LETTERS | Sunday, 04 November 2007

In defence of Heritage Malta’s exhibition

The article carried by MaltaToday (“The Great Caravagio Swindle”) is, indeed, as the word swindle implies, a deception.

The streamer head-line, blaring out that Heritage Malta promised 17 paintings, is false; not only false but knowingly false. At the official press conference at the Phoenicia in September, Heritage Malta promised nine paintings – the ninth did not arrive because when Heritage Malta couriers went to pick it up, they were informed that there were conservation problems with the frame. But MaltaToday did not bother to be present for the press conference (where information packs were available). Nor was it present for all the other activities for the media organised by Heritage Malta. The reason why the painting did not make it to the exhibition is also stated clearly at the exhibition. But still MaltaToday conveniently did not try to look out for the truth. The reasons why are perhaps easy imaginable by those familiar with art, cultural events and appreciation of art in Malta.

Furthermore, on the eve of the publication of the article, the author was authoritatively informed that his information culled from a particular website had nothing to do with Heritage Malta. As a journalist, ethically responsible to the public, and apparently so interested in the exhibition, he should have looked up the website of Heritage Malta where the paintings are named and identified, and where it is stated clearly that this is the only official and authorised web-site.

Contrary to what MaltaToday said, Heritage Malta never advertised the exhibition abroad, still less as an impossible exhibition of 17 paintings under one roof.

The author then uses the name of Vittorio Sgarbi to attack the validity of the exhibition. In actual fact he abuses and manipulates Sgarbi’s comments, as will be shown, simply for the sake of being sensational and to damage Heritage Malta’s exhibition. He mentions that Vittorio Sgarbi was invited – once again, apparently, he did not know that Sgarbi is a member of the scientific committee.

Although the author of the article may not be an art expert he should know that it is academically normal for artists, especially such an outstanding one as Caravaggio, to provoke controversy. In fact, during the inauguration of this exhibition, practically all the addresses referred to the debates that accompany a Caravaggio exhibition. Debate is healthy and Heritage Malta does not mind that at all. But academic debate should not fall into such levels as those used by MaltaToday. Heritage Malta, in the itinerary of its exhibition, even included a didactic section where, by the use of modern technology, a painting that was assumed to be a Caravaggio was declared not to be so. After all, many of the paintings which today are recognised by all to be by Caravaggio went through such a process before a decision was reached.

MaltaToday even insinuated that Heritage Malta intended to have the “Beheading of St John” and the “Burial” of St Lucy in its exhibition; this is not only utterly false but difficult to understand, unless there is a hidden agenda to discredit Heritage Malta, especially when one considers that there is a clear attempt to discredit those expressing a favourable opinion, who were given no space at all, and prominence given to those who held negative views.

Contrary to what MaltaToday states, as soon as the visitor enters the exhibition area, there are information panels explaining the debate and attributions. There are also captions in front of the paintings.

The journalist of MaltaToday also criticises the catalogue of the exhibition for containing material on paintings not in the exhibition. Frankly: a catalogue like that contains a number of academic essays which may need to refer to other paintings. Perhaps the author’s informer failed to inform him of the Milan 2005 exhibition, which had eight paintings (one of which, thanks to Heritage Malta, is in Malta today – not MaltaToday!) – its catalogue includes and discusses seven paintings which were not in the exhibition. MaltaToday should know that such catalogues are academic exercises and not scrap-books or mere lists.

MaltaToday even dares to insinuate that the exhibition of paintings from private collections implies monetary considerations. This is a serious insinuation, without foundation and clearly intended to cause damage to the exhibition of Heritage Malta. And then, MaltaToday discovers the value of the exhibition of paintings from private collections by quoting Prof. Stone. The latter is in Malta because of his direct involvement, together with another expert quoted by MaltaToday, in another laudable exhibition on Caravaggio and his followers at St John Co-Cathedral. Even this exhibition displays a number of paintings from private collections. And this is a good thing since this is practically the only way through which the general public can admire and appreciate works of art which otherwise would be enjoyed only by the select few. Incidentally, one also has to note that 42 per cent of the paintings in this exhibition are on loan from Heritage Malta, in spite of the fact that the national agency also has also a component of its own exhibition on Caravaggisti at the National Museum of Fine Arts.

In this year when Malta is supposed to be celebrating the 400th anniversary of the coming of Caravaggio, it is left to the public to judge whether Heritage Malta rose to the occasion.

The article studiously avoids any mention of all this; it also fails to appreciate the fact that Heritage Malta, through the indefatigable work of all its dedicated staff, has enabled our small country to join the circuit of major international exhibitions (two in one year, practically back-to-back) with all that this implies for the cultural life of the country and its impact on tourism, besides offering the Maltese and general public the unique opportunity of appreciating works of art of international standard which otherwise would have been impossible to admire.

After four years of very hard work, the public knows Heritage Malta’s agenda, and that is the reason why it has the public’s support.

Pierre Cassar,
Communications Officer,
Heritage Malta

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