Archive for the 'Fine Arts' Category

A Caravaggio in the Attic



Finding a long lost treasure is headline material. Should the trove be a multi-million dollar painting by a master, it generates additional press coverage and ratings. A version of Judith Beheading Holofernes discovered in a Toulouse attic is being attributed to Caravaggio.

il mistero del Caravaggio ritrovato in soffitta (La Repubblica) click

Caravaggio Masterpice (ArtInfo) click

“Lost Caravaggio Causes a Rift” (The Guardian) click

Let’s compare the Toulouse candidate to the Galleria Nazionale d’arte antica, Palazzo Barberini Judith Beheading and notice some interesting details. The Roman piece was a product of Caravaggio’s stay at the Palazzo Madama working for Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte.

Roman Judith Beheading Holofernes, c. 1598-1599, Galleria Nazionale d'arte antica. Painted for Cardinale del Monte.

Judith Beheading Holofernes, c. 1598-1599, Galleria Nazionale d’arte antica. Painted for Cardinale del Monte.

Let us now look at the Toulouse candidate:

Toulouse Judith Slaying Holofernes

Toulouse Judith Slaying Holofernes / Charles Platiau, Reuters

Let us compare the Holofernes on the Toulouse candidate and the Barberini Judith Beheading.

Comparison of Holofernes

Comparison of Holofernes. The Toulouse candidate is on the left, the Barberini Judith Beheading is on the right.

Are we in the presence of the same painter? Would this be Caravaggio?


Catherine Puglisi in her 1998 Caravaggio monograph (Phaidon) states “choosing a distinct moment in the narrative, Caravaggio boldly represented Judith slicing Holofernes’s neck with his sword. This choice of the climax must have challenged him to consider the question of exactly how a woman decapitated a strong man and to reconstruct the physical as well as the emotional experience (page 69).” In the Barberini piece, Puglisi notices “Caravaggio’s skillful command of expression… Judith’s face presents the most  impressive study in expression. A few lines disturb her smooth brow, dark shadows partially obscure her eyes fixed on Holofernes, and her lips are slightly parted. That she is deeply troubled and even repelled by this act is heightened by the arc traced by her body, curving back from her victim at the shoulders at the legs where her skirt is swept up. (page 70). ”  How dramatically consistent would it be for Judith, in the Toulouse candidate, to be slaying a strong man who fights for his life while she looks away, at the spectator? The force used to grab the Assyrian general’s hair is totally absent from the French candidate.

Caravaggio’s peripatetic lifestyle during this period (Naples, Valletta, Syracuse, Messina, Palermo, Naples) makes an identification of the models difficult, not the case with the Barberini Judith Beheading. Of the period of the Toulouse candidate, a simple look at the London’s National Gallery Salome with the Head of Saint John the Baptist and the Borghese’s David with the Head of Goliath make the French Judith Beheading more problematic. The provenance research presented just points to the existence of a second version of the Judith painted at Del Monte’s Palazzo Madama.

Moving beyond from experts’ opinions, the public has not been presented with real evidence: X-rays, brushstroke pattern, chemical analysis of the pigments (comparison is possible to paintings of the period), infrared imaging spectroscopy,  reflectography, Luminescence Imaging Spectroscopy, pentimenti to aid in the attribution process. It is often the case that iconography and poor research justify the existence of a masterpiece where there is none. Opinion often bypasses the role of serious scientific study. Art historians and the French people are owed the results of thorough scientific inquiry and the new algorithms in place to avoid speculation based on inflated scholarly egos.


Freeports and secret accounts in the art world


Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi painted for Louis XII of France between 1506-13, terribly restored and sold to Dmitry Rybolovlev by Yves Bouvier.

A Nazi-looted Modigliani was seized from the Geneva Freeport in the collection of Edmond Safra’s cousin David Nahmad. That heaven of anonymity was also the site of the “Bouvier affair,” an art world scandal involving an art handler turned dealer, a Russian oligarch, secret bank accounts, and even a Leonardo.

Yves Bouvier, “the king of the freeports,”  was arrested in Monaco in 2015 charged with fraud and money laundering. According to The Wall Street Journal, HSBC is being investigated for issuing false documentation to help the case against Bouvier. Allegations of stolen Picassos from the painter’s daughter have been questioned when payment for the pieces appeared in Lichtenstein trust.  U.S. prosecutors have opened an investigation.

Bouvier’s Pôle R4, Île Seguin (Seguin Island) is scheduled to open next year.

The New Yorker: “The Bouvier Affair” (article from February) click

Full disclosure? Department of Justice inquiry – No regulation on the art market – Bloomberg (click)

A New Season in South Florida



Business cycles influence the financial health and programming possibilities of cultural institutions. South Florida, historically related to real estate speculation, currently undergoes a major downturn in property values and sales volume. Those quick fortunes made in “flipping,” construction and developing now appear a thing of the past. Museums and performing arts organizations compete for the same foundation, corporate and traditional old-money family patronage. Approaching these sources, the arts are in competition with philanthropic causes: terminal diseases, homelessness, children, and poverty. The effects of the recession in cultural South Florida have not been uniformly felt. Many of the scheduled programs were planned in times of bonanza. Belt-tightening is evident, however, in some forums.

The blockbuster Lam exhibition at the Miami Art Museum is followed by “Selections from the Permanent Collection” (an inexpensive, often creative possibility) and “Yinka Shonibare.” Since the transition from Center for the Fine Arts to MAM, the institution was charged with the study and exhibition of the art of the Americas since the postwar. A British contemporary artist, Mr. Shonibare fails to adhere to the traditional MAM mission: showcasing XX and XXI century art of the Americas. With many important Afro-American and Afro-Caribbean artists dealing with the problematic of race and class, the exotic choice in the main county-sponsored museum defies policy logic.

After the Imperial Highness fiasco, the Bass Museum is on its way to full recovery. Under the leadership of Interim Administrator Gary Farmer, the alleged imperial princess resigned from her post on the Board and a search committee is busy finding a professional to replace Diane Camber. Without even minor Google research, former Miami Beach mayor David Dermer and the museum’s former director organized with the so-called Imperial Highness Princess Thi-Nga of Viet Nam (there is no Empire of Annam or Vietnam since 1945, the family of the last Emperor, no relation to the Miami Beach resident, lives in France) an elephant parade, a Jaguar convertible pageant for the faux royal and the mayor, fundraisers, and a jade exhibit at the museum. Without due diligence and investigation, the museum accepted and acknowledged gifts from a Princess Thi-Nga Foundation that did not legally exist as a non-profit at the time. Donations were made in the form of charges to a personal American Express card. Mrs. Thi-Nga Goldman received the Key to the City of Miami Beach. Her jade collection was shown at the museum, unvetted by East Asian art scholars and in possible violation to conflict of interest standards.

The Bass opens its space to a great exhibit of XX century works on paper from the Fundación Mapfre featuring Pablo Picasso, Juan Gris, and Francis Picabia. A group of portraits from the permanent collection is brought together under the title “Splendor in the Bass.” The institution is justifiably proud of its English Neoclassical chef d’oeuvre Benjamin West<em’s Countess of Northhampton, with Her Daughter Elizabeth (1762).

The Lowe Art Museum, awake from a period of soporific exhibits, continues “Excavating Egypt: Great Discoveries from the Petrie Museum.” A visit to this show is absolutely de rigueur for every South Floridian. The journals and photography from Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie complement exquisite Egyptian jewelry, objet d’art pottery, sculpture, and historically enlightening items of everyday life. It is not typical Egyptology at the Lowe. What arrived in UM from London allows the visitor new insights into the life of this civilization at various stages of development. In January, the institution prepares for the opening of a blockbuster organized by the Gilcrease Museum: “Las artes de México.”

The art season takes off in South Florida with Art Basel. Unfounded rumors had Art Basel-Miami Beach moving to Los Angeles in 2011, leaving the internationally successful Design Miami behind. With the management of the Miami Beach Convention Center going to Messe Schweiz, the fair’s parent company, plans for a move to California may be revisited. Last year, eight fairs coexisted with the event that has placed Miami in the international art arena. Although some Art Basel customers could be unfaithful in spending their art dollars with the competition, some may look at the additional art activity around South Florida in early December as an expanded market that benefits all. The New York Times publishes daily supplements from Miami Beach during the fair. This year, Art Basel-Miami Beach will be spearheaded by Marc Spiegler and Annette Schönholzer, proven insiders. Major galleries like Marlborough, Munich’s Galerie Thomas, Salzburg’s Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Barcelona’s Polígrafa, New York’s Mary-Anne Martin, Galerie Lelong, Gagosian Gallery, Paris’ Galerie Hopkins Custot, and Galerie Gmurzynska are scheduled to showcase their usual high-caliber offerings December, 2008. The fair has come to be known as the “winter rendezvous for the international art world.”

The director of a musical ensemble designs a variety of programming with fresh perspectives from soloists and guest conductors. South Florida audiences have looked to the New World Symphony as a source of poetically conceived offerings with musicians from a wide variety of nationalities and backgrounds. It is in diversity that the orchestra and its public gain depth of musical understanding. Ax, Ashkenazy, Feltsman, Gluzman, and Bell make up an all-male Ashkenazi clan of star soloists during the 2008-2009 season. Are there no women Sephardic musicians? Michael Tilson Thomas wants us to experience a Miami Beach musical equivalent of New York’s Yiddish Theatre made famous by his grandparents Boris and Bessie Thomashefsky or there is a budgetary malaise that accounts for this uniformity.

The Concert Association of Florida has prepared a magnificent year of musical protagonists for South Florida audiences. Valery Gergiev –legendary figure — will lead the Kirov, the New York Philharmonic will visit the Arsht Center under Lorin Maazel, and Vladimir Spivakov will be in South Florida with the Russian National Philharmonic. Interestingly, the Concert Association has become an obligatory stopping point for renowned Russian ensembles and soloists. Could this be in response to the presence of an affluent Russian community in Sunny Isles and Bal Harbour? The Great Artists Series will feature chamber music with the Orpheus Orchestra and violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg.

The Cleveland Orchestra announced that its Music Director Franz Welser-Möst has extended his contract until 2018, the 100th season of great American musical association. In September of 2010, Maestro Welser-Möst will assume the directorship of the hallowed Wiener Staatsoper. Next year, the Cleveland will begin an important collaboration with the Miami City Ballet and its artistic director Edward Villella. The first of these events will be a benefit performance at the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. The Miami City Ballet will subsequently perform at the Cleveland’s summer home, the Blossom Music Center. The orchestra’s spokesman states: “the culmination of Franz Welser-Möst’s and Edward Villella’s vision for the collaboration will be the commissioning of a composer, choreographer and contemporary artist to create a new ballet for the two companies.” This season, the Cleveland will perform Shostakovich’s Symphony # 7 (“Leningrad”) and Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder.

Sunday Afternoons of Music, a serious and understated music series that started at Temple Beth Am host the likes of Philippe Entremont, Richard Goode, Aprile Millo, Dawn Upshaw, Sherrill Milnes, and Bella Davidovich, continues its mission of bringing great music to South Florida. The series gets started with violinist Elmar Oliveira (Tchaikovsky International Competition Gold Medalist) on September 7 at the University of Miami’s Gusman Hall. The Bergonzi String Quartet with Shelton Berg will follow on September 28.

The Miami Bach Society – a titanic endeavor — has put together its new season with a first concert featuring UM’s Collegium Musicum at Temple Bet Breira on Sunday, September 21, at 4:00 PM. There is anticipation for an organ recital by Tom Schuster on October 26 at First United Methodist Church of Coral Gables at 4:00pm. The Tropical Baroque Music Festival begins Friday February 27.

Celebrated impresario Judy Drucker was asked to join the Florida Grand Opera as Senior Artistic Advisor. With a few exceptions like Deborah Voigt, the departure of Robert Herman marked the absence of celebrity voices from the Greater Miami Opera (Florida Grand Opera). The Superstar Concert Series is conceived to bring this situation to an end. Baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky, a favorite of Ms. Drucker, alongside soprano Ekaterina Siurina will get the series started on Saturday, January 10. The next recital features Metropolitan Opera tenor Mercello Giordani on March 9. He will be joined by soprano Leah Partridge. Finally, a musical luminary, baritone Bryn Terfel visits South Florida with soprano Sarah Coburn on April 6.

Economic challenges to artistic institutions in South Florida will bring forth new and creative fundraising strategies. Development departments (especially at MAM and the Chopin Foundation) will continue to rummage the titled remnants of Europe in an effort to bring to Miami’s fêtes the most exotic, dukes, ladies, sirs, and princesses: an entire “daliesque” bestiary. The elections and post-election uncertainties will illustrate the level of commitment of the art public in the area, evidenced even in attendance levels to important performing events. The 2008-2009 cultural season in South Florida will determine how a young city handles a crisis; it will test mettle and maturity.

Investigation Looks to Museum and Miami Beach City Hall


The Imperial Downfall of the Bass Museum
A Simulacrum of Feudal Order in a City of Delusion


The alleged princess and philanthropist Dolores Ziff

Hollywood made it to SoBe. A polychromatic elephant parade moved down Collins Avenue, the production of a princess, the Bass Museum and the City of Miami Beach. There were “Gifts of the Silk,” fifty foot dragons, and Thai dancers. A newly arrived princess from la Conchinchine married a powerful real estate lawyer… was blessed by influential philanthropists Sanford and Dolores Ziff, and, alas, received the key to the city. Thi-Nga Goldman, imperial princess of kitsch, combined Thai and Vietnamese rituals at will in elaborate social affairs with largesse of photo-ops. An impeccable website full of promises (nonexistent companies) and a complex genealogy assured the absence of Google activity or independent research. There was talk she attended a synagogue… A rabbi married her to Mr. Goldman. A fervent anti-Communist, the new Miami royal understood the plight of Cuban-Americans. The princess greeted fans riding alongside the mayor in a Jaguar convertible. Flags flew all over Miami Beach and connecting bridges: “The Jade Collection of HIH Princess Thi-Nga of Vietnam.” The Bass Museum of Art had just elected Mrs. Thi-Nga Goldman (allegedly HIH Princess Thi-Nga of Vietnam) to chair its Board of Directors. Upon taking office, the institution opened a one-owner exhibit of Mrs. Goldman’s jade collection. It was curated by Ms. Diane Camber, the museum director, without express board approval, without addressing the possibilities of appearances of impropriety or consulting existing museum policies, without provenance documentation, and without curatorial expertise in Oriental art.

DermerThiNga.jpgMayor and Thi Nga

The alleged princess and the mayor, at left receiving the Key to the City

Countless calls to Ms. Lee Ortega, the museum’s press officer, about this matter went unanswered. The Bass exhibit and the provenance of the objects were to be the subject of an article in a bilingual arts magazine. The lack of response from Ms. Ortega or Ms. Camber made it necessary to contact the State Attorney’s Office to intervene on a Sunshine Law request for documentation. The information arrived on a piecemeal basis and after countless dilatory practices. It finally became possible to examine the exhibition budget, the VIP party’s expense report, Mrs. Thi-Nga Goldman’s contribution (from her personal American Express, not her alleged foundation or company as the museum falsely declared in its press releases), and, most importantly, to read the minutes of the Board of Directors. The prevalent attitude at the Bass was that the museum— almost like a private club — owed no explanation or information to taxpayers.

I. Conflict of interest

The American Association of Museums looks askance at an institution doing a one-owner exhibit of the collection of an employee or member of the board of directors. Since they have undue influence in programming decisions and stand to gain from exhibition of their holdings, it is a blatant conflict of interest. The Bass violated §§IB and IC of the AAM Code for Borrowing Objects.

“I. Borrowing Objects
The policy will contain provisions: A. Ensuring that the museum determines that there is a clear connection between the exhibition of the object(s) and the museum’s mission, and that the inclusion of the object(s) is consistent with the intellectual integrity of the exhibition. B. Requiring the museum to examine the lender’s relationship to the institution to determine if there are potential conflicts of interest, or an appearance of a conflict, such as in cases where the lender has a formal or informal connection to museum decision making (for example, as a board member, staff member or donor). C. Including guidelines and procedures to address such conflicts or the appearance of conflicts or influence. Such guidelines and procedures may require withdrawal from the decision-making process of those with a real or perceived conflict, extra vigilance by decision-makers, disclosure of the conflict or declining the loan.” AAM GUIDELINES ON EXHIBITING BORROWED OBJECTS…

It is a well established fact that in today’s world, museums depend on collectors to borrow pieces in order to complement exhibits. Serious museums, however, avoid one-owner shows when the collection is unknown or can be supplemented by local or nearby holdings. Neighboring Lowe and Norton museums have distinguished Oriental art collections and have experts that could have made this a solid educational enterprise for the benefit of South Florida.

II. An exhibited not vetted

The jade show was never looked at by a true Asian art expert; the provenance of the pieces remain a mystery to this day. Ms. Camber proceeded without board approval to curate the exhibit on her own. Ms. Camber has no credentials as an Asian art expert. A sign, subsequently removed, informed the visitor, that an ancestor of Thi Nga (Mrs. Steven E. Goldman) had met with guillotined Louis XVI in 1812. This is shoddy curatorship. Ms. Camber does not have a Ph.D. but the fact that Louis XVI was executed in 1793 is high school information. Not only is there a conflict of interest situation at hand but also reckless actions on the part of the museum’s director. What if the collection has no aesthetic or historical merit? What about if the provenance is questionable? South Florida taxpayers have a right to know.

III. Misrepresentations to the press and public

The museum, in its website, states: “The Private Jade Collection of Her Imperial Highness Princess Thi-Nga of Vietnam will be on view at the Bass Museum of Art through April 29, 2007, and will travel nationally and internationally.”…

No curator or expert at Harvard’s Sackler Museum, the Asia Society, the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, among others, was aware of the collection, its importance, or the existence of the princess. The collection, naturally, is not traveling anywhere outside the Goldmans’ living room.

IV. A questionable owner

At that juncture the imperial identity of Cong Tang Ton Nu Thi-Nga or Thi-Nga-Cong-Tang-Ton Goldman’s (Mrs. Steven E. Goldman) became an issue. There were banners all over the city that read: “The Jade Collection of HIH Princess Thi-Nga of Vietnam.” In a VIP event at the Bass, the alleged princess received the key to the city of Miami Beach. Some experts reacted in the following manner:
“Hello, this genealogical tree is false [in Thi-Nga’s website  http://www.imperialholdingsinternational… specifically at…

“The last King of Vietnam (Bao Dai, Prince Vinh Thuy) was born in 1913. He was of the fifth generation of King Minh Mang. According to this image, Thi-Nga is of the fourth generation of King Minh Mang! She should then be more than 130 years old! In any case, she is not in the direct line of the king, she is not princess; she is nothing at all.”
Mr. Tan Loc NGUYEN, France, Vietnamese history and art website operator used by UCLA “Internet Links for Vietnam”

According to Professor My-Van Tran, Ph.D.:“Re your question. I do not know or hear anything about this ‘princess’. Nor I have any dealing with her. By the way she should be Ton Nu Thi Nga. However, please bear in mind that as the Nguyen monarchs had many, many wives and concubines there have been many, many, many grand children and great grand children. If they all claim royal title as ‘prince or princess’, we should have many thousands of them all over the world, including Vietnam!!!!!
Dr. My-Van Tran, Associate Prof. and Coordinator, International and Asian Studies

According to the Royalty system and title. Thi Nga’s father is not an Emperor. He … connects with the royal family. In this regards one should not use the title HIH Prince or princess. Possibly Lady…
Dr. My-Van Tran

Thi Nga offers her own genealogy at…
Her alleged grandfather, in any official Vietnam royal history consulted, died at age 15 in 1855 and her father is never referred to as “Prince Ung-Thi” (though known as a wealthy man, owner of the Rex Hotel). Her great great grandfather is a Duke and is referred to as HH the Prince. He was the son of an Emperor (Minh Mang) who fathered over one hundred children with over one hundred wives and concubines. Ms. Camber, as Director and Curator was charged with the responsibility to do the research and find out that there is only one His Imperial Highness Crown Prince of Vietnam: the grandson of the last Emperor of Vietnam. It is a simple matter. The family lives in France. “Bao Long is the head of the Imperial Family. In when the Emperor Bao Long inherited the position of head of the Nguyen_Dynasty… . He has remained out of politics and lives quietly in Paris and he has not married and currently does not have any children. Bao Long has been working with Prince Bao_Vang who serves under him as the Grandmaster of the… Order of the Dragon of Annam. The position is non-political in Vietnamese politics and the role of the royal family under the leadership of Crown Prince Bao Long is for humanitarian, educational, and cultural endeavors of the people of Vietnam…,_C…

The trouble with claiming special status from this [descent from Minh Mang], even if true … is that Minh Mang had a huge harem and produced over a hundred children, meaning his great-great-grandchildren and so on today would constitute a small army. Because of this very tradition, titles were not inherited in Vietnam beyond the second generation. …and has had no contact or endorsement by the Emperor’s heir Crown Prince Bao Long, who lives modestly in France.” This is in a site on Modern Royal Pretenders assessing the validity of a Vietnamese royal pretender who wishes to trace his lineage (just like Thi-Nga Goldman) to Minh Mang.…

Royal historian Henry Soszynski, based in Austria, writes to me: “In the 1930’s there were some 10,000 Vietnamese royalty. In the Asian system of declining nobility her position as ggggdau of Gia Long (Phuc Anh). It basically means she is a commoner now. There was a website devoted to her, a perfume website of all things! I can’t find it now. This is all very suspect, proceed with caution.”

Professor Henry Bolt, Emeritus, University of Richmond, researched in an effort to assess the basis of Mrs. Goldman’s genealogy and came to the conclusion that there were indeed sound arguments to question her claim to imperial status.

Anyone with access to Google could have performed this type of inquiry. Ms. Camber did not exercise due diligence. Had the museum any concern for its community, it would have discovered that there is no Princess Thi-Nga Foundation nor any Imperial Holdings International Corporation in Florida. The other enterprises in Mrs. Goldman’s website  http://www.imperialholdingsinternational… have had the “coming soon” sign since inception.

There is no shadow of critical inquiry or scholarly practice when it comes to this exhibit or to Mrs. Goldman. The museum and City Hall acted like hysterical teenagers in the presence of a “star.” Even the Miami press lost all semblance of objectivity or credibility. When sharing this information with a MIAMI HERALD investigative reporter, he found that there was “no story” and that the public would not be interested. Leaving the information for over a month and picking it up again, he never confronted Thi Nga Goldman with tough questions, never interviewed her husband, the powerful attorney, never looked at the Board minutes, had no idea of a royal pre-Miami past nor pressed her for verifiable details. He never contacted anyone from Prince Bao Long’s office in France. For this journalist, the public was not interested in this type of thing and THE HERALD could afford to wait for the kind of story “others” would publish about it, to his mind “full of inuendo and speculation.” Managing editor David Wilson in an email made the claim that “we are always weighing how much time and energy are to be invested in pursuing stories of all sorts. I’m glad we got to this one, and I’m satisfied that Dan Chang did a thorough job with it.” Mr. Chang never published a story about the irregularities with the Bass’ Board Chairman. EL NUEVO HERALD, however, suffered the public embarrassment of having to write an ERRATA after Social Editor Ana Remos published a three-month old story about the Museum’s VIP gala having announced to her readers that the recently closed Jade exhibit was opening next year. Ms. Remos has made Mrs. Goldman a regular feature in her columns, somewhat of a change for her monarchical hispanophilia.…;

She made statements to EL UNIVERSAL in Mexico… that announced the creation of a jade collection museum next to her summer house in Exuma, The Bahamas. These allegations took place in the context of a trip with honorary Bass Board member Nora Bulnes and with Bass Friends member Dolores Ziff. The following communication was issued from the Prime Minister’s office representative in Exuma:
Good Afternoon Mr. Sanchez, Please be advised that Mr. Danny Strachan the representative for the Prime Minister’s Office here in Exuma has contacted the Ministry of Financial Services and there is no such company registered in the Bahamas. Thanks and regards, Rhonda E. Ingraham
Exuma Tourist Office, Exuma, Bahamas P.O. Box Ex-29041 Mr. Sanchez, We have thoroughly checked all relevant sources here in The Bahamas and to date there is no Oriental Art or Jade Museum registered in Exuma, The Bahamas.
Kind Regards,
Rhonda E. Ingraham, Exuma Tourist Office, Exuma, Bahamas.

Having corresponded with other entities of the Government of the Bahamas, enough information was gathered to come to the conclusion that there are no Imperial Holdings International, no Imperial Resorts, no building activity under Imperial Resorts or under Princess Thi-Nga or under Mr. and Mrs. Steven E. Goldman. The Mayor and the Commission are also at fault. Had they done the necessary research, the mayor would not have awarded Thi-Nga Goldman the Key to the City.
With so many questions about the owner, a number of requests were made to the mayor, the city manager and the Bass to examine the documentation backing up the collection’s provenance. Two messages from Ms. Camber’s assistant state that there are no records nor have ever been, to verify purchases, line of provenance, or authenticity. The mayor and city manager have always maintained silence and do not respond to emails.

V. UNESCO fiasco…

In April of 2006, Mrs. Thi-Nga Goldman told the Bass’ board of directors (reflected is in the minutes) that she was leaving for Vietnam to work with UNESCO on the preservation of Hue. The communication received from that institution shows that she is unknown in Vietnam or Paris. She is also unknown in the Friends of Hue Foundation in California. Could this not be construed as misrepresentation to the Board of Directors?
Sent: Wednesday, May 02, 2007 10:26 PM
To: jjsanchez
Cc: ‘Boccardi, Giovanni’; ‘Do Nhu Quynh’
Dear Justo Sanchez
I am writing to you from the UNESCO Office in Vietnam. Apologies for my late reply. I was out of the office yesterday, and only received your email forwarded from the World Heritage Centre today.
Since I arrived in Vietnam in August 2004, we have not had any cooperation with a Princess Thi Nha, nor received any donations from the Princess Thi Nga Foundation. More specifically, we have not received any portion of any Imperial Ball in Miami during November last year. Of course, we cannot exclude that she has cooperated with other bodies for the purpose of the restoration of the Complex of Hue Monuments. This morning, we contacted the Head of International Relations of Hue Monuments Conservation Centre, the body responsible for the restoration of the World Heritage Site of Hue, reporting to the provincial Governor. He has not heard of Princess Thi-Nga and has not had any cooperation with someone of that name. He is now checking with other bodies in Hue if they have heard of her. I will write back to you if I have any news.
Best regards,
Edle Tenden (Ms.)
Culture Programme Coordinator, UNESCO Hanoi Office
23 Cao Ba Quat Street, Hanoi, Viet Nam
Tel: +84 4 747 0275 (Ext. 16) .Fax: +84 4 747 0274
Mobile: 0904 398 481
From: Boccardi, Giovanni/ UNESCO

VI. Misrepresentations by the Board Chairman

In its Code of Ethics, the AAM states that: “Sections on individual ethics, personal conduct, and conflict of interest issues that spell out such details for staff, volunteers, and members of the governing authority.” It adds: “The effectiveness of a nonprofit institution is directly related to the public’s perception of its integrity.” In April of 2006, Mrs. Thi-Nga Goldman (the alleged Princess) told the Bass’ board of directors (reflected is in the Board minutes) that she was leaving for Vietnam as part of her work with UNESCO on the preservation of the city of Hue. As it happens, they do not know her in UNESCO Vietnam or Paris (proof in writing from the institution). Subsequent investigations reveal that they do not know her in the Friends of Hue Foundation in California. Was this not misrepresentation on the part of the future Board Chairman? Does she not owe the Board and her community an explanation? Mrs. Goldman has not created a Princess Thi Nga Foundation in Florida, does not have an Imperial Resorts in the Bahamas (documentation available) does not own any of the registered trademarks she claims she does in her website  http://www.imperialholdingsinternational… . She is not an imperial princess since HIH Crown Prince Bao Long is the head of the Nguyen Dynasty and Thi-Nga Goldman is not directly related to him. There is no Imperial Holdings International company in Florida or the Bahamas. There is no IMPACT company in Florida. All of these nonexistent institutions have been given credit for events at the Bass Museum of Art. Can an AAM museum have a person like that at the head of its Board of Directors? “The Commission expects an accredited museum to have ethical guidelines that address ethical duties of the governing authority, staff, and volunteers, ethics related to the relationship of the governing authority and director, conflict of interest, collections ethics issues, museum management practices, and responsibility to the public.”

How long will the Bass Board continue its inaction regarding Ms. Diane Camber, the Jade exhibit, and Mrs. Thi-Nga Goldman? Is there any measure of accountability in the institution’s policies? What is the role of City of Miami Beach officials like Max Sklar, Director of Tourism and Cultural Development and City Manager-Bass Trustee Jorge González?The American Association of Museums and the International Museums Council, both, having been asked to look into this matter, will perform a thorough investigation and will prescribe pertinent policies. Miami-Dade County Cultural Affairs Council is discussing this matter as well as the State of Florida.

The institutional usefulness of a “yes” board is questionable. Bass trustees have never been actively involved in curatorial or administrative issues (refer, please, to the Board minutes). The Board and the City of Miami administrators, with their dormant attitude are partly at fault for this type of imbroglio. How long will it take for them to realize that this is a case of an “Imperial Princess with no clothes”?

The Mojito Path to Political Correctness


“Killing Time”, is an exhibit curated by a visionary, a modern-day Piranesi, and two unknowns. This recipe for mediocrity is the product of “socio-lism.” From the Cuban slang, “socio” means buddy. Glexis Novoa, the main curator, is a serious artist with important museum monographs to his credit. How did two other curators appear in the picture? Would it be “kunstwelt” (art world) politics or “socio-lism”? How about the list of artists? Is it the result of rigorous canons of scholarship or “socio-lism”?
Would it be “socio-lism” or politics that explains Exit Art’s silence on one of the curators Mr. Elvis Fuentes’ possibility of conflict of interest with his full-time job at El Museo del Barrio and his art consultancy for Puerto Rico’s CIRCA art fair? That is, at least, an appearance of impropriety frowned upon in professional circles.

Cuba’s isolation has made most Americans idealize its educational achievements. It is, alas, an inflated myth. Do Mr. Elvis Fuentes and Ms. Yukisladys Villalonga have BA’s or Masters’ degrees? Have they studied in the United States or European universities There should be at Exit somebody trained with the rigor of art history in real universities, not to have a First World Eurocentric perspective, but to have the assurance of strict historical methodology and philosophical training.

Exit Art’s announcement mentions the curators’ experience in European museums, especially time spent in Aachen, Germany. Caught by surprise, these Aachen curators, if asked to talk about Alcuin of York might be at a loss for words. Having spent time in Aachen, I took the opportunity to study Carolingian art and the illuminated manuscripts of the Ottonian period. It has been an interest of mine to look at the correspondence between the production from German monasteries and the great Spanish Beato de Liébana (as in Morgan Beatus). Could this make me a curator of Cuban art?

The evening at EXIT was a spectacular success. It was an occasion to feel “politically correct,” truly outside the mainstream. The New York intellectual bourgeoisie enjoyed the product of a member of UNEAC (Castro’s fossilized intellectual and artistic police, those who made life impossible for gay artists like Reinaldo Arenas). It was a rare and poignant opportunity to welcome people from exotic “enemy soil:” Cuba. Artists and so-called curators like Yukisladys Villalonga proved to be the exotic fauna during a West Side spring evening. Exit Art hosted an arty and “subversive” West-Side cocktail party put together by a Havana-based curator and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. It was meant to open New Yorkers’ eyes to what the embargo and the Republicans have tried to hide. The event is nothing more than bourgeois political praxis against George W. Those too lazy for political activism against corruption, an unexplained and inexplicable war, and incompetence go to cocktails. Nothing there is more therapeutic than to feel politically correct, mojito in hand. Interestingly, in the roster of artists, there is a number of loud anti-Communist voices this side of the Strait of Florida. Somehow, they do not seem to mind Ms. Villalonga’s official UNEAC affiliation. Could this newfound flexibility be explained as the product of a New York exhibit at Exit?

A Colloquium on Artist Lydia Rubio



Justo Sanchez and artist Lydia Rubio

Miami, FL–(HISPANIC PR WIRE)–April 13, 2007
Culture in the City, “South Florida’s Premier Weekly Cultural Event Series” hosted a colloquium with renowned visual artist Lydia Rubio and art critic and journalist Justo J. Sanchez.

According to Sanchez, “Lydia Rubio’s work is about formulas, strategies, and maps. When looking at a canvas – her virtuoso Imago Ignota, for example – her artist’s sketchbooks, or her large scale sculptural installations, the senses, cognitive mind, and emotions are engaged. Her opus requires work on the part of the spectator but is ultimately coherent and satisfying.” He added: “Ms. Rubio gives form, visible form, and articulates fundamental questions about forlornness, dislocation, existence, love, quest for knowledge, and location in geographical and historical coordinates.”

There is a distinctive element in Lydia Rubio’s elaborate pieces: their use of words and images whether in painted surfaces, sculptural multi-panels, and integrated installations of public art. Her paintings, at times accompanied by books, are technically refined panels that offer a conceptual reconsideration of the medium of painting. Fragmentation plays a big role in her work as evident in the recent Lot 24, a conversation with Rubens’ The Departure of Lot and His Family from Sodom. The artist points to David Hockney’s book Secret Knowledge. Mr. Sanchez argues that one finds in Rubio more than an exercise in human perception but an essay in juxtapositions and inner contradictions: adding and changing possibilities to a visual text.


Lydia Rubio, Lot 24

Mr. Sanchez finds “an honest philosophical inquiry taking place chez Rubio. Her sketchbooks are proof of her methodological transparency. They become documents of an epistemological and artistic process.” He recalls having discussed Kuhn and Feyerabend with Ms. Rubio, probing her aesthetic protocol: “she has always been against what she calls ‘the myth of spontaneity.’ Although she studies, step by step, the problems to be solved, she is not guided by an agenda. Lydia allows her training, and what she reads, her research, work with the materials, acquired sensitivity to move her in a given direction. These elements, she has confessed to me, result in a flow of automatic writing and drawing.”

Ms. Rubio is currently working on three important public art commissions in Miami-Dade and North Carolina.

For Mr. Sanchez, Ms. Rubio’s work is provocative: “it is not to be taken passively nor is it for the lazy. Puzzles, philosophy, and, certainly, serious art are not the domain of the lazy or the weak at heart.

Byzantine Art: A World of ‘Phantasma”


A World of ‘Phantasma’

Justo J. Sánchez / New York


Two-Sided Icon with the Virgin Pafsolype and Feast Scenes and the Crucifixion and Prophets. Byzantine (Constantinople?), second half of the 14th century. Collection of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Istanbul. Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has achieved the inconceivable: it has made a Byzantine art exhibit a blockbuster. The amazing feat was possible only through diplomacy, tenacity in negotiation, dedication, and love of art. “Byzantium: Faith and Power” includes masterpieces from as far away as Meteora, Mistras, Istanbul, Konya, Moscow, and a great collection of icons from the Holy Monastery of Saint Catherine, Sinai, Egypt.

Professor Thomas Matthews of NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts argues that the armies of the Fourth Crusade dismembered the Byzantine Empire in 1204 “Prepar[ing] it for its final dissolution.” The Byzantines however “were able to overthrow their Western lords in 1261 and re-establish a much-diminished empire. In this third or Late Byzantine phase, art found a new humanism that appealed strongly to surrounding countries and influenced profoundly the Italian Renaissance.” (Matthews, Byzantium. New York: Abrams, p.12.)
The third in a tripartite examination of Byzantine art at the Metropolitan, the exhibit resumes the narrative at the point when Michael VIII Palaiologos entered Constantinople in 1261 with the icon of the Virgin Hodegetria. From the period under scrutiny (1261-1557), the viewer has the opportunity to observe a variety of media: illuminated manuscripts, fragments of mosaics and of architectural elements, sculptures, liturgical implements, reliquaries, and icons.


Mosaic Icon with Christ Pantokrator. Byzantine (Constantinople), 1300–1350; Parish Church of Saints-Pierre-et-Paul, Chimay, Belgium. Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art

There is a syntactical orthodoxy in the Byzantine discourse, a constant in its thousand-year history. The transcendental and fixed nature of its universe of discourse and its signifieds, account for the continuity in grammatical rules of composition and representation. The miracles attributed to certain icons help explain the lack of radical artistic experimentation. The specificity of syntax anchor semantic relations. The placement of arms, the location of certain objects, even facial features of expressions, distinguishes the characteristics of a type of Virgin, apostle, saint or angel.
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There may be certain calligraphic changes that point towards a new humanism and realism as in the early XIV century icon with the Synaxis of the Apostles from Constantinople or in the sanctuary doors with Saints George and Demetrios from XV century Crete or in the Getty’s Nicaean Tetraevangelion from the XIII century. These works show that within the parameters of a rigid grammar, it was possible to allow a measure of stylistic change. It just did not happen at the same increased tempo of the West where the winds of change took Europe from the Romanesque to the Gothic magnificence of Chartres, Notre Dame, Burgos, Cologne and found itself taking a leap to the radical paradigmatic transformation of XV century Florence. In the visual arts, the West moves from Berlinghiero to Cimabue to Giotto to Simone to the Renaissance, or from Ottonian manuscripts and late versions of the Beato to Pucelle’s Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux and the Très Riches Heures.


Mosaic Icon with the Akra Tapeinosis (Utmost Humiliation), or Man of Sorrows. Mosaic icon, Byzantine, late 13th–early 14th century; icon of Saint Catherine (reverse), late 13th–early 14th century; case, late 14th–17th century. Basilica di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, Rome. Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art.


“Byzantium: Faith and Power” is about tradition and faith in the face of a dwindling empire, about a visual discourse in different media that upholds a metanarrative. At a fundamental level it is about the role of imagery in Christianity. The visitor witnesses how an icon or a mosaic image or a religious vestment can perform many functions. It can sanctify an environment, it can “protect” the holder or his community, it can teach a lesson, it can place the viewer within the context of a religious tradition, it can “recall” a presence to memory, it can become transparent as a window to transcendence or vehicle to prayer, it can stand in place of the absent or invisible, in this case holy entity.

Most of the images presented in the exhibition have a connection to ritual where they serve to establish an institutionally-mediated connection with transcendence. In a typically conservative, orthodox fashion, it is the institution that governs the rules of grammar and construction for the visual language used within its confines.
The exhibition’s icons, liturgical instruments, and vestments indicate that this is a visual culture that resonates with mystery and mysticism. The ceremonies of Christianity took place behind iconostasis, “mysterion,” secret or closed rituals except for the initiated (“myste”). Christianity was for the baptized. Only the priests or deacons could enter behind the veil of the iconostasis. Only the initiates (the baptized) could participate in the holy liturgy. “Myein” is to close shut, as lips in secrecy or the doors of the iconostasis.
Byzantine art emerges out of contradiction in its attempt to make the invisible visible. In an effort to represent the divine in two dimensions, it uses the human dramatis personae in the Judeo-Christian narrative of salvation: Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, the Apostles, and the Saints as well as some of the Old Testament prophets. Byzantine art responds to a drive for “phantazein,” to make visible. In Timaeus, Plato offers an account of why we dream and our dream images “phantasma.” Imagery is similarly conceived in Plato’s epistemology. The images in “Byzantium: Faith and Power” are “phantasma” inasmuch as they are shadows of an otherworldly reality. They obey a “phantazein” need for figuration, of intelligibility through vision, and the need to make a space holy. They float as ethereal apparitions reminding the viewer of transcendence.



Ella Fontanals Cisneros: A Conversation


A Brief Conversation with Ella Fontanals Cisneros

Justo J. Sánchez

JJS: How did your passion for the arts begin?

EC: I am the product of a musical family. My mother was a wonderful pianist and a great singer. My father was a poet and musically inclined as well. In Cuba, they would organize very serious musical “tertulias.” I thought, I would devote my efforts to the visual arts but upon leaving Cuba, my life changed. I tried to return to drawing and painting but found myself, instead, starting an art gallery in Venezuela in the late sixties, in the Chacaito region of Caracas.

JJS: Is this the period when your collecting began?

EC: Yes, exactly. The gallery began selling European art — Dali watercolors for example — American pop artists, and emerging Venezuelan and other Latin American artists. I started developing a collection. In Paris, I became very involved with artist friends like Soto, Gamarra, and others. My friendship with artists made me aware of artistic and social issues as well.

JJS: Now that you mention social issues. Are you socially involved in Venezuela?

EC: Well, there is my work with the foundations. I am actively involved with “Together” “Juntos por los Niños” that promotes an integral program to benefit children. During the early 90’s, we created “Sentido Común” (“Common Sense”), an organization to mobilize voters – especially young people – in an effort to have the Venezuelan Congress elected directly by the people. We raised awareness of direct representation. In two days we had collected over 66,000 signatures.

JJS: Why don’t we see this political fervor in Venezuelan universities any more? Why don’t we see alternatives to the political status quo from the academic setting?

EC: You have to understand, Justo, that those that had the political “fervor” became integrated into the established parties and machinery. Today’s students are more “professional,” career-oriented. They tend to follow the American, technical, specialized professional-training thinking about universities. The other thing that I notice within the university population and the younger generation is the lack of patriotism, the lack of a nationalistic feeling or political conscience that I saw during our mobilization efforts. Yet, Venezuela has shown incredible signs of courage and integrity.

JJS: The creation of MAC (Miami Art Central) has required a commitment from you (financial and otherwise). You have been active with the Miami City Ballet and other local organizations and yet you travel extensively; why choose Miami?

EC: Most people would say that my daughters are my anchors to this area. I think of South Florida’s proximity to Latin America, a region that is sadly ignored by the United States. In this country’s policy priorities, the Middle East, Europe, now Asia, occupy leading positions. The neighbors to the South remain sadly ignored. South Florida, at the risk of sounding trite, is the crossroads to the Americas: for Europeans and North Americans.

JJS: What made you want to invest your time and resources here?

EC: For 35 years I have been coming to Miami, and, frankly, it was just passing. The past ten to twelve years, the transformation has been remarkable and exciting. What truly makes South Florida special is the great new influx of Brazilians, Venezuelans, Mexicans, Colombians, Argentineans, New Yorkers, and Europeans that have enriched an already stimulating population and environment. This population shift is creating a complete social realignment. The building of the Miami Performing Arts Center will reshape and reconfigure the city. Look, Justo, even the public transportation trends are changing. You even see more people today using the monorail. That might push local authorities to improve public transportation.

JJS: What were your goals in creating MAC?

EC: I had three ideas in mind: an educational component, a community integration component on a multidisciplinary level, and, lastly, the visual arts component, with three or four major exhibits a year.

JJS: Do you plan to keep close links with the University of Miami?

EC: It is only natural since we are neighbors but also because President Shalala has been very supportive of our efforts. The University of Miami’s Arts Department has been and will be our partner in a number of projects.

JJS: Will MAC specialize in contemporary art?

EC: No. MAC will cover different periods, different artistic media. It will offer film series, lectures, jazz, etc. For example, Justo, let me tell you that in late April we will host the masterpieces from the Cintas collection. We will then show the work of the finalists of the Cintas Foundation Award. For next year — and I will keep you posted — we are working on a Latin American master who, although alive, is in the collection of leading museums. We are also working on a major exhibit of a different type of artistic genre. MAC is now finishing the application process on permits for a less restrictive schedule and to accommodate a larger number of visitors. The lineup of future activities is indeed exciting.

Latin American Art – Kiss Boredom Goodbye



Latin American Art sales in New York have taken a new turn. The usual fare is predictable: Boteros, Lams, Zunigas, some Tamayos. Collectors are traditionally nationalistic in their purchasesSome exciting pieces have come to market. Diego Rivera is the “flavor of the month.”

Rousseau arrives in Mexico with the lush 1931 Rivera, La Ofrenda, at Sotheby’s. MoMA once owned it, a gift of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. Acueducto, at Christie’s, described as “Cezannesque,” stems from the concern with volume and monumentality that occupied Rivera during a stay in Arcueil.

Matta’s L’Impensable (Grand Personnage), at Sotheby’s, is a translation of his two-dimensional work into a delicate – almost fragile – sculpture. In the same medium, the dramatic Untitled bronze by Alicia Pena (at Christie’s) is massive and solidly primordial. Joaquin Torres-Garcia appears in both auction houses. His 1943 Construccion gris at Christie’s is important in the artist’s canon. It once belonged to Jose Gomez-Sicre.

A refreshing change from the traditional Botero offerings, his 1972 Still Life with Onions is a virtuoso piece for sale at Sotheby’s. Monochromatic (charcoal on canvas), its intense drama is product of Baroque chiaroscuro. His impeccable technique is cliche to discuss.

Claudio Bravo’s masterful Italian Collector of Roman Heads is homage to Classical antiquity. It has the self-referential element to Mr. Bravo’s collecting activity. The artist explores the depth and complex emotions represented in Roman statuary, here arranged as a still life. The young Italian’s features, of Praxilesque beauty, impart the character narcissistic detachment. His empty stare is juxtaposed to the passion portrayed in the objects of his collection. The aristocratic self-consciousness, even the position of the protagonist’s hand, establishes a connection with the Metropolitan Portrait of a Young Nobleman by Bronzino.

Vik Muniz has had a meteoric rise to international recognition. The Brazilian’s Carceri is unusual in his oeuvre; it is a clever dialogue with Piranesi. Tamayo’s Cabeza Monolitica is an imposing steel totem of Giacometti elongation. His fellow Mexican Maria Izquierdo is present in both houses: the playful Tony y Teresita at Sotheby’s and El Gallo, a still life with a rooster — executed with characteristic Mexican palate — at Christie’s.

Examples of Lam’s Spanish period rarely come to market. His 1937 Untitled, a nude self-portrait facing a woman, ties him to Fauvism at that juncture of his trajectory. In this painting, at Christie’s, the visual language is in tune with the work’s erotic possibilities.

Latin American Modernism and Contemporary art are not the sole concerns of these sales. Important colonial pieces have surfaced this spring. Christie’s XVIII century Biombo de los proverbios (Mexican or Colombian) is an exciting study of the Book of Proverbs. Framed in an ornamental screen, the different components create a visual sermon on moral rectitude. Four XIV century Ex-Votos, once in Andre Bretton’s possession, exemplify genuine piety, rich in the narrative of miracles. The link to Frida Kahlo is immediately established. Sotheby’s features a Rococo Nuestra Senora del Rosario, “La Marinera” . The Holy Family in Nazareth, set in an idyllic landscape, departs from the traditional hieratic idiom of Cuzco School. The Quito School is represented by the Apocalyptic Virgin of Quito, dynamic and Europeanized. Important fresh works, not subject to the usual recycling, bring renewed interest to the spring Latin American Art sales in New York.

New Spring for Old Masters



Bartolome Esteban Murillo, Saint Augustine in Ecstasy

This spring New York Old Masters’ sales at Sotheby’s and Christie’s complement each other in historical periods and artists’ nationalities.

After brokering the sale of Duccio’s Stroganoff Madonna now at the Metropolitan Museum Christies has put together an illustrious group of paintings for its May 26 sale. Murillo’s Extasis de San Agustin illustrates the emotionalism, tenebrism, and naturalism of the Spanish Baroque. The saint’s open arms, upward gaze, and facial expression establish his dialogue with Zurbaran and Jose de Ribera. The theatrical use of light confirms the date of this painting to the 1640s. Jordaens’ Flight into Egypt, a favorite topic of the Flemish Baroque, is a reminder of Rubens’ several takes on the subject. The Death of Seneca is the work of Giambattista Tiepolo, an artist that wielded enormous power in Enlightenment Spain under Carlos III.

Jean-Honore Fragonard is generally known for his Frick series. Christie’s oil study for Jupiter and Callisto gives the viewer a glimpse into his working methods, use of light, application of color, and creation of environment. The two lots by Pieter Breughel Jongere represent a dialogue with his father’s Wedding Feast. The younger painter’s Wedding Feast (one in at the Irish National Gallery) and Peasants Giving Gifts to the Bride, caricaturesque, are not as moralistic and condemnatory as his father’s eponymous work.

Francesco Guardi is a contemporary of Canaletto and Bernardo Bellotto. His Chiesa di S. Giovanni e Paolo at Christie’s shows the atmosphere and emotion of an early Canaletto. The work represents a different perspective of the same subject depicted by Bellotto in 1741.

Sotheby’s offering is remarkable for its samples of trecento and quattrocento Italian religious painting. The Norton Madonna and Child with Saints Anthony Abbot and Saint Bernardino by Sano di Pietro exhibits a notable dichotomy: the Madonna’s hieratic, formulaic face and the Child’s naturalistic depiction. Sano di Pietro’s oeuvre appears at the Louvre and the Kress Collection Lowe Art Museum. The examples of Sienese art at Sotheby’s attest to the city’s sophisticated visual concern with delicacy and ornamentation. Standing Male Saint by Benedetto di Bindo offers further evidence of Siena’s continuing hold of its Italo-Byzantine idiom. Jacopo del Landini (his works appear at the Boston MFA and the Kress Collection) relates to Cimabue and ignores the naturalistic expression of Maso di Banco and Taddeo Gaddi, working in Florence at the same time. Landini’s opus disregards Ambrogio Lorenzetti, the link between Siena and Florence While Bicci di Lorenzo worked in his Crucifixion, for sale at Sotheby’s, Masaccio and Donatello (perhaps even Fra Filippo Lippi) were already active in Florence. His artistic activity took place within the context of a family workshop (son of Lorenzo di Bicci, father of Neri di Bacci). This work is proof of the Early Renaissance conflict between iconographic tradition and revolution.

A notable Van Dyck portrait, Ferdinand de Boisschot, Baronet of Saventheum is a deep psychological study of the subject more than an exercise in aristocratic portraiture. A truly intriguing piece comes up for sale at Sotheby’s: the Persian School’s Portrait of a Nobleman. An XVII century work confirms the Safavid’s court cosmopolitan refinement. Grace, attention to detail, and exposure to Western art are evident in the piece. European visual aesthetics arrived in Isfahan with its aperture to trade, patronage and Armenian influence. Portrait of a Nobleman is a fascinating pastiche.

The spring Old Masters sales at Sotheby’s and Christie’s come at a time when important collectors and marchands are already in New York for the yearly International Fine Arts and Antiques Fair.

Fra Carnevale



Exciting in its detectivesque scholarship, From Filippo Lippi to Piero della Francesca: Fra Carnevale and the Making of a Renaissance Master rediscovers a long neglected artist. Mentioned by Vasari, Giovanni di Bartolomeo Corradini was born in Urbino where he would later return. Moving to Florence in his twenties, Corradini joined the workshop of Filippo Lippi. The Brera-Metropolitan venture investigates early Renaissance rules of apprenticeship, workshop practices, and patronage. It reaffirms the status of Medicean Florence as a visual arts metropolis. Interestingly, it makes the viewer aware of linguistic diffusion and geographic adaptation. The catalogue, however, does not clearly address the interaction of the artists represented and the Guild of St. Luke (Compagnia di San Luca o dei pittori). It does not study in depth the artistic dialogue between painters and Florentine architects.

Professor Keith Christiansen, Emanuela Daffra, Andra de Marchi, and Matteo Ceriani extend a vector of inquiry from Fra Filippo Lippi to Piero della Francesca. In the process, the viewer discovers lesser known artists: the Pratoveccio Master, the Master of the Castello Nativity, and Rovezzano. Their work illustrates the shedding of the Italo-Byzantine, proto-Renaissance hieratic idiom and the adoption of XV century Florentine naturalism. The conflict is clearly evidenced in Da Camerino’s opus. Could one not argue the same about Gentile da Fabriano, Bicci di Lorenzo, and Lorenzo Monaco? They are surprisingly absent. (The Metropolitan owns Monaco’s Nativity and the Uffizi his 1422 Adoration of the Magi.) Fra Carnevale, trained with a Late Gothic painter in Urbino, made the transition clearly illustrated in the Crucifixion, Saint Peter, Saint John the Baptist, and Saint Francis polyptich reunited at the Metropolitan.

The Making of a Renaissance Master also brings together the Barberini panels. Along with the Annunciation, they are responsible for the characterization of Fra Carnevale as the author of architectural fantasies. The artist uses architecture to create perspective and establish the axes that organize space. The contrast of columns with arches and arcades imparts dynamism and excitement. The setting and characters are tools for theological speculation and symbolism.

Florence’s early XV century visual output is a conversation with architecture. A Vitruvius manuscript was found in 1412. Brunelleschi, Alberti, and Michelozzo did not go unnoticed by Masaccio (1420’s Cappella Brancacci fresco, 1425’s Holy Trinity), Fra Filippo Lippi (1930’s Tarquinia Madonna and Barbadori Altarpiece), Fra Angelico, and Domenico Veneziano (another import). Alberti’s Treatise proved influential in articulating a new artistic paradigm.

Fra Carnevale, upon his return to Urbino, advised Federigo da Montefeltro on matters architectural and found himself involved in several projects (Monastery church of San Domenico, Palazzo Ducale). In Florence, he used architecture as the stage for the dramatic representation of the sacred. He acquired a profound respect for a discipline that gave visual expression to the Renaissance ideals of geometry and rational order as bases of beauty.

From Filippo Lippi to Piero della Francesca: Fra Carnevale and the Making of a Renaissance Master closes May 1st at the Metropolitan Museum.

Miguel Florido: A New Cuban Voice



A new favorite in international art fairs (ArtLA, ArtChicago, ArteAmericas, ArtMiami), his work already sold in major auction houses, Miguel Florido continues to live and work in Cuba. The following essay was commissioned for Cernuda Arte, a Coral Gables gallery.

Isolated in the Cuban countryside he learned to draw. He had no access to museums or art books. He received no formal or academic training. With just his youth and sensitivity in tow, he arrived in Madrid. There he found the Baroque: Zurbaran, Murillo, Rubens, Rembrandt, and Velazquez at the Prado and the Thyssen. The young painter would never  be the same. The still lifes by Sanchez-Cotan as well as the many examples of vanitas paintings exhibited in both institutions made lasting impressions on Florido.

The still life genre, in the manner of Sanchez Cotan and the Dutch masters, is present in two of Florido’s series: “Bodies Without Life” and “Blue Door.” They are not works undertaken as virtuoso exercises in painterly technique. Florido considers them “self-portraits” or deep explorations of the magic of his environs. Seen this way they become nationalistic odes as in Aun aguardo tu presencia (2002). A Chastelian (Andre Chastel) reading would detect the elements of a self-sacrificial altar and ritual.

Vanitas appears in Florido’s canon removed from its Judeo-Christian references. In a work like La alegria (2001) the dramatic tension of the fleeting moment –life ephemeral — is communicated with the same tenebristic intensity of the Caravaggisti. There is memento absentia rather than memento moris in the oeuvre of this young artist. In his visual musings, he employs the genre that points to the briefness of pleasure and worldly happiness. Absence prompts the pictorial meditations (La cruz va por dentro, 2001, Aqui esperandote me quedo, 2002) of this Cuban incarnation of Sevillian Renaissance poet Fernando de Herrera.

Claudio Bravo’s opus informs the aesthetic vision of Miguel Florido. In the “Papers” series, the Cuban artist takes Bravo’s “Packages” as a point of departure as well as the “betriegertje” (Back of a Painting) genre from Dutch Baroque master Cornelius Norbert Gijsbrecht. The young painter infuses his signature lyricism, subtlety, and nostalgia to this new language. “Papers” is an experimental series where he engages in a serious reflection on absence, separation, and the metaphysics of presence, a topic of vital importance for the contemporary philosophical debate.

Miguel Florido is an extraordinary case study in visual culture. Precocious in his wish to explore verisimilitude and illusionism in drawing, totally removed from the propaganda overload of an urban setting, and absent from “officialist” training, he acquired his unique artistic profile after a trip to Madrid. His work is free from the political zigzag of the Havana regime, the overly-depicted Cuban life and folklore, conceptual or video art artifice, the predictable offering. The colonialist First World expects and consumes these commodities as pieces of an exotic, tropical, anti-Yankee, forbidden, Socialist, and perhaps quixotic social experiment. The Cuban official artworld supplies folklore, carnivalesque Dionysiac eros, “negritude,” some political criticism, and postmodern kitsch. Florido’s proposal is, in turn, radical.

His Eurocentric visual discourse destabilizes the established formulas for Cuban art. It connects with the long neglected Hispano-European roots of that country’s culture. His vocabulary and his aesthetic, however, are as nationalistic as Marti, Avellaneda, and Baquero for whom Madrid was also an important artistic milieu.

Florido’s visits to Zurbaran, Sanchez-Cotan, the Dutch, and Claudio Bravo never make him derivative. His voice is powerful, his language very much his own. His meditations and poetry are as delicate as the orchid in Soledad (2003). Isolated in the Cuban countryside, Miguel Florido whispers in his canvases strokes of yearning, pain, desire, dreams, love, and hope.

The Business of Art: Art Basel-Miami Beach


Note: No representation of accuracy is made of the price, sales, and gallery information.

Over 30,000 visitors attended the third installment of Art Basel-Miami Beach. The art business is symptomatic of a specific stage in the business cycle. The volume of sales indicates the extent to which art is an investment strategy, a store of value, and an alternative instrument of exchange. The feverish activity during Art Basel-Miami Beach was foreshadowed in New York. Sotheby’s and Christie’s reported a considerable jump in sales from $482 million a year-ago fall, and from $400.5 million in the autumn 2002. Both auction houses noted the intense competition for the better quality modern masters.

Acquisition and collecting point to the economic structure that shapes a social system, praxis, and legitimating practices. Art Basel-Miami Beach affords a picture of the current aesthetic debate, the demand and uses of the Masters, contemporary taste, patronage, and collecting practices. In the case of contemporary works, Art Basel – Miami Beach allows a glimpse at the dynamics of art merchandising and the tactics of positioning. Key players in the international market need not be identified within the Miami Beach mixture of fashionistas, models, social climbers, poseurs, and assorted party stuffing. The purchase of art in South Florida speaks to the possibility of legalizing and investing ready money from a shadow economy. In a young city of fluid social lines and mobility, the purchase and exhibition of important works of art constitutes the rigorous entry point to validation and respectability.

Collecting by the laity emerged in the XVth century, following the tradition of collecting curiosities and natural history specimens. Venice in the XVI century and the development of oil painting allowed visual art easy mobility, thus adding to the element of commodification of the medium. The Dutch bourgeoisie in the XVII century used art as a vehicle of social escalation. Acquiring works of art may be motivated by aesthetic preferences, investment, speculation, scholarly study, or even as a social statement. Patrons began to provide space for pioneering works as in the impressive XVIII century holdings of the Countess of Verrue.

According to the curators of “The Business of Art” at the Getty: “Fascinated by the high prices achieved by contemporary (postwar) art, the German art critic Willi Bongard developed a system, known as the Kunstkompass, for ranking artists based on indicators of fame.” Getty experts explain that “using data gathered from museums, commercial art galleries, and art journal reviews, Bongard calculated the success of an artist from year to year and compared it to gallery prices, thus determining the artist’s investment potential.” The curators traced the economic approach to art to the late 50’s when “dealer Spencer Samuels attempted to change the marketing approach of the New York firm French & Company, with a decided emphasis on art purchase as an investment opportunity. In 1959 he began publishing a newsletter for businessmen, Currency of Art, which presented the acquisition of art as a classic investment. Taxes and Art took this marketing approach to a more refined level. The publication gave detailed instructions on how to purchase magnificent works of art while deducting great amounts from one’s taxes. These instructions were accompanied by glossy illustrations of works of art, all owned by French & Company.”

Idyllic winter weather in South Florida, trendy and sophisticated restaurants and hotels, a great party atmosphere, and the strength of the Euro made Art Basel-Miami Beach a natural alternative for the European art buyer. For quite some time, low interest rates and stock market instability have made art a sound investment option for Americans.

The third installment built on the successful formula of previous fairs. Modern Masters were carefully placed around a central axis and at a premium core space close to the main entrance. An affluence of Picassos characterized this last installment: a 1913 Compotier ($20 million at Gray Gallery), a 1956 Buste de femme ($2.75 million), a 1949 Femme assise (sold), the impressive Les dormers (12.5 million at Landau), a spirited Bacchanale on paper ($245,000 at James Goodman Gallery), a 1957 Juan les pins at Munich’s Galerie Thomas, a 1945 Tete de femme (2.8 million at Cologne’s famous Gnurzynska Gallery). Other important European Modern masters included Chirico’s Trovatore (sold) and his Piazza d’Italia ($320,000) at Waddington Gallery. Mattise’s great bust Jeannette III ($4.5 million) came to Miami via Acquavella Gallery. His Carmen ($950,000) was found at Landau and his 1940 Grand Figure ($550,000) at James Goodman Gallery. Goodman also showed Miro’s 1967 Femme ($550,000). Among European Masters, a rare treat was Max Ernst’s Hommage to Velasquez ($215,000) at Galerie Thomas.

Cologne’s Gnurzynska’s Gallery boasted of Motherwell’s never shown landmark Arabesque ($1.8 million) commissioned for the corporate headquarters of General Electric. The piece had languished in a warehouse until last week. Two other Motherwells (Open No. 16 and Ultramarine and Charcoal) were shown at Ameringer and Yohe Fine Art accompanied by a great Helen Frankenthaler Castle that sold during the fair. Among the other American masters represented were Willem de Kooning’s Untitled XII (1.650 million) at C&M Arts. Nevelson’s Wall Relief ($168,000) could be seen near her Skygate II ($58,000) at Galerie Thomas, Munich. Josef Albers’ Homage to the Square (1980) was sold for an undisclosed amount. Adolph Gottlieb’s The Bent Arrow ($375,000) was prominently displayed facing an important traffic lane. Rothko’s 1959 Brown, Maroon, Rust and Plum ($1.6 million) was part of Acquavella’s exhibition.

Important Latin American art made its presence felt at Art Basel-Miami Beach. Matta’s Argemouth (1.3 million) was shown at Acquavella. Ramis Barquet sold Kuitca’s Baroque Theater and displayed two great Bedias: Vamos a tener que mudar la mesa y Tenemos todo el tiempo por delante. The New York gallery brought Tamayo’s 1958 Tete and Matta’s 1957 Oscillation du present. Nina Menocal also displayed two wonderful 2004 Bedias. Marlborough Gallery displayed Claudio Bravo’s virtuoso 2004 Three Colored Papers (sold).

There was a marked difference in the catalogue’s emphasis on contemporary art and the main fair’s emphasis on important modern works.

Art Basel-Miami Beach has already acquired a distinctive profile that distinguishes it from other U.S. events of that nature. The very effective mix of Modern Masters with carefully selected contemporary works from leading international galleries has made it a remarkable business success. The event has also contributed significantly to the revitalization of Miami and the positioning of the city as an important arts venue.