2017-02-13 Mucha Slav Epic Veletrzni Palac Prague

Mucha’s “Slav Epic” On Tour: What Story Will the Canvases Tell after Two Years of Traveling?

Ruth Osborne
2017-02-13 Mucha Slav Epic Slavs in Original Homeland

The Slav Epic No. 1: The Slaves in Their Original Homeland (1912). Courtesy: Mucha Foundation.

In one month, an exhibition of turn-of-the-century Czech artist Alphonse Mucha’s Slav Epic (1910-1926) will open to the public at the National Art Center in Tokyo.

The artist’s grandson, John Mucha, has been fighting this action for the past several months.  The contracts have been signed, the decision gone to court, and the massive works will now likely be flown from their home at the Veletrzní Palác (leased to Prague’s Czech National Gallery, where the works have been housed since 2010) to go to Japan, then China, then possibly Korea, and afterwards America. These twenty massive canvases (largest measuring nearly 20′ x 26′) could be traveling for up to two years. So why does this still matter to ArtWatch?

Because the decision made by the owners of these artworks will cause irrevocable damage to them without promise of securing a permanent home for them, as was stipulated upon the artist’s gifting the works to the city of Prague with American philanthropist Charles Crane in 1928. When canvases this large are rolled up, transported on airplanes (despite whatever preventative measures of safety are taken), then unrolled again for several shows over the course of two years, the works will no doubt experience alterations in their makeup. The works themselves are composed of both oil and tempera paints applied to canvas, which will react uniquely to the change in temperature and humidity from Eastern Europe to Asia to the North America.

2017-02-13 Mucha Slav Epic Installation 2011

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

Paintings restorer at the Slovak Academy of Sciences Zuzana Poláková states that “The more Mucha is handled, the less Mucha there is […] Works from Mucha’s Epic have been exhibited abroad several times in the past [during Mucha’s lifetime] and they have always needed restoration. Damage is caused by the repeated rolling and unrolling of the canvases and changes in climate.” Not only are conservators making appeals for the works’ well-being, but so is the Association for the Conservation and Development of Cultural Heritage in the Czech Republic. This nationally-recognized group of conservators has noted one piece of the Epic‘s history that the city of Prague would like to forget: a 1936 investigation by the city council recommending the works not be permitted to travel abroad after having been seriously damaged. While Alphonse himself was still around to restore damages in the 1930s, he is no longer should anything come of this new tour. The works were reportedly hidden during WWII and resurfaced afterwards to be displayed at a chateau in the Moravian town of Moravsky Krumlov in 1963, where they were housed until being wrestled from the town in 2010 and sent to Prague. According to Czech news sources and grandson John’s interview last year with Radio Prague, there are already damages incurred during their installation at the Prague City Gallery.

2017-02-13 Mucha Slav Epic Veletrzni Palac Prague

Mucha’s Slav Epic installed at Veletrzni Palac in Prague. Courtesy: The Naked Tour Guide Prague.


2017-02-13 Mucha golden donut gallery Prague

Visualization of the proposed golden donut gallery. Courtesy: Radio Prague/Arpema/

John has further stated that : “[Alphonse] gave it to the city of Prague on condition that it build a pavilion in which it could be exhibited to the public. But the city has not fulfilled that condition.” This issue is a whole other kettle of fish on its own, as the city council’s desire to rehouse the works in a new “golden donut” gallery building without consulting the wider public has been criticized – by one of its district’s own mayors. The works were, in John’s words, “given to Prague, but only as a vehicle, as a gift to the people and the Nation,” NOT to the city Gallery, and “crown jewels don’t usually travel. It was reported by The Economist that, while the city of Prague is arguing they own the works and therefore they have the ability to do with them as they please, that they are also arguing that they cannot be held to account for the artist’s stipulation that the works are provided a permanent exhibition space. Documents from the city’s archives are serving to support the city’s argument that it Crane, not Mucha, who gifted the works. Essentially, they want every benefit that owning this art provides – money from visitors to their gallery, money from exhibit loans – without actually caring for their ongoing preservation if they are to be enjoyed. None of the long-term duties of caring for the works as their original creator thought he had secured. What a surprise! Representatives from the city of Prague (owner of the Prague City Gallery) as well as the National Center for Art in Tokyo have still refused to give comment.

It can be obvious when those in positions of “ownership” of a building or a work of art will have their way, despite the opinions of others in society who care. It can feel pointless to work against one side in favor of having its way because the other side is working against the current of “just the way things are”. But maintaining awareness of wrongs done is not pointless. Opening up dialogue on what is truly the best way to care for art is not ineffective. To say that is to assume that one person’s actions need not be held accountable because they are not impacting another group. To say that is to assume complacency, and take a naïve view that there are no serious wrongs done to things that matter and have an impact on people. To deny dialogue about proper care for works of art is to deny their impact on society.

2017-02-13 Mucha Slav Epic Apotheosis of Slavs

The Slav Epic No. 20: The Apotheosis of the Slavs, Slavs for Humanity (1926). Courtesy: Mucha Foundation.

We’ve covered the case of another massive – and extremely unique – canvas being taken from its long-time home to travel around the world, and then be installed just down the road; in this instance, it was a large Matisse installation from the Barnes Collection being rippled and torn while in transit. For details on Barnes’ Matisse – painted in-situe in the collector’s original home in Merion, PA – before and after it was transported to its new home in Philadelphia, see herehere, and here. More recently, the Seward House Museum in Auburn, NY had decided it would be better to replace its original Thomas Cole – commissioned specially for the house’s owner and given a place of honor in his parlor – with a replica that would supposedly be easier to care for. And, perhaps, so that the operating Foundation could benefit from the sale of the original? While staff at the Seward House have confirmed to ArtWatch that the original has still not returned to the House nor appeared at auction, the staff also remain unaware of what the Board’s intentions might be in the future.

The city of Prague’s ability to rationalize sending Mucha’s Slav Epic on a two year tour also echoes the attitude of the Delaware Art Museum’s Board, when it decided a few years ago to leverage some of its works in order to pay off loans from a recent building expansion. It seems neither the artist nor his/her surviving works have much say in how they are treated less than 100 years after their creation.

If the court decides in favor of the city of Prague, the works will be on display for just two months at the National Art Center in Tokyo (8 March-5 June 2017), before traveling to China, where the works will be shown for just shy of three months at the Nanjing Museum (14 July-8 October), the Guangdong Museum (November-January 2018) and the Hunan Provincial Museum in Changsha (February-May 2018). Venues in South Korea and the US are reportedly being negotiated.

2017-02-13 Mucha Slav Epic

Alphonse Mucha with the Slav Epic in the 1920s. Courtesy: Mucha Trust.

2017-02-13 Barnes Foundation Hornick Unbounded Histories

Doing Over Barnes: Is Shaman Drumming Necessary to Connect with Art?

Ruth Osborne

If one is to visit the Barnes Collection in Philadelphia (for the story on its relocation from the original Barnes home in Merion, PA, see here and here), between now and February 19th, one would find something interrupting its experience of the art in this immense and extraordinary collection: shaman drumming and poems to stream on your smartphone as you walk through the galleries.

2017-02-13 Barnes Foundation Hornick Unbounded Histories

Hornick working on “Unbounded Histories”: Ensemble view, Room 23, Barnes Foundation, 2012. Courtesy: The Barnes Foundation.

Painter and sound artist Andrea Hornick is being hosted at the Barnes for an artist’s project, a series of performance programs called “Unbounded Stories”, described on their website as “a sound intervention”:

“The poems subvert the logic of traditional audiotours by offering unexpected narratives and dream-like imagery. Hornick worked for months directly in the collection, putting herself in a trance-like state in order to access the depths of her own psyche, letting the works of art lead her toward stories and images that the mind normally keeps buried. The narratives—deeply personal, and often with a feminist edge—emerged from these sessions.”

Why might the Barnes feel the need to promote another “new way” to encounter the artworks? Why not just let the original collector himself, Albert C. Barnes, whose own meticulously arranged presentations are maintained to this day at their new home in Philadelphia, speak to the viewer? Or, why not take note from Barnes and allow the works to speak for themselves to arrange them in one’s mind?


2017-01-10 Barnes Foundation facade

Barnes Foundation exterior 2012.

We would encourage readers to think critically before a museum or gallery with a program like this meant to enhance and offer new alternative narratives the art. Sometimes art is just art. And while each individual’s response to an artwork is valuable in and of itself, think before you add someone else’s story into the mix and try and force yourself to dig deeper where there may not be much more to dig. The works at the Barnes were purchased, collected, and hung according to how the owner viewed their aesthetic relationships to each other. Is this not enough of a suggested lens for visitors today to use to view the works? Was Barnes not already providing an extremely unique – and yet simultaneously open for others’ further interpretation – experience for whoever walked through the galleries? Is not the program itself is simply forcing upon the viewer something akin to what Barnes – the one who brought all these works together in the first place – was already doing in his home before all was disrupted by the powers that be in Philadelphia – who had no personal foundation in his collection – in just to plop it on the side of the Ben Franklin Parkway?


We would argue that this program is in fact pulling one’s attention away from the art itself. And listening to someone else’s superimposed overtures about artworks to try and pull out deeper meanings in one’s psyche that may just not be there is potentially dangerous for the pressure it puts on the viewer/listener.  Philadelphia attorney, engineer, and former student at the original Barnes Foundation, Nick Tinari, provides some insight:

“The irony is that the original building was replete with Barnes’ collection of antique clocks and you would hear them ring and echo throughout the galleries, not to mention the sounds of the birds outside in the arboretum. The only thing one can possibly hear there now is the massive construction project ongoing out the south-facing walls.”

If the reader is indeed looking for a new narrative through which to understand the Barnes Foundation? We suggest they also consider the very informative 2009 documentary “The Art of the Steal”.

2017-01-10 Barnes Foundation Art of the Steal



By Ruth Osborne

2014-03-07 - Corcoran Beaux-Arts lion

Corcoran Fiasco: Troublesome Plans for the Capitol’s Oldest Art Museum

Ruth Osborne
2016-12-19 Save the Corcoran

Save the Corcoran website.

It seems there will be no end to the ravaging of great collections by museum boards without any other hope in sight. Just as the financial distress with the Barnes yanked this famous collection from its roots in Merion, PA, to a pretentiously zen warehouse in Philadelphia in 2012, so too does impending financial doom threaten to tear apart Washington’s Corcoran Gallery of Art and College of Art + Design.

Economic distress began in 2012 when the Corcoran issued a statement reporting their intentions to “implement plans to ensure its long-term stability and attain a new level of vitality and excellence.” Without the aid of federal funding, their need for $100 million in renovation and maintenance costs had presented them with an insurmountable challenge. Responding to this, they announced the possibility of relocation:

“So, to move toward a robust and successful future for the Corcoran, we are evaluating all of our options for the building. Just as the Corcoran moved in 1897 to accommodate its growing collection, one of the clear options now is to consider relocating to a purpose-built, technologically advanced facility that is cost-effective to maintain.”[1]

As Lee Rosenbaum (CultureGrrl) reported, the main issue at hand is the imminent breaking up of the collection. The Corcoran had already been through several series of major deaccessions since 1979, which were renewed in recent years.  There were even suggestions that some items had been sold against no-sale restrictions from their benefactors, though this was ultimately proven a false accusation. The dismembering of such a collection, or the disjoining of a collection from its historic setting, is extremely unsettling for ArtWatch.

2014-03-07 Corcoran Gallery interior

Inside the Corcoran Gallery’s 1897 building.

Not only does it bring to mind collections that have suffered damages in forced travel from their long-standing home. It sets out the possibility of a precious collection being forever divorced from its original donors’ wishes and set forth on a new trajectory of blockbuster exhibitions, when the public has always had the opportunity to visit the collection and to experience it within its magnificent 100+ year-old home setting. What is to become of these works that will now be removed from the walls of their Beaux-Arts dwelling, just steps from the White House? Will their history within the Corcoran, and the historic moment of American collecting it represents, simply be dissolved?


2014-03-07 - Picasso Le Tricorne Seagram Building

Picasso’s Le Tricorne at the Seagram Building.


Meanwhile, just a few weeks ago it was also reported that Picasso’s “Le Tricorne” mural was in danger of being removed, at great risk to its fragile condition, from the landmarked Seagram Building in New York City. All this simply because the building’s current owner real-estate developer Aby Rosen, thinks this Picasso is a “rag.” Even more than with the Corcoran’s collection, one must consider the holistic visual experience that will no longer be experienced by future generations. The assault on historically housed works of art is reaching epidemic proportions. Visiting the Barnes collection at its new home on the Ben Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia, there is now a clear “dis-connect” between the works and their collector’s original arrangement, and the new replica building itself, with its interrupting spaces of blank  walls and glassed-in gardens.


2014-03-07 - Barnes Foundation exterior Philadelphia

Barnes Foundation exterior 2012.

After the Corcoran’s initial press release in June of 2012, alternatives were suggested so that the collection need not relocate. The Gallery’s former head of public relations and marketing, Roberta Faul-Zeitler, recommended that either the College housed at the Corcoran (since 1890) should move to a new building, or that the collection be affiliated with another premier National Museum. Among those suggested as new affiliates for the Corcoran collection were the National Gallery of Art, National Portrait Gallery, and Smithsonian American Art Museum, all in D.C.[2] As of recent news, it turns out the works will succumb to the massive appetite of the National Gallery of Art. [3] The collection will now be brought into the centralized system of museums along the Mall as if there were not something to be treasured in the fact that the Corcoran is in fact Washington, D.C.’s oldest private art museum.

2014-03-07 - Barnes Foundation hallway

Hallway at the new Barnes Foundation building, 2012.

Meanwhile, the Corcoran College of Art + Design is to be absorbed within George Washington University. As discussions over who would “take” the College swung back-and-forth between the University of Maryland and GWU over the past few years, it would be remiss to say that this portion of the Corcoran’s closure has been without its battling giants.[4] The motivation for the Corcoran to select GWU may have been unclear at first, but in the end has turned out to be founded on just what one might expect: “money, risk and control.” The Washington Post further reports that “The Corcoran also will seek to be released from its founding purpose as a gallery — chartered by financier and philanthropist William Wilson Corcoran in 1869 and now to be redefined in 2014.”[5]  The flip-flopping negotiations over the past 3 years surely must not generate trust from the 550 students being tossed about in the middle of it all.

A student organization, “Save the Corcoran,” has sprung up around this fiasco:

 “Proposing a more open and honest dialogue about the institution’s future, the group is rooted in a sincere effort to collaborate with Corcoran leadership on a solution that will address the gallery’s needs while maintaining its historic home and identity.”

In a letter on their website, the donors, artists, faculty, students, and alumni state that:  “we as a community first stood together, united in our concern, confusion and outrage over the proposed sale of the historic Ernest Flagg building that houses our beloved Corcoran.” Their last effort in this hapless struggle was to prevent the sale of the landmark Corcoran building on 17th St. with a petition in 2012. Signers have protested against what they refer to as the “suicidal sale” of one of the Capitol’s “most valuable historic and cultural assets.”[6]


2014-03-07 - Corcoran Beaux-Arts lion

2014-03-07 – Corcoran Beaux-Arts lion

This imminent threat to the Corcoran recalls what happened to the Barnes Collection in Merion, PA when the Board encountered financial troubles. It is also difficult to ignore the permanent damage to works of art caused by relocation, even by the most capable and knowledgeable hands. The Burrell Collection in Scotland is also facing this issue once the building’s four-year renovation begins and its pieces are shuttled around the world to raise funds for its costly venture. The selling and abuse of heritage collections has, unfortunately, seemed inescapable in recent years. Lee Rosenbaum has most recently brought to light a question that should be at the forefront of everyone’s mind: now that the Corcoran will cease to build their collection, where will the proceeds (in the tens of millions) go from sales of recent deaccessions?[7] Where is the master scheme behind the haphazard dissemination and dissolution of the Corcoran? How many more venerable institutions will now face dismemberment and asset-stripping in the present spell of financial austerity?


[1] Fred Bollerer (Director and President) and Harry Hopper (Chairman, Board of Trustees), “Statement from the Corcoran Gallery of Art and College of Art + Design,” 6 June 2012. Corcoran Gallery of Art – Corcoran College of Art + Design. (last accessed 21 February 2014).

[2] Lee Rosenbaum, “Corcoran Uproar: Desperate Gamble to Rescue a Foundering D.C. Museum UPDATED,” 6 June 2012, CultureGrrl. (last accessed 21 February 2014).

[3] David A. Smith, “Arts: Washington D.C. lose great art museum,” 6 March 2014. Waco Tribune. (last accessed 6 March 2014).

[4] Nick Anderson, “George Washington University plans for merger with Corcoran College,” 21 February 2014. The Washington Post. (last accessed 6 March 2014).

[5] David Montgomery, “When Corcoran’s partnership didn’t work out as hoped, thoughts turned to a takeover,” 1 March 2014. Washington Post. (last accessed 6 March 2014).

[6] Petition – “Vote NO on the sale of the Corcoran building,” (last accessed 6 March 2014).

[7] Lee Rosenbaum, “Corcoran Dissolution: Whither the Art-Sale Proceeds?” 4 March 2014. CultureGrrl. (last accessed 6 March 2014).