Monday, April 30, 2012

Multiple Years Captured in a Single Photograph

Saturday, April 28, 2012

‘Under the unminding sky’ – Paintings by Gregory Thielker

March 16, 2012 - By Philip Kennedy

Being from Ireland means that I’m used to the rain. It feels like I see it nearly everyday. And despite a despairing dislike for the stuff, I must admit that sometimes I do occasionally find myself swept up in a simpleminded and childlike daze as I watch it run down my window. It’s a simple pleasure but one which I can’t help but like.

Perhaps that’s why I find myself really in love with these paintings by the American artist Gregory Thielker. Taken from a series called Under the unminding sky, his work capture the beauty of the rain, but it also explore the relationship between it and the medium of painting. As water falls on the windshield, Thielker’s style explores how the environment outside changes through fluidity, texture, transparency and mixing.

Check out the whole series on Thielker’s website here.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Radical Italian Museum Director Begins Burning Art in Incendiary Anti-Austerity Protest


Courtesy Casoria Contemporary Art Museum
Antonio Manfredi torches a painting by French artist Séverine Bourguignon in front of the Casoria Contemporary Art Museum

Last February, artist and curator Antonio Manfredi threatened to set fire to the permanent collection of the Casoria Contemporary Art Museum outside Naples to protest under-funding of the arts in Italy. This afternoon, he put his art where his mouth is. Standing before cameras, he torched a painting by French artist Séverine Bourguignon, who watched the ceremony via Skype. Manfredi has said that he intends to burn three paintings a week from now on as part of an ongoing protest.

In following through with his earlier promise, the outspoken museum director hopes to inspire a reversal of the harsh austerity measures that have laid particularly high burdens on the shoulders of Italy's cultural sector. Such problems are all the more difficult in the nation's south, where employment and illiteracy are high, corruption is rampant, and general attitudes concerning art are characterized by cynicism and mistrust. In Manfredi’s view, only extreme measures can expect to win the attention of Lorenzo Ornaghi, director of Italy's Ministry of Cultural Heritage.

In February, when he first made his threat, Manfredi sent a dossier to Ornaghi containing photocopies of every one of the works of art in the Casoria collection, which number more than a thousand. An email from the Casoria Contemporary Art Museum to ARTINFO explained the day's drama, as the deadline Manfredi had given the government to respond ticked away:

“At 6 PM in front of the entrance of the Casoria Contemporary Art Museum (CAM), the work of Séverine Bourguignon was consumed by fire. The canvas was burned by the director, Antonio Manfredi, who waited all day for a signal from the institution’s staff. Filled with anger and emotion when the signal did not arrive, Manfredi, the staff of the museum, and the artist herself (via Skype), gathered to sacrifice a work of art from CAM's permanent collection. The French artist has confirmed the decision to destroy her work, a decision which she called “political,” necessary, and compelling in the face of these adverse circumstances. Tomorrow, again at 6 pm, Neapolitan artist Rosaria Matarese will set fire to one of her works. CAM, meanwhile, is waiting for someone to intervene.”

To see images of Antonio Manfredi's protest today at the Casoria Contemporary Art Museum, click on the slide show.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Leonardo Da Vinci: nothing to find but disappointment

Uncovering Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Battle of Anghiari’ will destroy one of the great legends of Renaissance art history.

 'Proof' that long lost Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece lies behind Florence painting

National Geographic Fellow Maurizio Seracini (foreground) and his team view footage captured by the endoscope behind the Vasari wall Photo: Dave Yoder

It is one of the most influential paintings that never quite were. Commissioned for the Hall of the Five Hundred, the gigantic meeting room of Florence’s governing body in the city’s Palazzo Vecchio in 1504, Leonardo’s ‘Battle of Anghiari’ was to have been his largest painting, a vast fresco that was for centuries a watchword among artists for the portrayal of heroic muscular effort.

Depicting a battle of 1440, in which the papal forces, led by Florence, defeated those of Leonardo’s home city Milan, it centred on a murderous struggle between four horsemen for the possession of a standard. Their snorting steeds writhing and rolling as the knights grapple, the scene couldn’t be further from the transcendant serenity that characterised the National Gallery’s recent Leonardo blockbuster.

Yet it’s a work that changed the way artists approached the problems of movement and physical struggle. Or that is what we’ve been led to understand, for no one has set eyes on the painting for over 450 years.

Its great rival in this category of non-existent exemplar was commissioned to hang on the wall opposite: Michelangelo’s ‘Battle of Cascina’. This was to have been the place where the two giants, and the great artistic rivals, of that extraordinary period came face to face across the political fulcrum of the most important city of the Renaissance.

In fact, the whole thing was a fiasco from first to last. The two artists had as little to do with each other as possible. Leonardo, who had had problems with fresco – tempera on wet plaster – while working on the ‘Last Supper’, took the unprecedented step of applying oil paint directly onto the wall. A thunderstorm created excessive humidity, causing the colours to drip and merge into each other. Discouraged, he abandoned the project.

Michelangelo completed a cartoon, or full scale drawing, but had barely begun the painting itself when he was called to Rome to work on the tomb of Pope Julius II, whereupon his cartoon was destroyed by a jealous rival.

These unfinished, compromised works faced each other across the hall for half a century, before the Florentine authorities decided to get some proper frescoes painted over them in 1555 by Giorgio Vasari, author of ‘Lives of the Artists’, a brilliant chronicler of the artists of his age, but a mediocre painter.

Leonardo’s painting is known principally from a powerful drawing by Rubens, made from a later engraving. Michelangelo’s work, a supremely unrealistic catalogue of male nudity, is known from a copy of his cartoon made by a pupil.

Both of these works and the preparatory drawings produced for them, have been not only endlessly ‘quoted’ over the centuries by artists of the order of Titian, but have been talked and fantasised into a kind of cult-phenomenon.

While it would be wonderful to get further insights into either of them – and in the wake of the London Leonardo exhibition interest couldn’t be higher – I’m not going to get over excited on the strength of two holes bored into a wall and a few minute fragments of plaster.

Vasari may have been a self-serving opportunist, but he genuinely revered both artists and it’s impossible to believe he would have painted over a significant work by either of them. There is of course the currently much discussed possibility that he painted onto a false wall erected to save Leonardo’s painting.

Yet even if a substantial chunk of the Battle of Anghiari is unearthed I suspect the experience will be disappointing. Not only will it be in a deleterious condition, but rather like those lost and legendary albums you wait half a lifetime to hear, only to find your internal life somehow the poorer for the experience, the idea of Leonardo’s painting may prove to be far more potent and inspiring than the actuality.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The 15 Richest Living Artists

By Joy Yoon 

The 15 Richest Living Artists

Comprising a list of the world’s richest living artists is hard. Why? Because artists don’t really want you to know how much they’re worth. Think about it. At a gallery, set prices are only revealed if buyer interest is shown. When a piece goes up for auction, you get a feel for the artist’s value via their estimates, but only when the hammer goes down can you even fathom how much an artist and their works are actually worth. Numbers big and small are recorded, but what about all the other transactions? What about the private commissions, corporate sales, trading for favors, or straight up cash money transactions on the DL?

Unlike the Sunday Times Rich List which is comprised of estimates measured from identifiable wealth that includes land, property, art and shares in publicly quoted companies, this list focuses on artists and guesstimates made on how much they earn from actual art sales.

Although John Baldessari, Ed Ruscha, Kaws, Jose Parla, Barry McGee, Fernando Botero, Claes Oldenburg, Banksy, Nan Goldin, and Gilbert & George make lots of dough, it’s not enough to get on this list. Not even super polymath Bruce Nauman (who’s currently #1 on the list, with Damien Hirst is #29), Julian Schnabel (having lots of real estate and making films doesn’t count), Brice Marden (he owns a huge chunk of SoHo and other property), Sean Scully (like Johns, Marden, and recently deceased Freud, Scully is one of the very few living artists to have a retrospective at the MOMA and MET), and Frank Stella (who can command almost a cool $3 million for certain works) made it.

These are folks who draw most of their earnings directly from art related venture. As for who dictates on how much these artists are worth, that’s some 1% conspiracy… #occupyartstreet.

Written by Joy Yoon (@Joy_Yoon)


The 15 Richest Living Artists

15. Georg Baselitz

German Neo-Expressionist/Post-Modern painter

Estimated Worth: $20 Million

Take over 50 years of painting, factor in that he’s one of the best selling living artists, and multiply that by $2 to $3 million a painting. Let’s not forget 30 years of sculptures. If I had to guess, it would be a shitload.


The 15 Richest Living Artists

14. Chuck Close


Estimated Worth: $25 Million

Though Chuck Close may be confined to a wheelchair due to a spinal artery collapse that left him with limited motion due to severe paralysis, he continues to churn out amazing large-scale portraits that are highly sought after. With works selling anywhere from $150,000 to $5 million, the demand for Close’s work doesn’t show any signs of slowing, but his most recent art “project” may change all that. In 2011, Close and several other artists sued the New York outlets of Christie’s and Sotheby’s, two of the art world’s biggest auction houses for systematic royalties fraud. And though this might not have been the best move business wise, but you got to give it to Chuck for publicly giving them the finger.


The 15 Richest Living Artists

13. Andreas Gurskey


Estimated Worth: $30 Million

I guess Gursky wasn’t happy being overthrown by Cindy Sherman, who sold her Untitled #96 (1981) for $3,890,500, and losing the title of “Most Expensive Ever Sold” for his 99 Cent II Diptychon (2001) (which only drew $3,346,456) in May 2011. So six months later, he sold Rhein II (1999) for $4,338,500 at Christie’s and proceeded to do an interpretive dance proclaiming himself “KING and Undisputed Champion of the Most Expensive Photograph in the World” to celebrate. He then went to Serendipity and bought the World’s Most Expensive Dessert, a $25,000 chocolate sundae and called it a day.


The 15 Richest Living Artists

12. Richard Prince


Estimated Worth: $30 Million

His collaborations with Louis Vuitton and Supreme have elevated Richard Prince to a new level in the consumer strata; the street culture/fashion blogosphere. And it never hurts your pocket book when your name is on mass consumerism's lips. His Nurse series painting went for a cool $6 to $8 million a piece in 2008. And his photography isn’t too shabby either; Untitled (Cowboy) (1989) sold for $1,248,000 in 2005.


The 15 Richest Living Artists

11. Cindy Sherman


Estimated Worth: $35 Million

Love it or hate it, photographer Cindy Sherman’s whimsical works are the second, Untitled #96 (1981), $3,890,500; and fifth, Untitled #153 (1985), $2.7 million, most expensive photographs in the world. The only woman to even break this male dominated list. Brava.


The 15 Richest Living Artists

10. David Hockney


Estimated Worth: $40 Million

One of the most influential British artists of the twentieth century and an important contributor to the Pop art movement in the 1960s, Hockney continues to push the limits of his art and their prices. In 2009, his Beverly Hills Housewife, a portrait of art patron Betty Freeman, featuring a William Turnbull statue, sold at Christie’s for over $8 million. He debuted a show last month at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, and even painted some of it on an iPad. Let’s see how well that goes over on the auction block.


The 15 Richest Living Artists

9. Gerhard Richter

Visual Artist

Estimated Worth: $40 Million

If I had a few million, one of the first things I’d buy would be a Gerhard Richter. Richter’s work saw records sales in 2011 with a 1997 painting estimated at $9 to $12 million selling for a record price of $20.8 million and another painting from 1987, which sold in 2001 for $783,106, bringing in $18 million, more than twice its high estimate of $7.5 million. It won’t be long before everyone wants a piece of Richter and his and stunning photorealistic paintings. Prices will continue to skyrocket.


The 15 Richest Living Artists

8. Antony Gormley


Estimated Worth: $50 Million

Art commissions alone should have this Turner Prize winner rolling in dough. How much exactly? I haven’t asked him, but I’m sure if I did, he wouldn’t answer. A gentleman never does.


The 15 Richest Living Artists

7. Anish Kapoor


Estimated Worth: $85 Million

In 2010, Turner Prize winning sculptor Anish Kapoor got a chance to rub shoulders with Damien Hirst on the Sunday Times Rich List with an estimated £45 million ($71 million). In 2011, you couldn’t avoid hearing Kapoor’s name; it was everywhere. Real estate holdings aside, when someone makes $27 million profit in 2008 from art alone, you know he’s doing something.


The 15 Richest Living Artists

6. Takashi Murakami

Japanese Superflat Artist

Estimated Worth: $100 Million

With his 100+ employees working on paintings, sculptures, Louis Vuitton bags, inflatable balloons, videos, toys, etc, you’d think he was Jeff Koons! For Murakami, maximum output is key as well as dollar dollar bills. His MoCA exhibit in L.A. following his Louis Vuitton collaboration in 2007 was titled, © Murakami and featured a LV pop-up store. The man who hip-hop made rich, (think Kanye CD cover and music video, think Pharrell collaboration selling for more than $2 million at Art Basel in Switzerland), continues to cash in on lucrative collaborations and anything he can slap his name on. Can’t stop, won’t stop.


The 15 Richest Living Artists

5. Andre Vicari

Welsh Painter

Estimated Worth: $142 Million

Just because you’ve never heard of Vicari doesn’t mean he isn’t rich. In 2004, he was Britain’s richest living painter, and I doubt his value has depreciated over the years. He amassed his fortune painting portraits of the rich and famous for decades, was once the official painter of the King and Government of Saudi Arabia, and in 2001, he sold a collection of his works, 125 paintings, to Prince Khaled for £17 million ($27 million). He also has three museums in the Middle East that are solely dedicated to his work.


The 15 Richest Living Artists

4. David Choe

Muralist/Graffiti Artist

Estimated Worth: $200 Million

How this happened, I have no idea but the art world is a funny place; so is Facebook. And doing a mural at FB in lieu of money for shares is pretty f-ing hilarious. As my mother would say about Choe, "He's okay at painting, but more crazy than anything else. Maybe people are just looking for crazy? Someone should pray for him..." Apparently, my mom is an excellent prayer.


The 15 Richest Living Artists

3. Jasper Johns


Estimated Worth: $300 Million

Four words: False Start, $80 million. Johns currently hold the title for the most expensive painting by a living artist.


The 15 Richest Living Artists

2. Jeff Koons


Estimated Worth: $500 Million

An art world “superstar” known for almost bankrupting Jeffrey Deitch in the 1990s for his “Celebration” series, Jeff Koons can now afford to pay for his own shit to get made. Pretty good for a guy who started at a SoHo loft and now works out of an expansive factory-studio in Chelsea with a 120+ staff.


The 15 Richest Living Artists

1. Damien Hirst


Estimated Worth: $1 Billion

Dear Damian Hirst’s PR person and business manager,

Congratulations on not only making Damien Hirst the world’s richest artist, but also making him the #1 Google search result when you type in #worldsrichestlivingartist.



P.S. The 2009 Sunday Times Rich List estimated Hirst’s fortune to be $388 million, but apparently it’s now over the billion mark in U.S. Dollars. In 2008, he raised $198 million by selling a complete show, “Beautiful Inside My Head Forever,” breaking the record for a single-artist auction and solidified his rank in the art hierarchy as “Sell Out #1” by bypassing his galleries and going straight to Sotheby’s auction block. And who can forget For the Love of God, 2007, the diamond encrusted platinum skull for $77.9 million? I know Kanye was crushed he didn’t get it, as it would have complimented his Jesus piece to a T. Hirst has also been accused of relying heavily on assistants to create his works and has faced several plagiarism accusations, which goes to show, that an original idea for Hirst doesn’t necessarily make for good sales.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

David Hockney is always right and always wrong

David Hockney, our national curmudgeon, has criticised Damien Hirst, saying his art is an “insult” to craftsmen.

David Hockney and Damien Hirst stand in front of their work
David Hockney and Damien Hirst stand in front of their work 

What I love about David Hockney is that his public utterances are invariably completely right and totally wrong at one and the same time. Part of the trick is his delivery. Hockney may be our national curmudgeon, but he is such a good natured curmudgeon that it hardly matters whether you agree with him or not. For example, he is entirely correct when he says that smoking is one of the greatest pleasures known to man and that the government should allow anyone who wants to smoke do so at their own risk. But isn’t it equally true that there is some justification in the government’s use of the law to discourage people from taking up (or persisting in) a habit that is, after all, pretty certain to kill them?

And so it is with his comments on Damian Hirst, reported yesterday. Hockney knows more about art history than most curators. He is perfectly well aware that artists have not always made their own work. He knows all about Rubens’s studio assistants, the workshops of Lucas Cranach and the technicians who actually carved Rodin’s marble statues. I’ll bet too that he’s cast a critical eye over Hirst’s oeuvre and has decided which pieces (if any) are successful and which aren’t. When Hockney notes that in his forthcoming show at the Royal Academy “all the works were made by the artist himself, personally” he is teasing a younger artist who probably deserves it and can certainly take it.

It’s what he said later in the interview that I find so moving. “I used to point out, at art school you can teach the craft; it’s the poetry you can’t teach. But now they try to teach the poetry and not the craft.’’ He’s saying that students used to be taught how to draw perfectly at the expense of their individuality. Now scores of students graduate from art colleges believing that everything they do or touch or say can be labelled a work of art but they couldn’t draw a rabbit if you held a gun to their heads. There you have it: the difficulty of teaching art in a nutshell.

In my view, what matters above all is the poetry. If the work has that then does it really matter how it was made? The question then is – how do you define `poetry’. I find the paintings of Jack Vettriano repellent, but they are certainly made by the artist himself. On the other hand I’m a fan of the Thai performance artist Rirkrit Tiravanija who comes into a gallery to cook and serve delicious Thai food. Once the show is over there is nothing to look at, but you’ve had an experience that Jamie Oliver would recognize as important: the use of cooking to bring communities together, the rejection of fast and pre-cooked food as the first step in living a good life. I happen to know that Hockney doesn’t think that what Rirkrit does is art, and maybe it isn’t. Who cares? As I said, Hockney is always right and always wrong. That’s why I love to disagree with him.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Fresh paint


here I could feel the distance 53.5282, -105.3241

oil on canvas

48 in (121.92cm) x 60in (152.4)


On the 120 north from Meath Park, there is a spot the fields and hills pile up against one another building the horizon.

I’ve stood there many times, watching the distance.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Metropolis II

BCAM, Level 1, West

January 14, 2012–Ongoing

Metropolis II is an intense and a complex kinetic sculpture, modeled after a fast paced, frenetic modern city. Steel beams form an eclectic grid interwoven with an elaborate system of 18 roadways, including one 6 lane freeway, and HO scale train tracks. Miniature cars speed through the city at 240 scale miles per hour; every hour, the equivalent of approximately 100,000 cars circulate through the dense network of buildings. According to Burden, "The noise, the continuous flow of the trains, and the speeding toy cars, produces in the viewer the stress of living in a dynamic, active and bustling 21st Century city."


  • The cars are attached by a small magnet to the conveyor belt that brings them to the crest.
  • The only motorization of the cars is the conveyor belt to the top.
  • Once the cars cross over the crest and head downward, their entire movement is by gravity.
  • They travel at a scale speed of 240 mph, plus or minus.
  • The tracks they take are Teflon coated to reduce friction.
  • The tracks are beveled at 7 degrees to give added torque for speed when
    they come through corners and curves.
  • The trains are out of the box electric train sets that run on electricity.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Artists group fighting for re-sale rights

Toronto painter Charles Pachter's 1981 painting

Toronto painter Charles Pachter's 1981 painting "Red Barn Reflected, which was one of the marquee offerings at Waddington's Concrete Contemporary Auction...

The Painted Flag, the iconic 1981 acrylic on canvas by Toronto artist Charles Pachter.


The Painted Flag, the iconic 1981 acrylic on canvas by Toronto artist Charles Pachter.

Toronto artist Joanne Tod's 1990 painting

Toronto artist Joanne Tod's 1990 painting "Flange," which sold for at $4320 (including premium) at Joyner/Waddington's Concrete Contemporary Auction Thursday...

Toronto artist Kelly Mark's

Toronto artist Kelly Mark's "Not Fragile," which sold for $2880 (including premium) at Joyner/Waddington's Concrete Contemporary Auction Thursday night in...

An image from Toronto artist Edward Burtynsky's

An image from Toronto artist Edward Burtynsky's "Rock of Ages" series of photographs on quarries, which sold for $10800 (including buyer's premium) at Joyner...

An untitled still life painting by Toronto artist Jay Isaac, which sold for $3120 (including buyer's premium) at Joyner/Waddington's Concrete Contemporary Auction Thursday night in Toronto.

An untitled still life painting by Toronto artist Jay Isaac, which sold for $3120 (including buyer's premium) at Joyner/Waddington's Concrete Contemporary...

In 2003, Charles Pachter painted a vibrant, poppy-red double image of a barn, as seen after the springtime thaw had turned the fields near his rural studio into sodden slicks of melted snow. It was called “Red Barn Reflected,” a playful nod both to geometric abstraction and the weighty heritage of Canadian landscape painting that many artists of his generation labour beneath (“I called it my Lawren Harris barn,” chuckles Pachter, 69, citing the Group of Seven giant).

He sold it for $7,500 that year, he remembers, to a couple in Caledon whose names he can’t recall. On Thursday night, it went up for auction with a presale estimate between $25,000 to $30,000.

It didn’t sell, but Pachter’s wound is only to his pride, not his wallet. Had it sold, he wouldn’t have seen a cent of it: resale rights for artists’ works sold in Canada are a non-existent sore point on the to-do list of CARFAC, which lobbies for artists’ rights here, and they’ve started to gain traction.

This month, a joint parliamentary committee of Heritage and Industry ministry staff are reviewing a CARFAC-proposed amendment to the Canadian Copyright Act that would give living artists a five per cent royalty on all sales of their work after its original sale. Had the royalty been in place last November, CARFAC notes, 35 living artists would have been paid more than $98,000 in royalties from three auctions that month.

The royalty would apply to the “secondary market,” and with few exceptions, it would apply to almost all sales at auction on the country. The proposal also calls for the five per cent royalty to be paid to artists’ estates if they died within 50 years of the sale. The biggest beneficiary last fall would have been the estate of Quebec painter Jean Paul Lemieux, whose painting 1910 Remembered sold for a record $2.34 million. It would have netted a $117,000 royalty.

In Pachter’s case, the payout Thursday would have been around $1,250. Not life-changing, perhaps, but worth its weight in respect.

“Certainly, part of the royalty payment is the principal of it,” says April Britski, CARFAC’s executive director. The committee is expected to report its recommendations for the amendment by the end of the month; Britski is hopeful that the CARFAC proposal will be enshrined in law by the end of the year.

It’s not always just principle, though, even for living Canada artists. In November 2010, Alex Colville, now in his 90s, saw his 1953 painting “Man on Verandah” sell for $1.287 million. The royalty, had it been in effect, would have netted Colville around $64,000 — likely far more than he received in the original sale in the first place.

This is, of course, an extreme example in a post-war and contemporary art market that’s only recently begun to find its feet. This week’s auction was a case in point. It was the first of its kind: A bonafide contemporary auction exclusively of Canadian art almost all by living artists. By any standard, it was a modest affair. Some pieces sold for less than $1,000, and topped out, after a brief, spirited bidding war, with the $19,200 (including 20 per cent buyer’s premium) sale of a Standing Nude by Kitchener painter Jeremy Smith.

“We see this as very much a nascent market,” says Stephen Ranger, the vice president of new business development for Joyner/Waddington’s, which hosted the auction. Ranger dubbed the affair “Concrete Contemporary,” meaning to lend a with-it sheen to the traditional stodginess of the Canadian auction circuit. It brings both the CARFAC mission, and the struggles of the Canadian contemporary scene to develop a commercial base, into simultaneous sharp focus: Of the 69 works offered, all but three were by living artists; some started as low as $600.

Ranger wants the auction, now and in future, to act as a bridge between contemporary Canadian artists and potential buyers they might never otherwise see. “We’re tapping into what I think is an underserved area of the art market in Canada,” he says. “We have such a great, vibrant gallery scene, but that hasn’t necessarily translated into sales. What we’re hoping is that people who don’t necessarily go to some of these galleries might be within the reach of Waddington’s, and be interested in what we’re doing.”

On those terms, Concrete Contemporary was a modest affair that could be cautiously termed a mild success. Even though less than half the works sold, the room was full, and the bidding was brisk and lively. Smith almost doubled his low estimate of $10,000, Ottawa painter painter Carol Waino’s Structures of Memory nearly tripled hers, selling for $16,800 (including premium) and Toronto painter Kim Dorland’s Northern Light, Saskatchewan, which topped the high end of its estimate by $600, going for $15,600 (including premium).

But there were some notable disappointments, too, serving as a nagging reminder of a market still struggling to establish itself. The high end suffered: Along with Pachter, a large scale work by Vancouver photo-conceptualist Ian Wallace, made for the Power Plant, didn’t sell when bidding stalled at $50,000, short of its reserve price. Bids on a small drawing by the late Betty Goodwin topped out at $22,000, short of its $24,000 low estimate.

Still, it’s a modest first step towards a larger goal. “Part of what we’re trying to do is make sure there is a secondary market for Canadian contemporary art, period, and that it does appreciate,” Ranger says.

If the royalty is implemented, Rangers says abruptly, “we’ll comply.” To this point, he says, the auction houses have not been consulted, by CARFAC or the committee, Ranger says. “There’s a misconception, I think, that auction houses make significant money on the backs of artists, and that’s not the case. In many cases, auction houses have made artists’ careers, and that’s what we’re trying to do here,” he says.

“In this arena, a royalty payment is little more than the pure principle Britski mentions (Smith would have been the kingpin of the evening, taking home a little less than $1000), and some artists aren’t sure if it might cause more harm than good.

“Maybe this is the kind of conversation we might want to have after the 10th, or 15th of these,” says Jay Isaac, a Toronto painter whose work was bid up to $2,600 Thursday night, short of its low estimate of $4,500. “I’d love to get a few hundred bucks — I wouldn’t say no,” he says. “But I’m 100 per cent in support of this auction, just as it is, because I think it’s something that can help build a whole new market for contemporary art in Canada.”

Royalty payments along the lines of what CARFAC is proposing are legislated throughout the European Union and in California, though a parallel U.S. federal effort is also underway. Why Canada has been slow to adopt the same measures seem vague to CARFAC’s Britski. “Dealers and auction houses are concerned that the market is too fragile to support it,” she says, while pointing out that over the past several years, auctions of traditional Canadian art have set new sales records virtually every year.

This is mostly due to unquashable interest in Canadian historical works, particularly by iconic Canadian painters like Tom Thomson, Harris and Emily Carr.

But in this realm, appreciation in value is far from a sure thing. Pachter wonders at the potential predicament: “What happens if the price goes down — would I have to give the collector a rebate?” he laughs.

When asked about the modest royalty payout for “Red Barn Reflected,” Pachter sighs. “Well, it would be better than nothing,” he says. He learned long ago to let go.

In 1981, he opened The Flag Show in Toronto. It was what it sounds like: The Canadian flag, painted in various stages of unfurling against a bright blue sky.

He sold one of them, “The Painted Flag,” to Neil Vosburgh for $3,500, who then owned the Duncan Street Grill in Toronto, where it hung for years. Vosburgh sold it years later to a mining magnate in the Yukon, after which Pachter promptly lost track of it, until it turned up at a Joyner’s auction in 2009.

It sold for just under $38,000 — more than triple its low estimate of $12,000 — to the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, where it now hangs with pride of place. “I didn’t get a thing for it,” he laughs. “But was I proud? You bet I was.”

History of The Painted Flag

1981: Sold by artist Charles Pachter to Neil Vosburgh for $3,500

Sold a few years later by Vosburgh to an unnamed mining magnate in the Yukon.

2009: Sold at auction for $37,760.

Commission Pachter would have received from the sales if five per cent resale rights were in effect: $1,888.45

Thursday, April 12, 2012

'Da Vinci's Ghost' Lives On In The Vitruvian Man

A reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci's drawing of The Vitruvian Man.

A reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci's drawing of The Vitruvian Man.

Most people are familiar with Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man: A nude man, with his arms and legs stretched, inside a square within a circle. But few know the story behind the drawing — what drove him to sketch it, and how it fit into his own theories about man's place in the universe.

Toby Lester explores da Vinci's passion to create an image of the perfectly proportioned human in Da Vinci's Ghost: Genius, Obsession, and How Leonardo Created the World in His Own Image. He tells Talk of the Nation guest host John Donvan that the sketch's name — Vitruvian Man — offers the first clues about da Vinci's motivation.

"Vitruvian derives from the name of a Roman architect called Vitruvius, who wrote and worked in the 1st century BC," says Lester. Vitruvius, in a book on architecture, described the ideal human form that "could be made to fit inside a circle and could be made to fit inside a square."

Vitruvius thought of that ideal human body as a blueprint for universal design, and if you studied it, you could "latch on to the design principles that made both the human body and the universe perfect." He then proposed that architects who understood that design could use it to create perfect buildings.

His idea was so captivating that though he didn't illustrate his concept, many people tried. "Especially in the 15th century, in the decades leading up to Leonardo's own time in drawing, a number of people begin to try to render that idea in visual form," says Lester. But da Vinci's drawing is the one that stuck.

Interview Highlights

On rumors Leonardo da Vinci drew the image as a reflection of himself

"There is no way of saying for sure. There just aren't images of Leonardo that will tell us this, and he certainly didn't admit to it himself. I do think that you can say that the figure that's in that picture corresponds in nice ways to existing descriptions of Leonardo that exist. He was described as being very finely built, strong, very beautiful with locks of hair that curled and went down to his shoulders. There are a couple of possible renderings of him, one that survives in a sculpture from Florence and another that's in a fresco from Milan, and they both look a bit like that figure as well.

Da Vinci's Ghost

"To me, though, even if you can't say for sure that the figure looks like Leonardo, at a kind of metaphorical level, I absolutely believe that it's a self-portrait in that I see him looking at himself in that picture and trying to make sense of himself."

On da Vinci as a young man

"You have the myth of him as this kind of fully formed genius with a big beard kind of gazing presciently off into the distance and transcending his age. But at the time I'm talking about in the book, which is the 1470s and 1480s, he is coming of age; he's learning the tricks of the trade, he is apprenticing himself to other artists and making mistakes and living it up as well. And then he's trying to make a living, and he's not necessarily doing that well.

"He had a horrible problem with deadlines. He, I think today, probably would have been diagnosed with ADD. He started things and kept starting them again and again and again, getting deflected by his own kind of ravenous mind into doing researches into other things. If you commissioned a painting from him, good luck."

On da Vinci's lack of formal education

"He was a real autodidact. He was raised, in his early years at least, in the town of Vinci and probably didn't receive a whole lot of formal schooling. And that hobbled him in some ways when he got to Florence and then after he moved to Milan where he drew Vitruvian Man in one way, simply because he wasn't very good at Latin.

"... In his notebooks, he even got these touching little attempts of his to teach himself Latin, you know, conjugating verbs and things. And he certainly got better as time went on, but he relied a lot on the help of others. He constantly was writing down in his notebooks people he wanted to consult about this or that question on this or that topic. He must have been both a fascinating guy to spend time with but also probably exhausting."

On whether da Vinci drew the Vitruvian Man as a God figure

"I think there's absolutely that going on, and especially of, you think of it as part of a continuum. ... There are a lot of images of maps of the world and maps of the cosmos where you've got a circle and a square and then this human figure that's at once representing — usually in the Christian context, Christ — but then also the kind of father figure, God.

"... The circle, since ancient times, connoted, you know, things divine and cosmic. It's the perfect shape, that all of its points on its circumference are equidistant from the center, and it was the shape that governed all of the supposed concentric fears that made up the cosmos. And then you've got the human element of things, the square, where you bring things down to Earth and make sense of them, set them right."

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Mona Lisa's Twin Painting Discovered

Conservators at the Museo del Prado in Madrid recently discovered that this copy of the Mona Lisa was painted by a pupil working alongside Leonardo da Vinci.
Enlarge Javier Soriano/Getty Images

Conservators at the Museo del Prado in Madrid recently discovered that this copy of the Mona Lisa was painted by a pupil working alongside Leonardo da Vinci.

The Mona Lisa is one of the most enigmatic and iconic pieces of Western art. It has inspired countless copies, but one replica at the Madrid's Museo del Prado is generating its own buzz: Conservators say that it was painted at the same time as the original — and possibly by one of the master's pupils, perhaps even a lover.

Juxtaposing the two paintings — and using infrared technology, which works like an X-ray, allowing one to see beneath the paint to see previous, obscured versions — conservators say that Leonardo and the painter of the replica made exactly the same changes at the same time.

"The changes mirrored the changes which Leonardo made on the original," Martin Bailey, correspondent with The Art Newspaper in London, tells NPR's Melissa Block. "[Conservators] concluded that the two pictures had been done side by side in the studio, and it was probably on easels which were two or three yards away from each other."

The copy brings da Vinci's studio to life — and stirs up questions. Who was this mystery painter? According to Bailey, the artist is likely to have been one of Leonardo's main assistants: Melzi or Salai (who was rumored to have been da Vinci's lover).

Side by side, the pictures look noticeably different: The copy is significantly brighter and more colorful; even Mona Lisa's famously coy smile takes on a new cast.

The original Mona Lisa is on permanent display at the the Musee du Louvre in Paris.
Jean-Pierre Muller/Getty Images

The original Mona Lisa is on permanent display at the the Musee du Louvre in Paris.

"The original Mona Lisa in the Louvre is difficult to see — it's covered with layers of varnish, which has darkened over the decades and the centuries, and even cracked," Bailey says. "What is wonderful about the copy is how vivid it is, and you see Lisa in a quite different light. I thought her eyes are enticing. And you see her enigmatic smile in a way that you don't quite get in the original."

Bailey says the find will be relevant to historians and laypeople, in that paradoxically, a copy might bring viewers to the original with fresh eyes.

"It is, after all, the world's most famous painting, but people don't look at it fresh," he says. "They look at it almost as an icon. If you go to the Louvre, people aren't actually really looking at the painting; they just want to be in the same room with it. For me, the beauty of the copy is that it actually makes us look at the painting as a painting, and I hope it will have that effect on other people, too."