Sunday, November 23, 2014

Georgia O'Keefe's Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1

They’ve been celebrating at the Georgia O’Keefe Museum here in Santa Fe for the past couple of days!  

The 17-year-old museum decided to sell three paintings from its collection of 1,149 works by G.O’K. The museum holds half the artist’s lifetime output.  But, because “there are gaps that need to be filled,” in September the decision was made to sell three pieces to benefit the Acquisitions Fund. 

One of the three, Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1, is one of the most well-known examples of O’Keeffe’s celebrated flower paintings, which are among the most recognizable images in art history and popular culture. 

Here’s a video clip produced by Sotheby's that expresses G.O’K.s  feelings about Jimson Weed

Here's why they're celebrating: the work was expected to sell for an estimated $10/15MM. In the end, it sold on Thursday for $44.4 million! The buyer’s identity is unknown, but the auction opened with seven bidders vying for the work before settling into a lengthy two-way battle, with the winning bid made on the phone. 

Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1 was owned originally by the artist’s sister, Anita O’Keeffe Young, whose estate was sold at Sotheby’s in 1987. At that time the painting sold for $990,000. In 1994 it was sold again into a private collection for $1MM. It was donated to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum by The Burnett Foundation in 1996. It spent 6 years on the dining room wall in the Bush White House and has been featured in nearly every major O’Keefe retrospective, including those at MOMA in New York and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

I wonder how long it will be before the buyer's identity is revealed.

“When Georgia O’Keeffe paints flowers, she does not paint fifty flowers stuffed into a dish. On most of her canvases there appeared one gigantic bloom, its huge feathery petals furled into some astonishing pattern of color and shade and line…It is enough to say that Miss O’Keeffe’s paintings are as full of passion as the verses of Solomon’s Song.”   Time, 1928

Monday, November 17, 2014

Trevi Fountain "In Restauro"

It’s inevitable that  something you really want to see when visiting Italy will be “in restauro”, rendered inaccessible or blocked from view by scaffolding and protective fencing. I’ve been thwarted many times when trying to research or photograph monuments and artworks for Jane's Smart Art Guides, being barred entrance to chapels and once even an entire building (the Borghese Gallery), unable to take photographs of fountains, and finding frescoes behind great sheets of canvas. 

So -- other than the coincidence of timing – it came as no surprise to learn, the day after launching the Jane's Smart Art Guides audio guide to the Fountains of Rome, Part 1: Acqua Vergine, that the principal fountain -  the Trevi Fountain – is “in restauro”!  If I actually lived in Rome, instead of just dreaming of living there, I would have known! 

One night in June of 2012, chunks of stone and stucco fell from a cornice on the left hand side of the Trevi Fountain.  It is thought that the monument was weakened by the snow and the unusually cold spell that Rome experienced the preceding winter, and by the particularly rainy spring that followed. Of course, ice would have worsened any cracks and fractures that were already present in the structure.

"We intervened on Saturday evening, as soon as we knew about the damage," said Rome's superintendent of heritage, Umberto Broccoli. Immediately part of the fountain was fenced off and workers used a mobile crane to assess the damage. During this assessment, additional pieces of the cornice were removed because they appeared to be on the verge of collapse. The city undertook emergency work at a cost of  €320,000.

Fast forward two years (and in Italy, a mere two years really is fast forward!) … contractors have been hired, the water’s been turned off and the fountain drained. Happily, the protective barrier that’s been set up around the perimeter is transparent, and a footbridge over the basin has been installed to allows visitors to see the work and get closer to the structure. Apparently the entire restoration will be conducted in public view.

Actually, I wish I could be there to see it this way … a unique opportunity to get really close to the fountain, to see it from a totally different perspective. What a great way to fully understand the scale of this monument!  I remember being quite thrilled by how close we were able to get to Michelangelo’s Moses in San Pietro in Vincoli while it was being restored. The elevated walkway took us right past Moses at eye level … closer than I will ever be again.

In addition to restoring the fa├žade that forms the backdrop against the south wall of the Palazzo Poli, the sculptural elements will be cleaned and new pumps, artistic lighting, and barriers to deter pigeons will be installed. The last major restoration was in 1990, but new techniques will make this the most thorough in the fountain's history.

They say that the work will be completed in about a year and a half. "We hope to restore this treasured landmark to the city in the autumn of 2015,” Ignazio Marino, the Mayor of Rome said.  But I think that may have been back in April when the work was supposed to start!  Oh, me of little faith … but I don’t think we should get our hearts set on seeing the work completed before some time in 2016!  Perhaps they’ll prove me wrong. 
If you know how cash-strapped Italy’s cultural heritage authorities are, you might well ask, “Where’d they find the funds?”  In the past few years, Italy has more and more been looking to private sponsors to help repair long-neglected monuments and archaeological sites. Dependence on private industry to pay for needed restoration has become the norm. 

Entitled Fendi for Fountains, in addition to sponsoring the restoration of the Trevi Fountain, this initiative also includes the restoration of the Quattro Fontane -- four fountains that face each other on the corners of Via delle Quattro Fontane and Via del Quirinale. (These fountains, dating to 1590, will be included in my Fountains of Rome, Part 2: Acqua Felice audio guide.) This is a busy intersection, and the fountains have been dirtied over the years by the emissions of the thousands of cars that pass by every day. Conservation work on the Four Fountains has also begun. New hydraulics and lighting will be installed. The project is expected to be completed in Spring 2015.

The work on the Trevi and Quattro Fontane is the latest in a series of privately-funded restorations of Italy's prized landmarks.  The Colosseum (Tod's), the Spanish Steps (Bulgari), the Rialto Bridge in Venice (Diesel Jeans), are some of the important historic monuments currently being worked on. In addition, Finmeccanica, a Defense group, has pledged staff and technology worth up to €2 million to a project to prop up the crumbling town of Pompeii.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Adam After The Fall, Nov 11

If the pedestal supporting a priceless 15th century marble sculpture collapses, and nobody hears the statue smash on the hard marble floor, did it actually break into 28 large pieces and hundreds of small fragments?  Unfortunately, yes

A security guard doing his normal rounds at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art on Sunday, October 6th, 2002 was first to come upon the shockingly unexpected scene at around 9:00 PM.

Sometime that evening the plywood pedestal supporting Tullio Lombardo’s 15th century marble statue of Adam collapsed, dropping all 770 pounds of the 6’3” figure to the ground.  Adam was decapitated, the torso flung across the floor, the left arm broken into seven pieces, the right leg into six. 

Until that moment, the smooth unblemished surface of the carving had been one of Adam‘s most illustrious features.  

Originally commissioned for the tomb of the Doge Andrea Vendramin (d. 1478) in the church of Santa Maria dei Servi in Venice, Lombardo’s Adam was placed in a niche next to the sarcophagus of the Doge in the center of the monument. A statue of Eve, attributed Francesco Segala, stood in the balancing niche on the other side. 

When the church of the Servi was demolished by Napoleon in 1812, the Vendramin tomb was moved to the choir of the church of Saints Giovanni e Paolo, but without Adam and Eve. In keeping with the times, the classical nudes were deemed indiscreet, and they were replaced by two warrior figures. 

Adam and Eve were moved to the Palazzo Vendramin Calergi where Eve remains to this day.  But in 1865 Adam was sold at auction in Paris, and eventually made it’s way into the collection of the Metropolitan Museum, in 1936.  The acquisition was a triumph: Adam is widely considered to be the most important Italian Renaissance sculpture in North America.

Not just “another Renaissance sculpture”, Tullio’s Adam was recognized not only as the first classically-inspired monumental nude carved since antiquity, but as a masterpiece in its own right. 

But according to the fascinating entry on The History Blog, the conservators subsequently decided “to take a far more meticulous approach, studying every aspect of the reconstruction in detail before drilling holes in it and piecing it together with adhesives and pins. Instead of two years it took 12, but they were 12 years well spent”. 

On November 11th, Adam is going back on display at the Met, and the story of the restoration is part of the exhibition. The statue, originally intended for a niche and therefore less worked in the back than in the front, will now be viewed in the round so people can see it the same way the conservators did. The Met has made some videos explaining the epic 12-year conservation project …. and you can preview them now . They are fascinating.