Friday, September 21, 2012

Good money for bad art

This is getting better and better!

A really shabby and botched restoration of a minor work in a small church in Zaragoza, Spain, by an unknown artist (?)/ restorer (?), Cecilia Gimenez, was hailed by many as a real contribution to contemporary art, although it is only fair to add that many others laughed at it. I believe that a description of it as "an intelligent reflection of the political and social conditions of our times" is not far off the mark (lots of laughs here).

After attracting so much attention, it has of course become a celebrity - and celebrity status ultimately leads in only one direction -- money, lots of it.

And according to today's Guardian, this is exactly what is happening.

Now, after the church started to rake in the cash by charging the multitudes who came to view this bizarre restoration, which makes Jesus look like a hairy monkey, the restorer herself wants a cut of the cake. After all, at 4 euros per admission, this is not an insignificant sum. Hilarious.

See, I told you, if a curator of contemporary art had been wise and bought the work outright (when it would have presumably been sold for a song), all this money would now be flowing in a different direction.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Philip Roth, Wikipedia and Oscar Wilde

Philip Roth was understandably annoyed when he wanted to correct a mistake in the Wikipedia entry regarding his book, The Human Stain. Apparently, they did not want to publish his correction about who had inspired his book. While acknowledging that the author of a book is an authority on his or her book, they nevertheless wanted a “secondary source”. Roth addressed them in a letter to the New Yorker and they have since apparently accepted that Roth is an authority on his own book and corrected the mistake.

Of course, the delusion is to suppose that there are necessarily any “secondary sources” in Wikipedia or that there ever can be, given the nature of the enterprise. Many who write entries for it are, naturally enough, interested in the topic about which they write. But many are also interested in themselves and in projecting their own contributions. This results in self-serving and inaccurate articles. In that sense, they are not “secondary sources”, weighing the facts dispassionately or presenting different sides of an argument or different interpretations.

I must say that I frequently consult Wikipedia for this or that, and think of it as a very worthwhile enterprise, one which at the very least guides those who want to learn more. But I never accept its authority on any important matter. It is sheer folly to rely on Wikipedia in any work of scholarship. Of course, one can modify Wikipedia entries. But is it worth the time and effort, when you know that it is not necessarily reliable, and when you know that, in a work of scholarship, you can never quite rely on it?

I have alluded to this before. What the present spat between Wikipedia and Philip Roth highlights is the illusion of “secondary sources”.

Perhaps Wikipedia should adopt as its motto a saying attributed to Oscar Wilde (I read it somewhere but cannot remember where and cannot be sure that the words below are exactly what he wrote, but they are pretty close):

“If you tell the truth, sooner or later you are bound to be found out”

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Titian and Clint Eastwood

The small but great National Gallery exhibition of three Titian masterpieces displayed side by side for the first time since the 18th century was a real delight. One of the three, The Death of Acteon, has been at the National Gallery for years; the other two (Diana and Callisto and Diana and Acteon) were only recently purchased for the nation for about £95 million and will be exhibited alternately in Edinburgh and London.

Acteon is of course doomed from the moment he sees Diana (the goddess of hunting) bathing in all her naked splendour. And the curators have used the occasion to have a real naked woman bathing, whom one can only see through a keyhole. It is quite an imaginative innovation, though it must be tiring for the women (I gather there is a change of women every two hours). 

Peeping through a keyhole implies spying on something that is forbidden or at any rate not on public view. It is a fitting complement to the voluptuous and erotic masterpieces of Titian (they were in fact exhibited for men only in the king’s private apartments in the royal palace in Madrid).

The penalty for spying visually on Diana was death. And the penalty for spying on a naked woman through a keyhole is…..?

Isn’t contemporary art designed to make us think about such things, about our relation to the woman seen through the keyhole in this instance? Or about being a peeping Tom in a public place? Or about exhibitionism? Or about secret fantasies? 

This was certainly more interesting than gazing vacuously at beach pebbles and filing cabinets.

While this exhibition was on, another potential exhibit for a museum of contemporary art came to my notice, though no one has commented on it in that context, as far as I can tell.

It was Clint Eastwood talking to an empty chair (it starts at about 03:33) He was addressing the chair as if President Obama had been sitting on it. But there was of course no President Obama.

What would one call it – a Surrealist creation, a Dadaist creation? Conceptual art?

This dialogue between a living actor and an absent President – who could, in the imagination, be almost anyone – is also more interesting than beach pebbles and filing cabinets. In fact, I have actually seen empty chairs in museums of contemporary art that do not arouse nearly as much interest as Clint Eastwood’s empty chair, which is a good deal more imaginative.

I suggest that it would be a good exhibit at a museum of contemporary art. It stimulates the imagination more than the current empty chairs in some art museums. Some museum should rush to buy the copyright. It has, after all, attracted more than half a million viewers in about two weeks - and hence must be the envy of many a gallery.

And those who revile Clint Eastwood’s creation must at least acknowledge that it disturbed them enough to want to revile it.

In other words, it made them think.

Which is a good deal more than can be said for many exhibits in museums of contemporary art.