Monday, January 08, 2007

Note to AN: Leave the Sensationalism to the Artists

Because I find art enthralling enough as it is, I don't understand what seems to be a rising trend toward sensationalism in reporting at The Art Newspaper (AN). Perhaps they've always been this histrionic about the "news" and I've just only recently noticed, but it's getting a bit embarassing.

Recently
I noted the melodramatic headline in an AN article on the market (which twice used rare examaples to making sweeping generalizations about who you shouldn't trust in the art market) and how, although it raised some interesting question, it was overall misleading. Today, another writer virtually screams between the lines "Get excited...this is huge...are you reading?!?" I haven't encountered such heavy-handed reporting since my Junior High School weekly. And I'm not saying the story isn't noteworthy, mind you. Just that it smacks of breathlessness. Here's a snippet:

We can report that a painting in the National Maritime Museum in London was looted by British troops from the Mürwik Naval Academy, in Germany, and later presented to the Greenwich museum. We have tracked down a 1945 photograph, showing the picture hanging in the main hall of the academy (right). Mürwik is near the port of Flensburg, on the Baltic coast, near the Danish border.

[...]

Nothing is known about how the Bergen painting was acquired, but it was probably taken from the ceremonial hall in May 1945 by British troops. It was taken to the UK, where it came under the control of the government’s Naval War Trophies Committee. In early 1947 the committee allocated the picture to the National Maritime Museum. Partly because of its size, it has mainly been in store, where it is now.
Who writes like that? "We can report...." OK, so apparently Martin Bailey (whom I don't know, but assume is a likeable enough person) writes like that. But why wasn't this nostalgic dose of film-noir-esque prose edited down a few hundred notches? Especially if it does turn out the painting should be returned, doesn't the story deserve a more objective treatment? Or is this an editorial posing as reporting?

Compare the AN's tone with the calm, evenhanded, rational response of the National Maritime Museum:

The National Maritime Museum told The Art Newspaper that although it suspected the picture might have come from Mürwik, it had no conclusive evidence, and had not yet contacted the naval academy: “we are planning to complete our research as far as possible before contacting any other organisations.” The museum also said that its initial research on works of art with an unclear provenance for the Nazi period had focussed on objects “that had been misappropriated by Nazi Germany and its allies”—not by British forces.
Bailey even notes that since the painting arrived in the UK, policies toward war-appropriated art have changed (and that seems to imply things are systematically being returned), and it does indeed take some time to research the provenance of such loot, so why the journalistic case of vapors in the reporting here? It's not as if the Museum is saying they won't research how they came upon the work. As one commenter noted in the Talkback section on the AN's website, "This article seems suspect with very little, if anything, to actually support what it claims."

I don't disagree. Consider this line (which alone should have prompted his editor to send him back out to do more research): "Nothing is known about how the Bergen painting was acquired, but it was probably taken from the ceremonial hall in May 1945 by British troops." "Probably"? That passes as journalism today? Speculation on the heels of admitting "nothing is known" (and why doesn't that make him want to dig deeper?) But that doesn't prevent another misleading headline, asserting an unsupported degree of certainty: "Revealed: Nazi painting in London’s Maritime Museum looted by British."

I like the Art Newspaper. I read it regularly (it has some truly gifted writers). I point this out because I want to keep reading it regularly. Tone down the drama, please.

3 Comments:

Anonymous ml said...

Did Rupert Murdock just buy AN?????

I have to admit it would be very funny to have a National Enquirer type paper focusing on the arts. Unfortunately it would simply reinforce stereotypes, but still it would make waiting in line at the supermarket more fun.

1/08/2007 11:30:00 AM  
Anonymous David said...

...still it would make waiting in line at the supermarket more fun.

What, Oprah isn't interesting enough for you? :)

Like with other news, there seems to be a trend toward everything becoming entertainment. Some sort of media entropy, maybe...

1/08/2007 11:51:00 AM  
Blogger nathaniel said...

I have to admit it would be very funny to have a National Enquirer type paper focusing on the arts.

there was a bunch of undergrad fine art students in cape town who started a heat magazine-like blog; it's mostly insular and annoying, but amusing at points (they're not posting as much as they used to lately...): art heat

1/08/2007 02:02:00 PM  

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