Jamaica Gleaner / Art has been in the headlines globally, regionally and locally in the last few weeks. On the global stage, Christie’s mid-November auction featuring a long-lost work by Leonardo da Vinci, ‘Salvator Mundi’, was very much in the news especially after the much hyped painting sold for US$450.3 million. Created more than 500 years ago, the painting depicts Christ as Salvator Mundi (Latin for ‘Saviour of the World’).
According to Wikipedia, “The painting shows Jesus, in Renaissance dress, giving a benediction with his right hand raised and two fingers extended, while holding a transparent rock crystal orb in his left hand, signalling his role as saviour of the world and master of the cosmos, and representing the ‘crystalline sphere’ of the heavens.”
Before the auction, ‘Salvator Mundi’ was estimated to sell for approximately US$100 million. Christie’s elaborate marketing campaign toured the painting around the world attracting more than 27,000 people. A YouTube video showing mesmerised expressions on the faces of those who gazed upon the artwork was circulated virally by the auction house as well.
The clever campaign certainly delivered. On the day in question, a mystery buyer paid four times the estimated value of the painting, leaving everyone agog about their identity. CNBC speculated that the sheer price of the painting ruled out “most everyday billionaires”. Eventually, The New York Times broke the news that the da Vinci had been purchased by an unknown Saudi prince named Badr bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud.
Within days, this version of events was disputed by the Wall Street Journal , which claimed that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was the buyer, with Prince Badr acting as proxy, and that the painting was intended as a gift for the new Louvre in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAR). The Crown Prince has been in the news recently for abruptly arresting 159 other princes and powerful business and political rivals.
The latest news is that a statement has now been put out by Christie’s announcing that ‘Salvator Mundi’ was actually acquired by Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism, once again contradicting the earlier story that the Saudi crown prince bought the rare painting as a diplomatic gift for the UAR. What remains certain is that the renowned artwork will be on display at the Louvre, Abu Dhabi.
Closer to home, speaking of diplomatic gifts, mystery surrounds rumours that a painting given by President Danilo Medina of the Dominican Republic to Prime Minister Andrew Holness on his recent state visit to Jamaica is a fake. The painting, by the Dominican master artist, Guillo Perez, has become the subject of intense debate and disapproval in the Dominican art community. The country is apparently plagued by counterfeiters, with fake works having been sold to foreign collectors, as well as institutional collections, according to an article in the Diario Libre .
“I can give assurances that if the president of the Dominican Republic, Lic. Danilo Medina, has presented a work of art by a Dominican artist, it is because he feels pride in our art and because he is interested in the world paying attention to our artists, especially when this happens in a regional market forum,” said renowned gallerist Juan JosÈ Mesa to Loquesucede.com .
Back home, the art world is expressing consternation over the refurbishing of Laura Facey Cooper’s emancipation monument, Redemption Song, during the course of which the large bronze was painted a startling jet black. Nothing inflames art purists more than unwarranted interference with a work of art; such horror and anguish has been expressed in the public sphere over the repigmentation of the emancipated couple that you would think they had been painted shocking pink.
In a Gleaner article, the sculptor explained that the repainting occurred during an attempt to resolve the issues of calcium build-up on the fingers of the bronze sculptures and on the walls of the surrounding water pool. The National Housing Trust, which is in charge of the monument, consulted Facey on the best way to do this. Facey recommended an expert, and the rest, as they say, is history. Black history.
The process to remove the marine paint and restore the monument’s natural bronze patina will be expensive. Perhaps in future, artists might voluntarily monitor renovations of their works to avoid the commission of this kind of costly error.
If it’s any consolation, Laura, questions were also raised internationally about the authenticity of da Vinci’s ‘Salvator Mundi’ because it had been painted over and refurbished so many times. This didn’t prevent it, 500 years later, from fetching US$450 million.
– Annie Paul is a writer and critic based at the University of the West Indies and author of the blog, Active Voice (anniepaul.net). Email feedback to [email protected] tweet @anniepaul.