What Steven Murphy did next

From Christie’s to the V&A: Steven Murphy (Photo: Simon Dawson)
Whatever happened to Steven Murphy after he stepped down as chief executive of Christies (by mutual agreement with the board) in 2014? His exit raised eyebrowsduring his four-year tenure, Christies held its first auction in mainland China and expanded its online art salesbut the entrepreneur has now taken up another high-profile role, joining the board of Londons Victoria and Albert Museum. Murphys four-year stint as a trustee starts this month. A statement from the V&A, filling us in on his career path to date, notes that in 2015, he founded Murphy and Partners, a bespoke art advisory with offices in London, New York and Hong Kong (he has declared no political activity, the statement says).

Calder’s big Red Lily Pads head back to the Guggenheim

Alexander Calder's Red Lily Pads (Nénuphars rouges, 1956) (Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York ©; 2017 Calder Foundation, New York/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: David Heald © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation)
Alexander Calders monumental mobile Red Lily Pads will return in February to the rotunda of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, to hang above its Frank Lloyd Wright-designed, oval-shaped fountain. Conservators are putting the finishing touches to the restoration of the 1956 painted steel sculpture ahead of its reinstallation for the exhibition celebrating the foundations 80th anniversary, Visionaries: Creating the Modern Guggenheim (10 February-6 September).

The artist originally installed the work for his 1964 retrospective so low that it was hit by the coins that visitors were fond of throwing into the fountaina practice now forbidden. It had scars all over it, says Carol Stringari, the Guggenheims deputy director and chief conservator. We had to reverse-engineer the paint, she says. Working with the Metropolitan Museum of Arts scientific department to analyse the original paint, the Guggenheim created a precise match with the company Golden Artist Colours to restore the mobiles easily chipped, matte paint surface. Some of the works connecting hooks had become bent over the years, but the kinetic sculpture has now regained its original equilibrium. Grants from the Friends of Heritage Preservation and the Jon and Mary Shirley Foundation made the three-year project possible. It included visits to Calders work in other leading museums, as well as the archives of the Calder Foundation.

Lubaina Himid: hidden figures

Musicians in Himid’s Naming the Money (2004), an installation of life-sized wooden cutouts depicting a gathering of slaves. Photo: © Mark Pinder


Painter, installation artist, curator, professor of contemporary art, Lubaina Himid is one of the pioneers of the Black Arts movement in Britain. Born in Zanzibar in 1954, she first came to prominence in the early 1980s, organising exhibitions of work by her peers, whom she felt were under-represented in the contemporary art scene. She also made her own distinctive paintings, prints and large-scale cutout figures arranged in intricate installations.

Although she has spent the past three decades making work and curating shows devoted to uncovering marginalised histories, figures and cultural movements, in recent years Himids own work has not received the attention it deserves. All this is set to change: a turning point was in 2014 when she was included in the Gwangju Biennale, and now she has two simultaneous survey exhibitions opening this month at Modern Art Oxford and Spike Island in Bristol. Both contain many works that have not been seen for decades or are having their first institutional airing. She is also a participant in, and adviser to, The Place Is Here, a show of black British art of the 1980s opening at Nottingham Contemporary in early February.


The Art Newspaper: What is the difference between the Oxford and Bristol shows?


Lubaina Himid: In the Bristol show, which is called Navigation Charts, I was trying to make something that relates to the city and its involvement in the transatlantic slave trade. So all the work is about that kind of to-ing and fro-ing, that migration and what happens to people when they end up in places that are not where they started off. Im showing the whole of Naming the Money [2004], a hundred-piece installation of life-sized wooden cutouts of a mass-slave gathering, with a soundtrack. Audiences can walk among these people and listen to their life stories, which are also mounted as tiny texts on the back of each of the cutouts. Another large installation, Cotton.com [2003], is a series of about 70 black and white paintings, each about eight inches square, spread across one wall. They present imagined conversations between the cotton workers of Lancashire and the cotton slaves of South Carolina. Theres also a set of paper works that I have only shown once before, called Zanzibar, which are three series of kangas [East African garments] that refer to my heritage and are quite personal political works. The others are more about the bigger political dialogue.


Is the Oxford exhibition more of a chronological retrospective?


Yes. Its called Invisible Strategies and the works spread from Freedom and Change, an early piece from 1984, where two black women are running across the beachin a direct lift from Picassos design for the theatre curtain for Le Train Bleuthrough to two large paintings from my series Le Rodeur, which I made this year.


Even when you use other media, your work has been described as history painting, and presenting new or hidden histories seems to be a core aim throughout.


Definitely. It was Mike Tooby [founding curator of Tate St Ives, now professor at Bath School of Art] who first asked me in the late 1980s if I was a history painter, and I said yes. It helped me to define my practice and I went on to make a series of watercolours imagining a day in the life of a heroic figure, Toussaint LOuverture [the former slave who led the Haitian revolution and went on to rule Haiti as an independent state]. It was my way of trying to change how history would be told in the future. Im a kind of filler-in of gaps.


Instead of a conventional art school education, you studied stage design at Wimbledonwhat was the appeal?


I wanted to be a theatre designer becausedue to French and Italian street theatreI was convinced that theatre was a tool for political change. I thought I could change the world. It never occurred to me to make paintings at all, of any kind. But I soon learned that theatre in Britain clings on to its past rather tightly and rather hard. Yet designing for the theatre taught me how to look at the world in a really broad way: you were given a play and you could interpret it whichever way you wanted. I learned a lot about who I was by doing theatre design.

The Place Is Here in Nottingham will explore the work of black artists and collectives in Britain in the 1980s, when you played a key part both as an artist and a curator.


Yes. Im showing Fashionable Marriage, an installation made in 1986, inspired by Hogarths Marriage A-la-Mode, which was laying down the gauntlet in every way I possibly couldI was full of hope and looking for a fight. It presents a very particular way of talking about the history of why black people are here and also about the circumstances in which we found ourselves in the 1980s. Conversations between Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were going on at the same time as those between feminist artists and critics, who were negotiating and trying to maintain some kind of dignity across all those tumultuous scenarios. There were black political activities going on in the streets, and in the art world we were trying to decide whether calling ourselves black artists was sensible because it drew attention, or alienating because it flagged up the work as political rather than considering it as art.


It is deeply depressing that so many of the issues you were raising years ago have become so ominously topical.


Of course, I could not have believed that all these years later, instead of Margaret Thatcher we would have Theresa May, and instead of Ronald Reagan wed have Donald Trump. In the intervening years all of us from every angle thought wed dealt with things, but it turns out we only dealt with things in a surface way. We thought, thats OK, there are black people in the newspapers now, or we can see black people on the television, or everyones acknowledging that we have made this or that kind of progress, but we never went as far as we could go, or to the very core of what we could achieve. We left things half-baked. We just scratched the surface and then went on to something else, and now its come back to bite us.


So how do you feel about your work being revisited within todays political climate?


Ive never felt so exposed. We were dealing with an invisibility, trying to get ourselves seen, trying to get ourselves shown, trying to make the point about being part of the history and contributing to the wealth of the nation. I hope that younger artists will find the work useful, if only in order to see the mistakes we made. But I think artists today are more able to understand strategy and to deal with their visibility and the complex place that they find themselves in.


You have devoted your career to proposing new histories and yet you refer to the art history canon and especially 18th-century satiristsHogarth, Cruikshank and Gillray.


I love the strength and energy of those artists, their ability to be so sure of their Britishness and yet really ready to criticise it at the same time. They werent afraid of taking a strong and savage swipe at what they saw around them.


And with both them and you, humour is crucial.


Theyre funny because its much easier to draw an audience into a story and into the issues if youre saying, Come on, lets have a conversation about this, rather than, Youve done something wrong. Get out of the gallery. I dont want to go into an art gallery and see work that humiliates or upsets methats not the kind of work I want to make. You cant underestimate the energy and intelligence of an audiencetheyre not a homogenous blob. Youre engaging with people who are there because they are curious; they like to look; they like to debateotherwise they could be just sitting at home watching afternoon TV. Youve got to draw them in.


Navigation Charts, Spike Island, Bristol, 20 January-26 March; Invisible Strategies, Modern Art Oxford, 21 January-30 April; The Place is Here, Nottingham Contemporary, 4 February-30 April


Ruin or Rebuild? Conserving heritage in an age of terrorism

Following the 2001 destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan, the Taliban regime organised guided tours of the World Heritage site for western journalists


In the wake of the Talibans destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas of Afghanistan in 2001, a decision was made. The giant stone statues had been so pulverised by explosives that Unesco said it was impossible to reconstruct them using original material. The statues niches were best left empty as a testament to the vandalism inflicted on the worlds patrimony.

There was nothing unusual in this. Unescos decisions have long been guided by the 1964 Venice Charter for the Conservation and Restoration of Monuments and Sites, drawn up by the conservationists who also established Icomos (the International Council on Monuments and Sites), the advisory body to Unesco on heritage matters.

Under the charter, only the reassembling of existing but dismembered parts (anastylosis) is permitted on site, with reconstruction being tantamount to theme-park fakery. The need for authenticity later became a defining issue in the consideration of potential World Heritage sites. Yet, quietly, steadily, this conservation consensus about the centrality of authenticity is being eroded. Mostar Bridge was awarded World Heritage status in 2005 after the span destroyed in 1993 during the Bosnian War was replaced in facsimile using new stone. The vandalised mud shrines of Timbuktu are similarly being rebuilt. Is the ziggurat at Nimrud next?

The deliberate targeting of cultural heritagewhether by extremists in the 1990s wars in the former Yugoslavia or by Isil in Syria and Iraqhas been one impetus for this change; the increased digital capacity to reconstruct monuments is another. The reconstruction by the Institute for Digital Archaeology (IDA) of an undersized Arch of Triumph from Palmyraerected in Trafalgar Square in London, then in New Yorks City Hall Plazareceived as much opprobrium from specialists as it did column inches in the popular press.

What to do about reconstruction, after the disasters of war or acts of God, is now the subject of internal debate among international heritage organisations. How will they avoid creating zombie monuments that are brought back from the dead with no authentic life of their own?


Strict, European stuff


Francesco Bandarin, Unescos assistant director general for culture, questions past approaches to reconstruction and authenticity. The charter of Venice was written by art historians, not architects, he says. It was very strict, European stuff, a 20th-century Italian idea. This is why it never works for architecturewe have to reinterpret it. Heritage principles have always been evolutionary.

The seeds of this revisionism were sown some time ago. In 1994, after widespread destruction of monuments in the Bosnian War, the Nara Document on Authenticity was agreed at an international conference in Japan. The document called for the recognition of cultural differences in attitudes to reconstruction, and for sensitivity to the wishes of local communities. Occidental practices, such as the ritual rebuilding of Shinto temples in Japan, provided part of the impetus for the agreement, but it was also a riposte to the distortion of authenticity in nationalist-inspired rebuilding projects. Deliberate destruction has created a new context, Bandarin says. At the time, Bamiyan was an exceptional case.

Over the past year, the issue of rebuilding has been under discussion by Unesco and Icomos, informed by events in Syria and Iraq. Some experts have suggested that a useful distinction might need to be made between living cities, where flexible responses to reconstruction are demanded, and places with no community or users, such as archaeological sites. Its an interesting shift, Bandarin says, but it is not totally new for the conservation profession to be looking at community as much as stones. He points to the growing field of intangible cultural heritagetraditions, languages and art forms, for instancethat accompanies material culture.

For some, however, the haste to restore monuments destroyed by the likes of Isil is proving problematic. In 2016, Maamoun Abdulkarim, Syrias director general of antiquities, declared that sites destroyed in the countrys long-running civil war would be reconstructed. After Syrian government and Russian forces regained control of Palmyra, the Unesco director general Irina Bokovas statement of full support for the citys restoration provoked an international backlash in the form of a petition by the online activist group Avaaz. The petition described such a plan as hasty, inopportune and partisan and argued that, in effect, it celebrate[d] the Syrian regime and Russian military achievements.

Bandarin argues that there is too little precision in much of the terminology. This is an issue that has taken too much attention, he says. Theres a misunderstanding of the term reconstruction It is only one technique of restoration. Unesco has since said that there will be a full technical evaluation of the damage to World Heritage sites such as Palmyra before decisions are taken.


Raising the dead


But this openness to reconstruction marks a sea-change and Bandarins critique of the Venice Charter as written by art historians, not architects overlooks the fact that its founding committee included many experts with architectural training, such as the chairman Piero Gazzola, as well as archaeologists. Neither are the charters demandsfor example, that all new work should be reversiblerestricted to art historians or conservators. The Venice Charter has an antecedent in the 1931 Athens Charter for the Restoration of Historic Monuments and, before that, in the founding principles of 19th-century organisations such as the UKs Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. Earlier still (in 1849), the English art critic John Ruskin wrote: It is impossible, as impossible as to raise the dead, to restore anything that has ever been great or beautiful in architecture.

A key difference between then and now is that 21st-century technologies such as laser scanning and 3D printing appear to make faithful reconstruction unproblematic. Roger Michel, the director of the IDA, has defended its attitude to 3D copies, using the old adage of grandfathers axethe family heirloom is still the same axe even if both head and handle have been replaced over time. This is a variation of the paradox discussed by Plutarch, among others, which asked whether Theseuss ship remained the same object if its timbers had been replaced piece by piece. The power of the digital means that paradox has ceased to be abstract and is becoming ever more real.

The IDA claims that it carries out meticulous and culturally sensitive restorations of objects and architecture destroyed by conflict or natural disaster. But is this even possible? Richard Hughes, a conservation expert at engineers Arup, was involved in the restoration of Aleppos citadel before the outbreak of war. He describes the IDAs Palmyra replica as absolutely appalling in terms of authenticity, but is enthused by the ability of the digital to capture large amounts of data that can tell us, for instance, how a building collapsed in an earthquake and how it can be put back together.

Hughes has set up the Icomos-UK Digital Technology Committee, which has around 60 members. But, he adds, whether [technology] is assisting in authenticity is debatable. Theres a big difference between the mathematical and the real. There is still something missing in what is produced by machinesthe person who touches the stone.

The craftsmans touch


The craftsman as an artist can differentiate his work from a comrade of a thousand years ago, Hughes says. See how they dealt with weaknesses in a stone block [for instance]. There is a language there that isnt in the technological language. I want the feel, the smell, the biological infections on the surface of the stone. Thats what gives charm, mood, spirit of place.

Asked to think of a really successful full-scale reconstruction of a monument using digital techniques, he cant. Its getting there for objects in museums, such as copying manuscripts, but I havent come across anything in whole buildings.

I want the feel, the smell, the biological infections on the surface of the stone. Thats what gives charm, mood, spirit of place

Even if accurate copies of buildings or monuments will soon be possible, should we be attempting this at all in the absence of original, authentic material? Rebuilding is a natural urge after a disaster but, even without questions of authenticity, the historical record can be distorted by the very act of rebuilding, in ways that can cause the original trauma to be forgotten rather than marked. The void left by the bombed Frauenkirche in Dresden was for decades a symbol of the folly of war, which is eclipsed now that the church has been recreated in facsimile. Although some reused stones still bear the scars of fire damage, the rebuilt church, despite its message of reconciliation, is becoming a focus for German far-right groups and their nationalist narrative of victimhood.

A third way of critical reconstructionincorporating damaged elements as a record of what has happened in the pasthas greater integrity. Bandarin agrees that David Chipperfields layered remodelling of the ruins of the Neues Museum in Berlin is a total paradigm of this approach. The reconstruction at the Neues sits firmly within the arc of authenticity spanning the period from Ruskin to the Venice Charter. The approach has to be pluralistic, and local communities listened to, Bandarin insists.

This focus on people rather than bricks and mortar is illustrated in the $25m action plan approved in October by Unescos executive board, to implement a new strategy for the protection of culture and the promotion of cultural pluralism in the event of armed conflict. The budget is divided between activities such as improving the monitoring of disasters, developing community-based recovery and education projects, and ensuring cultural continuity for displaced peoples.

There is also a new emphasis on linking heritage to human rights and humanitarian aid. Karima Bennoune, the UN special rapporteur on cultural rights, has presented a report to the UN General Assembly stressing that the challenge of protecting cultural heritage cannot be met without first understanding the need to protect people and their human rights. She writes: We must care not only about the destruction of heritage, but also about the destruction of the lives of human beings. They are interrelated. In particular, it means consulting the people who have particular connections with heritage when seeking to determine whether they wish to rebuild or reconstruct such heritage, and if so, how and when.

Within the context of community-based decisions, a clear conservation policy that safeguards authenticity is likely to become more necessary than ever. Yet at the moment there is confusion: Unesco intervened in 2013, on the grounds of authenticity, to halt the reconstruction of a Bamiyan Buddhas feet by experts from Icomos Germany (see box); but it recently lent its logo to an exhibition in Rome of 3D-printed copies of sculpture destroyed by Isil. The Syrian authorities, meanwhile, have stepped back from calls for Palmyra to be rebuilt, pending further investigation. We wont start adding modern stones, Maamoun Abdulkarim told the Sunday Times newspaper.

It remains to be seen whether Unescos line on the Bamiyan Buddhas changes to account for demands at a local level. The Afghan ministry of culture and the governor of the Bamiyan region want at least one of the statues rebuilt. They have an eye to future tourism but are also of the view that not to rebuild would be a victory for the Taliban. After all, the rebuilding of Warsaws Old Town after the Second World War can be seen as a legitimate act of resistance to Nazi attempts to eradicate Slavic culture.

The cause of destruction should perhaps then be a key factor in rebuilding decisionswhether living cities or dead archaeological sites. Authenticity may, in cases of targeted destruction, be less of a central concern than repudiating cultural cleansing and persuading iconoclasts of the futility of their acts. But that doesnt necessarily mean that rebuilt Warsaw or Mostar should then become World Heritage sites (as they now are).

When peace comes (one can only hope), decisions will need to be made about Aleppo, about Nimrud, and countless other places. In an age of targeted destruction and technological change there is a need, more than ever, for a coherent policy framework that recognises the importance of authenticity in guiding truth in reconstructioneven if, in some cases, it is only to consciously set it aside.

The outcry over the plan to reconstruct the Bamiyan Buddhas


The saga of the voids left by the Talibans destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in 2001 has prompted some impassioned words in the pages of The Art Newspaper. In 2012, we reported that Andrea Bruno, an architectural consultant to Unesco for more than 40 years, had scrapped all ideas of replacing the Buddhas. The void is the true sculpture, he told us. The immanent presence of the niche, even without its sculpture, represents a victory for the monument and a defeat for those who tried to obliterate its memory with dynamite.

Bruno added that rebuilding the Buddhas in whatever form (one suggestion had been laser projections) might also offend local people. Here the Muslims strictly oppose images, he said. To recreate the Buddhas would be an insult even to non-Taliban Afghans. Instead, he suggested a sanctuary at the base of the niche once holding the great Buddha, among the warren of subterranean caves at the site.

In 2014, meanwhile, we reflected the furious reaction to the news that work had begun to reconstruct the feet and legs of the smaller of the two Buddhas, without Unescos knowledge or permission. Archaeologists from the German branch of Icomos, led by Michael Petzet, one-time head of the group, were recreating the smaller Buddhas lower appendages with iron rods, reinforced concrete and bricks, an action Bruno said had caused irreversible damage, bordering on the criminal.

Petzet told The Art Newspaper that he and his team just wanted to preserve what can be preserved and that everything they had done was discussed with the Afghan authorities. This [project] is nothing new, he said.

It was hoped that the sanctuary proposed by Bruno, and since expanded into a cultural centre, would open in 2016. But construction began on the first phase in September, funded by the South Korean government. Ben Luke