How much paint could be had for twenty million dollars? Ounces, if it were supplied by J.M.W. Turner! This dramatic tale unravels a ragged two-hundred year old canvas to discover something more precious than a golden tapestry. Yes, a huge foreboding painting by an unknown artist is picked up for very little at an obscure auction sale in western Canada. By the end of the story it is transformed into a historic treasure by Britain’s most venerated artist—J.M.W. Turner. Art World’s Dirty Little Secret deciphers this stimulating true-life mystery and unveils several new age techniques for art identification along the way.
The practice of collecting fine art should be one of simple bliss, but issues bigger than aesthetic ones come to dominate all efforts. Experience proves that political interests can become obstructive when dealing with top-tier artworks. While investigating for the book (five years), two seasoned collectors are confounded by mysteries as diverse as art-investment, cultural identity, and national security. With the art market as fragile as it is and with perceived fortunes at risk, Robert and Graham find their pains and gains routed mercilessly by subtle art world traditions. Obscure groups make every effort to turn the collecting game into one of high stakes—a world where all but the elite are excluded.
Using the painting central to the story, Shipwreck, the Rescue, they expose the struggle of the British art establishment to maintain control of the elite art world. Core to this control are Christie’s and Sotheby’s. Illustrated also is the way in which naïve collectors and art connoisseurs have been marginalized by the ever-strengthening public and private art museums. Details of an oddly funny and hapless sting by Interpol and the RCMP highlight the shocking vulnerability of private collectors.
During the process of rediscovering the long-lost and highly important painting, the authors borrow from a broad range of old and recent literature to firm up their theses. The final and most critical element is introduced during a weeklong face-off with Christie’s senior consultant, Martin Butlin. Apparently, a goodly amount of art world activity involves deal-making within cliques. In Butlin’s own words: “We’re always doing little deals… one’s got a monopoly; it’s like incest in a way.”
The defining evidence in support of the painting’s authenticity is provided by leading edge science and forensic proof. Two experts: Marilyn Laver, the clear minded scientist; and Peter Paul Biró, the jolly fingerprint sleuth become integral parts of the ballyhoo. Amidst technical jargon, spirited blather, and sometimes humorous anecdote the book proves revolutionary. It gives pause over vital issues pertaining to art collecting, art history and recorded history in general. RMS
Comments about this project
At long last and after some four years searching (discontinuous though) I found someone from abroad belonging to the world of art to whom I can speak frankly and have a quick and also frank answer in return. Dr Claudino Rodríguez-Barrueco: research professor, Spain
This appears to be a fascinating project (and one that interests me personally, having spent a short and unhappy spell at Sotheby's myself...) Beatrice Rehl, Senior Editor, Arts & Classics, Cambridge University Press
Best wishes to you and Graham, and congratulations on an excellent project. Marilyn Laver P.Eng., senior conservation scientist
...a lot to offer -
Richard Goldstein, noted writer and executive editor The Village Voice. Reference - www GMM
A fascinating story indeed! Catherine Sprickel, Writers' Representative Inc.
Art World’s Dirty Little Secret
narrated by the
J.M.W. Graffy Esq.
New artistic and scientific discoveries... much formative information derived from primary sources.
384 pages plus images and end matter
500 qualifying references from a broad range of sources
a five year project by r malcolm setters and graham
Terms and conditions
Site criticism is appreciated at firstname.lastname@example.org
© setters 2003, Rescuing Turner: The Art Project & http://www.jmwturner.ca