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A fable

Post #811 • June 15, 2006, 11:23 AM • 44 Comments

When the laurel and the myrtle saw the pear tree being cut down, they cried out, "O pear tree, where are you going? Where is all the pride you had when you were covered with ripe fruit? Now you will no longer shade us with your dense foliage." Then the pear tree answered, "I am going with the farmer who is cutting me down, and he will take me to the workshop of a fine sculptor, who with his art will give me the shape of Jove the god. I shall be dedicated in the temple, and adored by men as Jove, while you will often be maimed and stripped of your branches, which men will place upon me to honor me.

Leonardo da Vinci, from Prophecies, published by Hesperus Press.




June 15, 2006, 12:21 PM

Stupid pear tree! Those other trees are laughing at you, now that you're dead. They can't believe you fell for that crock. True, they miss your shade, but not your pompous attitude.

In other news, Laurel and the Mrytle went on to have long productive lives, each producing many seedlings. Branches were laid at the foot of the sculpture of Jove by the townsfolk, but the regular culling allowed Laurel and Myrtle to grow stronger and live longer.



June 15, 2006, 12:29 PM

I think the laurel and the myrtle were complaining about their sunlight getting blocked.



June 15, 2006, 12:40 PM

I know this is so unrelated to today's artblog post, but I think this article is so funny that I wanted to post it here.


LONDON (Reuters) - One of Britain's most prestigious art galleries put a block of slate on display, topped by a small piece of wood, in the mistaken belief it was a work of art.

The Royal Academy included the chunk of stone and the small bone-shaped wooden stick in its summer exhibition in London.

But the slate was actually a plinth -- a slab on which a pedestal is placed -- and the stick was designed to prop up a sculpture. The sculpture itself -- of a human head -- was nowhere to be seen.

"I think the things got separated in the selection process and the selectors presented the plinth as a complete sculpture," the work's artist David Hensel told BBC radio.

The academy explained the error by saying the plinth and the head were sent to the exhibitors separately.

"Given their separate submission, the two parts were judged independently," it said in a statement. "The head was rejected. The base was thought to have merit and accepted.

"The head has been safely stored ready to be collected by the artist," it added. "It is accepted that works may not be displayed in the way that the artist might have intended."


Marc Country

June 15, 2006, 12:55 PM

Also, Pear Tree had branchloads of lovely offspring, of which he was very proud (despite that they perhaps never went on to reproduce themselves...being a bunch of fruits, after all).
So, Pear Tree's life had been at least as productive as Laurel and Myrtle's, up until his "promotion".

This story shows an interesting contrast with Chuang Tzu's parable of The Useless Tree. (Because its wood cannot be used for anything or (in another case) because it bears no edible fruit, nobody is going to hurt it. It will be able to live out its allotted life span in tranquillity and become huge and provide shade so as to become a resting place for people and animals.)



June 15, 2006, 12:59 PM

Saw the RA story. It was already destined for tomorrow's roundup. The RA admits no error, irony, or naked emperors. Link.

Marc, I was thinking of Chuang Tzu's "I too prefer the mud."



June 15, 2006, 1:12 PM

What Myrtle and Laurel did not know was that the sculptor said to the farmer "Go cut that pair down".


Marc Country

June 15, 2006, 1:31 PM

Nice oldpro.

That RA story in incredible... "Mistake! What mistake?"
Absolutely shameless.



June 15, 2006, 1:38 PM

OP, yet another example of the patriarchy wantonly cutting sisters down.



June 15, 2006, 1:42 PM

The sculptor was the farmer's wife, KH. She always felt misunderstood, for some reason.



June 15, 2006, 1:45 PM

OP, she might be transgendered; check out the pronouns used in the fable.



June 15, 2006, 1:47 PM

I have a sneaky suspicion that both the base and the plinth were better sculpture than the head. I think the story reflects as much on the general low level of art right now as it does on screw-ups at the RA.



June 15, 2006, 2:25 PM

The RA story is completely credible--that's the problem. It's perfectly typical and representative. The official mantra, of course, is "There is no problem. None. We know exactly what's what. If you disagree or don't understand, it's only because YOU have a problem." Figures.


Marc Country

June 15, 2006, 4:29 PM

True Jack, my mistake.
Stories like this are all too inevitable. I'm sure many of us can think of other stories just like it.
Really, it's these contemporary curators who are truly incredible.



June 15, 2006, 6:41 PM

The following has more relevance to comments that riff on talking trees than to the original post, but as an ancient story bears some interesting similarities and contrasts to Leonardo's.

"The trees went forth [on a time] to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the olive tree, Reign thou over us. But the olive tree said unto them, Should I leave my fatness, wherewith by me they honour God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees? And the trees said to the fig tree, Come thou, [and] reign over us. But the fig tree said unto them, Should I forsake my sweetness, and my good fruit, and go to be promoted over the trees? Then said the trees unto the vine, Come thou, [and] reign over us. And the vine said unto them, Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees? Then said all the trees unto the bramble, Come thou, [and] reign over us. And the bramble said unto the trees, If in truth ye anoint me king over you, [then] come [and] put your trust in my shadow: and if not, let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon." (Some guy, from the Bible, published by King James, Judges 9:8-15)



June 15, 2006, 7:58 PM

The plinth looks better than the laughing head. If I thought they were separate submissions I'd eliminate the head. Did the sculptor insist that the work be shown as intended or was he happy enough just to be included?



June 15, 2006, 9:19 PM

The quality of the rejected head is obviously beside the point here.

I love this:

Yesterday, the Royal Academy, with great candour, said no error had been made on its part.

What, error, you say? Oh, no, no, my dear man, certainly not. How could anyone even suggest such a thing? We're certified ranking members of the art establishment. We don't do errors, you see. Never happens. We have a list of major collectors willing to swear to it, in writing, and they're all VIP, you know. Now run along, and let the experts do their job undisturbed. Really, such clueless riff-raff.

It's quite pitiful, needless to say, but absolutely classic stuff.



June 15, 2006, 9:59 PM

you're an asshole



June 15, 2006, 10:19 PM

Gee, does anyone else here have the sneaking suspicion that the Plinth Affair was nothing more than a publicity hoax by the artist, David Hensel. Google him and it appears that jewelry is his bread and butter. He got 5 pages in Google news, that has to be good for business.



June 15, 2006, 10:25 PM

Can you be more specific, Laura?

The RA story is very odd. Both the artist and the museum come out looking rather foolish. I think they used to call that mutually assured destruction.



June 15, 2006, 10:38 PM

Re #19, Yes it's an odd story.

As far as I could tell there were only three news reports, The Guardian, The Telegraph and everyone else just picked up the AP news feed. All the stories do the "modern art snicker". The "news" has been nothing more than commentary, as far as I can tell no one cared enough to dig into the story as it would sell news the way it was.

What I want to know is...
Were Hensel's two crates clearly marked "1 of 2" and "2 of 2"? You would have to be a dope not to make sure both parts of the shipment were kept together.
Or... Were the crates accidentally separated by the RA handlers?
Was their separate documentation for each crate?
Or... Was there more than one application form?

Something smells fishy here



June 16, 2006, 12:28 AM

Laura, we don't do that here.

It may be beside that point, Jack. I was just making another point, as have others. It is a good news story, an "art snicker" story, as George calls it, with lots of angles, especially with the presumabley befuddled but publicity-rich artist in the middle of it. Next thing you know he will be nominated for the Turner Prize.



June 16, 2006, 1:46 AM

George, perhapes the employees in the shipping and recieving department who were responsible for unpacking both crates decided to undermine the system that they hold responsible for supressing their own careers as artists. Since many handlers are artists themselves, and after many years of jaded cafe criticism, decided that the head would have been more aesthetically pleasing if it was made from a light hardwood - like pear, and not an inert austere material such as bronze.
One day, after a late night art discussion about political issues, Kantian ethics, 'isms' that Mark guy who cast a head portrait of himself in his own blood ( and how cool it was that he did that ), handler number one opens the crate to discover a bronze head, looks at his co-worker - art handler - art discussion friend and while grinning, he begins fudging the packing slip (the pink sheet), in a manner somewhat similar to the way the used car dealer in the movie "Fargo" does.
They hide the crateless head behind the dumpster, knowing that many guys in the area use this certain spot to urinate, and set up a small digital video recorder purchased at the spy store across the street from the RA to document the patina changes that occur.
They send the resulting video along with the pink packing slip to 'Optic Nerve', get in and quite their day jobs.


Bunny Smedley

June 16, 2006, 2:37 AM

George, I think you're onto something re nos. 18 and 20.

I've no idea what the answers to your questions are, but I agree - they are definitely the right questions.

Also, it's sometimes quite interesting to learn how stories originate, and in this case, I am pretty sure what set it going was Hensel's own letter on the subject, sent to the London 'Evening Standard' (not online). AP picked it up from there.

The result? Hensel, not exactly a household name previously, has had more publicity than e.g. Damien Hirst's frantically attention-seeking 'Virgin Mother', currently disfiguring the main courtyard at Burlington House - itself a lazy rehash of 'Hymn' - and certainly more publicity than any of the (mostly) recycled rubbish submitted by the ageing Young British Artists to the exhibition itself.

What's more, the publicity is exactly the sort that appears to set him at odds with the rather smug and sclerotic Arts Establishment here, which is more than Hirst & Co can say - but which is what the papers, and apparently the public, love most.

As it happens, I rather liked the Summer Exhibition this year, not least because it includes quite a lot of fairly strong, thoughtful, engaged and engaging painting. Hensel, though, has to win the prize for the best conceptual work. Media manipulation at that level, starting from a standing start, takes real talent ....



June 16, 2006, 3:39 AM

George, perhapes the employees in the shipping and recieving department who were responsible for unpacking both crates decided to undermine the system that they hold responsible for supressing their own careers as artists.

Seems unlikely as there were reportedly 9000 entries but the rest of your comment is funny.

Re#23 Bunny, I did read one news report on a UK newspaper website (there were more than I originally suggested), where the RA said the two "crates" were entered "separately", and so that's how they were judged. I'm curious now as to what really happened.

Although it might have started as a joke, when you think about it, Hensel really had nothing to lose. If the head was accepted, it would tip over without the slab and dumbell, giving him a reasonable reason to insist on reuniting the parts, the same would be true if both parts were accepted. If, as was the case, just the base was accepted, it becomes a cause celeb like it did, Win-win.

The simple answer would be for the RA to release copies of the submission paperwork, inquiring minds want to know.

Regardless it's a hoot.



June 16, 2006, 6:58 AM

In any event, good art, whatever there may be of it, generates no news at all.


Bunny Smedley

June 16, 2006, 7:34 AM

In any event, good art, whatever there may be of it, generates no news at all.

Sad but true.

I can imagine buying an Evening Standard on the strength of a headline like 'Small but luminous and well-observed oil depicting sea-bass on show at RA', but that would be more the novelty value than anything else. Probably, they're better off sticking with the livelier stuff.

Quick, someone, do something shocking, won't you?



June 16, 2006, 8:40 AM

"smug and sclerotic Arts Establishment " sounds right on the mark. You'd think that the British, of all people, would recognize a Monty Python booby trap a mile away (remember the Dead Parrot routine?), but in the RA's case, that's evidently not so.



June 16, 2006, 9:10 AM

The last time good art was "shocking" news was Pollock in Life Magazine in 1949. Uninspired innovation became a ritual and then mainstream. Now the only thing that makes headlines are the screw-ups, like the janitor who toosed out Hirst's roomful of garbage.

Good art probably does not belong in the headlines. Headlines are by nature corrupting.


Marc Country

June 16, 2006, 10:05 AM

My question is, what title was the plinth-and-prop exhibited under?
"Laughing Head"?
... or Something else?


Marc Country

June 16, 2006, 10:12 AM

More commentary on this story, from the Guardian:

"To conservatives all these stories hold the same moral: that once anything can be accepted as creativity it becomes impossible to distinguish between a work of art and lost property or litter.

This week the anti-modernists were offered another sheaf of newspaper cuttings to keep safe in their wallets. David Hensel, a sculptor from Sussex, submitted to the Royal Academy summer exhibition a piece that consisted of a large bronze laughing head mounted on a plinth of slate and kept in place by a support shaped like a bone."

Ok, I can accept the idea that my aesthetic views can be characterized as 'conservative' even if my political views cannot...

But "anti-modernist"?


Bunny Smedley

June 16, 2006, 10:43 AM

Mark, the item in question was exhibited as follows:

'One Day Closer to Paradise', jesmonite for bronze, David Hensel, (edition of 9: £3,640 each)

So, a multi-purpose title for this enigmatic object. I wonder whether he's sold any yet?



June 16, 2006, 10:53 AM

The mystery deepens. Doesn't such a title display clear intent on the part of the artist?

Marc, "conservative" and "modernist" have become so diluted and confused that I and guessing the guardian writer was someone who is not in on art talk and was a little unsure of what to say. In fact I think the confusion is clear from the excerpt you quoted.



June 16, 2006, 10:54 AM

I mean, not that the "confusion was clear" but that it was clear that it was confused.

Or whatever.


Marc Country

June 16, 2006, 11:07 AM

Clearly confused is right, op.



June 16, 2006, 11:10 AM

Is someone going to tell me what jesmonite is or am I going to have to google it?



June 16, 2006, 11:15 AM

The head is bronze I take it, and what is the "bone" made of?



June 16, 2006, 11:19 AM

Just so's it's clear, I did not take the head.



June 16, 2006, 11:48 AM

Isn't Jesmonite a variety of German Baptist?


Marc Country

June 16, 2006, 11:58 AM

Yeah, I coulda sworn I read somewhere that Ahab himself is a product of a "strict Jesmonite upbringing...""


Marc Country

June 16, 2006, 12:04 PM


- Jesmonite is a gypsum based material in an acrylic resin envelope which delivers very high impact resistance - both hard and soft body.

- Jesmonite is Class O under UK building regulations and therefore offers zero spread of flame. The material is free of toxic fumes. It is acoustically dead. It is therefore eminently suitable for shopping malls, airports and other public spaces.

- Jesmonite can be offered with a plain white finish resembling plaster. However variations of Jesmonite are on offer with finishes resembling Portland Stone, Sandstone, Limestone, Stainless Steel, Oxidised Bronze and wood.

So, "Jesmonite for Bronze" means Jesmonite, not bronze.


Marc Country

June 16, 2006, 12:10 PM

So, in further idiocy, these nitwits put a slab of slate and a wedge of wood on display, with a tag that lists the materials as "jesmonite for bronze", and they STILL admit no mistake?



June 16, 2006, 12:11 PM

I think this incident is part of a vast postmodernist conspirancy.



June 16, 2006, 12:25 PM

Now Marc, they're not nitwits. That's being too kind, as real nitwits can't help what they are. These are smug, supposedly "in the know" types who fell for a trick, deliberate or unintentional--it makes no difference. The point is they were fooled and can't bring themselves to admit it, or at least do the smart thing and try to laugh it off like good sports. Their approach is exactly the same as that of John Cleese as the pet shop owner who adamantly refused to admit that a stuffed parrot was, indeed, dead. It's as sad as it is funny.



June 16, 2006, 1:17 PM

What's going on there in Britain? Some BBC employee(s) recently grabed a poor fellow from the waiting room who was ther for a tech job interview and thinking that he was a law specialist, put him on live t.v. They broadcasted his response to questions that he knew nothing about ! Poor guy, he was baffled as you could see in his faced when asked about his opinion regarding political matters.



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