Wednesday, September 26, 2007

It only took them 17 years

A previously unknown painting by Amadeo Modigliani has been discovered.

The "Portrait of a Man" dates back to around 1918, said a Modigliani expert Christian Parisot. It was authenticated after 17 years of expert checkup, Parisot, the director of Modigliani's Rome-based archives, said.
Read the AP story here. Something in the article raised my eyebrows a little: "The canvas measures 46 x 38 cm (18 x 15 inches) and shows an unknown young man. Experts said the oil colors had been watered, a sign that the artist was poor at the time of the work."

Amadeo Modigliani Portrait of a Man I was not aware that oil colors could be "watered." In fact, I'm not aware of any technique where this is even possible.

An oil paint can be stretched and diluted by using a paint thinner, such as turpentine, which is usually the cheapest (and nastiest) thinner around, but unless I missed something in art school, one can't add water to oil paints (especially at the turn of the last century) to stretch the oil paints.

Some "new" modern oil paints can now be diluted with water, and there are some odorless paints thinners out there, but nothing that Amadeo would have had available during his lifetime.

I suspect that the AP article meant to say "diluted" rather than "watered."

Pedantic me.


Stand by early next week for a major announcement from an important DC area arts venue which is not only relocating but also somewhat re-inventing itself by going back to its solid and independent roots.

This Friday in Philly

Pentimenti Gallery opens its fall season this year with two solo exhibitions of works by Rachel Bone and Kevin Finklea. The exhibitions run through October 27, 2007 and the reception is this Friday, September 28 from 6 - 8 p.m.


Thanks to those of you who brought to my attention Seattle Post-Intelligencer's art critic Regina Hackett's irate post on the exact same point on Jacob Lawrence that made me so exasperated and foul-mouthed here.

Hackett writes:

"The disgrace belongs to the Post. Staff writer Jacqueline Trescott identified Lawrence as "one of the greatest African-American artists of the 20th century."

Aren't we past this? I look forward to the day the Post identifies Jackson Pollock as one of the greatest white artists of the 20th century. Because white appears to be this writer's assumed context, she notes only difference, black as a special case. (Diversity trainers: The Post needs you!)"
But it gets better, after making a good point about using an image of the painting in question for the WaPo article (and a rather weird comment on Mrs. Bush eyeliner), Hackett then writes:
"A smart newspaper would have printed a clear image of the painting and accompanied it with a sidebar by an art critic, covering the information Dangerous Chunky had about its market history as well as an assessment of its merits and its maker's place in history.

Oh wait. I forgot. The Post doesn't have an art critic. It has Blake Gopnik. Jaunty, arrogant and uninformed, he's easily the worst art critic at a major newspaper in the country."

Regina HackettDid an art critic from a major metropolitan newspaper just call the Washington Post's chief art critic "jaunty, arrogant and uniformed?"

Did she also rank him as "easily the worst art critic at a major newspaper in the country?"

I'm going to have to mull on that for a while.

Trescott Blows It

I started writing this commentary a week ago, when the story was first published in the WaPo, and somehow I didn't publish it as soon as I wrote it, as I was traveling.

And today I came across it again, and it pissed me off even more.

I tend to criticize the WaPo mercilessly for their crappy fine arts coverage, and they generally deserve it. But one constant source of light and enlightment in their shitty fine arts coverage is Jacqueline Trescott.

Trescott usually writes savvy, intelligent words for the WaPo's precious few fine arts Illuminati.

But, in my pedantic view, she really fucked up in this article almost a week ago.


If you've read my ramblings long enough, then you know that I am not a big fan of artistic segregation.

I don't think that there should be an arts museum just for women, or African-Americans, or Latino/Hispanic Americans.

I think that museums should be driven to include meritable art by artists, regardless of race or ethnicity, who deserve inclusion in a museum collection -- and which should be open to all artists, not just artists of a certain geographic or ethnic presence.

Not guided by percentages or demographics or numbers, but merit, and regardless and in spite of skin color, skin hues, last names, or religion.

And this is where Trescott blows it.

In the article she refers to one of my art school professors and influences as "In its recent renovation of the Green Room, the White House has given a place of honor to a newly acquired masterpiece by Jacob Lawrence, one of the greatest African American artists of the 20th century."
Jacob Lawrence, circa 1980 by F. Lennox Campello

Jacob Lawrence, pen and ink, circa 1980 by F. Lennox Campello
In an Private Collection

In my own personal experience, Jacob Lawrence was pretty close to an asshole difficult as an arts teacher (which sometimes means that he was also a brilliant teacher to students other than me), a pretty good drinking buddy, and an opinionated bastard. But Lawrence and his artwork was also without a doubt (in my opinion) one of the greatest American contributions (and artists) of the 20th century.


Not "one of the greatest African American artists of the 20th century."

And Mrs. Bush shows some remarkable insight in selecting this work:
It was purchased for $2.5 million at a Christie's auction in May by the White House Acquisition Trust, a privately funded branch of the mansion's historical association. Mrs. Bush had wanted a Lawrence work since a personal friend lent her Lawrence's "To the Defense." It hangs in the Bushes' private dining room. "And because it's on the wall that I look at from my chair in the dining room, I just grew to like Jacob Lawrence more and more," she said.
Bravo to Mrs. Bush - she went with her guts and feelings; Boo-Hoo to Trescott - she went with her hard-wired "formation" in always trying to label Americans.

And I'll keep my own original Jacob Lawrence on my walls, as I have for years since I acquired it in Art School, and refer to him as a great American artist when people ask me about it.


Update: Below is an image of the painting in question - with thanks to Dangerous Chunky.

Jacob Lawrence painting