Friday, 19 August 2016

Saturn Neptune: Whose Art is it Anyway?

I came across a programme on the BBC recently; some 'experts' trying to decide whether a portrait had been painted by Lucien Freud. So far, so normal. Except Freud himself had denied it. Curious, I carried on watching, despite my incredulity. Since when did the critics have so much power they could contradict the artist himself?

Well, it seems that Freud's utterings on the matter had been contradictory and there was a chance it was an early painting which he preferred to disown; and this was indeed the experts conclusion. Interesting, I thought, wondering whether this decision would still stand had Freud been alive, and forgot about it. You can read about it here:

And then a week later I read that the artist Peter Doig was being taken to court over a painting which its owner insisted had been painted by him, but about which Doig said he knew nothing. 

A pattern seemed to be emerging,  one I guessed had to with the Saturn Neptune square that's been morphing reality this year. Saturn and Neptune together, particularly in hard aspect, can make it hard to distinguish fantasy from reality. Boundaries dissolve and certainties get washed away with the tide.

What seems to be happening with these paintings is that their authorship (Saturn) is in doubt (Neptune). Neptune (art) and Saturn (experts) are at odds (square).  In Doig's case, Saturn (corrections officer) and Neptune (artist) are squaring off, literally. With Saturn in Sagittarius we see attempts to define the truth of the matter, but with Neptune in Pisces, that truth is elusive, whether through lies, half-truths or secrets, 

What makes Doig's case so interesting is that his Venus is in Gemini, the sign of the twins, ruled by Mercury the trickster, and the whole case revolves around the supposed existence of another man named Peter Doige, (with an 'e' ) of a similar age, living in the same area at the time in question. 

If the owner of the painting can prove that Peter Doig did indeed paint the work in question, he stands to gain millions by its sale. But why would Doig deny authorship if he did indeed paint it? Prosecution claim that Doig is trying to hide the fact that he was in a correctional facility as a teenager, but the defence lawyers have provided proof of the other Doige's existence and his stay in the facility where the painting was bought. This Doige died in 2012, shortly before the painting turned up at a gallery for valuation. 

The case seems cut and dried in favour of Peter Doig, but the judge has apparently taken the painting away with him while he decides on his verdict. Despite the hard evidence (Saturn), even the judge (Saturn) seems confused (Neptune). 

So what is actually happening here? Are we entering an era when the word of an author can be denied by anyone with a more convincing argument? Where the truth is fluid according to what is at stake. Where the business of art overtakes the making of art and the true authority (the artist) is usurped by the self-appointed authority (the dealers)? Or is it simply a matter of an elaborate tale woven by a man with something to hide? The whole thing is a hall of mirrors and it'll be fascinating to see what the judge eventually decides.

Saturn Neptune folks. Welcome to the Crazy House.

The Hall of Mirrors, Lady From Shanghai.
Orson Welles, archetypal trickster and teller of tall tales.

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