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Art History

November 11, 2014 | Posted by | No Comments

How Old Is The Oldest Artwork?

A handprint found in Indonesia and believed to be at least 39,900 years old Photo: Kinez Riza via Nature

Reported by Alexander Forbes,

A group of cave paintings discovered on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia was created at least 40,000 years ago, reports the journal Nature in its October 8 edition. That likely makes the paintings the oldest artworks ever to be discovered.

The oldest of the newly-dated cave paintings is a silhouette of a hand, which appears to have been created by blowing red pigment over a hand placed against the cave wall’s surface. Using uranium decay dating, the Indonesian research team working on the project determined that the 10 millimeters or so of calcite grown on top of the painting was at least 39,900 years old. The finding suggests that the painting underneath is therefore slightly older.

Cave paintings on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi were found more than 50 years ago, but until now the dates of origin were not known. The art shown here has not been dated, but is stylistically similar to other art in the area now found to be around 40,000 years old. PHOTOGRAPH BY MAXIME AUBERT, GRIFFITH UNIVERSITY, AUSTRALIA

The researchers were also able to successfully date a painting of two animals, thought to be a species of “pig-deer.” The work is estimated to be at least 35,400–35,700 years old. If accurate, the dating would make the painting the earliest known surviving figurative representation made by humans.

Aside from the discovery’s intrigue from an archeological and scientific standpoint, it is also yet another blow to the view that art and culture, and the more advance cognitive capacity of the early Homo sapiens who produced it, was a European invention. Many Eurocentrist—and indeed some factions within the European political extreme-right—have held up discoveries of 35,000–40,000-year-old cave paintings in Spain’s El Castillo cave and France’s Chauvet cave as evidence of Europe’s cultural primacy.


“It allows us to move away from the view that Europe was special,” Australian archeologist and leader of the team Maxime Aubert told Nature. “There was some idea that early Europeans were more aware of themselves and their surroundings. Now we can say that’s not true.”

At the very least, the findings suggest that humans developed abstract cognitive abilities at approximately the same time worldwide. The El Castillo painting of a red disk dates to 40,800 years ago. The Chauvet painting of a rhinoceros dates to approximately 35,000 years ago.

The oldest dated hand stencil in the world (upper right) and possibly the oldest figurative depiction in cave art—a female babirusa (a hoglike animal also called a pig-deer)—were found in Leang Timpuseng cave in Sulawesi, an island east of Borneo. NGM ART. SOURCE: M. AUBERT, ET AL., 2014, NATURE.

Other archeologists suggest that the paintings point towards the existence of such abilities before our distant ancestors dispersed from Africa. That means many older cave paintings may still await discovery. “We can expect future discoveries of depictions of human hands, figurative art, and other forms of image-making dating to the earliest period of the global dispersal of our species,” Aubert’s team told the New York Times.

“Compared with Europe, Asia has seen little fieldwork, and new finds will keep on challenging what we think we know about human evolution,” added researcher Wil Roebroecks when speaking to the AFP.

Maxime Aubert, right, and a team member work inside one of the limestone caves on Sulawesi where ancient cave art was found. PHOTOGRAPH BY KINEZ RIZA

The newly-dated Indonesian cave paintings’ existence has been known for over 50 years. However, researchers had done little further work to date them as they believed the region’s climate would have already caused anything over 10,000 years old to vanish.

May 13, 2014 | Posted by | No Comments

Swiss Museum Inherits Looted WWII Art

Cornelius Gurlitt photo: CBS NEWS

Reported by CBS/AP: A Swiss museum has announced that it has been named the “unrestricted and unfettered sole heir” of a German art collector who, two years ago, was found hoarding more than 1,000 missing artworks in his Munich apartment. Cornelius Gurlitt, the reclusive 81-year-old son of one of Hitler’s favorite art dealers, died Tuesday. His collection of long-hidden artworks set off an uproar over the fate of art looted by the Nazis.

The Museum of Fine Arts Bern in Switzerland announced they were contacted by Gurlitt’s lawyer, Christoph Edel, and told the news. The museum expressed their shock in a written statement, saying “at no time” did Gurlitt have “any connection” to the museum.

“At the same time, (we) do not wish to conceal the fact that this magnificent bequest brings with it a considerable burden of responsibility and a wealth of questions of the most difficult and sensitive kind, and questions in particular of a legal and ethical nature,” it said in a statement.

All of the art in the collection was acquired by Hildebrand Gurlitt, Cornelius’s father. He was a leading art dealer chosen by Hitler to sell the art, most of which was stolen from the walls of museums, or from Jewish-owned galleries and collectors.

As Morley Safer reported in a 60 Minutes story last month (embedded below), German authorities stumbled upon Gurlitt’s collection in 2012 and what they found was astonishing: works by artists such as Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Max Beckmann – the largest cache of missing art found since World War II. Once the art was seized by authorities in February 2012, a legal battle ensued over who really owns the art.

In April, Gurlitt agreed to cooperate with authorities and return any artwork proven to be stolen to their rightful owners. So far, no artworks from the collection have been returned. Chris Marinello, a lawyer for the heirs of art dealer Paul Rosenberg who have claimed ownership of a painting by Matisse found in Gurlitt’s apartment, is buoyed by Wednesday’s announcement. Before Cornelius Gurlitt’s death, his lawyers said it was his intent to return the painting by Matisse to Paul Rosenberg’s family. Marinello believes that deal will be honored and the Rosenberg family expects the painting, now worth an estimated $20 million, to be returned soon. Marinello says, “Let’s hope German authorities will expedite this process to make up for two years of missteps since the hoard was first discovered.”

Of Gurlitt’s bequest to The Museum of Fine Arts in Bern, Marninello went on to say, “Under no circumstances should this collection be known as the Gurlitt collection. It was assembled only due to the persecution and horrors of the Holocaust.”


April 10, 2014 | Posted by | 1 Comment

The Largest Outdoor Art Show

Nighthawks, 1942 Edward Hopper The Art Institute of Chicago

Reported by Deborah Vankin/LA Times:

Among the denim-clad glamour girls and blockbuster movie stars staring down from the billboards of the Sunset Strip, images of great American artworks will be displayed this summer in what organizers are calling “the largest outdoor art show ever conceived.”

Five museums — the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Dallas Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York — have come together with the Outdoor Advertising Assn. of America to execute Art Everywhere, a sweeping, interactive art campaign.

American Gothic, 1930 Grant Wood The Art Institute of Chicago

Along with billboards in Hollywood, the images will be displayed in Times Square and bus stops, subway platforms and signs around the country.

The public is invited to vote on its favorite American artworks from a master list of 100 that the museums have curated from their combined collections, the frenetic color-drippings of Jackson Pollock and the fluid curves of Georgia O’Keeffe’s oil blossoms among them. The 50 most popular images will then be featured throughout August on about 50,000 billboards and signs in select U.S. cities.

Classic Landscape, 1931 Charles Sheeler National Gallery of Art

The campaign, which follows a similar program in England last year, may be a publicity play for the museums, but it’s also an effort to raise awareness of art nationwide.

Untitled, 2008 Cindy Sherman Whitney Museum of American Art

“Images out of sight may be out of mind,” LACMA Director Michael Govan said. “Art Everywhere puts marvelously diverse American ideas and stories told through images in the open air with public involvement — reminding us of the many more great images that are accessible in our museums.”

The Water Fan, 1898/99 Winslow Homer The Art Institute of Chicago

Voters will be asked to consider not just paintings but photographs, multimedia works, drawings on paper and decorative objects from the 18th century to 2008. Grant Wood’s now-iconic “American Gothic,” of a rigid-looking farmer clutching a pitchfork beside his daughter, was nominated by the Art Institute of Chicago. LACMA’s black and white John Baldessari photograph from the mid-’60s, “Wrong,” is also in the mix.

Giant Magnolias on a Blue Velvet Cloth, c. 1890 Martin Johnson Heade National Gallery of Art

“In a way, it’s a mini history of American art — and an opportunity for people to identify which works resonate for them personally,” said Dallas Museum of Art Director Maxwell L. Anderson. “I hope families and individuals will have a fresh look at our collective cultural heritage and see the potential in their lives of visiting museums and appreciating great works of art.”

White Center, 1957 Mark Rothko Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Voting will take place at, where the final list of artworks will be announced June 20. Among the artists whose works are on the ballot: Edward Hopper, Mark Rothko, John Singer Sargent, Mary Cassatt, Ed Ruscha, Catherine Opie, Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman and Frank Lloyd Wright.

PH-143, (1955-No.2), 1955 Clyfford Still Los Angeles County Museum of Art

“The beauty of this project,” Govan said, “is that we can share these masterpieces of American art with people all around L.A. and the rest of the country — no admission necessary.”


April 8, 2014 | Posted by | No Comments

Woman In Gold

Gustav Klimt, Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907). Via Wikimedia Commons.

According to Artnet News:

The true story of one Holocaust survivor’s fight to win back her family’s priceless Gustav Klimt paintings will be the subject of the upcoming film Woman in Gold, starring Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds, Deadline reports. Mirren will play Maria Altmann, an aging Jewish refugee whose aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer, famously served as a model for the Austrian symbolist painter. Adele’s husband, Czech sugar magnate Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, owned five paintings by Klimt, including two portraits of his wife.

Left: Helen Mirren in 2013. Right: Maria Altmann in 2010. Photos: Angela George, Gregorcollins. Via Wikimedia Commons.

The movie takes its name from the most famous of the five pictures, a striking 1907 portrait done largely in resplendent gold tones titled Adele Bloch-Bauer I. When Altmann ultimately won her case, the five paintings were estimated to be worth $150 million, making it the most valuable case of restitution of Nazi-looted artwork.

Birkenwald I 1903 by Gustav Klimt

Adele, who died in 1925, requested in her will that the works be donated to the Austrian state museum. Ferdinand, their legal owner, who lived another 20 years, instead bequeathed his estate, including the paintings, to the couple’s nieces and nephews.However, Nazis stole the paintings, 16 Klimt drawings, and an impressive porcelain collection from the Bloch-Bauer estate during Germany’s 1938 annexation of Austria. After the war, the Austrian government justified keeping the paintings based on the terms of Adele’s will.

Adele Bloch-Bauer II (1912) by Gustav Klimt

Altmann, who escaped Europe with her husband after he was held by the Nazis in the Dachau concentration camp in 1938, thought for many years that her aunt and uncle had left their collection to Austria. In 1998, she discovered the truth of her uncle’s will, and set out to reclaim her family’s art.

Apfelbaum (ca. 1912) by Gustav Klimt

The film will depict her eight-year legal battle with the Austrian government. After a panel hearing with the Austrian Cultural Ministry returned the drawings and porcelain, but not the paintings, the case was brought to trial in California, as Altmann could not afford the exorbitant legal fees (equal to the value of the items for which restitution was sought) demanded by the Austrian courts. The dispute went all the way to the United States Supreme court, before Altmann was granted satisfaction by an arbitration panel in Austria.

Häuser in Unterach am Attersee (Houses in Unterach on Attersee Lake), ca. 1916 One of Five Klimts Repatriated to the Bloch-Bauer Heirs in 2006

Altmann and her family later sold the paintings. New York’s Neue Galerie bought the film’s namesake for $135 million, at the time a record sum. Christie’s auctioned the other four to private collectors for a cumulative $192.7 million. Altmann died in 2011 at age 94.


January 14, 2014 | Posted by | No Comments

For The Love of Art

Detroit Institute of Arts photo credit: Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

According to the Washington Post: A group of national and local philanthropic foundations have pledged $330 million to bolster Detroit’s municipal pension funds and help protect the Detroit Institute of Art’s collection from a sale to creditors, according to federal mediators involved with bankruptcy proceedings.

Detroit Institute of Arts photo credit: Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

The Ford Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and seven other philanthropic organizations have offered millions to ameliorate two primary and seemingly unrelated concerns — the plight of pension recipients and preservation of fine art — that have dogged Detroit since it filed for bankruptcy in July.

The Window 1916 by Henri Matisse appraised at $40-$80 million.

Chief U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen, who is overseeing the mediation, called the pledges an “extraordinary and unprecedented effort” and noted that additional foundations are expected to offer support. But the announcement did not say that an agreement has been reached with Detroit’s emergency manager, Kevyn D. Orr, who has previously called for the museum to be monetized to lessen debt obligations.

Self Portrait with Straw Hat 1887 by Vincent Van Gogh appraised at $80-$150 million.

In July, Detroit filed for bankruptcy, claiming that it could not repay $18 billion in debt. The city owns the DIA’s 65,000-piece collection, which some have argued should be sold to pay creditors. According to an independent appraisal by the New York-based auction house Christie’s, the portion of the collection purchased with city funds is worth between $454 million and $867 million. Other independent appraisals have valued the collection at between $1 billion and $2 billion.

The Wedding Dance c. 1566 by Pieter Bruegel The Elder appraised at $100-$200 million.

The truth is, people love art and will do a lot to support arts and culture in a city in desperate need of economic revival. Art is good for the soul!



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