rejectomorph (flying_blind) wrote,

Art Drama

A few nights ago, when I fired up the free AOL, I had no particular virtual destination in mind, so I did a search on Edward Hopper, just to see if anything new had turned up. (A nice collection of Hoppers could once be found at Webshots, and there were a number of other sites where individuals had posted scans of his work, but all have vanished over the last couple of years.) I did in fact discover that ibiblio now has a fairly decent collection. I came across one painting I hadn't seen before and attempted to add it to the collection on my hard drive. It was a JPEG, but it was saved as a .ART file. This is apparently a peculiarity of AOL. Its built-in browser somehow knew that the file was a scan of a painting, and thus saved it as a special file type. The problem is that it can only be viewed in the browser! Irfanview later recognized it as a JPEG with an improper file extension, and offered to rename it. I agreed, but Irfanview's attempt was unsuccessful. It was suddenly (on second thought?) unable to recognize the file type.

Well, I'm not going to let the likes of AOL play about with my files, so tonight I went back to the site on my chiconet connection and nabbed the picture with Opera, which correctly labeled it as a JPEG. What the hell is AOL's deal? They try to own the whole Internet. They're going to end up not even owning their own company.

But that isn't what I want to write about. While checking out a few other sites that popped up in my Hopper search, I discovered one that is quite remarkable, in both positive and negative ways. It's called The Art Renewal Center, and what a piece of work it is. Obviously lavishly financed, it will eventually contain some 50,000 scanned works, and has an impressively large staff. Obviously well connected to the world of collectors, it provides some of the best scans I've seen on the Internet. There are 52 works by Hopper, several of which I've never seen before, and some of the scans are as much as a MB. Interestingly, it is the scans of works from private collections which are largest. Those from art museums are no larger than those I've seen at other sites. (I don't think I need to go into my distaste for the art-fortress establishment and its unwillingness to share high quality scans of museum holdings with the rabble of the Internet.) Apparently, the operators of the site have not only been able to pry open the vaults of many private collectors, but have gotten permission to do these excellent scans. Good for them.

However, there is another side to The Art Renewal Center. It is rabidly anti-modernist. I don't think we'll be seeing the works of Juan Gris or Max Ernst or any other modern artists on the site. In fact, the site has page after page of diatribes against modernism, all utterly humorless, but some so intense and shot through with paranoid thinking that they become unintentionally hilarious. Personally, I find few things more amusing than the sight of the rich and well-connected emulating the classes they wish to destroy, and to see the defenders of tradition launch against modernism the sort of extravagant verbal attack that was so characteristic of the anti-traditionalist rants of artistic revolutionaries of the early 20th century reaches sublime heights of comedy. Some of it is almost as funny as Tom Wolfe's absurd flights of sartorial fantasy. I picture the whole staff of the place wearing bow ties. Delicious.

It is unfortunate that this site is so hostile to modernism, as the great works of the modern period are the thing it is most difficult to find on the Internet. But perhaps the existence of this site will at last goad the rich and well-connected friends of modernism (and I know there are many) into a counter-attack. It would please me greatly to see a modern art web site as well financed as The Art Renewal Center obviously is. In the meantime, The Art Renewal Center is providing a marvelous resource for those who enjoy more traditional works (and it is possible for those of us without agenda to enjoy both.) It is rather heavy on the Victorian academic realists, whose works have only in recent years begun to emerge from the long obscurity to which the modern movement consigned them, and (though I don't expect ARC's fanatics to recognize it), while many of those works deserve to be brought back into the light, many others might best be left to a well-deserved obscurity. But there are also many older works, and some nice Art Nouveau, and a substantial assortment of Impressionists. The collection is well worth exploring.

I don't know who the moneybags behind the site and its parent, non-profit foundation might be, but whoever it is appears to be making a bid to become the Richard Mellon Scaife of the art world. In fact, for all know, the moneybags behind the site is Richard Mellon Scaife. Should it turn out to be so, I would certainly get even more pleasure from perusing ARC, knowing that I'm reaping the benefit of his immense egoism. At least I'd be getting something I like out of the fortune his ancestors sweated out of everyone else's.

Just to be perverse, I won't use one of my Hopper icons on this post. Instead, it will be the Moholy-Nagy.

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