Monday, February 01, 2010

The down side of upside down

Some time ago, talking to Milan Mkrusich, he mentioned that he had once seen one of his paintings hanging upside down in the Auckland Art Gallery. Calling over a guard he explained the error to which the guard responded that it was highly unlikely that the work was upside down as the Gallery were very careful about that sort of thing. Mrkusich explained that he was the artist who had made the work and that in fact it really was the wrong way up. In due course someone was called from upstairs and the painting was removed from the wall. On the back there was an arrow pointing up that had evidently been helpful added by gallery staff. Mrkusich was still trying to explain that the arrow too was up the wrong way as they put the painting back the way it had been when he arrived.

To show that Auckland is not alone, check out some upside down stories from around the world.

In 1961 a fan noticed that Matisse’s Le Bateau was hung upside down at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Getting nowhere fast with the guards, she went to the New York Times and a story was promptly published: Nan Robertson Modern Museum is startled by Matisse picture on 5 December 1961. After 47 days on its head the painting was hung properly the day after The Times hit the streets.

Vincent van Gogh’s Long Grass with Butterflies was hung on its head for a brief time in 1965 at the National Gallery in London. The mistake was discovered by a visiting school student.

For 10 years (1979-89) Georgia O’Keefe’s painting The Lawrence Tree was hung upside down by the Wadsworth Athenaeum. During research for a 1990 retrospective the mistake was discovered and the painting has been hung the right way up ever since. You can see it reproduced every which way here on Google images.

In 2008 the Tate discovered that two paintings by Mark Rothko from the Black on Maroon series had been hung vertically with the stripes running top to bottom against the artist’s stated intention that they be hung with the stripes running horizontally. Over the years the Tate has shown the works both vertically and horizontally.

Other upside down hangs include Spencer Nichols’ Phantasy which was hung upside down for 18 days at a New Jersey museum in 1936 and a painting by Robert Rauschenberg which stood on its head in the Manchester Art Gallery for a while in 1963.