Vatican To Get Modern Art, God Willing

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The New York Sun

After a 25-year hiatus, the Vatican is set to return to the modern and contemporary art market.

The director of the Vatican Museums, Francesco Buranelli, told the Italian newspaper La Stampa yesterday that the museum’s future art endeavors would focus “above all in sectors like contemporary art.”

“I would like very much to have a Picasso,” he said.

Though the re-emergence of such a wealthy buyer could have major impact on the art market, a spokeswoman at Christie’s, Bendetta Roux, said she does not believe it is a foregone conclusion.

“They could be a fantastic new participant in the market, but I don’t think that they will completely change the balance of equilibrium,” Ms. Roux said. However, she noted that if the Vatican focuses on one movement or artist, “you could notice straight away,” which would not happen with a “more diversified approach,” she said.

Ms. Roux added that since the market is already diluted with so many wealthy buyers, the addition of one more might not be felt so heavily. “It’s not a weaker market, where the entrance of someone with an extraordinary amount of money will really change the market.”

The president of the Marlborough Gallery, Pierre Levai, said he does not think the Vatican will be as active as it was 25 years ago. “I don’t think that they will have such a huge budget that they will affect the art market. They expect to receive the art as gifts,” Mr. Levai said.

What the Vatican does buy, though, will be noticed, the international co-head of postwar and contemporary art at Christie’s, Amy Cappellazzo, said. “I look forward to seeing their interpretation of modern and contemporary art. I think everyone will be watching for social and cultural reasons what it is they buy.”

Once the Vatican returns to buying, it will need to adjust to a new era. “It’s an aggressive world. Gentlemanly, but aggressive,” the director of development at the National Museum of Catholic Art and History, Paul Tabor, said.

Noting that the Vatican will now be competing against the likes of the Getty Foundation, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Museum of Modern Art, Mr. Tabor said, “If there are pieces that the Vatican wants, it will have to learn how to deal in that world.”

The Vatican’s first foray into modern and contemporary art was developed by Pope Paul VI, who inaugurated the Gallery of Modern Religious Art in 1973 and developed a series of Matisse vestments, as well as works by Chagall, Rodin, and Francis Bacon.

Pope John Paul II, who was an actor in his youth, reaffirmed Paul’s vision in 1999, writing in a letter to artists that “they not only enrich the cultural heritage of each nation and of all humanity, but they also render an exceptional social service in favor of the common good.”

Mr. Tabor said the religious nature of the Vatican does not preclude it from displaying nonreligious art. “All artworks can certainly contribute to a richer human experience. Collecting the finest works of art that elevate the human spirit is in itself a noble endeavor and completely in line with the church traditions of humanistic concerns,” he said.

The New York Sun

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