pordenone montanari – genius or senile dauber?

16 August 2010 § 4 Comments

Hoorah! A new Italian artistic ‘genius’ has been discovered according to a story published yesterday in the Observer (15 Aug) and Guardian online. ‘Eccentric’ Pordenone Montanari has been living as a ‘recluse’ for the last 18 years, spending every minute painting and sculpting. The resulting work according to experts has been described as ‘worthy of major exhibition and representation in public galleries’.

So far so good – it is not unusual for artists to receive recognition late in their life, or after-life for that matter. Nevertheless to slip by totally unnoticed up to the age of 73 seems a little, shall we say, careless, even Van Gogh desperately sought recognition during his lifetime. Then we learn of Montanari’s early history – he studied sculpture at Brera in the 60’s before ‘travelling extensively, living on family money’, perhaps doing a little painting and sculpting as he scrounged, sorry explored? It is said that he sold some paintings to a bank 24 years ago so – why a bank? The bank presumably paid money for them and he was presumably showing and selling at that time? Why not the public and why are we not being told? Could it be because he was actually a rather bad, failed artist rather than an undiscovered one? Perhaps I am jumping the gun here and I should look at the work more carefully first.

So, fast-forward twenty-four years. Montanari has apparently spent most of them in self-imposed isolation painting and sculpting, fed and watered by his, no doubt long-suffering, wife. We are shown images of half a dozen paintings – four feature female models and two still lives. Immediately we recognise them as amateurish pastiches of post-impressionist and early 20th century avant-garde art. The bold outlines of Van Gogh without the emotion, the colour fields of the fauves without any sense of colour. A full-length portrait against a red background shows a female who seems to be toppling backwards whilst carrying a rugby ball (perhaps a Welsh forward?).

One of the messy and confused still-lives seems to feature a dead dog – one recalls Picasso only in that the cubist still-lives played with our ability to recognise images and shapes from fragmented, multiple viewpoints – sadly here it is because he can not paint.  The figures are soulless, seemingly trapped in corners and surrounded by mirrors and frames – their supposed similarity to the poetic, dreamlike and humourous Chagall zero. They are meant to show ‘elements of Bacon’ – the only connection I can see is that my local builder’s caff where I eat my Saturday morning fry-up has similarly dreadful pictures on the wall. They may have had some passing historical interest had he been painting before the first war but in the last twenty years, no.

But hold on – were they not discovered by a renowned expert in post-war art? Well, not quite. Actually the find was by an Indian businessman whose friend conveniently happens to run an investment, advisory and private capital firm. Ok, what about the ‘high seven figure sum’ for rights to the artists estate? Given that seven figures is a million the sum must presumably be between about £5 and £9 million, working out at over £10k for every work of  ‘art’, then surely they must be significant works? Do you believe it? I think we should see a copy of the contract dont you? 

I think by now you will notice my scepticism. Indeed, to me this has all the hallmarks of a hyped up money-making venture. My advice – steer well clear. Me? I am off to the caff to see if they are willing to sell! Arrivederci.

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