View from the gallery: Are you a collector?

In a time where we applaud downsizing, minimalism, and keeping only what gives you joy, I confess to collecting books; in particular, cookbooks.

I have shelves and shelves of them, and most have traveled across the globe with me. How many recipes for mushy peas does one actually need? Several, apparently.

With thousands of recipes online, all at the swipe of a screen, why do I insist on owning cookbooks – and preferably hardcover editions to boot? I enjoy holding them as objects in my hand, turning the pages, marking my favourites with notes that call to mind evenings spent with friends and travels abroad. I also love to feed people.

The recent sale of Leonardo da Vinci’s painting Salvator Mundi, to the tune of $450 million, has given me cause to think about the nature of collecting and the perception of value. What could possibly compel someone to spend a king’s ransom on a single piece of art?

I recently had a conversation with a colleague about jewellery. He gave the example of two identical gold bands: one from Walmart, the other from Tiffany’s. Baffled, he could not understand what it is about those little blue boxes that made women swoon – and empty the bank accounts of their suitors.

Yet box stores, and little blue boxes illicit very different responses; this demonstrates that the two gold bands, despite being made of the same metal, are, in fact, not identical. But the difference is not in the objects – my colleague is right, they are physically the same – it is our perception of them that is different.

Back to Leonardo.

Had the very same painting been identified as a work by ‘The School of Leonardo da Vinci’, the Salvator Mundi would have been less valuable. Same painting, different label. Yet, it would not have inspired the same reverence. Our reaction to an artwork, in part actually defines it.

Tiffany trumps Walmart.

I wonder what philosopher Roland Barthes would say. He argues that the artist’s identity is not only irrelevant to understanding an artwork, it is actually better not to know. The artist just gets in the way. What does it matter who made it; it is about the art. He made this point pretty clear with his essay: The Death of the Author. The French like to get right to the point.

Thought-provoking, yes. Do I agree? Sorry, Roland.

As a historian, I see artefacts as time capsules; products of a society. Each with a story to tell, and that story is a long one. And like any good yarn, there are multiple points of view. Art is as much about the viewer, as the artist and the patron. The Salvator Mundi is a piece of art, and a piece of history. Its story can be told from the perspective of the patron, King Louis XII; Leonardo himself; in the context of the Renaissance, and that of our own time. What does it say, for example, about contemporary global economy and geo-politics that the Salvator Mundi sold for hundreds of millions, was bought by the Saudi Prince Bader, and will be donated (possibly) to the newly opened Louvre in Abu Dhabi?

Let me just say, my latest acquisition was Jamie Oliver’s Christmas cookbook. And yours? Come to the Penticton Art Gallery and check out our Under 500 show. There are hundreds of paintings by local artists for sale; each with a story to tell. On behalf of everyone at the gallery, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

See you at the PAG!

Antonella De Michelis works at the education desk at the Penticton Art Gallery and provides this column exclusively to the Western News.

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