The Best Art You’ve Never Seen — it’s quite a title. Imagine an exhibition of art works long hidden in private collections or remote museums.
The Best Art You’ve Never Seen isn’t an exhibition, though; it’s a book, by one Julian Spalding, a former museum director in Britain. It was published late last year, but I just came across it recently (it hasn’t had much recognition here, at least), and I was intrigued. The subtitle is 101 Hidden Treasures from Around the World. Fittingly, the publisher is Rough Guides, because I tend to use book like this to guide my travel.
Spalding divides his book into ten chapters, not geographically however, but rather by the reason for the hiding: “by chance,” “by choice,” “by place,” “by hate,” “by convention,” “by collecting,” and so on.
So let’s look at what is hidden “by time,” by which he means objects that time is destroying:
- totem poles of Sgang Gwaay Llanagaay on Anthony Island, in Canada — which the descendants of the Haida people who made them have decreed should disappear into the forests from which they, and this village, came
- The Isle of California, an enamel mural by Terry Schoonhoven and Victor Henderson in Los Angeles, which shows LA after the Great Quake which is to come
- The Fight for the Standard a work on paper by Rubens, after Leonardo, in the Louvre
- Qin Shi Huang’s Tomb in Xi’an, China, which may have been raided a long time ago (but may not have)
Not a bad list.
One may quarrel with Spalding’s classifications (and I do) — are Redoute’s floral watercolors really “hidden by art” because they’re mostly owned by reference collections of botanical gardens? And likewise Audubon’s paintings because they’re not on display often enough? Is Tilman Riemanschneider’s Marienatler really “hidden by hate”?
But on the whole, I love books like this because they are enlightening, and fun. And, as I mentioned, also great for travel-planning, just like the World Monuments Fund endangered sites list and Thomas Hoving’s ”Greatest Works of Art of Western Civilization.” Try it.