Art News Roundup: Sacking and Packing Edition

Before taking a look at some of the more interesting art stories of the past week, gentle reader, I wanted to direct your attention to an excellent lecture series on the recently-closed National Gallery of Art exhibition “Tintoretto: Artist of Renaissance Venice”, which you may recall that I reviewed for The Federalist back in April. Presented by Eric Denker, Senior Lecturer and Head of Tours and Lectures at the National Gallery, the first of the videos may be found here, on the NGA’s YouTube channel; all four are well-worth your time, even if you didn’t get a chance to see the show in person.

Mr. Denker begins with a look at the social, political, and artistic environment into which Tintoretto (1518-1594) was born, and in subsequent lectures follows through the progress of the artist’s career from prodigious young cub to Venetian art establishment lion. The series concludes with a survey of where one can go in present-day Venice to see the painter’s works, whether still in situ, or housed in other locations.

I learnt a great deal from these presentations, since Mr. Denker is not only very knowledgeable, he is also the head of one of the charitable organizations in Venice whose headquarters was decorated by Tintoretto over the course of many years. One takeaway in particular was the importance of understanding how some of Tintoretto’s works appear to have a rather odd sense of perspective, which only makes sense when the works are viewed obliquely, i.e. from the side, rather than straight on. For example, the “Last Supper” (c. 1579-1581) shown below makes much more sense when you realize that the figure of Christ, at the far end of the table, is supposed to be seen tilted away from you, while the woman in the lower right corner would be the figure closest to you, if you were viewing the piece from its intended angle.



And now, on to some art headlines.

Sacking the Sacklers

Just weeks after the Smithsonian Institution (politely) declined a U.S. Senator’s request to remove the Sackler name from one of the institution’s main art museums, the Louvre appears to have suddenly given in to pressure from Contemporary artist Nan Goldin and her cohort, PAIN (“Prescription Addiction Intervention Now”.) References to the Sacklers, who have donated quite a bit to the world’s most famous art museum over the years, are now being removed or temporarily covered over. Publicly, the Louvre claims that naming rights had expired, but as ArtNews points out, things seem a bit “hazy”, noting that the Sackler Wing at the museum was technically supposed to have lost its moniker back in 2013. Given that the Met, Tate, Guggenheim, and now the Louvre have all taken steps to disassociate themselves from the Sacklers, it’s difficult to imagine that renewed pressure to rename the Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian will not be bringing more protests here to DC.


Leaving in London

Meanwhile, novelist-activist Ahdaf Soueif has resigned as a trustee of the British Museum, explaining her reasoning in a post published in the London Review of Books on Monday. Among other factors in rendering her decision to step down, the author references workers’ rights, colonialism, the environment, and the Museum’s acceptance of corporate donations from British Petroleum. Last week, the Museum’s Director, Hartwig Fischer, indicated that BP exhibition sponsorship would continue where appropriate, as the famed archaeological and anthropological institution would not be able to mount special shows like the upcoming “Troy: Myth and Reality” without such support. I shouldn’t expect that this resignation will make much difference to Mr. Fischer, but as anti-petroleum protesters have already promised to step up their actions at the Museum this fall, when the “Troy” exhibition opens, I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes at the moment.


Coffin to Cairo

On a more positive note, exciting news for those who, like this scrivener, dreamed of being Egyptologists when they grew up. When King Tutankhamun’s tomb – known to scientists and archaeology nerds as KV62 – was discovered by Howard Carter in the Valley of the Kings in 1922, his body was found inside three magnificently sculpted coffins: the outer and middle coffins were carved from wood and covered in gilded plaster decoration, while the innermost coffin was made of solid gold and inlaid with enamel and precious stones. Following careful study and photography, the boy-king’s mummy was placed in the outermost coffin and returned to its resting place, where it has remained ever since, apart from the occasional test or scan.

Now that nearly a century has passed, this outermost coffin is in serious need of conservation, and the decision has been taken to pack it up and move it to the new Grand Egyptian Museum in Cairo which, after several push-backs, is scheduled to open next year. This will be the first time since Carter’s discovery that all three coffins will be on display together. No word yet on what will be done with the pharaoh’s mummy, which so far as I’m aware is still in situ in the tomb, but as it’s been in a fairly poor state of preservation since its finding, I would imagine that eventually Tut will be heading to Cairo as well.


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