Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Something to spray

Concern has been expressed at the ease with which someone was able to spray red paint over Poussin’s The Adoration of the Golden Calf in the National Gallery last week, and the event has prompted calls for security checks, protective glass and entrance fees to our great art collections. The latter argument is particularly odd, as it implies that someone with an insatiable urge to damage great art would be deterred if it cost a fiver or so to exercise his or her critical faculties.

In fact, responses to the Poussin attack became rather more measured once rumours arose that it wasn’t motivated by sheer philistinism, but by some quasi-mystical stack of conspiracy theories that wouldn’t seem out of place in a Dan Brown schlockbuster. It wasn’t just dumb vandalism, you see: it was, in a strange way, a work of art. The fact that the damage caused (minimal, as it turned out, thanks to the prompt action of the National’s resident troubleshooters) was just the same as if it had been some bored drunkard wielding the can is irrelevant, apparently.

The notion that it might be some kind of religious protest is certainly feasible; to be honest, I can’t think of an instance where an attack on a major work of art has turned out to have been conducted in the same spirit that possesses a disaffected, Adidas-clad 12-year-old inking a spunking cock and balls on the wall of an underpass. Such assaults usually turn out to be prompted either by genuine madness, or the desire to make some sort of political point (the suffragette who slashed the Rokeby Venus; the attack on Marcus Harvey’s Myra Hindley portrait). And then of course there are defacements sanctioned by the art world itself, such as the Chapman brothers’ hijacking of Goya etchings; or Duchamp’s doodle on the Mona Lisa. The danger invariably comes from someone pissing within the tent. The outsiders don’t care enough about Poussin’s work even to ruin it.

If there were any chance that some priceless work in the National’s collection were to fall victim to the nihilistic whims of a trackie-bottomed ned, it wouldn’t be entrance fees that dissuaded him; it would be the fact that it was in the National.


Vicus Scurra said...

I broke in to the National Opera House and added an aria to Die Entführung aus dem Serail.

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Dave said...

I sometimes feel the comments left on my blog are tantamount to the defacing of a work of art.

Vicus Scurra said...

I like Montanna's comment. It is very incisive, and goes straight to the heart of this complex subject.

Tim Footman said...

You know, Vicus, I think you're right. Although I still maintain that the best kind of abdominal exercise machine is a Breville sandwich maker.

And Dave, you're entirely right. It would be far more respectful to ignore you entirely.