Tuesday 23 June 2020

Bootleggers and baptists - art restoration edition

Suppose that after some home mechanic botched a restoration of a classic one-of-a-kind Ferrari, an association of panelbeaters demanded regulation making sure that only Registered and Authorised Panelbeaters were allowed to do any bodywork on classic cars.

It'd be pretty obvious rent-seeking, right?

Conservation experts in Spain have called for a tightening of the laws covering restoration work after a copy of a famous painting by the baroque artist Bartolomé Esteban Murillo became the latest in a long line of artworks to suffer a damaging and disfiguring repair.

A private art collector in Valencia was reportedly charged €1,200 by a furniture restorer to have the picture of the Immaculate Conception cleaned. However, the job did not go as planned and the face of the Virgin Mary was left unrecognisable despite two attempts to restore it to its original state.

The case has inevitably resulted in comparisons with the infamous “Monkey Christ” incident eight years ago, when a devout parishioner’s attempt to restore a painting of the scourged Christ on the wall of a church on the outskirts of the north-eastern Spanish town of Borja made headlines around the world.
An art prof who once headed the relevant professional guild provided the baptist case:
Carrera, a former president of Spain’s Professional Association of Restorers and Conservators (Acre), said the law currently allowed people to engage in restoration projects even if they lacked the necessary skills. “Can you imagine just anyone being allowed to operate on other people? Or someone being allowed to sell medicine without a pharmacist’s licence? Or someone who’s not an architect being allowed to put up a building?”
Would you allow just anyone to tinker with a classic car in the garage?

I see no more public interest in protecting individual works in private hands than there is in protecting classic cars, or older houses. If there is some compelling public interest, the government can buy the things and make them museum pieces, or pay the owners for an easement that comes with conditions around public display and care. Otherwise, it's nobody else's business. And the art-restorers are here acting as rent-seekers. 

HT: A friend who comments "I personally have benefited more from the Monkey Christ restoration than every other work of religious art in Spain."

I think that friend may be right in total too. The modal piece of religious art in Spain of similar vintage is practically unviewed, relative to Monkey Christ. Pop quiz: can you even now, without looking back up, even remember the name of the artist in this case, or of the artist who painted what became Monkey Christ? The Guardian piece linked suggests that more people now go to see Monkey Christ than did before too. Be honest. You wouldn't be able to pick the original version of Monkey Christ out of a lineup of a dozen similar pieces. Sure, a few art experts might, but neither you nor I would. But it would be hard not to know this one, and its backstory. 

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