Sunday, June 22, 2014

Jonathan Brown

Jonathan Brown is the Carroll and Miton Petrie Professor of Fine Arts, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. His new book is In the Shadow of Velázquez: A Life in Art History.

From the author's Q & A with David Ebony for the Yale University Press blog:

Ebony: One of the topics you discuss at length in the book that has significant relevance to contemporary art is the idea of branding—I was surprised you used that term. You talk about it in relationship to artists like El Greco and Ribera, who ran factory-like studios that closely correspond to more recent practice by artists like Warhol, Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst and others.

Brown: I used the term to make this process more understandable, particularly as it addresses the problem of authenticity. How can a work be deemed authentic if it results from a workshop with teams of assistants? There are so many paintings attributed to El Greco that aren’t by El Greco. He had such an individualistic style, and one might think it would be too advanced to appeal to a wide audience. But clearly he struck the right chord with the public at the time. The questionable paintings I’m referring to are not truly knock-offs, but they’re not autograph either. There’s often a distinction made between signed or unsigned works, but the signature means nothing. Ribera also created a distinctive style—or brand—and knew how to promote it. He signed works a lot more frequently than other significant painters of his time. In his later years, he signed about eighty percent of his studio productions. But are they authentic?

Ebony: Are you often called in to help authenticate works by these artists? There’s a wonderful story in the book about $10 million riding on the attribution of an early Velázquez.

Brown: I don’t offer my opinion for commercial purposes. The art market exerts enormous pressure, but to have the freedom to think and write, and decide on an attribution in a way I choose is more important to me than the financial prospects. Plus, I want to be...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue