Friday, 18 January 2013

Bad Acquisitions

New acquisitions are always exciting.  For all that I pretend to hate novelty (which I define as more or less anything that happened after about 1820), I still skip through the galleries when I hear of a new loan or acquisition.  Given high prices and small budgets, acquisitions are carefully considered and usually deserve the inevitable plaudits.  But some acquisitions are ill-judged, and have a negative effect on the whole collection.  I don't think there's enough critical commentary about these bad acquisitions.
My first nomination is this fine still life by Spaendonck that has been given to the Frick Collection in New York.  It's a perfectly nice painting, but not really consistent with the quality of the Frick.  One of Henry Clay Frick's earliest old master acquisitions was a still life of fruit by Jan van Os, but he didn't include it in his bequest.  I can't believe that this painting is much better.  It will be hard for the Frick ever again to acquire anything of the standard of their supreme masterpieces, but they have still picked up some fine things that complement the collection - like the wonderful Liotard still life donated by Heinemann.  The Spaendonck doesn't make the cut. 
A few years ago the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo NY sold off a load of old stuff, including the superb Roman bronze Artemis and the Stag, below (which I saw when it was subsequently on loan to the Met in New York). 
Picture: Arts Journal
They were raising money to buy contemporary art, including Tracy Emin's Only God Knows I'm Good (below).  I leave you to judge for yourselves.
Picture: Albright-Knox
Now a controversial nomination to end with.  The National Galleries of London and Edinburgh jointly bought two of the greatest paintings still in private hands - indeed, two of the absolute highlights of western art - Titian's Diana and Actaeon and Diana and Callisto.  Their quality and importance is irreproachable; my beef is with the way they were bought.  First there was an undignified roadshow as these large and fragile paintings were carted around the world to drum up funding.  Then there is the permanent impermanence of joint ownership, meaning that they will be subject to the stress of being packed up and shifted hundreds of miles every few years, in perpetuity.  Sharing the burden of very large purchases has become established practice.  I find it deplorable.    

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