The Infill: 29 September 2015

The Infill: curious minds want to know…

Can you smell it?

Is it the harvest of leaves that have floated and fluttered on their annual migration to the paths beneath our boot-clad feet? The freshly sharpened pencils, all nicely aligned on our desk in febrile anticipation of the new school year? Or the hot apple cider mulling on the stove at The Gathering HQ to warm us as the nights grow longer and colder? Well it all sounds lovely, but sadly it’s not the olfactory joys of autumn that have invaded our nasal passages, but rather the mildly unpleasant aroma drifting our way from Kitakyushu, Japan, where the latest enrichment to the world’s cultural heritage is a new museum dedicated to the toilet. Yes, the toilet. Good to see the lid has been lifted on this intriguing and heretofore little-explored (so we’re assuming) bit of history – we certainly would not have wanted any of this vital knowledge to have been flushed away in the sewerage drains of time.


If you’re anything like us (and given you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you are), you’ve pretty much reached saturation point with the spate of art world bloopers that seem to delight the general public and make everyone feel nice and smug (or, in the case of the clumsy, relieved) about the number of times they’ve managed to visit an art gallery without destroying a multimillion-dollar artwork. Yes, we’re sick to death of seeing little Jason from Taiwan* tumble, fizzy drink grasped tightly in his fist, into a 350-year-old painting. Our upper lips absolutely twitch in fury every time we see the ‘hilarious’ photo of that Missouri politician leaning against a 1936 mural she deemed an appropriate platform for networking. And whilst we’re thrilled for little Noa from Jerusalem for her foresight in smashing a 2,000-year-old vase in order to preserve it, if we read one more Cosmo sex tip-style article like these seven art blunders to rival Taiwan Jason’s we might just throw our iPads through the window in a fit of apoplectic rage.

*’Jason’ being, apparently, the most popular boy’s name in Taiwan

The truth squad

Of course we’re bluffing. We’re conservators – we could barely afford the first iPad! But our impish brand of deception is nothing compared to what’s been going on in the art world. This is a head-scratcher: it turns out that the Escher in het Paleis (Escher in the Palace) museum in the Hague has been charging 130,000+ visitors per year €9 a pop to see scanned prints of M.C. Escher’s work, rather than the originals, which get loaned out to other museums. ‘It’s like going to the Rijksmuseum and seeing Rembrandt’s The Night Watch, but it’s just painted in China,’ says the managing director of the M.C. Escher Foundation. And at the current price of €17.50 for the privilege of seeing fakes at the Rijksmuseum, we’d at least want to be chauffeured there in a limousine and plied with unlimited glasses of champagne. In other Low Countries fraud news, a Belgian gallerist in Germany has allegedly been selling works by a Dada artist who never actually existed (how very Dada of him). Making this a truly European affair, ‘All known works, so the story goes, were discovered by a French journalist at a Polish-run flea market in Berlin shortly after the fall of the Berlin wall.’ If that’s not rock-solid provenance, we don’t know what is!

As an antidote to stories like these, we like to remind ourselves of the words of George Washington: ‘Truth will ultimately prevail where there is pains taken to bring it to light.’ And nowhere is his words (ha ha!) more true than in the world of conservation. Take, for example, recent work at the Victoria & Albert Museum, where conservators using infrared reflectography have corrected the prevailing misconception that Dante Gabriel Rossetti had added red hair to Botticelli’s Portrait of a Lady known as Smeralda Bandinelli. Nope, turns out old Sandro was just as much of a ginger-lover as Dante G. Meanwhile, conservators at the Getty have used not one, but two imaging technologies (neutron activation autoradiography [NAAR] and macro-X-ray fluorescence [MA-XRF] scanning, in case you’re interested) to finally reveal the painted lad trapped for centuries beneath Rembrandt’s An Old Man in Military Costume. A case of a re-used canvas or just Rembrandt taking an awfully long time getting around to finishing that portrait?

There’s a Whole Lotta Preservatin’ Goin’ On

So much so that we haven’t even got time or space to entertain. We’re just belting out these conservation projects and preservation efforts in a wild man, fireball style worthy of The Killer himself:

Your video treat

This one still has us chuckling, albeit whilst constantly looking over our shoulders. Coming to a city street near you: it’s the red, round Terror of Toledo.

The final word…

… goes to Keith Christiansen, John Pope-Hennessy Chairman, Department of European Paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in his post on the Lorenzo di Credi painting restoration: ‘What do you do when you have a Renaissance masterpiece in a truly cheap, junky, modern frame? You travel to Florence and have a handcrafted copy made of an original one.’ We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

Phew! All of that piano pounding and hair shaking has left us utterly knackered. Think it’s about time to grab that glass of cider and contemplate the meaning of life whilst gazing at the fallen leaves. And maybe sniff a few pencils. Happy Autumn, everyone!

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