Thursday, October 23, 2008


Recessions come and recessions go, and even if the current one (I know, it's not yet official in some arcane statistical sense, but...come on) lasts longer than any of us would like, there's little doubt this too shall pass. What will linger though are the consequences of choices made based on short-term thinking and fear. (As noted on several occasions, I can't stand fearmongering, and the politicians trying to use it to get themselves elected should be summarily, publicly mocked as cowards.)

As illustrated by the Administration's lame excuses for ignoring the Geneva Conventions and civil liberties laws, ideals are codified to ensure we remain our best selves when times get tough. It's easy to live up to ideals when everything's peachy. Your best self is the one that emerges through a crisis. Keeping your priorities clear is the surest means of doing that with honor.

A test of a nation's priorities is being played out in Britain at the moment. Having just lost in their effort to keep two Pietro Cipriani statues in the country (the Getty purchased them for an undiclosed amount, reportedly at least $10million though), the next big test comes in the form of two Titians. From the New York Times:
In a parallel effort to prevent the departure of masterworks from Britain, the National Gallery in London and the National Galleries of Scotland are seeking to raise about $165 million to acquire two Titian paintings, “Diana and Actaeon” and “Diana and Callisto,” Reuters reported. Both paintings are being sold by the Duke of Sutherland.
Called by one source one of the best 50 works of art in the world (nice fodder for another post), the thought of losing "Diana and Actaeon" is eliciting some powerful responses from British artists:

"To lose this vivid, action-filled tone-poem of a painting from our public collections would be "like the Louvre not having the Mona Lisa", according to the National Gallery curator Carol Plazzotta. And a host of Britain's most prominent artists, from Sir Peter Blake to Paula Rego, are in passionate agreement.

Plazzotta was referring to Titian's Diana and Actaeon, which will be lost to the nation unless £50m is raised by the end of the year. She was speaking at the National Gallery in London as the work, which has not left Edinburgh since 1945, was reunited with its companion piece, The Death of Actaeon, for the first time in 200 years.

Speaking in support of the public appeal, Blake said: "This should be thought of separately from the recession. We shouldn't be thinking of not doing this when there is so much money in the art world, so many rich people."

Patrick Brill, better known by his pseudonym Bob and Roberta Smith, echoed him: "If we can spend £50bn on nationalising our banks, we ought to be able to nationalise this painting for £50m."

I'm sure there are museums around the world who would love to acquire these, and while it's hard for me to really insist Italian paintings belong in the UK, seeing how much they mean to the British is enough for me.

Postscript: I'm not entirely sure the NYTimes is correct in stating that both paintings are being sold by the Duke. I've found other evidence which indicates that The Death of Actaeon has been owned by the National Gallery since 1972. Nevermind.

Labels: art appreciation


Anonymous Franklin said...

This morning I linked to the counterargument.

10/23/2008 11:19:00 AM  
Blogger kalm james said...

Does that price include the frame?

10/23/2008 11:20:00 AM  
Anonymous Mouchette said...

Which Frame?

were rolling......

10/23/2008 11:54:00 AM  
Blogger Christopher said...

"The Death of Actaeon" is indeed in the National Gallery in London. (It is also sometimes called "Diana and Actaeon")
This painting was "saved" for the nation in 1972, after a big public appeal. One of the major events of the appeal was an extraordinary performance at the London Coliseum, organized by the late great Richard (Dickie) Buckle, with Nureyev and Fonteyn and Zizi Jeanmaire among many other great dancers, and scenic drops based on the painting designed by several contemporary artists. Plus ca Change.

10/23/2008 01:08:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Ed sez:
As noted on several occasions, I can't stand fearmongering...

And yet the use of great works of art as poker chips in some kind of game of nationalist one-upmanship is okay? Aside from considerations of geography -- I'd rather have more Titians in New York, where I can get to see them -- does it matter where art sits?

10/23/2008 01:27:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Oh, and Mr. Kalm: Maybe the Duke can put the paintings up on the Web with a script so we can see them in different frames and choose the one we like best. Brushed aluminum extra.

10/23/2008 01:29:00 PM  
Blogger kalm james said...

I’ve got a great Peter Max graphic, er, poster that would look really good with a frame like that.

10/23/2008 02:43:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

So is this some kind of a hoax - a publicity stunt? Like "hey we have this fabulous painting and we are gong to shot/burn/slash/throw it away unless you pony up teh dough" kind of thing (like the National Lampoon cover with the Dog)

One is reminded of the theft of art by Wal Mart from the NYPL.

Oh barbarian, where art thou?

10/23/2008 03:16:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Well, James, I was going to call the aluminum frame "the Patrick Nagel Special" but decided that was going too far.

10/23/2008 03:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

I'm sad that Easter Island only got position 19. I think it deserves position 1.


10/23/2008 07:23:00 PM  
Blogger david kramer said...

it's a keeper. No?
Thoughtful piece, thanks.

10/23/2008 09:24:00 PM  
Blogger jeff f said...

Chris go to Edinburgh as it's worht the trip.

I used to live in Edinburgh and the National Gallery was one of my favorite places. It's located in the center of the city and it's scale, small, is very human.

The collection is excellent the Titian is one of the centerpieces of this museum. It should stay there, it works in that space.

By the way it is one of the most beautiful paintings I have ever seen for what it's worth.

10/24/2008 01:48:00 PM  
Blogger jeff f said...

Diana and Actaeon is in the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh not London. The Scots would not be pleased...

10/24/2008 01:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Bunny Smedley said...

Diana and Actaeon is in the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh not London. The Scots would not be pleased...

... All of which must raise an interesting point for Scots nationalists, as there's even less chance that an independent Scotland would find it fiscally possible, let alone politically attractive, to spend £100 million on these two paintings, than there is that the United Kingdom government will be able to do so.

It's also worth considering how many long-term loans to Scottish museums would persist in the wake of Scottish independence, given suspicions about the penchant of left-of-centre governments to nationalise private property.

Dire economic climate notwithstanding, the Duke may well be wise to be selling up now rather than later ...

10/25/2008 05:27:00 AM  
Blogger mute041 said...

Hello, I am a Venetian artist but I don't like Tiziano.......
I suggest you this blog about Venetian art and culture:

Here a blog about tic of contemporary art critics:

10/25/2008 07:37:00 AM  
Blogger Christopher said...

The plan is for the two paintings to go from London to Edinburgh and back every five years.

Perhaps Scottish independence would affect that, but I don't see why it necessarily would.

10/25/2008 06:24:00 PM  
Blogger Balhatain said...

Patrick Brill's name is legally Bob Smith-- I learned that the hard way. He had some interesting things to say about Hirst and slammed the Stuckists as well. Forgive the typos. He had an eye infection when he typed up the answers. I had to make dozens of corrections. Seems I missed some. BAH!

10/26/2008 01:36:00 PM  
Blogger jeff f said...

Bunny Smedley you should have stated your a Tory.

However I guessed it anyway.
Your tepid and anti-Scottish response was absurd and shws why the Torry party is a joke, much like our Republican party, using fear and lies as talking points.

10/27/2008 02:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Bunny Smedley said...

For Jeff F:

Did you find it easier to 'guess' that I'm a Tory when you read the 'about' page on my blog? Or maybe you're just perceptive that way. Who knows?

Meanwhile, I can't see how saying that the Bridgewater Titians are some of my favourite paintings on earth counts as 'tepid', any more than there's anything anti Scottish in suggesting that an independent Scotland would have an even more difficult time justifying paying for these paintings with state funds - in the sense of convincing the polity there that these purchases were more important than other spending priorities - than the current United Kingdom does.

Obviously, you may well disagree with the latter point, but if so, it might be more productive to make a counter-argument, than to accuse me of hiding of political affiliation which in fact could hardly be more public and unapologetic.

(On the other hand, presumably you're far too well informed about the political culture of the United Kingdom to make the rather silly mistake of linking the adjective 'Tory' too closely with the present-day Conservative Party - an organisation which, as the most casual perusal of my blog again makes clear, has problems of its own.)

Anyway, as they say here and perhaps elsewhere, if you want to argue, why not play the ball, not the man?

11/05/2008 01:08:00 PM  

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