I’ve been thinking about the fragility and longevity of art. Why…a sumptuous afternoon at the deYoung Museum in San Francisco viewing the new show, Masters of Venice. The Giorgione’s were breathtaking, almost heart-stopping, we commented, “they must have been recently restored.”
Just after our day at the deYoung…
From the AFP Wire Service, 11.3.2011—“A cleaning woman at a German museum who mistook a sculpture for an unsightly mess has destroyed the valuable artwork beyond recognition, a spokeswoman for the western city of Dortmund said Thursday. The cleaner at the city’s Ostwall Museum went to work on the Martin Kippenberger installation titled When It Starts Dripping From the Ceiling, which was valued by insurers at 800,000 euros ($1.1 million), she said. The late contemporary master had created a tower of wooden slats under which a rubber trough was placed with a thin beige layer of paint representing dried rain water. Taking it for an actual stain, the cleaner scrubbed the surface until it gleamed. It is now impossible to return it to its original state, the spokeswoman said, adding that the damage had been discovered late last month and that the work had been on loan to the museum from a private collector. She said that cleaning crews had orders to remain 20 centimeters (eight inches) away from artworks but it was unclear if the woman had received the directive from the external company that employed her.”
And, a Tweet from Papermag, “The late Keith Haring‘s pop imagery, like his pal Andy Warhol, lives on everywhere from shoes to iPhone cases to museum walls. In 1984, Haring visited Melbourne, Australia and painted a mural in the Collingwood neighborhood as a present to the city. Haring’s mural has suffered wear and tear over the past 1/4 of a century, so a group has formed to help restore the work of art. To help save Haring’s Melbourne mural, go here and sign a petition.” All works by Keith Haring are near & dear to our Managing Editor, Kim Steele, who knew and worked with Haring in New York.
1974: An enraged man sprayed the words ‘Kill Lies All’ on Picasso’s painting Guernica in the Museum of Modern Art. He was seized immediately and the red-paint lettering was removed from the masterpiece, leaving no damage. The vandal, who shouted that he was an artist, was identified as Tony Shafrazi. As stunned visitors looked on helplessly in the third-ßoor gallery where the huge antiwar painting hangs, the man drew a an of spray paint from his pocket and scrawled the three words in foot-high letters across the gray, black and white masterwork.
Originally the museum hoped to keep the vandalism secret, because, according to Elisabeth Shaw, the museum’s press spokesman: ‘Museums are always afraid that this kind of publicity may encourage other acts of vandalism.’
Tony Shafrazi is now a well-known art dealer in New York. In December 1980, he said in an interview in Art in America: ‘I wanted to bring the art absolutely up to date, to retrieve it from art history and give it life. Maybe that’s why the Guernica action remains so difficult to deal with. I tried to trespass beyond that invisible barrier that no one is allowed to cross; I wanted to dwell within the act of the painting’s creation, get involved with the making of the work, put my hand within it and by that act encourage the individual viewer to challenge it, deal with it and thus see it in its dynamic raw state as it was being made, not as a piece of history.’ In an art historical context, Shafrazi’s conduct is regarded as vandalism. But how would Picasso have viewed the matter…he who himself painted over a Modigliani? Picasso’s remarks are more in tune with Shafrazi’s ideas than with what museums stand for: ‘Ultimately, what is important about a picture is the legend it has created, not whether it is preserved or not,’ and ‘Everything I have done has been for thepresent, in the hope that it will forever remain in the present.’ By turning Picasso’s Guernica into a masterpiece, the museum helps to make the picture historic, thereby rendering it invisible in the present.
2004: A custodian at Tate Britain, apparently an appreciator of auto-destructive art—all timing aside, accidentally tossed a part of Gustav Metzger’s art in the trash. Comments at the time, “When is a bag of rubbish not a bag of rubbish? When it’s an integral piece of a high-profile exhibition at one of London’s most famous galleries.”
Metzger, a German artist who lived in London, “invented” auto-destructive art in the late 1950’s. According to the artist’s account, the form “re-enacts the obsession with destruction, the pummeling to which individuals and masses are subjected.” Metzger painted hydrochloric acid on to a canvas, the painting was ultimately entirely eaten away, in what was intended as “an attack on those art dealers and collectors who manipulate modern art for profit.”
From a fabulously apropos and presciently entitled article in The Guardian, August 27, 2004, “How Auto-Destructive Art Work Got Destroyed Too Soon,” the story of a Gustav Metzger installation emerges, “part of an installation by Gustav Metzger called Recreation of First Public Demonstration of Auto-Destructive Art was promptly thrown out. The organisers of the gallery’s Art and the Sixties show admitted yesterday that the bag had been mistaken for rubbish and thrown into a crusher by the cleaner on June 30. Although the bag was fished out of the Tate’s crusher as soon as the mix-up came to light, Metzger is understood to have felt it was beyond rescue.”
“He was offered compensation, but told Tate staff that the piece was ruined and created a new bag as a replacement. The new rubbish bag is now put in a box overnight for safe keeping. ”
The Tate commented: “We can’t discuss the private arrangements made with artists and financial arrangements relating to artworks.”
Artdaily.com sadly yet most eloquently compiled their list of 10 works of art, “Forever Damaged by Carelessness, Negligence, Anger or Pure Insanity…”
1. Fountain (1917), Marcel Duchamp: A gifted artist can make almost any object meaningful. Take Duchamp’s Fountain, a white Bedfordshire model urinal he purchased in New York in 1917. Initially, there was debate as to whether it was actually art, as he submitted it to a Society of Independent Artists exhibit, which opted not to display it; however, in 2006, it was valued at $3.6 million. That same year, it was vandalized with a hammer by a 76-year-old performance artist, leaving it slightly chipped. The same man urinated in the piece 13 years earlier when it was on display in Nimes, France. The piece remains a hot target today.
2. Night Watch (1642), Rembrandt van Rijn: Night Watch could’ve used its own militia to watch over it through the years. Showcased at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the painting has been targeted on a few occasions. In 1911, an unemployed navy cook unsuccessfully attempted to cut it with a knife. In 1975, a schoolteacher more effectively slashed zigzag lines into it, and although the painting was restored, traces of the damage are still evident. The man was later determined to have a mental disorder and he subsequently committed suicide. In 1990, a man sprayed it with acid, but guards acted quickly and the painting was saved from destruction.
3. Danae (1636), Rembrandt van Rijn: One of Rembrandt’s favorite pieces, Danae depicts the mother of Perseus — from Greek mythology — as she welcomes Zeus, his father. The eight-by-ten-foot painting nearly met its demise in 1985, when a deranged visitor to the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, where it has been housed since the 18th century, brandished a knife and proceeded to slash Danae’s lower stomach and upper thigh. He capped off the dramatic episode by tossing sulfuric acid onto the canvas, causing the original paint to splatter and run. The painstaking restoration took 12 long years to complete, and fortunately, the painting is again on display.
4. Rokeby Venus (1647-51), Diego Velazquez: Velazquez was a master at realistically depicting human form, as evidenced by his painting Rokeby Venus, in which the goddess Venus is lying in bed in a seductive pose, looking into a mirror held by her son Cupid. Venus was nearly ripped to shreds in 1914 by militant suffragette Mary Richardson — who later in her life became the head of the women’s section of the British Union of Fascists — following the arrest of fellow suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst. She entered the National Gallery in London despite previous warnings of a possible attack and left seven slashes mostly across Venus’s back. Richardson was given the maximum six-month sentence for the deed.
5. The Virgin and Child with St Anne and St John the Baptist (1499-1500), Leonardo da Vinci: Also hanging in the National Gallery in London is The Virgin and Child with St Anne and St John the Baptist, a black and white charcoal and chalk drawing executed by da Vinci more than 500 years ago. It was valued at $35 million in 1987, when a man attempted to shoot it with a sawn-off shotgun intending to show his anger at the ”political, social and economic conditions in Britain.” The blast shattered the protective glass, causing a six-inch tear in the Virgin’s robe. Numerous glass fragments and loose bits of paper were removed in the restoration, which, as usual in such cases, couldn’t completely bring it to its original form.
6. Portland Vase (30-20 BC), Maker Unknown: The Portland Vase couldn’t make it two millennia without being shattered, but it did outlast most household vases by about 1,865 to 1,875 years. The exquisite cameo-glass vessel, featuring depictions of humans and gods, was discovered near Rome in the 16th century and has been in the British Museum since 1810. In 1845, a drunken man threw another sculpture onto the Portland’s case, smashing both. Some fragments of it were lost and later found, but added after its first restoration. Its final restoration occurred in 1988 and 1989, and now little damage is visible.
7. The Little Mermaid (1913), Edvard Eriksen: Because The Little Mermaid is one of Copenhagen’s main attractions, the 4-foot statue has been defaced for a multitude of reasons — often political — and as a result, has essentially been rebuilt. Since 1964, its head has been sawed off, stolen, replaced and stolen again; its arm has been sawed off and stolen; it has been blasted off its rock base by dynamite; and it has been covered with just about every color of paint. It’s quite possibly the most victimized piece of art in the world.
8. Pieta (1498-99), Michelangelo: Revered by the religious and those who merely appreciate classic sculptors, Pieta is a prime attraction at St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, as it depicts the body of Jesus in the lap of Mary after the Crucifixion. During its more than 500-year history, the most significant damage sustained to the work occurred in 1972, when a crazed geologist attacked it with hammer while yelling “I am Jesus Christ.” Many of the pieces, including Mary’s nose, were taken by onlookers and not returned. It was restored with material from Mary’s back and now is protected by bullet-proof glass.
9. The Actor (1904), Pablo Picasso: Think of the costliest accident in your life in terms of monetary value, and now compare it to the 2010 incident in which a New York woman fell onto The Actor and caused a six-inch tear vertically along its lower right-hand corner. The 4-feet-by-6-feet painting, depicting an actor on stage wearing in a commedia dell’arte, had been on display at Metropolitan Museum of Art since 1952, and is estimated to be worth $130 million. Of course, because it was an accident, she wasn’t punished — or required to foot the bill. But she certainly created lots of grief.
10. Le Reve (1932), Pablo Picasso: Four years before The Actor suffered its fate, a painting portraying Picasso’s mistress Marie-Therese Walter, was damaged by its owner Steve Wynn, an American casino owner and real estate developer. Just before he intended to sell it to hedge fund manager Stephen Cohen for $139 million, which would’ve made it the priciest piece of art in history, he punctured the picture with his right elbow, creating a two-inch tear in Walter’s left forearm. Wynn, who suffers from retinitis pigmentosa, decided not to sell the painting. The repair cost $90,000.
SO HERE’S THE GOOD NEWS…and we need some. I have a weak heart, every time I think about the images of the Pieta being attacked by the crazed geologist, my heart skips a beat…
Atomic Oxygen is the technology of the future for art restoration. “It may seem like magic, but it is science. When works of art are compromised, atomic oxygen can be used to remove the organic contaminants without damaging the actual painting. The process removes all organic materials, such as carbon or soot, but it typically doesn’t affect the paint. The pigments in paint are mostly inorganic, and have already been oxidized, meaning that atomic oxygen doesn’t damage them. Pigments that are organic can also be preserved, through carefully timing the exposure to atomic oxygen. The canvas is also safe, as the atomic oxygen only reacts on the surface of the painting.”
Understanding Atomic Oxygen, more from NASA’s Glenn Research Center: “Oxygen comes in several different forms. The oxygen that we breathe is called O2—that is, it is comprised of two atoms of oxygen. O3 is ozone, such as occurs in Earth’s upper atmosphere, and O (one atom), is atomic oxygen.”
“Atomic oxygen doesn’t exist naturally for very long on the surface of Earth, as it is very reactive. But in space, where there is plenty of ultraviolet radiation, O2 molecules are more easily broken apart to create atomic oxygen.”
“Artwork can be placed in a vacuum chamber where atomic oxygen is created. Depending on the amount of damage, the painting can remain in the chamber anywhere from 20 hours to 400 hours. The pencil beam can also be used to specifically target a damaged area in need of restoration, eliminating the need to place the artwork in a vacuum chamber.
Museums, galleries and churches have come to Glenn to save and restore their works of art. Glenn has demonstrated the ability to repair a fire-damaged painting by Jackson Pollack, removed lipstick from an Andy Warhol painting and saved smoke-damaged paintings at St. Stanislaus Church in Cleveland. The Glenn team has used atomic oxygen to restore a piece that was previously thought to be irreparable: a centuries-old, Italian copy of a painting by Raphael called “Madonna of the Chair,” which belongs to St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland.”
“Atomic oxygen is very effective. In art restoration, it works so well… it’s not something you can buy in a bottle, but then again, it’s more effective than what you can buy in a bottle.”
And what of Laszlo Toth?
“Laszlo Toth, who damaged the Pieta with a hammer on 21 May 1972, was never charged with a criminal offence. On 29 January of the following year he was declared by a Rome court to be a socially dangerous person and was ordered confined to a mental hospital for at least two years. On 9 February 1975, the Hungarian-born, Australian geologist was released from the hospital and deported from Italy as an undesirable alien. He was sent back to Australia, where he was not detained by the authorities; Despite his recent absence from the public eye, he has managed to achieve some level of immortality, even aside from the perpetual linking of his name with the attack on the Pieta, in which he wielded a hammer and cried, “I am Jesus Christ – risen from the dead.”
More, “Laszlo Toth lives in a little village near Bekescsaba, Hungary. He is about 70-72 now and has four children and nine grandchildren. He never speaks to the neigbours and virtually had no social life ever since he settled there in late 70’s. I am one of the very few he keeps contact with, and that is extremely rare; we meet now and then when fishing at the pond which is located nearby.”
Since 1998, online copyright disputes in the U.S. have been resolved under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a measure that is not perfect. But it has helped balance competing interests while also providing important safeguards to prevent abuses, including penalties for spurious infringement claims. SOPA and PIPA would strip away most of these protections, leaving copyright holders free to file claims against foreign websites indiscriminately.
The problem with SOPA and PIPA doesn’t end with false positives. They would create a terrible precedent that other regimes could use to justify their own censorship efforts, potentially fragmenting the internet into so many islands.
There is also a deep question here about the priorities of media executives. SOPA and PIPA represent a legal strategy that focuses the attention of business leaders on stopping losses rather than promoting innovation and building new products. It obfuscates the fact that piracy is, in the long run, an unavoidable cost of doing business, one that should be bearable provided the fundamentals of the business (say, customer satisfaction) are sound.
Beyond damaging free speech and the internet, bills like SOPA and PIPA damage industry by reinforcing an untenable faith in the status quo, and an equally untenable fear of innovation. It reveals a mindset that continues to hold back media companies as they vie to compete on the new platforms that have already transformed their businesses, ready or not.
If that was the only harm in this legislation, we might write it off as another big media business blunder. But this time, it’s more than that. Hollywood’s right to make bad business decisions stops at the point where it threatens our freedom of speech…