a Room without Walls


Art Business Exchange
    Art Biz Bits from ABX: Heather Fraser, David Whittaker



London, ABX - 'Poster art' gains acceptance - and value

How do you increase the market value of art? Write a book
about it.

Though not specifically intended to have that effect
necessarily, the prices of film posters from the 1960s shot up
after the publication of Tony Nourmand and Graham Marsh's book
on the subject, so the same maybe about to happen for 1970s
material when their new book, Film Posters of the 70s, goes
on sale next month.

By highlighting the "essential movies of the decade," in effect
canonising the most important works, the advertising posters of
those films are given a boost in market value and collector
demand. The poster for Goldfinger, James Bond's 1964 outing,
was worth 300 before receiving the 'classic' tag from Nourmand
and Marsh, for example: now it's up to 1000.

But it's not just posters that benefit from increased study or
literature. Other books on collectables, as well as fine art,
have had market-making power, with glass and china notable
areas. Similarly Sir Denis Mahon's collection of 17th and 18th
century, mainly baroque painting was put together for 50,000
around the middle of this century, and when he left a large
part to the nation in a notorious bequest last year, the
overall value was estimated at ten of millions. This increase
in value was at least partly due to Sir Denis' own scholarship
on the art of that period which had previously been considered
uninteresting and hence overlooked.

This ability to 'make a market' for art has been a feature of
the trade ever since its emergence in its modern shape during
the last century, with such as Victorian paintings, the Pre-
Raphaelites, and some 20th century movements coming in for
increased attention and valuations.

In general, parallels between posters and paintings are
fairly consistent, with 'old master' remaining a fairly
reliable investment and the volatility of prices increasing
in inverse proportion to their age. The most expensive movie
poster to date was the 283,500 paid for one of only two
known examples from Boris Karloff's 1933 film 'The Mummy,'
and such venerable classics are the Hollywood equivalent
of a Giotto or Giorgione.

The same rules for collectors still apply, however, and
you should never buy a work for its investment potential -
only because you love it. And as the current round of
depressing 1980s revivals seems to be spreading, it's only
a matter of time before that decade's memorabilia makes it
to the auction rooms. Maybe paintings will get a look in
again one day?


London, ABX -- A less than enigmatic smile?

"Is the task of museums not to present works in the closest
state possible to that desired by the artist? Should one
intervene in a painting only when it is essential, to
preserve it? Is a word, is the Mona Lisa untouchable?"

So asked Le Journal des Arts this week, as experts considered
a 'virtual restoration' of the world's most famous painting.
A laboratory in Turin has produced a digital image of
Leonardo's portrait illustrating what they believe would be
improved if the layers of yellowed varnish were removed from
the original canvas. 

The 'cleaned-up' Mona would glow with pearly skin, have
golden highlights in her chestnut hair, and the "aerial
perspective of the enchanted landscape" in the background
would be returned to its original blues and greens.

Unsurprisingly expert opinion is divided on the issue, and
the debate has been stimulated by the Louvre's decision to
relocate the painting in its own 25million room, paid for
by a Japanese TV network. The move won't happen until at
least 2001, but some feel it is the ideal opportunity to
carry out the cleaning of the painting in readiness for a
triumphant unveiling in the next century.

Da Vinci pioneered complex and subtle techniques to achieve
the precise and delicate finish that made the picture so
famous, and it is the delicacy and thinness of the original
paint that makes restoration such a dangerous prospect.
"If you want to drive a restorer to suicide, ask him to
tackle the Mona Lisa," said the Louvre's former head of

But Neil MacGregor, director of the National Gallery in
London, said "the yellowy fog of long-deteriorated varnish
prevents us from seeing and appreciating" the work. A view
supported by Mark Leonard of the Getty Museum in LA, who
also believes cleaning would "transform our understanding
of the picture."

Nothing is going to happen for a while, however: "I'm
afraid there's absolutely no question of restoring her in
any way... She does look a bit yellow, but fundamentally
she's in magnificent condition - and the Mona Lisa is
famous the way she is now," confirmed Jean-Pierre Cuzin,
the Louvre's current head curator of paintings. "Once she's
in her new gallery, properly lit, you'll see a different

Whether the patrons of her new home will be happy with
Mona's appearance remains to be seen, but when you're
paying millions for the shop window, it usually helps if
the goods on display look their best.
Works in this Room copyright © 2001 by Heather Fraser, David Whittaker


Copyright © 1995-2001 Ted Warnell. All Rights Reserved