From the country that brought you Monkey Christ now comes what I will call with absolutely no affection, “Gumby in a dress with sheep.”
This is only the most recent example of a decades long issues that has plagued Spain. So much so that a tourism industry has popped up around badly restored art. They’re doing this on purpose. As of June some were even calling for regulations to be put in place to try and stop the destruction of priceless works of art.
People are starting to take notice at the progressively more extreme botched art restorations. Art News’s Claire Selvin couldn’t help remarking on how significant the changes to the original face by the “restoration” team had been and brought up the same question that was brought up last June.
Restoration projects that leave artworks looking drastically changed have become something of a pattern in Spain in recent years. When the Virgin Mary painting was altered twice by a furniture restorer in Valencia in June, experts revived calls for increased regulation of efforts related to the restoration of artworks.https://www.artnews.com/art-news/news/restoration-spanish-sculpture-botched-1234576275/
But just how much money did the “Monkey Christ” bring in? Is it really enough to incentivize purposeful botched art restorations?
Well, quite a lot. So much so that I’m not the only one suggesting that this has become a new art movement in Spain to draw in tourism dollars. And it is threatening the survival of priceless works of historic art for the sake of social media attention. In 2012 alone the “Monkey Christ” brought in 40,000 guests and more than €50,000 for charity. The restoration artist also wanted cuts of royalties that she then went on to be partially donated to Muscular Dystrophy. While that is nice, the story gets more complicated.
A familiar face, now known to the world as Monkey Christ, greets visitors to the Santuario de Misericordia, its blurred and startled features staring down from bottles, thimbles, bookmarks, teddy bears, pens, mugs, T-shirts, mousepads, badges, fridge magnets and keyrings.https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/28/how-monkey-christ-brought-new-life-to-a-quiet-spanish-town
By 2016 the town was seeing hundreds of thousands of visitors per year and receiving single donations topping the total brought in that first year. While it can be argued that this injection of money was bringing some much needed funds to the area, the question that arises is: Is Sacrificing Irreplaceable Historic Art Worth It?
In 2018, Spain had a different statue botching of St. George – a saint that I only barely recall because I’m fairly certain he is one of those that may have “slain a dragon.” And that is in fact what the statue that was being restored was of – St. George Slaying A Dragon.
Now, as much as I would love to believe St. George proudly presented the head of some noble beast to his lady love and saved a village, I call bullshit. That said, there have been efforts to repair the situation. These costly “repairs” stripped off the materials used on the statue, resulting in loss of the original paint and overall worsening of the condition. The Smithsonian article explained ACRE‘s description of the egregious errors made in the restoration process:
According to a statement by ACRE, Spain’s national organization of professional art restorers, the artist applied several layers of plaster, repainted the figure, and sanded its surface, effectively erasing the entirety of its “historical footprint.” The original artist had used a unique polychrome technique. According to London’s National Gallery, Spanish sculptors of the 16th and 17th centuries carved their statues and covered them in white gesso but were prohibited from actually painting the figurines, which were later gilded and refined by specially trained artisans.https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/spanish-statue-st-george-undergoes-unrestoration-remove-botched-paint-job-180972481/
One of the fascinating things to note is that the Smithsonian found out from ACRE that these pieces of art are being restored without authorization from the region’s heritage foundations and that they are technically protected artifacts. The costs to fix these botched restorations fall onto the levels of Spanish government, and thus taxpayers, if the funds exist. Sometimes there aren’t the funds for the repair. Fixing the restoration of the statue of St. George cost approximately 34,000 USD of government funds intended for Art and Culture.
While we keep laughing at these botched art restorations and making them “go viral” online, the true victims are the future generations that will never see the original works that are being destroyed for the sake of generating money from publicity to line someone’s pockets.
With Spain reopening for tourism and given how dependent their economy is on this influx of cash this is a real threat for cultural and historical preservation. So, before you decide you want to travel to see one of these pieces please think. Each time you pay to see any botched art or buy memorabilia with “bad restorations” from Spain, you’re supporting an illegal industry meant to take your money all while destroying priceless art and artifacts. The trouble with those is that once something like that is gone it really is gone forever and future generations will never be able to experience it or learn any more of the secrets it may have had to tell.
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