If you wander around Sotheby’s and Christie’s during old master week with open ears, or if you converse a bit at a conference like the delightful and enlightening symposium held for the inauguration of the present exhibition, you are likely to hear some words about the disappearance of good drawings from the market, the ongoing retirement of dealers, the paucity of new ones to take their place, the scarcity of collectors, the resistance of museum directors and boards to these elitist and esoteric artworks, and, ultimately, the demise of the collecting of old master drawings—whereupon the interlocutors stare into space, as if they were on the deck of the sinking Titanic. If this were true, drawings would always continue to be available to the public and scholars, but the heart of the organism would be dead. The circulation of fresh blood—i.e. drawings—would have ceased.
Sprawled across the east wing that stretches from the papal residence to the Vatican Museums is an inscription commemorating one of Pope Julius II’s most important contributions to the complex now known as the Apostolic Palace: IULIUS II PONT MAX LIGURUM VI PATRIA SAONENSIS SIXTI IIII NEPOS VIAM HANC STRUXIT PONT COMMODITATI. The text is ambiguous in that “VI” may signify the ablative case of the word vis meaning power or strength, or it may stand for the Roman numeral “6.”
A penny for the old guy. The original London Eye wasn’t a Ferris wheel on the Thames but J.M.W. Turner, whose visual genius and all-encompassing vision engulfed everything in its path. Until the electroshock treatment applied by Francis Bacon, generations of British painters were subsumed by him. Paying obeisance to the great man is both a duty and a delight when visiting Tate Britain, and now the Turner galleries have been completely rehung for the first time since the mid-Nineties.
No British artist in living memory has achieved the glaring notoriety of Damien Hirst. As a teen-ager his idea of a fun photo was posing next to the swollen head of a corpse in a morgue. In the photo he grins with crazy intensity, and ever since then his aim has been to dazzle with disgust. One imagines that he wanders the streets in an acid-green spotlight waving off paparazzi the way Orestes waved off flies. In fact, flies figure into several of Hirst’s pieces. One is an installation in which maggots are eating a skinned cow’s head. Another is a black disc mounted on the wall made of resin and squashed houseflies. The repellent is Hirst’s muse.
When I began to receive promotional material from the City of Pittsfield about a summer-long celebration of Herman Melville last spring, “Call Me Melvile,” I anxiously surveyed Melville’s chronology in one of the Library of America volumes I have on my shelf, looking for some date worthy of commemoration by this busy series of events, and I found none. In 1812, Herman Melville was not yet born. In 1862, nothing happened, except for the continuing decline of his literary and fiscal fortunes as well as his mental state. The following autumn he was to leave Pittsfield for good, much to his sorrow, trading his beloved house, Arrowhead, with his brother for a brownstone in New York City. In 1912 Melville remained in obscurity, the Moby-Dick revival still in the future. Perhaps 1852 was the key year…?
Occasionally I’ve thought that in my role as The Berkshire Review‘s ‘London correspondent’ I ought to focus sometimes on things that are more culturally British; unfortunately, I just don’t think much of British culture generally, and with the Olympics now here, decimating arts funding and forcing friends and colleagues of mine out of their homes due to massive rent increases, I feel arguably less inclined than ever to take up the baton for this country.
If we think of Raphael today—and that is a big “if”—our mental picture is probably of a painter of Madonnas or, perhaps, of the Raphael of his first Roman frescoes, which long epitomized academic art at its best. But these are works associated with the early to middle periods of the painter’s brief life (1483-1520) and do not tell the whole story of his evolution, one of the most remarkable in the history of western art. The splendid exhibition now on show at the Prado gives us a glimpse of the greatness Raphael achieved in his last decade even though it does not fully answer the question of who Raphael really was.
Exhibitions of progressive new Iranian art have flourished over the last several years, in commercial galleries in the Middle East and in diasporic centers like New York and London. The most recent major contribution to this ongoing introduction is Iranian Arts Now at Cité International des Arts in Paris until July 24. Though the emergent profile of contemporary Iranian art has been supported by dealers like Leila Heller in New York and the Silk Road Gallery in Tehran, broader public exposure is being facilitated by museum exhibitions, and notable ones include Iran Inside Out at the Chelsea Art Museum in 2009 and a current exhibition, Contemporary Iranian Art from the Permanent Collection, at the Metropolitan Art Museum.