Duccio’s New Domain
Third time is most certainly a charm on Reconstructing Duccio’s final installation within Exeter’s grandeur Cathedral.
With the close of the penultimate installation of Reconstructing Duccio and its upcoming finale within Exeter’s cavernous Cathedral, we can begin to explore the journey of this endeavour and what it has grown to become. Starting out as a project with the sole purpose of expressing the binary between NFT and ancient art practices, it has over time become a multifaceted, multi-sited contemporary installation. The scope is continuously evolving and for both Lesley and I, it has been a dramatic learning curve as we delved into the depths of the crypto verse without any prior experience of this unfamiliar jurisdiction.
With this finissage comes the broader questions surrounding the NFT market and ‘buying the dip’
Monitoring the art market and its dictating impact in contention with this project is an important tangent worth following due to its broad scale implications. Money markets are in a constant evolving state, however the bullish nature of the crypto investor within the fast-paced ecosystem have come to face the adverse effects of such a volatile market. This has been particularly interesting to follow. With Bitcoin’s consistent bear market as a steady goal post, we have been able to trace the meteoric rise and developing fall of Ethereum. As a result, the set prices of each panel has jolted in value, being set at an average of 0.03 ETH, roughly 60 US dollars, (OpenSea works on a dollar conversion rate as a US company) and jumping to a value as low as 30 dollars.
In failing to stand its ground, the current dip has begun to cause an unsteady divide between the purist crypto creators, and artists who have a foot both in the physical and virtual realm of artistic creation. In the case of the Maesta, this creates an interesting paradox on ‘dead’ art practices, specific sites, and canonical discourses. Where the Duccio inhabited a dead shop space, we are now perhaps onboarding the metaphysical dead marketplace.
With art houses such as Christie’s attempting to soak up the profit potential by buying up small NFT garage band corporations that perhaps are starting appeal less so to the on pulse crypto savvy investor and redirecting to the purist art collector audience (of perhaps a slightly older age demographic) to give life back to the dip.
Examples of this growth tactic come in the all encompassing hedge-fund-esque move by Christies, which now holds stake of multiple smaller specialist firms such as LayerZero Labs. A systems enabling clients to move assets more easily between blockchains. This can now all be brought to you neatly tied up in a Christie’s enterprise, “Christie’s Ventures”. More coverage on this in Art Newspaper’s informative take on the matter, https://www.theartnewspaper.com/2022/07/19/christies-eyes-up-nft-market-with-new-fund-for-tech-startupshttps://www.christies.com/about-us/christies-ventures
A cunning move from Christies, as it not only fills the gap where there may be a potential for the dip to impact their margins by redirecting any dying product to an older audience, but also a broader message stating they are in equal measure appealing to a younger tech savvy bidder. In observing this movement within the market, where art houses are beginning to diversify their product offering to their typically ultra-high-net-worth client base, we can gage some notable takeaways. Such traction in the fintech domain is suggestive of a concerted effort by the traditional art ecosystem to champion the phenomena into its maturity stage of its cycle. This is likely not the case for hedge funds with less art-centric portfolios as the NFT market is positioned on the foundations of perhaps fickle investors willing to switch to alternative markets. In the same way collectors in the physical art sphere only invest in artworks for the sake of flipping them for higher prices down the line.
Revitalising this practice through the Duccio becomes even more potent in the sense that it is giving life to an art form that is perhaps out of place. When positioning the screen projection of the Duccio in the space, it was so drastically in contention with its surroundings that it became sort of powerful in its haunting presence. There was a moment of concern in the installation process that the Maesta should perhaps need a curtain or a form of special framing to direct the viewer to the piece by creating a specific atmosphere. However, its site specifity was an element that was better left untouched and wholly more impactful in its simplicity. And so, in this show there is the cohabitation of paradoxes and art forms that should be in their decaying position of their lifecycle. Yet they gave life to each other. The contemporary force was only as potent when given this rich, sacred allegorical narrative, together planted in this location that worked upon the foundation of exchange and value in its past purpose as a travel shop.
Arts Second Rebirth
Whilst all new visual practices have an essence of old that make up their formula, Van Gogh’s key ingredient of Japonism comes to mind here, we have to again anticipate the implications. In the simplest of terms, NFTs have made everything old, new again. We are able to see Christ on the Cross in gif form or zoom into Botticelli’s Venus with our two fingers and a touch pad. Ultimately, it has impermeably altered our perception of the past and casts the most digitally advanced mirror onto it. Though with reconstructing Duccio, the intricacies of this paradigmatic overlap draw in on a much wider picture.
Financial regulatory easing inflicted a period of unprecedented growth within a wholly new market landscape. This bubble however was unlike any of its past predecessors in its derivative, conceptual makeup. We are not dealing with faceless bonds or mortgaged backed securities, but rather works of art. And the value formed in the scarcity of this product is not only new to the investor market but also entirely diverges from the linear discourse of art history. Akin to the house of Medici’s work in remodelling the art market, we have somewhat entered into a contemporary, virtualised renaissance. A new form of artistic creation and distribution of this nature beckons for containment and familiarity. Hence, we fall into history repeating itself, and in the case of the Duccio, it’s repeated itself thrice. By placing the artwork across sites deemed familiar to all audiences, generations, and visual temporalities, we are translating this transformative notion that art can be decentralised.
Though it is also crucial to note that this binary is much more layered and intersected with narrative and ideas than merely copy and pasting imagery from one era and space to another. The chain reaction inflicted by the rise in merchants and financiers in the early renaissance is not dissimilar to todays societal make up where money, art and technology are intrinsically intertwined through the concentration of influence from bankers and investors. Economy and power are undoubtedly a constant catalyst driving creative output, and so forcing a confrontation of these two eras we can perhaps see this reality with a clearer lens. Though Duccio’s altarpiece is strictly a religious piece, its contextual belonging informs a much larger concept. Aesthetics and taste will always be reflected in artistic output, and with Reconstructing Duccio we were able to facilitate this in a curatorial manner. If we look back at the installation at Sketch versus the upcoming cathedral show, we are espousing decentralisation of even the most ecclesiastical masters. Though it was not anticipated to begin this project at Sketch, it truly homes in on the work as a product of enterprise as well as worship.
It almost begs the question, if Duccio were alive today, would NFT’s be part of his practice? Almost certainly they would be part of Da Vinci’s. Though if we were to consider Duccio’s precise placement within the historic canon, his contribution does belong to the era of pre-renaissance, late gothic artwork. However, we could further impress that his pivotal moment within the discourse to be similar to that of today. In both circumstances we are looking at the cusp of a transformative period driven by economy and innovation. And so, this project fundamentally impresses that when art has no epicentre, it re-aligns our attention to value, to subject and to medium. Consolidating both the physical with the metaphysical, Lesley’s, and by extension Duccio’s, altarpiece’s linear provenance has been forever altered into an entirely new paradigm.
PRESS RELEASE FOR CATHEDRAL INSTALLATION
Lesley Kerman will be showing her reconstruction of the reverse of Duccio’s Maestá in Exeter Cathedral from September 13th to September 22nd. The original painting was carried in a procession through the streets of Siena to the Cathedral at midday on the 9th of June 1311. On the front of the altarpiece were painted the Virgin and Saints and on the reverse the twenty six Scenes of the Passion.
Lesley has made a full scale reconstruction of these twenty six scenes looking for a fresh starting point for figurative painting. Over the eighteen months that it took to make the reconstruction she discovered much about Duccio’s conception of space, use of colour, iconographic innovations and political values, which became the subject of the book ‘Reconstructing Duccio’.
The painting was exhibited in Wells Cathedral last year where it lit up the Cathedral and alerted viewers to the vibrant colour once present throughout English Cathedrals. The exhibition in Exeter Cathedral is being curated by Imogen Haisman, a graduate of MA Curation: Art and Business, University of Exeter.