Vermeer fever is getting high even in Italy, where the Dutch Master has never been particularly at home (see my post on why Italians don’t really love Vermeer).
In twenty days, 55,000 advanced tickets have already been sold to see Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring at the Renaissance style Palazzo Fava in Bologna, early 2014. However, not everyone is smiling as much as the 55,000 ticket holders and the exhibition organizer Marco Goldin, who claims that advanced sales like these “have no comparison on a global level.” Alberto Ronchi, the commissioner of cultural affairs of Bologna, is one of the few who’s wearing a frown.
Ronchi, who battles with the economics of his city’s cultural problems on a daily basis, says “there is no cultural project behind these kinds of initiatives.” “It’s just businessmen who rent pictures and shows them around. They tell me many people are coming, but how are they coming? When the long lines in front of Palazzo Fava are gone, what remains for the city of Bologna? Nothing.”
Ronchi estimates the event will cost between whopping 1 to 2 million Euro even though it does demonstrate that “at least some money is circulating, only, it’s being invested this way instead of trying to save Bologna’s existing cultural structure.”
Suspicion about high-flying art exhibitions is not new in Italy. While by now it’s hard to read a negative comment on global crowd pleasers elsewhere, Italian intellectual-journalists routinely deride them for what they see as kowtowing the crowd and wasted resources. Curator-managers are under pressure to turn a new trick to keep museum turnstiles whirling. Too many dubious pictures from private collections bloat the exhibitions, in the search of a pedigree. Mindless crowds get off buses, in line, and back on board scarcely remembering what they came to see to say. This is not to mention the head-spinning insurance costs and the ever-present dangers of shipping irreplaceable works of art over the globe.
I can’t say beforehand if Ronchi will be right or not. But from what I have been able to a gather, the seven Vermeer’s that came to Rome in 2012 have left little more than a few unsold exhibition catalogues on the shelves of the capitol’s book stores which, for some reason unknown to me, still stock art books.