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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

DEGAS BRONZES CONTROVERSY LEADS TO SCHOLARS’ BOYCOTT



Degas bronzes controversy leads to scholars’ boycott
Fears of legal action if authenticity questioned at Hermitage seminar

By Martin Bailey. News, Issue 236, June 2012
Published online: 31 May 2012

Degas experts boycotted a Hermitage colloquium arranged in part to discuss a group of controversial Degas bronzes, cast from a set of plasters recently discovered at the Valsuani foundry outside Paris. The refusal of the scholars to attend reflects the growing problem of art historians avoiding questions of attribution, even at scholarly conferences.

The seminar at the State Hermitage Museum, on the wider issue of “Posthumous Bronzes in Law and Art History”, was held in St Petersburg (26-27 May). Papers were presented on Léger, Archipenko, Moore and Dalí, but Degas was by far the most controversial case study. A museum spokeswoman says that the conference was arranged because the Hermitage wants to acquire more 20th-century bronzes.

The Degas experts who were invited to the seminar, but declined, include Sara Campbell, who recently retired from the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, Catherine Chevillot from the Musée Rodin, the consultant and art historian Joseph Czestochowski, the leading independent curator Richard Kendall and Anne Pingeot, formerly of the Musée d’Orsay.

Walter Maibaum, the New York dealer who commissioned the casts from the plasters, says that scholars “have a responsibility to seriously study them”. None of the experts would discuss the situation on the record, but several reasons have been given to explain the boycott. Some curators are at museums that do not allow them to comment on the authenticity of works owned by dealers or private collectors. None of the experts accepts that the new find represents early plasters—and some simply want to avoid becoming embroiled in the debate. Most importantly, there are increasing concerns, particularly in America, that specialists could find themselves facing legal problems if they publicly question authenticity, as has happened to scholars over the work of other artists.


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