POST BY PADDY JOHNSON
Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917), Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen, conceived around 1878-1881, bronze cast in 1920's and after from a mixed media sculpture. Private Collection, Acquavella Galleries, New York.
Is Edmonton Alberta so out of touch with contemporary art-making practices that their museum has to engage in authenticity debates that never should see the light of day? This seems to be the case, as according to Vue Weekly, the Art Gallery of Alberta’s inaugural Edgar Degas show has attracted controversy over a few sculptures the artist didn’t cast himself. A little-known Florida blogger and watercolorist named Gary Arseneau takes issue with the museum’s claims that the work is authentic, because (amongst other rationale) the bronze figures were created posthumously from casts of wax sculptures found in the artist’s studio. “The dead don’t sculpt,” says Arseneau. According to an Art Fag City tipster, there is now a citywide debate over the show.
That’s a shame, because even a small amount of research would answer these so-called questions of authenticity city residents now discuss. For example, countless Renaissance etchings have been reprinted and exhibited in museums over the years; nobody makes a stink about their authorship (though their lower market value reflects that less of the artist’s hand is involved in the printing). The same is true of photography. Arseneau also claims Degas never worked in wax, a point refuted by the estate’s approval of the bronze reproductions. They, more than anyone, would know whether the sculptures were originally authored by the artist.
Robert Smithson’s Floating Island to Travel Around Manhattan Island, 1970/2005 Produced by Minetta Brook in collaboration with the Whitney Museum of American Art On view September 17-25, 2005
But let’s use a more recent example with a few more variables. Robert Smithson’s Floating Island was conceived in 1970 in only a small sketch [pictured above], but it was many years after his death with the approval of his estate that the project was executed. In this case, Minetta Brook in conjunction with The Whitney Museum of Art brought this project to life. I read countless articles on the subject of Smithson’s Floating Island during the time the project was launched in 2005. No debate regarding the issue of authorship occurred.
All this is to say that while I am interested in visiting The Art Gallery of Alberta — they unveiled their Frank Gehry-like new building by Randall Stout and it looks good — I’m less than thrilled about the current debate. It’s a complete distraction from the innovation that’s actually taking place within the museum.
UPDATE: a more detailed account of Arseneau’s arguments against the bronzes is here.