Tag Archives: Collections

“Alone At Last”: A Satirical Response to Mona Lisa’s 1911 Theft

Shortly after the theft of the Mona Lisa on August 21, 1911 (the anniversary of which this past Friday) a series of satirical postcards telling the story of the theft and its aftermath were released. You can see them (and a brief explanation of them) here.

theft4-CU - Copy

We humbly suggest that the question mark head should be used for all future art thefts.

 

 


The New Wing (Or That Sagredo Bed)

Actually By Robert Benchley

Originally Published in The New Yorker, May 15, 1926 and reprinted in Benchley Beside Himself (1943)

Curator’s Comment: Where appropriate, hotlinks have been added  below because they didn’t exist in 1926. But if they had been, we feel certain Professor Benchley would have used them.

Professor Benchley

Apart from his exhibition reviews, Professor Benchley was also famous for his subtlety at product placement.

Although the new wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (“Wing K,” if that makes it any easier for you) was opened some time ago, I have only just this week got around to inspecting it. I’m sorry.

“Wing K” has, since 1916, been empty, and, although passers-by late at night have often reported strange noises coming from its vast recesses, the Museum officials stubbornly maintain that it has been put to absolutely no use at all. This sounds a little fishy to me, however, and if those old walls could talk we might learn a little something more about where Mr. Munsey’s money went. It is said that only a couple of hundred dollars remain of all the millions that he bequeathed to the Museum. Money doesn’t fly away, you know.

At any rate, “Wing K” is full now and it takes a good twenty minutes of fast walking to see everything in it. This does not include the time taken up in getting lost or in walking through the same hall twice.

My inspection was somewhat hampered by having Mr. Charles MacGreggor along with me. Mr. MacGreggor kept constantly asking to see Dr. Crippen. “I want to see Dr. Crippen,” he would say, or “Where is Dr. Crippen?” I told him that the wax-works were in another wing of the Museum, but someone had told him that a replica of Dr. Crippen was to be found in wing K” and nothing would do but he must see it. Along toward the end, as Mr. MacGreggor got tired and cross, he began sniveling and crying, “I want to see Dr. Crippen” so loudly that an attendant put us out. So we probably missed some of the funniest parts of the exhibit. If you want me to I will go up again sometime without Mr. MacGreggor. Or maybe Dr. Crippen is there, after all.

The feature of the new wing is, of course, the Bedroom from the Palazzo Sagredo at Venice. The best way that I can describe it is to say that it is fully twice the size of our guest room in Scarsdale, and fifty per cent fancier. The chief point in favor of our guest room in Scarsdale is that there isn’t a whole troop of people strolling through it at all hours of the day, peeking under the bed and asking questions about it. If you want to sleep after nine in the morning in Scarsdale you can do it without being made an exhibition of. My two little boys may romp into the room three or four times during the morning to show you an engine or a snake, but all that you have to do is to tell them to get the hell out or you will tell me on them.

The owner of the Palazzo Sagredo was a great cupid fancier. Over the doorway to the alcove where the bed is, there are over a dozen great, big cupids stuck on the wall, like mosquitoes in a summer hotel. They are heavy, hulking things and seem to have fulfilled no good purpose except possibly to confuse any guest who may have retired to the fancy bed with a snootful of good red Sagredo wine. To awaken from the first heavy sleep of a Venetian bun and see fifteen life-sized cupids dangling from the doorway must have been an experience to send the eighteenth-century guest into a set of early eighteenth-century or late seventeenth-century heebies. The comic strip on the ceiling is catalogued as “Diziani’s Dawn.” It may very well be.

This, in a general way, covers pretty well the Bedroom from the Palazzo Sagredo. In another month the Gideons will have slipped a Bible onto the table by the bed and it will be ready for occupancy, but not by me, thank you.

Walking rapidly through the rest of the new wing, you come to lots of things in cases which, frankly, do not look very interesting. There is a bit of sculpture labeled “Head of Zeus(?)” showing that even the Museum officials don’t know whom it is meant to represent. Under the circumstances, it seems as if they might have cheated a little and thrown a bluff by just calling it arbitrarily “Head of Zeus” without the question mark. Certainly no one could have called them on it, and it would have made them seem a little less afraid to take a chance. Suppose that it turned out not to be Zeus. What is the worst that could happen to them?

Then, too, there is “A Relief from a Roman Sarcophagus.” As we remember Roman sarcophagi, anything would be a relief from them.

We could go on like this for page after page making wise-cracks about the various uninteresting features of the new wing, but perhaps you have already got the idea. It may have been the absence of Dr. Crippen, or it may have been a new pair of shoes, but the truth is that we weren’t put out of the new wing. We asked an attendant how to get out. And here we are.


It’s All Fun and Games Until Someone Gets Their Head Stuck in a 3,600-Year-Old Sumerian Pot.

Actually by Ian Wood

From McSweeney’s

Beautiful piece. In excellent condition. One of only two complete pots from a pottery works at Larsa, dated to the reign of Rim-Sin I.

I honestly didn’t think my head would fit into it.

But it did, and now I can’t get it out. In addition to my extensive knowledge of the ancient Near East, I am blessed with a near-inexplicable touch-typing ability, so, if you will, picture me sitting at the computer with a pot on my head that dates from roughly the time when the Hittites invented iron-forged weapons. Or, to put it in more familiar terms, the pot on my head was about 400 years old when Troy was sacked.

It is of course priceless, which means I must extract my head without breaking it. Or, perhaps, my head should be cut off. But that would still leave the head-in-a-pot problem unresolved, wouldn’t it? And I’m sure that this dry ancient clay would soak up quite a lot of blood. So there would be this blood-soaked pot with a head in it, and the one in the British Museum, nice and clean in its case with no bloodstains and no head in it. I suppose one could cut off my head and then reach into the pot and sort of cut it up or mash it into easily extractable pieces, but there would still be the blood problem.

So it would, I think, be best for all concerned if no one cut off my head.

It’s the physics of the thing that galls me. I got my head into it, after all. I should be able to get it out, shouldn’t I? Perhaps once I got it in the humidity of my breath swelled the clay, just enough to prevent extraction. This is fired clay, so it could have been used to store liquids. But after almost four millennia my head might have brought enough humidity to change its shape. There’s also the matter of the gin sweat.

I always sweat when I have martinis. That’s why I never drink them at formal occasions. But this was a casual gathering, just a few fellows from the department, and Putnam has that clever little bar hidden in the bookcase next to his lab bench. I wouldn’t have had the martinis but for that: it’s not proper to have one in anything other than a martini glass, and he’s got two in there, along with a pair of highball glasses. Caleb and Johnston drank whiskey and gin and tonic, respectively, leaving Putnam and me to our olives and juniper.

They’ve all gone off to confer and resolve the issue, which is, after all, the result of their collegial goading. The pot’s been in the lab for almost a month, crated and shipped from Marsten’s dig as soon as he unearthed it, but it’s only been cleaned and perched on its stand for the past week or so. Just sitting there, well out of the way of stray elbows and graduate students, a few patches of its glaze winking seductively beneath the fluorescents. An intermittent slick of glass, lead, saltpeter, and lime: just enough remaining to catch the modern eye with its shine. It seemed a perfectly reasonable question, even after two martinis: “Do you think I could fit my head into that pot?”

It was Putnam, really. “You know,” he said, “I bet no one has had his head in that pot.” He’d already snatched up my glass and made me another one. “Almost 4,000 years, and no one has ever stuck their head into that pot.” Putnam’s always been a bit of a troublemaker, with his hidden bar and his quite willful misinterpretations of Akkadian hepatoscopic practice.

By the time I’d eaten my third olive, I was ready to give it a go. And now here I am in the dark, my nose pressed up against the arid smells of fired earth and history.

History smells like old lentils.

[Read the Rest]


Poor Disaster Preparedness


Easter Egging the Collections Database

Have you ever considered dropping a few Easter eggs into your collections database? Of course you haven’t. Collections databases are sacred, serious places. There’s no room for trifles.

But it was not always so. For example, in 1798 Charles Willson Peale and Nicholas Collin cataloged the American Philosophical Society’s library collection. In between the numbering and the recording Peale drew these caricatures of Collin in the catalog book:

A wonderfully human moment, intruding on the clinical catalog.

If you had the opportunity, what whimsy would you add to your collections database? Something funny? Something sentimental? Something pointed? Would you leave it anonymous or would you sign it? Would you want to forget it was there and then experience the joy of rediscovery or would you simply leave it for your successor(s) to stumble upon?

Or is your database off-limits for such playful purposes? And if it is, why?

 

By the way, here’s the page right-side up.

 


Modern Acquisition Decisions


Foot-Candle

Foot-Candle, n. 1.

2. A unit of measure which allows a conservator to determine a museum’s preservation failures.


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