10 year old mix full of sunshine.
In the dead of the night on March 24th 1970; one of Art history’s most iconic ambassador’s was rocked from its pedestal. Someone had placed a bomb at the feet of Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker, forever mangling the great work. It kind of makes you wonder, exactly what was the point of that? What did Rodin do to anyone? Was his work causing too many people to stop and contemplate life and all its intricacies? Can’t have that, better blow it up- blow it up real good. The popular theory for this particular crime was it was done in protest of the war in Vietnam, possibly by members of the Weather Underground. No one was ever charged. The reasons why people attack great works of art are as varied and complex as the works themselves.
One theory is that (in Italy anyway) they may have an ailment known as Stendhal Syndrome or ‘Tourist’s Disease’; where people become so overwhelmed in the presence of great art they can go temporarily mad. The immediate experience of being surrounded by such beauty is too much to handle for some viewers. Art can have a profound effect and cause people to do erratic things but most people don’t walk around carrying bombs or the odd geologist’s hammer. These are obviously preordained acts of violence. On May 21st 1972 an Australian geologist named Laszlo Toth jumped a barrier in St. Peter’s cathedral in Rome and left Michelangelo’s Pieta missing an arm and the tip of the Virgin Mary’s nose along with other damaging blows. He was immediately apprehended and ended up spending two years in a hospital before being deported. He was never officially charged with a crime. The act itself was greeted with a myriad of reactions ranging from horror to applause. Art restorers masterfully put the Virgin back together again and most tourists are none the wiser.
Restorers had their hands full after Mary Richardson a radical suffragette walked into the National Gallery in London on March 10th 1914 with a meat clever and left 7 large slashes in the Velasquez. The local media of the time treated it like an attempted homicide. Richardson wanted to protest the arrest of a fellow suffragette along with make a critical comment on the male gaze regarding the sexualization of women in western art. Richardson spent 6 months in jail.
William de Rijk had no great agenda when on September 14th 1975 he attacked Rembrandt’s masterpiece The Nightwatch with a kitchen knife. Apparently he had been denied entry the day before because he had arrived after museum hours. This sounds like a case of extreme museum rage, that and the logic of a mentally unwell individual. Along with Mr. Toth, he mentioned God as a mitigating factor to his actions.
The reasons why people attack art can range anywhere from mental breakdowns to political protests to plain old attention seeking. In recent years we’ve had people graffiti on Picassos, vomit on Mondrians and smash Ai Wei Weis for nothing more than a ‘look at me’ moment. The worst part about those indiscretions are the perpetrators are trying to label the vandalism as art. Any half baked idea will always produce the poorest of results and if you’re that desperate for attention, use instagram and twitter like everybody else.
Detroit has definitely seen some better days. The once great city is currently suffering under a paralyzing debt of somewhere in the ballpark of $20 billion dollars. Drastic measures are being considered to stave off their financial hemorrhaging: one of them being; selling off their great collection of artworks. As an art lover and lover of museums, this news was very dismaying for me. If this collection were to go under the gavel, most of it would end up in the hands of private collectors scattered to the wind. Public institutions don’t have the resources to compete with the Eli Broads of the world. Great artworks are one thing, but great collections are another, and Detroit has a great collection. Fearing the worse and before it was too late; we called some friends, packed up the car and headed for the border.
The signs of Detroit’s financial situation were immediately apparent once we crossed the river, but among the abandoned and boarded up buildings sits a white marble jewel. The Detroit Institute of the Arts was never on my museum radar until this potential crisis, but that was a huge oversight on my part. The first thing you are struck by is the building itself, with its size and scope. The collection within it houses roughly 66 000 precious objects. What we found around every corner were breathtaking surprises and bonafide masterpieces. Our first big surprise was Henry Fuseli’s Nightmare. Fuseli is a minor player in the history of art but has managed to create one of its most arresting images. It is tragically a fitting allegory for Detroit’s current woes. Debt sits on her chest like a malevolent spirit producing unrest.
The rumour of the potential sale of the Institute’s collection has furthered been fueled by an appraisal (commissioned by the D.I.A.) of its holdings by Artvest: an art investment firm. Artvest values the total collection at roughly 4.6 billion dollars, but warns that if an actual sale were to take place it may garner only a quarter of its projected worth. Values are based on current art market trends and comparable auction prices. The whole report can be found here. The high prices achieved by the sale of art is a hot button issue for many individuals. I personally believe some things on this earth should be valuable. We need to acknowledge the accomplishments and historical contributions of the makers and innovators among us. Genius is precious and should be rewarded. Overall, Art is worth way more than money, but for the time being the market is one way( a flawed way) to help gauge its worth. Bruegel’s Wedding Dance topped the list of Detroit’s top earners with a potential fetching price of $200 million. Van Gogh was next followed by Picasso.
The pleasure of a truly splendid collection can be found in its range and its depth. Detroit is a spoil of riches for any museum goer, starting with the Diego Rivera murals, along with the Rembrandts, Caravaggios, Fra Angelicos and the list just goes on. Here is a small smattering of what Detroit has to offer:
The idea of selling off this wonderful collection is heart breaking. Hopefully the governor of Michigan will follow through with his pledge and keep supporting the museum. The Detroit Institute of the Arts is worth far more than the 4.6 billion price tag it has been allotted. Do yourself a favour and experience one of the great cultural institutions in North America; it’s worth the trip.
So we finally made it to Francis Bacon and Henry Moore: Terror and Beauty at the Art Gallery of Ontario the other day. I’m a fan of both artists and was curious to see how they would play with one another. In my mind I hadn’t really associated the two of them together and after seeing them side by side, I still don’t. It was an engaging proposition, but ultimately the ties that bind were stretched a little too thin and the two competed rather than complimented; with Bacon eclipsing his fellow Brit.
This may seem like a harsh statement, and some people reading this may totally disagree, but let me explain. Having grown up in and around Toronto my whole life, I’ve been visiting the Art Gallery of Ontario since I was a little kid. My first memory of the museum is the Henry Moore Room. I’ve looked at those sculptures for decades. My relationship with them is like many romantic relationships people experience. When I first encountered them as a child I was curious and confused by them. I was also impressed by their scale; I was literally dwarfed by their size. Then as I grew older I began to truly appreciate how remarkable they were. I began to see how Moore played with the human figure and how sculpture could become drawing. I was smitten. Then more years past, and I started to take my muse for granted. I thought I had become too familiar and had discovered all their mysteries and surprises. My trips to the Henry Moore Room became brief and sometimes infrequent. On some visits to the gallery, I would miss it all together. I had new lovers to visit in the gallery and Moore was put aside. But then more years passed, and I was drawn back to his wonderful plaster people and rediscovered him all over again and fell in love once more. The curators have had people come and play with Henry from time to time over the years including the brilliant pairings of Janet Cardiff’s Motet or Brian Jungen’s Tomorrow Repeated or the not so brilliant blind date of Julian Opie’s This is Shahnoza. Henry seems like a bit of a sounding board for other artists to bounce off of and that’s why Bacon may seem too at odds with Moore.
This exhibition was first staged at Ashmoleon Museum in Oxford England. It’s original title was Flesh and Bone. To me, this title makes so much more sense, it address the visceral element of both these artists. Many of Moore’s forms come straight from his study of bones and Bacon was obsessed with flesh in all its connotations . This ties the two together in a more naturalistic sense. I see Bacon’s work as a painter painting and Moore’s as a sculptor sculpting. They are both trying to understand the human form by taking it apart and putting it back together again. The ingredients they are using are flesh and bone. Terror and Beauty has a much more sensationalist ring to it. It draws associations that are more forced and leading. The juxtapositions between the two artists immediately fall apart when you see them through this lens. Bacon and Moore are much more than Terror and Beauty.
Having said that, there is some tremendous work in the show from both artists. I love Moore’s maquettes, drawing and textures, but Bacon stole the show. This is the first time any significant amount of his work has made it to Canada and that is where my attention was focused. I have seen many of his works live over the years in the collections of many of the major museums I have visited, but it was nice to see a good number of them all together. Like all artists there are good Bacons and bad. The majority of the work was solid, with a nice range from throughout his career. The screaming popes were represented along with a couple of triptychs, but my hands down favourite was the portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne. This demonstrates his supreme handling of paint and the closer you get to it the more compelling it becomes.
I left the exhibit satisfied and fortunate that I live in a city that stages shows like this one. Henry will always be there for us in Toronto, but Francis will be moving along on the 20th of July; so make your way to The Art Gallery of Ontario to pay your respects, just ignore all that Terror and Beauty nonsense.