They Said What?

When it comes to art, we often have strong opinions, and sometimes, when those opinions are expressed, they come with a backlash. The following people found that out the hard way.

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ABOVE: Remains of a mostly detsroyed Banksy work in New Orleans, Photo: Infrogmation of New Orleans

In art and politics, opinions beget opinions:

“[A] lot of young people no longer see the trades and skilled manufacturing as a viable career. But I promise you, folks can make a lot more, potentially, with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might make with an art history degree. Now, nothing wrong with an art history degree – I love art history. So I don’t want a bunch of emails from everybody.” Barak Obama, U.S. President

“Let me apologize for my off-the-cuff remarks. I was making a point about the jobs market, not the value of art history. As it so happens, art history was one of my favorite subjects in high school, and it has helped me take in a great deal of joy in my life that I might otherwise have missed.” Barack Obama, U.S. President

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“I have fundamental questions about why the Federal Government is involved in supporting artists that taxpayers have refused to support in the marketplace. My concern in this regard is heightened when I hear the arts community and the media saying that any restriction at all on Federal funding would amount to censorship. What they seem to be saying is that we in Congress must choose between: First, absolutely no Federal presence in the arts; or second, granting artists the absolute freedom to use tax dollars as they wish, regardless of how vulgar, blasphemous, or despicable their works may be.”  Jesse Helms, U.S. Senator

“The first time [Helms’s office called] they basically expressed displeasure that we had withdrawn. I have to conclude they really wanted that exhibition in Washington, so it would fuel their fire.” Christina Orr-Cahal, Director of Corcoran Gallery of Art, after cancelling a Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition at the museum

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“I’m obsessed with getting graffiti out of the city and keeping it out of the city. As you know, I’ve been fighting since I was first elected to get this city as clean as possible by removing all the graffiti.” Rob Ford, Toronto Mayor

“Every time he does this we get more graffiti. The graffiti artists see it as a taunt and they respond by tagging people – usually it’s anti-Ford stuff.” Adam Vaughan, Toronto city councilor

Mistakenly Bought Treasures

In the past, I’ve written about the rich spending astronomical sums of money on art. Today, I’m going to write about the rest of us. Sometimes, we common folk get lucky.

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ABOVE: Martin Johnson Heade, Magnolias on Gold Velvet Cloth, 1888-90, oil on canvas, 14.8 x 24 inches

Every so often, there is a news story about an artwork bought for peanuts, being worth a fortune.

Unfortunately, what seems too good to be true often is, and the authenticities of these works are often in dispute.

Fortunately, I did come across one story with a happy ending:

In the late nineties, a young tool and die maker from Indiana (who remains anonymous) bought some used furniture for thirty bucks. Included in the purchase was an ‘old’ painting of flowers – he used it to cover up a hole in his wall.

A while later, he and some friends decided to play Masterpiece, a board game in which players outbid one another for art at auction. Included in the game was an image similar to the one on his wall – by an artist named Martin Johnson Heade.

Intrigued, he began searching for the painter online, and later contacted the gallery responsible for handling his estate. They verified that the painting was in fact a Heade (see painting and caption above), and put the young man in contact with the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston – they paid $1.25 million for it.

Who doesn’t love a story with a happy ending?

Must See Art Shows in Toronto this Spring, Summer, and Fall

Good news art lovers: there is a lot going on in Toronto over the next few months. In addition to the cities many outdoor fairs, the following shows/events look promising.

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ABOVE: Andy Warhol, Marilyn Monroe, 1967, screenprint on paper, 36 x 36 inches

If art is your thing, you may want to mark the following dates in your calendar:

Luminato Festival

Various locations around Toronto, June 19 – 28

The 9th annual festival of arts and creativity takes over Toronto for ten days this summer. The 2015 edition features hundreds of events – with the majority of them being free.

Andy Warhol Revisited: A Mirror for Today

77 Bloor Street West, July 1, 2015 – December 31, 2015

Canada’s largest collection of Warhol prints and paintings are coming, not to gallery, but to an empty retail space in one of Toronto’s swankiest neighborhoods.

Scotiabank Nuit Blanche Toronto

Various locations around Toronto, October 3, 2015

At times hit and miss, the concept behind this event is still pretty sound – the city comes alive too.

Art Toronto

Metro Toronto Convention Centre, October 23-26, 2015

Other cities host bigger (and glitzier) fairs, but this one’s still pretty good. A must see for art lovers and buyers.

J.M.W. Turner: Painting Set Free

Art Gallery of Ontario, October 31, 2015 – January 31, 2016

The AGO’s fall blockbuster examines the last 15 years of Turner’s career and features more than 50 works on loan from Tate Britain.

The Emperor Has No Clothes

If you follow modern art, you will likely come across the term: “The Emperor has no clothes”. Where does it come from? What does it mean? I recently found out.

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ABOVE: Joe Sixpack, Swimming Pool, 2015, acrylic on canvas, 36.9 x 30 inches, sale price: $15,000

The Emperor has no clothes.

The above expression comes from Hans Christian Anderson’s short tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and is used to describe the belief in something that is not true.

In the tale, a vain Emperor – who is obsessed with clothes – is conned by two swindlers into spending a ridiculous amount of money on outfits so extraordinary, they are invisible to those who are incompetent or stupid. In reality of course, there are no such clothes.

Foolishly, the Emperor sees this as an opportunity to purge his court of undesirables, and he sends his top advisers to observe the swindlers at work on his new wardrobe. Fearing that they’ll be deemed unfit, the advisers inform him that the cloth is magnificent.

Once ‘finished’, the Emperor is dressed by the swindlers – who rave about how great he looks – and a procession is arranged where he can show-off his new clothes to the entire city.

Not wanting to be seen as stupid, the townspeople greet the naked Emperor with thunderous applause, but while they are expressing their admiration, a small boy cries out… “But the Emperor has no clothes.”

The moral of the story: pretension not supported by reality will always seem foolish to those who see the world for what it is, rather than what they’ve been told (i.e. children).

In a modern art context, the term could be used to describe anyone who spends a ridiculous amount of money on a blank canvas, pile of bricks, or Instagram screen shot – or anyone too afraid to call them out for it.

Ontario & the Arts

Last week, I wrote about global museum attendance. This week, I’m going to look at some more art numbers – specifically, as they pertain to Ontario.

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ABOVE: Installation view of Douglas Coupland’s recent exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto)

In September 2011, The Ontario Arts Council (OAC) commissioned the Ontario Arts Engagement Survey. Data was collected by Ipsos Reid in May/June of 2011, and of 12,672 calls made, 1,594 interviews were completed. Here are some of the results:

Art viewing habits:

  • Visiting a museum was the tenth most popular arts activity with 51% of those surveyed claiming to have gone at least once in the last year – the number one art activity was watching movies on a computer, TV or DVD (94%).

At least once a year:

  • 9% of respondents paint, draw or make original art (75% don’t).
  • 6% take an arts class (91% don’t).
  • 39% go to an arts fair (54% don’t).
  • 36% buy art for their homes (59% don’t).

Miscellaneous:

  • 71% of respondents said that the home was the predominant setting for engaging with the arts.
  • 95% said they would like to be doing more arts activities than they are currently doing.

These are just some of the results from the OAC’s most recent survey. Hopefully, they’ll commission another one soon.

The World’s Most Visited Art Museums

While the fine arts will never attract as many people as major sporting events, the world’s top museums do quite well in the crowd department. Toronto needs to step it up though.

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The Art Newspaper recently released its annual survey of global museum attendance, and if you live in Toronto, the numbers are a bit shocking:

TORONTO

Population: 2,615,060 (2011)

Visitors to the Art Gallery of Ontario in 2014: 861,991 (No. 75 globally)

MONTREAL

Population: 1,649,519 (2011)

Visitors to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 2014: 1,015,022 (No. 62 globally)

Clearly, when it comes to art, Torontonians just aren’t as passionate as Montrealers. Oh well, it could be worse, The National Gallery of Canada (in Ottawa) didn’t even make the list.

To put the above in (even more) perspective, here are some other results from the survey:

The world’s most visited art museum in 2014

The Louvre, Paris, 9,260,000

North American’s most visited art museum in 2014

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 6,162,147 (No. 4 globally)

The world’s most visited art show in 2014

The All Complete Qianlong: Emperor Gaozong, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1,170,862

North America’s most visited art show in 2014

Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 643,783

The world’s most visited show for a living artist in 2014:

Yayoi Kusama: Infinite Obsession, Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, Brazil, 754,565

Money & Art

With every passing year, the prices paid for arts biggest names rise and rise. Just this week, another record was broken. How long before it’s broken again?

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ABOVE: Pablo Picasso, Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’) / Women of Algiers, 1955, oil on canvas, 44.9 x 57.6 inches, private collection

On Monday night, Pablo Picasso’s Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’) broke the record for most expensive artwork sold at auction when it went for $179.4 million at Christie’s in New York City. All told, the 35 pieces in Monday’s sale went for a total of $705,858,000. To put this in perspective, the Kingdom of Tonga has a GDP of $466.3 million.

Shockingly, Les Femmes d’Alger is nowhere near the most expensive painting ever sold. That distinction goes to Paul Gauguin’s Nafea Faa Ipoipo which changed hands privately for $300 million in February of this year. It seems that in the art world, private sales trump auction houses.

Every once in a while, buyers want their names attached to their acquisitions, but most often, and in the case of the above paintings, they do not. While this desire for anonymity is understandable, it is also worrisome as it likely means that these two masterpieces will never be seen (in public) again.

All of this begs the question: why do private individuals spend so much on art? From a hedge against inflation to the building of an art foundation, there are many possible reasons, but the cynic within me has to ask: Is the ‘love of art’ one of them?