Sunday, June 19, 2011

Explanation as Composition: Provenance #6

The provenance of this work was written during a collaborative writing session at LACE on 30 January 2011. Writers include: Amanda Ackerman, Harold Abramowitz, Kate Durbin, Sarah Shun-lien Bynum and Teresa Carmody. Event writer collaborators: Aimee Bender, Allison Carter, Mark Z. Danielewski, Carribean Fragoza, Veronica Gonzalez, Janice Lee, Harryette Mullen, Janet Sarbanes, Anna Joy Springer, and Stephen Van Dyck.

Perhaps emboldened by the work’s disappearance during the war, and unaware of its ongoing reassembly at the Musée D’Accord in Paris, a young Italian actress, Anna Maria Massetani, gave an interview in March 1953 to the BBC World Service in which she claimed to be in possession of the work, and announced her intentions to sell it.

My great uncle was a painter. His paintings, some of them, hung in our living room, the living room we never used — a formal area of the house which we seldom entered. The real “living” room, of course, was a different, much smaller room, furnished in lighter tones, not the weighty dark furnishings of the room with the paintings. The paintings, by the time I was fifteen I knew, for I had been repeatedly told, were of my great grandparents, my grandmother’s and great uncle’s parents, one of them on each wall. They were dark colored paintings, with eyes which followed you as you moved about the room. They were terrifying, those paintings, and I avoided entering that space as much as I could. When my grandmother grew ill, in 1950, three years ago, my aunts and uncles began fighting over her belongings. My mother went through her closet one day, when no one else was at home. There was a section of it in which she found eight or nine further canvases — all rolled up — and when she opened them up she recognized some of the people in them, including my grandmother’s sister who had died when she was twelve and my great uncle was barely ten. The girl had been my great uncle’s twin. The paintings were all signed by my great uncle, and so were dear to my mother, though nearly valueless. Still, she decided to take and hide two of them away, including the one of the twin. As she was making her way out of the closet she tripped over the work, and as she bent to right it found the letter Nigel Van Eyck had written my great uncle. It was a love letter. He and my uncle had had a prolonged affair, and the letter, along with the work had been, it seems, hidden away by my grandmother who was protective of my great uncle’s privacy. I have the letter here. I have the object; my great uncle is long since dead. There is no one to protect. My grandmother has just passed away and we, her descendants, have decided to split the value of the work through its sale, while also making public, finally, our great uncle’s affair.

Massetani’s claims to ownership were never substantiated, and she soon changed her name to Lea Massari and began pursuing her film acting career in earnest. She went on to become famous in art cinema circles as the missing girl Anna in Michelangelo Antonioni's “L'avventura” (1960), and as the mother of a sexually precocious 14-year-old boy in Louis Malle's “Le Souffle au Coeur”(1971). Meanwhile, at the Musée D’Accord, the painstaking restoration was finally completed.

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