The Things People Find, Museum store rooms edition

The British Museum stored a lump of “organic material” for 125 years and no one had ever looked at it properly? That’s how this story sounds.

A Celtic treasure looted by the Vikings more than 1,000 years ago has been discovered in the British Museum’s storerooms. An ornate, gilded disc brooch dating from the eighth or ninth century was found by chance and is being described as a “staggering find”. No-one knew of its existence until now.

It had been concealed in a lump of organic material excavated from a Viking burial site at Lilleberge in Norway by a British archaeologist in the 1880s and acquired by the British Museum in 1891.

Curator Barry Ager, a Vikings specialist, was poring over artefacts before a visit from a Norwegian researching the Viking site when his eye was caught by some metal sticking out of the side of the organic lump.

Intrigued, he asked the conservation department to X-ray it. “At that stage, I really didn’t know what was inside,” he said. “It was a staggering find.”

Miami’s new museum

I hate linking to things at the Wall Street Journal – articles appear and disappear from behind the pay-wall for reasons I never understand – but Google News found this for me: Pérez Art Museum Miami: Where the Art Will (Hopefully) Come Later. Go read it quick, before it goes away!

Build it, and they will give. Or promise to give. Or lend for the long term. Or something. Those seem to be the operating hopes at the just-opened Pérez Art Museum Miami, ensconced in a building, designed by the Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron, that gracefully takes advantage of the view and the climate of Biscayne Bay.

The situation is odd, to say the least. PAMM—a museum of modern and contemporary art in the fifth-largest metropolitan area in the country, with five million inhabitants—makes its debut with a paltry collection: only about 1,800 works of art, almost 300 of those just recently bestowed on it from a single private collection. There’s scarcely a showstopper in the trove. By comparison, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth (only the fifth-largest city in Texas) has about 2,600 objects, with some instructively important works by the likes of Francis Bacon, Vija Celmins and Martin Puryear among them. Or consider the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, which has more than 10,000 works, including just about the snappiest gathering of recent sculpture anywhere.

The story gets worse.

 

Museum Collection Websites

Grrrr – I’m fiddling with an idea for my Arth 101 class this fall and am frustrated with the British Museum website. So far as I can tell, you can’t search by “Museum Number” – the catalog number.

Try it!

Go look at this statuette.

Then type its Museum Number, EA36297, into the search field (you know, I might want to find my way back sometime). No hits.

Then try 36297!  Yes, there he is.

Whack.

Why Detroit has every right to sell off at least some of the art from its museum

Virginia Postrel explains. And I’m convinced – the works the city paid for are probably fair game! Quick excerpt:

In 1931, the man who built the collection, director William Valentiner, argued for continued city funding by citing how much the works’ value had appreciated. “The Brueghel painting we purchased for $38,000 is valued at more than $150,000,” he said. “If the city were to sell, piece by piece, the objects of art it has purchased, they would realize more than five times the amount paid for them.” Valentiner certainly wasn’t advocating such sales, but his statement demonstrates that they weren’t inconceivable.

Acquire with city funds, go down with the sinking ship. Maybe the van Gogh self portrait would keep some fire stations open for another year?

Great museum and all . . .

The Egyptian Museum is one of the world’s great collections – but!

Two exaples. On my way out I turned the corner on the first floor near the exit. Jusst before the corner is the head – with its paint intact, of one of theOsiris-Hatshepsuts from her mortuary temple. Labelled. Fine.

Just around the corner, one of her sphinxes and a kneeling Hatshepsut in a Nemes-crown making offerings. Neither one labelled. I happen to know them from 25 years of teaching Art 101, but I’m not ereally the average tourist here in this museum – not highly informed but better than most.

Mounted on the wall nearby are two stelae – flat slabs of stone with text and images.

One was is fairly good condition, the other in pretty bad conditino and more fraagmentary, too.

For the first one, the label mentions, “ALthough of wretched workmanship it is not without a certain interest.” The other was labeled a “very fine relief from an XVIIIth dynasty tomb.”

There was no explanation of why one is of wretched workmanship and the othher very fine. There was almost nothing more said about the 2nd. All in all reeally bad museumsmanship!

 

 

(sorry for the delay – my web-based editing is going very badly on the iPad.

 

Scale shock!

Scale shock! by Michael Tinkler
Scale shock!, a photo by Michael Tinkler on Flickr.

When someone who knows art through pictures (digital images, nowadays) encounters the real thing he sometimes suffers scale shock – finding out that something is much bigger or much smaller than he always thought.
That’s certainly me and this fresco from the Coptic Monastery of St Apollo – Christ in Majest with the Four Beasts of the Apocalypse from the 6th Century.
I always thought it was an apse fresco over an altar, not the conch of a NICHE I can stand inside!

You mean that’s a Van Dyck over there in the corner?

A British effort to put pictures of all the oil paintings in the UK online pays off – an art historian spotted a previously unknown Van Dyck portrait.

The painting, which was not thought to be important and in a bad condition, was covered in layers of dirt and varnish and was not on display at the Bowes Museum.

 

But it was photographed as part of the Public Catalogue Foundation’s mission to document every oil painting in public ownership and added to the BBC’s Your Paintings website, where it was spotted by art historian and dealer Dr Bendor Grosvenor.

 

“Although as part of our national heritage values are irrelevant, for insurance purposes it should now be valued at anything up to £1m,” Dr Grosvenor said.

 

“Had it appeared at auction as a copy, and in its dirty state, it would probably only have been estimated at about £3,000-5,000.”

Grosvenor runs Art History News – here’s an example of what he’s doing with this picture.

The general initiative is called Your Paintings.

Sharp eye – good deal

The Met owns Jacques Louis David’s Death of Socrates. One of their curators managed to buy a David preparatory drawing for $700 at auction because it was misattributed!

Catalogued and illustrated . . . as “French school, early 19th century”, the 24.5cm by 38.2cm sheet (est $500-$700) depicting The Death of Socrates in brush, black ink and grey wash was described as “lightly squared for transfer in pencil. After the painting by Jacques-Louis David in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.” [my emphasis]

Instead of “after the painting” it was “for the painting.” Good call!