Artwatch UK

Posts tagged “Drs. Ineke Middag

Vandalism and restoration ethics: The case of the Dutch “Thinker”

13th April 2011

Art restoration is increasingly becoming a culture within a culture. After a century of modernism, the possession of personal artistic skills and of technical proficiency are considered disqualifications in much contemporary art teaching and practice. Today, the preference is for “ideas” and “attitudes” and, in this milieu, even a brazen appropriation of the artefacts and ideas of others is taken as proof of creative potency. Restorers, who have long pig-a-backed professionally on the bona fide creations of past artists and are now hailed as technical wizards vis-à-vis today’s artists, claim a “right” to determine personally how the art of the past should be “presented” to modern audiences. With the art world incapable of producing another Michelangelo or Rodin, restorers lay claim to powers of artistic transformation and resurrection. A “New Michelangelo” has been offered, the acceptance of which would require the rewriting of art history itself. Catastrophic art injuries provide restorers with further opportunities to deploy their embalmers’ “black arts” and theoretical premises – and, with a self-regard that verges on narcissism, celebrate/immortalise their own interventions in portentous television documentaries. An instance of such may have arisen in the Netherlands.

Maaike Dirkx writes:

The American industrialists William and Anna Singer (see Fig. 3) used their wealth to collect art. Their collection is located in four museums, two in Norway, one in the United States, and the Singer Museum in The Netherlands. The Singer Museum in Laren was founded in 1956 by Anna as a small private museum and concert hall. Its sculpture garden housed a fine collection of statues, with as its most prized exhibit a bronze cast of Rodin’s “Penseur” or “Thinker” and Anna Singer always considered this statue the crown jewel of her collection.

In January 2007 thieves broke into the museum grounds and stole “The Thinker” and six other bronze statues with the intent to melt them down for their bronze value. The bronze would have yielded 350 euros when the “Thinker” alone was valued at over one million euros. After a few anxious days the “Thinker” was recovered but it had been tragically mutilated (see Figs. 1, 7, 8 & 9). The six other statues had already been melted down. What had saved “The Thinker” was public exposure: its theft had been widely reported in the Dutch media and the thieves, who later stated they had never heard of Rodin, had panicked and had buri