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MUSEUM

Paris Pinacotheque gallery closes its doors

A private art gallery which shook up the Paris museum scene with a series of major hit shows shut its doors Monday after a dramatic fall in visitor numbers.

Paris Pinacotheque gallery closes its doors
The Pinacotheque de Paris. Photo: AFP
The Paris Pinacotheque, which had ruffled the feathers of the French capital's major museums with a string of blockbuster shows on Edvard Munch, Jackson Pollock, Man Ray and the Chinese terracotta warriors of Xian, said its takings had dropped by a quarter in two years.
   
The catastrophic drop in visitors after the November terror attacks in city that left 130 people dead was the final straw, its founder told AFP.
   
Curator Marc Restellini, who had hugely expanded the gallery on the chic Place de la Madeleine in 2011, said the “large drop in attendance figures means we cannot continue in such costly premises”.
   
But he said he hoped to reopen the Pinacotheque — whose branch in Singapore is not affected by the closure — “in the medium term in premises that are more financially sustainable”.
   
Nearly half a million people flocked to see the Pinacotheque's show on the terracotta army in 2008, while an exhibition of 17th-century Dutch masters was seen by 700,000 people in four months, almost double the number of visitors of the headline shows at the Louvre and the Grand Palais at the time.
 
   
The abrupt closure with a month still to run of a show of fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld's photographs took many by surprise, although several major Paris institutions have been badly hit since the attacks.
   
Something of a maverick, Restellini had been highly critical of way the established French galleries staged their shows, claiming they were too academic and elitist.
   
“Museums are too often the graveyards of works of art. I want to bring them to life,” he told AFP.
   
He also claimed his publicly-funded rivals had attempted to block his Munch show, in which several works by the Norwegian painter of “The Scream” were shown for the first time.
   
However, far less successful recent shows on the Indian erotic art of the “Kama Sutra” and Japanese geisha culture disproved the maxim that sell always sells.
   
Restellini, who made his name as an artistic director of Paris' small but prestigious Luxembourg museum, said he hoped to reopen two future pinacotheques in Paris, one for contemporary art and another dedicated to historical and cultural shows.
   
The Pinacotheque's permanent collection created by Restellini will be go on show either in Singapore or be put into storage, he said.

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MUSEUM

Mystery of ‘Salvator Mundi’, the world’s most costly painting

Later this year, the Louvre in Paris will host an exhibition of masterpieces by the Italian painter Leonardo da Vinci to mark his death 500 years ago in France. But the work that in recent months has been the intense focus of scrutiny by the media and da Vinci specialists, may not be on show.

Mystery of 'Salvator Mundi', the world's most costly painting
In this file photo taken on October 24, 2017 Christie's employees pose in front of a painting entitled Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci. Photo: Tolga Akmen / AFP
In 2017, “Salvator Mundi” was sold at auction by Christie's as a work by da Vinci for a record $450 million. But it has not been displayed in public since, triggering doubts about its ownership, its whereabouts and its authenticity.
 
The painting, a portrait of Jesus, was to go on display at the Louvre Abu Dhabi in September last year. But its unveiling was postponed by the museum without any explanation. The Louvre Abu Dhabi has kept tight-lipped about the identity of the buyer, saying only that the emirate's Department of Culture and Tourism had “acquired” it. 
 
And the mystery has further deepened ahead of a visit by Italian President Sergio Mattarella who will join France's President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday on a trip to the Loire Valley to mark the anniversary of da Vinci's death there in 1519, at the age of 67. 
 
“The Louvre has asked the Department of Culture and Tourism in Abu Dhabi for the painting to be given on loan,” a Louvre spokesperson told AFP. “But we have not yet had any reply.” 
 
Proscribed by Islam?
 
According to the New York Times, the buyer of the picture was Saudi prince Badr ben Abdallah, acting in the name of powerful Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.  He has never confirmed or denied the report. Prince Badr was appointed to head the kingdom's culture ministry in a government shakeup in June.
 
Saudi Arabia and the neighbouring United Arab Emirates are very close allies who are both engaged militarily in the war against rebels in Yemen. Mohammed bin Salman (known as MBS) is also a close confidant of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed who along with Macron opened the Louvre Abu Dhabi in 2017, the first foreign institution to carry the name of the great Paris museum.
 
The painting's disappearance comes as MBS's international reputation has taken a battering over the murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, in which he denies any involvement.
 
Artprice, the leading art market information service, said clerics from Sunni Islam's leading authority the Al Azhar university in Cairo told MBS the painting could not be displayed on religious grounds. Jesus is seen as a prophet within Islam, which prohibits any physical depiction of God. But the picture portrays him as a saviour and thus a deity.
 
'Nothing by Leonardo'
 
Many art experts remain unconvinced of the painting's authenticity.
 
“Certain details are very telling,” said Jacques Franck, a specialist in da Vinci's technique, pointing to the poor depiction of a finger and other elements that are “anatomically impossible”. He said that at the time the canvas was painted, da Vinci had his workshop complete certain paintings because he himself had very little time. 
 
Daniel Salvatore Schiffer, another da Vinci expert, also believes the painting was not done by the Italian master.
 
“When you analyse the details, nothing is by Leonardo, it doesn't have his spirit.”
 
Ben Lewis, an art historian who wrote “The Last Leonardo”, said London's National Gallery, which exhibited the painting in 2011, had not taken on board the advice of five experts who were sent to authenticate the painting. Although two of them believed it was authentic, another didn't, and the others were unsure. But the painting was presented at the exhibition as a genuine work by Leonardo da Vinci.
 
But Diane Modestini, who worked on the restoration of the painting from 2005, said she did not understand the controversy, insisting that “Leonardo da Vinci painted it”. 
 
A Christie's spokesman said, “We stand by the thorough research and scholarship that led to the attribution of this painting in 2010. No new discussion or speculation since the 2017 sale at Christie's has caused us to revisit its position.”
 
'Reputation and credibility'
 
The Louvre says its exhibition, due to open in Paris in the autumn, will bring together “a unique group of artworks that only the Louvre could bring together” in addition to its own outstanding Leonardo collection.
 
But whether people will be able to draw their own conclusions by actually seeing the “Salvator Mundi” remains to be seen.
 
“If the Louvre has still not received a response (from Abu Dhabi) months before the exhibition, it is because the work will not be exhibited there,” said Franck.
 
Schiffer said it could end up being a positive thing for the Paris gallery, which could see its “reputation and credibility tarnished” if the work was exhibited.
 
By AFP's Bruno Kalouaz