“Real” “Value”

When art becomes little more than a commodity, words lose their meaning, or at least their ability to communicate. This is what has happened with the words “real” and “value”, usually, “real value”.

Does the “real value” of a work of art mean the same for an art historian and for an art dealer? No. For the art historian it should mean the uniqueness, importance and significance of an artist’s work. For the art dealer it means the latest (highest) price it has achieved, how much it can sell for.

“Real [Market] Value”
The art market today seems to be characterised by buyers who are investors – the true collector has almost become a thing of the past – for whom “real value” is a price tag. The higher the price the more “value” the artist is then said to have “artistically” and the more a “rarity” value must be attached to it.

Natalia Goncharova’s Espagnole sold at Christies, London, on 2 February 2010 for £6,425,250 and this has earned her the accolade of “the world’s most expensive woman artist”. The implication is that she is therefore “the best woman artist in the world”, a marketing label that helps to inflate the prices of her works generally. In order to protect the new “market value” of this artist’s now-privileged position, war has been made on the authors of two books on Goncharova because they reveal to the world that Goncharova was an extremely prolific artist. Interested parties have been attempting to betray the artist’s enormous creativity by falsifying the “rarity” value and so guarantee the “real [market] value” of the price tag.

Then there is the case of the Japanese collector who for Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” paid just under $40 million in March 1987 – to great press coverage because it was well above auction house expectations. Although he said he really liked the work, the buyer explained with utter candour that the publicity of owning “the world’s most expensive painting by Van Gogh” would make the name of his insurance company world famous and it was a bargain at that. For his advertising budget exceeded by far what he had paid for the Van Gogh. Is this truly the “real value” of a painting? or is it evidence of a tabloid strategy and a fickle market? Sensationalism is what Saachi has relied on to drive the prices of the artists in his collection sky high.

“Real [Artistic] Value”
The purpose of “real [artistic] value” is to understand an artist’s creative methods and their history. This knowledge may then contribute means for assessing works that rightfully belong, or not, to an artist’s body of works. The primary means for achieving these aims is stylistic analysis.

The analysis of style relies on the two coordinates found in every work of art: structure and the principles of ordering coloured objects and planes in that structure. The function of such analysis is to reveal the thought within the work, the artist’s creative procedures and, in a group of works, to reveal both consistency and change – i.e., how a style develops.

Stylistic analysis, then, is a reliable tool for understanding the thought within a work of art and how it is realised, and it is equally reliable as a historical tool.

Stylistic analysis has also been used traditionally to determine the authorship of a work of art, but here it is a less reliable tool for two reasons.

The first reason is that the entire corpus of an artist’s output can never be known to the historian. Artists destroy groups of works, works are given away or get lost due to any number of factors, and thus the creative logic, the trail of artistic ideas and their realisation, is broken. The further one goes back in time the more acute this problem is. Therefore, if a work appears that is not typical of an artist’s known works, the means by which it may be connected to them is missing. Now stylistic analysis as a historical tool does not lend itself  to determining the “real [artistic] value” of a work – its rightful place in an artist’s chronology – and it would be an error to force it either in or out of this artist’s work, as art historians are often tempted to do. This can be seen when arguments about trivial details in a work are presented in support of a (usually) tendentious “opinion”. The two basic coordinates of stylistic analysis – structure and the principles of ordering shapes and colour which together reveal the idea – must remain fundamental to every argument either for or against a “real [artistic] value”, and even that may be only a beginning.

The second reason is that styles may be copied. Based on stylistic analysis, many paintings thought to have been by Rembrandt were relegated to “School of Rembrandt” in the 1970s, but opinions have been changing and works are being reattributed to the master himself. This  reveals the relative value of stylistic analysis for establishing the “real [artistic] value” of works of art that authentically belong to the hand of a given artist. It is a means, not an end.

And the Question of Provenance
“Provenance” is a detailed and unbroken listing, with supporting documents, of where the work of art has been since leaving the artist’s studio. Can the “real [market/artistic] value” of a work of art be guaranteed by “provenance”, as so many investors have been demanding? Is provenance a guarantee that protects their investment? Does lack of provenance – the lack of the documented trail of a work of art’s whereabouts through time – imply lack of “real [market/artistic] value” in any way at all?

However interesting a work’s provenance may be, it was originally little more than snobbery. To buy a painting previously owned by the Duke of X gave the painting more “value” than one owned by “a Gentleman”. Even if it can contribute to a work’s “real [artistic] value” as an authenticating factor, especially prior to 1900, it is almost nonsense to expect to find “real” provenances for 20th century works of art in light of its history: two World Wars. Displacements of artists and peoples, pillage, bombing, and all the horrors of war have destroyed documents, collections have been dispersed and provenances lost forever. The appearance of “Provenance Research” departments in museums and universities, for example, reveal the reality of the almost hopeless attempt to retrace either the provenances or  the whereabouts of thousands of works of art.

In the case of Russia and the Russian Avant-Garde, this is very well explained by the Vice-President of the Russian Guild of Appraisers, Oleg Tairov, in an interview of 12 August 2011 (//news.mail.ru/society/6557816/). There, Tairov was asked to compare Western and Russian methods of authenticating works of art. He stated that,

“In Russia there is a big problem with provenance due to objective historical reasons (wars and revolutions). Sometimes the object disappeared from view for many decades [a reference to the State Depository for Contemporary Art, Moscow]…. Thus, we have to pay the least attention to the provenance and a lot more to art history and technical examination (quality of canvas, surfaces, soil) without regard to where the object went or was seen.”

“Was seen” is an obvious reference to a work’s exhibition history, something often sought by American museum curators in an attempt to satisfy the desire for a “provenance”. In the case of the Russian Avant-Garde, most of the last free exhibitions were prior to 1925, while records of previous exhibitions are sparse if they exist at all – few installation photographs, endless numbers of unidentified “Still Life”, “Landscape” or “Non-Objective Composition”, etc.. Anyone asking for the “exhibition history” of a Russian Avant-Garde work of art simply reveals their own ignorance of Russia’s history throughout the 20th century.

These two points raised by Oleg Tairov emphatically put the burden of proof about a work of art’s “real [artistic] value” onto the work itself. The “provenance” issue for the Russian Avant-Garde is a red herring.

A New Tool – Scientific Analysis
“Real [artistic] value” has recently been given a great boon. Over the last ten years or so digital technologies have been developing ever more sophisticated means for contributing to knowledge about works of art, and they continue to improve by the day, it would seem.

A wide range of techniques combine to establish information about pigments, binders, supports (canvas, paper, wood, etc.), ageing, and many other technical factors about a work of art. These techniques provide reliable tools which the art historian can use in conjunction with stylistic analysis and so discover the very creative elements used by an artist – brushwork and pigments, for example, and their impact on the idea of the painting itself. (See P. Railing, L. Thomas, I. Cassan, “The Interaction of Scientific and Art Historical Investigations into Works of Art” in JOURNAL OF INCORM, Vol. 1, Nos. 2-3, 2010, pp. 28-31.) This historical information, in turn, contributes to the profiling of an artist’s practice and provides documents useful for the establishment of authorship.

Information from scientific analyses is in its early stages, however, since databases rely on a large amount of material, the compilation of which is only just beginning. There is enough information, nonetheless, for certain art historians working on certain artists to assimilate this growing body of material into a reliable foundation for attributing “real [artistic] value” to works of art, thereby filling in gaps in the broken trails of an artist’s historical development.

“Real [Aesthetic] Value”
“Real [market] value” is governed by moments in time and place. This value may go up, it may go down, influenced by greater market forces, economies, social conditions, taste, and attempts to manipulate an artist’s market. The nature of a “real [market] value” is instability and fluctuation, the temporary and fleeting “real” “value” being valid for only a given moment in time.

“Real [artistic] value” is an analytical and historical value and so is never complete. New stylistic and historical facts, information, and technologies continue to contribute to the richness and knowledge of the “real [artistic] value” of a work of art (or to the discovery of a forgery). This value is open and flexible, dynamic, even.

“Real [aesthetic] value” is an absolute value. It is not subject to fluctuating values of any kind, it is not conditioned by time. Its value is stable and enduring because it never loses its true and intrinsic value. A beautiful painting will always be a beautiful painting (which is the reason we value museums).

When art is seen for its “real [aesthetic] value”, first and foremost, the work of art is no longer defined by values that belong not to its world but to the world of commerce. Animating the mind with all the interest and knowledge that “real [artistic] value” can provide, “real [aesthetic] value” is a renewable source for delighting the senses, the soul and the mind. Now “real” and “value” are aligned in word and meaning. This is because the work of art itself is real and the reality itself, it is a value and the value itself.

Patricia Railing, with Caroline Wallis
26 August 2011

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TRETIAKOV GALLERY DISGRACED

Since April 2011, General Director of the Tretiakov Gallery, Irina Lebedeva, has been the main spokesperson on the commercial art market website ArtInvestment.Ru in the denunciation of two books published in the West on Natalia Goncharova. Anthony Parton’s, Goncharova. The Art and Design of Natalia Goncharova, appeared in October 2010, and Denise Bazetoux’s, Natalia Gontcharova, Son oeuvre entre tradition et modernité, Volume 1 of the Catalogue Raisonné, appeared in March 2011.

The denunciations turn on accusations of fake works of art being reproduced in these two books. These assertions are not based on any familiarity with or knowledge of the originals but on reproductions in the two books. Nor have the accusers had access to any supporting materials on the works such as documents, scientific expertises, and so on.

In an attempt to justify their accusations, ArtInvestment.Ru published (28 June 2011) a lengthy comparison of works that belong to three Russian museums versus works found in Western collections and reproduced in the two books. The unnamed authors, but who are Tretiakov Gallery curators as announced in previous statements, appear to be writing in the name of the International Confederation of Antique and Art Dealers (ICAAD), Russia, and the CIS (?), even on their behalf. The authors rely on stylistic analysis, documents of 1913, and “provenance” or “lack of provenance”, basing their arguments on the 411 works by Goncharova in the collection of the Tretiakov Gallery.

What is patently undisguised is that the Tretiakov Gallery writers’ denunciation of the works of art by Goncharova was dictated by the interests of the art market.

This is openly declared not only in their article in the name of ICAAD – an association of art dealers – but also in the “Conclusion” to their article. Such statements that the two Western books on Natalia Goncharova “can have a negative effect on the artists’s (sic) heritage and market for her works for decades”, or that they can cause “confusion … to future collectors and investors on the art market” reveal the audience they are addressing and the interests they have been defending in this unscholarly campaign.

As for the art historical interests, 411 works plus a few others are hardly sufficient grounds on which to base authoritative assessments about the creative career of Natalia Goncharova – she showed nearly 800 works in her 1913 exhibition alone.

It thus appears that an association of art dealers appropriated the professional services of the Tretiakov Gallery – from the General Director, Irina Lebedeva, to the curators – with the intention of defending its own commercial interests.

And this lending of museum status to commercial interests did not stop at this deceit.

For on 3 August 2011 the Deputy Director of the Tretikov Gallery, Oleg Belikov, was reported on a number of website newspapers to have been arrested by the police for the embezzlement of over 87 million rubles prior to taking up his post at the Tretiakov in 2009. Mr. Belikov resigned from the gallery two days later.

(www.themoscownews.com/local/20110805)

Misconduct by Mr. Belikov has also been reported to have taken place within the Tretiakov Gallery itself. A “Letter to the Minister of Culture of the Russian Federation on Corruption in the State Tretyakov Gallery”, A. A. Avdeev, Administration of the President of the Russian Federation and General Prosecutor of the Russian Federation, of 13 March 2011, listed a number of accusations of embezzlement and mismanagement in areas related to Mr. Belikov’s responsibilities within the Tretiakov Gallery. (Yandex cache archive)  In addition, doctrinaire conditions were said to have been imposed on the curatorial staff of the gallery that were restricting their freedom and compromising the integrity of their art historical practice.

THE MORAL OF THE STORY –

It is well known that curators in Western museums are strictly forbidden to work for the art market in any way. Tretiakov Gallery curators, on the other hand, are advisors to the art market and are listed on the ArtInvestment website as such. Other sources defend museum curators as “the experts” because of their daily contact with works of art and this continues the “tradition of Soviet times” (//news.mail.ru/society/6557816/). But there was no art market in Russia in Soviet times, no auction houses, no commercial galleries.

Such an “advisory role” of museums to the art market is a prime source for conflicts of interests, particularly in light of the said-corruption within the Tretiakov Gallery itself.

When commercial and financial interests dictate to professional interests – in this case, responsible, informed and unbiased art history – and so contaminate an academic and scholarly institution such as a museum, can any of the pronouncements from this museum in the name of art history have any credibility?

Administration
25 August 2011

LINKS
www.themoscownews.com/local/20110805
www.themoscownews.com/local/20110803
www.artinvestment.ru/en/news/artnews/20110803-police

Yandex cache archive
http://artinvestment.ru/en/invest/fakes/20110628_goncharova.html
http://news.mail.ru/society/6557816/

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Open Letter to the Editor of ARTnews

June 15, 2011 Ms. Robin Cembalest , Exec. Editor – Art News – 48 W. 38th St. – New York, NY 10018

Dear Ms. Cembalest: Thank you for the courtesy of returning my telephone call today! My letter is in response to the article published in Art News “Protecting Goncharova’s Legacy.”

My two main objections are that you publish unsubstantiated allegations and that you impugn the integrity of two highly regarded international Goncharova experts, Professor Anthony Parton and Mme Denise Bazetoux. How can anyone consider a painting fake without having seen it in person and without a scientific analysis? In your eagerness to create a sensational story you cite Peter Aven who is not an art historian. You also mention Irina Lebedeva, the Director of the Tretyakov Gallery; what are her qualifications to question pictures by Goncharova? You also mention certain Russian government officials and a Russian publisher, none of whom has a scholarly record on Goncharova.

Peter Aven’s allegation that a criminal group was flooding the market with fake pictures is absolutely preposterous. There is not one scintilla of evidence for this! Your article also referred to an article published in the summer of 2009 where you defamed a highly regarded scientist like Dr. E. Jaegers for authenticating paintings. Again this was absolutely untrue. It was my impression that journalists are supposed to dig out the facts and check references! Sylvia Hochfield’s article is sadly lacking in these respects. Her article is an example of sensationalism at its worst without any regard for the reputatioin of respected scholars.

Sincerely,

Robert E. Hiedemann, Ph.D

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A Question of Values

PRESS STATEMENT – A Question of Values

There have been several articles published in Moscow, London and New York since late April 2011 that record a number of accusations against two Western art historians and their publications on Natalia Goncharova. Anthony Parton’s, Goncharova – The Art and Design of Natalia Goncharova, appeared in October 2010, and Denise Bazetoux’s, Natalia Gontcharova – Catalogue Raisonné, appeared in March 2011.

These articles have been generated by the Moscow financier and collector, Peter Aven, who has appealed to the Director of the Tretiakov Gallery, Moscow, Irina Lebedeva, together with Tretiakov Gallery curators, to Moscow art dealer and writer, Andrei Sarabianov, and to London art dealer James Butterwick, for their support in criticising the two Western publications on Goncharova.

In the most recently published article, the June 2011 issue of ARTnews, “Protecting Goncharova’s Legacy”, Peter Aven is quoted as saying that “the time of scholarly discussion has passed – now is the time for legal action.”

There has been no evidence so far of any scholarly discussion. The scholarly discourse on the work of Natalia Goncharova has not even begun. And now the West is being threatened with legal action. For what, one wonders?

Of all the things that most shock the Western mind in all this is the flagrant disregard for two most fundamental values.

The first is the value of academic freedom and freedom of speech.

The second is the value of freedom of the press, i.e., unbiased and unprejudiced reporting.

In this case, the voices of the English and the French art historians have barely been heard, while those of Moscow are repeatedly quoted, led principally by Tretiakov Gallery staff.

What would be the apparent reasons for the Tretiakov Gallery attacks on these two publications and their authors?

As they are quoted from their open letter to the English publisher of Anthony Parton’s book and as reported by ARTnews, the Tretiakov Gallery “curators regard themselves as the guardians of Goncharova’s legacy” and so “the appearance of the books was particularly unwelcome because the museum has been working for some time on a major monographic exhibition”.

What museum in the West would claim exclusivity “as the guardians” of an artist’s legacy?  Protectors of the works in their care, to be sure, but not holders of any copyright either as “experts”, arbiters, or as having a publishing monopoly on that artist. It is indeed well known that, after the death of the author, the right to authenticate a work of art is not exclusive to any expert; and that moral rights, where applicable, are reserved to the heirs of the author. Academic freedom attacked. Freedom of speech attacked.

What museum in the West – or reputable curator or art historian – would base their categorical assertions about the authenticity of works from reproductions in a book as Tretiakov curators are reported to have done, to then declare that “60 to 70% of the works illustrated are fakes”? Where is the “scholarly discussion” in this? Where, indeed, is the scholarship in this?

What museum in the West would attack art historians publicly, to embarrass and shame them, with accusations about works of art that they – the accusers – have never seen, to then assail the authors with imperious, even demeaning, attacks on their scholarship? And all of this without any facts to substantiate their accusations quoted anywhere.

We are not used to such manners in the West. We honour academic freedom and we honour freedom of speech, neither of which has been honoured by the spokespersons from the Tretiakov Gallery in Moscow.

Who, it turns out – as can be found on the on-line site of ArtInvestment. ru that first published the Tretiakov Gallery (and other) attacks on Denise Bazetoux and Anthony Parton – are advisors to the Russian art market and ArtInvestment, financed by Peter Aven.

Vested interests, conflicts of interest, appear to be the driving forces in this whole campaign against two Western art historians. This is undisguised by the presence of two art dealers at the sides of Peter Aven.

Which contributes to the astonishment that an American art magazine, ARTnews, has become the voice of Moscow, and this to the detriment and compromise of the two Western art historians and a fair press.

InCoRM, a non-profit organisation, promotes research and scholarship on Russian Modernism. It promotes ethical practice and condemns unethical practice as this is incompatible with scholarship and the pursuit of knowledge. InCoRM cannot tolerate the unjustified, unsubstantiated and unprofessional attacks on art historians Denise Bazetoux and Anthony Parton.

14 June 2011

See also
The Art Newspaper, “The Real Natalia Goncharova”, Claudia Barbieri, April 2011
The Art Newspaper, “Two New Publications Come Under Critical Assault”, Sophia
Kishkovsky, June 2011

 

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Did You Know?

That –

  • As an average mean, 82.7% of the entries reading “Private Collection” in D. Bazetoux, Goncharova Catalogue Raisonné, record traceable provenances – the artist’s studio, previous collections, exhibitions, auction house sales, etc.
  • Daniel Wildenstein personally provided Denise Bazetoux with photographs of over 20 works by Goncharova for her Catalogue Raisonné of Natalia Goncharova, whose provenance he insisted should read “Private Collection”.
  • François Daulte, Executor of the Estate of A. Tomilina-Larionov, told Denise Bazetoux that he had over 800 photographs of works by Natalia Goncharova in his possession in the mid-1990s. Many of these works have found their way to the art market in recent years.
  • The co-author of the ARTnews article of June 2011 is Konstantin Akinsha, friend and advisor to Peter Aven.
  • “Scientific analyses”, declared Peter Aven at the end of the ARTnews article, will be the deciding factor on authenticity on the basis of which “’appropriate action will be taken’. Aven declined to elaborate”. Private collectors in the West are generally very careful to obtain “thorough scientific analyses” for their works and these already exist for many works reproduced in the two books whose provenance may be named or given as “Private Collection”.
  • Several Moscow and London collectors in contact with Peter Aven have reported that the provenance of most of the Russian collector’s works by Natalia Goncharova is Daniel Wildenstein, who acquired them from the estate of François Daulte, the Executor of the Tomilina-Larionov Estate, which came from the apartment and warehouse depository of A. Tomilina-Larionov and were among the works that she had bequeathed to the Soviet State.
  • The Tretiakov Gallery, Moscow, has consistently and repeatedly denied access to the Goncharova archives – even to today – to both Russian and foreign researchers. See “The Strange, Illegal Journey of the Larionov-Goncharova Archives,  ARTnews, March 1997.
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