Art will always inspire and provoke, but it also never ceases to confound and confuse. To kick off the new year, we look at some of the lighter examples of a world turned upside down that even some of the most seasoned curators don’t quite get.
Here are some of the pictures that were inadvertently exposed the wrong way up.
Paul Gauguin, “Breton Village Under Snow” (1894)
Musée d’Orsay, Paris
This landscape was sold at auction in Tahiti after Gauguin’s death in 1903. According to Victor Segalen, a friend of the artist who was present at the sale, the auctioneer presented the painting upside down and called it “Niagara Falls.” Segalen bought it for the equivalent of a few pennies and turned it the right way up, revealing that it depicted Brittany cottages rather than immersion in water. “Breton Village Under Snow” was later acquired by the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
Piet Mondrian, “New York City 1” (1941)
Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf
Last year, curators at Düsseldorf’s Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen were about to open their “Mondrian: Evolution” exhibition (through February 12) when they examined one of his own works, “New York City 1 (1941).” They found a 1944 photograph of him propped up in Mondrian’s studio with double blue lines at the top, suggesting it had been hung the wrong way for decades. But because the fragility of the colored adhesive tapes makes it too risky to rotate the work, it remains “upside down” in their current exhibition.
Mark Rothko, “Black on Maroon” (1958)
In 1970, when the Tate acquired it, a pair of Rothko paintings were hung horizontally, reflecting the way the artist signed the canvases on the reverse. But nine years later, after being displayed again, the curators changed their minds and hung both versions of “Black on Maroon” vertically. In 1987 they returned to horizontal hinge, but then reverted back to vertical. Although the two Rothks have just gone into storage, the Tate website still maintains the vertical hanging.
Van Gogh, “Long Grass and Butterflies” (1890)
National Gallery, London
A 15-year-old schoolgirl visiting the National Gallery in 1965 noticed that “Long Grass and Butterflies” looked upside down. After alerting the staff, it was revealed that the painting had been temporarily taken away for photography and had been hung in the wrong direction when it returned. Luckily it was only upside down for 15 minutes. Now Van Gogh is set to be the main attraction of a traveling exhibition of 52 paintings by the National Gallery of China, starting this May at the Shanghai Museum.
Salvador Dalí, “The Four Fishermen’s Wives of Cadaqués” (1928)
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid
The Art Newspaper noted Dalí’s “Four Fishermen’s Wives of Cadaqués” hanging in a 1994 exhibition at London’s Hayward Gallery. It was the phallus that alerted us: Dalí would hardly point down. London art critics didn’t notice. Tim Hilton of The Independent innocently described the inverted surrealist painting as “the highlight of the exhibition”. We asked Antoni Pitxot, one of Dalí’s closest friends, who said the artist told him that the three red crab-like forms with raised arms represent women mending their husband’s nets. The mystery remains as to why the title confusingly states “four”.
Top Image: “Breton Village Under Snow” by Paul Gauguin
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