Sunday, 23 February 2014

Destroying the Legacy: Carter Brown at the Washington National Gallery

Neil Harris Capital Culture: J. Carter Brown, the National Gallery of Art, and the Reinvention of the Museum Experience University of Chicago Press 2013 £24.50

The National Gallery in Washington was founded on high ideals. Its first benefactors established an excellent collection of pictures, John Russell Pope designed one of the world's most beautiful classical museums, and its first chief curator John Walker was a great connoisseur. It was perfectly suited to the contemplation of great works of art, without fanfare and without ancillary frippery. This book tells the story of how Walker's successor J. Carter Brown pursued a different course, seeking the limelight and chasing blockbusters. Neil Harris ranges widely, with interesting material on corporate sponsorship, controversies over using museums as party venues and special privileges for VIPs, and the construction of a new building that the architect described as 'designed for a mob scene' (p. 144). But most interesting are his discussions of blockbuster exhibitions and restoration controversies.

Harris lays bare the dirty politicking involved as Carter Brown competed with the Met to get the biggest blockbusters - many of which were bereft of any scholarly purpose and only tangentially related to the museum's focus. A loan of Leonardo's Cecilia Gallerani was revoked when the entire staff of the Czartoryski Museum tended their resignations in protest (p. 462). It was then re-instated following a ferocious and bullying campaign by Brown, including intervention by the Secretary of State. All this for the exhibition 1492, described by Michael Kimmelman as a 'muddle' that did not require the loan of such precious and fragile objects to make its ecumenical point.

The vacuous Treasure Houses of Britain exhibition caused a scandalous level of damage to loaned objects:
Peter Watson wrote in the Observer that the thirty-five paintings lent by the National Trust for the Treasure House show had "been damaged to such an extent that the Trust has decided it will never again lend on such a large scale." Chipped paint and varnish, flaking paint, and cracks reflected not only careless handling but the contrasts in temperature and humidity between the country houses and the National Gallery (p. 395)
In defending the indefensible, the best that Jackson-Stops could do was assure that 'fewer than a dozen objects' were damaged. This tragic tale is an important object lesson, as damage to loaned works is rarely publicised. The exhibition's supporters could only assert that it entertained the masses, as if there must be a tension between any seriousness of purpose and popular enjoyment.

The other cause of physical damage was the NGA's own conservation department. The British art dealer Geoffrey Agnew was horrified to see what they had done to a Rubens he'd sold them, and his concerns were shared by others including the Met's conservator John Brealey and trustee and benefactor Paul Mellon. Mellon in particular comes across as an immensely sympathetic character, balancing genuine concern for the pictures with an awareness of the sensitivity of his own position as inheritor of great wealth from his father, the museum's founding benefactor. The gallery's conservator Sheldon Keck took advantage of this sensitivity, denouncing Mellon and asserting that his vicious scrubbing of the NGA's pictures was serving a public obligation (p. 241).

The conservation fraternity closed ranks and Carter Brown and his team diffused the controversy without addressing the criticisms. An inquiry was held, but the 'consensus report' was a whitewash. The draft noted "widespread confidence in the integrity and professionalism of the Gallery's conservation staff", but the word 'widespread' was deleted in the final version. And the report claimed that no one "found any evidence of harm to the Gallery's paintings" (p. 251), which simply failed to reflect well-founded criticism. Brown excused the report as being driven by the need to be mindful of "the public's rather primitive understanding of these issues" (p. 252). But Mary Davis of the Kress Foundation should have the last word. She wrote to Brown: "I am telling you right now that no permission will ever be given for Victor Covey or Kay Silberfeld to touch a Kress object, period. If you people insist on having incompetence there to ruin your collection that is perfectly all right but you are not going to ruin the Kress Collection" (p. 253). Professional opinion today is firmly behind Brealey's approach - alas too late for the NGA.

Harris himself seems uncertain what to think. He claims that the same practices were applied at other museums, including the Louvre (p. 242) - which is an absurd claim about an especially cautious museum, and is no exoneration anyway. He concludes that the Agnew's concern at the lack of natural light in the conservation laboratory was misplaced because they'd consulted chemists (p. 237), which is an odd basis to dismiss a well-founded criticism. And it's daft to say that John Brealey's approach to conservation was "better suited to commercial interests who were focused on surface effects than to scholarship" (p. 243, paraphrasing Parkhurst). Brealey was a cautious conservator who was critical of those who over-cleaned, producing shiny pictures with dazzling but superficial effects. And whilst dealers have often been guilty of aggressive, hurried and damaging restoration (the NGA's collection shows the ravages of Sir Joseph Duveen in particular), it was Geoffrey Agnew - a dealer - who drew attention to the damage being done at the NGA, to no conceivable economic benefit.

This is an important book packed with important information and bursting with wonderful anecdotes. But the structure and selection is peculiar. A lot of attention is devoted to contrast with the Smithsonian, which is marginal to the main narrative and narrows the focus from a story of international significance to an aspect of local politics in Washington DC. Harris himself seems uncomfortable with his material, trying to provide spurious balance and rarely offering insightful judgment on the evidence he presents. There is no proper assessment of the restoration controversy; he just presents the debate as an interesting example of office politics at the gallery. The book remains immensely valuable, but I yearn for a more judicious account of the blockbuster era.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Crisis of the Seventeenth Century

Study of a musketeer presenting arms, with a smaller sketch of the same pose and of his hands
Pen and brown ink
Verso: A musketeer standing with his gun over his shoulder, another soldier kneeling at r
Pen and brown ink, over black chalk
Picture: British Museum
The mid seventeenth century saw a tremendous flourishing of the visual arts. Rembrandt, Velazquez and Poussin were creating some of their greatest masterpieces and mega-collectors like Charles I and Philip IV were competing to buy the most celebrated old masters. But this was against a calamitous backdrop of famine, disease and war. The picture above is a drawing by Stefano della Bella in the British Museum. Stefano is one of relatively few seventeenth century artists who depicted military subjects. Guard scenes were a popular genre among Dutch, French and Italian artists, but they show none of the horror of war. Battle scenes by artists like Wouwermans are rather stylised and elegant, giving little sense of the brutal and bloody reality. Rubens painted allegories of war, and Rembrandt painted arms manufacturers, but you don't get a visual record of the profound trauma of the period. There was no seventeenth century Otto Dix, for example.

I've just read three excellent recent books on aspects of the 'crisis of the seventeenth century', as it's controversially been described, so please indulge my foray from art history to history.
Picture: Amazon
Lauro Martines Furies: War in Europe 1450-1700 Bloomsbury 2013 £20

Charles Tilly famously said, "war made the state, and the state made war". In the early modern period the need to establish and equip armies forged belligerents to implement administrative changes that gave rise to the modern state. At one level, that's the theme of this book, and it's a rather familiar and uncontroversial thesis. But its real merit is in the fascinating neglected details about early modern war - how soldiers were recruited and how they experienced war, the impact of war on civilian victims and on government and statecraft, the conduct of sieges and consequences of sacking cities. This is mainly a book of reportage, with a sub-text that chides historians for their neglect of the lived experience behind their theses.

To call an academic book 'reportage' sounds like critique, but it shouldn't. Martines is one of the most interesting historians of Renaissance and early modern Europe; his Power and Imagination is a particularly good account of the Italian city states. And this book is sophisticated and learned and rhetorically brilliant. Rather than citing specific debates and engaging directly with other historians, he simply fills the lacunae in their narratives. That makes for a more interesting book for the general reader, but a no less valuable contribution for the specialist.
Picture: Amazon
Derek Croxton Westphalia: The Last Christian Peace Palgrave Macmillan 2013 £70

The massively destructive Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) ended with the Peace of Westphalia, signed at Münster and Osnabrück in 1648. It's one of the most famous peace treaties in history, and is widely regarded as codifying the modern notion of state sovereignty. This book is about the peace treaty, and it's fascinating. Croxton emphasises continuity rather than rupture, setting it in a context of early modern diplomacy. His account of the mechanics of seventeenth century negotiation is enthralling - from vexed questions of protocol and precedence to the nitty-gritty of transport between Münster and Osnabrück and the difficulty of communication with home governments.

Much of the detail is fairly obscure (though no less interesting for that) given its narrow subject. But it worried me when famous details that I did know were incorrect - most conspicuously Rome was sacked in 1527, not 1525 (p. 24). I thought he missed a trick by sticking to the historical literature. His challenge to the claim that Westphalia was the rupture that established the modern sovereign state is more pertinent in political theory and international relations, but he doesn't cite those debates. Still, this is an excellent book of more general interest than its title might imply. It's a work of immense scholarship that also tells a great story.
Picture: Amazon
Geoffrey Parker Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century Yale 2013 £29.99

This is a mammoth study by a great historian that links the crisis of the seventeenth century to climate change. The 'little ice age' saw harvest failure, extreme weather and disease, causing tumult and conflict globally. Although Parker pays close attention to climate, and to the differential impact of climate change on different regions, the argument is never over-determined. It is background to the contingent actions of human agents. His accounts of conflicts in different regions - including Mughal India and Ming China - stand as individual masterpieces of historical synthesis. Taken as a whole this is an immensely important book and a compelling read.

To make one small art historical criticism, Parker thinks that winter landscapes were mainly painted in the late seventeenth century, but artists like Avercamp and Cabel and various Brueghels were creating some of the most celebrated winter scenes at the very start of the century - which means art history illustrates his point better than he realised. But that's a trivial footnote; this is one of the best history books I've read in years. 

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Old Masters in Zagreb: A morning at the Strossmayer

A stag party in Zagreb was a great opportunity to see one of Europe's less known museums. When I visited the Strossmayer Gallery on a Sunday morning (it's only open mornings) I was the only visitor. The museum was founded by Bishop Strossmayer, an outspoken opponent of the doctrine of papal infallibility, a Panslavist who funded schools and a university from diocesan funds. He is famous for a heretical speech against papal infallibility, but it's almost certainly a fake. Unfortunately some of his pictures are not what they seem either. Many are over-attributed, including a copy that is identified as an El Greco and several Italian attributions that seemed suspect to me. The picture above features Saints Augustine and Benedict, which they give to Giovanni Bellini. It isn't by him, but it's a high-quality studio work that may well have had some intervention by the master himself. It reminds me of the Madonna and Child with Saints in Birmingham, which is similarly high-quality but generally excluded from the canon. Ironically some of the pictures identified as studio works are actually rather good - a Holy Family tondo from Filippino Lippi's studio, and a Madonna and Child from Credi's.
Picture: Musée Jacqumart-André
Probably the best-known picture at the Strossmayer is Fra Angelico's Stigmatisation of St Francis and Death of St Peter Martyr (above), which is really excellent. They also have some high quality copies including one of Raphael's Madonna of the Pinks, which they attribute to Sassoferrato and one of Dürer's Madonna and Child with St Anne, which they say is 'attributed to Dürer'. Most museums would prefer to show a second rate original rather than a first rate copy, which is a shame. Copying used to be highly-regarded and many are excellent. They are often quite cheap at auction. A partial copy of Titian's Three Ages of Man was in a particularly finely carved gilt frame; it must have been considered an original when framed, or at least intended to be sold as an original. Many of the pictures at the Strossmayer are well-framed, which made me wonder if he was being sold expensive duds. 
Master painter of Virgo inter virgines: The Holy Trinity
Picture: Strossmayer Gallery
The other highlight is this large altarpiece is by the Master of the Virgo inter Virgines - an unusual and wonderful thing.

The collection focuses on Italian paintings, with a scattering of German and Early Netherlandish pictures, a handful of French and some Dutch. This weak landscape is given to Ruisdael, which is surely wrong. My first thought was Cornelius Vroom; the foliage in particular is quite reminiscent. But I'm not now sure it's by him either. 

Zagreb is well worth a trip. There are several other galleries, and the Museum of Broken Relationships (ideal for a stag weekend) - which is actually better than it sounds, though rather sad. The photo is the caption from a frisbee (a 'stupid' frisbee); the object itself was inexplicably on loan to another museum!

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Exhibitions in brief: shows I saw in December and January

Picture: Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2013
Castiglione: Lost Genius Queen's Gallery to March 16*
There are two Castigliones in my home town, one of them excellent, so I grew up assuming he was a Very Famous Artist. In fact he is not well known, though his best drawings have always been prized. This exhibition is a quite comprehensive retrospective, though it is entirely from the Royal Collection. Castiglione is an interesting character, a hot-headed artist who traveled widely and borrowed promiscuously as he sought a 'style'. Early influence of Poussin and Rembrandt is shown in the exhibition. I also noted the influence of Parmigianino on some of the later drawings (e.g. Venus & Adonis), as if he'd only come across him late in life but was still assimilating new ideas. His work varies widely in quality; he wasn't up to the task of composing grand history paintings in the manner of Poussin, for example ('operatic tableaux rather than dramas of life and death'). I liked the late oil sketches of St Francis best, vivacious independent works of art with virtuoso brushwork. 

The presentation of this exhibition is superb - the best I've seen in London. The wall text is honest in its assessment of Castiglione's variable quality, and clearly explains why some are better than others. The curators' personality comes through, which is rare in the bland committee-vetted text at some London venues. The catalogue is good, too. The catalogue of the 1971 Philadelphia exhibition of Castiglione drawings is more traditional, with a scholarly introduction followed by catalogue of exhibits. The Royal Collection catalogue is an extended essay that discusses the exhibits without separate entries on each. The authors suggest that Anthony Blunt's catalogue of the Royal Collection's Castigliones was too uncritical, and accepted as autograph many sheets from his studio. I do hope they follow up with a revised catalogue, or better still a catalogue raisonné of all his drawings.

Here are two good longer reviews by Leander and Brian Sewell.
*Updated 5 Feb to remove point about Biblical pedantry, as it turns out there are two different accounts of Moses Striking the Rock, one of which accords with the wall text. So the exhibition was even better than I had first realised!

This exhibition opens mentioning the 'three greats' of Flemish painting: Rubens, Van Dyck and Jordaens. I'm afraid it reminded me of the Blackadder episode where the German spy is caught out because Blackadder mentions the three great English universities: Oxford, Cambridge and Hull. It is later revealed, of course, that Oxford is a complete dump. And I'm afraid that only two of the Flemish greats were really great; Jordaens isn't quite in their league. But this well-curated show convinced me that I'd underestimated him based on assessment of the more pedestrian studio productions; sometimes he was really quite good. This exhibition is well curated, showing every aspect of his art and explaining well the deterioration as he relied more on his studio. Catalogue is available in French only, but I still bitterly regret not buying it. For quality of presentation this was the best show I saw in Paris.

Masculine/Masculine: The Male Nude in Art from 1800 to today Musée d'Orsay closed 12 January 2014
The Male Nude: Eighteenth-century drawings from the Paris Academy Wallace Collection closed 19 January 2014

Studying the male nude was central to the classical tradition of art, but its very centrality means that it has rarely been a subject of independent exhibition. But I recently saw two very different shows on that very theme. Masculine/Masculine in Paris is a big show at the Musée d'Orsay tracing the male nude over two centuries. The Male Nude is a tiny show of drawings made in the life drawing classes at the Paris Academy between 1670-1790.

The Wallace Collection exhibition is marvelous; a lovely, small selection of life drawings made at the Royal Academy in the eighteenth century, including early works by really major artists. It complements the Wallace's own collection, and gives a great insight into artistic production. Unfortunately poor quality glass that made it hard to see the drawings through the glare. And both wall text and catalogue claimed that one drawing dates from two years before the artist's birth (Jean-Gustave Taraval 1765-1784 apparently drew a Man Standing in 1762). A typo is not a serious flaw, but the glazing and lighting was a real let-down. It's sad to see such a splendid show marred by small details.

The Paris show was just a mess. It's not really about the male nude. It's about 'masculinity', which has been in 'crisis' in the twentieth century (ask a sociologist). The show is about ideas, not about art. Many of the exhibits are worth seeing, particularly the earlier academic paintings. But there is a switch in the middle of the show, when it turns from academic studies of the human body towards more sexualised, often homo-erotic treatments of the male nude. Either half of the exhibition would have been interesting in its own right. The first half could perhaps have been taken forward with examples of academic studies from the twentieth century. Or the second half could have sought precursors, perhaps drawing on literary sources as well as visual art. But the two parts together implied connections that were not obvious and not explained.

There is a brilliant review of the Paris show on The Art Tribune (in French). The Art Tribune's reviews of all the shows I saw in Paris were spot on; it's an indispensable source. 
Caroline Murat, Queen of Naples - Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres
Picture: Wikipaintings
The Sisters of Napoleon Musée Marmottan closed 26 January
A trivial exhibition with lots of portraits of Napoleon's sisters. I like early nineteenth century academic French portraits, but this show was wearying rather than enlightening. The highlight was a chance to see a picture in a private collection that I've wanted to see for years: the much-reproduced Ingres Caroline Murat, Queen of Naples (above). 

Georges Braque Grand Palais closed 6 January
Fabulous retrospective of one of my favourite modern artists. Roomfuls of cubist Braque were a pleasure, and its good to see them alone, without ubiquitous comparison to Picasso. Wonderful to see most of the Studio series together too. I was struck by how often Braque failed. Some of his post-cubist, vaguely classical pictures were bad, and the post-war work is mixed. But many wonderful pictures, interspersed with small sections of documentary material. Overall presentation was superb.

The Young Dürer: Drawing the figure Courtauld Institute closed Jan 12
There was some controversy over this exhibition, mainly because some reviewers wanted it to be a different exhibition. I enjoyed it on its own terms. Not all of the drawings on display were masterpieces; it was a focused and scholarly exhibition focused on the Courtauld's own study of the Wise Virgin. The differences in quality were interesting and enlightening. Wall text and catalogue were excellent.

Springtime of the Renaissance Louvre, Closed Jan 6
I saw this exhibition when it opened at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence (review here). It looked much better in the Louvre because the lighting was so improved, with many sculptures lit from above and below. In Florence it was hard to see some of them at all. The wall text seemed blander in Paris, but that may be a fault of my memory.

1925, When Art Deco Dazzled the World Cité de l'Architecture to 3 March
Fabulous small show, sadly very crowded. It's based around the 1925 exhibition that included the great House of a Collector by Ruhlmann, the great designer. Wonderful displays showing the adoption of Art Deco around the world, clear demonstration of the difference between Art Nouveau and Art Deco. I loved the posters of fast cars at the entrance. It nicely illustrated the association of Art Deco with modernity and progress at a time when it's commonly assumed people were disillusioned in the aftermath of the Great War.
Daumier Royal Academy, closed 26 January
This exhibition surprised me. I knew Daumier from innumerable boring pictures of washerwomen, cute caricatures and sometimes acute cartoons. This show presented him as a painter, and some of the pictures I didn't know were superb. The two versions of Man on a Rope (above) are outstanding. Sadly it's let down by a truly dreadful catalogue, with some banal text by art history celebrities like T.J. Clark but no proper catalogue entries and a too-brief introduction.

Masterpieces of Chinese Painting Victoria & Albert Museum, closed 19 January
Astonishing, brilliant show about an entire artistic tradition that's almost entirely unknown to me. The early landscapes are just fabulous. I feel utterly unqualified to review this exhibition; I can only fall back on superlatives. The catalogue is magnificent and substantial, and really helped me appreciate the exhibition. I desperately want to learn more and see more after this show. A good longer review here.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Old Master Results

There were some odd results in the Old Master Paintings sales in New York last week. Some great pictures went cheap, some so-so pictures soared. Prices were more closely related to quality in the drawings sales. I was delighted to see some good anonymous drawings fetch high prices, particularly in the Sotheby's sale. The sixteenth century Venetian landscape above made $87,500 (estimate without premium was $7k-$9k). It had struck me as impressive and unusual, but I confess I was put off by the rather weak foreground figures. It was from the collection of the late Denys Sutton, a former editor of Apollo with a really good eye. A Dughet landscape from his collection made $11,250; it was inexplicably unsold at an auction in London last year. Another anonymous drawing that I'd admired was a Florentine Head Study that made $40,625 (est. $15k-$20k), and yet another was the intriguing French School portrait pictured below, also estimated at $15k-$20k, that sold for $37,500 including premium.

I thought this Rembrandt attribution rather expensive at $75,000, but good paintings and drawings from Rembrandt's school have been fetching high prices even without firm attribution. A tiny Head of an Old Woman from Rembrandt's circle made $203,000 (est $60k-$80k) in the Christie's paintings sale.

The Christie's drawings sale saw a convincing new attribution to Barocci fetch just $50,000 despite its historically interesting subject - a Study for an Equestrian Portrait of Francesco Maria II della Rovere. The price reflects its comparative dullness against the best drawings by this great draughtsman. One of the great Barocci sheets in the recent National Gallery exhibition fetched £1.6m back in 1987! The fine Gericaults sold poorly too - the one I particularly liked failed to sell at all. Despite his tragically early death, Gericault produced huge numbers of drawings - but those at Christie's seemed quite exceptional and I was surprised they didn't do better.
There were even more surprising bargains in the paintings sales. At Sotheby's the Lo Spagna that I wanted made just $269,000 and Bourdon's Deposition was $281,000 - well above estimate but still cheap. At Christie's the Sweerts was just $197,500 and the Salvator Mundi that was attributed to Jacopo de'Barbari failed to sell. The Rothschild Prayerbook sold below low estimate for $13,605,000 (& not to the Getty - what were they thinking?). Nearly $14m is a lot of money, but truly a bargain for such an absolutely exceptional work of art. The ivory group above sold below its low estimate at $197k. I wonder how much better it would have done if one of the figures hadn't been smashed at the viewing - very sad.
I missed a few things online. I didn't click the thumbnails on pictures by Beerstraten (above - a rare good picture by an artist who was often pedestrian), Baciccio or Schedoni but all deservedly sold well above estimate, all at Sotheby's. 
The Madonna and Child with the Crown of Thorns and three nails
Lots of things sold for prices that seemed too high. I thought this ugly picture (above) that was ambitiously attributed to Botticelli would fail to sell with an estimate of $700k-$1m, but it made $1,685,000 at Christie's. Nearly $6m for this El Greco is crazy money. Another El Greco set a record for a Spanish Old Master in London last year (£9.2m), but that was an incomparably better picture. And prices for Brueghel's peasants are always enormous and never justified. But I'm comparing old masters. Set against contemporary and modern art, everything is a bargain. Bendor Grosvenor provided some perspective on Art History News when he pointed out that you could buy the entire Christie's Old Master Paintings sale for a Cracked Egg (how appropriate) by Jeff Koons if it sells at low estimate.
Other high prices seemed justified. At Sotheby's, Tetrode's bronze Samson Slaying the Philistine made $3,301,000 - triple its estimate, but appropriate for such a rare and excellent sculptor who has gained recognition and admiration since the monographic exhibition in 2003. An anonymous Lombard Portrait of a Gyrfalcon Viewed from Three Sides (above) sold well above estimate for $3,189,000. It's a striking and fascinating picture in lovely condition, a high price but a unique and beautiful picture. Four marble reliefs by Thorvaldsen sold for $2,405,000 (over twice estimate). Much of his best work is in the wonderful Thorvaldsen Museum in Copenhagen; good examples rarely come on the market. Still, some of the best things in last week's sales were a fraction of these prices; I envy the buyers of the Lo Spagna and Bourdon.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Judd Climbing at Tate

Picture: Stephanie Theodore
A righteous - and rightful - chorus has roundly condemned the family that let a child lie on a Donald Judd sculpture at Tate. But Tate must take its share of the blame. These barbarians are the creations of modern museology. For years the art establishment has been turning museums into playgrounds to pander to the perceived desires of visitors. Most major museums have signed up to the Kids in Museums manifesto, which tells museums to say "please touch". The new director of the Fitzwilliam thinks it's rude even to ask visitors not to touch works of art.

Museums fret that the socially excluded are intimidated, but this is an upper middle class family that owns a successful chain of clothes shops, who boast that their kids have been to 'all the museums and all the galleries in London and abroad'. The parents think their young alpinist was being 'anti-establishment' (which they think is self-evidently a Good Thing), but their behaviour and their reaction is attuned to the art establishment.

The most grotesque comment was when the mother asked "Does this woman want it that so no parents bring children to art galleries?", which assumes that children will only want to go to art galleries if they're allowed to be destructive. The assumption that children cannot be expected to behave is utterly contemptuous of children. But it only echoes what museums themselves have been saying for years; Tate's official reaction emphasised how much they welcome families, as if that has any relevance to the destructive behaviour of a visitor. Pandering to badly-behaved visitors elevates their sense of entitlement.

This incident occurred not long after another visitor vandalised a Rothko. A vandal causing terrible damage is different from an unsupervised child who didn't actually break anything, but the common theme is that the art was not being guarded by Tate. This is a fundamental failure of management. Grand exhibitions, successful fund drives and huge visitor numbers count for nothing if Tate cannot meet the most basic requirement of any museum, to look after its own collection. Worse, the official response has been downright dishonest. They claimed that "the situation was dealt with immediately". When an institution claims that 'a situation was dealt with', the clear implication is that they dealt with it. But they do not explain how or by whom, and the visitor who photographed the incident said that she had challenged them, but said nothing about any action by a guard at Tate. The incident was 'dealt with' only because another visitor, Stephanie Theodore, challenged them - and was roundly abused for her public-spirited action. Tate's official response was simply to reassure the public that children are very welcome, as if their greatest fear was not of damage to the artwork but of any possible impact on visitor numbers.

It is an established principle that leaders must take responsibility for corporate failures. Executives lose their jobs when their subordinates fail to perform. Cabinet ministers are held responsible for failures in their departments. Tate has the wrong priorities and is demonstrably failing in its most basic duty. Their reaction to the incident was worse than their failure to prevent it - a blasé and dishonest response that fails even to recognise the problem. Tate is rotten and its director Sir Nicholas Serota must go.

I don't mean to let the family off the hook. I don't blame the child, but her parents and her aunt and uncle behaved badly and their arrogant and entitled response is appalling. I like Oliver Basciano's suggestion on Twitter that we form a flash mob and go be anti-establishment in their upscale clothes shop. But let's picket Serota's office first.