Tuesday was a bit busy at The Daily Planet, Gentle Reader. As a result, I didn’t get a chance to post one of my usual long-format musings as usual. So to make up for that, you’re getting an extra-long edition of weekly curated links to some of the most interesting stories from the art world over the past week.
Before we plunge in however, I want to offer a word of grateful thanks to my friends Mac and Katherine Barron. The most recent episode of their hilarious podcast, as its title suggests, includes among its offerings an encouragement to their listeners to help support the effort to establish a permanent home for the Little Portion Hermitage. Thanks to those of you who have already contributed, and who are keeping the fundraising in your prayers, and please consider donating or passing along information about this project to anyone whom you think either may be able to help directly, or can spread to word to others who might be able to help. We need your support!
Blasphemous Battering Ram
At 2:00 am on Monday, thieves used a tree trunk as an improvised battering ram to smash their way into the Cathedral of the quiet town of Sainte-Marie d’Oloron in the French Pyrenees, a favorite stopping point for pilgrims taking the Camino de Santiago into Spain. According to Agence France-Presse, they smashed display cases and carried off a host of items, including gold and gilded vessels used for the celebration of Mass or other liturgical purposes, rare vestments such as a cope donated to the Cathedral by François I (1494-1547), and a Baroque Nativity scene. Over on the Art Crime blog, Victoria Ricci notes that the heist must have been pulled off with some advance planning, given the timing, the tools involved, and the fact that the burglars entered the church using one vehicle but escaped using another. The town has been so shaken by the theft, that volunteers are now photographing and cataloging everything in the Cathedral, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, from relics to works of art to furnishings, just in case something like this ever happens again. Although eyewitnesses saw three of those involved in the crime, as of this writing, sadly, there’s no word from police as to any leads or suspects.
Wow That’s Great, Bass
Was there a big “oops” at Christie’s in New York last week? Miami’s Bass Museum recently consigned a portrait to the auction house, which listed the picture in its fall Old Masters sale catalogue as being “in the manner of” Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669). This is auctionspeak for, “It looks like a Rembrandt, but we’re too afraid to say that it is, so no guarantees.” That trepidation may have something to do with the opinion of one of the world’s leading Rembrandt experts, Jan Six, who says the painting is by one of the master’s pupils, rather than by Rembrandt himself. Clearly at least a few people disagreed with that assessment however, because the small canvas, which is only about a foot square, sold for $675,000 last week over a pre-sale estimate of $15,000-$20,000.
Burly Hurley Hurly-Burly
News that the State of Massachusetts has put the hulking Hurley Building in Boston up for sale is one of the best pieces of architectural news I’ve heard in a long time. Surprising no one, the unfinished Brutalist behemoth is such a mess that it will be cheaper to tear it down and start over, rather than try to renovate or restore it. Apparently a group of rather foolish people want to save it, but so far Brutalist structures have not been spared in most cities, and for good reason: they are extremely difficult to repair, ruin historic neighborhoods and college campuses, and are just bloody ugly to look at. Now if only they would take the wrecking ball to Boston’s hideous City Hall building, a similarly hated architectural disaster nearby, while they’re at it…
Lights Out in London
Those of you planning to visit London’s National Portrait Gallery in the near future, had better do so sooner rather than later. The museum will be closing for three years of renovations beginning in June 2020, and while a selection of works from the permanent collection will be out and about on traveling exhibitions, the bulk of its holdings will be put into storage for the duration. No word on whether my friend Rupert Alexander’s portrait of Sir Andrew John Wiles (2015) will be one of the pieces sent around, but if there ends up being an American edition of the tour, I’d certainly love to see it in person.
The “New” Newark
Back when I visited the Newark Museum for the first time a year and a half ago, I was astonished at the breadth of that institution’s collections, which includes everything from Ancient Egyptian and Greek sculpture, to Japanese and Tibetan bronze objects, to paintings by great American artists such as Cassatt, O’Keeffe, and Sargent. I wondered why it wasn’t more heavily marketed as a cultural destination along the Northeast Corridor, i.e. the heavily used Amtrak passenger train route that stretches from Massachusetts to Virginia. Now, in what seems to me a very smart move, the institution has decided to rebrand itself as the “Newark Museum of Art”, following years of market research which revealed that more than 50% of those surveyed had no idea what the museum was – presumably, as I did before going there myself, they thought that it was only a city history museum. While the large complex does contain some interesting information about Newark’s founding and industrial past, the real jewels of the collection are pieces like this glorious canvas, “Twilight, Arbiter Twixt Day and Night” (1850), by the eminent Hudson River School painter Frederic Church (1826-1900).
Regular readers will recall my reporting on what has become known in the press as “CabriniGate”, a very public kerfuffle over New York City’s decision not to put up a statue to St. Frances Xavier Cabrini as part of its efforts to honor more women who were important to the city’s history. This, despite the fact that Mother Cabrini received more nominations than any single other individual by an overwhleming majority, infuriated many Italian-Americans in the city and elsewhere. Now ArtNet is reporting that this incident may have led to the abrupt resignation of so-called New York culture czar Tom Finkelpear, who stepped down last week. Of course, I’m not suggesting that Mother Cabrini herself, the first American citizen to be canonized a saint, had a hand in all of this from upstairs: she was far too humble of a soul for that. What I am saying however, is that if you’re a public servant who thinks you can simply ignore the little old Italian ladies who are the heart and soul of many parish communities in New York – and the career politicians who need their support for reelection – then you value your continued employment very, very cheaply.