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Murder convict sketched Dubai golf courses in prison. Then, his paintings got him out – News

Golf artist Valentino Dixon is a special guest at the ongoing Dubai Desert Classic



Photo by Shihab

Published: Fri 27 Jan 2023, 16:40

Last updated: Fri 27 Jan 2023, 18:18

Art can be liberating. For the imprisoned Valentino Dixon, it was also his ticket to freedom.

Dixon languished in a notorious American prison for 27 years for a crime he did not commit. Then a painting he did while behind bars got him out.

Today, Dixon, 54, is a special guest at the ongoing Dubai Desert Classic.

Khaleej Times caught up with the renowned golf artist whose remarkable story of resilience, sport and artistic talent has inspired millions around the world, while also endearing him to fans such as Tiger Woods and Barack Obama.

Dixon was 21 in 1991 when he was arrested and wrongfully convicted for a fatal shooting at a nightclub in his hometown of Buffalo, New York.

Multiple witnesses and a confession from the real killer could not save him from being sentenced to 39 years in prison at the brutal maximum security Attica Correctional Facility in New York.

Escape into art

In his 6X10 cell, Dixon found escape in art. “I was in prison in my eighth year when my uncle sent me some colored pencils and paper and encouraged me to draw,” Dixon recalls. “Uncle Ronnie said, ‘if you can reclaim your talent, you can reclaim your life’. I loved to draw as a child. Uncle Ronnie’s advice reignited my passion for art. I told myself, I can’t waste my life, even if I’m in prison.”

Photo by Shihab

Photo by Shihab

Over the next 20 years, Dixon made hundreds of paintings, often drawing up to 10 hours a day.

As his reputation grew in Attica, he received a request from golf enthusiast prison warden James Conway to draw the legendary 12th hole of the Augusta National Golf Club for him.

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Unknown to Dixon, his cellmate was also an avid golfer. “He subscribed to the monthly magazine Golf Digest. One day he threw a magazine at me and said, ‘You need to draw more golf courses, pick what you want’.

“At first I balked at the idea. I said to myself, ‘Why should I draw golf courses of all things. But as I flipped through the pages of the magazine, I felt a strange sense of peace. It looked beautiful. photographs of lush golf courses from around the world. Looking at the rolling landscapes of sylvian splendor inspired me to recreate them,” says Dixon who went on to draw more than 130 golf courses, including many from Dubai. His artwork finally attracted the attention of Golf Digest who titled a story about him Golf saved my life.

The story, which questioned the flimsy nature of Dixon’s trial, went viral. Before long, Georgetown University’s Prisons and Justice Initiative took up his case.

After their efforts, Dixon was acquitted of murder charges on September 19, 2018. He came to court in handcuffs, but walked out free after the man who confessed to the actual murder pleaded guilty in court to manslaughter.

Embrace Islam

Dixon, who changed his name to Tariq Ramzan Abdullah after converting to Islam in 1999, said he had no bitterness.

“If I was angry, I wouldn’t be at peace with myself. I wouldn’t be able to enjoy life. That’s what my faith has taught me,” said Dixon, who will sell some of his artwork at a silent auction on the sidelines of the Dubai Desert Classic this week.

A portion of the proceeds go to his prison reform foundation called the Art of Freedom, which campaigns against wrongful convictions.

“It’s a great feeling to be in Dubai and visit its famous golf courses that I sketched in my darkest hours,” he said, holding up a drawing of the Montgomerie Golf Club at Emirates Hills.

The Dubai Creek Golf Course and Yacht Club, Emirates Golf Club, Al Bada Golf Club and the Arabian Ranches Golf Club are among seven Dubai golf courses that feature prominently in his collection.

“Drawing these golf courses while sitting alone in my little cell, I never thought I’d be touring there one day. But look, here I am — in Dubai, the most beautiful place on the planet.”

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Obama shares Dixon’s story on Instagram

In December 2020, former US President Barack Obama shared Dixon’s story to his 34 million Instagram followers, posting a photo of him receiving the master artist’s artwork from Michelle Obama for Christmas.

“This is an incredible piece, but the story behind it is even better,” Obama wrote in the caption.

The story so far

1991: Valentino Dixon is sentenced to 39 years in prison for the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Torriano Jackson after a late-night fight outside a restaurant in Buffalo, New York. Valentino, then 21, had a six-month-old daughter at the time.

1999: Dixon’s uncle Ronnie Brown visits him at Attica Correctional Facility in New York and gives him some colored pencils and paper and encourages him to draw.

2011: Retiring prison warden James Conway requests Dixon to tee the 12th hole of the legendary Augusta National Golf Club. Encouraged by a cellmate, Dixon goes on to recreate more than 130 golf courses.

2012: Golf Digest features Valentino in its Golf Saved my Life column. Subsequent articles conclude that he was wrongfully convicted

2013: The Golf Channel has a story on Valentino’s case that is getting national attention.

2018: Dixon walks out a free man after Georgetown University’s Prison and Justice Initiative reinvestigates the case and pleads guilty to the real killer

2019: Dixon receives a gold medal from the Vatican while American golfer Jack Nicklaus compares him to Nelson Mandela

2020: Former US President Barack Obama shares Dixon story after receiving his artwork as a Christmas gift from wife Michelle Obama

2022: Dixon publishes a book: The Soul of an Unfreed Man: Drawing my way to Freedom

2023: Dixon visits Dubai Desert Classic as a special guest

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Amid a Feverish Market for Her Prismatic Paintings, Japanese Art Dynamo Etsu Egami Is Keeping a Cool Head

It’s only a few weeks into 2023, but Etsu Egami can already confirm that it’s been a great year.

The 28-year-old artist has just returned home to Chiba, Japan, after her sold-out solo exhibition soft-opened Whitestone Gallery’s new space in Singapore during the city’s art week; her works exhibited at the Japanese gallery’s booth at the recent ART SG also found eager buyers. She is now back in her studio in her hometown, preparing for a series of upcoming museum projects and showcases locally and abroad. Indeed, Egami is already eyeing a full schedule in the coming weeks and months, and her eyes are on the global stage.

“I want more Japanese artists, female artists and Asian artists to be seen in the international art world,” Egami said of her strong motivation to go global, speaking to Artnet News via video call from her studio.

Although there have been many great artists from Japan and Asia throughout history, she noted, the number of them who are internationally known remains small. He has appeared in exhibitions for almost a decade, achieving notable accolades – including a spot on the Forbes Asia 30 Under 30 List in 2021—Egami’s fiery determination to develop a career outside of Japan “is only natural.”

Etsu Egami at artist talk with curator Tan Siuli at the opening of her solo show at Whitestone Gallery Singapore. Courtesy of Whitestone Gallery.

Japan’s Ascendant Star

From the sounds of things (and looking at the data), going global is going to be a very achievable New Year’s resolution – her hard work is already paying off. Egami’s paintings, created with thick lines of colorful brush strokes, have gained a solid following since her debut in 2015; she has shown paintings in major art cities from Paris and New York to Seoul, Beijing and Taipei.

Prices for her paintings floating in the secondary market have skyrocketed since 2021, making her one of the art market’s fastest rising stars from Asia, widely recognized as a key artist of the third generation of postwar Japanese art. Her work has already entered the collections of institutions internationally, including CAFA Art Museum in Beijing, Moscow’s Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, and E-Land Foundation in Seoul.

But Egami’s rise in the market also means that she has also become a target of flippers—a fact that upsets the artist. According to data from the Artnet Price Database, most of her top 10 auction records have been for works that have held for three years or less, including her current record, which stands at HK$2.9 million ($366,921; all sale prices includes fees), for a 2021 diptych sold at Holly’s International (HK) Auctions last May. This was followed by the sale of painting Rainbow-2022-t-10 at a Holly’s Hong Kong auction in November 2022. The work, which fetched HK$1.3 million ($168,931), was exhibited at Tang Contemporary’s Seoul space only a few months earlier. On Saturday, January 28, Japan’s SBI Art Auction is offering a small 2021 painting for sale. (The auction house gave the work a rather low presale estimate of ¥700,000 to ¥1.3 million ($5,100 to $9,400), but SBI seems to have a track record of keeping their estimates at an accessible level.)

“[My artworks] are like my children, so I hope the work can stay with people much longer,” Egami said when asked about how this heated secondary market affects her. She works with her galleries to try to keep things under control: they have imposed a five-year non-sale agreement, and are extremely careful to weed out unaffiliated collectors.

However, she is grateful for the attention and hopes that it is sustainable. “I really appreciate that people like my work and collect it,” she said. “I hope people can see the messages in my work, why I make these works, and the stories behind them. I also hope that more people can spend time with my work, let their imaginations run wild and show my work rather than just keeping them in storage. I want people to focus on my art.”

Etsu Egami White Stone

Etsu Egami’s works at Whitestone Gallery’s booth at ART SG 2023. Courtesy of Whitestone Gallery.

International Influence

To understand Egami’s art, one must trace her practice back to her high school days. Growing up about 25 miles east of downtown Tokyo in 2008, she experienced a transformational change when she was exposed to Chinese contemporary art during the Beijing Olympics.

“It was a huge shock to the Japanese art scene,” Egami recalled of the televised Olympics, which were extremely popular in Japan. This broadened her view—she grew up with the work of modern Japanese painters such as Sotaro Yasui and Ryuzaburo Umehara. But for a long time she felt that there was a gap between Japanese pre-war and post-war art, and the exposure to Chinese contemporary art was a light bulb moment. “It seemed to bridge this gap,” she said.

She studied oil painting in China, at the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in Beijing, before finally completing her MFA there in 2019, under the tutelage of Chinese painter Liu Xiaodong, one of the most important Chinese contemporary artists among the art market favorites were. about a decade ago when the genre was the most sought after from East Asia.

When she first studied abroad (in China, but also in Germany), she noticed that experiences of culture shock and the miscommunication of being a foreigner had a deep impact on her, especially those beyond words. Non-verbal cultural cues and subtexts confused her the most. “I realized that it wasn’t a language problem,” she noted. “Language is a tool of communication, but at the same time it is also the barrier.”

This miscommunication became a major source of inspiration in her early creations, including drawings, paintings and mixed media installations. Her style further developed during a period spent in New York as part of a 2020 Japanese Government Residency Award for Outstanding Artists. During those months, she saw the tumultuous lockdowns, the Black Lives Matter movement and the rise of targeted attacks against Asians.

These revelations spawned her ongoing “Rainbow” series. Some of the works from this series have sold well at auction, according to Artnet Price Database records. “The importance of diversity and coexistence gave me the inspiration of the rainbow,” she said. “These are lines that do not mix with each other, but they are in various colors that run parallel to each other. This is my only dream and hope, and has become my painting language.”

Etsu Egami

Etsu Egami, Rainbow-2022-W-42, on view at the artist’s solo exhibition “Ceaseless is the change of water where the current glides serenely on: the spray appears over a cataract, yet disappears without a moment’s delay” at Whitestone Gallery Singapore. Courtesy of Whitestone Gallery.

A big New Year

This year is likely to be a turning point. For one, a striking monumental diptych from her recent Singapore show with a title inspired by Japanese classical text Hōjōki, was acquired by a foundation that is building a yet-to-be-announced private museum in Singapore. The work is a visual ode to honoring the primitive nature and spirituality of feminine power through the artist’s signature brushstrokes in a warm color palette.

“I am very happy about this,” the artist said of the major acquisition, adding that she also met many collectors from the region during her time there, including those from Malaysia and Indonesia. “It’s nice that my work can be placed in a collection that will be open to the public,” she added.

And even though it is largely private buyers who pursue her paintings, Egami’s work will nevertheless reach a wider audience in the coming year. The painting Rainbow-2021-T-1– the work that set her auction record – was included in the third edition of the China Xinjiang International Art Biennale, which opened earlier this month. She is also working to expand her medium, and plans to spend a residency creating a site-specific audiovisual installation for a group show that will open in late February at the Museum of Modern Art in Japan’s Gunma Prefecture. For this project, the artist researched the history of the prefecture’s iconic Daruma dolls, modeled after a Buddhist monk widely known as the founder of Zen Buddhism.

Also in the pipeline are institutional exhibitions, one planned for London during Frieze week next fall, and another at a yet-to-be-announced museum in Shanghai; at both she plans to expand beyond painting, including experiments with photography, sound and sculpture. Her work will also make a fair presence at Art Basel Hong Kong and Art Geneva, both in conjunction with Tang Contemporary, according to the artist.

But Egami is happy to let her representatives take care of sales while she digs deeper into her art. “The galleries will handle the market side of things so I can focus on my work that questions about society or my feelings,” Egami said. “I want to try something new.”

Etsu Egami

Installation view of “Ceaseless is the change of water where the current glides serenely on: the spray appears over a cataract but disappears without a moment’s delay,” solo exhibition of Etsu Egami at Whitestone Gallery Singapore. Courtesy of the artist.

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‘Cindy Sherman said, I love these’: ex-Beta Band star John Maclean on his paintings | Music

Iit was a nail that started it all. “I wanted a painting to hang on it,” says John Maclean, former keyboard player with the Beta Band and award-winning film director. He nods to a wall in his home studio in London where the lone piece of metal still sticks out. Maclean found it difficult to fulfill his mission: initially because he was not entirely satisfied with the paintings he produced; more recently, because people keep buying them.

Becoming a professional artist at the age of 50 was not intentional. Like many people, Maclean found himself painting during the pandemic just for something to do. At the time, he was shooting for his second film – a follow-up to 2015’s Sundance-winning western Slow West – when everything came to a screeching halt. He found some old postcards on eBay, zoomed in on peripheral parts of the landscape that caught his eye (a tree, a waterfall) and tried to replicate them – applying the paint thickly (you wouldn’t guess it was not watercolor) on wooden panels with a psychedelic palette reminiscent of Hockney’s iPad spring paintings. Today, Maclean has arranged several on the floor in front of us, disturbingly pushing them around with his feet as we speak. “Oh well,” he said, giving one a boot. “They are made of wood.”

Maclean was hardly a stranger to painting: he studied at the Edinburgh College of Art and was attending the Royal College of Art in London when he met his fellow Beta Band members in the mid-1990s. But he hasn’t picked up a paintbrush in more than two decades. Still, when he finally felt brave enough to post his work on Instagram, it immediately caught the attention of artist and curator Matthew Higgs, who lectured Maclean at the RCA and was an avid Beta Band fan. Higgs presented him with a show at the White Columns gallery in New York, where he is director.

Waterfall 1 by John Maclean. Photo: Michal Brzezinski

“I can’t remember such an overwhelmingly universally positive response to an artist’s work,” says Higgs from New York via Zoom. “There is something very generous about John’s way of looking, John’s way of thinking. It’s quite disarming.”

Maclean was unsure about exhibiting his work so soon, and the experience of doing so was surreal. “Cindy Sherman was there,” he says, “basically said, ‘I love it.’ I thought, ‘This is crazy.’ And they sold out pretty quickly. It went from zero to very very fast.”

That seems to be how much of Maclean’s career is over. He never saw himself as some kind of guy from a band when he first met the other Beta members. And perhaps that contributed to the fact that the group – who mixed shuffling lo-fi indie with folk, hip-hop and house – always seemed like outsiders among their peers at the tail end of Britpop. “We went against all the cocaine ego trumpeting,” he says.

Indeed, such was their anti-pop star approach, the band were often portrayed in the press as difficult, depressed or wary of fame. “Which was ironic,” says Maclean, “because we weren’t depressed and we really wanted to be famous!” The band gained a cult following with 1998’s The Three EPs compilation, and their desire to cross-pollinate with other genres was ahead of its time.

Although the group broke up in 2004, Maclean has no regrets: “It wasn’t fun everyone the time. And it is documented that Steve [Mason, lead singer] went through ups and downs mentally. But overall we got to do what we wanted in an era when money really wasn’t a big deal. Even if we were playing a very small town in America, we would have a full stage show, projections, movie screens. The record company paid for everything.” He pauses and laughs. “Of course, I think it will take us 10,000 years before we ever make a quint from a record sale.”

Maclean was more than just the band’s keyboardist – he shot videos, created sleeve art and curated the Flower Press fanzine. After the band’s demise, and while Maclean was trying to break into the film industry, it was this work that caught the attention of Michael Fassbender. Somewhat improbably, the actor agreed to film a short film with Maclean on his day off from Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds – despite the fact that Maclean had never even worked with an actor before.

“I thought, ‘Right, I’m getting his day off.’ He probably spends a lot of his time bored and waiting for set. So I just hop on the back of his bike and we can film in different locations.’” Maclean filmed it all on the same old Nokia phone he used to shoot music videos. “People thought I was crazy. But Fassbender loved the guerrilla aspect of it.” So much so that, after Man on a Motorcycle, the pair reunited for another short, Pitch Black Heist, and then the full-length Slow West. “He was the first person to watch the music videos and not just think it was silly. I will be forever grateful for that.”

Maclean’s journey through music and film helped him figure out what kind of painter he wanted to be. As a young art student, he felt the pressure to be raw and cutting edge, to make art that had a strong message. “It took me 25 years to realize that it’s better if I just forget fashions and trends and make something that looks nice on someone’s wall.”

His work is currently on view in London, but his priority is the film he was working on before the pandemic. He also writes a TV show for NBCUniversal, for which the idea came during a five-hour drive to fetch a freezer from Hull (and no, I’ve never heard anyone say that).

As for music, he’s still dabbling, and is itching for a Beta Band reunion. “It kind of keeps… not coming close, but definitely sticking its head out. I’m ready for that. But there is always one member who is either busy or going through a hard time. It’s hard to get all four of us to agree that it’s the right time.”

Who knows, if he finds any free time in between all of this, he might even paint something to hang on that nail.

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‘She drunkenly asked me to do her a rudeness’: painting’s most baffling titles | Lynette Yiadom-Boakye

Ttwo girls are playing on the beach. One dips her foot in a black pool of water left behind by an ebbing gray sea. Both are turned away from us, absorbed, as so many of Van’s subjects are, in thoughts viewers are unfamiliar with. I can’t help but project what I know of Yiadom-Boakye onto the picture, not least that she studied painting in Falmouth, so this cold study in grey, black and brown is probably inspired by Cornish beaches .

I look at the title for guidance: Condor and the Mole. What could this mean? Maybe the toe-topper is the condor – she swings her arms out like she’s a broad-winged bird ready to fly and her friend – is what? – an earthbound mole? But she’s not a mole – there’s nothing subterranean about her at all; in her orange skirt and white top, she is the light that disrupts the dark color scheme. Or maybe I’m wrong: maybe the mole is the pool of water rising to the surface, touching the condor girl’s toe as God’s finger touched Adam’s in Michelangelo’s famous work. And that leads me to wilder thoughts: maybe condor girl has struck oil in Cornwall and Jeremy Hunt doesn’t have to worry about reducing the national debt.

An Air from Falmouth … Condor and the Mole 2011. Photo: © Courtesy of Lynette Yiadom-Boakye

As I walked around Tate Britain’s seductive retrospective of the British painter’s work, I kept looking at the titles. Not because the pictures need verbal help – there is enough in her pictures of imagined subjects to feed the hungriest eyes. No, it’s because Yiadom-Boakye clearly gets a kick out of writing titles. And that pleasure is contagious. She calls her titles “an extra brush mark”, but not explanations: “Any attempts at explanation can at best be redundant; at worst completely inaccurate.”

All the way through the show, her titles rubbed me the wrong way in an intriguing way. Maybe it’s nonsense, or maybe, even against the artist’s intention, they send the viewer down a rabbit hole of misguided but fun interpretation. That’s certainly what I did with titles like Tie the Temptress to the Trojan; To improvise a mountain; and The Cream and the Taste. And then there was Alabaster for Infidels, one of a handful of new works not in the first, Covid-truncated iteration of the Tate Britain retrospective in 2020. It depicts two men, one seated, the other in striped trousers, holding a glass of water or perhaps milk. Are the two men the unbelievers, and are the two white items – the glass and the Morandi-like jug – the alabaster? Or are these men, calming to ponder, cool marbles for us unbelievers to contemplate? And if the latter, why am I an unbeliever? And you don’t have to look so smug. Presumably you are also an unbeliever.

In Yiadom-Boakye’s titles, words become detached from the painting. Which is fair enough, you might think: a painting that needs words to tell you what it is can’t be a very good painting. It must be a world intact, perhaps a visual expression of the unwriteable. That’s why, no doubt, so many artists floundered for anti-nominative puritanism, with artists as diverse as Donald Judd and Jean-Michel Basquiat among those who called some works Untitled. But while the anti-title of Judd’s Row of Rising Shelves sculpture seems justified, as it needs no further explanation, I would like to know whose skull Basquiat painted in a 1982 work that, although it has no untitled, comes with a hefty price tag: in May 2017, it sold for $110.5 million at Sotheby’s.

Yiadom-Boakye plays with the idea that what can be said in paint is in a different language than what is said in words and perhaps the former cannot be translated to the latter. She says: “I write about things I can’t paint and I paint the things I can’t write about.” But her oeuvre is, in a sense, a double dismissal. Her titles do not seem to connect clearly with the paintings; and, programmatically, her paintings do not connect with reality. “I learned how to paint by looking at painting,” says Yiadom-Bakye. She paints imaginary people, though they are no less powerful, endearing subjects for all that.

'I write about things I can't paint and I paint the things I can't write about'... Alabaster For Infidels, 2019.
‘I write about things I cannot paint and I paint the things I cannot write about’… Alabaster for Infidels, 2019. Photo: Private collection. Courtesy of the artist, Corvi-Mora, London, and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Paintings used to be simpler. They depicted reality and titles identified which piece of reality was depicted. But the latter is a recent development. In Picture Titles: How and Why Western Paintings Acquired their Names, Ruth Yeazell argues that before the 18th century in Europe, artists did not need to name their works because most art stayed in one place and depicted things that they owners did not need to mention. . If paintings did have titles, artists often did not write them. The Mona Lisa was not the name Leonardo gave to his portrait, but Vasari’s; what we know as Rembrandt’s Night Watch was originally called Militia Company of District II under the command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq.

It was not until the rise of auction houses and public galleries in the 18th century that titles became useful handles needed to organize submissions. But later something disturbing happened. Painting broke the compact with reality. One day someone complained to Picasso that he had to make pictures of things as they are. The person took out a picture of his wife from his wallet and said, “There, you see. It is a picture of how she really is.” Picasso looked at it and said, “She’s quite small, isn’t she? And flat?” Magritte’s 1929 painting of a pipe is titled The Treachery of Images and bears the legend Ceci n’est pas une pipe which, while true, is not very helpful.

These days, just as pictures are not very good guides to reality, so titles have become unreliable guides to paintings. Michael Baldwin’s 1965 deconstruction of depiction is called Untitled Painting. But the title is inaccurate: it is not a painting; it is a mirror that reflects you and most likely looks confused.

Consider the case of Matt Adrian. In one image, a pair of blue birds in acrylic paint sit very close to each other at the bottom of a wooden panel. Title? “She approached me drunk in a bar, asked if I’d do her a disservice – and your mother and I have been together ever since.” Hold on, Matt: are these supposed to be talking birds? In another photo, a bird stares with a predatory expression. Title? “Dakota recently declared that she is a reincarnated 15th century serial killer, so I am canceling all scheduled play dates until further notice.” Adrian also paints some lovely owls and possibly nods on their perches. Title? “The Terribly Delightful Existence of Semi-Spectral Things.”

That last title reminds me of one of Damien Hirst’s foremost contributions to art, his verbose titles. The title of Hirst’s The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living seems to advance a dubious philosophical argument rather than telling you what you’re looking at, namely a 14-foot tiger shark submerged in formaldehyde. Jake and Dinos Chapman, not to be outdone, arranged nine display cases in a swastika shape, each filled with thousands of plastic figures being bloodied, decomposed, suffocated, impaled or decapitated. The work replaced Hell, their installation destroyed in the disastrous 2004 Momart warehouse fire. Title? If Hitler had been a hippie, how happy we would have been. Of course it is.

Perhaps any disconnect between titles and their works is Marcel Duchamp’s fault. In 1919 he made a readymade consisting of a postcard of the Mona Lisa, on whose face he drew a mustache and beard and called the result LHOOQ. If you say those letters out loud in French, they sound like “elle a chaud au cul”, or, roughly, “She has a hot ass”. Which may be true, although given Leonardo painted the Mona Lisa four centuries earlier and you can’t see the sitter’s bottom anyway, it’s anyone’s guess how Duchamp came to that opinion.

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Dangle the Keys To a Kingdom 2022
Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Dangle the Keys to a Kingdom 2022. Photo: Sam Day/Tate/Private Collection. Courtesy of the artist, Corvi-Mora, London, and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

In these very Tate Britain galleries where Yiadom-Boakye’s retrospective is on view, a quarter of a century ago I saw another retrospective dedicated to the late American artist RB Kitaj. They showed the dangers of verbosity. His paintings each came with not only titles, but explanatory notes that I spent more time on than the actual art. Even Kitaj’s titles were sometimes too many. Consider Desk Murder (formerly The Third Department (A Test Study)). As Oscar Wilde might have put it, having one set of brackets in a painting’s title can be considered an accident; two looks like carelessness.

Other titles are disruptively disconnected from whatever is going on in the mesmerizing paintings, such as The Apotheosis of Groundlessness or Where the Railroad Leaves the Sea or, the totally confusing, If Not, Not. I remember spending some time in front of a painting called The Autumn of Central Paris (after Walter Benjamin), not only trying to grasp the meaning of the title, but also the accompanying essay in which Kitaj, ever well-read and ready to show it, Flaubert quoted and described how Benjamin was banished from Paris in 1940 for his suicide. “Benjamin excites me because he is not coherent, and beautiful.” Perhaps this is true not only of Benjamin, but of the relationship between paintings and their titles.

Kitaj was devastated by British critics, damned for, among other perceived failings, that very verbosity. The artist took it personally, claiming that Brits had in fact murdered his second wife, the painter Sandra Fisher, who died shortly after the exhibition. In 1997 he made a painting called The Killer-Critic Assassinated by His Widower, Even which was shown in the Royal Academy’s summer exhibition. The title alone showed that the cultured Kitaj knew his history – that “even” is of course a quote from Duchamp, and the painting itself, depicting the artist shooting, is drawn from Manet’s The Execution of Maximilian. At the top of the picture he wrote TS Eliot’s comment “Art is the escape from personality”. But Kitaj crossed out the “from” and replaced it with “after”, as if, in symbolic revenge in painting, he had found who he was – an incorrigible babbler.

Yiadom-Boakye hardly talks too much, but I wonder if she’s quite right to suggest that a title is just an extra brushstroke. For me, her titles do more. They sometimes confuse, sometimes they help, but always invite me to take my appreciation of her beautiful photographs in unexpected directions, directions that might contradict whatever, if anything, she was trying to express. Because this is one fate of painting: the artist may get the last brush stroke, but not the last word.

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The mysteries of Christmas shine in the National Gallery’s paintings

“But my dear Sebastian, you cannot seriously believe it? . . . I mean about Christmas and the star and the three kings and the ox and the donkey.”

“Oh yes, I believe it. It’s a beautiful idea.”

“But you can’t believe things because it’s a beautiful idea.”

“But I do. That’s how I believe.”

Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited

About a third of the paintings in the National Gallery depict Christian subjects, and most need to be unpacked for today’s audiences. But the “sweet idea” of the Nativity and Adoration is immediately intelligible—it is indeed through paintings that the narrative is codified and its details become known. The Gospels do not mention how many Magi visited or describe Joseph; it is painters who have permanently formulated the three kings, made one of them black and cast Joseph as old, bearded, awkward and impotent — the comic twist.

Whatever you believe, how this iconography unfolded is a wonderful story in itself, and the National Gallery through centuries of wildly imaginative Christmas paintings is beautifully able to tell it.

His oldest picture, Margarito d’Arezzo’s “The Virgin Enthroned” (1263-64), a fragile tempera panel rarely shown, includes a small Nativity in a grotto where a reclining Mary, dressed in blue (the most expensive pigment), look at the baby. But the subject did not become prominent until the later 15th century, when Renaissance artists grasped its great potential: for verisimilitude, emotional intensity, decoration, even political messages.

‘The Virgin Enthroned’ (1263-64) by Margarito d’Arezzo © National Gallery Photographic Department

Already in the 1470s-1490s comes tremendous diversity in approach according to regional context, creative sensibility, clients’ demands. Haarlem painter Geertgen to Sint Jans’s small nocturne “Nativity” portrays the pale-faced Mary as empty, deeply awestruck as any new mother, shining in the light radiating from her baby, while everyone else recedes into the darkness. In Milan, Bramantino’s great architectural “Adoration” places a regal Mary in a dazzling geometry of stone cornices and doors. Botticelli’s parade of fashionable Florentines converging from opposite sides in his “Adoration” tondo was painted when the Medici staged Epiphany processions as displays of power of harmonious rule.

Giorgione in 1506 brings glowing Venetian color: the holy family in brilliant ultramarine and gold, their visitors a game of warm chromatic rhythms. In Ferrara in 1527, the eccentric Dosso Dossi represented the kings under a huge crimson moon in conflicting hues and distorted postures, as if struggling to understand the miracle before them. By 1633, Poussin’s “Adoration of the Shepherds” feels secular: a pastoral Arcadia in nostalgic copper-orange, the flowing drapery, marble columns, classy figures filled with longing for antiquity.

Amid this richness is one of the most affecting Nativity scenes, Piero della Francesca’s intimate, calm, spare version from the 1480s. After a three-year restoration, it returns, in what the gallery calls its “Christmas gift to the nation”, to hang alone in a small room, recreating as closely as possible the private sacred environment in Piero’s house in Borgo Sansepolcro for which it was designed.

Oil painting of a woman in a blue dress kneeling in the desert to a baby on a blue mantle.  An orchestra plays its lutes nearby

‘The Nativity’ (1480s) by Piero della Francesca © National Gallery Photographic Department

An aura of mystery draws you in immediately. Posed in front of a dilapidated barn, the figures are static and oddly cast with shadows. Angels strum stringless lutes. The bright Virgo is ethereal. A single magpie investigates everything. The light over the tableau of characters and beige-green Tuscan hills and towers is crystalline, yet subdued.

As often with Piero, an independent other world is conjured up, and within it a silent center: Mary’s introspective silence. Kneeling between the gang of angels and the ruddy shepherds grouped with Joseph, sitting inelegantly on a donkey’s saddle and looking away, she joins divine and mortal. The Christ Child lies on her lapis lazuli dress, stretched across the barren ground – the tangible link between mother and son.

The painting was considered unfinished until this restoration, which not only sharpened every detail, and repaired damage to one of the angel’s eyes, but also, by revealing a ray of heavenly light shining through a gap in the barn roof bars, the interpretation after the mystic. Probably influenced by St. Bridget’s vision of Mary giving birth painlessly while kneeling in prayer, a popular version in 15th-century Italy, Piero painted the supernatural as the real. His shadowless, miraculous scene, seemingly simple, is an ordered, perfect account of human existence.

Oil painting of people gathering around a woman in a blue robe holding her baby

‘The Adoration of the Kings’ (1564) by Pieter Bruegel the Old © National Gallery Photographic Department

To come from Piero to the surrounding galleries is to return to everyday life in its tumultuous confusion, as envisioned in Flemish art. The black king resplendently dressed in white and presenting a gleaming intricate boat atop a crystal ball – an allusion to both Christendom’s wide reach and Flemish wealth and global trade – dominates Pieter Bruegel’s “Adoration”, replete with wild, bumping figures. Jan Brueghel crammed an entire wintry city into his small glossy gouache “Adoration”, the sky crackles, the sky star-clear. Soldiers try to appease the crowds, but the news is out and people flock to the thin hut. The exotic visitor and his gift are repeated here; viewed by envious locals, he creates unease in each painting: the Brueghels are astute social commentators.

Jan Gossaert’s monumental “Adoration” always amazes, every inch animated by precious descriptions of material pleasures – treasures of goldsmiths, metalworkers, embroiderers, weavers – under a heavenly host representing the immaterial. Here, too, the black king stands out, proud, patient, breathtakingly dressed, in a composition in which every figure – from multicolored angels to dogs sniffing the pavement – is individualized within a magnificent unity.

Gossaert, the first Flemish artist to visit and learn in Rome, was an example to his countrymen. One, Bartolomeus Spranger, later uniquely fused Dutch realism and Italian mannerism; his brooding, satiny “Adoration” (1595), which resembles a court scene with balletic kings and mischievous page boys, is a piquant curiosity.

Oil painting of three men in bright clothes offering gifts to a baby in the lap of a woman in, yes, a blue robe

‘The Adoration of the Kings’ (1595) by Bartolomeus Spranger © National Gallery Photographic Department

Counter-Reformation theatricality was shaping religious art by this time, led in the 17th century by Guido Reni. In his earnest, overblown five-metre “Adoration of the Shepherds” – rapt worshipers under rosy clouds of putti – the genre reaches its limits of inventiveness. Only one of Trafalgar Square’s three-count Christmas paintings dates after 1670.

Renaissance Nativity and Adorations belong to a golden moment when artists enthralled with the re-creation of nature still worked within a sacramental culture. The National Gallery contains one tremendous, enigmatic exception: in his ecstatic “Mystic Nativity,” Botticelli turned away from naturalism toward a quasi-Gothic formal pattern. Dancing angels with olive branches surround Mary and Jesus, gigantic in relation to the other figures. Joseph curled up to sleep. Little devils scurry away.

Painting of people and angels dancing and embracing and rejoicing around and above a manger where a baby lies, worshiped by a woman in a (can you guess?) blue robe

‘Mystic Nativity’ (1500) by Sandro Botticelli © National Gallery Photographic Department

The only painting signed by Botticelli, “Mystic Nativity” bears numerous semi-legible inscriptions, which explain its creation in 1500 in the wake of “the troubles of Italy” – war and Savonarola’s religious fundamentalism. But this is a painting for all times. In his exquisite artistry, coherence is won from chaos, and on the angels’ fluttering scrolls the words sound: “On earth, peace, goodwill towards men.”

nationalgallery.org.uk

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Queen’s final artist-in-residence says his ‘greatest sadness’ is she never saw his paintings | UK News

The Queen’s last artist-in-residence said her “greatest sadness” was the fact that she never got to see his paintings.

Freddy Paske was appointed by the queen to paint her Platinum Jubilee.

She personally approved the roll of honor after looking through examples of his artwork.

What captured her imagination remains a mystery, and Mr Paske said her equerry simply told him: “She enjoyed the job.”

Perhaps it was their shared love of horses and the military. Mr. Paske learned to drive as a child and served with the Light Dragoons.

“I’m known for my color and movement so I hope she enjoyed that colour, and the contemporary take on a very traditional subject,” said Mr Paske.

Picture:
Freddy Paske was commissioned by the Queen to paint her Platinum Jubilee

He worked on the collection in the months leading up to the jubilee weekend, sketching the Household Cavalry, the King’s Troop, Royal Horse Artillery, as well as the Royal Mews.

Mr Paske said it was a daunting task: “I couldn’t tell you how much pressure I was under. I knew she was incredibly knowledgeable about her horses and I knew I had to get it done.”

Thousands lined the streets of central London to watch the military parade.

Mr Paske said he wanted his works to capture the moment and recreate the day on canvas: “I wanted people to get an impression and a feeling of that wonderful time, whether you were in the crowd or at the parade participate.”

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After the death of the queen, Mr Paske was asked to paint two more pictures, one of the funeral procession and another of those lying in state.

“I wanted to capture this large building, and not necessarily just focus on the casket and those standing around it, but the aura, this sense of reverence as everyone passes,” Mr Paske said.

The Queen died before Mr. Having completed the jubilee collection.

Mr Paske's funeral from the Queen's funeral procession
Picture:
Mr Paske’s painting of the Queen’s funeral procession

It remains his biggest regret that she never saw the art she commissioned: “It’s one of the saddest things that stayed with me, she set the wheels in motion for this amazing project and lit the fire and she never saw the end result.”

His paintings exhibited and quickly sold out, bought by collectors around the world.

It was the biggest role of Mr Paske’s career, and one he will never forget: “I just hope I did her justice. Only she will know.”

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Wealthy collector gives 8 prized paintings — including a Rothko — to new Princeton museum

A distinguished Princeton University graduate is donating eight iconic, abstract paintings to be displayed in the university’s art museum when it reopens in 2024, campus officials have announced.

Preston H. Haskell III graduated from the Ivy League University in 1960 with a degree in civil engineering and five years later founded the Haskell Company, a construction company headquartered in Florida. Haskell, who is also a former minority owner of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, is known in the art world as one of the top collectors in the country.

His eight donated paintings — including works by Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, Gerhard Richter and Joan Mitchell — will be among the attractions at the new Princeton University Art Museum, the university announced Tuesday.

The new museum, which has been under construction since last year, replaces the university’s previous museum which dates from the late 19th century.

The donation from Haskell’s private collection is “one of the most significant gifts in the museum’s history,” the university’s announcement said.

Neither Princeton nor Haskell provided an estimate for how much the paintings are worth. Works by Rothko, de Kooning, Richter and Mitchell have recently sold for tens of millions of dollars each, but it’s unclear what each of the pieces Haskell donated to the university would sell for at auction.

“With his wonderful gifts, Preston makes a historic addition to the art museum’s collections and provides a vibrant forum in which they can be explored and studied. We are deeply grateful to Preston for his tremendous generosity to the art museum and for his decades-long commitment to the arts and humanities at Princeton,” the university’s current president, Christopher L. Eisgruber, said in a statement.

Haskell also made a gift of an unspecified amount to the university’s Venture Forward campaign to help build the new Princeton University Art Museum. A new education center at the museum will be named after him.

Mark Rothko (1903–1970; born Dvinsk, Russia [now Daugavpils, Latvia]; died New York, NY), Untitled, 1968. Oil on paper mounted on canvas, 100.6 × 63.5 × 4.1 cm. Promised gift of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960. © 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New YorkPhoto: Douglas J. Eng

The donated works are:

  • Willem de Kooning, Woman IIoil on paper mounted on canvas, 1961
  • Helen Frankenthaler, Belfryacrylic on canvas, 1979
  • Hans Hofmann, The chairoil on panel, 1944
  • Hans Hofmann, Compilation #3oil on canvas, 1952
  • Joan Mitchell, Aires pour Mariondiptych, oil on canvas, 1975-76
  • Gerhard Richter, Abstract painting (613-3)oil on canvas, 1986
  • Jean-Paul Riopelle, Terre Promiseoil on canvas, 1960
  • Mark Rothko, Untitledoil on paper mounted on canvas, 1968
de Kooning

Willem de Kooning (1904–1997; born Rotterdam, Netherlands; died East Hampton, NY), Woman II, 1961. Oil on paper mounted on canvas, 73.7 x 57.1 cm. Promised gift of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960. © The Willem de Kooning Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New YorkPhoto: Douglas J. Eng.

Haskell, 84, has long maintained a connection to Princeton. He served on the art museum’s advisory board for 24 years beginning in 1990 and remains an honorary member. He served on Princeton’s Board of Trustees from 1996 to 2000 and again from 2002 to 2006.

Described by Princeton as an “avid art collector,” Haskell was noted in Art & Antiques magazine in 2003 as one of the top 100 collectors in the country.

“Having a great art museum is important to the primary mission of the university, which is teaching, learning and research,” Haskell said in the statement.

“Without the great collection and the scholars, curators and researchers – both permanent and visiting – you couldn’t have a great museum and you couldn’t have a great educational experience. It is also the community museum, located in the central part of the campus and open to the public. This gift was motivated by helping one of the best art museums in the region move to the next level,” said Haskell.

Haskell remains chairman of the Haskell Company, 57 years after he founded the company, Princeton said in the announcement. The construction company works on more than 100 projects worldwide and employs more than 1,700 architecture, engineering, construction, design and consulting professionals.

The art collection at Princeton University dates back to the 1750s, the university said. It includes 114,000 works and is one of the oldest art collections in North America.

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Rob Jennings can be reached at [email protected].

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Damien Hirst Is Now Selling Pared-Down Versions of His Monumental ‘Veil Paintings’ Via the Same Company That Released His NFTs

Damien Hirst himself put oil on paper for his latest release with HENI.

On November 15, the artist’s “Paper Veils” series dropped on the art services company’s new market, HENI Primêr. The collection is essentially a scaled-down version of Hirst’s monumental “Veil Paintings” of 2017 that deployed thick brushstrokes and heavy impasto to appear as if Georges Seurat painted furiously and without subject.

“Paper Veils” features 100 large works and 200 small works priced at $45,000 and $25,000 respectively. Unlike his much-produced spot paintings, Hirst’s own hand, rather than that of his myriad assistants, is responsible for his latest project with HENI.

“I want you to get lost in them, I want you to fall into them,” Hirst said in a statement. “I want them to delight your eyes and make you want to stay in the painting.”

An exhibition of the paintings at HENI’s London Soho gallery runs parallel to the online pre-sale period which runs until 6 December.

Damien Hirst in studio, 2019. Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd. © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2022.

HENI’s primary goal, it seems, is to allow artists to bypass the gallery system by allowing them to release their work directly online.

“HENI Primary is our newest platform, built specifically for primary-market releases of original artwork,” reads a statement on its website. “HENI Primarily enables artists to release original works of art on a dedicated digital platform, bringing the traditional art experience online.”

To purchase work for HENI Primêr’s first sale, potential buyers are required to complete an application in which they indicate their preference of artwork, list the details of their own art collection and record their method of payment. After the submission period ends, HENI will review all the applications and select buyers, although it is not clear exactly how it makes its determinations.

Damien Hirst at Newport Street Gallery for the grand finale of The Currency.  Photo by Naomi Rea.

Damien Hirst at Newport Street Gallery for the grand finale of The Currency. Photo by Naomi Rea.

Last year, HENI Hirst’s first move into the realm of NFTs platformed on HENI NFT, in which the British artist presented NFTs each linked to one of 10,000 Spot paintings. One year after a purchase, the collector could choose between the blockchain token and the physical work with the rejected piece being burned. HENI NFT has since presented collections from JR and MadC.

HENI also boasts a publishing house, a space for cultural conversation called HENI Talks, HENI Art Club, a membership art community, and a trade department.

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Brandi Salmon appropriates paintings by old masters like da Vinci to include Aboriginal women

By appropriating famous paintings, artist Brandi Salmon creates positive depictions of Aboriginal people in art in her studio in the hills of Hobart.

Negative representations of Aboriginal people in artwork by non-Aboriginal artists is how the proud Wiradjuri woman first found inspiration, particularly a 19th-century painting depicting an Aboriginal person as a servant standing in the presence of Captain James Cook waits.

This led to the creation of a series of works celebrating Aboriginal people, entitled The Aunty Collection.

The collection now includes five known paintings featuring Aboriginal women, often in regal positions and as the focal point of the artwork.

Brandi Salmon is appropriating paintings by the old masters to include Aboriginal women.(Provided by: Brandi Salmon)

Early inspiration

A homeschooling education in a small country town is why Ms. Salmon picked up a paintbrush and started creating art.

With few friends and limited forms of entertainment, she said she spent a lot of time searching YouTube for fun.

“I came across a documentary about Rembrandt, the famous painter – I just remember feeling like I had to do it.”

She began with portraits of family members in oils and fell in love with the texture and longevity.

“I was painting in my little bedroom and it smelled like peat; I think it made me a little queasy, but it was worth it.”

Aboriginal presence in art became a focus when Ms Salmon attended university, where she studied creative arts.

“Many of the paintings I came across were paintings of Aboriginal people as servants.”

An engraving of Captain Cook taking possession of Australia is one such image.

Captain Cook takes possession of the Australian continent on behalf of the British Crown, 1770 AD, under the name New South Wales
Samuel Calvert’s work entitled Captain Cook taking possession of the Australian continent on behalf of the British Crown, 1770 AD.(Provided by: National Library of Australia)

The work of Samuel Calvert shows an Aboriginal man in a suit with a loose tie standing at attention, barefoot and holding a tray of drinks as Captain Cook and the British begin to colonize the land.

“What you see in many paintings from those periods is a style of art that depicts Aboriginal people in such a way that it justifies the colonial project,” said Tiriki Onus, head of the Wilin Center for Indigenous Art and Cultural Development at the University said. from Melbourne.

“You’ll see Aboriginal people depicted in this almost animalistic, grotesque way that is indicative of a certain period and romanticizes invasion.”

Mr Onus, a Yorta Yorta man, said another art movement followed in which Aboriginal people were depicted on the periphery and almost untouched as the “noble savagery”, which he said was used as propaganda to “dislike the treatment to oppress Aboriginal people”.

A scene depicting colonial settlers in dark colors with an indigenous person dressed in bright colors.
Possession Island 1991 by Gordon Bennett.(Provided by: Sotheby’s)
A scene depicting colonial settlers with red, yellow and black triangles superimposed on the image.
Possession Island (Abstraction) 1991 by Gordon Bennett.(Courtesy: Museum of Contemporary Art Australia)

The Captain Cook image was later appropriated by artist Gordon Bennett who created two works, Possession Island, depicting the same scene.

By using vibrant colors and adjusting the focal point of the image, Bennett changed the narrative of the painting from one of celebration to critical reflection.

“Gordon’s work is extremely powerful and direct; he seeks to redress the balance in the representation of Aboriginal people and the way stories are told,” Mr Onus said.

Tiriki Onus
Tiriki Onus, Head of the Wilin Center for Indigenous Art and Cultural Development.(Provided by: Giulia McGauran)

“Brandi’s work brings me to mind when I engage with it. I love the way Brandi creates that space and holds it for herself and for black women and our communities in general.”

For Ms Salmon, Bennett’s work had a similar impact on her thinking.

“Seeing that painting by Gordon Bennett, an Aboriginal painter, flipped a switch in my head. Wow, it made me realize I could do this.”

The Aunty Collection

Ms Salmon created the first of the Aunty Collection paintings, Tannie Venus, for a university assignment and said she plans to create more.

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Growing up outside the country with an adopted father, she said he was not given the opportunity to learn traditional knowledge and that loss trickled down to his six children.

“I wasn’t taught how to do the traditional painting and I felt I couldn’t do it. I felt a need to create my own style.”

The Aunty collection now includes paintings such as Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus and Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa reimagined as strong and proud Aboriginal women.

The collection’s name itself is significant to Ms. Salmon, who moved around a lot as a child and grew up without aunts; forging those relationships in her new communities helped her settle in and feel welcome.

“When I would meet an Aboriginal woman and she would allow me to call her aunt, it would make me feel safe and happy.

“I got feedback from someone who bought Aunty With A Black Earring the other day, and they said the painting made them feel calm and cared for.”

The collection is expanding

The most recent Aunty is based on da Vinci’s Lady With An Ermine and features an Aboriginal woman holding a Devon sausage, an injection of “blackfella” humor which Ms Salmon said would become more frequent with each painting .

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“A lot of people I know who aren’t black, they don’t get it when I talk about how much Devon I used to eat,” she laughed.

“Every black person knows that we love devon, you know, it’s devon!”

Mr Onus laughed when he observed Devon in Ms Salmon’s latest work.

“There’s a wonderful charm and within that devon is one of those products from my childhood that seems to follow me everywhere,” he said.

“There are certain objects and products that resonate deeply with Aboriginal families, such as devon and corned beef in a tin or Keen’s curry powder.

“If you think about the classical works, they often depict people and their everyday world to some extent.”

Ms Salmon plans to paint an appropriation of da Vinci’s The Last Supper with each Aunty from the series.

For her, the series is a reminder of how much the past two centuries have changed when it comes to depictions of Aboriginal people in art.

“A few hundred years ago we were portrayed as servants, and now we have the freedom to do The Aunty Collection.

“I don’t think I realized how much of an impact it would have.”

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missing masterpieces and a tale made for Hollywood

Every so often a documentary with an unpromising title turns out to be a cracker. So it was with Stolen: Catch the Art Thieves (BBC Two), which played out in the manner of a glossy thriller.

It was the story of a robbery in 1994 at the Schirn Kunsthalle in Germany. The targets were two JMW Turner paintings – Light and Color and Shade and Darkness (and a third work by Caspar David Friedrich, but the program was not concerned with that). A thief hid in the museum until after dark, then opened the door and let in an accomplice; they tied up the lone guard on duty, and escaped with the paintings in a white Ford Transit van. Isn’t it always a white Ford Transit van?

The Turners were loaned from the Tate, and what followed was a most compelling story of the Tate’s efforts to get them back. The cast of characters could have come straight out of a Hollywood film, including Rocky, a “tough guy” undercover agent for Scotland Yard whose demeanor made it very easy for him to pose as a European criminal. “He was not lawless,” said Sandy Nairne, the debonair former deputy director of the Tate, “but he had his own ways of working.”

Nairne’s role in this saga was quite something. Just as it happens in the films, he was contacted by phone by a man who claimed to have the paintings, and ordered him to attend an appointment at Paddington station. A Metropolitan Police officer went in Nairne’s place, while Nairne hung from his office window to give the impression during phone calls that he was on his way. The man turned out to be an opportunist, rather than a criminal mastermind: his disguise was a garbage can with two eye holes cut into it.

I won’t spoil the rest for you if you haven’t seen it yet, but also in the mix was a Yugoslav crime kingpin, a colorful lawyer, a secret meeting in a forest, and a disgruntled Rocky who stopped to sail his yacht around New Zealand. The film was greatly helped by its access to telephone recordings and footage from the time. It may have been a case of “art kidnapping” rather than abduction, but the stakes were high and the investigative methods similar – even to a demand for “proof of life”, which in this case meant Polaroids of the paintings, rather than ‘ a kidnap victim holding up a copy of today’s newspaper.

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