I guess by now everyone must be familiar with the botched amateur restoration of the Spanish Church Fresco. It’s been amusing the internet for a few days now. But in case you’ve managed to avoid the image which been dubbed “Ecce Mono” and “Potato Jesus”, here’s the before and after:-
I like to see art getting into the news, art doesn’t get nearly enough mainstream coverage. And when it does, it’s usually not because the art itself is noteworthy, it’s because it’s controversial or someone has paid a lot of money for it. I think this story has captured the public imagination because:-
- It’s Jesus, it happened in a church – the sacrilegious thrill of defacing something that is usually revered.
- In the same spirit of irreverence, people get to knock the art world – see the many comments online about how “it’s better than a Damien Hirst/Picasso/boring old picture of Jesus in the classical tradition”. Mostly, I have to say from people who are using the term Modern Art and thinking they are talking about contemporary art.*
- It was done by a pious old Abuela. Apparently old women are inherently amusing. Because every news report I’ve read feels obliged to mention her age and gender. If it had been done by a gang of kids in hoodies it’d just be regular vandalism and would never have made the news, I’m sure.
- It looks fucking hilarious.
I just think it’s a shame that there exists a popular perception of the art world (and by extension all high art) as an elitist, sacred, pompous and out of touch institution that has nothing relevant or accessible to convey. Yes, there are a lot of pseuds in the art world who trade on false-mystique and elitism. But they’re just hangers-on. Art has so much to offer, it’s accessible to everyone, not just for “art people”.
I’ve been seeing a few comments that are so keen to prick the pomposity of the art establishment they end up cheering for wanton destruction. OK, you love the hilarious ‘restored’ version. But let’s not forget this is a small-scale yet genuine misfortune for the church and its congregation, who have the right not to love what’s been done to their art. We can all have a laugh at “Ecce Monkey Alien Potato Jesus”, but they have the damn thing on their wall. Yeah, there are lots of similar pictures of Jesus in lots of churches and since this one wasn’t a masterpiece (whatever that means), but it was the only painting of Jesus by Elias Garcia Martinez in their church they had just been donated money to have it restored. And now it’s been replaced with an Alien Monkey Potato Jesus.
And finally, I think this case shows how important it is to record things before they get destroyed (by time or amateur restorations). Luckily, they reportedly have a photo of it, which they can hang on the wall over the damaged original. This is why I’m obsessed with recording everything in high-fidelity, for ever, for everyone. I’ve never been very impressed with the Aura of the Original – if a photo records all the pertinent details of the original image, for me it’s as good as the original image, better even because it can be endlessly reproduced and shared with anyone who wants it. I accept that for some people a facsimilie will never have the same magical totemic value as an original, but since we now have the means to digitally record and archive art, we really ought to be doing it. Why lose an image forever when we could easily have preserved it in pixels?
*Seriously, what’s up with those people? Modernism basically begins in the late 19th century and was mostly superseded by postmodernism in the 1970’s, if you’re going to have opinions about art you need to stop using the terms Contemporary and Modern interchangeably. Or else I’ll get annoyed with you on the internet and ignore your flippant comments on news articles about defaced Jesus paintings. Ha, take that!