Transparency and the Art World

With James Otter Grundvig’s book, Breaking Van Gogh: Saint-Remy, Forgery, and the $95 Million Fake at the Met (New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2016), we have another study of art forgery. Whether you buy into Grundvig’s assessment is one thing, but he certainly makes a case for why there are now so many books and articles about this subject. Towards the end of the book, the author states that the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s efforts to avoid dealing with the questions about Van Gogh’s Wheat Field with Cypresses are weakened by the increased availability of the public, journalists, scholars, and other researchers to get information about a particular art object: “Thanks to big data, cloud analytics, and other technologies, we live, work, and operate in an open-source, shared-economy, transparent society of the twenty-first century. The new generation of millennials, who continue to enter the work force, have a different view on society, opacity, and deception” (p. 224). A little later Grundvig states, “in the Digital Age, someone, some organization, or a group of art lovers, art historians, art researchers, or an investigative journalist like myself can shame those museums that have been and continue to be unwilling to cooperative, unwilling to be transparent, and unwilling to serve the public as they claim to do. Perhaps interested parties could join together and apply some shame and more pressure en masse by singling out those museums that claim to seek the truth but in reality sweep it into a dark corner of their storage vault” (p. 230). These comments are made in response to Grundvig’s difficulties in obtaining access to the Met’s reports and records related to this particular painting. The book provides something of a reminder not just to museum staff but also to archivists, librarians, and others (daresay, politicians as well) who operate in the public sphere.

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