Archaeology and Product Placement

Excavators along Hadrian’s Wall found the remains of a Roman wooden toilet seat recently – and a manufacturer toilet seat manufacturer intends to make a special edition of one of their seats and devote some of the proceeds (it’s not clear how much) to the conservation effort. Click to read – and the “also read” stories are also loo-related.

What’s Hardball in the museum world?

Well, maybe the Turkish government has decided that refusing to loan art works to American and European museums will count.

The Met is staging a show in 2016 on the Seljuk empire (before the Ottomans, but it’s more complicated than the word predecessors sums up).

Without loans from Turkey, and with Iranian loans unlikely unless there is a sudden improvement in relations between the US and Iran, the Met will have to rely on major loans from British and European institutions instead.


The Met’s exhibition could include, scholars suggest, dragon door-knockers from Berlin, some of the earliest Islamic carpets in existence from Copenhagen, works from the great pottery reserves of the British Museum, and stone and figural carving from the Met’s own strong collections. Some of the finest Seljuk Qu’rans are also in Western collections.


But Turkish loans could have ranged from manuscripts from the Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul and trophy items, such as an extraordinary steel mirror with gold inlay also housed there, to reliefs from the walls of Konya, the Seljuks’ historic capital in Anatolia.


The article linked above also discusses the refusal of the Turkish government to make any loans to a major show at the British Museum a few years ago, so this is an ongoing strategy to get the museum world to engage in negotiations over looted or stolen artworks in their collections.


Argh – course prep

File under: Things I should have done online from Chattanooga in June.

I got so busy this mid-summer that I let something slide.

A book about the Elgin Marbles I wanted for my First Year Seminar is out of print (of course), but should be fairly easy to reconstruct with PDFs of articles. After all, it started as a Christopher Hitchens screed somewhere.

But there turns out to be an oversupply of good essays about the Elgin Marbles – and I can’t decide!

Sanctimony over deaccession – whose art is it?

I’m teaching a First Year Seminar this fall on cultural property and just found another article for them to read. A regional museum in England sells an Egyptian statue to pay for building a new wing – and everyone is getting up in arms. 

I’m especially amused by the Egyptian ambassador’s fulminations. I’ve BEEN to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo – it’s a museological disaster. And, though there are plenty of packing crates just sitting around in the public areas, they have works in storage, too.

The Things People Find, Antiques Roadshow edition

A priest in England picked up an old portrait in an antique store for £400. He took it to a Roadshow where someone suspected it might be a Van Dyke. Lots of study later and it is – and worth about £400,000. He’s going to sell it and buy bells. My parents and I were watching the PBS of Roadshow last night – someone had a student work by Chuck Close. They told her at auction it might go for $100,000. So there are treasures out there!

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?

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!

What do you do if you own a million things?

The Met owns so much it has no where to hang it all!

The Met owns so much it has no where to hang it all! Sorry this is rotated. WordPress isn’t playing fair.

What do you do if you own a miilion things? by Michael Tinkler
What do you do if you own a miilion things?, a photo by Michael Tinkler on Flickr.

Professor Cowen was asking about the deadweight loss of stuff in storage in museums. Look at one way the Met tries to get around that. Suboptimal viewing experience – but they’re still up. This is the The Henry R. Luce Center for the Study of American Art, which they claim is everything that’s not up in the main galleries.

A Patient Optimist

A Matisse stolen from a Swedish museum was recently recovered in the UK. I can’t decide if the standard line is meaningless optimism or just a negotiating tactic:

At the time of the theft, a spokesman for the museum said the painting was too “well-known” to “sell on the open market”.

Mr Marinello agreed with the sentiment, adding: “I commend the museum for not giving in to ransom demands a quarter century ago.

“Stolen artwork has no real value in the legitimate marketplace and will eventually resurface… it’s just a matter of waiting it out.”

Well, they had to wait 25 years. Is that optimism?

The Dallas Museum contacts Turkey – not the other way around

This is encouraging. The Dallas Museum of Art is returning looted art to Turkey even before the Turkish government asked for it (click and see – there’s an ok photograph of the mosaic in question). Compare that to the Met, which is still stonewalling. In exchange, Dallas hopes to get some good loan materials. I hadn’t noticed that Max Anderson is now the director at Dallas – his first director position was at Emory’s Carlos Museum.