The place and importance of art in the world is almost always up for grabs. Most people have a tendency to ignore art completely. Politicians frequently see art as a convenient whipping boy when criticising public spending and they frequently have just cause. Just think about the recent decision in Montreal to spend $3.75 million placing “granite stumps” around Mount Royal, so that people can sit on them. Most Montrealers blink and wonder how the city can afford to waste so much money when it can’t repair the potholes on city streets. Those who tend to think about art a bit more often probably wonder why the city is so bent on destroying the underlying nature of Mount Royal which was famously designed by one of the premier landscape architects of his times, Frederick Law Olmstead. Aside from the controversy caused by the National Gallery’s purchase of Barnett Newman’s Voice of Fire in the 1990’s, art doesn’t usually raise any great number of headlines and if it does, they tend to quickly subside. Most people have a limited conscious involvement with art. They don’t go to galleries browsing for that perfect piece and they don’t go to museums. Instead they have a tendency to think art is dull. They can’t understand modern art and when they do understand that some-thing like Abstract Expressionism is really all about the inner emotional life of the individual artist they probably still ask themselves, “Why is it so ugly?” Art, after all, is a subject that is barely taught anymore. Against this backdrop it will come as a surprise to many that the world of art is actually exciting. Every year pieces of art that were thought lost are rediscovered, hanging on a back door in some remote village or in a flea market and that leads us to the recent case of van Gogh’s missing notebook. International van Gogh expert Bogomila Welsh-Ovcharov be-lieves she has found a lost van Gogh notebook and it has been pu-blished in English as Vincent van Gogh: The Lost Arles Sketchbook, by the prestigious New York art publisher Abrams. The notebooks are made up of 65 sketches which are mostly rural and landscapes but which also includes one self-portrait.
Welsh-Ovcharov was asked to look at the notebook when she was staying near Arles in 2013. The notebook and the resulting book represent a certain amount of money, the book is retailing at $105.00 for instance and who knows how much the sketchbook itself would bring at auction. Meanwhile the Dutch Van Gogh Museum has issued a statement stating that the museum does not believe the work to be authentic. Some of the grounds fuelling its disbelief include the type of ink used and a lack of artistic intensity as well as a disputed provenance. The sketches are done in a brown ink and the museum says that van Gogh always used black ink that faded to brown with time. The work as a whole is not of the same calibre as van Gogh’s known cannon. The selfportrait, they say is soulless. And then there is the question of where did the sketchbook come from. In Welsh-Ovcharov’s version of events the sketchbook was returned to the cafe in Arles that van Gogh lived next to and this can be seen in the cafe’s diary as being returned along with some towels and a bowel. In the museum’s version of events the cafe has already signed an inventory of van Gogh’s work which showed they never received said sketchbook. Welsh-Ovcharov may have the upper hand in this when she said during a CBC interview that the Van Gogh Museum has based their decision solely by examining photographs of the sketchbook, without having seen the “real” thing. Now if that doesn’t convince you that the art world can at times be very exciting indeed let me tell you about the theory that Abstract Expressionism, that art movement which shifted the centre of the art world from Paris to New York was actually a CIA cold war plot designed to discomfort and undermine communist Russia by showcasing how much individual freedom existed in the west. Life doesn’t get better than this.