• Bomb the Church? What We Don't Tell Our Students in Art 1 Author(s): Albert Elsen Source: Art Journal, Vol. 37, No. 1 (Autumn, 1977), pp. 28-33 Published by: College Art Association Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/776065 . Accessed: 14/06/2014 18:32 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp . JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org. . College Art Association is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Art Journal. http://www.jstor.org This content downloaded from 62.122.78.43 on Sat, 14 Jun 2014 18:32:08 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=caa http://www.jstor.org/stable/776065?origin=JSTOR-pdf http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp
  • Bomb the Church? What We Don't Tell Our Students in Art 11 ALBERT ELSEN In 1977, no more explosive issue confronts the art world than the protection of Art. Fair question is whether as teachers and scholars we are doing the best job of educating our students to be aware of, comprehend, and deal with the problems of art's protection. I think not. We train our students to advance knowledge, but little is said to them about the moral responsibilities of scholarship or how scholars have contributed to the plunder as well as saving of the past. For too many of us, art history and ethics are either strangers or enemy faculties. Academically, faculties of art history and law should become better acquainted to thereby give more meaningful answers to such questions as: What is Art? Who is an Artist? Who decides these questions? Who owns the art of the past? Why should we care if art is destroyed? Should art and the artist receive special consid- eration under the law? What is the public interest in Art?2 We instruct our students in the difference between dry and wet frescoes, but not the differences between a work of art and a mere chattel, or any other form of movable personal property. (Perhaps too many young instructors are mesmerized by Marcel Duchamp and grant no difference.) French and American jurists have recognized the superior interest of the human genius that creates art, its uniqueness in terms of irreplaceability, its capacities to survive its maker, society, and the ages, and to inspire new art. We underestimate and shortchange our students if we think they take Art 1 to be able to identify the artist, title, country, date, medium, and style of a painting held by a man jumping out of a flaming building. We teach our students the engineering and iconography of Gothic cathe- drals, but not why they should be preserved. With our concern for the sociology of art we dwell on artist-patron relationships, but not on how an artist's personality can be vested in his work. Rare is the historian who has heard of the doctrine of moral rights recognized in civil law countries throughout the world, but not in ours. All students of modern art can write about the integrity of the picture plane, but not about the integrity of the work of art as a whole. Students training for museum work learn all about "inher- ent vice" resulting from the incompatibility of materials used by the artist, but do they learn of the moral limits to which museums can go in acquiring antiquities that were probably smuggled out of their country of origin? More recently American students are being taught that the history of art is a bourgeois conspiracy, but do they know the harm of fakes and forgeries? When our students have to decide as voters whether or not to preserve an old building, will the memory ART JOURNAL, XXXVII/1 28 This content downloaded from 62.122.78.43 on Sat, 14 Jun 2014 18:32:08 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp
  • of the nomenclature and differences between the Doric and Ionic orders guide them in determining whether or not the threatened structure has any redeeming aesthetic or historic importance for the future? Too often missing from Art 1 is why we care about art, and what happens when we don't. What I plead for does not mean turning our backs on key monuments, chronologies, topical approaches, or research and publication in the Art Bulletin, but rather the asking of serious questions about art's importance, then and now, and sharing with our students the hard and continuous effort of their answer.3 I suggest that our students should be trained not only to advance knowledge, but to help preserve the past more effectively than we have done.4 We don't tell our students in Art 1 that the protection of art has often involved awesome sacrifice. Let me propose a hypothetical question to put to your students. This is known at Stanford as the "Bomb the Church?" question, and is actually based on historical prec- edents. In wartime, a great Gothic cathedral is being used by an army of occupation as an artillery observation post and for snipers. A liberating army which cannot detour around the city in the haste of its advance, is confronted with the dilemma of whether to bomb the cathedral, thereby causing its destruction, or try and dislodge the enemy more slowly by sending in troops and thereby risking casualties. In the balance are art and life. Ask your students what their decision would be if they were in charge of the attacking force, actually a decision comparable to many made in World War II by Allied commanders. Chances are the pro- life forces will predominate in number and volume, and quickly assert that nothing is worth the sacrifice of human life. Joining the pro-life advocates might be a few who would argue that military necessity dictates destruction. For this latter attitude there is a mixed precedent in history. During the Second World War the Allied command decreed that "the feeling of the nations [in northern and southern Europe] for their monuments made it imperative for the sake of good relations with the peoples of allied countries, that the allies show the utmost respect for their national treasures."5 As a matter of policy the Allied command was willing to sacrifice life for art, but under certain circum- stances. For General Eisenhower extreme military necessity always overrode the desirability of preserving what he oth- erwise recognized as "honored sites ... which symbolize to all the world all that we are fighting to "preserve."6 The defense of saving great art in time of peril at the cost of life is a more difficult case to make, but is no more subjectively based or prone to miscalculation than that of the pro-life-military-necessity advocates. The destruction of Monte Cassino, cited by Eisenhower as an example of "mili- tary necessity," was later questioned as the Germans, it was argued, were prepared to abandon it. Always the diplomat, General Eisenhower, who knew little of the history and importance of the monuments he sought to protect up to a point, recognized that "good relations" with allies were at stake and that not to make every effort to protect friendly nations' great art would make the Allies seem to the world as barbaric as the enemy. The protection of culture ranked with political liberation of friendly countries. When the Allied armies moved into Germany, however, there was no comparable policy, and cathedrals like that of Cologne were repeatedly bombed without invoking military necessity. In 1944 during the Allied invasion of Italy, the late English statesman, Sir Harold Nicolson, wrote a brilliant protest against bombing the church.7 His reminder of cultural values worth dying for still commands respect. To those in his government who regarded mortal and momentary hopes as more important than the immortal and eternal values, Sir Harold offered this principle: "The irreplaceable is more important than the replaceable, and the loss of even the most valued human life is ultimately less disastrous than the loss of something which in no circumstances can ever be created again." Sir Harold claimed this principle only for exceptional works and admitted that their designation by a concensus might not be easy. He also recognized that his was a minority view and that the British public "are not merely unaware of aesthetic values, but actually prejudiced against them." He concluded, "It is a reproach to democratic education that the people of Britain and America should either be indifferent, or actually hostile, to these supreme expressions of human intelligence. It is a reflection upon our leaders that they have shown but a perfunctory aware- ness of their real responsibilities." Written 30 years ago, can we say that much has changed and that "democratic educa- tion" has given the public and our political leaders a greater conscience about preserving great art in times of peril? Art history should be a required course at our military acade- mies.8 Lacking in our country monuments of great antiquity, it is difficult for American students to understand how educated people could consider personal sacrifice for Chartres, the Piazza San Marco, or the Scrovegni Chapel. Rare would be the American architectural historian who would go to the stake for the Jefferson Memorial, the Washington Cathedral, or Times Square. But read the cultural patrimonial acts of countries such as Poland, Israel, China, and England and realize how art validates national identities, confirms a na- tional spirit or genius, and is a crucial passport to the future. In Japan certain living artists are declared national treasures. Legal systems reflect societal attitudes towards art, and it is not surprising that this country has one of the least sophisti- cated systems for protecting its irreplaceable national treas- ures, which have not even been so designated nor invento- ried. As historians we usually fulfill only part of our professional obligations. We concern ourselves with how and why a work of art comes into being, its pre-history, so to speak, but not its history after completion. As one writer put it, today the cosmos of culture, though smaller, is in as much peril as ecology. Part of the problem is that art historians lag behind law makers and international bodies in being aware of and concerned about what constitutes the public interest in art. As an example, it was not an international congress of art historians, nor the College Art Association, but the authors of the Hague Convention of 1954, who issued the following principle: "Damage to cultural property belonging to any people whatsoever means damage to the cultural heritage of all mankind, since each person makes its contri- bution to the culture of the world." Do we tell our students in Art 1 why this principle could not have been adopted in any previous period in history, and how it was artists, rather than art historians, who were the first to validate the credentials of much of the world's art outside of Europe? I fear not. In 1971, at our annual meeting in Chicago, there was a panel on the tragic consequences of smuggling and looting, FALL 1977 29 This content downloaded from 62.122.78.43 on Sat, 14 Jun 2014 18:32:08 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp
  • which I introduced by saying, "There is no more explosive issue before the art world than that of illegal international traffic in works of art." Much has happened since 1971. Many museums adopted self-policing regulations.9 American scholars supported these changes when faced with the loss of archaeological sites in Mexico and Guatemala. The strug- gle to preserve art means continued war on illicit traffic in art that inspires art experts, dealers, collectors, smugglers, and robbers to rip off art of the past, whether from pre- Columbian sites or Italian museums.10 Art historians should take a more active and continuing part in public and private discussion of who owns the art of the past, and for how long-as well as the ethics of acquiring antiquities by public and private sources. Museum directors and curators have been active in these discussions, but they often plead for the interests of their institutions. Sherman Lee acknowledged in print that some Far Eastern works in the Cleveland museum's collection "might have come out illegally years ago," but he pointed out that they had been published in art journals and seen by Asian scholars "who didn't say boo."1 Samuel Sachs has taken the position that the culture of Guatemala, as represented in the Minneapolis Institute of Art, may be better protected in museums such as his. Granting the point for now, when and by whose criteria must small countries like Guatemala prove to mu- seum directors and trustees in this country that they are capable of protecting their own heritage? Because art has become big business, one museum direc- tor feels that this is the reason "for all the fuss." Assuming he is right, why didn't art historians raise the fuss and stand up and say boo? Partly because it is their scholarship, at times motivated perhaps by vanity, that contributes to theft and looting and ratifies the claims of American dealers, collectors, and museums to acquiring the world's art. In the words of a highly respected American art dealer, Andre Emmerich, "The art of ancient mankind is part of mankind's cultural heritage and does not belong exclusively to that particular geographic spot where ancient cultures flourished. I think that this country more than any other has a special claim to the arts of all mankind. . . . American institutions have bought the objects they have acquired and have not only paid with money, but we have paid the debt with scholarly contributions."'2 Our graduate students should be disabused of the myth that scholarship exists apart from the art market. The art business, legitimate and illegitimate, depends upon knowl- edge. As a justification for America's extensive acquisitions of humanity's artistic heritage, the old right of conquest rationale has been replaced by the concept of "To the wealthiest and brightest go the spoils." Art historians are warned by curators such as Gilette Griffin of the Princeton Art Museum that "People who sit up on high perches are missing huge amounts of material," and one infers that if morality is not suspended, as she puts it, "everything will go to European collectors."13 Clemency Coggins of the Peabody Museum, who has been a leader in the fight against illicit art traffic, counters by saying, "As long as [art historians] collab- orate, they fuel the' market." Those who defend looting on the grounds that it makes art available which might otherwise not be known for years, point with some justification to archaeologists who sit.on their shards for 20 years, hiding their findings from each other and the world.14 There are no easy solutions to the complex problems raised by the needs of scholarship and the preservation of art, partly because in teaching and practice we have not formulated, agreed to, and abided by fundamental moral principles. In closing with ethical problems, art historians should operate under the principle that no matter how important, scholarship does not legitimize theft, nor justify imperiling the integrity and existence of art. Second in importance to the problems of protection are those involved in the just redistribution of cultural property; claims for repatriation of illegally exported works are being pressed by such countries as Egypt, Greece, Thailand, Tur- key, and many African and some Polynesian nations. The importance of art to a nation's solidarity rivals political ideology, as we have seen in China, Israel, Poland, and many other new nations. There is a UNESCO Resolution, passed in 1975, which calls for restoration of displaced national patrimonies. (I think our abstention in the voting was justified, as the resolution is too vague and mischievous.) Many American museums have already been approached about restitution, and some are cooperating. Three serious questions have emerged which complicate negotiations. How far back in time do you go? Governments have changed, and many works were acquired legitimately under old laws in other countries. Would the repatriated works be properly cared for, or are they presently better protected in American museums? Would the walls of our museums be denuded except for the American wing? We should make our students aware not only of these issues, which could seriously change the character of our museums, but also of the important step taken by the Peabody Museum at Harvard on its own initiative, which cut across the three foregoing issues. This past year the Peabody Museum turned over to the Mexican government one of the finest collections ever assembled of some 600 Mayan jade artifacts. Scholarly monographs had been published on the collection, which was given to the museum by an American archaeologist who had legally acquired it from his own property under Mexican laws then in force. But some Amer- ican legal experts have claimed these old court decisions were invalid, and Mexican law has been amended to prevent such removals without specific government permission. For these and other reasons, which include receiving future study collections from Mexico, the Peabody Museum made an enlightened gift, the effect of which, ironically, may be to encourage restitution claims of other countries. It is not always a question of "denuding" museum walls by repatriation, as there are some museum storerooms bulging with antiquities that could be returned. Art historians and archaeologists should press for exposure of artifacts whose acquisition is under suspicion and which are con- cealed from sight such as the so-called Lydian Horde at the Met. Scholars inside and outside museums could also be helpful in the ongoing reappraisal of the situations in smaller countries with respect to the latter's capacity to preserve their heritage. What is needed is an international body of experts, not necessarily the recently politicized UNESCO, who could mediate these determinations, because, as with scholarship, the principle of art's preservation should over- ride premature repatriation. 5 As old as looting, and largely its result, is the problem of the dismembered masterpiece. Accustomed to dual slide ART JOURNAL, XXXVII/1 30 This content downloaded from 62.122.78.43 on Sat, 14 Jun 2014 18:32:08 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp
  • projection and seeing dispersed panels of an altarpiece reunited in books, we have forgotten how much of older art exists apart from not just its original architectural site, but its companion panels or the rest of the pot or sculpture. Art's integrity is premised on not lacking any of its parts, and it is dismaying how little is being done to restore dismembered works to their original wholeness. In 1945, the English scholar Thomas Bodkin published his book, Dismembered Master- pieces, in which he illustrated many great paintings that had been partitioned at some point in time, and the dispersed parts of which were sometimes in the same country. Citing a few pre-World War II exhibitions in which separated panels had been temporarily joined, Bodkin called for vigorous and enlightened post-war efforts by statesmen and museum directors all over the world to expend every effort to restore the integrity of great art. (Some opposed the idea because the incompetence of certain restorers would be exposed.) Bodkin's call for more exhibitions, long-term loans, and exchanges has obviously met with little success, but his idea is still valid. Some archaeologists have tried unsuccessfully all their lives to get museums to exchange fragments. After years of negotiations, two major European museums have agreed to such an exchange involving red and black figure Greek vase fragments, and though meager, it is a start. Masterpieces are "dismembered" not just by looting, theft, and other forms of vandalism, but by physical deterio- ration due to negligence, as in the case of the sculptures which remained on the Parthenon. A distinguished scholar of Parthenon sculpture told me of the years he vainly pleaded with the Greek officials in charge to at least put a roof over the exposed Parthenon frieze. He blamed the failure to save this masterpiece on curatorial timidity and political coward- ice. Reflexively we might think that he should have sought the backing of professional organizations such as the CAA. If he had, he might have been as discouraged as two American scholars were who last year appealed to the CAA Board of Directors to write the French government calling at- tention to the deterioration of hundreds of irreplaceable misericords in churches all over that country.'6 On their behalf a member of the CAA Executive Committee drafted a tactful letter of concern and offer of scholarly assistance to the appropriate French Ministry and presented it to the full Board, which twice rejected the proposed letter on the grounds that such an intervention in the affairs of another country would be "counterproductive and constitute "Big Brotherism." (One could assume that "counterproductive" meant the French might be so angry they would destroy the rest of the misericords.) Personally, I do not count this nega- tive vote as one of the courageous decisions of the CAA's Board of Directors.'7 The good to come out of the miseri- cord affair is the formation of a CAA Committee on the Pres- ervation of Art, chaired by Shirley Blum, which will look into this problem again. But the CAA has a long way to go to catch up with the SAH on preservation issues. If as scholars we accept the principle of the Hague Conven- tion, that "damage to cultural property belonging to any people whatsoever means damage to the cultural heritage of all mankind . ... ," then national boundaries should not dissuade the CAA from taking stands to protect art in peril. A professional society's integrity means standing up for its beliefs. We do not have to look to other countries for tragic examples of the violation of art's integrity. They abound in this country and are sometimes the result of actions or inactions by museum trustees and directors. Valuable works by Rodin, plaster sculptures and the finest collection of his drawings in this country, were allegedly allowed to deterio- rate by the then director and the trustees of the Maryhill Museum in Washington. The integrity of that museum's fine American Indian collection was allegedly violated by a former director and the trustees when they permitted over 600 works to be sold off to dealers and collectors. Fortunately, the State Attorney General of Washington has looked into the scandal and the trustees are being taken to court, but it took art historians such as Charles Rhyne to impress his deputy that the missing art was more valuable than unac- counted for money. The concept of crimes against art is unknown to many Attorneys General. (When will art history be required for military and legal officers?) Alexander Calder detested the color green all of his life. He told me in 1974 that his large mobile for the Pittsburgh airport was repainted without his consent on order of those in charge, who felt that green would go better with the terminal's decor. (Reinhold Heller tells me that mobile is today a rust color.) Right outside the LA County Museum of Art, in the new sculpture garden that has replaced the moat, you can see what happened to Calder's great fountain, Hello, Girls. It was reinstalled two years ago so that its parts are separated by trees, and the work cannot truly function as a mobile nor be seen as a unity. Calder did not approve the installation as we now see it. That this violated the sculpture's integrity I pointed out to the museum administra- tion some time ago, but as of this writing there still has been no change in the installation. The absence of moral rights law in America, unlike those in Civil Law countries, means that our artists, living and dead, are not protected from the physical alteration or deformation of their work, and the rights of private ownership prevail.18 Until such time as the moral right under law is accorded American artists, art historians and critics should publicly expose abuses of art by its owners or custodians. For all intents and purposes the equivalent of destruction is the calculated withholding from scholars and the public, by those other than the artist, of substantial numbers of his works, ostensibly to protect or shape his reputation. One can think of some major American painters whose first 20 years as artists remain a mystery. Thus we have the parthen- ogenesis of Mark Rothko in the mid-'40s and the miraculous emergence of Morris Louis from the brow of Helen Franken- thaler in 1951. We care about the destruction and withholding of an artist's work by second parties, because these acts detract or subtract from truth. The abundance of fakes in the art world today is partly due to the reluctance of art historians to expose them. Scholars often know of their existence and frequently do nothing because to take action, they fear, would involve them in a law suit or subtract time from scholarly interests. Selflessness in combating injustice to artists by fakers does not seem popular among historians these days. In its Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Professional Practice, the CAA has instructed scholars in how to avoid legal reprisals and reminded us that fakes are a crime and that as citizens we have obligations to uphold the law. Some historians still take the position that fakes and forgeries are of concern FALL 1977 31 This content downloaded from 62.122.78.43 on Sat, 14 Jun 2014 18:32:08 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp
  • only to other scholars, collectors, and dealers and that these groups can take care of themselves. A pox on the art business! It is ironic that some of the notorious contempo- rary fakers, such as Elmyr de Hory, have become almost folk heroes to the public for ripping off the establishment and deceiving so-called experts. Often students ask if a faker is skilled enough to fool the experts, why shouldn't the forgery be enjoyed and be considered the equal of an original! These same students admit, however, that they would not say the same thing about counterfeit money. We seem to have generally forgotten the harm of fakes and the interests that are at stake. Not only are scholars, collectors, and dealers concerned with fakes, but so is the public and, most important of all, the artists whose works have been counter- feited. The great and indisputable harm of fakes is to truth. Fakes deny access to the authentic, which is as much the right of the public as of the scholar. They dishonor the reputation of the artist or that of an entire ancient culture.19 Art historians have not just an opportunity, but a moral obligation to protect the reputation of artists or an ancient culture, the study of whose works have established their own reputations. Often a scholar is the only expert qualified to expose certain forgeries, and this cannot be left to others, as is so often done. Those who will not give the time to exposing fakes of which they are certain and which fall into their area of demonstrated competence, diminish the quality of the profession, now. By setting a poor example for their students, they help to infect the future with apathy. So far the theme of this paper has been that because we don't care enough, art is in peril from military action, looting and theft, inadequate physical protection, fakes and forger- ies, indifference to the integrity of art and artists, and negligent or willful action by trustees, dealers, and owners. Something must now be said about how life and human rights are in peril from art and artists. In studios, classrooms, and offices, we should be talking about the limits of artistic freedom and recognizing that like other citizens, the artist's actions are circumscribed by law and common decency. As to why these discussions should be taking place, let me give some sanitized case histories. Not long ago in a southern California art museum a woman artist exhibited a cage filled with rats, poured gaso- line over them, and set fire to the whole. No action was taken against the artist, but the museum director was dis- missed. Was this unjust to the director? Was there an abridgement of free speech? I think not. If the director had known in advance what would happen, he would have had solid grounds for exercising censorship. A few years ago a group of Conceptual artists operating in the Bay Area deter- mined to show how the capitalist system could be brought to a halt. They mailed thousands of false notices to utility sub- scribers that they were delinquent in paying their bills and utility service would be shut off. A few elderly persons died of shock and thousands were tortured with anguish for sev- eral days. On a smaller scale, an artist sent kidnap threats to the staff of a museum in New York and then claimed his act was symbolic speech. Artistic freedom ends when it abuses the rights of others. In an art gallery an artist reportedly set himself up in an electric chair with sufficient voltage to kill. Near a wall switch there was a notice indicating that if the switch were to be activated the artist would be electrocuted. (The art world has its own Gary Gilmores.) Fortunately, no one pulled the switch for, if they had, it would have resulted in their arrest on charges of a felony. An artist had himself photographed presumably firing a loaded pistol at a com- mercial airliner as it took off. Sincerity-which we are always being assured this artist has- is not enough. Artistic freedom ends with violation of the law or jeopardizing the safety of the public. In the last instance, the performances of this artist have been avidly written about by critics, and in one case there was an ingenious exegetical comparison with Christian martyrdoms. At no point did the writers raise and answer the serious moral and legal questions involved. Must historians and critics suspend personal standards of decency in the name of artistic freedom? I think not. Are critics so numbed by the history of censorship that they have forgotten the law and morality? I think they are. To the extent that museums and art galleries are asked by artists to participate in "art activities" which challenge the law or the rights of others, involve the destruction of life, or imperil public safety, these institutions and businesses are fully justified in rejecting such proposals. There are times when censorship is good! We do worry about censorship, such as that which histori- cally has been repressive, stifling to creativity and inhibiting to genius. The extension of First Amendment protection to art has come about gradually and is not all inclusive. Certain things have and are being done by artists in the name of art and free speech that should not only cause us serious concern, but make us mad as hell. When an artist nearly allowed himself to starve to death in an exhibition because he failed to notify the curators to feed him, I think it was time for the art world to stand up and say "boo." We are now talking about artists' economic rights, and this is good. But it is also time for a public discussion of the moral and legal limits of artistic freedom. When artists close the gap between art and life, they must be prepared to play by the rules of the real world. Some Thoughts in Parting -For the Board of the CAA: To have respect in the real world and the clout to correct abuses and injustices, a professional organization must further develop and fre- quently exercise its muscle, and build on its history of activism no matter how short and modest. Do it! Then, if you are accused of trying to be the conscience of the art world, in the name of all of us, and for art's sake, plead guilty! -For artists who teach: Talk with your students about art's integrity and artists' rights, but also discuss the rights of the public and the moral limits of artistic freedom. -For those instructing students in museum work: Involve them with ethical issues such as censorship and acquisition of works with dubious histories of ownership, as well as what constitutes violation of the integrity of a work of art by its installation. - For art historians who teach graduate students: Let's be sure our doctorates carry the requirement of a fundamental knowledge of why art is important and remind them that scholarship should be dedicated to truth and art's preservation. -For those who teach undergraduates in Art 1: Continue to make our students aware, understanding, ART JOURNAL, XXXVII/1 32 This content downloaded from 62.122.78.43 on Sat, 14 Jun 2014 18:32:08 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp
  • and tolerant of art. But above all, show by your own example why we should care about art. American students may be the most instructed in art, but our challenge is to make them the best educated. - 1This article is a shortened version of the convocation address given at the 1977 CAA meetings in Los Angeles, February 4, 1977. 2 There is no better way to gain an awareness of the shortcomings as well as the accomplishments of our profession than to see art history through the experience of teaching a course in law, ethics, and the visual arts. Five years of teaching this subject at his invitation and with my colleague John Merryman of the Stanford School of Law, have given fresh perspectives into the relation of art history to the real world. Yearly our colloquium has included extremely intelligent men and women, skilled in rhetoric, but often with little other background in the humanities and hence small awareness or tolerance of art. The course presents numerous situations which demand answers to fundamental theoretical and factual questions about art. Watch- ing talented graduate students in art history grappling with these questions posed by their counterparts in law and business, has brought home that neither in our basic courses nor graduate seminars do we seriously and systematically come to grips with questions that connect art with ethics and law. 3 In doctoral exams, for example, we begin by asking the candidates how they have contributed to knowledge. Fair and final question is, of what importance to humanity is the art they have studied, and if unique, what would be our loss if the work were destroyed? 4 My colleague, Lorenz Eitner, has reminded us in a recent article, "Art History and the Sense of Quality," Art International, May 15, 1975, that we have grown so dependent upon working from reproductions that we have lost the experience of the direct contact with quality. He ironically points out that if all art were to disappear, art history would continue. I would add that our working so much from slides and photos contributes to that likelihood, for reproductions tend to make us less conscious and concerned about the need to preserve art's integrity and longevity. 5 Report of the American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic Monuments in War Areas. 6 Similar reasoning continues to underlie this country's refusal to sign the Hague Convention of 1954 for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. See the letter to Anne Hanson from Ron Bettaur, a State Department official, Art Journal, Summer 1972. 7 "Marginal Comments," The Spectator, February 25, 1944. 8 One of the most tragic demonstrations of what the destruction of great artistic and historic monuments meant to a culture and the world, was provided by the Germans in World War I. In order to evoke worldwide fear of German might, to war on all the resources of their enemies, and to break the French spirit, they bombarded the cathedral of Rheims after they had burned the heart of Louvain, destroying its great library. The results were that, in the words of Barbara Tuchman in her book, The Guns of August, "It did little good for 93 German professors and other intellectuals to issue a Manifesto addressed 'To the Civilized World' proclaiming the civilizing effects of German culture and stating, 'It is not true that our troops have brutally destroyed Louvain.' However imposing the signatories ... the mute ashes of the Library spoke louder. By the end of August the people of the Allied Nations were persuaded that they faced an enemy that had to be beaten, a regime that had to be destroyed, a war that had to be fought to the finish." 9 There is a model bilateral treaty between the United States and Mexico, and changes in U.S. customs regulations which enforce the export laws of certain countries such as Guatemala have contributed to reducing but not eliminating the problem. 10 In 1973, John Cooney, curator of ancient art at the Cleveland Museum of Art was quoted as saying that 95% of ancient art material in this country had been smuggled in. ("Most Art Smuggled In, Curator Says," New York Times, March 2, 1973.) Since 1945, 44,000 works of art have been stolen from Italian museums and churches, and very few have been recovered. 11 "Antiquities Dealers Fearing Suits Restrict Activities," New York Times, December 31, 1974. 12 Karl E. Meyer, The Plundered Past, p. 28. '3 "Dealers Say Removal of Art Preserves It," New York Times, March 27, 1973. 14 Besieged on all sides by the arguments that looters are in fact preserving art, Frohlich Rainey of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Art parodied General McAuliffe when asked by the Germans to surrender at Bastogne, by saying, "Nuts-for every pot they are getting, 100 are de- stroyed." (New York Times, March 27, 1973.) John Cooney made the point that "rapid competition" among American museums to obtain the first and best of everything had "encouraged smuggling," and, by implication, loot- ing. "The day of great acquisitions will have to end if we no longer smuggle art works," Cooney concluded (New York Times, March 27, 1973). At least with respect to their antiquities collections, museum directors should be learning, as must America, that unlimited growth is not unquestionably good but can corrupt and destroy. 15 No question but that unduly restrictive export laws passed by previously plundered nations abet smuggling and block intelligent reciprocal ex- changes. It is not inconceivable that a judicious policy of repatriation and exchange by our museums and a system of long-term loans would loosen or counter such laws and curtail looting and smuggling. 16 Dorothy and Henry Kraus had spent years photographing, cataloguing, and studying these treasures of late medieval art, neglected on the one hand by medievalists, and on the other by their governmental custodians. The Krauses were astounded at their sad state of repair and exposure to the elements, and were even offered some of them as gifts by sextons who despaired of protecting them without government help. 17 Suppose the CAA's Executive Committee had taken the counterproductive view a few years ago, when it was asked and did act to protect an elderly director of the Byzantine Museum in Athens from imprisonment by the Greek Junta? 18 Too often in my experience have dealers of modern art shown no concern with conservation of damaged paintings, sculptures, and drawings in their possession. Not long ago a California collector received on approval from a prominent New York art dealer a great painting by Miro priced at $150,000. An excellent restorer was called in by the collector at his expense to check the spots all over the painting. It was found that mildew had done such extensive damage that the restorer recommended the painting be burned. Out of indifference or in haste to turn over works with a high "backroom" or resale value, some dealers take no pains or expense with conservation and leave it to collectors to spot the damage and foot the restoration bill. Dealers who have a record of negligence towards conservation should at least be censured or expelled from their professional associations. Moral rights legislation could permit artists to sue dealers in order to have works restored if it was not done voluntarily. 19 As an example, about 12 years ago, 150 fake Rodin drawings turned up when Ernst Durig, the man who made them, died. They were acquired for auction by Parke-Bernet, who had them authenticated by a young scholar who was writing a thesis for a well known Eastern university. She recognized the poor quality but claimed them for Rodin because the drawings in her own museum's collection bearing his name (but also by Durig) were similarly inferior. Her premise was that Rodin was a bad draughtsman! Fortunately for all concerned, the auction aborted, the fakes are now in the study collection of MOMA, and the young scholar changed her thesis, but I would like to have seen her score card when she toured the exhibition Rodin Drawings, True and False, put on by Kirk Varnedoe and myself in 1973 at the National Gallery of Art and the Guggenheim Museum. Albert Elsen is Walter A. Haas Professor of Art History at Stanford University and past President of the CAA. FALL 1977 33 This content downloaded from 62.122.78.43 on Sat, 14 Jun 2014 18:32:08 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp Article Contents p.28 p.29 p.30 p.31 p.32 p.33 Issue Table of Contents Art Journal, Vol. 37, No. 1 (Autumn, 1977), pp. 1-102 Front Matter [pp.1-101] Early Manet and Artful Error: Foundations of Anti-Illusion in Modern Painting [pp.14-21] Giorgione's Pastorello, Lost and Found [pp.22-27] Bomb the Church? What We Don't Tell Our Students in Art 1 [pp.28-33] Conservators Advise Artists [pp.34-39] Microfiche - A Visual Explosion in Mini-Dimensions [pp.40-43] Reviews untitled [pp.44-46] untitled [pp.46-48] The William C. Seitz Collection [pp.48-51] News Catalogues [pp.54-56] Acquisitions [pp.56-60] Information [p.61] Other Museum News and Comments [pp.61-80] College Museum News Exhibitions [pp.52-54] Books in Review untitled [pp.80-84] untitled [pp.84-86] untitled [pp.86-92] untitled [pp.92-94] untitled [pp.94-96] untitled [pp.96-100] Books Received [pp.100-102] Back Matter
Please download to view
All materials on our website are shared by users. If you have any questions about copyright issues, please report us to resolve them. We are always happy to assist you.
...

Bomb the Church? What We Don't Tell Our Students in Art 1

by albert-elsen

on

Report

Category:

Documents

Download: 7

Comment: 0

212

views

Comments

Description

Download Bomb the Church? What We Don't Tell Our Students in Art 1

Transcript

  • Bomb the Church? What We Don't Tell Our Students in Art 1 Author(s): Albert Elsen Source: Art Journal, Vol. 37, No. 1 (Autumn, 1977), pp. 28-33 Published by: College Art Association Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/776065 . Accessed: 14/06/2014 18:32 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp . JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org. . College Art Association is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Art Journal. http://www.jstor.org This content downloaded from 62.122.78.43 on Sat, 14 Jun 2014 18:32:08 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=caa http://www.jstor.org/stable/776065?origin=JSTOR-pdf http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp
  • Bomb the Church? What We Don't Tell Our Students in Art 11 ALBERT ELSEN In 1977, no more explosive issue confronts the art world than the protection of Art. Fair question is whether as teachers and scholars we are doing the best job of educating our students to be aware of, comprehend, and deal with the problems of art's protection. I think not. We train our students to advance knowledge, but little is said to them about the moral responsibilities of scholarship or how scholars have contributed to the plunder as well as saving of the past. For too many of us, art history and ethics are either strangers or enemy faculties. Academically, faculties of art history and law should become better acquainted to thereby give more meaningful answers to such questions as: What is Art? Who is an Artist? Who decides these questions? Who owns the art of the past? Why should we care if art is destroyed? Should art and the artist receive special consid- eration under the law? What is the public interest in Art?2 We instruct our students in the difference between dry and wet frescoes, but not the differences between a work of art and a mere chattel, or any other form of movable personal property. (Perhaps too many young instructors are mesmerized by Marcel Duchamp and grant no difference.) French and American jurists have recognized the superior interest of the human genius that creates art, its uniqueness in terms of irreplaceability, its capacities to survive its maker, society, and the ages, and to inspire new art. We underestimate and shortchange our students if we think they take Art 1 to be able to identify the artist, title, country, date, medium, and style of a painting held by a man jumping out of a flaming building. We teach our students the engineering and iconography of Gothic cathe- drals, but not why they should be preserved. With our concern for the sociology of art we dwell on artist-patron relationships, but not on how an artist's personality can be vested in his work. Rare is the historian who has heard of the doctrine of moral rights recognized in civil law countries throughout the world, but not in ours. All students of modern art can write about the integrity of the picture plane, but not about the integrity of the work of art as a whole. Students training for museum work learn all about "inher- ent vice" resulting from the incompatibility of materials used by the artist, but do they learn of the moral limits to which museums can go in acquiring antiquities that were probably smuggled out of their country of origin? More recently American students are being taught that the history of art is a bourgeois conspiracy, but do they know the harm of fakes and forgeries? When our students have to decide as voters whether or not to preserve an old building, will the memory ART JOURNAL, XXXVII/1 28 This content downloaded from 62.122.78.43 on Sat, 14 Jun 2014 18:32:08 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp
  • of the nomenclature and differences between the Doric and Ionic orders guide them in determining whether or not the threatened structure has any redeeming aesthetic or historic importance for the future? Too often missing from Art 1 is why we care about art, and what happens when we don't. What I plead for does not mean turning our backs on key monuments, chronologies, topical approaches, or research and publication in the Art Bulletin, but rather the asking of serious questions about art's importance, then and now, and sharing with our students the hard and continuous effort of their answer.3 I suggest that our students should be trained not only to advance knowledge, but to help preserve the past more effectively than we have done.4 We don't tell our students in Art 1 that the protection of art has often involved awesome sacrifice. Let me propose a hypothetical question to put to your students. This is known at Stanford as the "Bomb the Church?" question, and is actually based on historical prec- edents. In wartime, a great Gothic cathedral is being used by an army of occupation as an artillery observation post and for snipers. A liberating army which cannot detour around the city in the haste of its advance, is confronted with the dilemma of whether to bomb the cathedral, thereby causing its destruction, or try and dislodge the enemy more slowly by sending in troops and thereby risking casualties. In the balance are art and life. Ask your students what their decision would be if they were in charge of the attacking force, actually a decision comparable to many made in World War II by Allied commanders. Chances are the pro- life forces will predominate in number and volume, and quickly assert that nothing is worth the sacrifice of human life. Joining the pro-life advocates might be a few who would argue that military necessity dictates destruction. For this latter attitude there is a mixed precedent in history. During the Second World War the Allied command decreed that "the feeling of the nations [in northern and southern Europe] for their monuments made it imperative for the sake of good relations with the peoples of allied countries, that the allies show the utmost respect for their national treasures."5 As a matter of policy the Allied command was willing to sacrifice life for art, but under certain circum- stances. For General Eisenhower extreme military necessity always overrode the desirability of preserving what he oth- erwise recognized as "honored sites ... which symbolize to all the world all that we are fighting to "preserve."6 The defense of saving great art in time of peril at the cost of life is a more difficult case to make, but is no more subjectively based or prone to miscalculation than that of the pro-life-military-necessity advocates. The destruction of Monte Cassino, cited by Eisenhower as an example of "mili- tary necessity," was later questioned as the Germans, it was argued, were prepared to abandon it. Always the diplomat, General Eisenhower, who knew little of the history and importance of the monuments he sought to protect up to a point, recognized that "good relations" with allies were at stake and that not to make every effort to protect friendly nations' great art would make the Allies seem to the world as barbaric as the enemy. The protection of culture ranked with political liberation of friendly countries. When the Allied armies moved into Germany, however, there was no comparable policy, and cathedrals like that of Cologne were repeatedly bombed without invoking military necessity. In 1944 during the Allied invasion of Italy, the late English statesman, Sir Harold Nicolson, wrote a brilliant protest against bombing the church.7 His reminder of cultural values worth dying for still commands respect. To those in his government who regarded mortal and momentary hopes as more important than the immortal and eternal values, Sir Harold offered this principle: "The irreplaceable is more important than the replaceable, and the loss of even the most valued human life is ultimately less disastrous than the loss of something which in no circumstances can ever be created again." Sir Harold claimed this principle only for exceptional works and admitted that their designation by a concensus might not be easy. He also recognized that his was a minority view and that the British public "are not merely unaware of aesthetic values, but actually prejudiced against them." He concluded, "It is a reproach to democratic education that the people of Britain and America should either be indifferent, or actually hostile, to these supreme expressions of human intelligence. It is a reflection upon our leaders that they have shown but a perfunctory aware- ness of their real responsibilities." Written 30 years ago, can we say that much has changed and that "democratic educa- tion" has given the public and our political leaders a greater conscience about preserving great art in times of peril? Art history should be a required course at our military acade- mies.8 Lacking in our country monuments of great antiquity, it is difficult for American students to understand how educated people could consider personal sacrifice for Chartres, the Piazza San Marco, or the Scrovegni Chapel. Rare would be the American architectural historian who would go to the stake for the Jefferson Memorial, the Washington Cathedral, or Times Square. But read the cultural patrimonial acts of countries such as Poland, Israel, China, and England and realize how art validates national identities, confirms a na- tional spirit or genius, and is a crucial passport to the future. In Japan certain living artists are declared national treasures. Legal systems reflect societal attitudes towards art, and it is not surprising that this country has one of the least sophisti- cated systems for protecting its irreplaceable national treas- ures, which have not even been so designated nor invento- ried. As historians we usually fulfill only part of our professional obligations. We concern ourselves with how and why a work of art comes into being, its pre-history, so to speak, but not its history after completion. As one writer put it, today the cosmos of culture, though smaller, is in as much peril as ecology. Part of the problem is that art historians lag behind law makers and international bodies in being aware of and concerned about what constitutes the public interest in art. As an example, it was not an international congress of art historians, nor the College Art Association, but the authors of the Hague Convention of 1954, who issued the following principle: "Damage to cultural property belonging to any people whatsoever means damage to the cultural heritage of all mankind, since each person makes its contri- bution to the culture of the world." Do we tell our students in Art 1 why this principle could not have been adopted in any previous period in history, and how it was artists, rather than art historians, who were the first to validate the credentials of much of the world's art outside of Europe? I fear not. In 1971, at our annual meeting in Chicago, there was a panel on the tragic consequences of smuggling and looting, FALL 1977 29 This content downloaded from 62.122.78.43 on Sat, 14 Jun 2014 18:32:08 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp
  • which I introduced by saying, "There is no more explosive issue before the art world than that of illegal international traffic in works of art." Much has happened since 1971. Many museums adopted self-policing regulations.9 American scholars supported these changes when faced with the loss of archaeological sites in Mexico and Guatemala. The strug- gle to preserve art means continued war on illicit traffic in art that inspires art experts, dealers, collectors, smugglers, and robbers to rip off art of the past, whether from pre- Columbian sites or Italian museums.10 Art historians should take a more active and continuing part in public and private discussion of who owns the art of the past, and for how long-as well as the ethics of acquiring antiquities by public and private sources. Museum directors and curators have been active in these discussions, but they often plead for the interests of their institutions. Sherman Lee acknowledged in print that some Far Eastern works in the Cleveland museum's collection "might have come out illegally years ago," but he pointed out that they had been published in art journals and seen by Asian scholars "who didn't say boo."1 Samuel Sachs has taken the position that the culture of Guatemala, as represented in the Minneapolis Institute of Art, may be better protected in museums such as his. Granting the point for now, when and by whose criteria must small countries like Guatemala prove to mu- seum directors and trustees in this country that they are capable of protecting their own heritage? Because art has become big business, one museum direc- tor feels that this is the reason "for all the fuss." Assuming he is right, why didn't art historians raise the fuss and stand up and say boo? Partly because it is their scholarship, at times motivated perhaps by vanity, that contributes to theft and looting and ratifies the claims of American dealers, collectors, and museums to acquiring the world's art. In the words of a highly respected American art dealer, Andre Emmerich, "The art of ancient mankind is part of mankind's cultural heritage and does not belong exclusively to that particular geographic spot where ancient cultures flourished. I think that this country more than any other has a special claim to the arts of all mankind. . . . American institutions have bought the objects they have acquired and have not only paid with money, but we have paid the debt with scholarly contributions."'2 Our graduate students should be disabused of the myth that scholarship exists apart from the art market. The art business, legitimate and illegitimate, depends upon knowl- edge. As a justification for America's extensive acquisitions of humanity's artistic heritage, the old right of conquest rationale has been replaced by the concept of "To the wealthiest and brightest go the spoils." Art historians are warned by curators such as Gilette Griffin of the Princeton Art Museum that "People who sit up on high perches are missing huge amounts of material," and one infers that if morality is not suspended, as she puts it, "everything will go to European collectors."13 Clemency Coggins of the Peabody Museum, who has been a leader in the fight against illicit art traffic, counters by saying, "As long as [art historians] collab- orate, they fuel the' market." Those who defend looting on the grounds that it makes art available which might otherwise not be known for years, point with some justification to archaeologists who sit.on their shards for 20 years, hiding their findings from each other and the world.14 There are no easy solutions to the complex problems raised by the needs of scholarship and the preservation of art, partly because in teaching and practice we have not formulated, agreed to, and abided by fundamental moral principles. In closing with ethical problems, art historians should operate under the principle that no matter how important, scholarship does not legitimize theft, nor justify imperiling the integrity and existence of art. Second in importance to the problems of protection are those involved in the just redistribution of cultural property; claims for repatriation of illegally exported works are being pressed by such countries as Egypt, Greece, Thailand, Tur- key, and many African and some Polynesian nations. The importance of art to a nation's solidarity rivals political ideology, as we have seen in China, Israel, Poland, and many other new nations. There is a UNESCO Resolution, passed in 1975, which calls for restoration of displaced national patrimonies. (I think our abstention in the voting was justified, as the resolution is too vague and mischievous.) Many American museums have already been approached about restitution, and some are cooperating. Three serious questions have emerged which complicate negotiations. How far back in time do you go? Governments have changed, and many works were acquired legitimately under old laws in other countries. Would the repatriated works be properly cared for, or are they presently better protected in American museums? Would the walls of our museums be denuded except for the American wing? We should make our students aware not only of these issues, which could seriously change the character of our museums, but also of the important step taken by the Peabody Museum at Harvard on its own initiative, which cut across the three foregoing issues. This past year the Peabody Museum turned over to the Mexican government one of the finest collections ever assembled of some 600 Mayan jade artifacts. Scholarly monographs had been published on the collection, which was given to the museum by an American archaeologist who had legally acquired it from his own property under Mexican laws then in force. But some Amer- ican legal experts have claimed these old court decisions were invalid, and Mexican law has been amended to prevent such removals without specific government permission. For these and other reasons, which include receiving future study collections from Mexico, the Peabody Museum made an enlightened gift, the effect of which, ironically, may be to encourage restitution claims of other countries. It is not always a question of "denuding" museum walls by repatriation, as there are some museum storerooms bulging with antiquities that could be returned. Art historians and archaeologists should press for exposure of artifacts whose acquisition is under suspicion and which are con- cealed from sight such as the so-called Lydian Horde at the Met. Scholars inside and outside museums could also be helpful in the ongoing reappraisal of the situations in smaller countries with respect to the latter's capacity to preserve their heritage. What is needed is an international body of experts, not necessarily the recently politicized UNESCO, who could mediate these determinations, because, as with scholarship, the principle of art's preservation should over- ride premature repatriation. 5 As old as looting, and largely its result, is the problem of the dismembered masterpiece. Accustomed to dual slide ART JOURNAL, XXXVII/1 30 This content downloaded from 62.122.78.43 on Sat, 14 Jun 2014 18:32:08 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp
  • projection and seeing dispersed panels of an altarpiece reunited in books, we have forgotten how much of older art exists apart from not just its original architectural site, but its companion panels or the rest of the pot or sculpture. Art's integrity is premised on not lacking any of its parts, and it is dismaying how little is being done to restore dismembered works to their original wholeness. In 1945, the English scholar Thomas Bodkin published his book, Dismembered Master- pieces, in which he illustrated many great paintings that had been partitioned at some point in time, and the dispersed parts of which were sometimes in the same country. Citing a few pre-World War II exhibitions in which separated panels had been temporarily joined, Bodkin called for vigorous and enlightened post-war efforts by statesmen and museum directors all over the world to expend every effort to restore the integrity of great art. (Some opposed the idea because the incompetence of certain restorers would be exposed.) Bodkin's call for more exhibitions, long-term loans, and exchanges has obviously met with little success, but his idea is still valid. Some archaeologists have tried unsuccessfully all their lives to get museums to exchange fragments. After years of negotiations, two major European museums have agreed to such an exchange involving red and black figure Greek vase fragments, and though meager, it is a start. Masterpieces are "dismembered" not just by looting, theft, and other forms of vandalism, but by physical deterio- ration due to negligence, as in the case of the sculptures which remained on the Parthenon. A distinguished scholar of Parthenon sculpture told me of the years he vainly pleaded with the Greek officials in charge to at least put a roof over the exposed Parthenon frieze. He blamed the failure to save this masterpiece on curatorial timidity and political coward- ice. Reflexively we might think that he should have sought the backing of professional organizations such as the CAA. If he had, he might have been as discouraged as two American scholars were who last year appealed to the CAA Board of Directors to write the French government calling at- tention to the deterioration of hundreds of irreplaceable misericords in churches all over that country.'6 On their behalf a member of the CAA Executive Committee drafted a tactful letter of concern and offer of scholarly assistance to the appropriate French Ministry and presented it to the full Board, which twice rejected the proposed letter on the grounds that such an intervention in the affairs of another country would be "counterproductive and constitute "Big Brotherism." (One could assume that "counterproductive" meant the French might be so angry they would destroy the rest of the misericords.) Personally, I do not count this nega- tive vote as one of the courageous decisions of the CAA's Board of Directors.'7 The good to come out of the miseri- cord affair is the formation of a CAA Committee on the Pres- ervation of Art, chaired by Shirley Blum, which will look into this problem again. But the CAA has a long way to go to catch up with the SAH on preservation issues. If as scholars we accept the principle of the Hague Conven- tion, that "damage to cultural property belonging to any people whatsoever means damage to the cultural heritage of all mankind . ... ," then national boundaries should not dissuade the CAA from taking stands to protect art in peril. A professional society's integrity means standing up for its beliefs. We do not have to look to other countries for tragic examples of the violation of art's integrity. They abound in this country and are sometimes the result of actions or inactions by museum trustees and directors. Valuable works by Rodin, plaster sculptures and the finest collection of his drawings in this country, were allegedly allowed to deterio- rate by the then director and the trustees of the Maryhill Museum in Washington. The integrity of that museum's fine American Indian collection was allegedly violated by a former director and the trustees when they permitted over 600 works to be sold off to dealers and collectors. Fortunately, the State Attorney General of Washington has looked into the scandal and the trustees are being taken to court, but it took art historians such as Charles Rhyne to impress his deputy that the missing art was more valuable than unac- counted for money. The concept of crimes against art is unknown to many Attorneys General. (When will art history be required for military and legal officers?) Alexander Calder detested the color green all of his life. He told me in 1974 that his large mobile for the Pittsburgh airport was repainted without his consent on order of those in charge, who felt that green would go better with the terminal's decor. (Reinhold Heller tells me that mobile is today a rust color.) Right outside the LA County Museum of Art, in the new sculpture garden that has replaced the moat, you can see what happened to Calder's great fountain, Hello, Girls. It was reinstalled two years ago so that its parts are separated by trees, and the work cannot truly function as a mobile nor be seen as a unity. Calder did not approve the installation as we now see it. That this violated the sculpture's integrity I pointed out to the museum administra- tion some time ago, but as of this writing there still has been no change in the installation. The absence of moral rights law in America, unlike those in Civil Law countries, means that our artists, living and dead, are not protected from the physical alteration or deformation of their work, and the rights of private ownership prevail.18 Until such time as the moral right under law is accorded American artists, art historians and critics should publicly expose abuses of art by its owners or custodians. For all intents and purposes the equivalent of destruction is the calculated withholding from scholars and the public, by those other than the artist, of substantial numbers of his works, ostensibly to protect or shape his reputation. One can think of some major American painters whose first 20 years as artists remain a mystery. Thus we have the parthen- ogenesis of Mark Rothko in the mid-'40s and the miraculous emergence of Morris Louis from the brow of Helen Franken- thaler in 1951. We care about the destruction and withholding of an artist's work by second parties, because these acts detract or subtract from truth. The abundance of fakes in the art world today is partly due to the reluctance of art historians to expose them. Scholars often know of their existence and frequently do nothing because to take action, they fear, would involve them in a law suit or subtract time from scholarly interests. Selflessness in combating injustice to artists by fakers does not seem popular among historians these days. In its Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Professional Practice, the CAA has instructed scholars in how to avoid legal reprisals and reminded us that fakes are a crime and that as citizens we have obligations to uphold the law. Some historians still take the position that fakes and forgeries are of concern FALL 1977 31 This content downloaded from 62.122.78.43 on Sat, 14 Jun 2014 18:32:08 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp
  • only to other scholars, collectors, and dealers and that these groups can take care of themselves. A pox on the art business! It is ironic that some of the notorious contempo- rary fakers, such as Elmyr de Hory, have become almost folk heroes to the public for ripping off the establishment and deceiving so-called experts. Often students ask if a faker is skilled enough to fool the experts, why shouldn't the forgery be enjoyed and be considered the equal of an original! These same students admit, however, that they would not say the same thing about counterfeit money. We seem to have generally forgotten the harm of fakes and the interests that are at stake. Not only are scholars, collectors, and dealers concerned with fakes, but so is the public and, most important of all, the artists whose works have been counter- feited. The great and indisputable harm of fakes is to truth. Fakes deny access to the authentic, which is as much the right of the public as of the scholar. They dishonor the reputation of the artist or that of an entire ancient culture.19 Art historians have not just an opportunity, but a moral obligation to protect the reputation of artists or an ancient culture, the study of whose works have established their own reputations. Often a scholar is the only expert qualified to expose certain forgeries, and this cannot be left to others, as is so often done. Those who will not give the time to exposing fakes of which they are certain and which fall into their area of demonstrated competence, diminish the quality of the profession, now. By setting a poor example for their students, they help to infect the future with apathy. So far the theme of this paper has been that because we don't care enough, art is in peril from military action, looting and theft, inadequate physical protection, fakes and forger- ies, indifference to the integrity of art and artists, and negligent or willful action by trustees, dealers, and owners. Something must now be said about how life and human rights are in peril from art and artists. In studios, classrooms, and offices, we should be talking about the limits of artistic freedom and recognizing that like other citizens, the artist's actions are circumscribed by law and common decency. As to why these discussions should be taking place, let me give some sanitized case histories. Not long ago in a southern California art museum a woman artist exhibited a cage filled with rats, poured gaso- line over them, and set fire to the whole. No action was taken against the artist, but the museum director was dis- missed. Was this unjust to the director? Was there an abridgement of free speech? I think not. If the director had known in advance what would happen, he would have had solid grounds for exercising censorship. A few years ago a group of Conceptual artists operating in the Bay Area deter- mined to show how the capitalist system could be brought to a halt. They mailed thousands of false notices to utility sub- scribers that they were delinquent in paying their bills and utility service would be shut off. A few elderly persons died of shock and thousands were tortured with anguish for sev- eral days. On a smaller scale, an artist sent kidnap threats to the staff of a museum in New York and then claimed his act was symbolic speech. Artistic freedom ends when it abuses the rights of others. In an art gallery an artist reportedly set himself up in an electric chair with sufficient voltage to kill. Near a wall switch there was a notice indicating that if the switch were to be activated the artist would be electrocuted. (The art world has its own Gary Gilmores.) Fortunately, no one pulled the switch for, if they had, it would have resulted in their arrest on charges of a felony. An artist had himself photographed presumably firing a loaded pistol at a com- mercial airliner as it took off. Sincerity-which we are always being assured this artist has- is not enough. Artistic freedom ends with violation of the law or jeopardizing the safety of the public. In the last instance, the performances of this artist have been avidly written about by critics, and in one case there was an ingenious exegetical comparison with Christian martyrdoms. At no point did the writers raise and answer the serious moral and legal questions involved. Must historians and critics suspend personal standards of decency in the name of artistic freedom? I think not. Are critics so numbed by the history of censorship that they have forgotten the law and morality? I think they are. To the extent that museums and art galleries are asked by artists to participate in "art activities" which challenge the law or the rights of others, involve the destruction of life, or imperil public safety, these institutions and businesses are fully justified in rejecting such proposals. There are times when censorship is good! We do worry about censorship, such as that which histori- cally has been repressive, stifling to creativity and inhibiting to genius. The extension of First Amendment protection to art has come about gradually and is not all inclusive. Certain things have and are being done by artists in the name of art and free speech that should not only cause us serious concern, but make us mad as hell. When an artist nearly allowed himself to starve to death in an exhibition because he failed to notify the curators to feed him, I think it was time for the art world to stand up and say "boo." We are now talking about artists' economic rights, and this is good. But it is also time for a public discussion of the moral and legal limits of artistic freedom. When artists close the gap between art and life, they must be prepared to play by the rules of the real world. Some Thoughts in Parting -For the Board of the CAA: To have respect in the real world and the clout to correct abuses and injustices, a professional organization must further develop and fre- quently exercise its muscle, and build on its history of activism no matter how short and modest. Do it! Then, if you are accused of trying to be the conscience of the art world, in the name of all of us, and for art's sake, plead guilty! -For artists who teach: Talk with your students about art's integrity and artists' rights, but also discuss the rights of the public and the moral limits of artistic freedom. -For those instructing students in museum work: Involve them with ethical issues such as censorship and acquisition of works with dubious histories of ownership, as well as what constitutes violation of the integrity of a work of art by its installation. - For art historians who teach graduate students: Let's be sure our doctorates carry the requirement of a fundamental knowledge of why art is important and remind them that scholarship should be dedicated to truth and art's preservation. -For those who teach undergraduates in Art 1: Continue to make our students aware, understanding, ART JOURNAL, XXXVII/1 32 This content downloaded from 62.122.78.43 on Sat, 14 Jun 2014 18:32:08 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp
  • and tolerant of art. But above all, show by your own example why we should care about art. American students may be the most instructed in art, but our challenge is to make them the best educated. - 1This article is a shortened version of the convocation address given at the 1977 CAA meetings in Los Angeles, February 4, 1977. 2 There is no better way to gain an awareness of the shortcomings as well as the accomplishments of our profession than to see art history through the experience of teaching a course in law, ethics, and the visual arts. Five years of teaching this subject at his invitation and with my colleague John Merryman of the Stanford School of Law, have given fresh perspectives into the relation of art history to the real world. Yearly our colloquium has included extremely intelligent men and women, skilled in rhetoric, but often with little other background in the humanities and hence small awareness or tolerance of art. The course presents numerous situations which demand answers to fundamental theoretical and factual questions about art. Watch- ing talented graduate students in art history grappling with these questions posed by their counterparts in law and business, has brought home that neither in our basic courses nor graduate seminars do we seriously and systematically come to grips with questions that connect art with ethics and law. 3 In doctoral exams, for example, we begin by asking the candidates how they have contributed to knowledge. Fair and final question is, of what importance to humanity is the art they have studied, and if unique, what would be our loss if the work were destroyed? 4 My colleague, Lorenz Eitner, has reminded us in a recent article, "Art History and the Sense of Quality," Art International, May 15, 1975, that we have grown so dependent upon working from reproductions that we have lost the experience of the direct contact with quality. He ironically points out that if all art were to disappear, art history would continue. I would add that our working so much from slides and photos contributes to that likelihood, for reproductions tend to make us less conscious and concerned about the need to preserve art's integrity and longevity. 5 Report of the American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic Monuments in War Areas. 6 Similar reasoning continues to underlie this country's refusal to sign the Hague Convention of 1954 for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. See the letter to Anne Hanson from Ron Bettaur, a State Department official, Art Journal, Summer 1972. 7 "Marginal Comments," The Spectator, February 25, 1944. 8 One of the most tragic demonstrations of what the destruction of great artistic and historic monuments meant to a culture and the world, was provided by the Germans in World War I. In order to evoke worldwide fear of German might, to war on all the resources of their enemies, and to break the French spirit, they bombarded the cathedral of Rheims after they had burned the heart of Louvain, destroying its great library. The results were that, in the words of Barbara Tuchman in her book, The Guns of August, "It did little good for 93 German professors and other intellectuals to issue a Manifesto addressed 'To the Civilized World' proclaiming the civilizing effects of German culture and stating, 'It is not true that our troops have brutally destroyed Louvain.' However imposing the signatories ... the mute ashes of the Library spoke louder. By the end of August the people of the Allied Nations were persuaded that they faced an enemy that had to be beaten, a regime that had to be destroyed, a war that had to be fought to the finish." 9 There is a model bilateral treaty between the United States and Mexico, and changes in U.S. customs regulations which enforce the export laws of certain countries such as Guatemala have contributed to reducing but not eliminating the problem. 10 In 1973, John Cooney, curator of ancient art at the Cleveland Museum of Art was quoted as saying that 95% of ancient art material in this country had been smuggled in. ("Most Art Smuggled In, Curator Says," New York Times, March 2, 1973.) Since 1945, 44,000 works of art have been stolen from Italian museums and churches, and very few have been recovered. 11 "Antiquities Dealers Fearing Suits Restrict Activities," New York Times, December 31, 1974. 12 Karl E. Meyer, The Plundered Past, p. 28. '3 "Dealers Say Removal of Art Preserves It," New York Times, March 27, 1973. 14 Besieged on all sides by the arguments that looters are in fact preserving art, Frohlich Rainey of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Art parodied General McAuliffe when asked by the Germans to surrender at Bastogne, by saying, "Nuts-for every pot they are getting, 100 are de- stroyed." (New York Times, March 27, 1973.) John Cooney made the point that "rapid competition" among American museums to obtain the first and best of everything had "encouraged smuggling," and, by implication, loot- ing. "The day of great acquisitions will have to end if we no longer smuggle art works," Cooney concluded (New York Times, March 27, 1973). At least with respect to their antiquities collections, museum directors should be learning, as must America, that unlimited growth is not unquestionably good but can corrupt and destroy. 15 No question but that unduly restrictive export laws passed by previously plundered nations abet smuggling and block intelligent reciprocal ex- changes. It is not inconceivable that a judicious policy of repatriation and exchange by our museums and a system of long-term loans would loosen or counter such laws and curtail looting and smuggling. 16 Dorothy and Henry Kraus had spent years photographing, cataloguing, and studying these treasures of late medieval art, neglected on the one hand by medievalists, and on the other by their governmental custodians. The Krauses were astounded at their sad state of repair and exposure to the elements, and were even offered some of them as gifts by sextons who despaired of protecting them without government help. 17 Suppose the CAA's Executive Committee had taken the counterproductive view a few years ago, when it was asked and did act to protect an elderly director of the Byzantine Museum in Athens from imprisonment by the Greek Junta? 18 Too often in my experience have dealers of modern art shown no concern with conservation of damaged paintings, sculptures, and drawings in their possession. Not long ago a California collector received on approval from a prominent New York art dealer a great painting by Miro priced at $150,000. An excellent restorer was called in by the collector at his expense to check the spots all over the painting. It was found that mildew had done such extensive damage that the restorer recommended the painting be burned. Out of indifference or in haste to turn over works with a high "backroom" or resale value, some dealers take no pains or expense with conservation and leave it to collectors to spot the damage and foot the restoration bill. Dealers who have a record of negligence towards conservation should at least be censured or expelled from their professional associations. Moral rights legislation could permit artists to sue dealers in order to have works restored if it was not done voluntarily. 19 As an example, about 12 years ago, 150 fake Rodin drawings turned up when Ernst Durig, the man who made them, died. They were acquired for auction by Parke-Bernet, who had them authenticated by a young scholar who was writing a thesis for a well known Eastern university. She recognized the poor quality but claimed them for Rodin because the drawings in her own museum's collection bearing his name (but also by Durig) were similarly inferior. Her premise was that Rodin was a bad draughtsman! Fortunately for all concerned, the auction aborted, the fakes are now in the study collection of MOMA, and the young scholar changed her thesis, but I would like to have seen her score card when she toured the exhibition Rodin Drawings, True and False, put on by Kirk Varnedoe and myself in 1973 at the National Gallery of Art and the Guggenheim Museum. Albert Elsen is Walter A. Haas Professor of Art History at Stanford University and past President of the CAA. FALL 1977 33 This content downloaded from 62.122.78.43 on Sat, 14 Jun 2014 18:32:08 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp Article Contents p.28 p.29 p.30 p.31 p.32 p.33 Issue Table of Contents Art Journal, Vol. 37, No. 1 (Autumn, 1977), pp. 1-102 Front Matter [pp.1-101] Early Manet and Artful Error: Foundations of Anti-Illusion in Modern Painting [pp.14-21] Giorgione's Pastorello, Lost and Found [pp.22-27] Bomb the Church? What We Don't Tell Our Students in Art 1 [pp.28-33] Conservators Advise Artists [pp.34-39] Microfiche - A Visual Explosion in Mini-Dimensions [pp.40-43] Reviews untitled [pp.44-46] untitled [pp.46-48] The William C. Seitz Collection [pp.48-51] News Catalogues [pp.54-56] Acquisitions [pp.56-60] Information [p.61] Other Museum News and Comments [pp.61-80] College Museum News Exhibitions [pp.52-54] Books in Review untitled [pp.80-84] untitled [pp.84-86] untitled [pp.86-92] untitled [pp.92-94] untitled [pp.94-96] untitled [pp.96-100] Books Received [pp.100-102] Back Matter
Fly UP