Wednesday 14 December 2011

Radio 3 etc

I almost always work with the radio on. The normal fare is Radio 3 and the sports commentaries in Radio 5.
For some reason and on some days in the afternoon Radio 3 goes religious with choral evensong. The staple diet seems to be the tuneless dirges that are exemplary of the English choral tradition. Today's effort came from Worksop College, which I see from the internet is a private school. It is celebrating its centenary. The service included some of the worst music immaginable on radio 3. The choir, imported from Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, sung Bach's Komm Jesu in an incredibly flaccid manner, when it should be a fervent anticipation of Christ's arrival on earth and release from earthly toil. The organ playing was soupy throughout, climaxing in an unspeakably meandering and purposeless prelude and fugue. I could not believe that it was by a professional composer. It tuned out to be by Vaughan Williams, which explained all.
Then Sean Rafferty and "In Tune". I find him highly informative and intermittently annoying (well, more than intermittently). He seems to be a prime example of how people with Irish accents are allowed to get away with gratingly contrived charm on the radio. Somebody (I missed the announcement because my central heating interferes with the signal when it is switching) played the first movement of a Brandenburg at a breathlessly fast pace as if the Women's Guild were taking part in a speed knitting contest. The slow movement then struggled slowly from one seizure to the next.
The redeeming features of this afternoon were the saxophonist and composer Andy Shepherd and Chapelle du Roi. Andy Shepherd played solo with wonderful speaking intensity, including a quite magical duet with a recorded blackbird. Hello rather than bye-bye blackbird.

Tuesday 29 November 2011

exploitation of arts professionals

It is extraordinary though wholly familiar that arts professionals are expected to deliver high level services for nothing or next to nothing. Enthusiasm and commitment are exploited by those commissioning services. The most recent example is a podcast I was asked to record by the National Gallery in connection with the Leonardo show. I was asked to record items on the anatomical drawings, one of which, the vertical section of a man's head, provides a wonderful entry into Leonardo's ideas about seeing, thinking, imagination, memory etc. I negotiated the fee up to a grand £100! This was absolutely their "top fee". The gallery was unable to fix the recording at a date when I was due to be in London, and I therefore had to make the journey specially. On claiming expenses, I was told that they were not part of the deal.  Given average mileage rates for travelling from Oxfordshire, I end up with  £14.20 for something that consumed at least 4 hours of my time. I asked,  "would you expect to employ an accountant or solicitor for this kind of money?" adding that " I am a professional speaker, writer, broadcaster now! There's something very wrong with the priorities here."
The podcast was being made by a company called Antenna, but all my correspondence was with the gallery. They have said they will claim expenses from Antenna, but to date .... no fee, no expenses.
And this in connection with a show that is sold out.
This is just one small incident in the broader picture of exploitation of artists, curators, writers, speakers and administrators. This occurs as a matter of habit even in connection with events that involve large budgets to cover substantial fees for other professionals, such as designers, publicists and the deliverers of other services.

a long time

My schedule - speaking, travelling meeting deadlines (Studio International, Art Forum, book on the Leonardo Salvator...), book promotion, media work, general Leonardo craziness - has left no time for blogging. Deadlines come before desirables. Now a few may follow. Since I have so few followers, levels of disappointment at the previous inactivity will be minimal.

Wednesday 2 November 2011

funny abuse

At least this one, from Fred Kline, who deals in art, is funny.

The background is that he has at least one "Leonardo" that I declined to support.
I have to say that the Leonardo meatballs have not materialised. As a vegetarian, I have mixed feelings about Mr Kline's failure to keep his promises.

From: Lear’s Fool Society, Princeton on the Pecos
To: President, The Crazy Leonardo Club-Principessa Division (kindly distribute)


 Dr. Prof. Rev. Martin Kemp, Cardinal of the Unauthorized Church of Leonardo da Vinci Orthodoxy,

Your Eminence,

As you are the current President and Editor-in-Chief of The Crazy Leonardo Club-Principessa Division, please accept the sincere congratulations of the Lear’s Fool Society (LFS) on your club’s winning the 2010 LFS IgNoble Prize for Leonardo da Vinci Theory, a newly established category for gold-plated gobbledygook.

Along with a limited edition tin-plated lead medallion depicting Leonardo’s Parachute for each of the members including the shadowy Mr. Peter Silverman, you and your fellow alchemists—especially citing the contributions of Mr. Pascal Cotte and Mr. Peter Paul Biro—will receive a year’s supply of gift-boxed Leonardo’s Meatballs made entirely of organic bullshit, which as Leonardo instructed in his Notebooks, “the meatballs can be burned as fuel, used as cannon balls, or boiled and eaten during cold winters of discontent.”

Martin Kemp was again cited as author and editor of The Story of the New Masterpiece By Leonardo da Vinci: La Bella Principessa, an unctuous and slippery-tongued tome with proofy illustrations and pseudo-scientology.  The LFS says three cheers for your well-done hoax!   Martin Kemp’s book receives as well the 2010 LFS IgNoble Prize for a Book on Leonardo da Vinci, a newly established sub-category for gold-plated hard-cover gobbledygook.  We feel IT will live in infamy along with other LFS IgNoble Prize winners: Hitler’s Diaries (Hitler-Tageb├╝cher) and Clifford Irving’s (exceptionally well-written) The Autobiography of Howard Hughes, among others.  For this original anti-achievement, Martin Kemp is banished to three years of carefree life in Antarctica at Ellsworth Land Lodge and Weasel Farm (350,000 scenic square miles of mountain and enthralling high plateau with live-in arctic weasels for company (all-expenses-paid/clothing and weasel food not included).  This entitlement also comes with mandatory monthly weekend visits from Peter Silverman; the Italian art historians and politicians and other smoothy expertiseans associated with your prizewinning gobbledy-book, including the impeccably imperious and pompous couple Nicholas and (faux-book designer) Jane Turner; and of course your choice of relatives, students, and sycophants. (complete all-expenses-paid+$250 cash).

The awards dinner will be held on Halloween Evening, October 31, 2010, at the clandestine Bernard Madoff Estate, Port-au-Prince, Haiti.  In honor of the occasion, the awards ceremony will be held in the dark Ballroom at the Madoff main house.  The Voodoo Shamans Chorus will provide entertainment with voodoo incantations and handmade effigy dolls with a packet of poison pins.   Please note that the evening will be illuminated only by flashlights held by Lear’s Fool Society members, each of whom will be supplied with red paint-balls and a slingshot.  All award recipients are required to wear white shirts and no pants (including underpants) and to submit to the tattooing of one of Leonardo’s ugliest grotesque caricatures on top of the right forearm (no exceptions).  Transportation and bodyguards provided courtesy of The Swiss Bankers Swisscheese Hedgefund and Worse Angels Security & Torture Laboratory, Inc.   

Again, congratulations to you and the whole package of wieners.  “Nobody roasts a wiener like LFS!”

Yours sincerely, and most assuredly,

Fred R. Kline, Sergeant at Arms
Lear’s Fool Society
Princeton on the Pecos
The Leonardo da Vinci Library and *Abattoir
Dragon’s Lair #1
New Mexico, U.S.A. 87504
*Visitors Welcome

Ars longa, vita brevis, occasio praeceps, experimentum periculosum, iudicium difficile.

(Art eternal, life short, opportunity fleeting, experiment treacherous, judgment difficult)

Hippocrates (b. 460 BC- d. 357 BC)

polemics and attribution

A higher public profile comes at a considerable cost.
Writing about newly discovered works - I do not offer an attribution service - and responding to the dozens of "new Leonardos" I am now sent (4 in the last month) lays me open to all sorts of abuse and arbitrary polemics. Such is the unpleasantness of the polemics, not least from people who seem only to be able to confirm their status in their own eyes through the generation of noise, that I have given serious thought to saying I will not even consider looking at items that have newly appeared. I will give an example in my next post.
 However, I do feel some public responsibility - a responsibility that comes with the privilege of dealing with some of the greatest artefacts that have been created - and I have decided that I will lay out my reasoning as clearly as I can in various published media and leave it at that. If someone can really demonstrate that I am wrong, so be it. There is no point in getting caught up in argument for the sake of it.
On more practical grounds, I am revising the section on attribution in the "Rules of Engagement" on my website. The new section will read:

"I am bombarded with images of works of art that owners are claiming to be by Leonardo or by another major artist. Most are very remote from works by the proposed author. I am then often abused for failing to support the attribution.

In future I will only respond to messages about works that are really worth considering, for whatever reason. It is recommended that the services of a local museum / gallery are consulted first, before sending to me.

I do not offer an authentication service.

No opinion is given on value, and only historical judgments are expressed.

The first step is the provision of a good quality photograph or digital image (not above 5MB).
Large bodies of documentation / technical and other analysis will not be read unless so agreed in advance.

If it is made clear at any point that I do not consider the matter worth pursuing, no further correspondence will be answered.

No fees will be accepted for undertaking any research that might follow."

Monday 31 October 2011

to Paul Barford

Look at:
You could have asked. I have a website and available email.
Have you read the original book?
Have you seen the drawing, at least in high res?
Do you know about vellum? Have your tried cutting it?
Do you know about the production of specially printed books on vellum?
Do you know about the other versions in London and Paris and their foliation?
Etc etc.
One placement in the book is, as is clear in the narrative, to match where the stitching is most visible; the other is the actual placement.
A small sample was used for the carbon dating, obviously. The thickness was measured thus.
Poland has not been "dragged in".
We have a responsibility  as historians to use language properly and not to post such assertively categorical comments without checking adequately.  Amateur, irresponsible and damaging.
Pascal Cotte has prepared a point-by-point rebuttal.

comments on La Bella Principessa

One of the problems on the web is that anyone can set themselves up as an authority and purport to produce "historical" arguments without any sense of the status of evidence and methods of demonstration. A recent example is
Barford cobbles together bits from some press discussions, which he then uses as the basis of a series of arbitrary assertions. He has not looked at the full evidence available on the website of the Leonardo da Vinci Society or on the Lumiere Technology website. Codicology (the study of the compilation of codices) is something that needs to be thought through very systematically. The web, and, indeed all electronic means of communication, exhibit a tendency to foster ill-researched polemics that masquerade as objective reviewing of evidence. I have submitted a comment, which is subject to Barford's editing. It will be interesting to see if he posts it.

Tuesday 25 October 2011

alternative economic system

The camper-protesters around the world are accused off offering no alternative.  That is not fair. The first step is to establish the fact that we need to start thinking radically. I'm writing a piece on Christ to Coke for  the Wall Street Journal Source on line. My eye was caught by a contribution by Don Tapscott. Given the reality that we won't be able to sweep away all the capitalist and monetarist apparatuses, he is at least suggesting that we should be able to see what's going on:

"The day-to-day gambles of Wall Street almost brought down global capitalism and yet, so far, nothing fundamentally has changed.
Restoring long-term confidence in the financial services industry requires more than individual banks changing their behavior or even government intervention and new rules. The industry needs a new modus operandi, where all of the key players (banks, insurers, investment brokers, rating agencies and regulators) embrace principles such as transparency, integrity, collaboration and sharing of information. For example, banks should open up financial modeling and make pertinent assumptions and data transparent to all interested parties.
Financial modeling allows analysts to estimate the value of goods ranging from a company’s stock to a barrel of oil. The valuations, and associated risk estimates, are behind almost every financial instrument. Over time, both the products, and the underlying financial models, have become increasingly complex, and therefore, opaque.
In contrast, the Open Models Valuation Company is using the web to create a global community of experts dedicated to establishing credible valuation and risk assessments for credit securities and contracts such as CDOs, CDSs and other derivatives. It rejects the current system’s opacity, using an open process for academics, industry experts, quantitative analysts, banks and investors to collaborate and determine the worth of such securities.
Craig Heimark, a long-time industry veteran and one of the founders of Open Models, likens it to the scientific peer-review process: “In the scientific world when people publish something, they don’t just publish their results, but also the steps in the process, their methods and assumptions so that they can be vetted by others.”

Clarity, simplicity and transparency are characteristic of all great revolutions. The time has come for a the first ever true revolution in our our financial institutions.

Saturday 22 October 2011

Adam the composer

The R3 composer(s) of the week have been Adam and Delibes. Pure purgatory, or worse. When I went to the ballet The Corsair in St Petersburg I assumed that Adam was the name for a committee of composers who had been charged with saturating a score with as many soupy and racial cliches as could conceivably be squeezed into a single piece. I now discover he was a real composer with a substantial career. Ugh!
It is one of the characteristics of music that it can produce instant cliches. I don't think the visual arts can do this. Schubert was the greatest master of the instant cliche, above all in his lieder - words, melodies, accompaniments, simultaneously and unerringly. The Earl King is comically awful - Mein Vater mein vater... The Goethe poem's inherent kitsch is drawn out with extraordinary precision.
One of my ambitions is to be invited on to Michael Berkeley's Private Passions  on R3. I would include hates under my passions. Anything by any composer called Strauss, almost all romantic opera (shouting to music), all country-and-western and Vera Lynn. These and others on my list (don't ask) induce real feelings of bodily discomfort. Wagner even beyond that. Bad painting produces nothing as intense. Odd.

Monday 17 October 2011

festivals and lectures

Another interval after much activity, mainly promotional, most notably the Cheltenham Literary festival and Wootton village hall (!). It's interesting how all the lit fests, which proliferate every year, have very distinct characters. Cheltenham is one of the big ones, and has a tented village, like Hay, and its setting in the middle (literally) of a handsome Georgian town gives it an obvious affinity with Edinburgh. However it feels different. The talk was in the very large town hall - worryingly large when I was setting up the visuals. What if only 50 people came, rattling around in a a 500+-seater? In the event the hall was close to full, a great relief. Speaking on Leonardo helps. He pulls in the punters. I concentrated on the Mona Lisa, always news, and the Salvator Mundi, the "new" painting to be shown at the National Gallery in November. Both are in Christ to Coke. I suspect that had I been billed as speaking on the book, the audience would have been significantly smaller. Then on Friday eve in the wooden village hall at Wootton - something completely different, as they say. But not a standard village hall event. Andy Morgan the maestro of the hall has managed to drawn in an amazing cast of speakers and an audience to match.  My PA, Judd, lives nearby and is a regular attender (say no more). Again on the ML and SM, developed from the Cheltenham talk, though it was in some ways less good. I've been working on giving such talks a more performative feel, compared to an standard academic lecture. The connection with the audience is more vivid.
I speculate about how characters of various entities and enterprises arise and persist. These characters often endure even when all the personnel involved have completely changed. Sports teams, with their very rapid turn-over of players, illustrate this very clearly. I reckon if I went to watch a game of league hockey in Scotland, where I played most of my competitive hockey, I could make a fair shot at identifying the teams even if they were not wearing their standard shirts. At very top level in football the characters of leading teams may now be more malleable, but there are still persistent traditions about how Manchester United play etc. The English Premier league, for all the huge influx of overseas players, still plays a recongisably "English brand" of football, based on a kind of impatient athleticism. Clearly much of the impetus from this comes from the crowd, who collectively transmit something to the players in a non-verbal way. Such cultures are at once hugely complex, dynamic and elusive while remaining remarkably stable and even monolithic. At a certain level the nature of the culture can best be intuited rather than described and analysed. The very best writers and commentators on sport "get" this and can convey it to us. The average ones just describe; the very good ones analyse; the great ones evoke.

Monday 10 October 2011

DNA and Christ to Coke

Listening to Start the Week, centred on books about the British Empire. Jeremy Paxman said that British assumptions about the Empire are part of our "genetic" makeup (or words to that affect). It is common to say that some cultural (i.e. acquired) trait is in our DNA. In one way, this is a very sloppy way of speaking and thinking - as if there is an "Empire" gene - but in other it testifies to the way that major iconic symbols become so malleable that they serve as parts of speech in a way that they loose their original specificities of meaning. The images in Christ to Coke (including the double helix) do this repeatedly. We commonly speak of a "quantum leap" to signal a massive (often conceptual change), when a quantum is actually a minimal quantity involved in a reaction. A quantum leap occurs, for example, when an electron  appears to jump instantaneously across different energy levels. Something very quick and very tiny has come to mean something very big.

The BBC story - - which is very nicely set up, gives the impression that I am saying my 11 examples are the most famous of all. In fact I am providing what bid fair to be the most famous examples of 11 TYPES of iconic iconic image. However, of the book stimulates a parlour game of the top ten across all types, that's fine.

Friday 7 October 2011

Paul Biro

I should say with respect to the legal action of  Paul Biro against the New Yorker that  the work he undertook on the fingerprint on the portrait was conducted in an entirely straightforward and professional manner. He was shown the image of the print by Pascal Cotte and provided with comparative material from Leonardo's paintings. I am now more cautious about whether we have adequate reference material and criteria for identifying a fingerprints by Leonardo to a good evidential level, but this is not to cast aspersions on the work he did for us. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the case, it is terrible to see someone's career potentially going down in flames.

Steve Jobs

In response to the death of Steve Jobs, I'm pasting the piece I wrote for the Bookseller in connection with Christ to Coke, on which I have recorded an item for this evening BBC TV news.

Apple of My Eye
Martin Kemp reflects on the retirement (and now death) of Steve Jobs

It must have been 1986. An alien upright, off-white plastic box was sitting on my desk at home. It’s small TV-style screen, not much more than 6 inches across, stared at me, mutely challenging. At least the stripy Apple logo towards the bottom left  of the case seemed friendly. I had chosen to “go Mac” because I found the coded interfaces on standard pcs and their brutish angular boxes to be hugely unattractive.

The man in the computing department in St. Andrews had demonstrated it to me with the distinctly sniffy air of someone who thought it was a toy rather than a serious piece of equipment. But I immediately sensed that I could work with the visually intuitive interface – even if the result of tapping a key and something appearing on the screen seemed oddly dislocated compared to the mechanical plunk of a metal typewriter key on a piece of paper over a roller. I was also relieved to find that my friends in art and design were mainly Mac people.

I did wonder how they got away with using the apple logo, when it was firmly associated with New York as the “Big Apple”. But California is a different world and seemed not to care about the possible confusion. In any event, by 1977 Milton Glaser’s iconic  “I NY “had largely taken over. The heart shape is ultimately more iconic than an apple, in spite of Eve’s and Steve’s best efforts.

At this early stage I was aware of Apple Macintosh and its image – and its appealing minority status in academia – but not of Steve Jobs himself. I now know that it was  because of his own instinctive sense of design and of visual modes of operation that my alien machine was soon transformed into a cooperative companion. Like most friends, it sometimes did something I did not understand, producing a feeling of blank impotence of the kind that a typewriter never induced.

It was after Job’s return to Apple in 1997, having been ousted a dozen years earlier, that his own personality seemed to move progressively to the forefront. His public battle with pancreatic cancer from 2004 onwards reinforced his image as one of the heroic Americans.  Like Bill Gates, he became a widely recognised figure, emblematic of the new IT industries and of the stratospheric financial success of nerds who had dropped out of tertiary education.

Latterly, vegetarian-thin and spiritually intense, invariably dressed in dark turtle-neck and Levi jeans, Jobs ruled as the lord  high sorcerer at the launches of the iPod, iPhone, iPad, MacBooks and inventive apps.  The Apple logo is still there – a glowing silhouette on the lid of my MacBook Pro – but it now carries with it indelible associations with Jobs himself. Any iconic image needs rich personal associations to survive. Apple’s apple is not yet quite the Coke bottle but it stands alongside Nike’s “swoosh” as a commercial logo with world-wide resonance.

Martin Kemp’s Christ to Coke. How Image Becomes Icon is published by Oxford University Press in October.