A gold for bronze
Last night we (that's me and the husband) went to the opening of the Bronze exhibition at the Royal Academy (rather bittersweet for the husband, as he had been involved in an exhibition of Syrian Art, which would have been opening there next year. . . well, you can guess what's happenedto that).
Let's say to start with that it is really worth going, and it features wonderful stuff you'll never have seen, or not all together. One star of the show must be the extraordinary Greco-Roman dancing satyr (at the top of this post) rescued from the sea off Sicily, but then there is also the Crosby Garrett helmet and some pretty damn stunning modern stuff (a brilliant bit of Anish Kapoor, and the Louise Bourgeois spider (on the right).
It's gorgeous. But one of the points of the exhibition is to destabilize you, in time and space.
Most of the eminent art historians walking round the opening had one thing to say: isnt it amazing how you just cant date this stuff or even say where it comes from? That was certainly what I felt (and I'm not an eminent art historian!). I looked at one splendid pug dog and thought China.. in fact the damn thing was (if I remember rightly) Netherlandish. And then there was a spindly figure from Etruria, secomd century BC, that looked for all the world like a Giacometti -- in fact it might have been the kind of thing that Giacometti got the Giacometti idea from.
This means, for the ancient material, that the jury really is still out about their date. Take the dancing satyr. As I said, it was found off Sicily... but was it in a boat coming to Rome with stuff from Greece (in which case a fourth century BC date, even the great Praxiteles might be possible), or was it going from Rome to Vandal Africa, as the catalogue hints (in which case it might equally well be a bit of brilliant Roman imperial metal work).
And then it is very hard to tell Renaissance restorations (the technique is the same). The husband looked very suspiciously at the chimaera from Arezzo. Is that really all Etruscan? I was pretty gung-ho. But sure enough, when we look at the catalogue, there is a doubt about that tail. Is it a restoration? How would you know?
And then there's the big question about the relationship of bronze to marble sculpture. Alastair Sooke in the Telegraph talks about the bronze version of the Laocoon in this show as a gesture to the original bronze behind the famous marble in the Vatican. But can we so sure that there was a bronze original? It's all dead intriguing. It's just too easy to say that behind every great (surviving) ancient marble sculpture, there's an even great (lost) bronze original.
Anyway, the opening of the RA show was done by Boris Johnson, the man of the moment. He didn't seem like a future Prime Minister to me. It was a genial enough, studiedly unprepared, speech, but why score party political points at such an occasion (congestion charge lowered, Olympics brought in under
budget.. well, only under budget if you take the final vastly increased budget is the yardstick.. come on..!).? Why not just celebrate the show? (You can just about see him below putting the finishing touches to the speech, with the main curator on the right.)
Though the joke (already used on the Today programme) about "Bronze gettimg a Gold" was a nice one.
Hugely recommended as a show.