You’ve had long enough

I loved the photograph chosen to head up this witty and insightful article by Jason Farago, art critic for The New York Times, about that Parisian “security hazard, educational obstacle and unsatisfying bucket-list item”.

It’s time to take down the Mona Lisa
Some 80 percent of visitors, according to the Louvre’s research, are here for the Mona Lisa — and most of them leave unhappy. Content in the 20th century to be merely famous, she has become, in this age of mass tourism and digital narcissism, a black hole of anti-art who has turned the museum inside out. …

In a poll of British tourists earlier this year, the Mona Lisa was voted the “world’s most disappointing attraction,” beating out Checkpoint Charlie, the Spanish Steps, and that urinating boy in Brussels. If curators think that they are inspiring the next generation of art lovers, they are in fact doing the opposite. People come out of obligation, and leave discouraged. …

The Louvre does not have an overcrowding problem per se. It has a Mona Lisa problem. No other iconic painting — not Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” at the Uffizi in Florence, not Klimt’s “Kiss” at the Belvedere in Vienna, not “Starry Night” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York — comes anywhere close to monopolizing its institution like she does. And if tourist numbers continue to rise, if last year’s 10 million visitors become next year’s 11 or 12, the place is going to crack.

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I love photos of people taking photos, and there are more in a previous Times article from when the painting was recently moved.

Want to see the Mona Lisa? Get in line
Once they get past the metal detectors, ticket holders are herded like sheep in a long, coiling line. They shuffle up escalators until they reach the Mona Lisa’s skylit new digs: the Medici Gallery, named after a striking series of wall-to-wall paintings by Rubens also on display there.

Not that anybody notices the Rubens works. As if in an airport check-in area, dozens of visitors rowdily wait their turn in another snaking line. Armed with smartphones, selfie sticks and cameras, they then rush into the final stretch — the Mona Lisa viewing pen. They have roughly one minute there before the guards shoo them away.

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Back inside the Mona Lisa viewing pen, Gregory Jimenez, 25, a college student from Chile, lifted his fancy camera above the heads of a row of people in front of him and took a shot. “You have to take a photo to be able to appreciate her,” he said as he walked out.

Photographs may be a solution, but they’re also part of the problem. People don’t just want to see the Mona Lisa: they want the picture for social media to prove it. Many don’t look at her at all; they focus on their smartphone screens. Some even turn their backs, beam their finest Mona Lisa smile, and take a selfie, as she grins right back.

Update 12/11/2019

News of a different approach from the Louvre.

The ‘Mona Lisa’ Experience: how the Louvre’s first VR project, a 7-minute immersive da Vinci odyssey, works
Visitors can strap themselves into the state-of-the-art headsets and learn snippets of information about Leonardo’s famous sitter, Lisa del Giocondo, as well as his artistic method and the history of the painting. It will immerse them in what could be the surroundings beyond the frame of what is depicted in Leonardo’s masterpiece, and, at the end, invite them to climb aboard an imagined version of Leonardo’s visionary flying machine—a sketch of which is also included in the exhibition—and soar across the landscape surrounding Mona Lisa’s luxuriant loggia.

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Another mysterious Da Vinci

Is it a real Da Vinci? And who really owns it? Not questions about the Salvator Mundi, this time.

Family claims quarter share of disputed Isleworth Mona Lisa
The attribution of a painting known as the Isleworth Mona Lisa has been a matter of dispute for more than a century. Its owners say it was an earlier portrait by Leonardo da Vinci of the same woman, Lisa Gherardini, whose likeness hangs in the Louvre. Other experts believe it is a later copy of the world’s most famous painting.

This week it has emerged that the painting’s ownership is also bitterly contested. Giovanni Battista Protti, a lawyer based in Padua, represents a family who he says owns 25% of the portrait. A civil court in Florence, where the painting has been on show for the past six weeks, has now set a hearing for the ownership dispute for 9 September.

Shakespeare’s dirty books

Here’s an eye-catching headline.

Is Shakespeare’s DNA hiding in the Folger Library’s vault? “Project Dustbunny” aims to find out
The Folger Shakespeare Library’s underground storage facility stretches a full block beneath the building, protected by a nine-inch-thick steel bank-vault door. It houses about 260,000 historically significant books, along with manuscripts, documents, and even costumes saved from 19th-century productions. But could the Capitol Hill research library—the largest collection devoted to the Bard in the world—also contain, quite literally, Shakespeare himself?

That possibility is the longest of long shots, but it’s one potential outcome of an ongoing effort at the Folger dubbed Project Dustbunny—so named because it involves analyzing human DNA and proteins harvested from dirt inside the Folger’s old books.

Heather Wolfe, the Folger’s curator of manuscripts, is keen to distance herself from such nonsense, however.

Wolfe is especially skeptical of this idea; when I met up with her in the conservation lab, before I could even ask about it, she volunteered her lack of enthusiasm for such efforts. “The first thing to say,” she told me, “is our goal isn’t necessarily to identify a famous person who has touched an item. But that’s the thing people are most interested in: Did Shakespeare hold this book?”

Might this be how a future ‘Jurassic Bard’ movie starts?

But why stop there?

Charlotte Brontë’s hair found in ring on Antiques Roadshow, say experts
“I’ve got goosebumps now thinking about it. It’s got a hinge on it, and inside there’s plaited hair, I think it may be the hair of Charlotte Brontë,” the woman told the show’s jewellery expert Geoffrey Munn.

Munn said there was “very little reason to doubt” this.

And here’s another.

Italians try to crack Leonardo da Vinci DNA code with lock of hair
“We found, across the Atlantic, a lock of hair historically tagged ‘Les Cheveux de Leonardo da Vinci’ and this extraordinary relic will allow us to proceed in the quest to carry out research on Da Vinci’s DNA,” said Alessandro Vezzosi, the director of the museum and Agnese Sabato, president of the Leonardo da Vinci Heritage Foundation in a statement.

Da Vinci, the map maker

We’re familiar with Leonardo da Vinci’s sculptural sketches and engineering diagrams, but he was an innovative cartographer too.

How Leonardo da Vinci made a “satellite” map in 1502
It was a feat of technological and symbolic imagination. And it was pretty accurate, too.

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This old map: Da Vinci’s plan of Imola, 1502
A map made by da Vinci would be interesting even if he hadn’t applied his fabled genius to the task. But here, he absolutely did. Besides this being a beautiful map, with its delicate colors and washes, it achieves a technical precision few others did at the time.

Most Renaissance maps are known for their fanciful inclusion of dragons, castles, and undulating mountainsides, and most of them show buildings in elevation, or the “oblique perspective.” But da Vinci’s sought to capture the proportions and relationships between land features more accurately, and he developed new technologies to do so. To make this map of Imola, he may have used the special hodometer and magnetic compass he’d already invented (he’d been fascinated by maps and optics for years). With careful measurements in hand, he drew every “street, plot of land, church, colonnade, gate and square, the whole encompassed by the moat,” writes the Renaissance historian Paul Strathern.

Da Vinci centered the plan in a circle with four crossing lines, representing the points on a compass. And he showed the city ichnographically, “as if viewed from an infinite number of viewpoints,” perhaps inspired by his study of avian flight. It is the earliest such map in existence.

Damien Hirst and Da Vinci in Leeds

Leeds plays host to two artists at completely opposite ends of the art world.

Damien Hirst homecoming announced for Yorkshire sculpture festival
The inaugural Yorkshire Sculpture International festival on Wednesday announced plans to display in Leeds and Wakefield provocative works such as The Virgin Mother, a 10-metre high surgically flayed pregnant woman, and Black Sheep with Golden Horns, part of Hirst’s animals in formaldehyde series.

Hirst grew up in Leeds and followed in the giant footsteps of Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore by going to Leeds Arts University, then called Jacob Kramer College.

He recalled happy, important visits to Leeds Art Gallery. “I never thought I’d ever be famous or considered important or anything like that, but seeing paintings by people like John Hoyland, Francis Bacon, Peter Blake and Eduardo Paolozzi – alongside the aquarium and natural history stuff in the City Museum – opened my mind to art.”

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Meanwhile, at Leeds Art Gallery currently…

Leonardo da Vinci: A life in drawing
The Royal Collection holds the finest surviving group of Leonardo’s drawings – more than 550 sheets that have been together since Leonardo’s death, acquired by King Charles II around 1670. As paper is damaged by light, these drawings cannot be on permanent display.

So to mark this anniversary, we are collaborating with 12 museums and galleries to stage simultaneous exhibitions of Leonardo’s drawings across the United Kingdom from 1 February – 6 May.

The exhibition
12 of Leonardo’s sculptural drawings are presented at the home of sculpture at Leeds Art Gallery. Although none of Leonardo’s sculptures themselves survive, the drawings on display provide an unparalleled insight into his investigations and thinking as an artist, and his reach across parallel areas such as anatomy as well as proposed sculptures and his design for the monumental Sforza monument.

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Update 16/04/2019

And that story about one of his paintings is still rumbling on.

London’s National Gallery defends inclusion of Salvator Mundi in Leonardo show after criticism in new book
If Lewis is correct, then the consensus was that only part of the painting was by the master, with the remainder presumably done by his assistants. Yet in Syson’s National Gallery catalogue entry, the painting is unequivocally attributed to Leonardo and described as “an autograph work”. Exhibition curators are fully entitled to make their own judgements, but it is surprising that Syson’s entry does not at least allude to the suggestion by other scholars that parts of the picture may have been painted by assistants, even if he went on to dismiss this idea.

The lost painting, the Saudi prince and the US president

Well, the ongoing mystery of Da Vinci‘s Salvator Mundi is going in a direction I hadn’t imagined.

Salvator Mundi
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman appears to have ‘lost’ the world’s most expensive painting. The Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece, Salvator Mundi, may hold the key to the Trump-Russia investigation. And, the artwork itself could be evidence of collusion.

Curiously, when I last mentioned this painting here, I compared it to a painting currently in the White House. I never would have thought that Salvator Mundi and Trump would go on to be more directly connected like this.

There can be no certainty when the game is subterfuge, and we need to wait for Mueller’s final report before we reach any conclusions, but if Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi proves to be a key which helps unlock Trump-Russia, “Savior of the World” could prove to be nothing short of prophetic.

Paintings, ridiculous and sublime

The art world is such a strange place.

Artist ‘astounded’ to see his Trump painting hung in the White House
Thomas knew Trump had received the painting as a gift – from a Republican congressman who was already a fan of the artist – because the president had recently called to congratulate him. But he only found out the painting had been hung in the White House – close to the Oval Office – when it popped up as a backdrop during a TV interview broadcast on Sunday evening.

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We’re ‘astounded’ too – why would anyone paint such a horrible thing, even with its incredibly subtle feminist message? Where are the Old Masters when you need them?

Ah, here’s one. I think. Remember that incredibly expensive Da Vinci painting I mentioned earlier, the one with its own instagram account? Well, it looks a little different now to when it was sold for nearly half a billion dollars.

The Da Vinci mystery: why is his $450m masterpiece really being kept under wraps?
It was Martin Clayton, curator of Leonardo’s drawings at the Royal Library in Windsor Castle, who suggested I check out Campbell’s post and drew my attention to the startling differences between the painting after it was cleaned and its appearance now. “Photographs seem to show that, before it was touched up, it was all Leonardo,” he says. “They show the painting mid-restoration – and it looks as if the subsequent retouching has obscured the quality of the face.” Clayton is not questioning the painting’s authenticity. He’s suggesting that a very pure Leonardo has been partly “obscured”.

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This is how it was described in 2011. Not too flatteringly.

Leonardo da Vinci at the National Gallery – the greatest show of the year?
For a long time it was assumed that Leonardo had painted a Saviour of the World, or Salvator Mundi, but that the painting was lost, and all that survived were later engravings and dubious copies, including the newly restored head of Christ here. New research published this summer has now identified this as an authentic Leonardo. Or at least some of it. Maybe. What a difficult painting this is to like, let alone to be affected by. Jesus has the glazed look of someone stoned. You can imagine the raised fingers holding a spliff. Once imagined, the image won’t go away.

That Guardian article links to this one from the Mail.

Leonardo Da Vinci: Is long-lost £120m Salvator Mundi painting authentic?
A person close to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York who asked not to be identified said: ‘The painting was forgotten for years. When it turned up at auction, Simon thought it was worth taking a gamble. It had been heavily overpainted, which makes it look like a copy. It was a wreck, dark and gloomy. It had been cleaned many times in the past by people who didn’t know better. Once a restorer put artificial resin on it, which had turned grey and had to be removed painstakingly. When they took off the overpaint, what was revealed was the original paint. You saw incredibly delicate painting. All agree it was painted by Leonardo.’

I hate linking to the Mail, but I felt I must because of these two images on that article. What a journey that painting’s been on.

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A broken art market

Art and the art markets. You might think they have little in common with each other.

How modern art serves the rich
Then, on October 18, 1973, in front of a slew of television cameras and a packed salesroom at the auction house Sotheby Parke Bernet, they put 50 works from their collection up for sale, ultimately netting $2.2 million—an unheard of sum for contemporary American art. More spectacular was the disparity between what the Sculls had initially paid, in some cases only a few years prior to the sale, and the prices they commanded at auction: A painting by Cy Twombly, originally purchased for $750, went for $40,000; Jasper Johns’s Double White Map, bought in 1965 for around $10,000, sold for $240,000. Robert Rauschenberg, who had sold his 1958 work Thaw to the Sculls for $900 and now saw it bring in $85,000, infamously confronted Robert Scull after the sale, shoving the collector and accusing him of exploiting artists’ labor. In a scathing essay published the following month in New York magazine, titled “Profit Without Honor,” the critic Barbara Rose described the sale as the moment “when the art world collapsed.”

Of course things didn’t stop there. And as the scale of the sums involved grow,s the art markets feel more like a form of performance art themselves.

$450 Million Leonardo da Vinci Becomes Most Expensive Artwork of All Time
After a $286 million bid from de Poortere, Rotter warbled out a $300 million counter, tying the price that billionaire hedge fund manager Ken Griffin reportedly paid for Willem de Kooning’s Interchange (1955) in 2015, the most expensive art transaction ever publicly reported until Christie’s Wednesday sale.

“Let’s see if that’s done it,” the auctioneer chimed.

De Poortere’s client was not finished, continuing up and up in mostly two- and three-million-dollar increments, until the price hit $370 million. The sum would have been more than enough to take home every other lot offered at Christie’s on Wednesday night. For the very next bid, Rotter called out $400 million, and that was the end. The room clapped, gasped, and laughed, the way one does when seeing something simultaneously historic, unbelievable, and more than a little crazy.

Theatre, where even its own advertising is wanting to be considered art, complete with the obligatory Instagram account.

Droga5’s Sublime Ad for Christie’s Captures the Power of a Leonardo Painting Without Even Showing It
Sometimes, not showing an artwork can be as powerful as showing it. This was true in Grey London’s story-rich campaign for the Tate Modern back in 2015. And it’s especially true of Droga5’s lovely, almost transcendental new spot for auction house Christie’s—which promotes the upcoming sale of a long-lost Leonardo da Vinci painting by not showing it at all.

Instead, the spot focuses on people’s reactions to the painting. And they are fascinating to watch.

[…]

This postmodern turning-the-tables idea comes full circle through the extension of the campaign into Instagram. While so many museum-goers are now Instagramming the artwork they see, the Salvator Mundi is Instagramming the people who come to see it.

Photos of the visitors have been documented on Instagram @thelastdavinci. Each portrait is captioned with the first name of the visitor and the time of their visit, which Droga5 says is “a format reminiscent of a biblical scripture citation.”

Here’s a perspective on art buying I hadn’t considered before.

What baseball taught me about the art market
Can we provide similar, easy-to-access data for the art market, and would that bring new buyers and sellers into play? It’s said that art buyers are often driven by emotion. Whether or not that’s true, we should also welcome the engagement of participants who would like data to lessen the risk of their emotional decisions. Some worry that more data in art will devolve art into something akin to an asset class, swarmed by bankers. However, I believe art buyers will continue to be guided by what they love and which art resonates with them deeply, and that data insights will only help to strengthen their engagement and confidence when buying or selling.

Wanting to get involved in the art markets but struggling to raise the millions of dollars needed? There’s an app for that.

Can Sedition create a marketplace for digital limited edition art?
The platform aims to encourage people who might not be able to afford these artists’ original pieces to become collectors of digital editions which they can access via their mobiles, tablets, PCs and connected TVs. With each purchase comes a certificate of authenticity, which — crucially — entitles the owner to resell the works at a later date if they so wish.

And yes, you can include me in that.