Friday, December 23, 2011

Restitution Fears, or Lost Opportunity? "Transition to Christianity" at the Onassis Cultural Center and the Absent "David Plates"

Head of Aphrodite, with eyes gouged out and a cross carved into her forehead
Is it fear of a claim for restitution, or just a lost opportunity?

All nine parts of a seminal, 7th-century work -- a masterpiece of Byzantine art -- are now on view in New York, but for reasons unknown they are being displayed at two separate institutions.

The David Plates, a set of nine, various-sized silver plates – magisterially made with a sophisticated understanding of classical sculpture and an intricate attention to detail – cry out to be shown together, as they were some 1,400 years ago.

Detail, David and Goliath plate, at the Met
They depict scenes from the life of the biblical David, and were probably made for the Byzantine emperor Heraclius.  They are commonly included in surveys of what used to be called the “Dark Ages.”

Six of the plates, including the largest (19.5 inches across) and most magnificent, are displayed in a nondescript corridor of the Metropolitan Museum. The other three are now on temporary loan from the Cyprus Museum, and can be seen through May 14 at the Onassis Cultural Center, where they are the culmination of its “Transition to Christianity” exhibit.

Marriage of David, at the Onassis Center
Scholars think the plates were originally displayed in the shape of a symbol that refers to Christ, with the medium and small plates placed around the large one. But for some as-yet-undisclosed reason, this configuration will not be recreated here.

Goodness knows when, if ever, all nine plates be in the same city again.

The plates were discovered in 1902 by laborers looking for building stone in the ruins of the Byzantine town of Lambousa, Cyprus.  The Cypriot authorities confiscated three of them but, the story goes, the others were smuggled out of the country, sold to a Paris dealer, and bought by J.P. Morgan.  Morgan’s heirs donated them to the Met in 1917.

Why aren’t all the pieces of what the Met describes as “exceptionally important” and "a masterwork of Byzantine art" being shown together?  The Met loaned several other items to the Onassis Center show, but the plates didn’t make the 30-block trip south.  The Onassis exhibit’s curator did not respond to inquiries, and no one at the Met was available for comment.

Six David Plates on view in a corridor at the Met
The word from an art history veteran is that Cyprus would like the Met’s plates returned to Cyprus, and it even made some fuss about it in the 1970s.

Derek Fincham, an expert in cultural heritage law, said that Cyprus “probably would not have success on a legal claim” – it would fail on statute of limitations grounds alone, he said -- but it might have an ethical claim to the plates “as an important piece of Cypriot heritage” that it could pursue as a public relations matter.

The Met might not want to loan the plates to the Onassis Center, Fincham suggested, because “the Met wouldn’t want people to make the connection.”

(How and when the plates got to Cyprus is unknown -- because of their high quality, it is thought that they were made in Constantinople -- and if Cyprus were to claim that the Met plates are part of its heritage, further evidence might be needed.)

Personification of April
The David Plates, in any event, could well be Exhibit A in any argument that “dark ages” is a misnomer for describing the 3rd through 7th centuries, and this is one of the themes of “Transition to Christianity.”  It presents this period, under the rubic “late antiquity,” as a time of innovation and change from paganism to Christianity.  The process took centuries, during which the two both coexisted and were in tension, and were sometimes at war.

The crucial figure, of course, was Constantine -- in 313 he established tolerance for Christianity with the Edict of Milan, and in 324-330 he moved the capital from Rome to Constantinople.  Much activity in the visual arts followed the emperors to the East, and in this exhibition it is in the art from the East, mainly Greece, that we follow the cultural changes.

A direct effect of the emperors’ adoption of Christianity -- only one emperor after Constantine was not Christian – is shown in a display of gold coinage.  An image of the emperor consistently appears on the front, but the mythological or historical scenes on the back gradually give way to a cross or an angel.

Mummy portrait, 1st century
Conflict between ideologies is made vivid with the Christianizing of classical sculpture:  a first century head of Aphrodite has her eyes gouged out and a cross carved on her forehead, for example.  Still, the beauty of this sculpture (the photo at the top doesn't do it justice) and a defaced portrait of a Roman boy is breathtaking.

The exhibition is particularly effective in demonstrating that even after Christianity became dominant, its imagery was deeply rooted in Greek and Roman art.  Whether Christian or pagan, the motifs are often the same.  Philosophers of classical art are models for Christian apostles. A man carrying a lamb, a standard motif in pagan bucolic scenes, is the basis of the Good Shepherd trope of Christianity.  The forms of Egyptian mummy portraiture produced under Roman rule, facing front with overlarge eyes, reappear as an icon of Christ’s face.

Icon fragment
The three mummy portraits and the icon are highlights of the show – the former for their beauty and the latter for its rarity.  Most icons on panel, like this one, were destroyed in the 8th-century iconoclastic movement against visual art.

“Transition to Christianity” is an engaging exhibit.  It could have been historic had the David Plates been reunited.

“Transition to Christianity: Art of Late Antiquity, 3rd-7th Century A.D.,” Onassis Cultural Center, 645 Fifth Ave. at 51st St., through May 14.

Addendum:  Four days after my initial inquiry to the Met, asking why all nine David weren't being shown together, its vice president of communications, Elyse Topalian, chose to respond by email.

It stated:  "The six David Plates in the Met's collection have long been scheduled to be highlights of the upcoming exhibition 'Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition (7th-9th Century),' which will be on view at the Metropolitan Museum from March 14 through July 8, 2012.  Because the exhibitions will overlap for two months, the works of art can't be on view together in a single location.  But these exhibitions do provide a terrific opportunity to see the nine plates, all during one period of time, in New York City."  (Emphasis is mine.)

This seemed to beg the question:  Why couldn't there be a short-term loan between institutions during the two-and-a-half months before the Met show opens?  That's what happened recently at the Bode Museum, which showed Leonardo's "Lady with an Ermine" (as part of the Renaissance portrait show now at the Met) for some weeks before sending it to London to hang in the National Gallery's Leonardo exhibition.

After the holidays, I asked the Onassis Cultural Center's director, Amalia Cosmetatou, if it had asked the Met to lend the plates to its "Transition to Christianity" exhibition.  While not answering the question directly, she said the Met's David Plates were on permanent display there, and that "because of the two exhibits, perhaps it wouldn't have been possible anyway."

(They are on permanent display, except when the Met loans them out.)

But why not a short-term loan so we could see them as they were intended to be viewed?

Cosmetatou paused and then said, "That would have been a good idea."

Had the institutions tried to work something out so all the plates could be seen together?

"I don't know," she said, but promised to get back to me.

Perhaps there's no one to admonish here unless a request by one or the other institution was made and turned down.  Could neither one have thought of it?

Photo of six David Plates at the Met, © 2011 Laura Gilbert

Other Photos: Head of Aphrodite and Personification of April, © Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Tourism; Marriage of David, © Cyprus Museum; icon fragment, © Benaki Museum; detail of David and Goliath from Metropolitan Museum website; mummy portrait from Walters Art Museum website.

Text © 2011 Laura Gilbert.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

"The Renaissance Portrait from Donatello to Bellini" at the Metropolitan Museum

Desiderio da Settignano portrait bust
Described by the Met as “a landmark exhibition,” this comprehensive exploration of 15th-century Italian portraiture -- 160 artworks from some 60 institutions and private collections -- sounded like a sure winner.  And it is.  It's magnificent, often in unexpected ways.  It opens tomorrow.

Filippo Strozzi by Benedetto da Maiano
The Met and Berlin’s Bode Museum, the co-organizers, have used their combined heft to obtain substantial loans, from Donatello’s reliquary of St. Rossore, which, putting contemporary features on a long-dead saint, laid the groundwork for the Renaissance portrait bust, to one of the most famous 15th-century portraits, Domenico Ghirlandaio’s portrait of an old man and a boy.

Attr. to Uccello
A rarity for the museum-goer these days, there’s a lot to take in.  It’s hard to believe anything could be more splendid than the array in the first gallery of three paintings of men in profile -- one by the revolutionary Massaccio (the only portrait solidly attributed to him), one attributed to Paolo Uccello, and one attributed to Domenico Veneziano -- until you enter the second gallery, with its lively marble portrait of a young woman by Desiderio da Settignano, and then walk on to encounter Verrocchio’s terracotta of the haughty Florentine bigwig Giuliano de’ Medici, a fierce, screaming face on his armor.

The curators have organized the show by both geography and subject – Florentine women and men shown separately, the powerful Medici family, court portraits, Venice.

The organization is brilliant. For painting it reveals -- in the century when Italy was discovering the autonomous portrait and exploring what creates identity – how limited and persistent portrait types were, and how difficult it was for artist or patron to conceive a change, let alone a transformation.

Mantegna, Cardinal Ludovico Trevisan
We see idealized portraits commemorating marriage, where all women are young and beautiful, and others commemorating the dead; and aggrandizing portraits of the already powerful -- even a cardinal is depicted as a Roman emperor, in a great painting by Andrea Mantegna.  With few exceptions, it’s image projection at the expense of personality.

A new twist that worked might be seized upon. In mid-century, for example, Andrea Castagno hit upon what became a new formula – a man with a defiant expression who looks at the viewer, his face in three-quarters, dressed in red, and grasping his cloak. All around the Castagno are other paintings that in some way mimic it – the defiant expression, the three-quarter view, a red garment, a grasping hand.

Mino da Fiesole, bust of Niccolo di Strozzi, with Castagno painting
Sculpture, too, has its types and image projection – men with ennobled shoulders, for one – but displaying sculpture and painting together reveals the latter as almost invariably more animated (hard stone is no obstacle) and artistically leading the way. The contrast between the sculpture that seems to breathe and the paintings that seem stylized is vivid nearly everywhere you look.

Antonello da Messina
Judging from this show, it was mainly in Venice, which came to portraiture late, where personality was explored in painting.  A beautiful example is the portrait of a young man by Antonello da Messina, a tiny 8-by-6 inches that makes a huge impression.

Some other highpoints in this exhibition filled with them:  the jowly marble sculpture of  Niccolo di Strozzi by Mino da Fiesole; the excellent terracotta portrait of Filippo Strozzi, wonderfully introspective, placed next to the more formal marble bust of him, both by Benedetto da Maiano; and a cast of the death mask of Lorenzo de’ Medici.

And for those interested in portrait medals, there are a mess of them by court artist Pisanello, a famous artist in his time who should perhaps be on more people's lips today.

Donatello reliquary bust


Cast of death mask of Lorenzo de' Medici
Verrocchio, armor detail

"The Renaissance Portrait," Metropolitan Museum, 5th Ave. and 82nd St., through March 18, 2012



Benedetto da Maiano and Antonello photos from Bode Museum website.  Other photos and text Copyright 2011 Laura Gilbert.

Monday, December 19, 2011

In Case that Triggered Russia's Art Embargo, Chabad Tells Court It Is "In Direct Discussions" with Russia

In the closely watched case that triggered Russia's embargo on lending art to U.S. museums, Chabad v. Russian Federation, Chabad has informed the federal court in Washington, D.C. that it is "in direct discussions" with the Russian government about the archive and library of religious books and manuscripts that gave rise to their dispute. 

The disclosure was made late Friday in a request that the court temporarily stay until March 1, 2012 all proceedings and not rule on Chabad's pending motion for sanctions.  Chabad had moved for sanctions in April because Russia had not complied with the court's default judgment ordering Russia to turn over the archive and the library to Chabad.  (A discussion of the case and the embargo, which I reported and wrote and then sold to a New York publication, can be found here.)

Russia instituted its art embargo -- which has affected U.S. museums nationwide -- in August 2010, saying that it feared Chabad would seize its art to enforce the judgment.  In its Friday filing Chabad states that it "will not seek to enforce the judgment against Defendants by requesting attachment of any Russian property in the United States or otherwise on or before March 1, 2012."

Two months ago, Chabad had requested a 60-day stay from the court "to facilitate Chabad's attempts to commence negotiation with the Russian Government," so with direct talks underway there has apparently been some movement.

Chabad has aggressively litigated in the U.S. courts for seven years.  What precipitated its drastic change in strategy?  And Russia had walked away from the litigation, claiming no U.S. court has jurisdiction over it.  Why is it willing to talk with Chabad now?

Attempts to speak with Chabad's lawyers and the Russian Embassy have so far been unsuccessful.

Text Copyright 2011 Laura Gilbert

Friday, December 16, 2011

Unicorns and Winged Serpents in the Cervera Hebrew Bible: On View at the Met for Only Three More Days

Cervera Hebrew Bible, details

On view for one week only – that’s both the difficulty and the pleasure that comes from the Met’s turning the pages of the Cervera Hebrew Bible. Visitors can take in two new pages beginning each Tuesday until January 16, when this 800-year-old Bible will be whisked back to Lisbon’s Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal.  (Read more about the exhibition here.)

This week it’s opened to brightly colored pages whose corners are decorated with unicorns, serpent-like creatures with human faces, and animals on their hind legs playing musical instruments.

French medallion
They seem to reflect a mix a traditions.  The diamond and scalloped linear patterns seem almost Islamic, and the unicorn often symbolizes purity in Christian art.

The Met is showing these pages in the context of contemporaneous French medallions – the illuminator of the Cervera Bible was Joseph the Frenchman – that are made up of similar fanciful creatures.

This delight is on view only through Sunday.

 Text and photos Copyright 2011 Laura Gilbert

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Exclusive First Look at What the Met Museum Has Planned through June 2013

Matisse, "The Blue Nude," to be shown in "The Steins Collect"
The Metropolitan Museum hasn’t released information about its upcoming shows beyond June 2012, so what follows is an exclusive first look at the best shows it has planned through June 2013.

In this age of austerity at museums, the Met is still able to put on international loan exhibitions, ranging from the tightly focused “Rembrandt and Degas,” with about 20 works, to the sprawling “Byzantium and Islam” that will show some 300 items.

Rembrandt self-portrait from the Rijksmuseum, to be shown in "Rembrandt and Degas"
And a glance at the breadth of the offerings shows why the Met is the best encyclopedic museum on the continent.  On the way is its special exhibit of Egyptian work dating from as early as 6000 years ago in “The Dawn of Egyptian Art.”

It will also have an exhibit of art from the day before yesterday, with “Regarding Warhol:  Fifty Artists, Fifty Years.”

A word about the last show:  Except for its Art on the Roof series, the Met has been cautious when it comes to art of the last few decades, going mainly with solo shows of the tried-and-true who are octogenarian or nearly so -- think Jasper Johns or Richard Serra.

But with the Warhol group show, it looks like the Met will be anointing some contemporary artists – i.e., taking a risk – in addition to ensuring some good attendance figures and perhaps courting the moneyed financiers who go for Warhol big time.

The standouts:

Rembrandt and Degas, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, February 23 to May 20, 2012.  Highlights:  Two early Rembrandt self-portraits on loan from Europe.

The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde, February 28 to June 3, 2012.  About 100 works collected by expatriates Gertrude Stein and her brothers. 

Byzantium and Islam:  Age of Transition, March 14 to July 18, 2012.  From museums around the world, some 300 objects from the 7th century, showing the interactions among Christian, Islamic, and Jewish cultures, accompanied by a heavy-duty scholarly catalogue.

From Egypt, ca. 3450 B.C.
The Dawn of Egyptian Art, April 4 to August 5, 2012.  180 examples of very early Egyptian art, beginning in 4000 B.C.

Tomas Saraceno on the Roof: Cloud City, April 24 to November 4, 2012.  Interconnected room-sized modules by the young Argentine artist.

Regarding Warhol: Fifty Artists, Fifty Years, September 2012-January 2013.  Warhol and his influence, thematically arranged.  A Met rarity – a group show with contemporary art.

Bernini Models in Clay, October 2012 to January 2013.  50 models and several sculptures by the Roman Baroque master.

George Bellows (1882–1925), November 2012 to February 2013. A whopping 75 paintings, 30 drawings, and 25 lithographs by the American artist best known for his paintings of boxers.

Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity, February to May 2013.  The Met again joins the fashion-is-art crowd, with period costumes and 75 paintings from the era that saw the rise of ready-to-wear clothing, department stores, and fashion magazines.

The Civil War and American Art, May to September 2013. The 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, will include a related show of Civil War photography. 

Images: Matisse, Copyright  Succession H. Matisse/Artists Rights Society; Rembrandt pulled from the internet; Egyptian painted pottery from Metropolitan Museum website.

Text Copyright 2011 Laura Gilbert

Friday, December 2, 2011

Museum Blockbuster-Show Sponsorships Go Begging While Billionaires Throw Down Hundreds of Millions on Trendy Schlock

Painting by Antonella da Messina, to be shown in the Met's "Renaissance Portrait" exhibition
The Metropolitan Museum’s next sure thing is its “Renaissance Portrait” show, an international loan exhibition of about 160 works from some 50 institutions.  When it opened at Berlin’s Bode Museum this summer, it had enthusiastic reviews in Europe and lines around the block.

But when the show opens in New York on December 21, it won’t have a single sponsor from the private sector.  

No such support either for the famous trove of medieval ivory chessmen – seen by millions in a Harry Potter flick – that is currently on view at the Cloisters, the Met’s uptown jewel box.  The chessmen, loaned from the British Museum, were the subject of a feature article in the Wall Street Journal, and the exhibit, called “The Game of Kings,” was a lead review in the New York Times. 

Queen chess piece
The Met had sought a cool $1 million for exclusive name-brand sponsorship of “The Renaissance Portrait” and a bargain-basement $100,000 for “The Game of Kings,” amounts that are mere chump change for the kings of Wall Street who will giddily part with tens of millions for an inferior Warhol.

Support for both shows, though, is being provided entirely by foundations and philanthropies.

Sponsorships can be useful for buffing up a bad image.  The corrupt Bank of America, for example, started getting involved in cultural support big time in 2008, when it was taking the lead in driving the economy over the cliff.  “We get great public relations out of it,” Allen Blevins, director of the bank’s corporate art program, unabashedly told the Charlotte Observer in 2010.

Of course, some reputations are so noxious that even institutions hard-up for a handout will shun an affiliation.  There’s been noise recently in London about kicking polluter BP out of the sponsorship business at the Tate, and some might argue that the bailed-out banks should also be beyond the pale – for a host of reasons, not the least of which is that money from them would be the same as taxpayer support.

Portrait attributed to Andrea d'Assisi
But there are still plenty of acceptable dirty names in the financial industry – various hedge funds, investment partnerships, money management firms, among them some whose principals are notorious for spending big bucks at auction on the latest lollipop art, under the mistaken impression that they are also purchasing social cachet.

Maybe they should consider in addition getting some cash flowing to the Met and supporting an exhibition of timeless art.  That could be a friendship with benefits for art lovers outside the party circuit.

Images: Portraits from the Bode Museum website, chesspiece from the Metropolitan Museum website.

Text Copyright 2011 Laura Gilbert

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Cervera Hebrew Bible at the Met: Not What You Learned in Sunday School

Cervera Hebrew Bible (click to enlarge)
A beautiful medieval Hebrew Bible officially goes on display tomorrow at the Metropolitan Museum, and it just might get you re-thinking what you learned about Judaism’s rejection of figural imagery. 

The Bible was written and illustrated in 1299-1300 in Cervera, Spain, and is on loan until January 16 from Lisbon’s Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal.   It’s the second in a series of Hebrew manuscripts that the Met is borrowing from public institutions around the world, a way of making up for the dearth of Jewish art in its own holdings.  The pages will be turned once a week.

Signature page and grammatical compendium (click to enlarge)
Right now it’s opened to the end of the book.  On the left the entire page is given over to the signature of the illuminator, Joseph Hazarfati, or Joseph the Frenchman -- remarkable, considering that the names of most illuminators are unknown.  In Hebrew it says, “I, Joseph Hazarfati, illustrated and completed this book.”  But look closely, and you see that the letters are actually composed of fanciful animals.

Signature page, detail: Hebrew letters as fanciful animals (click to enlarge)

On the right page is a grammatical compendium, with two six-pointed stars at the top and a couple of fierce lions at the bottom. Within the two stars are a lion and a castle, the symbols of the Kingdoms of Leon and Castile in Northern Spain, where, the curators suggest, the unknown patron may have lived.  The scribe is identified as Samuel ben Abraham ibn Nathan.

Aaron, from a French church
There’s plenty to delight and surprise in this exhibit – the Bible is the centerpiece in a display of Christian Bibles and precious objects from the Met’s collection, and the whole is flanked by large limestone statues of Moses and Aaron that were once part of a New Testament scene on a church in France.  All the objects date from roughly the same period and many shed light on the artistic traditions Joseph Hazarfati drew on.

The Second Commandment, of course, has an injunction against depicting “any likeness that is in the heavens above, or on the earth below, or in the waters under the earth,” and it’s often taught that Judaism interpreted this prohibition literally -- despite visual evidence to the contrary.  In the Cervera Bible, for example, there are pages with people, cities, animals, and even narrative stories like Jonah and the whale.

Some scholars think that the presence or absence of Jewish figural imagery, at least in the Middle Ages, is less a matter of belief than of artistic tradition, and the Met exhibit seems to adopt this view.  In Southern Spain, one might expect a Hebrew Bible to be decorated with colorful patterns, reflecting the Islamic tradition there.  But in Northern Spain, artists drew on French figural traditions, and the Met has surrounded the Cervera Bible with items from France.

The labels are terrific, pointing out similarities between Joseph Hazarfati and his Christian counterparts in representing knights and fantastic animals and their common decoration of margins.    It might be argued -- though the labels don’t go this far -- that the idea that Judaism prohibits figural imagery is more recent than the Cervera Bible itself.

Top two images Copyright Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal.  Bottom images and text Copyright 2011 Laura Gilbert.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Papering the House for New York City Opera’s Season Opener?

Rufus Wainwright, in City Opera's cheesy publicity photo
Whoever thought Rufus Wainwright could bring New York City Opera back from the dead seems to have placed a bad bet.  Its first production of the season is tonight, but it's had trouble filling even a modest-sized theater for Wainwright’s “Who Are You New York?”

Last night Lincoln Center, City Opera’s home until it ignominiously pulled up stakes for a nomadic existence last spring – having been driven into the wilderness by gross financial mismanagement -- sent out an email blast offering tickets for the one-night-only performance at a whopping 50% off. 

The performance is in the Rose Theater on the Lincoln Center campus, which seats only about 1100, or less than half the capacity of the theater City Opera used to perform in.  To put this into perspective, the Rose is somewhat smaller than your average Broadway theater. 

It’s mystifying that “Who Are You New York?” is a City Opera production -- it isn’t an opera at all but rather the title of a show that will include a song cycle for four voices and a performance by Wainwright himself, who’s best known as a songwriter and singer and not as a composer. 

Maybe that’s part of City Opera’s problem – it doesn’t know who its audience is, only how to shrink it.  The cheesy photographs it’s using to promote its productions can’t be helping.

The ostensible reason for the Wainwright one-off is to celebrate the U.S. premier of his first opera, “Prima Donna,” which City Opera will be presenting in Brooklyn in February. 

What were they thinking?  New York’s influential classical music critic, the Times’ Anthony Tommasini, pretty much panned the opera’s 2009 world premier in Manchester, writing, “As a longtime admirer of his music, I wish I could report that ‘Prima Donna’ fulfilled his ambitions for writing a fresh and personal new opera.”

And that’s gentle, considering that Bloomberg’s critic wrote that he had tears of joy in his eyes at the opera’s conclusion: “the joy sprang . . . from relief that it was over."

New York is still waiting for a compelling reason to support this company, which is barely on life support.  Television station NY1 reported yesterday that City Opera turned down its musicians' offer to work for free in return for health benefits.  Apparently, the company couldn't afford even that. 

City Opera's publicity photo for Mozart's "Cosi fan tutti"
 Text Copyright 2011 Laura Gilbert

Monday, November 14, 2011

Restitution Follies: 217 Years On, Belgium Claims a Rubens Seized by Napoleon, Days After France Recaptures a Painting “Stolen” in 1818

The latest player seeking restitution of art seized in long-ago wars is Belgium.  It wants France to return a painting by Peter Paul Rubens that was part of Napoleon’s vast art plunder. 

Rubens, "The Triumph of Judas Maccabee"
The painting, “The Triumph of Judas Maccabee,” was seized in the revolutionary wars in 1794, taken to Paris, and in 1804 sent to the Museum of Fine Arts in Nantes, when Napoleon distributed spoils of war to various provincial museums.  On Wednesday, the Parliament of the Federation of Wallonia-Brussels unanimously passed a resolution calling on the Culture Minister to “undertake all useful steps” to negotiate with France for its restitution.

“The Triumph of Judas Maccabee” is half of a diptych commissioned from Rubens by the Cathedral of Tournai in the 1630s.  Napoleon also stole the other half, but it made its way back to the cathedral in 1818.  Belgium wants to reunite the two parts in their original setting.

The prime proponent of the resolution, Senator Richard Miller, stressed that Belgium is only asking for the restitution of this one painting – at least for now -- and not the thousands of artworks that were taken during the Napoleonic wars.  "It would be foolish to think we could get everything back at once," he told the Agence France Presse.  "Still, we could try to get them back one item at a time, each case based on cast-iron arguments."

The "Black Africa" Issue

Miller seems aware that Belgium’s demand on France could come back to bite it, but in  his statement to Parliament, which is reprinted on his website, he nevertheless said it was not a matter of “our Museum Terveuren running the risk of having to return all that belonged to Black Africa.”

The Museum Terveuren is the Royal Museum for Central Africa, which was started, its website explains, in the late 19th century when King “Leopold II fulfilled his dream:  he obtained a colony for Belgium.”  And obtained, apparently, untold numbers of artworks and artifacts besides.

Tournier, "Christ Carrying the Cross"
Chances of France giving up an altar-sized Rubens that is in a public museum?

Not good, if you consider that France itself had earlier in the week seized a painting by Nicolas Tournier, “Christ Carrying the Cross,” being shown by English gallery owner Mark Weiss at a Paris art fair.


It’s generally understood that Weiss at all times acted in good faith and without knowledge that he owned a painting that had vanished into thin air a couple of centuries before.  The Augustins Museum’s chief curator -- who had organized a Tournier retrospective in 2001 -- had himself not recognized it even though he had seen photographs of the work before its display in Paris.
 
“Although it sounds incredible, I saw no connection to the museum painting. It was not until much later, after Weiss purchased it, following several messages from some of my colleagues, that I understood that this was the canvas that had disappeared from the museum after 1818,” he told La Tribune de l’Art.

"Inalienable" Art

Nevertheless, France claimed ownership.  "This was the property of the French state that was deposited at the Augustins Museum in Toulouse and was stolen in 1818. It is a non-transferable work," the French Culture Ministry said.

“Works in French public collections are inalienable and imprescriptible . . . This means that an object which enters a museum cannot be taken away, in any way, forever in time,” La Tribune de l’Art explained, writing about the Tournier.

Presumably, the same principle would apply to the Rubens in the museum in Nantes.

For her part, Blandine Chavanne, director of the Nantes museum, said, “Be aware that UNESCO has made a decision in saying that all the works in museums acquired before 1970 were considered property of the museums,” the AFP reported.

The museum has regularly loaned out the Rubens, including in to the cathedral at Tournai, a policy it may want to revisit.

Images: Rubens taken from Musee des Beaux Arts, Nantes, website; Tournier pulled from the internet.

Text Copyright Laura Gilbert 2011

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Cariou v. Prince Appeal Is Looking Even More Important, as Google and Museums Submit Briefs to the Court

Richard Prince, "It's All Over"

Cariou v. Prince is shaping up as the most significant copyright case in the visual arts in some time, as Google, nine major museums, and the Andy Warhol Foundation weighed in on the case with “friend of the court,” or amicus, briefs filed this month with the Court of Appeals.  

The losers in the federal court – art star Richard Prince and mega-dealer Larry Gagosian and his gallery –  are challenging whether the judge used the correct legal standard when she ruled that Prince infringed Patrick Cariou’s photographs when he used them, without Cariou’s permission, in a series of his own paintings called “Canal Zone.”  

Cariou photo used in "It's All Over"  
The U.S. District Court judge here in New York said that in order to be “fair use” and hence not infringing, the Prince paintings must “in some way comment on, relate to the historical context of, or critically refer back to” Cariou’s photos.   

Prince’s work failed this test, the court found, in part because Prince had testified that he didn’t give a rat’s ass what Cariou’s work meant.  (Background on the case can be found here.)

On appeal, Prince and the Gagosian defendants argue that the District Court was wrong and fair use does not require the new work to comment on the original.  Google, the museums, and the Warhol Foundation all agree.

Google's Stake 

Google has a lot at stake in fair-use cases.  To cite just one reason, it wants to digitize – i.e., copy – millions of books.  A suit between Google and the Authors Guild over whether this plan of Google’s violates writers’ copyright is currently pending in the District Court in New York, which will be required to follow any decision reached by the Court of Appeals in the Prince case. 

Google, in its brief, says it couldn’t care less whether Prince’s work is “fair use or foul.” It just doesn’t want the Court of Appeals to say anything that would prejudice the copying it does in the digital realm, and it thinks any comment requirement could do just that.

The Warhol Foundation – now that’s an interesting situation.  It’s a client of the same high-powered law firm, Boies Schiller, that also represents Prince, and Boies Schiller’s high legal fees – reportedly $7 million – helped put the foundation’s controversial Authentication Board out of business.  The firm  currently represents the foundation in an attempt to get its insurer to pay those giant fees.

Warhol and Copyright

The foundation’s brief, which was not written by Boies Schiller, essentially repeats the defendants’ arguments – no surprise there, given the law firm connection -- but it also throws in the First Amendment, arguing that the District Court decision is a hindrance to the expressive rights of artists and the public.

Andy Warhol, "16 Jackies"
What makes this brief especially rich is that Andy Warhol himself successfully negotiated copyright law without any apparent detriment to his expression.  Early on he faced copyright suits over some of his most famous images, including his Flowers and his Jackie Kennedy.  Warhol settled these suits and later changed his practice to ask permission from copyright owners.  His Mickey Mouse even bears a shared copyright of both the Warhol Foundation and Disney.

Nine museums – including the Met, MoMA, and the Art Institute of Chicago, powerhouses of merchandising and guardians of copyright – along with the Association of Art Museum Directors, submitted a joint brief concentrating on the court’s finding the Gagosian defendants liable as infringers, because, among other reasons, they knew that Prince used the work of other artists but they didn’t investigate the legality of the “Canal Zone” series.

“If broadly applied, these liability standards could threaten non-profit art museums that hold or display works of Appropriation Art,” the brief argues. That “would place a severe burden on art museums and could deter them from displaying or acquiring an important body of art.”

Dan Brooks, Cariou’s attorney, said the museums’ argument is “a parade of horribles that don’t really apply to them.”  As not-for-profits, museums are in a different category from commercial galleries.  “Their display of paintings is going to be found to be fair use,” he said.

Symbiotic Relationship

When asked why, if  their argument  was so weak, he thought the museums had filed a brief in support of the defendants, Brooks said they had “a close connection with the gallery and some of its artists.”  He pointed in particular to an email -- part of the evidence in the case -- in which a Gagosian staffer gives an instruction about the dinner after the opening of “Canal Zone”:

“Larry (Gagosian) would like the opening and dinner to be ‘kick ass’ so please invite celebrities/moma/gugg/whitney curators and other clients who will BUY his work.”

MoMA, the Guggenheim, and the Whitney all signed on to the brief.

Brooks described the relationship between the museums and the gallery as “symbiotic.”

Indeed, Gagosian is a power wheeler-dealer who has a hand in major museum acquisitions, and  the museums and the gallery lend each other artworks for special exhibits.  Last year’s Picasso and Marie-Therese show at Gagosian’s New York gallery, for example, had loans from MoMA, the Met, and the Guggenheim. 

In their own brief, the defendants argue that if the Court of Appeals finds that fair use requires the new work to comment on the original, Prince’s works do so.  A reasonable observer, they contend, can see that the “Canal Zone” paintings, with their drugged-up guitars players, are a “caricature” of Cariou’s placid portraits, even if Prince did not testify to that effect.

Brooks said this is “a new legal argument” about the meaning of Prince’s work.  The defendants had said “this isn’t parody” in the District Court, and now they say it is – “it’s a post hoc rationalization,” he said.  

Images: Prince and Cariou artworks taken from court documents.  Cariou's photograph Copyright Patrick Cariou.  Andy Warhol, "16 Jackies," taken from Walker Art Center website, Copyright 1999 Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts/ARS.

Text Copyright 2011 Laura Gilbert

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Larry Gagosian Speaks – About Maguire and DiCaprio and What It Takes to Visit Richard Prince’s Studio

It’s notoriously difficult to score an interview with close-mouthed mega-art dealer Larry Gagosian -- so difficult that when the Wall Street Journal published an article about him last April, the fact that he had actually spoken with the reporter was almost bigger news than what he said.

Larry Gagosian
But he was compelled to answer questions under oath in Cariou v. Prince, the closely watched case that last March found him, his gallery, and artist Richard Prince liable for infringing photographer Patrick Carriou’s copyright.  That case is now on appeal, and this report is based in part on documents filed with the court on October 26, 2011.

Gagosian’s deposition, taken in October 2009, and documents that are part of the evidence have a couple of eyebrow-raising tales.  He testified, for example, that Tobey Maguire and Maguire’s best buddy Leonardo DiCaprio were interested in Prince’s “Canal Zone” paintings – the series that would later be found infringing – and “my recollection is they were going to buy one jointly.” 

“Is that unusual?” Cariou’s lawyer asked him. 

“Extremely,” Gagosian replied. 

The joint purchase was never consummated.

Gagosian also revealed that he only rarely has a written contract with his artists -- he doesn’t have one with Prince -- and that employees who close a sale get a commission that’s taken out of the gallery’s percentage of the buyer’s payment.

"Studio Visits Are a Major Seduction"

 The real meat, though, is the inside look at the callous, sometimes contemptuous attitude of Gagosian and his staff toward the rich, famous, and beautiful who have made him so successful. 

Several weeks before “Canal Zone” was due to open, one of his salesmen told Gagosian that he was meeting with a client who had already bought two paintings by Prince.  (The “Canal Zone” works sold for as much as $2.43 million.)

“I'm trying to sell him more Prince . . .,” the email said. “Is there any way to visit Richard's studio in Rensselaerville the week of November 10? Studio visits are a major seduction for this guy.”

“Only if he buys another painting,” was Gagosian’s response.

There was a flurry of emails about the guest list for a dinner the night “Canal Zone” opened, including this emphatic instruction from one gallery staffer to 16 others:  “Larry would like the opening and dinner to be ‘kick ass’ so please invite celebrities/moma/gugg/whitney curators and other clients who will BUY his work.”

Models "Look Good at a Dinner Table"

Gagosian himself had the final say over who was invited, and his personal assistant at a couple of points requested further information.   “Before Larry approves this list he would like to know if you have sold any art to these people.  If so, he would like to see proof,” reads one email. 

The assistant later asked who a couple of invitees were, and received this reassuring answer:  “Their parents are the wealthiest people in Holland, worth 5 billion.”  “ok,” she emailed back.

Cariou’s attorney asked Gagosian why there were so many fashion models – the guest list included the likes of Elle Macpherson, Kate Moss, Christy Turlingon, and Lauren Hutton. 

“They look good at a dinner table,” said Gagosian.

Q. And do you also want to include celebrities to generate some buzz for the show?

A. Yeah –

Memory Lapse

Memory lapses are not uncommon at a deposition, but they are sometimes -- although one can't say that's necessarily the case here  -- a cover for avoiding an answer that could harm one’s case or reputation.

Gagosian couldn’t remember if he had given Prince – who at the had been showing with Gagosian for only a few years -- any payment to join his gallery. “I think not,” he testified.  “But my memory’s not perfect.”  Of course, Gagosian does pay Prince 60% of the sale price of his work, whereas the usual rate, at least at other galleries, is 40-50%.

Gagosian could not remember, either, whether he had ever been a party to a lawsuit, even though, among other cases he's been involved in, a few years previous he’d settled a highly publicized suit in which the IRS alleged that he and a couple of associates had set up a shell company to avoid taxes. The IRS sought $26 million in unpaid taxes and penalties.  Gagosian and co-defendant Peter Brant – art collector and Gagosian client -- made the case go away by paying a reported $9.1 million.

“Have you ever been a party to a lawsuit before?” Cariou’s attorney asked.

A. I don't know.

Q. Okay. Have you ever been a plaintiff in a lawsuit?

A. I don't think so.

Q. Have you ever been a defendant in a lawsuit?

A. Not that I recall.

With some prodding, Gagosian remembered something, saying, “You know, I don't know if they were lawsuits actually. One was -- I'm just trying to remember if they were lawsuits or why I was -- I don't recall accurately.”

Maybe if you sell $1 billion of art a year – an estimate the Wall Street Journal quoted in April – you can afford to be oblivious to legal claims against you.  Gagosian said, at any rate, that he’d seen neither the complaint nor the answer in Cariou v. Prince.

Image pulled from the internet.
Text Copyright 2011 Laura Gilbert

Monday, October 31, 2011

Richard Prince Testifies He Lied to the Press & He Bought the Rights to Use a Notorious Photograph of Brooke Shields

Richard Prince
A couple of chinks in Richard Prince’s versions of truth are emerging from documents filed with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals on October 26, in addition to his having been found liable last March for infringing photographer Patrick Cariou’s copyright.  

If Prince’s sworn statements can be believed, he sometimes lied to the press, and the outlaw persona he’s peddling as an artist who just takes whatever image he wants can’t always be trusted. 

In his October 2009 deposition in the case of  Cariou v. Prince, which is currently on appeal, Prince was asked about various statements he had made to the press.  Some of those statements, he testified, weren’t true, although he preferred to describe his lying as being “creative.”  

"I Made That Up"
Here’s an example.  The questioner is Cariou’s attorney, Dan Brooks.  Hayes is Prince’s attorney, Steven Hayes.  Bart is Hollis Gonerka Bart, the attorney for co-infringers Larry Gagosian and the Gagosian Gallery.

Q.  Do you have your own airplane?

A.  No.

Q.  You’re taking flying lessons though, right?

A.  No, I made that up.

Q.  Okay.  All right, you said –

A.  I make – I say a lot of things –

Q.  That aren’t true?

A.  That aren’t – well, no.  It’s more about – it depends upon the interviewer.  I try to be creative, let’s put it that way.

Q.  Okay.  So when you said you were taking flying lessons in your own airplane, that was not true?

A.  I was being creative.

Q.  Which means it wasn’t true?

Mr. Hayes:  Objection to the form of the question.  It’s been asked and answered.

A.  I would leave that up to the audience.  I mean I don’t want to tell – I don’t want to say whether or not – I might – I might be flying, taking flying lessons.  I don’t see the relevance of that.

Q.  That’s fine.  But you understand you’re under oath right now?

A.  Oh.

Q.  Do you understand that?

A.  Yes.

. . .

Ms. Bart:  He certainly was sworn in at the beginning to tell the truth –

Mr. Brooks:  I understand.

Ms. Bart:  -- and he agreed to do that.

Mr. Brooks:  Hopefully that’s what we’ll get.

Prince was also asked about the accuracy of a December 2007 report by Randy Kennedy in the New York Times that “Mr. Prince has spoken of receiving threats, some legal and some more physical, from his unsuspecting lenders.” 

Q.  Now, is it true that you starting receiving legal threats at some point?

A.  No, that’s probably something that I just made up.

Paying the Price

Prince has cultivated a reputation as an outlaw who takes whatever image he wants without asking anyone’s permission or paying any fees to the copyright owner.  It turns out that reputation is not wholly accurate, at least according to his deposition testimony.

Prince's "Spiritual America"
One of his most notorious works – it was pulled from a 2009 exhibition at the Tate because it could possibly violate obscenity laws -- is his photograph of Garry Gross’s photo of a 10-year-old naked Brooke Shields in a steamy bathtub, made up like a woman in her sexual prime.  It has been reported that he paid Gross a $2000 out-of-court settlement.  

Prince, though, testified that he bought the rights to the image.  Is what he termed a “concession” in fact the price he was willing to pay to show the work at the Whitney Museum here in New York?

Here’s the testimony:

Q.  Did Garry Gross ever threaten to sue you?

A.  No, he never did.

Q.  Did you ever reach an out-of-court settlement with Garry Gross?

A.  No.

Q.  You’re positive? 

A.  I’m positive.

As far as I can tell, I’m positive.  I actually – in 1992 I guess that’s what they’re talking about, your last quote here (from the Times article) – I mean Mr. Kennedy is talking about a 1992 discussion at the Whitney, and I believe at that time I bought the rights to the image for $2000.

Q.  From Gary Gross?

A. Yes.

Q.  Because he threatened to sue you?

A.  No.  I was told by the Whitney that I – in order to exhibit that image I made a concession, or they advised me that it would probably be best that – and I believe I sort of reached out to him at the time.

Because up until then, that image that I rephotographed from that pamphlet that he had produced in 1983, I made one copy, an 8 x 10, and I gave it away.  And it wasn’t until 1992 that it came back into the limelight, and I think my attitude changed a bit and I was sort of willing to become more part of the process I suppose.

Prince produced the photograph in an edition of 10 with two artist proofs.  One of the ten was sold at auction in 2003 for $372,500.

Images pulled from the internet. 

Text Copyright Laura Gilbert 2011

Friday, October 28, 2011

In Richard Prince Copyright Case, Who Bought the Infringing Paintings and How Much Did They Pay? EXCLUSIVE

Richard Prince, "Specially Round Midnight," purchased by Steven A. Cohen for $2.43 million
In this reporter’s ongoing investigation into Cariou v. Prince -- the court case that found appropriation artist Richard Prince, Larry Gagosian, and the Gagosian Gallery had all infringed photographer Patrick Cariou’s copyright – names and dollar amounts are becoming available.   

The U.S. District Court – whose decision is being appealed, of course – has enjoined the buyers from displaying the works in public, and that order stands.

Copyright experts and even Prince’s own attorney think that injunction makes it all but impossible for these collectors to sell the paintings.  Their current value is thus pretty close to zero.

According to documents filed in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals on October 26, leading the list of purchasers of what the court termed “unlawful” paintings is none other than Steven A. Cohen, one of the biggest collectors of contemporary art and head of controversial hedge fund SAC Capital Advisors.

Steven A. Cohen
SAC, which has for years been publicly remored to have engaged in unlawful activity of its own, has provided investors with remarkably consistent and high above-market returns, even in down markets.  The Feds suspect hanky-panky, and recent news reports in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere indicate that an investigation is ongoing.

For Prince’s work, Cohen apparently paid the most of any buyer, purchasing “Specially Round Midnight” for $2.43 million.  Easy come, easy go?

Other buyers include Michael and Lise Evans, who bought “Mr. Jones” for $2 million, art dealer Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, collector Adam Lindemann, and shipping magnate Philip Niarchos.

What follows is a list of works declared unlawful and sold through February 2009 and the prices paid:

“Specially Round Midnight,” $2.43 million

“Mr. Jones,” $2 million

“Escape Goat,” $2 million

“Canal Zone,” $1.2 million

“The Other Side of the Island,” $1.2 million

“Naked Confessions,” $450,000

“Untitled (Rasta)," $400,000

One buyer, whom I have not yet been able to identify, wanted to buy three paintings – “Back to the Garden,” “Cookie Crumbles,” and an untitled work.  But he had cash flow problems, so he traded a Richard Serra sculpture for them.  Gagosian Gallery, which is Prince’s dealer, got the sculpture, the buyer got the paintings, and Prince got money.

In addition, Prince traded four of his “Canal Zone” paintings for a work owned by Gagosian, “Dying and Dead Veteran” by Larry Rivers, estimated to be worth between $3 million and $4 million.

Stay tuned, as I’ll be breaking a lot more news over the next week.

Two images from Patrick Cariou's "Yes, Rasta" that Prince used in creating "Specially Round Midnight" (top)
Image of Cohen pulled from the internet.  "Yes, Rasta" images Copyright Patrick Cariou.
Text Copyright 2011 Laura Gilbert

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

In Case that Triggered Russian Embargo on Loans to U.S. Museums, Chabad Now Says It Wants to Negotiate; Russian Ship Refuses to Land in San Francisco, Citing Dispute

This story of the latest developments in Chabad v. Russian Federation was up briefly and then purchased exclusively by the New York Observer (it was reported and written by me).  Read it here.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Egypt's Newest Antiquities Chief Submits Resignation, Saying He Will Not "Be Regarded As A Stooge"

After little more than a month in office, Mohamed Abdel Fatah submitted his resignation on Tuesday as Egypt’s antiquities chief – the formal title is Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities -- according to various reports from the Middle East.   

Abdel Fatah, apparently the latest casualty in the scandal-ridden country which is in the midst of a revolution, cited as one reason the intensification of protests in Egypt – which has put “all archaeological work on hold.”

Profiteering?

He made the statement to the Egyptian newspaper Ahram, which published it approximately Friday, New York time.  He said he was also outraged by his lack of authority to make any decisions without the approval of current Prime Minister Essam Sharaf.

The recent protests in Egypt – which saw the breaching of the concrete wall around the Israeli Embassy -- have included protests in front of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (the SCA).

Mohamed Abdel Fatah
Egyptian demonstrators demanding salary raises and the appointment of new graduate archaeologists have blocked entrance to the SCA headquarters and caused the closure of several buildings. 

People behind the protests are “profiteering from accelerating such protests to create chaos that stops archaeological work from proceeding properly,” Abdel Fatah claimed to Ahram.

At one point the Council reportedly called the military police to remove the demonstrators.

“Conditions have become chaotic, and I am afraid to say that the SCA is now completely paralyzed,” the Agence France Presse quoted Abdel Fatah as saying.

Stooge

“The load on me was unbearable,” he told the official Middle East News Agency.  “I refuse to be regarded as a stooge. . . . I felt powerless and overwhelmed especially that I had been deprived of much of my authority.”  As an example, he said he could not authorize the payment of $50 as compensation to an archaeologist whose leg had been amputated.

The SCA oversees the country’s ancient monuments and all archaeological work and plays a key role in Egypt’s tourist industry, which has declined dramatically since last February’s toppling of  Hosni Mubarak and the continuing, often violent turmoil in Egypt.

Abdel Fatah was appointed in August to replace the famed wildman-hustler Zawi Hawass, who resigned soon after the Mubarak government fell amid allegations that he was too close to the Mubaraks.  Hawass was later reappointed, and then ousted in July.  

Zawi Hawass
Hawass was known for stifling discourse within Egypt while quite successfully  promoting himself – with appearances on the Discovery cable-TV channel, for example, and taking credit for sensational and sometimes dubious discoveries, like unearthing the very chariot from which King Tut had taken a fatal tumble.

He was also remarkably persuasive in convincing institutions in other countries, including the Metropolitan Museum, to return antiquities to Egypt, causing some to question whether the Met had lost its marbles in addition to its antiquities. 

Hawass is currently facing an official Egyptian investigation on corruption charges, as are so many others in the former dictatorship. 

Will Abdel Fatah reappear as antiquities chief the way Hawass did?  On Friday Ahram reported that the cabinet had refused Abdel Fatah’s resignation and had scheduled a meeting with him today.

Photo of protest from Egyptian Gazette.  Other photos pulled from the internet.
Text copyright 2011 Laura Gilbert

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Earliest Known Images of Jesus: Exclusive Dura-Europos Exhibit Installation Photos

The earliest known images of Jesus, from the year 240, are going on view for the first time in New York on Friday.  They're in an exhibition at the relatively obscure NYU Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, which continually puts on small shows that turn accepted ideas of art and culture upside-down.

The exhibition is called "Edge of Empires: Pagans, Jews, and Christians at Roman Dura-Europos."  It presents 77 objects from an excavation in Syria that rewrote history.

You can read about it exclusively in today's New York Observer.

A sense of the images' scale can be seen in the photograph to the left, which shows them with exhibitions director Dr. Jennifer Chi.

At the top of this post is a photo of two of the wall paintings from the baptistery at Dura, showing the Healing of the Paralytic on the left and Jesus and Peter Walking on Water on the right.  The baptistery wall paintings are "the earliest dated Christian art in existence," said co-curator Dr. Peter De Staebler.

I took the photographs as the show was being installed.

Here's a close-up of the Healing of the Paralytic:



The excavations at Dura also revealed a Jewish figural tradition that had been previously unknown, and thought to be nonexistent, until archaeologists rediscovered a large synagogue whose walls were covered with Bible scenes.  The wall paintings are in Damascus, but the Institute is showing together for the first time ten ceiling tiles from the synagogue that are elaborately decorated with faces, astrological signs, fruit, and pine cones.

Here's a photograph of Capricorn from the synagogue, dated ca. 245.



Dura was a garrison town, and "Edge of Empires" displays some military artifacts.  This detail is of a lion painted on a Roman shield that greets visitors as they enter the second gallery:


"Edge of Empires:  Pagans, Jews, and Christians at Roman Dura-Europas," NYU Institute for the Study of the Ancient World," 15 East 84th Street, September 23, 2011 to January 8, 2012.  Admission is free.

Text and images Copyright 2011 Laura Gilbert.