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Corbis's Cezanne

Corbis's Cezanne

Corbis's Cezanne

Lothar Baumgarten
Land of the
Spotted Eagle
The Chase Manhattan


Jeff Wall
Pine on Corner
The Chase Manhattan

James Welling
Untitled, 1981
The Chase Manhattan

visual reality
by Lee Rosenbaum 
Not previously known for self-effacement, 
Bill Gates is the unnamed force behind 
Corbis Corp.'s recent media alert 
announcing its new Leonardo CD-ROM, 
featuring writing and drawings from the 72-
page codex that Gates himself owns. The 
press release calls Corbis "a privately 
held company" without identifying Gates as 
its principal or as owner of the "Codex 
Leicester" (so named for its 18th-century 
British owner, Thomas Coke, first Earl of 
Leicester). When it was sold in 1994 to 
Gates for $30.8 million at Christie's, New 
York, as "Codex Hammer" (for the late 
Occidental Petroleum chief, Armand Hammer), 
Microsoft's chairman announced that the 
manuscript would "not be used in any way 
with Mr. Gates' business enterprises." Now 
it's being shrink-wrapped and marketed to 
the digerati. 
Scheduled for October release, the CD was 
previewed at the Electronic Entertainment 
Expo (E3), May 16-18, in Los Angeles. 
According to a spokesperson for New York's 
American Museum of Natural History, 
portions of the CD-ROM may be available for 
viewing in the museum's galleries during 
its upcoming exhibition of the codex, Oct. 
26, 1996-Jan. 1, 1997. A better promotional 
showcase for the new product would be hard 
to come by.
The CD will include an overview of 
Leonardo's drawings and paintings (yet 
another digitized Mona Lisa?) and will 
present "cinematic tours, interactive 
experiments and the unique 'Codescope,' a 
viewing and translation tool," according to 
the announcement. Scholarly input comes 
from professors Carlo Pedretti, UCLA, and 
Martin Kemp, Oxford---two other names 
omitted from the media alert. 
Also available for preview at E3: "Paul 
Cezanne: Portrait of My World," an 
irritatingly busy CD-ROM whose English-
language version is scheduled for June 
release by Corbis. Created by the French 
Reunion des Musees Nationaux, it 
accompanied the Paris showing of the 
internationally touring Cézanne 
retrospective, opening May 30 at the 
Philadelphia Museum of Art. Corbis will 
also soon launch a serialized tour of the 
Philadelphia Cezanne show on its World Wide 
Web site (new segments to be added weekly). 
Another Cezanne CD-ROM, this one for 
children, is being created by the 
Philadelphia Museum (not with Corbis).
Corbis's aggressive acquisition of 
electronic rights to world art has aroused 
traditionalists' concern that image-surfing 
may replace museum- and gallery-hopping. 
Having acquired exclusive electronic rights 
to the images in the Ansel Adams Publishing 
Rights Trust, Corbis hopes to issue an 
Adams CD-ROM in fall 1997. Corbis has also 
signed non-exclusive agreements to license 
and distribute digital images from the 
collections of the Barnes Foundation (for 
which it created the "Passion for Art" CD-
ROM); Detroit Institute of Arts; Kimbell 
Art Museum (which has a virtual gallery on 
Corbis's website); Philadelphia Museum; 
Seattle Art Museum; National Gallery, 
London; Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto; 
State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg; State 
Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg. 
Another 15 art museums are "in very active 
discussions" with Corbis, according to Doug 
Rowan, its president and CEO. Rowan wants 
his company to be "the place where people 
would prefer to come for digital content," 
but scoffs at fears that Gates & Co. will 
corner the visual information market. 
"That's just playing into the image of 
Microsoft and monopoly and Bill," he said 
You could call it "the curse of the 
cursor." The Metropolitan Museum's first 
CD-ROM was produced but never released 
because the 1993 show it was created for, 
"Medieval Spain," fell through. A similar 
fate almost befell the exhibition for which 
the Met produced its second CD-ROM, 
"Splendors of Imperial China: Treasures 
from the National Palace Museum, Taipei." 
We shudder to think what could happen with 
the museum's Met masterpieces CD-ROM, 
presently under development--could it doom 
the permanent collection?
The China show's CD-ROM, print catalogue, 
and the National Palace Museum's own 
website are the only ways to see some works 
from the Palace Museum's "restricted" list 
that were originally to have been displayed 
at the Met. Faced with the possible loss of 
the entire show, the Met had to accept 
these deletions in light of Taiwanese 
protesters' objections to the temporary 
departure of national treasures. After 
closing at the Met on May 19, the show 
moves to the Art Institute of Chicago (June 
29-Aug. 25), Asian Art Museum of San 
Francisco (Oct. 14-Dec. 8) and the National 
Gallery of Art, Washington (Jan. 27-Apr. 6, 
A worthy but tame effort, the China CD 
presents much serious hyperlinked 
information, but no multimedia treats. It 
eschews music, narration, tours, animation, 
virtual galleries. The only use of sound is 
pronunciation of Chinese names and terms; 
the only electronic trick, the unrolling of 
scrolls. The reproduction quality, 
although excellent, is not up to the 
challenge of capturing the nuances of 
calligraphic brushstrokes or the subtleties 
of the many ink-on-silk scrolls that are 
among the collection's highlights. The 
early 12th-century Sitting Alone by a 
Stream, for example, includes a "meditative 
figure," according to the commentary, but 
you may seek him in vain, even when using 
the magnification tool.
Meanwhile, Wen Fong, the Met's consultative 
chairman for Asian art, may have been 
trumped by Sherman Lee, consulting scholar 
of Chinese art for (of all unlikely places) 
the Guggenheim Museum, New York. Ever since 
the Met's 1980 "Great Bronze Age of China" 
show, Fong has been trying to arrange 
another show of art treasures from mainland 
China. Lee, retired director of the 
Cleveland Museum, is deep into preparations 
for "China: 5,000 Years," tentatively 
scheduled for June 1997 at the Guggenheim. 
To include some 350 objects (jade, 
porcelain, bronze, textiles, lacquer, 
paintings, Buddhist sculpture) from China's 
museums and archaeological institutes, the 
show will be organized thematically 
according to subject matter and use of 
materials, Lee said. 
With the imminent opening of its African 
art extravaganza on June 7, the Guggenheim, 
once a showcase for the modern and 
contemporary, seems to be repositioning 
itself as a venue for international 
historical blockbusters. This reflects "the 
increased interest in the international 
artworld and the Guggenheim's presence 
internationally," according to a museum 
spokesperson. The Guggenheim's African art 
show is a historical survey of more than 
500 works organized by the Royal Academy, 
London, and accompanied by companion 
exhibitions of contemporary African 
photography and film.
David Rockefeller, appreciatively taking in 
the Brancusi show at the Museum of Modern 
Art, recently offered his unqualified 
assurances that the renowned 13,200-work, 
37-year-old Chase Manhattan Bank corporate 
art collection, largely assembled under his 
auspices in his former role as bank
chairman, "will not only be maintained; it
will be expanded." This despite the loss of
some 12,000 jobs and the reduction of $1.7
billion in annual expenses that has
resulted from the recent merger of Chase
with Chemical Bank.
Pamela Widdemer, vice president for 
corporate marketing and communications at 
the reconstituted Chase, was not so sure. 
Art purchases, she said, "will remain on 
hold" until "the new strategy of the Chase 
Manhattan Art Program is...developed." This 
process could take six months, according to 
A key player in developing this new 
strategy is Manuel Gonzalez, continuing in 
his role as executive director of Chase's 
art program. Gonzalez revealed that there 
might be some judicious deaccessions of 
duplicates (especially prints), but no IBM-
like mass disposals are planned. Like 
Rockefeller, he asserted that acquisitions 
would continue, as would the bank's 
international exhibitions program. A survey 
of 1980s Chilean art drawn from Chase's 
collection opened May 13 in Santiago; a 
drawings show is also in the works.
Meanwhile, Chemical employees are clamoring 
to get Chase's art on their walls, 
according to Gonzalez, who has detected no 
grassroots opposition to retaining art 
while axing employees.
Now that he's exploiting its income 
producing potential in a CD-ROM, does Bill 
Gates get to deduct the $30.8 million he 
spent for the Leonardo codex as a business 
Did the lucky winners of Jackie's junque 
also receive complimentary trial 
subscriptions to John Kennedy Jr.'s George 
Now that Ted Pillsbury has profited from 
the May 7 Christie's New York sale by his 
family trust of a $3.74-million de Kooning 
and a $2.42-million Pollock, previously 
owned by his grandmother, does he donate 
his director's salary to the Kimbell Art 
With Charlton Heston (Moses in The Ten 
Commandments) narrating an Egyptian art 
audio tour at the Florida International 
Museum and Steve Martin (author of Picasso 
at the Lapin Agile) narrating the loves-of-
Picasso show at the Museum of Modern Art, 
will Gene Hackman (The French Connection) 
do the Degas show, which opens Sept. 30 at 
the Art Institute of Chicago?
(Answers to be published in next week's 
Hilton Kramer column in the New York 
Observer. Winners get trips to the Egyptian 
pyramids or the Basel Art Fair.)
Lee Rosenbaum writes frequently for the 
Wall Street Journal "Leisure & Arts" page 
and Art in America magazine. She is the 
author of The Complete Guide to Collecting 
Art (Knopf).