It’s Arts Festival time, folks. So, let’s talk art. Not art as in Art but rather the art of transporting art, famous, and valuable, very valuable, art! Art galleries all over the world, whether it be the Metropolitan in New York, the Louvre in Paris, the Uffizi in Florence or the Tate in London are all in the business of swapping. Swapping, a word that resonates from my childhood when we kids traipsed from one friend’s house to the next swapping comics: Flash Gordon, Zorro, Eagle, Superman and so on. This, of course, was back in, not BC (Before Christ) but BT (Before Television) Reading comics was our night time entertainment, the equivalent nowadays, I guess, of playing Xbox or whatever kids get up to. But I’ve digressed.
Art galleries all over the world are constantly swapping – paintings, sculptures, rare manuscripts, artefacts, etc. etc. They have to in order to keep the punters coming through the doors paying their €15 admission or whatever; and by the way admission to our own Butler Gallery is free, something we should never take for granted. This business of swapping art is
all about money; money to keep the galleries open and viable (like any commercial venture); bring on the new show, show us yours and we’ll show you ours; give us your Mona Lisa and we’ll give you our Picasso! Simple as that. If only! The cost of transporting art, especially priceless masterpieces from one country to another is challenging to say the least. A nightmare actually. Not least insurance-wise. Couriers of valuable art very often sleep with the paintings or sculptures as they travel across Europe in their air-conditioned transporters from one major art gallery to another while smaller items such as precious books or small paintings get a first-class seat all of their own on flights! And then there was the guy who lost a Cezanne he was escorting on a flight (he got drunk) The painting eventually turned up; how our man’s transporting-career turned out I have no idea but I’ll hazard a guess – not well.
And here’s a little story regarding the Mona Lisa, the most famous work of art on the planet. Curators at the Louvre were aghast when they heard that Jackie Kennedy had charmed the French culture minister into agreeing to loan the Mona Lisa to the US in 1963 (many threatened to resign). Even the director of the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC was unwilling to take it, so apprehensive was he about the risks. In the end, the US Coast Guard accompanied the liner carrying the painting as it entered New York harbour, and when the crate arrived in Washington, it was driven through town in a secure convoy as all traffic was stopped. And then, just to prove why curators and directors should be nervous - a faulty fire sprinkler went off while the work was in storage at the Metropolitan museum in New York, and it got damp. (Fortunately the surface was protected by glass as it still is.) The Mona Lisa’s tour was such a success that it kick-started the fashion for blockbuster touring shows – shows driven by funding cuts and museums need to cash in on their unique collections. In the meantime I am looking forward to when the Mona Lisa arrives in the Butler Gallery. It may well happen when the gallery, comprising a large contemporary art space, an education and learning centre and a media centre, opens in its new premises at Evans’ Home next year. And there’s a talk re same: Transforming Evans’ Home in the Parade Tower this Sunday 11 th August at 2 pm (a free event but ticketed, check out: www.kilkennyarts.ie)
Finally, to the art of writing and The Kilkenny Poetry Broadsheet (Issue 19) which will be launched in the Parade Tower on Friday 16 th August at 4pm. as part of our Arts Festival (a free event, but ticketed also) And why the Broadsheet, one of the very few quintessential Kilkenny contributions to our wonderful, international Arts Festival, along with the contributing poets, don’t get coverage on the Arts Page of this newspaper is a mystery I cannot fathom! Meanwhile congratulations to my fellow poets who feature in the publication: Nora Brennan, Tomás Céitinn, Joan Cleere, Carmel Cummins, Orla Hennessy, Noel Howley, Karen Sarah Moore, Emily Murtagh, Liam O’Neill, Robert Pearson and Nuala Roche. I look forward to reading with you at the launch.