Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Clearasil and the Getty, Part Deux

There's an update about the Getty Antiques Troubles in today's LAT, and some commentaries on Tyler Green's. I'm too tired by the Praxiteles post to comment, so I'll lazily link to MAN.
Kudos to Green for correctly pointing out Marion True real unforgivable sin, the loan she received from a collector. Before this was announced I thought she was paying for the institution longstanding collecting practice (which, BTW, has always been an open secret in the Greek and Roman art history world).
I don't know if True's trial involves this loan too, but that IMHO is the real shocker. I vaguely remember the Fleischmann loan was to repay the first one she got through a lawyer, but I cannot check sources so there you are.

Praxiteles et tutti quanti

Praxiteles! Dear friendly reader, I know the name Praxiteles is bringing tears of aesthetic fulfillment to your eyes, while a frisson of excitement is tingling your spine. [There was a time] when Praxiteles was synonymous with pure beauty, in less sophisticated eras when the concept of beauty wasn’t even in dispute, before Kant and Burke presumably. Well. Praxiteles = Pure Beauty might have been the case up to the 1920s, but since then modernity and postmodernity and post-post-modernity or is it hypermodernity? Well, all these highbrow concepts have bulldozed classical masters out of art education.
It is a bit annoying sometimes, if only because not too many male nudes have seen the light of the day since the heyday of Greek Art. They were not 100% anatomically correct, for sure, unless the central element of the Greek male body was under-developped in this faraway era, but these bodies!
There was much to chose for all tastes: hunky, sometimes even bulbous (Polyklet) bodies, homoerotic feelings (see Praxiteles’ Apollo Sauroktonos), tall and lanky frames, graciously perverse teenage incarnations, and always the most magnificent pieces of male ass on the planet.
The female sculptures were beautiful too, but I am more male-oriented so there it is. BTW, I am more an Archaic Sculpture fiend than a Classical one, but I wasn’t going to forgo the one-in-10-years show of Greek Art on a mere technicality.
Before continue with the Praxiteles show, dear erudite reader I’d like to remind you of a neglectible part of art history trivia: that Greek sculpture wasn’t whitewashed but in fact painted in bright colors. It is a bit hard to imagine nowadays, but that monochromatic marble-ish hue that so influenced modernity wasn’t present. Just so you know.

Anyway, off we went to see the Praxitele Louvre show, my friend Alexis, Nadia and their soon to be born offspring Max. First impression: the walls are totally black, the lighting is very dramatic [dramatic lighting shouts “masterpieces” in museum parlance] and the didactics are, well, very didactical. The curators lost no time in reminding us that there are no known remaining Praxiteles originals today, and indeed they did a great job of debunking specious attributions, as with the magnificent bronze sculpture that illustrates this post.
I like when curators are so scholarly and are not trying to jump on the Attributionist bandwagon, unlike the Fra Angelico show at the Met last year where many “new” Fra Angelico surfaced with very little evidence to support the claims.
I also had fun with the didactics, some of them showing off pure intellectual masturbation, such as the longish one explaining the difference between the adjective “Praxitelian” and the curator’s neologism, “Praxitelizing”. I’m sure they had lots of fun doing it.

What is absolutely striking with this exhibition is the fact that it has been organized at all: to measure it in contemporary art terms, suffice to say that a retrospective of say, Matta-Clark or Smithson where all the works would have been posthumous copies, reconstitutions, editions [showing variance between interpretations] and restitutions would raise quite a stir. The guardians of the Temple would cry foul and demand that the work of The Master remains intact in its purity. To do so the only way to have access to it would be through documents, historical records, photographs and so forth.
Contemporary Art historians, curators, conservators have been struggling with many issues of presentation and conservation that have already been dealt with in other fields.

True, none of the Praxiteles works displayed at the Louvre are “authentic”, save for a pedestal with his name/signature as an inscription. Nevertheless his fame as a sculptor, recorded in many classical texts (Lucian comes to mind) has lead generations of antiquarians, artists and later historians to seek out whatever could give even a faint echo of the originals. Thus, exhumed statues were compared with written sources, and variations recorded against antique descriptions. So when the audience comes into the Louvre exhibition, what there is to see is merely an idea of the artist output. Regardless of the artworks status the result is beautiful (there you are! I said it) in the sense that some of the copies are very good, the curators did a god job of explaining the pioneering aspects of Praxiteles’ career (invention of the contrapposto, first Female nude, etc.) without dumbing down their approach.

The most interesting result for me is the way the exhibition delivered a lesson in art history: I’ve argued elsewhere that art history is an intellectual construct, a narrative based on facts that more often than not results in myths in interpretation. In that case the facts (copies) are at least once removed from their source (originals) and the interpretation (the construct of Praxiteles as an original artist) is open to acceptance (this exhibition/demonstration gives us a clear enough idea of what his art must have been like) rather than dismissal (should art history forget about the concept Praxiteles because it is now only a mere concept and not a real artist whose works are certified authentic?)
I love the idea that we got the idea through non-originals artworks. Are they less legit? Not as documents, and many are very moving in their own right.
Clearly, without these copies and posthumous interpretations the fame of Praxiteles would have forever disappeared. If not for the craze Roman collectors started nearly 2,000 years ago, copies/interpretations would have never seen the light of the day, and Pouf! Here goes the most famous Antique artist ever.
Some food for thoughts, you Gonzalez-Torres, Smithson, Matta-Clark and Bas Jan Ader ferocious Guardians of the Temple.

I work in The Industry...

There's a bevy of things happening this week, from Michel Serreault, Ingmar Bergman and now Michelangelo Antonioni departing for bluer skies. Serreault was a good actor and he did much more than La Cage aux Folles. Bergman and Antoniono I never managed to like, despite youthful and repeated attempts at watching their movies in their entirety (I was such an earnest student).

Anyway, the art world shocker today is Lisa Dennison leaving the Gugg to join Sotheby's. Basically, she's going to do exactly what she's doing now but for much more money, without having to worry about conflicts of interests, etc.
So, openings hopping (trustees reception only), galas, fundraisers, art fairs private showings, inane conversations about art worlds going on, endless phone calls about who's going where doing what when, mingling with fashion-obsessed trophy wives and their spawn, all of this with the smug inner conviction that this is much more better than fashion or Hollywood: this is glamour with a brain.
Yep, the art world had definitively morphed into another branch of the entertainment industry. Institutional Critique got it soooooooo wrong...
Anyway, if my brain was working as it should be I might have drawn some conclusion or link with the passing of the aforementioned cinema giants, but I'm sure you can work it out for yourselves.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Celebrity spotting in Los Angeles!

Dear anonymous hapless reader,

you who stumbled upon this page by complete accident. If you live here in Los Angeles, send me your Art World Celebrity Alert! The best ones will be posted bi-weekly.
But there must be some rules, or it would be too easy. It must be in a 100% (OK, 80% will do) non-art situation.
Openings don't count, so no " OMG I've seen Ed Ruscha and Dennis Hopper at the Gago opening!". Ditto art schools debt-incurring or intensive gallery hopping.

No, you must send me things such as: "spotted Mike Kelley at the PCC swap meet buying 1950s era political buttons". Or, "saw Sterling Ruby totally trashed at the Grove Cheesecake Factory raising hell because no one recognized him" (although, if you do happen on such an unlikely scene you have a lot of explaining to do about your own presence in said chain store.)
You can include curators too: "saw Ann Goldstein browsing books at Hennessy & Ingalls" (bonus if you can see what she was buying), art dealers (Larry Gagosian earns you double bonus), collectors or critics. In the latter instance, spotting Bruce Hainley walking his dog Petunia won't count because you just have to stalk him outside his house and I like Bruce too much to tolerate this.
Anyway, send our sighting at doghouserileyAThotmailDOTcom and I'll post them.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Things That Fall

I am going to deviate from my contemporary art break. One of my two not-anonymous-anymore readers (Hi R.G! I'm glad I help you procrastinate!) paid me a compliment about having a flexible mind.
So I thought I could depart from my self-imposed contemporary art exile decision and simply post you the link to Joe Scanlan's site.

It is late and my neck and skull are starting to hurt like hell, so I will be brief. Joe Scanlan is IMHO the most underrated American artist of the moment. When the market crashes, I think he will be something like the next Robert Gober, the suddenly re-discovered great artist no one was paying attention to because he was not churning ugly paintings by the dozen to Russian mob tycoons and Florida trophy wives.
His work is dry and hilariously funny and intellectually ambitious, nourished by a deep knowledge of art history. I sure hope someone will realize it soon and will give him a long overdue survey show.

Thanksgiving in July!

In the name of diversification, a non art-related post.
I totally, like, dig Thanksgiving, the holiday that made me love America. First of all it is the only holiday no one was ever able to give me the signification of, except everyone is gorging on food. I subsequently forever nicknamed it The Day When America Cooks(conveniently forgetting Marie Callender. No one is perfect).

Then, not being from here I don't have to endure any family-related tensions and obligations. Note to my potential future husband, you who are lurking on this blog: yes, we will spend all Thanksgivings of our future married life with YOUR family. X-mas with mine (dear future husband: you should have black, brown or gray hair, be not too tall, have a good conversation to compete with my incessant output and I appreciate a wicked sense of humor. Must like orange color).

Also, the day I first saw a Thanksgiving turkey I finally understood America. Why stoves are so big. Why fridges are so humongous. Why Costco and Smart and Final were created. You could feed an entire French village (such as Saint Aubert sur Orne and its 126 inhabitants, for instance) on one of these!
Anyway, I like it so much I decided I was going to have monthly "Thanksgiving in [insert month here]" posts and praise whoever I think is deserving.

A tout seigneur tout honneur, in the name of Food I'd like to post my first thanks today and honor La Maison Du Pain.
It is located on Pico, one block East of Hauser. Of course I have a vested interest in this French-Filippino bakery to remain open and busy.
I think their bread is so-so. Charles, the former baker (hopefully he will get a new visa soon and will come back) told me it's because the flours are very different here, with a different gluten ration. They are great for pastries but for bread, nix. Which probably explain why I never found bread I liked in America, with the notable exception of NYC bagels.
But the pastries at LMDP are fabulous, most particularly their fruit tarts. Plus they make mini-pastries, more like petits fours really that you can buy individually and savor with your espresso without feeling [too] guilty.
Their croissant is the best I had outside of France and does compete with many I had back home. Their pistachio financiers are genius and I advise everybody to try the tarte au sucre, and if they have it their viennoise.

Last year I ordered my B-Day cake there, a Royal made especially by Charles himself. It has this crunchy base made with praline over a chocolate cake, and topped with chocolate mousse. I had told them it would be for 25 people, but ooopsy in fact 60 were expected. As I was about to buy a large fruit tart to make sure my guests would have desserts, Josephine said: "it's your birthday. This tart was made this morning, [it was about 2 PM] so we will make a new one from scratch". And so they did, on the spot, and shelled some fresh pistacchios to sprinkle on top.

Aside from their niceness and great pastries, I am also thankful for Carmen and Josephine because they dared realizing their dream, late in life, and ditch their former life to start a brand new business. It takes guts, and the result is truly worth all the energy they put in. So thank you La Maison du Pain, not only for your great pastries but for a great lesson in optimism.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Clearasil and the Getty troubles

In the Wim Wenders movie Der Stand Der Dinge there is a character played by Paul Getty. If my memory serves me right, in one scene on the beach he is talking with these kids.
All his conversation revolves around how when he was 13 his parents were going through this ugly divorce. But his main preoccupation was his atrocious acne that made him unable to attract girls. Luckily Clearasil was introduced during the same era. But unfortunately he got a severe allergy to Clearasil and looked so repulsive no one wanted to talk to him. And he goes on: "What else happened when I was 13? Oh yes! I had cancer too"!

In a way the current Italian (and Greek) governments troubles with the Getty are akin to becoming Clearasil-obsessed in the face of cancer. Yes, having artifacts of questionable provenance in a collection is objectionable. Arguing that "everyone was doing it" doesn't make it more acceptable in any way.
But throwing ethics arguments in the face of the Getty won't solve the Italian antiques looting problems.
If we want to throw ethics in then maybe the Italian government should remember that many of the Greek objects found on its soil were looted by Roman troops. OK it happened 2000 years ago, but does history legitimates ownership status? If yes, then maybe a status of limitation should have also been granted to the Getty, the Met and the Cleveland museums in the name of Realpolitik.

Why not making a deal with cash-rich US institutions to co-organize and co-fund research and excavations on Italian soil? I believe the Egyptian government has been doing this for a long time now, sharing archeological finds of importance with foreigns museums on a prorated share of funding. Yes this didn't solve the smaller artifacts endemic looting that feeds the tourist industry, but at least major archeological sites and finds are escaping the worse.

Classical Antiquity Rocks!

Owing to the painful side effects of whiplash, most of my posting in the next few weeks should be of a very light nature.
So instead of developing topics as deeply as I would want to, I'm just going to announce what I'm interested in. Hopefully I will be able to expand more later after all my medical troubles are over.

Many issues that periodically rock the art world have already happened and somewhat been dealt with in the past. So rather than speak about contemporary art I'm taking a Summer break. I'd rather lazily remind you that things such as:

- Private collectors and market going bonkers? Happened during the Roman Empire.

- Is the market a good Oracle of what constitute quality? You bet. Rubens and Van Dijck were very hot in the 17th century. Vermeer was rather unknown. Now guess who [most] everyone prefers?

- Discussion as to whether museum collections should be open for free to the public? Hot topic at the end of the 18th century

- Should art be left in situ (yes folks, there is a Latin expression equivalent to "site specific")? Cicero addressed the matter in his correspondence.

- Art looting was considered questionable in the Quatremere de Quincy book I mentioned yesterday.

- "Conceptual art" versus "painting" [whatever these categories encompass today]. Check the 17th century Querelle des coloristes et des dessinateurs.

- Are posthumous editions and artworks, copies and multiples legit expressions of the artist "vision"? Well the Roman seemed to think oversized/undersized/slightly modified copies of art stars were OK. Check the Praxiteles show and exhibition catalogue at the Louvre.

And so forth. Rien de nouveau sous le soleil!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Language apologies

I've just re-read my posts below and of course I noticed some bad grammar/mispellings. Being French doesn't excuse anything, so apologies for my embarassing assaults on the English language. I hope once I totally recover from whiplash my language skills will improve. Sorry, patient and hapless unknown reader...

The Louvre

Full disclosure: I have spent at least 10 years at the Louvre. I still remember my very first visit there when I was about 8 years old, when the entrance was located by the Colonnade de Perrault through the Salle du Manege. Later on I became a student there and later on an instructor at the Ecole du Louvre. I know the collection inside out and it is still my favorite man-made place on the planet (Venice a close second).

If there is one thing for me that embodies what's really good about French culture it is the Louvre. First of all it was created as one of the first public museums in the world. Then during the French Revolution, when France was at war against all of Europe's then-superpowers [England, Austria, Prussia...] the French assemblymen chose to spend some time discussing whether to create zenithal (skylights) lighting for the Grande Galerie or to only have side windows. They chose both in the end, but I am forever proud to think that in time of all-out war the French were thinking first and foremost about culture.

The Bonaparte-lead French revolutionary army later went on to loot and plunder Italy and Flanders to bring back artworks in the name of Liberty. This is a hypocritical trait I am not proud of, but I think it sheds some light on how big museums would later constitute their collection and legitimate some embarassing blunders and oversights. All of today's issues about non-legit items in collections, nationalism, politics and culture are already laid out in Quatremere de Quincy's Lettres A Miranda Sur le Deplacement des Monuments de l'Art En Italie (1796)

Aside from that, I love, love the Louvre and I miss it here in Los Angeles. I always thought that if the Lacma, Getty and Norton Simon collections could be merged together then Los Angeles would have the world-class museum it deserves, at least in term of European Art collections.

Links to the aforementioned museums later, once I start using Firefox.

Today is the day!

Today is the day when I start inflicting gratuitous comments on an unsuspecting and largely un-interested world. Boy, do I feel important!
So how do I start boring you, hapless unknown reader?
Probably by announcing future postings on:

The Praxiteles exhibition at the Louvre. Since I'm using Safari as my browser today, here's the link: http://mini-site.louvre.fr/praxitele/index_flash_en.html

The Getty troubles with Italy

and whenever I have a time, a post in praise of art workers

More later, once I figure out how all of this works...