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Submit Response is a weblog by Jack Mottram, a journalist who lives in Glasgow, Scotland. There are 1308 posts in the archives. You can subscribe to a feed. This post was made on and belongs in the art, art and culture category. The previous post was , and the next post is .

Missing Masterpeices

Lucien Freud's lost portrait of Francis Bacon

Inspired by the theft of a da Vinci from the the Duke of Buccleuch’s pile, The Guardian have assembled a fabulous virtual exhibition of lost works, curated by Jonathan Jones. It’s a great show, if you can call it that, with everythnig from obvious candidates—like the Lucien Freud portrait of Francis Bacon reproduced here, or various Rembrandts, which are always getting pinched—to nice quips, as in the inclusion of Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, which was on its way to being lost from the moment Smithson finished it, what with it being an earthwork on the edge of a lake.

Jones’ accompanying essay is good stuff too. He suggests that masterpieces may attain that status by virtue of their loss, that an artist’s reputation can be enhanced by theft, fire or flood, even that the work itself can benefit by never being seen, since it cannot, therefore, disappoint.

I’m not so sure of this, having seen work in the flesh by artists who I imagined I wouldn’t care too much for, only to find it knocked me out (Lawrence Weiner springs to mind) and, conversely, having seen stuff by folk I thought I liked, only to discover it was a bit rubbish really (almost every bigshot Surrealist, ever). The point being that, for all that a work gains in mystery by virtue of its missing status, it is impossible to judge the magnitude of its loss on the basis of reproductions alone.

There’s also a lot missing from this imaginary gallery of missing art. While Smithson’s earthwork is a nod in the right direction, I’d say there is room for other contemporary artists who make work that is consciously transitory, temporary or site- and time-specific. Live art is an obvious example, which might be documented, but can only be experienced by the audience present at the performance. Someone like Richard Wright, who has a show on at the Modern Institute later this month, might be included too. I could buy one of his poster works, but what I really want is a wall-drawing. Tough luck on that front, though: Wright paints directly onto the surface of the gallery wall, and the work is erased on the day that his shows close. He is on record as saying that ‘there is too much art in the world, anyway.’

In light of the Guardian’s non-show, I reckon there isn’t enough.

Posted at 5pm on 04/09/03 by Jack Mottram to the art, art and culture category.
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