Your Weekly Art News: From the Margins to the Headlines (Nov. 13-20)

  • Rihanna and Vatican costumes set to go on display side-by-side at the Metropolitan Museum’s next Costume Institute exhibition, according to Artnet News:

It is rare that Rihanna and the Vatican would find themselves together in a headline—but if any institution could be responsible for such a feat, it is the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute.

The institution looks poised to continue its track record of buzzy, boundary-pushing spectacles with its just-announced 2018 spring exhibition, which examines the dialogue between Catholicism and high fashion. The annual star-studded Met Ball, which coincides with the exhibition’s opening, will be co-hosted by Pop star Rihanna and human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, among others.

The exhibition, titled “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination” (May 10–October 8), will center around 50 papal vestments, rings, tiaras, and other accessories from the Sistine Chapel sacristy. Many of them have never been seen outside of the Vatican, according to the Met. The objects span three centuries and 15 papacies; they represent the largest loan from the Vatican to the museum since 1983.

NEW YORK, NY – MAY 01: Rihanna attends the “Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garcons: Art Of The In-Between” Costume Institute Gala at Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 1, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for People.com)

  • Do “reproduction” fees kill art historical scholarship? According to Bendor Grosvenor, art historian and host of BBC4’s “Britain’s Lost Masterpieces,” they do:

Images fees kill scholarship. 

These days, a large part of the budget for arts programmes is taken up by reproduction fees. Museums merrily charge hundreds of pounds each second a painting is seen. But such charges are little more than a hustle. Museums talk threateningly about “copyright”, but in law, they’re on weak ground. If a painting was made by an artist who died more than 75 years ago (70 years in the US), it is out of copyright, end of story. Faithfully photographing it generates no new copyright implications, and there is nothing in law to stop one reproducing (say) a Rembrandt, in any context, and without paying. But because most of us think we need to pay to secure a spurious image “licence”, museums get away with it.

As a result, art programmes like mine show far less art than we’d like to. Far worse is the fact that academics and students are obliged to pay, too, severely restricting research and publications. Such fees are a pernicious tax on scholarship. It’s a scandal that our publicly owned art is monetised in this way. 

A large part of the budget for arts programmes is taken up by reproduction fees Thomas Ricker

Some institutions even charge to use lecture images. For an academic to use a single image from the Tate in a single, free lecture, the fee is £20.

A whole lecture could cost hundreds of pounds. I will admit here that in a recent lecture on Van Dyck at the Chatsworth Festival, I raced through almost 100 unpaid-for slides. Museum legal departments, do your worst. 

  • Scientists uncover crazy new room they’re calling “the void” in the Ancient Egyptian pyramid of Giza

A rendering shows the newly discovered void and known structures in the Great Pyramid of Giza. Courtesy of ScanPyramids.

Also called Khufu’s Pyramid, Egypt’s Great Pyramid was erected around 2500 BC, and is the last of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It’s been closely studied by archaeologists for centuries, but scientific advances in cosmic-ray collisions are making new breakthroughs possible. Using that technology, an international team of researchers from the ScanPyramids project detected a 100-foot-long empty space inside the pyramid. (ScanPyramids was established by the Egyptian Ministry of Antiques in 2015 to study the ancient structures utilizing non-invasive technologies.)

The discovery was first announced in 2016, with the team publishing their findings this week in the journal Nature after additional testing confirmed initial results.

The purpose of the 100-foot-long concealed space, which may or may not have been built intentionally, remains a mystery. “We don’t know if it’s a chamber, a tunnel, a big gallery or things like that,” Mehdi Tayoubi, co-director of ScanPyramids, told the New York Times. “We have chosen the word ‘void’ and nothing else because we don’t know what this void is.”

  •  Christie’s sale of “Salvador Mundi” closes at a record-setting $450 million, amidst many unanswered questions over its authenticity. Writing in Vulture, Jerry Saltz absolutely eviscerates it: 

The painting is absolutely dead. Its surface is inert, varnished, lurid, scrubbed over, and repainted so many times that it looks simultaneously new and old. This explains why Christie’s pitches it with vague terms like “mysterious,” filled with “aura,” and something that “could go viral.” Go viral? As a poster, maybe. A two-dimensional ersatz dashboard Jesus.

Christie’s marketing has played the “golden ratio” card heavily here. The golden section or golden ratio is said to have been developed almost 2500 years ago and was widely employed in ancient Greek art — which had a huge influence in the Renaissance. Basically, it’s a mathematical system of measuring space whereby rectangles and proportions within the painting can in turn be divided into an almost endless, fractal series of repeating smaller rectangles, squares, ovals, and the like. Christie’s painting is riddled with this proportion. However, I’d imagine that no great artist worth their name would stoop to being this obvious, especially this far into their career when they had total freedom to do whatever they liked and had a lifetime of always doing that in increasingly original ways. All those enthralled by the Salvatore Mundi being a perfect golden section need to get a grip and see that the golden section can be imposed one way or another on almost any image. Leonardo, who was nothing if not an inventor every time out, would have been laughed out of Italy.

By 1500, Michelangelo had already completed his tremendous Pietà in Rome and was in Florence working on the David. Botticelli was there too. It’s hard to imagine that da Vinci coming to Florence and being around the young Michelangelo — who was being hailed as “the new da Vinci” — would suddenly put the pictorial brakes on and produce a far more conservative, backward-looking picture. These artists were as competitive then as they are now. When Leonardo sat on the committee to decide where the still-unfinished David was to be situated in Florence, he voted against giving it the pride of place it eventually won, next to the Palazzo Vecchio. On top of all that, if we’re to believe this picture was made around 1500, that means Leonardo himself had already surpassed more primitive portraiture ideas like this, many times over, including in his many Madonnas, his beautiful Portrait of a Musician from 1485, and the two great Virgin of the Rocks, painted between 1483 and 1499. Not to mention his multi-spaced, multi-portrait, consciousness-expanding Last Supper, completed in 1498. It makes no sense to suddenly have Leonardo come to Florence only to become a hack painter of post-Byzantine portraits — which is what the narrative being promoted by Christie’s subtly suggests. In fact, we know Leonardo did just the opposite, because in 1502 he painted the Mona Lisa. Salvator Mundi doesn’t fit into his work no matter how you try to twist things. If we want to give Christie’s the benefit of the doubt, however, let’s be generous and say that this work does date from that time and that Leonardo did maybe paint a ringlet of hair and a hand. Even if that holds, the rest of the painting — including the intricate patterning and clear glass, which would have been a specialty of numerous studio assistants at the time — is still sensuously and physically inert. The painting is spooky and olden-looking like a lot of pictures of Jesus blessing saints, another argument against this being made by an artist of Leonardo’s epic skills.

Salvator Mundi. Photo: Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images

  • Dhaka Art Summit announces program for 2018:

Tate director Maria Balshaw among guest curators heading to Bangladesh next February.

For its fourth edition next February, the Dhaka Art Summit is expanding, adding extra days and luring big names to the event in Bangladesh, which claims to be the largest non-commercial research and exhibition platform in South Asia.

The nine-day event, which its organisers prefer not to call a biennial, is up from four days in 2016. It will feature a section co-curated by Tate’s director Maria Balshaw, a newly commissioned work by Rasheed Araeen, and workshops led by Superflex and Raqs Media collective, among others.

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