Art News Roundup: More of the Same Edition

Quite frankly, I’m tired of reporting on this sort of thing, for various reasons.

Following his recent action concerning the Hagia Sophia, Turkish President Recep Erdogan has ordered the conversion of yet another former Byzantine church into a mosque. The Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora, in Istanbul, boasts magnificent 14th century mosaics, such as those shown below, which were covered up under the Ottomans when the building became a mosque. They were uncovered and restored when the building was secularized, but they will now have to be covered up again, in some fashion. You can read more about Mr. Erdogan’s latest bread-and-circuses move here and here, as well as see more images and video of the sacred art and architecture.

I find it interesting that Mr. Erdogan feels a compelling need in recent years to take over these spaces and convert them to mosques, rather than commissioning new houses of worship. Surely there are Turkish architects, construction companies, and manufacturers who could use the work. Perhaps this is happening, in part, because he’s run out of money.

The gargantuan new 1,100-room Turkish Presidential Palace covers over 3 million square feet; by comparison, Buckingham Palace only has a paltry 775 rooms, and boasts a measly 830,000 square feet. The “official” cost of what is supposed to be Mr. Erdogan’s temporary residence while in office is $615 million, which is a particularly staggering sum when you consider that Turkey already had a very large Presidential complex in Ankara, and Turkey’s GDP per capita is currently about $9,000 (in America, we’re somewhere north of $65,000.) I’m sure you could build quite a few new mosques for $615 million, but there you are.

Putting aside the issue of megalomania however, the situation in Turkey of necessity forces me to reflect upon what at first glance might seem to be a parallel situation in Spain, where mosques were turned into churches. For example, following the Moorish conquest of Spain in the 8th century, the Cathedral of Córdoba was expanded and turned into a vast mosque, before being turned back into a Cathedral once the Moors were expelled from the city in the 13th century. If you go there today, sitting in the middle of the Islamic structure is a Late Gothic/Early Renaissance church, which remains in active use. Although the most famous example in the country, it isn’t the only one.

However it should be pointed out that there are key differences between the Turkish and Spanish situations.

Whereas the Hagia Sophia, the Chora Church, and other Byzantine buildings were converted to mosques when what we now call Turkey became Islamic, just as mosques in Spain were converted into churches when the country became Christian again, in the Turkish case the affected buildings had been secularized and converted into museums after World War II. Up until now, they had not been active places of worship of any sort for many years.

The same did not occur in Spain, other than during the brief period of Communist rule at the outset of the Spanish Civil War, when everything sacred that wasn’t burned, looted, or demolished was secularized. Moreover, many of the former mosques in Spain were themselves former Christian churches, albeit ones that had undergone expansion and alteration during Muslim rule. Thus, what might seem to be a parallel situation between Turkey and Spain really isn’t one at all.

Given that no one dares to say, “No,” to Mr. Erdogan within Turkey, and the country’s strategic importance gives many states pause before appearing to publicly criticize it, unfortunately it’s likely that this sort of nonsense will continue to make headlines for the foreseeable future.

And now, on to some more pleasant news from the art world over the week gone by.

More at the Meadows

The Meadows Museum in Dallas – which I had been hoping to finally visit this summer but…COVID – recently acquired several new works for its excellent permanent collection of Spanish art. Five drawings were purchased from De La Mano in Madrid, a gallery specializing in Spanish Old Masters. Perhaps the most interesting of the acquisitions is “The Death of St. Mary Magdalen” (c. 1645-50) shown below, by the great painter/sculptor/architect Alonso Cano (1601-1667). As a young man, Cano left his native Granada to go study in Seville, alongside Diego Velázquez (1599-1660) under Velázquez’ future father-in-law, Francisco Pacheco (1564-1644). When they were art students, Cano and Velázquez’ styles under Pacheco’s influence were so similar, that the authorship of some paintings by one or the other remains a hotly-debated point among experts, as in the case of this “Immaculate Conception” owned by a private foundation in Seville. In any case, the Meadows is now open again with limited capacity, pandemic permitting, should you care to trundle along and see their new acquisitions for yourself.

More at the Markets

Despite the undeniable impact of COVID, the art market seems to be finding buyers. While many of the usual fairs and shows are cancelled or postponed, and auctioneers and galleries are imposing severe limits on visitors, commerce has been shifting online to such a significant extent, that some auctioneers such as Christie’s have decided to completely shake up their traditional sales calendar. Indeed, Old Master painting specialists Van Ham in Cologne noted that their move to primarily online sales has increased their average number of bidders by 25% since the beginning of the pandemic. That doesn’t necessarily always translate into higher prices: Van Ham sold the painting of “Saint Catherine of Alexandria” shown below, by an unknown 17th century Italian artist, for around $30k, the low end of the pre-sale estimate. In other instances however, online bidding has generated more competition than ever before, and yielded surprising results. A recent sale of vintage movie posters at Ewbank’s in Surrey, for example, which included original posters for “Casablanca”, “Dr. No”, and other classic films, drew bidders from over 30 countries, 99% of the lots were sold, and in the end sales totaled $121k – double the pre-sale estimate.

More of Everything

If there’s one artist whom we could comfortably point to as emphatically rejecting the maxim, “Less is more,” it would almost certainly have to be Catalan Surrealist Salvador Dalí (1904-1989). Just in time for Christmas, a heavily-illustrated new book, “The Dalí Legacy : How an Eccentric Genius Changed the Art World and Created a Lasting Legacy” looks at the eccentric artist’s life-long pursuit of excess in all things. Authors Dr. Christopher Heath Brown and Dr. Jean-Pierre Isbouts examine not only Dalí’s art, but also his influence on fashion, film, design, and the notion of an artist developing a public persona. Long before TikTok for example, Dalí was doing ridiculous things on camera in order to attract publicity, and holding press conferences to share his bizarre exploits and ideas. Whether his example has benefited either art or society is certainly worth debating. “The Dalí Legacy” will be published on December 1st.

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