Monday, February 10, 2014

Finishing school

If you’re ever lucky enough to visit Jeffrey Harris’s studio, you might see piles of the catalogues raisonnés of well-known artists. Jeffrey has a thing about completeness and nothing is as complete as these painstakingly accumulated records detailing every work made by an artist. The details unfolded include a works' provenance, size, current condition, exhibition history, publications references and critical notes about the content and history of the work. This is scholarship of a high order.

We've already written about the sad attempt to create a catalogue raisonné for Colin McCahon. The result managed by Te Papa is contained in the Colin McCahon online catalogue. This effort ignores provenance, carefully selects exhibition history and rarely provides notes or any publication references. In the era of wikis and crowdsourcing this is simply not defensible. Arguments about lack of time, resources etc etc no longer excuse poor quality research when there are so many models of more open scholarship available.

Still it does turn out that in cat res world you can also have an embarrassment of riches. In the case of Modigliani’s paintings there is not one but two catalogues raisonnés being produced. One of them is by Marc Restellini who a while back abandoned his plans to make a catalogue raisonné of Modigliani’s drawings because he received death threats (oh yes, we’re talking death threats) from collectors who owned works by the artist. The other cat res guy is Christian Parisot whose exhibition of works by Modigliani a few years ago was raided by police and 22 removed for being fakes. The trial kicks off this week in Rome. You can read the whole sorry story here in the NYT.

Maybe the McCahon effort is not so bad after all. (Just kidding)

Image: Christian Zervos’s famous catalogue raisonné of Pablo Picasso