June 24, 2020

The Palette is available to all interested with an e-Subscription

In this issue:

Eight ways museums could make the most of the coronavirus crisis
'Ultimate masterpiece': Van Eyck drawing— rarely seen due to fragility—goes on display for first time in a decade
Stolen Banksy honoring Bataclan victims found in Italy
British Airways to sell art collection to raise cash
Mystic’s Maritime Art Gallery to close as marine art takes a dive
Suburban art teacher didn’t like school’s bare walls. So he did something about that.
Furniture restorer disfigures Murillo’s 17th-century Virgin Mary—and charges owner €1,200






Are they open?

Updated on June 21

  Are they open?

Updated on June 21


Eight ways museums could make the most of the coronavirus crisis
Failure to seize this opportunity to make changes would be a graver error than any breach of etiquette

The challenges facing the cultural sector as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic are so serious and multifaceted that we are still trying to map the landscape, never mind cross it. So it may seem in questionable taste to start hunting for opportunities. But if museums emerge from this crisis with their old structures and behaviours intact—if they fail to seize this sudden fluidity to make changes—this would be a graver error than any breach of etiquette. Here, then, for consideration are eight such opportunities that a number of senior figures in American art museums recently identified in a series of interviews, in approximately ascending order of ambition.

Adopt new metrics of success
Museum leaders have long complained that using visitor figures as a key performance indicator distorts and trivialises. Yet it is still the statistic most frequently cited by and about museums (with this publication’s annual survey, Art’s Most Popular, a closely read report card). The pandemic has created a situation in which the health and safety of visitors and staff are at odds with record-breaking attendance, and the future of international travel is uncertain. The debate has already been fought and won: broader metrics focusing on the quality of the visitor experience are readily available. Intellectual rigour is now conveniently aligned with institutional self-interest. 

Be more strategic about exhibitions…
Forward planning of temporary exhibitions has ground to a halt. Travel itineraries have been suspended, contractual obligations abandoned with surprisingly little acrimony and plans for exhibition development put on hold. This gives museums the breathing space—and impetus—for a more strategic approach to exhibitions. What does this mean in practice? First, ensuring that plans are driven more by institutional goals than curatorial interests (though one would hope there was plenty of overlap). Second, that exhibition ideas are more thoroughly reviewed as they progress, like the greenlighting process in film development. Third, that permanent collections figure more prominently in the selection of themes and objects. Fourth, that the sheer volume is turned down.

… and education programmes
There are good reasons why museum education can tend towards the anarchic. Funders often have an agenda that exercises a strong gravitational pull—programming may have to follow the money. It is also easier to say “yes” than “no” to enthusiastic, poorly remunerated staff with their own agendas, especially when programmes are low on the PR radar and formal evaluation is intermittent. And while museums have sought to compensate for the withdrawal of public funding for arts education, there remains a vast mismatch between the ocean of unmet needs and anything any museum can do to fill them. The result can be a smorgasbord of micro-initiatives. At a time when resources are constrained and many funders are relaxing restrictive grant conditions, focused programmes with clear, measurable goals will have a stronger rationale.

Engage your neighbourhood
The positioning of cultural institutions as “community anchors” alongside educational and health institutions has gained currency over the past decade, as the arts have embraced a role in place-making. This comes with a whole set of agendas for deep engagement in local economic and social development. Museums generally are somewhat behind the performing arts, and art museums perhaps more so. Engaging deeply with the community in the few square miles around the museum would appear to be not only aligned with the zeitgeist but, now, a rational strategy in a period in which cultural tourism is likely to be in retreat.

Deepen local partnerships
Right now, there is an unprecedented level of collegiality between cultural organisations in given localities. The need to figure out the logistical complexities of reopening, the wide variation in local circumstances and the strong instinct to huddle, given the sheer weirdness of the situation, have all pushed in the same direction. This offers opportunities for partnership beyond co-ordinated reopening—to revisit the sort of back-office sharing that was explored in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and then largely dropped. But also for more profound partnerships in areas such as education and public programming, where local and regional cultural coalitions can take on agendas that are beyond the reach of single institutions. 

Nurture the virtual community
Constraints on physical travel have led to a stampede of online initiatives to retain contact with audiences. The positive side is that museums with great content are building virtual communities that extend well beyond their physical visitors faster than they could have imagined pre-pandemic. These are new audiences with which they will want to develop enduring online relationships. However, we are also drowning in online content of variable quality unsupported by anything approaching sustainable business models. This is the moment when the significance of virtual audiences for the fulfilment of museums’ missions can be more fully and permanently recognised, and institutional priorities realigned to reflect that reality. 

Recalibrate the organisational culture
Museums are conservative institutions with conservative cultures, appropriately so. Their primary obligation is the stewardship of the objects in their care, and as non-profits, they have governance structures that prioritise fiduciary responsibility over entrepreneurial risk-taking. But this can also make them sclerotic, siloed and hidebound. Strategic planning tends to emphasise the planning bit rather than the strategy bit, measuring progress against very concrete goals (such as capital campaign targets, new wings and endowed positions). But in the present chaotic environment, museums have had to abandon these milestones. Mission and values have become a better guide to action than strategic plans. In a time of rapid and almost certainly ongoing change, museums may want to prolong the nimbler, more pragmatic and less perfectionist modus operandi that has been forced upon them.

Harness art to reimagine society
Finally, and perhaps most fundamentally, museums have an opportunity to make a contribution to civic discourse that plays to their intrinsic strengths. It is obvious that many of our political and civic institutions have failed in the promotion of the interests of humanity and the planet. We are entering a period where questioning the status quo ante and its values and priorities is of existential importance. Artists and art museums—looking back to humanity’s highest aspirations and forward in the imaginative processes that are at the core of artistic expression—can surely play a leading role in the framing of that broader debate. In this chaos, there is a mandate. The Art Newspaper


'Ultimate masterpiece': Van Eyck drawing— rarely seen due to fragility—goes on display for first time in a decade
Exhibited from today at Dresden’s Kupferstich-Kabinett, the picture of an old man is the only undisputed drawing by the Dutch Old Master that survives

A rare drawing by Jan van Eyck is to be put on public display for the first time in ten years as a highlight in an exhibition at Dresden’s Kupferstich-Kabinett to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the museum of prints and drawings.

The silverpoint drawing of an old man, dating from 1435-40, is “the ultimate masterpiece,” says Stephanie Buck, the director of the Kupferstich-Kabinett. “We can’t show it very often” because of its fragility. It is the only undisputed drawing by van Eyck that survives and is “certainly the only one that was preparatory to a painting,” Buck says.

When the drawing was last shown in 2010, it was just for a week. This time it will on display for a month, from today to 13 July, at Dresden’s royal Residential Palace, alongside more than 200 other works from three centuries of collecting at the museum. About 60 drawings from the show, including the van Eyck, will travel to New York for an exhibition at the Morgan Library next year.

“It will be the first time it’s ever been on a plane,” Buck says.

The drawing was probably one of about 200 in an album that became part of the Dresden collection in 1774. It was a preparatory study for a painting now in Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum that was once believed to portray Niccolò Albergati, a cardinal and diplomat credited with smoothing relations between France and England during the 100 Years’ War. This theory is now deemed improbable and the sitter’s identity is unknown.

To the left of the man’s face, van Eyck wrote 16 lines of notes have been deciphered with ultra-violet light to reveal precise colour notations for the face – including grey beard stubble that is not on the drawing but appears in the painting.

Other works in the Dresden exhibition, which is supported by the Sparkasse financial group, include a large-format paper installation by Monika Grzymala as well as drawings by Bernardo Bellotto, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Caspar David Friedrich, Otto Dix, Oskar Kokoschka, Pablo Picasso and Gerhard Richter. The show, called 300 Years Keeping in the Present, runs until 14 September. The Art Newspaper


Stolen Banksy honoring Bataclan victims found in Italy

Italian authorities on Thursday unveiled a stolen artwork by British artist Banksy that was painted as a tribute to the victims of the 2015 terror attacks at the Bataclan music hall in Paris.

L’Aquila prosecutors said the work was recovered on Wednesday during a search of a home in the countryside of Tortoreto, near the Adriatic coast in the Abruzzo region’s Teramo province. It had been “hidden well" in the attic, prosecutors said.

No arrests have been made.

French officials last year announced the theft of the piece, a black image appearing to depict a person mourning that was painted on one of the Bataclan’s emergency exit doors.

Ninety people were killed at the Bataclan on Nov. 13, 2015, when Islamic extremists invaded the music hall, one of several targets that night in which a total of 130 people died.

Authorities said they were still investigating how the artwork arrived in Italy, and the role of any Italians potentially involved. They said the discovery was the fruit of a joint Italian-French police investigation.

At a news conference Thursday in L’Aquila, a French embassy liaison officer, Maj. Christophe Cengig, said the Bataclan owners were informed that the work had been recovered.

“It belongs to the Bataclan, it belongs to all of France in a sense,” he said. The owners, he added, “were thrilled, very happy.”

L’Aquila Prosecutor Michele Renzo said authorities believed the motivation for the theft was financial, not ideological.

Some Chinese nationals were living in the Tortoreto home, but they appeared unaware that the work was there. Teramo Carabinieri Col. Emanuele Pipola said someone else had access to the attic. WSB


British Airways to sell art collection to raise cash
British Airways is selling some of its multi-million-pound art collection to raise cash to help it through the coronavirus pandemic.

The collection includes art by Damien Hirst, Bridget Riley and Peter Doig, with one work believed to have been valued at more than £1m.

It is understood at least 10 pieces have been identified for sale, although exactly which ones is unclear.

BA has seen a collapse in air travel and is set to cut thousands of jobs.

Last week, BA boss Alex Cruz warned that the cash-strapped airline's survival was at stake unless there was a drastic restructuring of the business.

London's Evening Standard newspaper, which first reported news of the art sell-off, said auction house Sotheby's had been brought in to arrange sales as soon as possible.

Other works in BA's collection are pieces by Tracey Emin, Anish Kapoor and Chris Ofili. The airline would not comment on the sale, nor identify which works would go under the hammer.

However, the most valuable piece is believed to be by Bridget Riley and worth, according to one source, "at least seven figures". It was bought many years ago and has risen substantially in value.

Much of the collection was amassed with the help of London-based curators Artwise, which worked with BA for 17 years until 2012 and bought more than 1,500 works for the airline.

'Admired collection'
Founders Susie Allen and Laura Culpan said in a statement to the BBC: "Generally we purchased and commissioned works by artists early in their careers, so during this time many of the works have grown in value - although this was never the intention behind the collection."

It established BA as one of the big corporate supporters of contemporary art. The works would rotate around BA offices globally, they said.

"We are of course very sad to see some of the key treasures from the BA art collection being put up for auction - a collection which, in its day, was so admired and was the first of its kind within the airline industry. However, we do understand that these are unprecedented times," Artwise said.

Like most airlines, BA's finances have been hit by the grounding of aircraft due to the virus lockdown. The airline proposes to make 12,000 staff redundant, with more than 1,000 pilot roles at risk.

BA said it was acting now to protect as many jobs possible and insisted no final decision had been made on the number of jobs to go.

Plans for job cuts have sparked a bitter row with unions, and BA has been accused by some MPs of using the pandemic as an excuse to restructure the airline. BBC


Mystic’s Maritime Art Gallery to close as marine art takes a dive
The market for seascapes has plunged and younger generations are scuttling galleries’ hopes for a new collector base

For 51 years, the Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut has had a Maritime Art Gallery, devoted to paintings by contemporary marine artists that are for sale to the public. But this summer, the gallery will close for good.

The reasons behind the closure include a soft market generally for this type of work and the fact that the museum, which like many others has been seeking donations to keep itself afloat during the Covid-19 pandemic, is no longer willing to subsidise the art space. “There were a lot of costs associated with this gallery, and it needed to generate more revenue, which it wasn’t able to do,” says Monique Foster, the gallery’s director since 2015.

That is not to say that sales have been nonexistent. The gallery stages four exhibitions annually—a show of miniatures, a display of work by artists around the world, a plein air exhibition and a themed Spring show—and between 100 and 150 paintings were sold every year, with the average price at around $2,000, Foster says. Still, artists received half of the sales receipts, and the gallery’s take did not cover all the expenses of maintaining the space, paying salaries and promoting the exhibitions.

The larger issue may be that marine art generally has a declining audience. “It’s like brown furniture,” Foster said, referring to antiques. “So many of the big collectors aren’t buying more marine art, and their children don’t want it.”

Commercial art galleries around the country report much the same thing. “Older gents and ladies who have bought marine art in the past have passed on, and the next generation isn’t as interested,” says Peter Kiernan, the owner of Maritime Arts Gallery in Bonita Springs, Florida. He adds that, in the past decade, 20%-25% of the gallery’s sales now are of landscapes, still-lifes and figurative subjects. Similarly, Mike Attaway, the owner of Scrimshaw Gallery in Sausalito, California, says that around 80% of his sales are maritime-related art, and the rest are “handmade objects in wood or bronze,” as well as scrimshaw. “Sales of marine art are declining.”

At Annapolis Marine Art Gallery in Maryland, gallery manager Nancy McPherson noted that the average painting there sells for $1,000, while Bill Bourne, a department head in charge of maritime art at Eldred’s auction house on Cape Cod, identified the average sale price of marine paintings “in the $1,000 to $1,500 range”. Eldred’s at least continues to hold maritime art sales twice a year. Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Bonhams used to have dedicated sales of marine paintings but discontinued them, now mixing these works into other auctions. The Art Newspaper


Suburban art teacher didn’t like school’s bare walls. So he did something about that.
For over a decade, Jeriel McGinness has worked with students, parents, teachers at Creekside Middle School on mosaics that not only look good but also have meaning.

When Creekside Middle School in Woodstock opened in 2007, art teacher Jeriel McGinness couldn’t stand the bare walls. So he got to work.

The result: Colorful mosaics now fill the halls and much of the school grounds.

Beyond esthetics, they’ve marked the death of a student from a terminal illness and helped soothe students with special needs.

McGinness isn’t solely responsible. He says the mosaics are the work of “easily 3,000” students over the years. Parents, grandparents and other teachers have contributed, too, helping put up what McGinness estimates to be probably more than 10,000 individual tiles that make up the works of art.

“There’s literally thousands of people who have contributed to making the tiles, glazing, cutting glass,” says McGinness, 57.

He began what’s become a years-long project with a piece in a once-barren hallway. Titled “Creekside Mosaic,” it depicts a prairie — representatng the surrounding landscape — with a creek and a falcon, the school mascot. Though it appears to be a single piece, there are three sections completed at different times.

After the first section was installed in 2008, students added to it over the next nine years. It’s about 80 feet across.

To start, McGinness enlisted Pam Maxwell, an artist who lived in Dundee. He’d seen pictures of mosaics she helped another teacher create in Elburn.

Maxwell, 65, who since has moved to Minnesota, says she helped McGinness learn the basics of making mosaics.

“He was really good about getting everybody on board and got everybody enthused and excited about it,” Maxwell says.

Since that first effort, McGinness says he’s had families create tiles or imprint clay for mosaics, enlisting their help at open houses and parent-teacher conferences.

“One dad at parent conferences didn’t know what to do, so he took out his Blackberry phone and pressed it in the clay,” McGinness says.

Students have contributed with shoe and thumb prints, McGinness says, and students in wheelchairs have pressed clay on their wheelchair tires to create tread marks.

“It’s not just eye-capturing,” Michael Wheatley, the school principal, says of the art.

He sees students with sensory-processing disorders walking the halls and feeling the textures — “that sensory piece for some of the students that need that.”

One mosaic, titled “Hope Springs Eternal,” stands about two stories tall and honors Hope Fuller, a Creekside student who died in 2010 from a brain tumor and “all students who themselves or their families are battling life-threatening illnesses.”

Hope’s parents, Deb and Jay Fuller, are teachers in the far northwest suburban school district.

“We were really honored,” Deb Fuller says. “It’s just powerful to know that your child will still be remembered.”

The center of the mosaic has four yellow frogs, Hope’s favorite creature, and four large yellow and red tulips to announce spring. Another of Hope’s favorites, a dragonfly, sits at each of the mosaic’s four corners, three of them appearing to fly inward and one outward.

“We kind of talked about that representing Hope’s journey to heaven,” her mother says.

Other mosaics McGinness has overseen at the school include a brightly colored skull, fish and bubbles over a water fountain, an urn, a peacock, a guitar and some smaller framed images that sit at wheelchair level near a special-needs classroom.

McGinness also completed an indoor mosaic of the school sign with help from two students he got involved, telling them they could work on it if they got their grades up.

McGinness and Charles Jones, the art teacher at Prairiewood, the adjoining elementary school, completed a mosaic last summer on the back of the school sign outdoors. It highlights the prairie landscape with cranes — real ones sometimes are spotted on the school grounds — and a creek.

“I learned a lot in the process just by watching McGinness and listening to him,” Jones says.

Wheatley says the mosaics have added to what “Creekside really is” and that the school will miss him when he retires in a few years.

He says, “Jeriel’s the type of guy that, whoever we have to hire to come in, I feel bad for because there’s some pretty big shoes to fill.” Chicago Sun Times


Furniture restorer disfigures Murillo’s 17th-century Virgin Mary—and charges owner €1,200
Spain’s art conservation community say the country needs to better regulate the industry

The angelic face of the Virgin Mary has been left unrecognisable after a furniture restorer attempted to treat a painting of the Immaculate Conception. Owned by an anonymous Valencia-based collector, the painting—which is a copy of a 17th-century work by the Spanish Baroque artist Bartolomé Esteban Murillo—was sent to an unnamed furniture specialist to be cleaned at a cost of €1,200, according to the Spanish outlet Europa Press. Upon seeing the first attempt the owner requested that the painting be fixed, only to be made worse. The collector has now contacted a trained painting specialist in the hopes of restoring the work.

The incident has sparked debate in Spain’s art conservation community, which says the country needs stricter rules on the restoration of art and heritage. “The works that undergo this type of non-professional intervention can end up irreversibly damaged," says María Borja, one of the vice presidents of Spain’s Professional Association of Restorers and Conservators (ACRE), speaking to Europa Press. She adds that setting up regulations for the industry is one of the fundamental objectives of ACRE.

This case is the latest in a long line of infamous botched restorations in the country. In 2012, an Ecce Homo fresco in the Santuario de la Misericordia in Borja was “treated” by a well-intentioned but untrained parishioner—the resulting distorted image became known as the “Monkey Christ”. A few years later in 2016, a 16th-century polychrome statue of Saint George and the dragon in Estella in northern Spain was painted lurid shades, and then again in 2018, a group of Renaissance-period religious sculptures in Ranadoiro, also in the north, fell foul of well-meant but disastrous amateur restoration efforts, after they were painted over in gaudy colours.

Borja says that non-professional restorations like this often only come to light through viral social media ridicule but that there are many more examples out there. "They are unfortunately much more frequent than you think," she says. "Spain's cultural heritage is in a fairly vulnerable situation." The Art Newspaper

Posted May 26, 2020


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