A World of Fragile Parts

As the Architecture Biennale at Venice draws to an end, the final events verse on the fleeting nature of exhibitions and, generally, all things that are created.

A World of Fragile Parts is part a book and part of the homonymous exhibition curated by Brendan Cormier at the monumental Arsenale in this city. The theme is reproduction, a topic we addressed this week, as means for preservation.

This is especially relevant in Venice, that most fragile of cities, and it is part of an agreement between the Biennale and the Victoria & Albert Museum of London. Yet there is so much one can do to preserve.

As Biennale President Paolo Baratta with a bit of gallows humor in his opening remarks at the book’s presentation, cooperation between both entities is most welcome but unlikely to survive a final flooding of Venice should ocean levels rise by fifteen feet. “We are not going to refloat the entire city just to honor the agreement,” he said.

In introducing Cormier’s work, Bill Sherman, a Renaissance art expert at the Victoria & Albert, observed that plaster, the original copying technique of the 19th century, was used as a teaching instrument. Only over time reproduction came to be seen not only as an educational aid but as a goal in itself, to preserve the legacy of what previous generations have bequeathed us.

Upon entering the Sala d’Armi where the exhibition is displayed, it is eerie to see an old  document, a little quaintly titled: “Convention for Promoting Universally Reproductions of Works of Art for the Benefit of Museums of all Countries.” The date is missing but by looking at the signatories you can guess it was an era or two ago:

  • Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, and Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, for Great Britain and Ireland
  • Frederick-William, Crown Prince of Prussia, for Prussia
  • Louis, Prince of Hesse, for Hesse
  • Albert, Prince royal of Saxony, for Saxony
  • Prince Napoléon (Jérôme), for France
  • Philippe, Comte de Flandre, for Belgium
  • The Césarevitch, for Russia (the signature is missing)
  • Nicolas, duc de Leuchtenberg
  • Oscar, Prince of Sweden and Norway, for Sweden and Norway
  • Humbert, Prince royal of Italy
  • Amadeus, Duke of Aosta
  • Frederik, Crown Prince of Denmark

That one commitment from royal houses and principalities that for the most part have ceased to exist survived the world wars that swept them away a little later after this paper was signed, in 1867 as a search indicates.

Paper and words, seemingly among the most fragile parts of a frail world, are the most powerful vaults for preservation. As it turns out, Sherman said during the presentation, Renaissance thinkers saw in books and the printed word the quintessential key to hand down to the future what our ancestors unmade and made.

The Strange Case of Painters Doig and Doige, and the Collector’s Lawsuit

A painting of an Arizona landscape is at the heart of the strangest dispute. Collector Robert Fletcher is suing painter Peter Doig for claiming that the painting of the desert scene is not his work, Graham Bowley of the New York Times has reported. Doig’s lawyers have actually found who is most likely the author: Peter Edward Doige. The latter died in 2012, but his sister believes it may be his brother’s work, as they both spent part of their childhood in Arizona. The plaintiff claims to have been Doig’s probation officer in Canada in the 1970s. Painter Peter Doig, whose works now sell for millions, indeed has spent time in Canada. The name’s similitude is striking, if only separated for an E. It may be just a letter, but it does appear in the painting bought by Fletcher from the former prisoner and painter Doige, whose art teacher at prison recognized the work too. In any case, the case is a disservice to justice. It is also a waste of public and private resources, forcing people to go through the unpleasantness of a court case. Good will and common sense would have just settled the matter in due course. We can only hope it should be the end of lawsuits of this sort. Thankfully, van Gogh, Klimt, Picasso and others are now resting in peace.

Banksy Goes to the Museum


The ever changing boundaries of aesthetic and art may be acting paradoxically to turn a self-denying artist like Banksy into a celebrity. A museum in Rome, Palazzo Cipolla, has organized the largest exhibition of Banksy’s works to date. The Bristol-born street artist, has managed to remain unknown in a career that spans almost two decades. We say “unknown” for lack of a better word. Anonymous he is not, for he has become a cult artist, known by his brush name. His graffiti paintings and other works denounce the very system that has catapulted him to fame. The foundation that has organized the exhibition in Italy has made clear that the event is not for profit, and that Banksy is not involved with it. So far, so good, as is consistent with his principles. Yet the show also includes works lent by celebrities that own them, so Banksy is not alien to a market logic in his endeavors. At the same time, it is refreshing to see someone choosing secretiveness rather than personal glory, even though this very trait has turned him into a celebrity himself.