Sunday, April 5, 2015

Link: "Why museums hide masterpieces away"

A listicle that is actually interesting! Glory be! This BBC Culture article gives details about great works that, for various reasons, are not often on display at their host museums:

Why museums hide masterpieces away

That Albrecht Durer's Young Hare - which I always describe to my Art History and World History students as "the Mona Lisa of rabbits" - is not often seen is perfectly understandable:

Dürer’s famous watercolour and gouache drawing Young Hare is a masterpiece in observation; its impeccable rendering served as benchmark for centuries thereafter. As 'Vienna’s unofficial mascot', the work on paper is also the Albertina’s prize possession, but it’s not often on show. After a maximum of three months, Young Hare needs five years in dark storage with a humidity level of less than 50% for the paper to adequately rest. It was on view briefly in 2014 after a break of ten years, and will appear again for a short time in 2018, before it goes back into hiding. The museum holds millions of works on paper, and is thus able to show “less than 1% – maybe even 0.1% – of our collection,” according to deputy director Christian Benedik, but, as mandated by the museum’s original owners (part of the Habsburg royal family) every graphic work has a facsimile that can be viewed more readily, including one of Young Hare.

If I had to assemble a portfolio justifying our species, this drawing is one of the first items I'd put in it.

Sensitivity to light also limits access to classic Persian carpets, such as the Ardabil Carpet at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London - another work that comes up in my Art History classes. (Be sure to click on the image to get a larger, more detailed version, as you can with all the pictures here in the blog.)

The extensive holdings at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, such as Jackson Pollock's Mural on Red Indian Ground, "are often lent to other world institutions, but display in Tehran depends on who is leading the country."

The least justifiable of the cases that the BBC article considers is that of Franz Marc's The Large Blue Horses, held by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis:

...the Walker’s curatorial emphases have shifted: the museum is known for its post-1960s holdings and performance programs, and the painting is seldom shown. “It’s been one of these mythic works in the collection that rarely gets exhibited,” says curator Eric Crosby. “This is a work that is very much central to the Walker’s mission in the 1940s – but as contemporary art has changed we have less context in which to exhibit it.”

OK, I get that, but then put this magnificent painting out on permanent loan to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts across town (one of the world's great unsung museums), which would surely keep it on display ALL THE TIME.

I am glad that this article gave me an excuse to post these images here, because even with all the downsides of digital display, the loss of scale and texture, it is still always spiritually refreshing to interact with great works of art. I invariably feel good after teaching one of my Art History classes.

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