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Leonardo Exhibit News: “Gallery Rage” And A Found Painting

The art world’s show of the fall season promises to be in London, at the National Gallery: Leonardo da Vinci, The Painter at the Court of Milan. (Extra points from me for choosing, as its poster picture, one of my all-time favorite paintings, Lady With an Ermine.)

Lady-Ermine.jpgBut while the exhibit — seven or eight paintings, plus about 50 drawings — doesn’t even open until November 9, it is already causing problems. Yesterday, things got worse.

The NG knows that Leonardo will be popular, so popular that tickets — costing £16.00 (or about $25) at full price — went on sale on May 10, and along with that the National Gallery took the extraordinary step of reducing the number of slots available. As The Independent reported at the time, some people who viewed the Tate Modern’s Gauguin: Maker of Myth (which closed in January) were really angry because they could barely see the pictures amidst the crowds. Trying to avoid what people called “gallery rage,” the National Gallery is rationing the number of timed tickets: Rules allow 230 entrances per half-hour, but it will sell only 180 per half-hour.

As Luke Syson, the curator, explained it, “Essentially, we felt very strongly that the fewer people who will see the exhibition will have a better experience. It’s about having time to be contemplative. It will be crowded, but it won’t be overcrowded. We felt that although there was a sacrifice involved, these pictures are unlikely to be seen together again.”

Admirable goal but, to me, only a partial solution. It’s great to limit the number of people in the exhibit, but then we need to extend hours. For this show, the NG is doing some of that — the exhibit is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., daily, till 7 p.m. on Sundays, and till 10 p,m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Plus, if I have counted correctly, there are 10 other days when closing time will be 10 p.m.

Normal hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, and until 9 p.m. on Fridays.

But this show is a once-in-a-lifetime occasion. I’d like to see it open earlier and later, as demand demands — most tickets, afterall, will be sold in advance. Some exhibits have had round-the-clock access, at least for the last days. Maybe that will still happen.

Another accommodation, btw: the opening will be broadcast live.

Why did it get worse yesterday? ARTNews broke a story that has been percolating among some reporters (including myself) about a “found” Leonardo — a picture of Christ once owned by Charles I. This is the painting that caused a brief stir some months ago, when the Washington Post said that it was at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (which was true).

This work will be in the National Gallery exhibition, I am told, and that announcement will come this summer — causing more clamor to get in among the public.

I’m posting the link to the ARTNews article, although I believe that it is neither complete nor 100% accurate, based on my own incomplete reporting. The Illustration, I’m told, is also out of date — the work, has been conserved (again), and some of the previous damage caused by restoration and overpainting has been reversed.




  1. Elizabeth Renant says:

    Perhaps the Brooklym Museum of Art should take note. Perhaps if the BMA showed more work from its own wonderful (real) art collection, instead of exhibitions themed around “Star Wars”, hip-hop, and graffiti, it too would have people fighting for tickets, and it wouldn’t have had to cut back on evening hours or exhibitions.
    Oh, I forgot. Arnold Lehman is more interested in the BMA being a community “park” than an art museum.

  2. Michael M Thomas says:

    Re the preceding comment, whose relevance to the subject at hand is dubious. One of the great things about the ‘Net is that it gives people with nothing to say a place to say it. Often at length, which, after a brief Google tour, I can confirm to be Ms. Renant’s style. Apparently she’s from Santa Fe, which explains a great deal.
    Anyway, here’s the fact of the matter. Leonardo is one of the only artists over whom people fight for tickets. The BM doesn’t have a Leonardo. The Met borrows one occasionally and has a few nice drawings.When “Mona Lisa” visited the Met in the ’50s the line stretched up Fifth Avenue. Go to the Louvre and it’s all Leonardo all the time. You work with what you have: the art in your building, your boxoffice demographic. The Louvre has Herself. Your comments about Arnold Lehman are merely stupid.

  3. Elizabeth Renant says:

    Replying to the deliberately personally rude Mr. Thomas – a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. In point of fact, I live in Santa Fe NOW but in fact am a native New Yorker, born in the Bronx and having spent nearly my entire adult life on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
    And also a former frequent visitor to the BMA which has a fantastic art collection of its own, Leonardo or no Leonard. Personally, I saw people fight for tickets to the Van Gogh show at the Met amont others, so your assumption that Leonardo is about the only artist that people will fight for tickets for is absurd.
    The BMA is well-known in past years under Lehman’s guidance to have made mighty efforts in the name of “populism” – as articles in, among other places, the NY TIMES indicate, all they’ve managed to do is lose visitors and alienate their base.
    It’s not working.
    And I don’t know where you’re from, but apparently wherever it was, they don’t teach civility there: address the issue. Attacking people personally because of their geographic location, about which you also know little to nothing (in case you didn’t find it on the Internet, Santa Fe is the nation’s third largest art market), is puerile and sulky.
    I stand by my point: the BMA’s efforts to turn itself into some sort of populist paradise while refusing to mount exhibitions of truly great art (you might notice if you read carefully that I never said they should mount a Leonardo exhibition), rather than pandering to the lowest common denominators of our dumbed down culture, they might be in better financial shape.
    Good day to you.

  4. OK, that’s enough. Perhaps I should not have published the first comment, based on its stretched relevancy, but I did and then I felt compelled to allow a response. Rather than devolve to name-calling — which is not allowed — I am ending it here, and if additional responses are required as a matter of fairness, I will delete all comments instead.

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