To one degree or another, we all tend to think of ourselves as "art experts" at least in some area. But as in the study of medicine, there are few across-the-board experts in everything there is to know about art. And of course these people are probably, in themselves, NOT artists. When would they find the time? They are sometimes called art critics, but these people are really just writers who know how to line up a few supposedly insightful, apparently intelligent, smart-assed comments about the hard work we all go through everyday to make our marks on canvas. No, the real experts are the art appraisers. Without a doubt, they are the most powerful men and women in the whole art world today. Decisions they make sometimes involve the "making" of million-dollar works of art, or the "breaking" of million-dollar collections of art.
An interesting example, tucked away in a dark corridor of a Jesuit center near Reading, Pennsylvania, was a little noticed painting of modest proportions entitled "The Raising of Lazarus." It had been willed to the religious institution by a couple back in 1928. Records indicate they paid about $35,000 for it. One day recently, Dr. Robert P. Metzger, director of the Reading Public Museum happened to be visiting the Jesuits and noticed the work. He persuaded the priests to allow some of these high-paid art experts to take a look at it. Turns out the thing's a vintage 1556 Tintoretto. Not that it's for sale, but conservative estimates place its value in the neighborhood of $2 million. It's on loan to the Reading museum now, but when it goes back to the Jesuits, you can bet it won't return to a remote, dimly lit corridor.
Unfortunately, it also works in reverse. Hanging on the walls of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, Missouri, are 28 watercolor paintings collectively known as "The Canyon Suite," presumably by Georgia O'Keeffe. The museum was recently informed by the experts at the National Gallery of Art in Washington that the works would be omitted from the "catalogue raissone" of O'Keeffe's works. This decision slashes the value of the works from close to $8 million to virtually nil. Curators made the decision based upon the quality of the paper with regard to some of the works and stylistic considerations in others. The Museum is doing its own investigation and has already determined that the works in question did not ALL come for the highly experimental period or O'Keeffe's career, 1916-18, as had been previously thought. Add to this, the Kemper Museum has charged that the exclusion comes as retribution for their not having agreed to GIVE the works to the National Gallery last year. Those in Washington, of course, deny this charge. In any case, the art dealer who sold the works to the Kemper originally for some $5.5 million has offered to buy them back. Kind of makes your blood run cold, doesn't it?