Vermeer Fever: Getting too hot?

January 5th, 2014

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.

2 Responses to “Vermeer Fever: Getting too hot?”

  1. Magda

    Congratulations for this exquisite site on Vermeer. I live in Italy but I am not familiar of the situation you are describing. However, I do understand the social aspects and background that affect the phenomenon. I am glad I have come across this site so that I can find out more about one of my favourite painters.

  2. Michał

    I came with my girlfriend to Rome from Poland especially to see the exhibition mentioned above. And I know I was not the only one who came to see it from abroad (for example: my mother came to Rome to see it as well). The tickets were not very expensive, but we’ve left the money in restaurants, other museums, public transport, shops, paid the city tax, not to mention the hotel :) Let’s say we’ve spent 600 EUR – just the two of us, and we are poor students :) The exhibition itself is perhaps expensive, but you must spend money to make money. The biggest problem with the great art is that it’s always expensive :)

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