Thursday, October 18, 2012

Shelf Life [adult]


The Impossible Museum: The Best Art You’ll Never See, By Celine Delavaux
@ SPL: 364.16287 Del
“The history of art is full of ghosts,” begins Celine Delavaux’s book about works of art that have been stolen, lost to time and wars, hidden away in private collections and damaged, some beyond hope of recovery. Gathered from reprinted manuscripts, archived photographs, lithographs and studies, Delavaux has not just focused on framed paintings, but on artworks of all fashion – textiles, jewels, sculptures, monuments and manuscripts that may never be seen again, at least not in their original forms.
Each work of art is presented in a reproduced image, with a brief history and provenance, and grouped into chapters by their fates. Heartbreaking is the word for artworks and monuments that have been destroyed by war, vandals or mere shortsightedness – the Buddhas of Bamiyan are well-known; less so is the 16th-century Dance of Death, a fresco which decorated a cemetery in Bern, Switzerland by Niklaus Manuel Deutsch.
Originally more than 100-meters long, the colourful and often comical mural was destroyed by urban re-development in 1660 – only a print copy of it remains from a contemporary manuscript. Just as lamentable are the thousands of “hidden” works of art – in storage lockers of private collectors, not even on display for their owners to enjoy, or locked away from the public eye by protective governments (ie when you visit the cave paintings of Lascaux you’ll be ushered into a fake cave with replicas of the originals).
A chapter on stolen art tells stories of brutal attacks by Nazis and elaborate heists that have stumped INTERPOL, but one of the most fascinating chapters is that of works of art that have been transformed over the years – such as the Spiral Jetty created by Robert Smithson in Great Salt Lake, in Utah – it disappeared under the surface of the lake to be seen only from an aerial viewpoint, but when the lake’s water lever dropped it reappeared, encrusted by salt crystals. Four months later it disappeared again under the water.
Poignant in a vastly different way is Fritz Koenig’s The Sphere. Commissioned by the Port Authority of New York City to symbolize world peace, it sat in the Austin J Tobin Plaza amid the World Trade Centre and was damaged – but not destroyed – in 9/11. It has been relocated, still bearing its scars, to Battery Park where it is now a monument to “the indestructible spirit” of the United States. Thanks to Delavaux’s book, this collection of the impossible will also endure.

This review appeared in The Stratford Gazette on October 18, 2012. Written by Robyn Godfrey, Librarian.

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