensuring the future of our artistic heritage.

[1] Roslyn Weaver, et al., “The CSI Effect at University: Forensic Science Students’ Television Viewing and Perceptions of Ethical Issues,” Australian Journal of Forensic Sciences (2012): 381-391.

[2] Scripps College, “About the Art Conservation Program,” http://www.scrippscollege.edu/academics/department/art-conservation (last visited 3 July 2013).

[3] Columbia College, Chicago, “Degree Requirements,” http://cccjbar.colum.edu:9040/cgi-bin/public (last visited 3 July 2013).

[4] Columbia College, Chicago, “Art and Materials Conservation,” http://www.colum.edu/Admissions/Programs/Art_Materials_Conservation.php (last visited 3 July 2013).

[5] Columbia College, Chicago, “Degree Requirements,” http://cccjbar.colum.edu:9040/cgi-bin/public (last visited 3 July 2013).

[6] New Mexico State University, “What is Art Conservation?” http://artdepartment.nmsu.edu/programs/museumcons (last visited 3 July 2013).

[7] “…a very important aspect of undergraduate programs is having the student truly learn if she or he is actually suited to working under the microscope setting down tiny flakes of paint, re-weaving tears, etc. under the supervision of a skilled conservator who can demonstrate some of the typical tasks, teach basic standards of reversibility and photo documentation etc. while the student begins taking all the necessary coursework.” Dr. Joyce Hill Stoner, e-mail interview conducted 4 July 2013.

[8] Dr. Joyce Hill Stoner, e-mail interview conducted 4 July 2013.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Art Conservation at the University of Delaware: Current Students. “Class of 2015,” “Class of 2014,” “Class of 2013,” http://www.artcons.udel.edu/masters/current-students (last visited 4 July 2013).

[12] “General remarks about pre-requisites for the University of Delaware-Winterthur Museum program application,” p. 1; Art Conservation at the University of Delaware: Chemistry Courses, http://www.artcons.udel.edu/masters/admissions-requirements/chemisty-coursework (last visited 4 July 2013); Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, “Advanced Certificate in Conservation,” http://www.nyu.edu/gsas/dept/fineart/pdfs/academics/Conservation.pdf (last visited 4 July 2013).

[13] “NYU requires more art history in general and we require more science (after all we award an MS in science—the others award MA’s).  NYU doesn’t require experience, but graduates of NYU usually have to have more internships and residencies after graduation to make up for this difference or they may go into more research-oriented positions.” Dr. Joyce Hill Stoner, e-mail interview conducted 4 July 2013.

[14] Tessa Gadomski, e-mail interview conducted 9 July 2013.

[15] Buffalo State, “Apply – Art Conservation,” http://artconservation.buffalostate.edu/apply (last visited 11 July 2013).

[16] Buffalo State, “Major Program Assessment Plan,” http://artconservation.buffalostate.edu/sites/artconservation.buffalostate.edu/files/Upload/Documents/assessment.pdf (last visited 3 July 2013).

2007-12-29 - Leonardo loan protest

Art on Loan

One senses that the ante has been upped in the deal-making world of art loans. Quite a few “first-and-only-time” loans have been made this year.

A conspicuous example has been the traveling exhibition of three panels and several smaller pieces of Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise, which are in the midst of a nearly year-long journey from their home in Florence’s Museo dell’Opera del Duomo to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Seattle Art Museum, the last of these a late addition after intensive lobbying. Much hyped is the rarity of the exhibition, presented as the only time they will travel outside of Florence, due to the undeniable risks posed. A curator at the Art Institute has commented, “Sculpture doesn’t travel well, in general, and so the fact that three of the panels from the Gates can travel at all is remarkable.”

Regardless of the educational and altruistic rhetoric, that these are works that are traveling to offer an unprecedented opportunity for people to study and learn about certain treasures, the reality is that objects are being moved primarily for economic reasons, whether they be international or local. While the entire Ghiberti tour has been seen, undoubtedly somewhat simplistically, as reciprocal arrangement following the donation of funds by the U.S. group Friends of Florence for the restoration of the doors, there are local benefits as well. In the case of the Seattle stop, at least one local hotel is offering the “Gates of Paradise Package.”

2007-12-29 - Leonardo loan protestPerhaps an even more impressive deal was made by British Museum  to secure the loan from China of twenty terracotta statues of the warriors of the first Chinese emperor, Qin Shihuangdi, dating to the third century BCE. The twenty are just a small fraction of the 1000 figures that were unearthed in 1974 – about 7000 still await excavation – but it is the largest amount of this material to ever leave China. Previous exhibitions in Germany and Austria were composed of copies only, though still drawing impressive crowds. The Chinese government has recently made claims that a current exhibition at the Hamburg Museum of Ethnology is made entirely of copies, and the museum has been forced to offer refunds to the 10,000 visitors who have seen the show since it opened in late November.

With the demand high and hype higher, the British Museum show, entitled The First Emperor: China’s Terracotta Army, is a guaranteed blockbuster. By mid-October it was announced that 200,000 tickets at $25 apiece had been sold, and by late November, tickets were sold out straight through February. The tremendous visibility of the show has also attracted a major corporate sponsor, Morgan Stanley. As a way of further validating their support, Morgan Stanley has made the analogy between their role in being the first to bring international investment services to China, and their role in bringing these statues for the first time from their native land.

And the show doesn’t stop here. After it completes its engagement in London, the terracottas and a collection of 120 objects in total will travel to the High Museum in Atlanta. And while the museums and the sponsors involved have gotten great benefit from the arrangement, China stands to benefit as well. Britain has sent three shows in return, and in addition to this exchange, China will undoubtedly see the added effect of stirring interest in Chinese culture in the wake of the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

Atlanta’s High Museum, which will host both of these shows, is setting the new standard for international art loans – they engineered not only “first-and-only” shipments of the Gates of Paradise and Andrea del Verrocchio’s  David, but also made the partnership with the Louvre Museum in Paris to send a series of exhibitions to Atlanta, all following the High’s recent $85 million addition which doubled its space. And other museums are following suit, both nationally and internationally. Seattle Art Museum also recently doubled its special exhibition space – and like the High, has arranged to show rarely-shipped works from the Louvre’s collection early in 2008.

The Museo del Prado in Madrid likewise just opened their expanded space by Rafael Moneo, with an additional 237,000 square feet, at the cost of $219 million. The Prado remodeling will bring to light many works that have been languishing in storage. But at the same time, the project was driven by the desire to be a “world-class” institution in terms of attracting blockbuster exhibitions and large numbers of visitors, a record number of which are expected this year, as well as meeting the expectations that are now the norms for museum goers: restaurants,  education rooms, and shops. In an effort to make-over their venerable institution, the Prado also sought “rebranding” by Studio Fernando Gutiérrez, which created for them a new logo, signage and a new marquee aimed at attracting commercial sponsorship and raising money for temporary shows.

Perhaps a less audacious loan in terms of scale, but noteworthy nonetheless for the rare stirring of opposition it caused, was the shipment of Leonardo da Vinci’s Annunciation, which resides in Florence’s Uffizi Museum, to Tokyo this past spring as the star attraction of the exhibition, The Mind of Leonardo – The Universal Genius at Work. The show was part of a larger promotional event called Primavera Italiana 2007, which had as its primary goal the promotion of Italian culture and business ventures in Japan. The loan was not without controversy, especially as it could potentially be viewed as violating a 2004 Italian law which forbids the loan of any object considered essential to its home institution. Although facilitated by the Italian Culture Minister, Francesco Rutelli, prominent critics included the director of the Uffizi Antonio Natali and Italian senator Paolo Amato, the latter of which staged a protest outside of the museum when it was moved.

But the issue is not just single, and supposedly, one-time instances of loans. Large-scale loans by some major institutions are becoming par for the course. The Vatican has recently announced its most substantial collection of objects ever be sent to the southern hemisphere, on a 2008 tour for the exhibition Vatican: The Story, The Art, The Architecture that will include the Auckland Museum in New Zealand and Sydney. As in the case of many recent blockbusters eager for the notion of exclusivity and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, the director of Auckland Museum has stressed that these works will probably never travel there again. The more than eighty objects, which include portraits by Titian and Bernini, as well as an early cast of Michelangelo’s Vatican Pietà, are of such value that they are requiring government insurance and a high level of security to guarantee their safety.

Other recent “firsts” include the current Van Gogh retrospective at the Seoul Museum of Art, Van Gogh: Voyage into the Myth, with sixty-seven works on loan from the Kroller-Muller Museum in Otterlo and Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. It is the first Van Gogh exhibition in Korea, and the largest Van Gogh exhibition held since the one marking the centennial anniversary of his death in 1990.

2007-02-05 - Andrea Mantegna San Zeno altarpiece

Another Anniversary

James Beck

Timed to coincide with the 500th anniversary of the death of Andrea Mantegna (born c. 1431) in 1506, three Italian cities in which the artist executed some of his major works are hosting exhibitions in the artist’s honor: Mantua, Padua and Verona, each set to run from 16 September 2006 until 14 January 2007.

Mantua’s exhibition, Mantegna a Mantova: 1460/1506, will be held at Palazzo Te, Padua’s Mantegna e Padova: 1445/1460 will be held at the Eremitani Museum, while Verona’s Mantegna e le arti a Verona will be at the Palazzo della Gran Guardia.

As is often the case with large blockbusters, the organizers have emphasized several opportunities for the visitor that make the show a must-see. It has already been announced that when the exhibitions end in January, the San Zeno Altarpiece in Verona, one of Mantegna’s most important works, will undergo an extensive two-year restoration campaign, making this the viewer’s last chance to see the work for the near future. The exhibition also offers the opportunity to see the Ovetari Chapel frescoes in the Eremitani in Padua, which were shattered into 80,000 small fragments following an airstrike in 1944. With the help of new computer software, they have been recomposed and will be on view as part of the anniversary celebrations.

In order to orchestrate the events, the Ministry for the Cultural Heritage and Activities created an 82-member National Committee (Comitato Nazionale per le Celebrazioni del quinto centenario della morte di Andrea Mantegna) composed of scholars and government officials. In a nearly unprecedented example of the mass-shipment of works of art, 140 museums and collections agreed to lend works of art by the artist and related masters, 352 of them in total. The website for the project calls the undertaking “a completely new type of exhibition” in terms of its scope, with each of the cities hosting not only their share of the primary exhibition, but numerous other related shows at secondary sites. On behalf of the exhibition, Alpitour is offering 2- and 3-day travel packages to all of the shows, for E135 and E245, respectively.

As in the case of most large exhibitions, the works are undoubtedly put at risk by their shipment. Some daunting statistics are offered on the exhibition’s website: The collective insured value of the works is E647,000,000, and fifty-five works were restored for the shows, with a total cost of E271,000. The exhibition also touts the obligatory “new discoveries,” such as the Madonna della Tenerezza, a formerly unknown painting in a private collection, which is annexed to the Padua show (on view at Palazzo Zuckermann).

Not all of the loans were easily acquired. Vittorio Sgarbi, President of the Mantegna Committee and curator of the Mantua exhibition, requested that the city of Bergamo loan Mantegna’s Madonna and Child, currently housed in the Accademia Carrara. Bergamo, which refused the loan citing the painting’s fragile condition, subsequently distributed 20,000 free passes for entrance to the Accademia to see the work.

Other loan requests by the organizers of the Mantuan exhibition were met with similar reluctance on the part of the institutions. The Brera Gallery in Milan refused to send Mantegna’s Dead Christ, also citing its delicate condition. Sgarbi claimed that the museum was “telling lies,” since the work had been shipped to Mantua in 2002 for another exhibition: “It is not possible for a work to have been in good condition four years ago, when it was loaned to Mantua, and ‘sick’ now. Someone is not telling the truth. We send troops to Lebanon, but not paintings to each other”. Despite pressure applied by Sgarbi, who claimed that the absence of the Dead Christ and the St. Sebastian from the Ca’ d’Oro would cost E1.6m in entrance fees, approximating that 200,000 fewer people would attend, the Italian Culture Minister and Vice Prime Minister Francesco Rutelli initially supported the Brera’s decision.

Sgarbi wrote an open letter to Rutelli:

“Dear Minister, Get them to tell you the truth. Brera will not loan us Mantegna’s Dead Christ and Ca’d’Oro refuses to give us the Saint Sebastian. The galleries are making it a health issue, saying that the paintings cannot be moved because they are unwell. Do not allow yourself to be bullied by deceitful officials: intervene so that we can have them”.

Sgarbi argued that the works were in a satisfactory condition, and therefore should be sent to the exhibition, but that if they were in fact that fragile, it was wrong to let them deteriorate further and his committee would fund their restoration.

Initially, Rutelli held his ground and did not overrule the technical judgment of Brera officials. The ministry defended the decision of the Brera, citing the unusual methods of the painting, which is tempera on canvas. Then, in August, Rutelli announced: “I approved that the Dead Christ of Brera be sent to the Mantegna exhibition in Mantua after an in-depth technical inspection. We have also made available some other works that were requested by the organizing committee and the city mayors, with the help of the Ministry. I feel that guidelines should be decided for loans and exhibitions, and that is why I have set up a Commission with a high scientific profile, in order to help requests be made with greater certainty.”  Rutelli has since announced the formation of a Committee to establish official state guidelines for the lending of works of art.

Like the Brera, the Ca d’Oro in Venice also had objections to the lending of one of its Mantegna works, a Saint Sebastian. Their refusal was multi-faceted. First, they argued, the work was currently undergoing restoration, which could take an additional few months. Secondly, they argued that the museum’s collection was substantially diminished by its absence.

With anniversary exhibitions on the rise and an ever greater interest in more complete shows with more impressive loans, the Mantegna exhibitions in Mantua, Padua and Verona have set a very dangerous precedent. No longer will the fragility of an object be a hindrance to the loan of any work deemed critical for an exhibition, even if — or especially if — the need is a financial one.


A Manifesto to Save Leonardo


Salvatemi per mirabile necessità (Leonardo, Codice Atlantico)
Save me out of admirable necessity (Leonardo, Codex Atlanticus)
Salvatemi dai barattieri e dai pomposi trombetti (Codice Atlantico)
Save me from tricksters and pompous trumpeteers (Codex Atlanticus)
Salvatemi dalle sette di ipocriti (Trattato della pittura)
Save me from the clans of hypocrites (Treatise on painting)
Salvatemi dalle umane pazzie in aumentazione (Trattato della pittura)
Save me from human madnesses which are always increasing (Treatise on Painting)
Salvatemi dalla bava di cane rabbioso (Codice Atlantico)
Save me from the mad dog’s slaver (Codex Atlanticus)
Salvatemi dalle frecce lingue dell’invidia e dei malpensieri (Oxford)
Save me from the tongues lashes of nasty-minded people (Oxford)
Salvatemi dall’assedio della calunnia e dall’ingratitudine (Oxford, Ash I, BM)
Save me from a siege of false accusations and ingratitude (Oxford, Ash I, BM)
Salvatemi dalla fitta infamia (Ms H)
Save me from serious public dishonor (Ms H)
Salvatemi dalla sozza fama (Ms H)
Save me from filthy reports (Ms H)
Salvatemi dalle barerie dei parlari (Codice sul volo)
Save me from the gossipers (Codex on the Flight of Birds)
Salvatemi dalle bugiarde dimostrazioni (Codice Atlantico)
Save me from false proofs (Codex Atlanticus)
Salvatemi dalla mucillagine (Forster I)
Save me from gummy secretions (Forster I)
Salvatemi dai matti e giuntatori (Codice Atlantico)
Save me from lunatics and cheaters (Codex Atlanticus)
Salvatemi dalla ruggine dell’ignoranza e dai vani e instolti desideri (Codice Atlantico)
Save me from rusty ignorance and vain, foolish desires (Codex Atlanticus)
Salvatemi dalla smisurata superbia dei presuntuosi (Codice Atlantico)
Save me from the conceited people’s unbounded arrogance (Codex Atlanticus)
Salvatemi dagli ambiziosi tiranni (Ash. II)
Save me from ambitious tyrants (Ash. II)
Salvatemi dagli ambiziosi che non intendono la bellezza del mondo (Codice Atlantico)
Save me from the ambitious who do not understand the beauty of the world (Codex Atlanticus)
Salvatemi da chi non difende la libertà, dono principale di natura (Ash. II)
Save me from those who do not defend freedom, which is nature’s greatest gift (Ash. II)
Salvatemi da chi nega la ragion delle cose (Madrid I)
Save me from those who deny the cause of things (Madrid I)
Salvatemi da chi vende il Paradiso (Codice Atlantico)
Save me from those who sell Heaven (Codex Atlanticus)
Salvatemi da chi è generato senza amore (Weimar)
Save me from those generated without love (Weimar)
Salvatemi dai fratelli avari (Codice Atlantico)
Save me from avarous monks (Codex Atlanticus)
Salvatemi dai figli nemici (Codice Atlantico)
Save me from hostile sons (Codex Atlanticus)
Salvatemi dagli allievi infidi (Codice Atlantico)
Save me from treacherous disciples (Codex Atlanticus)
Salvatemi dagli homini grossolani e di tristi costumi (Windsor)
Save me from rude and unrefined men (Windsor)
Salvatemi dai capricci della moda (Trattato della pittura)
Save me from the quirks of fashion (Treatise on Painting)
Salvatemi dalla decadenza dell’arte nell’imitazione (Trattato della pittura)
Save me from the decay of the art when it comes to imitation (Treatise on Painting)
Salvatemi dai pittori che non sono universali (Trattato della pittura)
Save me from painters who are not universal (Treatise on Painting)
Salvatemi dalla pittura che fa sbadigliare (Codice Atlantico)
Save me from painting that makes people yawn (Codex Atlanticus)
Salvatemi dai bugiardi interpreti di natura (Codice Atlantico)
Save me from nature’s false interpreters (Codex Atlanticus)
Salvatemi dai negromanti e dai cercatori d’oro (Windsor, Forster II)
Save me from alchimists and gold diggers (Windsor, Forster II)
Salvatemi dall’impazienza, madre della stoltizia (Windsor)
Save me from impatience, the mother of foolishness (Windsor)
Salvatemi dal pericolo della ruina (Trivulziano)
Save me from the danger of ruination (Trivulziano Codex)
Salvatemi dalla discordanza di elementi che ruina e disfa (Codice Atlantico)
Save me from the discordance of elements that spoils and destroys (Codex Atlanticus)
Salvatemi dalle armi sleali dei traditori e assassini (Codice Atlantico)
Save me from the dishonest weapons of betrayers and assassins (Codex Atlanticus)
Salvatemi dalla discordia e dalle battaglie, pazzia bestialissima (Trattato della pittura)
Save me from strife and battle, a most beastly madness (Treatise on Painting)
Salvatemi con hostinato rigore (Windsor)
Save me with obstinate determination (Windsor)
Salvatemi con destinato rigore (Windsor)
Save me with predetermined determination (Windsor)
Salvatemi con l’eccellenzia della verità (Codice sul volo)
Save me with the excellence of truth (Codex On the Flight of Birds)
Salvatemi con la giustizia, che vuol intelligenza e volontà (Ms H)
Save me with justice, which requires intelligence and will (Ms H)
Salvatemi con l’esperienza e la ragione (Ms E)
Save me with experience and reason (Ms E)
Salvatemi con le infinite ragioni della natura che non furono mai in esperienza (Ms I)
Save me with the infinite explanations of nature which have never occured in experience (Ms I)
Salvatemi con la sapienza, figlia dell’esperienza (Forster III)
Save me with wisdom, which is the daughter of experience (Forster III)
Salvatemi con l’occhio dei sogni (Arundel)
Save me with the eye of dreams (Arundel)
Salvatemi con i rebus della felicità (Windsor)
Save me with the puzzles of happiness (Windsor)
Salvatemi con i semplici (Windsor)
Save me with the simple people (Windsor)
Salvatemi con le armonie di numeri, proporzioni, suoni, tempi, siti (Ms K)
Save me with the harmonies of numbers, proportions, sounds, times, sites (Ms K)
Salvatemi con la pittura che è invenzione, scienza e filosofia (Ash. I)
Save me with painting, which is invention, science and philosophy (Ash. I)
Salvatemi con quell’arte che avanza tutte l’opere umane (Ms A1)
Save me with the art that puts forward all human works (Ms A1)
Salvatemi con la pittura che accende ad amare (Trattato della pittura)
Save me with painting that kindles love (Treatise on Painting)
Salvatemi con la città che si fa bellezza (Codice Atlantico)
Save me with the city that turns into beauty (Codex Atlanticus)
Salvatemi con i ponti salvatici (Madrid I)
Save me with saving bridges (Madrid I)
Salvatemi con i ponti in core (Forster I)
Save me with bridges in the heart (Forster I)
Salvatemi con la concordanza (Codice Atlantico)
Save me with harmony (Codex Atlanticus)
Salvatemi con la forza, virtù spirituale, potenza invisibile (Ms A)
Save me with strength, which is a spiritual virtue, an invisible power (Ms A)
Salvatemi con la potenza dell’immaginazione (Madrid I)
Save me with the power of imagination (Madrid I)
Salvatemi con la figurazione al di là del visibile (Trattato della pittura)
Save me with representations which are beyond the visible (Treatise on Painting)
Salvatemi con i pensieri che si voltano alla speranza (Codice Atlantico)
Save me with thoughts which bring us hope (Codex Atlanticus)
Salvatemi perché intenderansi e abbracceransi li omini di remotissimi paesi… (Codice Atlantico)
Save me so that men from very far away countries will understand and embrace each other (Codex Atlanticus)


Salviamo Leonardo dalle interpretazioni anestetiche
Let’s save Leonardo from ugly interpretations
Salviamo Leonardo dalle iperboli della retorica
Let’s save Leonardo from the hyperboles of rhetoric
Salviamo Leonardo dai restauri lifting
Let’s save Leonardo’s paintings from cosmetic cleanings
Salviamo Leonardo dalle attribuzioni vaganti nel tempo
Let’s save Leonardo from willy nilly attributions
Salviamo Leonardo dagli equivoci leonardeschi
Let’s save Leonardo from leonardesque misunderstandings
Salviamo Leonardo dalle inflazioni
Let’s save Leonardo from exaggerations
Salviamo Leonardo dalle infiltrazioni
Let’s save Leonardo from infiltrations
Salviamo Leonardo dalle inibizioni della burocrazia egocentrica
Let’s save Leonardo from the inhibitions of the egocentric bureacracy
Salviamo Leonardo dalle devianze della politica S.p.A.
Let’s save Leonardo from the deviance of official politics
Salviamo Leonardo dal barattar consenso
Let’s save Leonardo from tricking into having consensus
Salviamo Leonardo dai gerarchetti di tutte le mafie
Let’s save Leonardo from all the different Mafias
Salviamo Leonardo dagli avventurieri
Let’s save Leonardo from adventurers
Salviamo Leonardo dalle scorrerie mercenarie
Let’s save Leonardo from mercenary raids
Salviamo Leonardo dal sonno della ragione che genera mostre
Let’s save Leonardo from the sleep of reason, which produces exhibitions
Salviamo Leonardo dalle grandi mostre a grande rischio
Let’s save Leonardo from risky block buster exhibitions
Salviamo Leonardo dai modellacci e modellini
Let’s save Leonardo from ugly and ridiculous models
Salviamo Leonardo dai modellastri funzionanti
Let’s save Leonardo from improperly functioning reconstructions
Salviamo Leonardo dai “musei” dell’orrido banale e dell’atroce virtuale
Let’s save Leonardo from dreadful and horrid virtual shows
Salviamo Leonardo dal museo fast food e dal circo dei cloni
Let’s save Leonardo from fast food like museums and the circus of clones
Salviamo Leonardo dall’egemonia del marketing
Let’s save Leonardo from the hegemony of marketing
Salviamo Leonardo dal kitsch senza humor
Let’s save Leonardo from kitsch without humor
Salviamo Leonardo dalla credulità per misere leggende
Let’s save Leonardo from credulity for wretched legends
Salviamo Leonardo dalla pagina 62 del Codice da Vinci
Let’s save Leonardo from the Da Vinci Code, page 62
Salviamo Leonardo dagli epigoni di Dan Brown
Let’s save Leonardo from Dan Brown’s imitators
Salviamo Leonardo dalla censura
Let’s save Leonardo from cuts and censors
Salviamo Leonardo dall’ignavia
Let’s save Leonardo from indolence
Salviamo Leonardo dall’arroganza
Let’s save Leonardo from arrogance
Salviamo Leonardo dalla falsa bicicletta
Let’s save Leonardo from the fake bicycle
Salviamo Leonardo dalla falsa cucina
Let’s save Leonardo from false kitchens
Salviamo Leonardo dalle false tradizioni
Let’s save Leonardo from false traditions
Salviamo Leonardo dai misteri idioti
Let’s save Leonardo from idiotic mysteries
Salviamo Leonardo con i suoi pensieri attivi
Let’s save Leonardo with his active thoughts
Salviamo Leonardo con coraggio
Let’s save Leonardo with courage
Salviamo Leonardo con ironia “salvatica”
Let’s save Leonardo with saving irony
Salviamo Leonardo con impegno civile estremo
Let’s save Leonardo with strong civil engagement
Salviamo Leonardo con musei etici
Let’s save Leonardo with ethical museums
Salviamo Leonardo con l’etica-estetica della città ideale
Let’s save Leonardo with the ethic-aesthetics of the ideal city
Salviamo Leonardo con la coscienza dell’identità e dell’alterità
Let’s save Leonardo with a conscience of identity and otherness
Salviamo Leonardo con il divenire della ricerca nel molteplice
Let’s save Leonardo with flowing, multiform research
Salviamo Leonardo con la riscoperta del disperso, del dimenticato e dell’inaccessibile
Let’s save Leonardo with the rediscovery of lost, forgotten and inaccessible things
Salviamo Leonardo con la sintesi della complessità
Let’s save Leonardo with the synthesis of complexity
Salviamo Leonardo con la fertilità del dubbio e dell’autocritica
Let’s save Leonardo with the richness of doubt and self-criticism
Salviamo Leonardo con il respiro della memoria
Let’s save Leonardo with the breath of memory
Salviamo Leonardo con le provocazioni alla sensibilità
Let’s save Leonardo by challenging sensibility
Salviamo Leonardo con la voce del silenzio in antitesi ai frastuoni pervasivi
Let’s save Leonardo against pervading noises with the voice of silence
Salviamo Leonardo con la creatività mercuriale
Let’s save Leonardo with mercurial creativity
Salviamo Leonardo con nuovi alfabeti
Let’s save Leonardo with new alphabets
Salviamo Leonardo con tecnologie sostenibili
Let’s save Leonardo with sustainable technologies
Salviamo Leonardo con l’arte libera e l’umanità della scienza
Let’s save Leonardo with free art and the humanity of science
Salviamo Leonardo con originalità e filologia
Let’s save Leonardo with originality and philology
Salviamo Leonardo con gli ingegni palindromi
Let’s save Leonardo with ingegni (ingenious) palindromics
Salviamo Leonardo con i nodi vinciani
Let’s save Leonardo with da Vinci knots
Salviamo Leonardo nel Labirinto dei Vinci
Let’s save Leonardo in the Vinci Labyrinth
Salviamo Leonardo fino agli antipodi
Let’s save Leonardo up to the opposite ends of the earth
Salviamo Leonardo per realizzare frammenti di utopia
Let’s save Leonardo by creating fragments of utopia

Savage he is who saves himself
Salvatico è quel che si salva (Leonardo, Codice Trivulziano)
© MILDV 2005

2005-01-26 - Egon Schiele Portrait of Wally

Freedom of the Press?

In a world where museum boards are composed of the wealthy and the powerful, it is no surprise that there is increasing pressure on the media to be “museum friendly”. In the wake of Professor James Beck’s questioning of the attribution of the Madonna of the Pinks, newly acquired — with much fanfare — by the London National Gallery, the Director of the museum “opened discussions with The Times about their coverage of Raphael’s Madonna of the Pinks and was meeting with its editor.”

Undoubtedly the press attention to Beck’s identification of the painting as a 19th century copy detracted from the accolades surrounding the acquisition and the subsequent Raphael exhibition.

Nonetheless, the critical ties between museums and the media are becoming more and more apparent. After a few years of comparatively weak attendance figures, the National Gallery’s attendance was up 13.75% in 2004. The reason for this is not the Pinks itself, a small and fairly unremarkable work in comparison to the painter’s oeuvre, but because of the media hype surrounding the acquisition, an issue which turned quickly into one of nationalism. So press attention is undoubtedly a good and necessary thing for the profit margin of the museum industry… But can they take the good with the bad?

If one is made somewhat uncomfortable by the unspoken agenda for such a meeting between an institution and the ostensibly unbiased press that covers it, there is truly a chiller wind blowing right here in New York City. Long-time NPR contributor David D’Arcy was suspended after reporting on 27 December 2004 on an Egon Schiele painting that had been on loan to the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The issue at hand is one of repatriation of art looted by the Nazis during World War II, in this case Egon Schiele’s Portrait of Wally  (1912), which was lent to the MoMA from Austria’s Leopold Museum for an exhibition in 1997. The heirs of Viennese dealer Lea Bondi subsequently claimed ownership of the work, arguing that it was erroneously returned to a different family after the war, by whom it was sold to an Austrian museum and finally ended up in the possession of Dr. Rudolf Leopold.

The story itself is not a new one, as the legal issue as to the painting’s ownership has been been debated in the US courts since 1998, and a trial is set to begin next year. According to D’Arcy, the MoMA declined to comment on the story, and he reported: “When MoMA has discussed the case over the past seven years, the museum has said it’s bound by its loan contract to return the painting, and that position is backed by the American Association of Museums, by art museums throughout the country and by Ashton Hawkins, a former museum lawyer who advises dealers and collectors. He contends that the Schiele case has had a chilling effect on international art loans.”

2005-01-26 - Egon Schiele Portrait of Wally

While the MoMA did not want to talk to D’Arcy, they apparently approached NPR , after which NPR disciplined both D’Arcy and the editor for the piece, and posted a correction to the story: “The government, not the museum, has custody of the artwork. The museum says it took no position on the question of the painting’s ownership. NPR failed to give the museum a chance to answer allegations about its motivations and actions.”

At the outset, the story was covered only on ArtNet.com and in a posting on ArtsJournal.com — in other words, the “alternative” electronic media, rather than the traditional press. Perhaps encouraged by this dearth of reporting on the matter, the MoMA was not inclined to0 respond to requests for information regarding the correction or D’Arcy’s punishment. ArtWatch President James Beck sent letters on 7 March 2005 to several members of NPR’s board, including the President, the Board Chairman and Vice-Chairman, the Ombudsman, and the Senior News Analyst, which read:

“A situation surrounding the removal from NPR of the cultural and arts journalist David D’Arcy has come to our attention. Actually, I know and have admired his work over two decades. We at ArtWatch have been able to listen tothe original program, and also have a text, together with the so-called correction issued by NPR. Given the high, not to say, impeccable reputation of NPR’s reporting, and the devotion and dedication of its listeners, the case is very puzzling. Before entering into the question, we wish to have all the facts in hand, and for this reason weturn to you for clarification and assurances.

ArtWatch is concerned that independent, disinterested, and uninfluenced reporting about art may be in jeopardy. Even powerful institutions like the Museum of Modern Art should not be allowed to influence transparency and the free reporting of information.”

A reply of 9 March was sent from Emily Littleton, Manager of NPR’s Corporate Communications: “NPR’s Ombudsman, Jeffrey Dvorkin, and Tim Eby, Chairman of the NPR Board of Directors, have forwarded your e-mails to me. We note the views you expressed and we thank you for taking the time to share them with us.” The response was both indirect and guarded, despite an NPR Code of Ethics which calls for “journalistic independence” and the maintenance of a bond of trust with its listeners.

It is surprising that Ombudsman Jeffrey Dvorkin did not respond to the letter, but rather sent it along to be handled by the Corporate Communications division. Dvorkin had on the 8th of March appeared as a guest on NPR’s The Connection in a segment entitled “The Listener’s Voice.” On The Connection’s website, Dvorkin is made out to be an advocate for the NPR audience: “Dvorkin aims to be that direct link between NPR and its listeners. At a time when the news media is under increased scrutiny, Dvorkin says NPR needs its ownset of internal ears as a way of listening to critics and then responding.”

Mr. Dvorkin did finally address the issue on 15 March (“Reporting on the Powerful”) for his regular column on the NPR website. Couching his response in the most general of terms, he argued that the report did not “fully and accurately present all of the facts,” claiming that “the report did not give MoMA a chance to respond to specific and direct charges leveled against it”. The reporter, David D’Arcy, was not mentioned by name, nor was the action taken against him referenced in any way.

While Mr. Dvorkin may believe that this is sufficient in settling this potential public relations crisis and answering the concerns regarding the removal of D’Arcy, he raises issues that require further discussion. How is it, for example, that the MoMA and NPR stand by the notion that the museum was not permitted to respond to the piece, when D’Arcy adamantly insists that his inquiries to the MoMA went unanswered?

The media may soon catch on to the scandal brewing at the MoMA and become aware that the issue at hand is of critical importance to the validity of the entire profession. An item by Tim Rutton appeared in the Los Angeles Times on 19 March that presented D’Arcy’s side
of the case and criticized NPR’s and Dvorkin’s evasive response to the public’s concerns. ArtWatch likewise is determined to not let the influence of museums remain unchecked and will continue to request clarification from NPR’s board members and from Mr. Dvorkin.

For years, ArtWatch has called upon these institutions to become more transparent in terms of their policies and practices. Yet the dismaying trend, as evidenced by the new standards put forth by the International Council of Museums (ICOM), has been to limit the transmission of information to a concerned public. Now we are made more aware that the power of these institutions extends far beyond their own walls, and may in fact be threatening the free reporting of the press.

2016-09-29 - James Beck Memorial Lecture - Art Students League New York
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ArtWatch International 12th Annual Meeting (Arts Student League of New York)

2016-09-29 - James Beck Memorial Lecture - Art Students League New York

The Art Students League on W. 57th St. in Manhattan

Please join us for our 12th annual meeting,
Wednesday, December 8th at 6:00 PM,
Art Students League,
215 West 57th Street, NYC

Dear ArtWatcher,

It is ironic that more money is raised to finance unnecessary cleanings and the ‘sprucing up’ of famous objects to the absolute neglect of monuments desperately in need of critical intervention and conservation. For more than a year ArtWatch battled the aggressive and pricey cleaning of Michelangelo’s David, located indoors at Florence’s Accademia. When the intervention was proposed, several organizations and celebrities stepped up to contribute large sums of money for the project. Consequently, the Accademia — in order to justify the allocated funds — opted for an excessive cleaning (that is to say, an excessive spending). In the end, they saw to it that the donors got their money’s worth.

Meanwhile, only blocks away from the crowds lining up to see the newly cleaned David, another major monument is literally disintegrating. For years, the roof of Santissima Annunziata has been leaking from rainwater, resulting in calcium deposits that have leached through the architectural trompe-l’oeil decoration of the entire tribune and transept vaults. Despite the need for urgent attention, the Florentine city council has announced that they do not have the funds to make necessary repairs, which would account for a full quarter of their annual budget. This is not a new problem, but one that has been ongoing for many years and had been observed by ArtWatch already in the summer of 2002. There is no mistake that the “David dollars” would have better spent at the Annunziata. Had the matter been addressed in its early phase or as a maintenance issue, then perhaps lesser budgetary allocations could have minimized what is now a serious problem. And this is but one example.

It is all about media and hype. In this respect ArtWatch believes that the flagrant misuse of funds for the cleaning of the David is not unlike the recent purchase by the London National Gallery of the so-called Raphael Madonna of the Pinks. Although there are as many as 48 different versions of the picture, the National Gallery purchased one which has only been known since the 19th century belonging to the Duke of Northumberland. More than half of the record 60 million dollar cost came from tax abatements and public funds, obtained by the National Gallery by pulling the public’s heartstrings and arguing that this work should remain in the country.

Despite all of this, ArtWatch is making a difference. Our effort opposing the cleaning of the David resulted in an intervention that was decidedly less severe than that which had been planned, and thus our campaign must be regarded as a success. Beyond this, there is a lot more art to save.

ArtWatch needs your help. We are unique in our mission since there is no other organization that seeks to protect cultural heritage on this level. This mission can be accomplished, but we need your membership and contributions to carry on the work. Donations can be made by credit card on this website, or by checks mailed to ArtWatch, c/o Prof. James Beck, 826 Schermerhorn, Columbia University, New York, NY, 10027.

James Beck

ArtWatch gratefully acknowledges the support of the Bunnelle Charitable Trust, the Dino Olivetti Foundation, Inc., the Peace Foundation, the Charles H. Stout Foundation, the Friends of ArtWatch, and all of our individual donors.

2004-09-08 International Council of Museums
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International Council of Museums Revises Code of Ethics for Museums



2004-09-08 International Council of MuseumsICOM, the International Council of Museums, is a non-profit organization founded in 1946. ICOM’s Code of Ethics for Museums was first adopted by the organization in 1986, and was amended once before in 2001. It was conceived of as a set of guidelines for professional self-regulation, covering the topics of Basic Principles for Museum Governance, Acquisition and Disposal of Collections, and Professional Conduct, including Professional Responsibility to the Collection, to the Public, and to Colleagues.

The Ethics Committee, comprised of nine members and headed by former ICOM president Geoffrey Lewis, has just released a revised draft of the Ethics Code. The most disturbing change to the earlier document is the abandonment of the Professional Responsibility to the Public. The result is a shift away from transparency, and what should be the overarching interest in providing information and access to collections.

On October 8th in Seoul at the 20th General Conference of ICOM, the General Assembly will meet to ratify these new emendations to the Ethics Code. We call upon ICOM’s president Jacques Perot and the Assembly to refuse these changes, and reaffirm the museum community’s commitment to the public.

Following is the text of a letter sent to Jacques Perot, expressing these concerns.

Open letter to Mr. Jacques PEROT, President of the International Council of Museums, and to all ICOM members.

The 17th Aug. 2004


Since 1986, your Council has adopted a deontological code (revised in 2001)for its members from all categories of museum professionals in all countries, which constitutes the ethical reference in the museum world. A complete “restructuring” of this code has been prepared and is to be voted upon this coming October, at the ICOM General Assembly in Seoul. Astonishingly, this newly proposed version abandons the notion of “Professional Responsibility to the Public” and, if implemented, would
remove most of the ethical duties toward the public currently stated by ICOM.

These presently comprise commitments to:

  1. Deal with the public efficiently and courteously.
  2. Respond to public enquiries and offer the public access to members of staff.
  3. Grant reasonable access to collections not on display.
  4.  Share professional knowledge, expertise and the result of research with the public.
  5. Permit members of the public controlled but full access to requested documentation, even if it is the subject of a personal research or a special field of interest (see current item 7.2, passages from 2.8 – 8.3 -8.6).

All of these provisions, concerning vital public requirements for professional accountability on the one hand, and public rights of information and access on the other, would be eliminated and not be replaced by any new attempt to address these matters.

As presently formulated, the project states that access to objects (not displayed) and to the documentation will henceforth be limited to “the museum personnel and other legitimate users” or to “the academic and scientific community”. Sharing expertise, knowledge and results of research would remain a duty only towards “colleagues, scholars and students in relevant fields”, and no
more towards the public. (viz. prepared items 2.19 – 3.2 – 3.9 – Principle 3 – 8.10)

Such changes constitute a form of protectionism, an attempt to prevent all outsiders from looking at the museum’s activities. Those who would be so excluded in the future include independent researchers or experts,
associations representing the public interests, connoisseurs and journalists.

It is hard to see why such a move should ever have been thought desirable or necessary: reasonable confidentiality clauses already exist to protect security arrangements and information concerning private items (current item 7.3).

It would seem self-evident that, objective data about the actual state or about the authenticity of items ought not to be kept confidential, since museums must not mislead their publics, even indirectly or by omission. Similarly, documentation of conservation treatments of works cannot be treated as confidential, since museums act as guarantors for the preservation of the objects they hold in public trust. For these reasons, full access to documentation is the logical corollary of all other ICOM ethical commitments regarding the collections.

In the spring issue of ICOM News (no.2 -2004) Bernice L. Murphy, vice-president of ICOM, states that, beyond its first and traditional role of facilitator for the professional activities, ICOM needs now to “turn itself toward society” and to be sure that it “addresses and serves society”. But in reality, this new code of ethics would lead museums in exactly the opposite direction.

Through this letter, the undersigned associations and individuals, call for ICOM to maintain its ethical requirements as established in its 2001 code of ethics, and for their observance by all of its members and museum professionals.

Your sincerely,

James H. Beck, President of ArtWatch International
Michael Daley, Director of ArtWatch UK
Michel Favre-Félix, Président de l’Association pour le Respect de l’Intégrité du Patrimoine Artistique (France).

2004-09-07 Edvard Munch Vampire Munch Museum

Issues of Custodianship

Issues relating to the custodianship of art have recently emerged in the popular press. In addition to the ongoing debate about restoration and conservation, it has become increasingly apparent that museums and other guardians of cultural property must determine how best to protect those objects with which they have been entrusted. In the last few years, there have been numerous highly publicized cases not only of theft of prominent artistic treasures, but also of acts of vandalism.

The most obvious case in point is the recent theft of two paintings by Edvard Munch from the Munch Museum in Norway, in which two armed robbers tore The Scream and Madonna from the walls of the museum while the staff and visitors watched. The director of the City of Oslo’s art collections has noted — though this comes as no surprise — that the security of the museum was inadequate. Following the theft, it was noted that the surveillance equipment was outdated and that the camera at the entrance was disconnected, even though in January they received government funds to improve security conditions. All of this despite a “warning shot” that had been fired in February of 1994, when another version of the same painting was stolen from the National Art Museum in Oslo. There, even with better security — including functioning cameras and the police quickly responding to the alarm — the two men involved made off with the painting in under one minute. The systems in place to guard the masterpiece were questioned, since the work had been moved from the more secure first floor to a special ground-floor exhibition installed to coincide with the Olympics. The thieves even found the time to leave a note to the museum, “Thanks for the poor security.” The paintings was discovered, undamaged, around three months later. Of course, in the case of Munch, there was an earlier “warning shot” still: Paal Enger, who was jailed for the 1994 theft, had previously stolen another Munch painting, Vampire, from the Munch Museum in 1988. (Referring to himself as a gentleman, he denies any involvement in the recent crime).

2004-09-07 Munch Museum

Munch Museum in Norway

Such events are not at all uncommon, as exemplified by the recent thefts of works by other masters, such as Benvenuto Cellini’s Saltcellar stolen in May of 2003 from Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum and the Duke of Buccleuch’s Madonna of the Yarnwinder, attributed by some to Leonardo da Vinci, stolen from Drumlanrig Castle, Dumfriesshire, Scotland in August of the same year.

Unlike the Munch paintings, Cellini’s Saltcellar was stolen after hours, with the perpetrators scaling external scaffolding to reach a window, break it, then shatter the glass case in which the object was housed, despite motion and heat sensors. Alarms appeared to have gone off, but were reset by a guard without physically inspecting the room. A ransom request was sent to the insurance company for 5 million Euro.

While there are certainly better security systems available, the question has been raised as to whether or not implementing such measures would be prudent. It has been noted, in the case of the recent Munch theft, that automatic gates that would effectively lock down the museum if an alarm was tripped would be a safety hazard, possibly endangering the lives of museum-goers. Had the painting been more securely attached to the wall rather than by steel wires, the argument goes, it might have suffered even greater damage during the robbery. And arming guards is an equally harrowing prospect, given that a determined thief would resort to greater violence. In any case, “high-tech” systems have often been defeated with the simplest of implements, as in the case of the removal of two Van Gogh paintings from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, where the perpetrators thwarted the alarms and surveillance systems including cameras, motion detectors and round-the-clock guards using a ladder to climb onto a roof, a cloth to muffle the sound of the breaking window, and a rope to make their getaway.

The theft of works of art is not even the most insidious of the threats facing art objects. They are also frequently vandalized by people usually classified as “deranged,” both within museums and in public locations. There are many famous examples, with the most notorious perpetrator, Piero Cannata, attacking Michelangelo’s David in 1991 with a hammer, defacing Filippo Lippi’s Funeral of St. Stephen in Prato Cathedral in 1993 with an indelible black marker, and scribbling on a Jackson Pollock in 1999. Although he has been intermittently hospitalized, he has recently appeared in the press as a tour guide working in Florence as part of a day release program from a psychiatric institution. Michelangelo’s Pietá was likewise attacked in 1972 by Laszlo Toth, who subsequently spent two years in an asylum. Rembrandt has perhaps faired the worst, with a 1985 slashing and acid attack on Danae in the Hermitage by a Lithuanian national declared insane by the courts. In addition, a 41-year-old psychiatric patient sprayed Rembrandt’s Nightwatch in the Rijksmuseum with acid in 1990, marking the third incident in the history of a work that had previously been slashed in 1911 and 1975.

2004-09-07 Rembrandt Nightwatch Rijksmuseum AmsterdamHowever, in recent years there has been a tremendous amount of damage done to art objects that are even more difficult to protect, either from thieves, mentally-ill vandals, or just rowdy individuals. Public monuments, both architectural and sculptural, that are outside of the considerably safer museum environment, are more difficult to safeguard, even with the increasing presence of security cameras. Italy’s fountains are seemingly impossible to protect. In 1997, the Neptune fountain by Ammannati was vandalized twice, with the second incident resulting in the breaking off of one of the horses’ hooves. The city had recently installed eight remote control television cameras, though their view was obstructed by scaffolding. That same year, Bernini’s Four Rivers Fountain in Rome’s Piazza Navona was damaged when three men climbed onto the statue and broke the tail of a sea-serpent. (One of the perpetrators vowed to sue the city over damage to his foot incurred during the incident).

More recent events have brought the issue again to the fore, with a string of attacks in both Rome and Venice in June and July of 2004. In Venice, a statue of St. Francis and another of St. Mark the Evangelist at the Redentore church on the Giudecca were broken, and a capital on the Doge’s Palace in Piazza San Marco was attacked with a hammer as well, shattering a carving of Moses with the Tablets of the Law into 17 pieces. In Rome, statues were damaged in the area around Piazza del Popolo, and Bernini’s Fontana delle Api was another target, with one of the bees being defaced.

But what to do? Responses are invariably similar. Giorgio Rossini, the superintendent of Venice’s environmental and architectural heritage responded to recent events saying, “We can’t cordon off the entire city.” Following the 1997 Bernini incident, the mayor of Rome expressed a certain amount of defeatism as well, remarking “we cannot militarize the city”. Nonetheless, just that has been suggested. While fines have been raised and alarms and security cameras are multiplying, others have demanded more drastic measures. Art historian Federico Zeri has called for round-the-clock guards posted at the most important monuments, even employing the army for such purposes, and civilian “anti-vandalism squads” have also been considered. But as with the cases of theft, the issue of balancing accessibility and security remains the main consideration. Attempting to truly ensure the safety of these objects — particularly those to which the public has enjoyed regular access — might upset that balance. Certainly, every technological device that might improve security should be employed, and yet, ultimately, no work is safe from determined vandals and thieves. We must make particularly hard choices to decide how much we are willing to lose in our attempt to safeguard the objects with which history has entrusted us.