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Selfie” in 2013 was elected as “word of the year”, and still maintains its place in the vocabulary. Selfies are not just an ephemeral fashion and it doesn’t matter if the first assonance is with selfish. Being is sharing and if you don’t share, you are nobody.
Art often ends up being just a background. And more than enjoying the moment, it appears a spasmodic anxiety of showing that moment in which we are ourselves in front of that important monument. Works of art and more or less famous architectures are often perceived only as an impressive scenography, and the time of the visit is consumed in a few quick gestures: framing, shooting, posting.
It is, clearly, a transitory, ephemeral moment: the sharing of our selfie becomes the essential part, the place where it is done becomes secondary, however fascinating or famous is the location, it all boils down to a paradoxical and grotesque snapshot in which the viewer becomes an integral part of the work of art, as protagonist, of course.
What is needed is to attract attention, and the only requirement concerning the artwork is that it has to be photogenic, amazing, in short, “instagrammable”.
But this has also a positive side. In fact, this ever more pervasive need to show the place where we are, feeds curiosity and more and more “influencers” are attracted by the desire to immortalise themselves right in front of a work of art or monument. This could be a powerful tool for cultural dissemination.
More and more museums, which previously prohibited taking photographs, now are the first to invite and photograph the artworks, invent hashtags to publicise and share news about the exhibitions or the planned events.
This is a different way of bringing more people closer to art. Certainly very direct and effective.
Whether it is artistic or not, therefore, today the “selfie” represents a creative medium to convey culture, together with thoughts, stated of mind, social conditions.
Federico Zeri, one of the most famous Italian art historians (also for having resigned from the Board of Directors of the Getty of Malibu ‘following the acquisition of a Kouros later proved false), a tireless researcher and distinguished populariser, who on his death in 1998 left a gigantic photo library at the University of Bologna, went more than once on the subject of forgery in the art market.
But it is perhaps in the detective story, set in Rome, and published just before his death “F. Zeri-Carmen Iarrera, Mai con i dipinti. Romanzo, Milano, Longanesi, 1997”) that he lets himself go to a confession without havoc on the tongue: rich but arrogant collectors, unscrupulous merchants and conniving professors, thanks to a market without rules and without control, where, however, transitions are millionaires. But he also covers scientific analyses that are able to uncover fakes and forgeries … when they are done by professionals.
Here are some more brazenly impudent excerpts, for those who already know and for those who still dream …
For this reason, trusting their own nose (and the antiquarian who managed to get into their graces), rarely asking for the opinion of an expert, they pay without blinking astronomical sums, with no questions asked, satisfied to have got their hands on any crust that they considered something unique, rare, precious.
They are even more satisfied if you give him the illusion that the painting, kept for centuries in a family of ancient lineage, was on sale for half of its value only because the family was pressured by unpleasant, contingent, ineluctable financial necessities.
Old practice, this of “supporting” a painting. It is actually enough to find a suitable canvas, to have it restored if needed, to find an expert who attributes it to a more or less illustrious painter and to have the complicity of some fallen nobleman who, well oiled, swore that this painting came from the ancient and famous collection of his grandfather or that it was found by chance, after decades of oblivion, in his old aristocratic country residence.
Making a fake from scratch today is very difficult. In paintings, I mean, because for example in sculptures it is easy. It is enough to melt ancient coins to make a beautiful Greek or Roman fragment with a bronze that, of course, will be ancient to all analyses. Or you take a marble bust of good workmanship, save the face and chisel the drapery well, copying, for example, the style of Donatello’s drapery and attributing it to him or his school. Only an extremely skilled eye, at that point, could establish that the sculpture was manipulated. For paintings no. For paintings it is different because quartz lamps or infrared rays do not forgive.
“So you can’t cheat?”
The lieutenant laughed. The one who wants to cheat, cheats anyway. He takes a ruined picture, sometimes even a crust and corrects it to make it appear by another author. Or he manipulates it.
“I’ll give you an example. There is a painting school in Seville. They are all still lives, painted on oblong horizontal paintings. Generally, they represent tables with three groups of objects. A basket of fruit, or say, of loaves, of quinces.
If we have a dishonest merchant he takes the picture, he cuts it in three pieces, takes the basket with peaches, and passes it off as an Italian still life, Lombard, for example of Fede Galizia or Panfilo Nuvoloni, and earns a lot of money.”
“But can’t you see it?”
“Of course you can see. It would be enough to go and look at the margins to discover that the canvas is cut. But who does it?”
“Well. Of course there are those honest and competent, but there are also the so-called experts who are neither this nor that”.
“Most of the so-called experts work in agreement with the antique dealers and promote real poor paintings by attributing them to this and that, producing expert reports full of gaps where, for example, they never specify, and never means never, the conservation status of the object”.
“And is there no control?”
No. Because there is no register of authorized experts. And whoever does an assessment practically does not bear responsibility for it. At worst, he says he was wrong. His or her prestige is at stake, but they do not end up in jail. It would be enough to make a law in which it is established that whoever signs an appraisal is responsible for half of the value attributed to the object and then, yes, we could be certain. Instead, as things are, anyone can write that a crust is a masterpiece. There are certain university professors who do not deny an expertise to no one, and most of the time they do not even pay taxes”.
Part of our job is to visit as many exhibits as possible. This is why we went to Livorno. The city that gave birth to Modigliani, exhibits his works not far from the place where the famous “heads” were found. Goliardic prank that, perhaps, marked the destiny of Modigliani‘s works, constantly questioned on autography.
Just before the exhibition entrance, we find the “comment book”, where the last one catches our eye. The note expresses great disappointment.
Past the cerulean tent, we found a conspicuous group of various artists, with who Modigliani shared not only a few years of artistic life, but also, patrons, like Zborowski, who paid him since 1915, and collectors like Netter. The importance of the Netter collection in the history of Modi’ is particularly evident in this exhibition and this gives a great insight on the market dynamics around Modigliani.
Among all works, our attention is caught by “Hanka Zborowska” (pencil on paper, 42 x 26 cm), and on how the sheet of paper used could be part of a block on which Amedeo drew. In fact, looking at the page in raking light, we can see a tracing mark, due to the pressure of the pencil on the previous sheet, that probably drew a portrait.
The space reserved for Modi’ is the very intimate, perhaps too much, only a fifth of the exhibited works. Leaving this area, we find ourselves again among his contemporaries, belonging to two great collections mentioned in the subtitle of the exhibition, Netter and Alexander
We go out, leaving the cerulean tent behind, and we think back about the comment read about an hour before. In fact, we also experienced a sense of unfinished: the sentence “300 francs a month for the material needed, canvases, colors” mentioned in one of the explanatory panels comes to our mind.
We would have loved to know what canvases, what colors. Crucial information especially for this artist, from whom high and low quality copies are known, and for the moment market goes through. We would have loved if some scientific elements would have been shared, so to share understanding of his technique and therefore his poetry.
As a side note, we, always looking for repentances on the works on display, have discovered some interesting details. We share with you some images, but why not going and verifying directly?
The year of Leonardo is about to end, the 500th anniversary of his death.
In Italy mostly ancillary exhibitions have been organized, the biggest event being the great exhibition at the Louvre.
In France, where he spent a couple of years, mostly very sick, and died, they have organized a big celebration. Many works of the Italian genius have arrived in Paris for a blockbuster exhibition whose visit needs to be booked in advance, although it does not seem to offer anything really new.
However, bravely, as Carmen Bambach writes (The Art Newspaper Dec 2019), some of the reflectographies are also exhibited, both of the works on show and also of others, like the National Gallery’s Virgin of the Rocks that now has its own exhibition in London. In that case, thankfully, a number of diagnostic images are presented; however, in a setting that imitates a restoration lab, rather than a diagnostic lab.
The Art Newspaper (Dec 2019) also reports that this was the year with the largest number of publications on Leonardo (more than 250!).
But what have we learned? What do we know more now than a year ago?
Renato Barilli writes on Artribune (Nov-Dec 2019) “no one has accepted my admonition to remove from his safe works at least the Belle Ferronière, of which there is no news in his time, besides the fact of completely contradicting all of the stylistic features that are usually attributed to the genius of Vinci.
For example, to advance studies on this author, it would have been interesting to compare the Xrays images of the Gioconda, the Musico, Saint John the Baptist and the Belle Ferronière (similar in size and support). All the radiographs were published earlier and you can see the comparison now here.
We now await the discoveries concerning the Vitruvian Man promised in two volumes published by Giunti – the first in January – and in a major exhibition that will take place in Cagliari in May 2020 organized by the State Museum of Sardinia, all with the title “The deception of the Vitruvian Man. The algorithm of the divine proportion”. Here the trailer
In fact, there is still a lot to be investigated on Leonardo and, who knows, may 2020 will be the year in which a totally unknown Leonardo will be revealed. Stay tuned!
ARTESTIAMO – seen, read, observed for you – A family … torn to pieces (and then reunited … or almost)