Meritless Degas Authenticity Debate at The AGA

by Art Fag City on February 4, 2010 · 48 comments Newswire

POST BY PADDY JOHNSON
art fag city, degas, little dancer
Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917), Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen, conceived around 1878-1881, bronze cast in 1920's and after from a mixed media sculpture. Private Collection, Acquavella Galleries, New York.

Is Edmonton Alberta so out of touch with contemporary art-making practices that their museum has to engage in authenticity debates that never should see the light of day? This seems to be the case, as according to Vue Weekly, the Art Gallery of Alberta’s inaugural Edgar Degas show has attracted controversy over a few sculptures the artist didn’t cast himself. A little-known Florida blogger and watercolorist named Gary Arseneau takes issue with the museum’s claims that the work is authentic, because (amongst other rationale) the bronze figures were created posthumously from casts of wax sculptures found in the artist’s studio. “The dead don’t sculpt,” says Arseneau. According to an Art Fag City tipster, there is now a citywide debate over the show.

That’s a shame, because even a small amount of research would answer these so-called questions of authenticity city residents now discuss. For example, countless Renaissance etchings have been reprinted and exhibited in museums over the years; nobody makes a stink about their authorship (though their lower market value reflects that less of the artist’s hand is involved in the printing). The same is true of photography. Arseneau also claims Degas never worked in wax, a point refuted by the estate’s approval of the bronze reproductions. They, more than anyone, would know whether the sculptures were originally authored by the artist.

art fag city, robert smithson, floating island
Robert Smithson’s Floating Island to Travel Around Manhattan Island, 1970/2005 Produced by Minetta Brook in collaboration with the Whitney Museum of American Art On view September 17-25, 2005

But let’s use a more recent example with a few more variables. Robert Smithson’s Floating Island was conceived in 1970 in only a small sketch [pictured above], but it was many years after his death with the approval of his estate that the project was executed. In this case, Minetta Brook in conjunction with The Whitney Museum of Art brought this project to life. I read countless articles on the subject of Smithson’s Floating Island during the time the project was launched in 2005. No debate regarding the issue of authorship occurred.

All this is to say that while I am interested in visiting The Art Gallery of Alberta — they unveiled their Frank Gehry-like new building by Randall Stout and it looks good — I’m less than thrilled about the current debate. It’s a complete distraction from the innovation that’s actually taking place within the museum.

UPDATE: a more detailed account of Arseneau’s arguments against the bronzes is here.

  • greg,org

    there are many, many posthumous casts of works by Rodin, Degas, and Giacometti. They are noted as such, and the world keeps revolving just fine.

    The only difference is in market price, as yesterday’s sale of a Giacometti lifecast demonstrated.

  • greg,org

    there are many, many posthumous casts of works by Rodin, Degas, and Giacometti. They are noted as such, and the world keeps revolving just fine.

    The only difference is in market price, as yesterday’s sale of a Giacometti lifecast demonstrated.

  • Ian

    Is this flamebait? What’s going on here?

    You seem to be dismissing this controversy with a wave of the hand, without actually addressing any of the points brought up by Gary Arseneau. Why are you even talking about this if you’re not willing to give it even a moment of critical thought?

    Whether or not Edmonton, Alberta, is “out of touch” with contemporary art making practices is irrelevant here. We’re not talking about contemporary art, we’re talking about the authenticity of bronze statues which are based on mixed-media sculptures found in the studio of Edgar Degas. These statues are being passed off as his own work. They are emphatically NOT his own work, because he was not in any way involved in their production, being dead at the time.

    This is not the same thing as making prints off of an etching. It’s not the same as your floating island example, either, because the drawing is a design document–a plan for a future project. Edgar Degas’ mixed-media and wax sculptures are not design documents, rough drafts, or templates; they are the works in themselves. If people want to take molds of those sculptures and reproduce them in Bronze, or laser scan them and reproduce them in CNC carved alabaster, or anything else, that’s all fine and good but at that point they can hardly be considered “authentic” works by the artist, especially if the artist was dead at the time of creation and couldn’t sign off on them.

    You describe this authenticity debate as “meritless”, without even bothering to understand the nature of the debate itself. It seems like the only thing you’ve expressed here is that you think they whole *idea* of authenticity is meritless.

  • Ian

    Is this flamebait? What’s going on here?

    You seem to be dismissing this controversy with a wave of the hand, without actually addressing any of the points brought up by Gary Arseneau. Why are you even talking about this if you’re not willing to give it even a moment of critical thought?

    Whether or not Edmonton, Alberta, is “out of touch” with contemporary art making practices is irrelevant here. We’re not talking about contemporary art, we’re talking about the authenticity of bronze statues which are based on mixed-media sculptures found in the studio of Edgar Degas. These statues are being passed off as his own work. They are emphatically NOT his own work, because he was not in any way involved in their production, being dead at the time.

    This is not the same thing as making prints off of an etching. It’s not the same as your floating island example, either, because the drawing is a design document–a plan for a future project. Edgar Degas’ mixed-media and wax sculptures are not design documents, rough drafts, or templates; they are the works in themselves. If people want to take molds of those sculptures and reproduce them in Bronze, or laser scan them and reproduce them in CNC carved alabaster, or anything else, that’s all fine and good but at that point they can hardly be considered “authentic” works by the artist, especially if the artist was dead at the time of creation and couldn’t sign off on them.

    You describe this authenticity debate as “meritless”, without even bothering to understand the nature of the debate itself. It seems like the only thing you’ve expressed here is that you think they whole *idea* of authenticity is meritless.

  • http://www.saulchernick.com Saul

    Wow…they’d better not show any Sol Lewitt wall drawings in Alberta!

  • http://www.saulchernick.com Saul

    Wow…they’d better not show any Sol Lewitt wall drawings in Alberta!

  • Gary Arseneau

    February 4, 2010

    Re: Excerpted from January 16, 2010 “Degas bronze forgeries at the Art Gallery of Alberta” monograph)

    “So, rhetorically speaking, shouldn’t an artist at least be alive to view something, much less have created and approved it, that some are so eager to give them credit for?

    “The Association of Art Museum Directors thought so when they endorsed in 1974 the “Statement on Standards for Sculptural Reproduction and Preventive Measures to Combat Unethical Casting in Bronze” by the College Art Association. In part, it stated: “All bronze casting from finished bronzes, all unauthorized enlargements, and all transfers into new materials, unless specifically condoned by the artist, all works cast as a result of being in the public domain should be considered as inauthentic or counterfeit. Unauthorized casts of works in the public domain cannot be looked upon as accurate presentations of the artist’s achievement. Accordingly, in the absence of relevant laws and for moral reasons, such works should: — Not be acquired by museums or exhibited as works of art.”{5}

    “Obviously, the dead don’t condone.

    “Yet, to go from insult to injury, ten of the eleven Association of Art Museum Directors members{6}, contributing to this Edgar Degas: Figures in Motion exhibition, are lending their non-disclosed counterfeits, in violation of their own endorsed ethical guidelines on sculptural reproduction. Those members are the Baltimore Museum of Art, Columbus Museum of Art, Dallas Museum of Art, Denver Art Museum, Flint Institute of Art, Museum of Fine Art-Houston, National Gallery of Art-Washington D.C., San Diego Museum of Art and Smart Museum of Art.”

  • Gary Arseneau

    February 4, 2010

    Re: Excerpted from January 16, 2010 “Degas bronze forgeries at the Art Gallery of Alberta” monograph)

    “So, rhetorically speaking, shouldn’t an artist at least be alive to view something, much less have created and approved it, that some are so eager to give them credit for?

    “The Association of Art Museum Directors thought so when they endorsed in 1974 the “Statement on Standards for Sculptural Reproduction and Preventive Measures to Combat Unethical Casting in Bronze” by the College Art Association. In part, it stated: “All bronze casting from finished bronzes, all unauthorized enlargements, and all transfers into new materials, unless specifically condoned by the artist, all works cast as a result of being in the public domain should be considered as inauthentic or counterfeit. Unauthorized casts of works in the public domain cannot be looked upon as accurate presentations of the artist’s achievement. Accordingly, in the absence of relevant laws and for moral reasons, such works should: — Not be acquired by museums or exhibited as works of art.”{5}

    “Obviously, the dead don’t condone.

    “Yet, to go from insult to injury, ten of the eleven Association of Art Museum Directors members{6}, contributing to this Edgar Degas: Figures in Motion exhibition, are lending their non-disclosed counterfeits, in violation of their own endorsed ethical guidelines on sculptural reproduction. Those members are the Baltimore Museum of Art, Columbus Museum of Art, Dallas Museum of Art, Denver Art Museum, Flint Institute of Art, Museum of Fine Art-Houston, National Gallery of Art-Washington D.C., San Diego Museum of Art and Smart Museum of Art.”

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    Common guys. An email from Deputy Director/Chief Curator, Catherine Crowston in response to the allegations by Gary Arseneau:

    There is much discussion in the world of art about the status of bronze sculptures cast following an artist’s death. This discussion certainly applies to the posthumous casting of Edgar Degas’s wax sculptures into bronze — 40 examples of which are featured in the exhibition EDGAR DEGAS: Figures in Motion at the Art Gallery of Alberta.

    After Degas’ death in 1917, 150 wax statuettes—some intact, others unfinished or falling apart—were found by his family in his studio. The deterioration of many of the works was so severe that only 73 could be salvaged. Degas’ heirs, in consultation with the artist’s dealer Joseph Durand-Ruel, selected the A. A. Hébrard Foundry in Paris and master caster Albino Palazzolo to undertake the task of casting the surviving wax models into bronze. Degas’ family authorized the Foundry to mold and cast 22 sets of the 73 works. These authorized casts all bear the original stamp of the Hébrard Foundry and a work number (1-73) and an edition number designation (A-T). The two additional proofs were reserved for the caster and for Degas’ heirs. In order to preserve the original wax sculptures, Palazzolo made a second set of waxes, which were used to produce the authorized bronze casts. An additional sculpture, number 74, was cast in the 1950s.

    At the time that these works were created, all bronze sculptures by an artist such as Degas, would have been made by artisans in foundries and completed by those craftsman who would determine the detailing from the original wax or plasters. Whether the artist was dead or alive at the time of the bronze casting, they would have all had the same distance from the actual casting process. The Degas bronzes featured in the AGA exhibition are all editions of the original wax sculptures. The works come from the original Hébrard foundry, and are considered by experts to be authorized Degas works. They are clearly labeled within the exhibition at the AGA with the model date (the date of the creation of the original wax) and the casting date (the date of the bronze casting).

    Similar discussions about the authenticity of bronze editions have been raised with other artists, such as Auguste Rodin and Alberto Giacometti. In his will for example, Rodin authorized the French government to reproduce sculptures from his original plasters after his death, the rights for which were granted to the Musée Rodin. Posthumous Rodin works, termed “original editions,” have been cast and issued by the Musée Rodin since that time. While Degas investigated bronze casting and actually consulted with the Hébrard Foundry during his life-time, the final decision to proceed with the bronze casting was made by his heirs, after his death, in order to preserve the delicate wax works.

    Ultimately, the controversy surrounding the status of posthumous bronze casts is an important part of the history of these works. It need not, however, alter our appreciation of Degas’s innovative and exciting search for a better understanding of the figure in motion.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    Common guys. An email from Deputy Director/Chief Curator, Catherine Crowston in response to the allegations by Gary Arseneau:

    There is much discussion in the world of art about the status of bronze sculptures cast following an artist’s death. This discussion certainly applies to the posthumous casting of Edgar Degas’s wax sculptures into bronze — 40 examples of which are featured in the exhibition EDGAR DEGAS: Figures in Motion at the Art Gallery of Alberta.

    After Degas’ death in 1917, 150 wax statuettes—some intact, others unfinished or falling apart—were found by his family in his studio. The deterioration of many of the works was so severe that only 73 could be salvaged. Degas’ heirs, in consultation with the artist’s dealer Joseph Durand-Ruel, selected the A. A. Hébrard Foundry in Paris and master caster Albino Palazzolo to undertake the task of casting the surviving wax models into bronze. Degas’ family authorized the Foundry to mold and cast 22 sets of the 73 works. These authorized casts all bear the original stamp of the Hébrard Foundry and a work number (1-73) and an edition number designation (A-T). The two additional proofs were reserved for the caster and for Degas’ heirs. In order to preserve the original wax sculptures, Palazzolo made a second set of waxes, which were used to produce the authorized bronze casts. An additional sculpture, number 74, was cast in the 1950s.

    At the time that these works were created, all bronze sculptures by an artist such as Degas, would have been made by artisans in foundries and completed by those craftsman who would determine the detailing from the original wax or plasters. Whether the artist was dead or alive at the time of the bronze casting, they would have all had the same distance from the actual casting process. The Degas bronzes featured in the AGA exhibition are all editions of the original wax sculptures. The works come from the original Hébrard foundry, and are considered by experts to be authorized Degas works. They are clearly labeled within the exhibition at the AGA with the model date (the date of the creation of the original wax) and the casting date (the date of the bronze casting).

    Similar discussions about the authenticity of bronze editions have been raised with other artists, such as Auguste Rodin and Alberto Giacometti. In his will for example, Rodin authorized the French government to reproduce sculptures from his original plasters after his death, the rights for which were granted to the Musée Rodin. Posthumous Rodin works, termed “original editions,” have been cast and issued by the Musée Rodin since that time. While Degas investigated bronze casting and actually consulted with the Hébrard Foundry during his life-time, the final decision to proceed with the bronze casting was made by his heirs, after his death, in order to preserve the delicate wax works.

    Ultimately, the controversy surrounding the status of posthumous bronze casts is an important part of the history of these works. It need not, however, alter our appreciation of Degas’s innovative and exciting search for a better understanding of the figure in motion.

  • Gary Arseneau

    February 4, 2010

    Dear Ms. Johnson:

    Since, I just emailed you this afternoon a link to my -Propaganda- monograph,posted on garyarseneau.blogspot.com, documenting the Art Gallery of Alberta’s chief curator Catherine Crowston’s skewing the facts behind the exhibition of 40 non-disclosed Degas forgeries, you should have also included a link to your source, my blog.

    If you read my mongraph, you would have known that it addresses line by line, the chief curator’s misconceptions and misrepresentations behind these posthumously forged bronzes.

    Then, you, much less the readers of your website, could have potentially decided for themselves whether their is any merit to the contentious issues of authenticity I raise.

  • Gary Arseneau

    February 4, 2010

    Dear Ms. Johnson:

    Since, I just emailed you this afternoon a link to my -Propaganda- monograph,posted on garyarseneau.blogspot.com, documenting the Art Gallery of Alberta’s chief curator Catherine Crowston’s skewing the facts behind the exhibition of 40 non-disclosed Degas forgeries, you should have also included a link to your source, my blog.

    If you read my mongraph, you would have known that it addresses line by line, the chief curator’s misconceptions and misrepresentations behind these posthumously forged bronzes.

    Then, you, much less the readers of your website, could have potentially decided for themselves whether their is any merit to the contentious issues of authenticity I raise.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    Gary,

    There is a direct link to your blog in the above post. Please do not spam the comment section with additional links to your site unless they differ from the one already provided (which they do not). Your post has been edited to reflect this.

    On a different note, just because I do not agree with you does not mean I did not read your post and auxiliary material in its entirety.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    Gary,

    There is a direct link to your blog in the above post. Please do not spam the comment section with additional links to your site unless they differ from the one already provided (which they do not). Your post has been edited to reflect this.

    On a different note, just because I do not agree with you does not mean I did not read your post and auxiliary material in its entirety.

  • http://tommoody.us tom moody

    Arseneau disputes the assertion that Degas made the waxes (from which the bronzes were cast) with a couple of quotes saying “Degas never worked exclusively in wax.” Most people would read that to mean that wax was one of several materials Degas worked with. It seems like building a case from nitpicking publicly available documents.

  • http://tommoody.us tom moody

    Arseneau disputes the assertion that Degas made the waxes (from which the bronzes were cast) with a couple of quotes saying “Degas never worked exclusively in wax.” Most people would read that to mean that wax was one of several materials Degas worked with. It seems like building a case from nitpicking publicly available documents.

  • Gary Arseneau

    February 4, 2010

    Edgar Degas’ lifetime mixed-media models were made of plastine, cork, wood, paint brushes, wire and the like found at hand in his studio.

    Upon Edgar Degas’ death in 1917, these mixed-media models were found in various stages of disrepair and fragments.

    The heirs hired a founder Palazzolo, among others, to reconstruct them, alter them and ultimately reproduce them in wax for lost-wax casting into bronze.

    Those posthumous waxes contained the founder’s fingerprints not Degas’.

    Those waxes were forged into bronze with the founder’s fingerprints with a counterfeit “Degas” inscription applied. (Those bronze forgeries ie., “masters” are in the Norton Simon Museum’s collection)

    Those bronze forgeries ie., masters were used to cast the subsequent surmoulages (bronze from a bronze). (Some 1,800 of these 3rd-generation bronze forgeries are in museum collections around the world.)

    Eleven of the museums loaning to this AGA’s Figures in Motion exhibition are members of the Association of Art Museum Directors. As AAMD memebers, they endorse the College Art Association’s ethical guidelines on sculptural reproductions. In part, it states: “Any transfer into new material, unless specifically condoned by the artist, is to be considered counterfeit and should not be acquired or exhibited as works of art.”

    Obviously, a dead Edgar Degas (d 1917) could not condone the posthumous casting into bronze.

    Finally, as an artist who creates in an original creative medium of stone lithography, I know what constitutes an original work of visual art and as a scholar, I document that fact. So, when under U.S. Customs Informed Compliance Publication May 2006 states that a lithograph “must be wholly executed by hand by the artist and excludes any mechanical and photomechanical processes,” that law supports the logic that the dead don’t create anything, much less in bronze.

    In closing, misconceptions and misrepresentations in art, academia and auction world have been going on for far far far to long, so I understand the difficulty in getting past the idea that anyone, much less this artist/scholar, would contradict the cultural institutions and heavily credentialed experts, we all believe or want to believe are the gatekeepers of our society.

    In other words, don’t be fooled by titles or marble walls, the dead don’t create art.

    Only a fool or one that thinks you’re a fool or both, would argue otherwise.

  • Gary Arseneau

    February 4, 2010

    Edgar Degas’ lifetime mixed-media models were made of plastine, cork, wood, paint brushes, wire and the like found at hand in his studio.

    Upon Edgar Degas’ death in 1917, these mixed-media models were found in various stages of disrepair and fragments.

    The heirs hired a founder Palazzolo, among others, to reconstruct them, alter them and ultimately reproduce them in wax for lost-wax casting into bronze.

    Those posthumous waxes contained the founder’s fingerprints not Degas’.

    Those waxes were forged into bronze with the founder’s fingerprints with a counterfeit “Degas” inscription applied. (Those bronze forgeries ie., “masters” are in the Norton Simon Museum’s collection)

    Those bronze forgeries ie., masters were used to cast the subsequent surmoulages (bronze from a bronze). (Some 1,800 of these 3rd-generation bronze forgeries are in museum collections around the world.)

    Eleven of the museums loaning to this AGA’s Figures in Motion exhibition are members of the Association of Art Museum Directors. As AAMD memebers, they endorse the College Art Association’s ethical guidelines on sculptural reproductions. In part, it states: “Any transfer into new material, unless specifically condoned by the artist, is to be considered counterfeit and should not be acquired or exhibited as works of art.”

    Obviously, a dead Edgar Degas (d 1917) could not condone the posthumous casting into bronze.

    Finally, as an artist who creates in an original creative medium of stone lithography, I know what constitutes an original work of visual art and as a scholar, I document that fact. So, when under U.S. Customs Informed Compliance Publication May 2006 states that a lithograph “must be wholly executed by hand by the artist and excludes any mechanical and photomechanical processes,” that law supports the logic that the dead don’t create anything, much less in bronze.

    In closing, misconceptions and misrepresentations in art, academia and auction world have been going on for far far far to long, so I understand the difficulty in getting past the idea that anyone, much less this artist/scholar, would contradict the cultural institutions and heavily credentialed experts, we all believe or want to believe are the gatekeepers of our society.

    In other words, don’t be fooled by titles or marble walls, the dead don’t create art.

    Only a fool or one that thinks you’re a fool or both, would argue otherwise.

  • http://tommoody.us tom moody

    No source is given for the quote about the “plastine, cork, wood, paint brushes, wire and the like” but this calls the quotes on Arseneau’s website into question because they say Degas worked “non-exclusively in wax,” meaning there must have been at least some wax. I’ve got you now, sir. It is plain and simple logic! (This reminds me of the bloggers who “invalidated” the memos that said Bush skipped his national guard service, as if he didn’t!) Imperfect as the reproduction process might have been, “forgeries” isn’t the right word if the heirs approved the process. Nevertheless, Mr. Arseneau’s talents would be greatly appreciated at the Warhol Foundation.

  • http://tommoody.us tom moody

    No source is given for the quote about the “plastine, cork, wood, paint brushes, wire and the like” but this calls the quotes on Arseneau’s website into question because they say Degas worked “non-exclusively in wax,” meaning there must have been at least some wax. I’ve got you now, sir. It is plain and simple logic! (This reminds me of the bloggers who “invalidated” the memos that said Bush skipped his national guard service, as if he didn’t!) Imperfect as the reproduction process might have been, “forgeries” isn’t the right word if the heirs approved the process. Nevertheless, Mr. Arseneau’s talents would be greatly appreciated at the Warhol Foundation.

  • http://artblog.net Franklin

    I spent three weeks examining the “contemporary art-making practices” in Edmonton first-hand and can answer your rhetorical question about how out-of-touch they are. In short, not at all. Is it time for some cracks about Ontario?

  • http://artblog.net Franklin

    I spent three weeks examining the “contemporary art-making practices” in Edmonton first-hand and can answer your rhetorical question about how out-of-touch they are. In short, not at all. Is it time for some cracks about Ontario?

  • MC

    Leaving aside the merits or flaws in the authenticity debate, here’s a question of rPaddy Johnson and AFC, the wording of which might sound eerily familiar:

    “Are Paddy Johnson and ArtFagCity so out of touch with contemporary art-making practices that their website has to engage in authenticity debates that never should see the light of day?”

    See what I did there? More importantly, do you see what you did there? You inexplicably picked on a distance city in a foreign country for… doing exactly what you are doing here: engaging in a debate that YOU believe should not “see the light of day”.

    Check yourselves, before you wreck yourselves.

  • MC

    Leaving aside the merits or flaws in the authenticity debate, here’s a question of rPaddy Johnson and AFC, the wording of which might sound eerily familiar:

    “Are Paddy Johnson and ArtFagCity so out of touch with contemporary art-making practices that their website has to engage in authenticity debates that never should see the light of day?”

    See what I did there? More importantly, do you see what you did there? You inexplicably picked on a distance city in a foreign country for… doing exactly what you are doing here: engaging in a debate that YOU believe should not “see the light of day”.

    Check yourselves, before you wreck yourselves.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    Arseneau’s argument would have more weight if so much of his argument wasn’t phrased as “the dead don’t sculpt” and “reproductions are not sculptures”. Both sound like tired arguments about why reproduction isn’t valid, when in fact he’s talking about anachronistic errors. There appears to be some solid work being done on his part, but I don’t like the way the point boils down to the museum’s showing forgeries and is therefore evil.

    Editor’s note: I posted a comment about half an hour earlier I retracted.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    Arseneau’s argument would have more weight if so much of his argument wasn’t phrased as “the dead don’t sculpt” and “reproductions are not sculptures”. Both sound like tired arguments about why reproduction isn’t valid, when in fact he’s talking about anachronistic errors. There appears to be some solid work being done on his part, but I don’t like the way the point boils down to the museum’s showing forgeries and is therefore evil.

    Editor’s note: I posted a comment about half an hour earlier I retracted.

  • http://www.jennycraig.com m

    “when under U.S. Customs Informed Compliance Publication May 2006 states that a lithograph “must be wholly executed by hand by the artist and excludes any mechanical and photomechanical processes,” that law supports the logic that the dead don’t create anything, much less in bronze.”

    Debate aside, allowing an arm of the Department of Homeland Security to decide what is and isn’t art is terrifying to me.

  • http://www.jennycraig.com m

    “when under U.S. Customs Informed Compliance Publication May 2006 states that a lithograph “must be wholly executed by hand by the artist and excludes any mechanical and photomechanical processes,” that law supports the logic that the dead don’t create anything, much less in bronze.”

    Debate aside, allowing an arm of the Department of Homeland Security to decide what is and isn’t art is terrifying to me.

  • http://www.nateti.com Nicholas A. Teti

    I am in agreement with the poster Ian; I do not see how this is “meritless”. While I agree that Mr. Arseneau’s usage of the phrase “the dead don’t sculpt” is an annoying and obvious argument, his pointing out of The Association of Art Museum Directors position on the 1974 “Statement on Standards for Sculptural Reproduction and Preventive Measures to Combat Unethical Casting in Bronze” seems to me to bring much merit to his stance. One should question the ethics of the whole system, whether it be art or commerce gained from art. That coupled with the points on his blog in regards to the addition of elements (such as a head, etc.) to the sculptures by the foundry go beyond conservation and authenticity. I also think that Ian’s point about Smithson’s drawing for “Floating Island” being a future design-plan and how that differs from Degas’ mixed media sculptures actually BEING the finished work is an incredibly strong argument.

    Ms. Crowston misses the point entirely by using the faulty rationale that the process is the same, the degrees of separation if you will between the living artist and the dead in terms of the bronze casting. Unfortunately this harks back to Arseneau’s silly “the dead don’t sculpt” argument, which I believe clouds what should be the true point; the mixed media sculptures are/were the work! Ms. Crowston should recognize that these reproductions differ from plates/etchings and other items that are/were meant for multiples. Ms. Crowston should also recognize that just because the family of Degas allowed/authorized the reproductions and alterations to the original works does not make it right!

    As an artist, I have to say this discussion is far from “meritless”. This is an important discussion about what distinquishes an original work and what makes the work be what the artist intended it to be! But what the hell, he’s dead and his heirs made some money…what could be wrong with that?

  • http://www.nateti.com Nicholas A. Teti

    I am in agreement with the poster Ian; I do not see how this is “meritless”. While I agree that Mr. Arseneau’s usage of the phrase “the dead don’t sculpt” is an annoying and obvious argument, his pointing out of The Association of Art Museum Directors position on the 1974 “Statement on Standards for Sculptural Reproduction and Preventive Measures to Combat Unethical Casting in Bronze” seems to me to bring much merit to his stance. One should question the ethics of the whole system, whether it be art or commerce gained from art. That coupled with the points on his blog in regards to the addition of elements (such as a head, etc.) to the sculptures by the foundry go beyond conservation and authenticity. I also think that Ian’s point about Smithson’s drawing for “Floating Island” being a future design-plan and how that differs from Degas’ mixed media sculptures actually BEING the finished work is an incredibly strong argument.

    Ms. Crowston misses the point entirely by using the faulty rationale that the process is the same, the degrees of separation if you will between the living artist and the dead in terms of the bronze casting. Unfortunately this harks back to Arseneau’s silly “the dead don’t sculpt” argument, which I believe clouds what should be the true point; the mixed media sculptures are/were the work! Ms. Crowston should recognize that these reproductions differ from plates/etchings and other items that are/were meant for multiples. Ms. Crowston should also recognize that just because the family of Degas allowed/authorized the reproductions and alterations to the original works does not make it right!

    As an artist, I have to say this discussion is far from “meritless”. This is an important discussion about what distinquishes an original work and what makes the work be what the artist intended it to be! But what the hell, he’s dead and his heirs made some money…what could be wrong with that?

  • greg,org

    Frankly, I think the idea of fabricating posthumous work based on sketches or plans is entirely distinct from the issue of posthumous bronze casting, which has a well-studied and debated tradition that reaches back decades, if not centuries, beyond some AAMD handbook [or US Customs regulation, sheesh] was collated.

    There *was* discussion at the time whether the “Floating Island” sketch–one of many, many such ideas–Smithson left behind was sufficient to realize the project itself. The direct involvement by Smithson’s Estate, i.e., his widow Nancy Holt, pretty much ended the debate, if not the doubts.

    Another example of this kind of posthumous archival discovery is Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ giant, double-circle marble pool shown at the US Pavilion in Venice, which was vouched for by the Estate, the FG-T Foundation, and Felix’s friend and curator Nancy Spector.

    While there may be a conceptually interesting mental exercise to be had around these Degas castings, their provenance, the involvement by the artist’s heirs and dealer and foundry, and the transparent academic and market acknowledgment and acceptance of their status should really put Arseneau’s picayune, traditionalist charges to rest.

  • greg,org

    Frankly, I think the idea of fabricating posthumous work based on sketches or plans is entirely distinct from the issue of posthumous bronze casting, which has a well-studied and debated tradition that reaches back decades, if not centuries, beyond some AAMD handbook [or US Customs regulation, sheesh] was collated.

    There *was* discussion at the time whether the “Floating Island” sketch–one of many, many such ideas–Smithson left behind was sufficient to realize the project itself. The direct involvement by Smithson’s Estate, i.e., his widow Nancy Holt, pretty much ended the debate, if not the doubts.

    Another example of this kind of posthumous archival discovery is Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ giant, double-circle marble pool shown at the US Pavilion in Venice, which was vouched for by the Estate, the FG-T Foundation, and Felix’s friend and curator Nancy Spector.

    While there may be a conceptually interesting mental exercise to be had around these Degas castings, their provenance, the involvement by the artist’s heirs and dealer and foundry, and the transparent academic and market acknowledgment and acceptance of their status should really put Arseneau’s picayune, traditionalist charges to rest.

  • http://www.nateti.com Nicholas A. Teti

    Greg, I think that you too are entirely missing the point. As was stated, there is a difference between a plan (i.e. Smithson’s drawing) and a realized project such as Degas’ mixed media sculptures. Sculptures being fabricated posthumously is not the issue with this argument (waved off by you as “picayune” and “traditionalist”), but in fact has to do with Degas’ original intention that the mixed media works THEMSELVES are the realization of the artist; his end game.

    When you add a head here or stabilize an arm there you change the work period. This is the point! Your argument gives more credence to the artist’s heirs, dealer and the foundry(?) and, AND the “transparent academic and market acknowledgment and acceptance” then to the artist. That is as terrifying to me as the Dept. of Homeland Securtiy telling me “what is and isn’t art”…well almost.

  • http://www.nateti.com Nicholas A. Teti

    Greg, I think that you too are entirely missing the point. As was stated, there is a difference between a plan (i.e. Smithson’s drawing) and a realized project such as Degas’ mixed media sculptures. Sculptures being fabricated posthumously is not the issue with this argument (waved off by you as “picayune” and “traditionalist”), but in fact has to do with Degas’ original intention that the mixed media works THEMSELVES are the realization of the artist; his end game.

    When you add a head here or stabilize an arm there you change the work period. This is the point! Your argument gives more credence to the artist’s heirs, dealer and the foundry(?) and, AND the “transparent academic and market acknowledgment and acceptance” then to the artist. That is as terrifying to me as the Dept. of Homeland Securtiy telling me “what is and isn’t art”…well almost.

  • William Hogarth

    One definition of picayune is trivial.

    So, aside Mr. Arseneau’s so-called traditionalist charges, is it trivial that the very museums loaning these bronzes are violating their own ethical guidelines?

    Source:
    Webster’s New World Pocket Dictionary
    http://www.collegeart.org/guidelines/sculpture.html

  • William Hogarth

    One definition of picayune is trivial.

    So, aside Mr. Arseneau’s so-called traditionalist charges, is it trivial that the very museums loaning these bronzes are violating their own ethical guidelines?

    Source:
    Webster’s New World Pocket Dictionary
    http://www.collegeart.org/guidelines/sculpture.html

  • http://tommoody.us tom moody

    Arseneau’s arsenal of quotes says the head was “reattached”–not “added.” Big difference but it’s fun to get all excited.

  • http://tommoody.us tom moody

    Arseneau’s arsenal of quotes says the head was “reattached”–not “added.” Big difference but it’s fun to get all excited.

  • http://adam.instituteparachute.ca Adam Waldron-Blain

    I wonder who your tipster is, because I don’t know if I’ve noticed any city-wide discussion of this. I mean, I talked about it a little with Paul before he wrote the article, and with a few other people, but it’s not exactly a great debate. It’s maybe interesting to talk about, but nobody is really upset about it (other than Mr. Arseneau, of course).

    In any case the Degas show in question is very much about his studio process and the reproduced sculptures don’t seem out of place amongst lots of life drawing sketches and iterations of the ideas leading up to his more finished pieces. The sculptures make up a large part of the show, including the one that is clearly identified as the only one exhibited during his lifetime.nnAlso of note: the gallery is also showing Goya’s Disasters of War series, which was not published until after the artists’ death. Not a big deal.

    • JustAnotherCurator

      You make an excellent point about the Goyas. It seems that Arneseau wasn’t aware of the posthumous editions, but since March 15, 2010 (as best I can tell), he’s added them to his campaign. 

  • http://adam.instituteparachute.ca Adam Waldron-Blain

    I wonder who your tipster is, because I don’t know if I’ve noticed any city-wide discussion of this. I mean, I talked about it a little with Paul before he wrote the article, and with a few other people, but it’s not exactly a great debate. It’s maybe interesting to talk about, but nobody is really upset about it (other than Mr. Arseneau, of course).

    In any case the Degas show in question is very much about his studio process and the reproduced sculptures don’t seem out of place amongst lots of life drawing sketches and iterations of the ideas leading up to his more finished pieces. The sculptures make up a large part of the show, including the one that is clearly identified as the only one exhibited during his lifetime.\n\nAlso of note: the gallery is also showing Goya’s Disasters of War series, which was not published until after the artists’ death. Not a big deal.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    @adam Waldron-Blain That’s good to hear. The tipster was a relative who isn’t inside art circles at all. This was perhaps just her perception of the debate being on the outside of it.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    @adam Waldron-Blain That’s good to hear. The tipster was a relative who isn’t inside art circles at all. This was perhaps just her perception of the debate being on the outside of it.

  • William Hogarth

    The J.Paul Getty Museum defines forgeries as: “Reproductions of whole objects when the intention is to deceive; includes sculptures cast without the artist’s permission.”nnIf Edgar Degas never worked in bronze and the so-called “Little Dancer” in this exhibition is in bronze, how could it be identified as the “only one exhibited during his lifetime?nnAdditionally, is it troubling, how easily some dismiss, as “not a big deal,”the importance of the artist personal participation in the creation of their work that others want to give them credit for?nnSource:nhttp://www.getty.edu/vow/AATFullDisplay?find=counterfeit&logic=AND&note=&english=N&prev_page=1&subjectid=300121305nnhttp://www.nga.gov/cgi-bin/search_www.cgi?q=casting+in+bronze+degas&cmd=searchnDegas at the Races Teaching Program

  • William Hogarth

    The J.Paul Getty Museum defines forgeries as: “Reproductions of whole objects when the intention is to deceive; includes sculptures cast without the artist’s permission.”\n\nIf Edgar Degas never worked in bronze and the so-called “Little Dancer” in this exhibition is in bronze, how could it be identified as the “only one exhibited during his lifetime?\n\nAdditionally, is it troubling, how easily some dismiss, as “not a big deal,”the importance of the artist personal participation in the creation of their work that others want to give them credit for?\n\nSource:\nhttp://www.getty.edu/vow/AATFullDisplay?find=counterfeit&logic=AND&note=&english=N&prev_page=1&subjectid=300121305\n\nhttp://www.nga.gov/cgi-bin/search_www.cgi?q=casting+in+bronze+degas&cmd=search\nDegas at the Races Teaching Program

  • http://adam.instituteparachute.ca Adam Waldron-Blain

    Holy smokes Gary Arsenau totally called me on the phone!

    • JustAnotherCurator

      I am dying to know what he said and what he was like (although I think I can imagine both fairly clearly).

  • http://adam.instituteparachute.ca Adam Waldron-Blain

    Holy smokes Gary Arsenau totally called me on the phone!

Previous post:

Next post: