Last night, in New York, a work believed to be by Leonardo da Vinci, Salvator Mundi, sold for $450 million dollars (including fees), the highest amount paid for a work of art to date. Interestingly, it was placed in a sale of contemporary artwork as it was felt there is more money in that sector than amongst collectors of Old Masters. Christie’s described it as “the greatest art rediscovery of the twentieth century”, yet not all art critics agree: one described the painting’s surface as “inert, varnished, lurid, scrubbed over and repainted so many times that it looks simultaneously new and old”. After all, it sold for just £45 in London in 1958 when it was thought to be by a follower of da Vinci. The buyer(s) is, as yet, unknown, but who would pay so much for a work of questionable attribution…?
Museums were in the news this week with the rumour mill in overdrive that Maria Balshaw is tipped to succeed Nicholas Serota as director of the Tate. They may be big shoes to fill, but she has a great track record in her work at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester, and it’s fantastic to hear that a woman might be taking over one of national institutions. Meanwhile, Tristam Hunt, is to leave politics and take over at the V&A, which will, no doubt, have put some curators noses out of joint…
Interesting article in The Economist this week about succession planning in American art museums. Accordingly to a survey of the Association of Art Museum Directors by The Economist, more than a third of directors have reached retirement age. The article focuses on the change in priorities that has taken place over the tenure of some of the longest serving and compares the issues facing them today with the slower pace of life of their early predecessors. For example, since Glenn Lowry, the Head of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), took up his post in 1995 the museum’s footfall has doubled and its endowment has quadrupled to almost $1 million. Modern directors have to be not just curators but also CEOs, responsible for the business side of their institution as well as the collections, including fund raising and advocacy.
Many directors have stayed in post for fear of disrupting the smooth running of the service in difficult times. An influx of new blood at the top, however, would provide opportunities to review the role and question assumptions about the way in which museums are run. The Economist believes that new directors face three challenges: engaging more imaginatively with audiences, addressing America’s changing demographics, and negotiating the ever more delicate balance between wealthy donors and the public. In particular, if museums are to make headway in engaging audiences they need to broaden their appeal. Part of the problem is that the potential pool of new directors does not reflect America’s racial diversity. All these challenges should resonate with the heritage sector in the UK.
Unilever Archives held its second charity art auction on 27 November and it proved to be as successful as the first in 2012. The auction was held in Unilever House and open to all staff. 40 pieces of contemporary artwork, of relatively low value, that no longer fitted with the collecting policy, were displayed on temporary walls in the restaurant for 24 hours before the auction, although the catalogue had been available online for a couple weeks.
I was delighted to have been asked to act as auctioneer and even more delighted to report that everything was sold and £6653 was raised for Unilever’s designated charity, the Oxfam’s UK Clear A Plate campaign.
My thoughts, views and musings about what's happening in the world of archives and records management, information and heritage