The First Sam Francis Sculpture, Maybe

The Huntington has installed a Sam Francis corten steel sculpture, on long-term loan from the Sam Francis Foundation. That will take Francis' fans aback: He's not known for 3D works. Sited just outside the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art, the piece reminds visitors of the increasingly modern character of the institution's collection (exemplied by Francis' large painting, Free Floating Clouds, a gift from the Francis Foundation). Evoking calligraphy, the new sculpture nods to the Huntington's famed Japanese and Chinese gardens. The question is, is the Foundation's "Untitled Sculpture" an authentic Sam Francis?
It was created in 2003, nine years after the artist's death — and not by Francis, obviously. There are curmudgeons who turn their noses up at any posthumous sculpture. The more pragmatic simply acknowledge that a posthumous work is a shade less covetable—and marketable—than one created in the artist's lifetime.
The reality is that there are many varieties of sculpture-by-artists-who-were-already-dead. Consider Rodin's posthumous casts of The Thinker and The Burgers of Callais at the Norton Simon Museum. Rodin made bronzes of these works in his lifetime and decreed that further casts could be made after his demise. The posthumous casts were made by the same foundry, using the same molds. The artisans had a good idea of what Rodin would have wanted.
Approximately as authentic, and vastly rarer, is Tony Smith's Smoke, also on loan from an artist's estate and presently inhabiting the atrium of LACMA's Ahmanson Building. Smith conceived the work, his largest, in 1962 and constructed a full-sized wood model for the Corcoran Gallery. He never had the funds to fabricate it in painted aluminum. After Smith's death, the market value of his work rose, and his estate commissioned the work. (Michael Govan talked Renzo Piano out of an escalator in order to save room for Smoke. “My intention and hope is that we will be able to acquire it,” Govan told the New York Times in 2008. “I don’t think I could live without it.” Somebody write that man a check, already.)
More problematic are cases like the Degas bronzes. Degas showed just one sculpture, the wax original of his famous Ballerina. After his death, many less finished wax sculptures were discovered in his studio. All were cast in bronze. Many of the original waxes are at the U.S. National Gallery. The first-generation bronzes ended up at the Norton Simon Museum; the second-generation pieces are at the Metropolitan Museum, the Musee d'Orsay, and elsewhere. Because the bronzes pack in crowds at prestigious museums, few care to say they're fake. But there's no clear indication that Degas ever intended his waxes to be cast in bronze. Not in dispute: Degas wasn't on hand to make the countless small aesthetic choices of casting and patinating.
In 1964 Sam Francis visited Japan. His exposure to Japanese art inspired him to make some ceramics. Though known for paintings and prints, Francis began a peripatetic engagement with the third dimension. He sketched sculpture and, in the 1970s, made some small scale models in plaster. This phase of his work is not well known. At the time of his 1994 death, Francis had made no large sculptures. In 2003 his Foundation executed six large sculptures based on his models. The work at the Huntington is said to be the first shown in the U.S. It will command the interest of any serious follower of Francis' art. But is it authentic, or just authorized? The oft-damned Degas bronzes are the same size as the original waxes. The corten Francis sculpture is much larger than the plaster models, and thus Francis never saw his conception at this scale. It's hard to say whether Francis would have approved, made tweaks, or gone back to the drawing board.
Retired United Airlines pilot Charles C. Dent conceived the idea of realizing Leonardo da Vinci's unexecuted design for the Sforza equestrian monument. Dent used Leonardo's drawings (representing the horse only) and consulted with the greatest Renaissance scholars for the highest sort of authenticity. His house-sized bronze horse was unveiled with great fanfare and presented to the Italian people in 1999.
Q. Is it a Leonardo?
A. You're kidding, right?


Donald Frazell said…
Thanks for the pic, I needed one for the lower interior courtyard. Will now colorize and show how it can be a much more personal and vibrant space, with rich colors to activate the boring area, and replace the silly gray jungle gym with two Bradbury style elevators in the middle and life and light enhancing colors as one rises up on my blog.

Architects clsoe things off, kill color, when all great buildings in history were colorful. The Parthenon and msot anicent temples wee painted. The wall space i the old LAMA area can be easily turned into a festive place, with a little imagination and creativity, things lacking in todays contempt art. They would rather tear them down and create another sterile Mausoleum of dull and dated ideas.

Nothing wrong with the Ahmanson, Hammer and Bing a little color cant fix. Or cover the hideous green of the Japanese with a strong graphic sense worthy of their art. Paint IT white, and lose the beige, thats for Broad's horrible McMansions, not a public space.

art collegai delenda est
Donald Frazell said…
OK, got it and another shot, but shade down the colors just a bit. Imagine murals or posters of past shows hanging over the dull beige rock panels, a black wrought iron and wood twin elevator system with alternating pathways crossing to each floor. No more slow as molasses freight elevator, I often just take it to the top and walk down, or just use the stairs.

Rising with glass windows in the center, banners hanging from the walkways would activate a terrible waste of space, with a new skylight to warm the high atrium, and sofas with music wafting up from below, where dozens could sit and talk, no more stone silence and uptight attitudes, this is life. Live it.

And save hundreds of million that would be wasted on a another sterile Mausoleum. Whihc you know will never happen anyways, thank god. The age of Excess and Meism is OVER.

art collegia delenda est
Anonymous said…
June 12, 2010

Edgar Degas never worked in wax.

Edgar Degas never signed his original mixed-media models.

Yet, all the posthumous 2nd to 3rd-generation-removed forgeries in bronze have Degas' named inscribed on them.

How'd the dead do that?

Additionally, the Norton Simon is a member of the Association of Art Museum Directors. The AAMD endorses the College Art Association's ethical guidelines on sculptural reproductions. In part, they state: "any transfer into new material unless specifically condoned by the artist, is to be considered inauthentic or counterfeit and should not be acquired or exhibited as works of art."

Furthermore, as for Auguste Rodin, he gave the State of France in 1916 the "reproduction rights to the objects given by him." Unfortunately, a corrupt Musee Rodin violates his 1916 Will and does -not- use his original plasters for reproduction in bronze.

To learn more about facts behind two of the largest art fraud in the 20th/21st-century, Google Gary Arseneau and Degas or Rodin.


Gary Arseneau
artist, creator of original lithographs & scholar
Fernandina Beach, Florida