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Ruined or Contemporary? — The Fight Over a 19th Century Fresco

Cea, Flickr

Elías García Martínez’s fresco depiction of Jesus in Borja, Italy had lasted since the 19th century. Until a couple of years ago, it had stayed in almost pristine condition. The fresco was damaged two years ago, leaving this historic piece in need of repair. The church that housed the painting did not look forward to having to spend the enormous amount of money to have professions come restore the painting. So, when an elderly woman offered to do the work for free, they jumped at the chance.

Cecilia Giménez was the 80-year-old woman that offered her services to the restoration. The only thing that she left out when speaking with the church?

She had no idea what she was doing.

Giménez is a self-proclaimed artist with no formal training of any kind. She was completely unprepared for the intense under taking.

Here’s how it came out:

Cea, Flickr

The far left image is the original painting by Elías García Martínez. Second is how the fresco looked after being damaged. And lastly, the disproportionate and completely different image of Jesus created by Giménez.

Take a minute, look at this drastic change. Let your opinion grow. Now, what side do you stand on? Is this a tragedy or an experimental stand for contemporary art?

No matter the side that you choose, you will not be alone.

The majority of people agree this is the destruction of an historic piece of art. The painting had been so masterfully produced by Martínez and deserved to be restored to his vision. Those who believe this beg the painting be recovered and properly restored. Popping up all over the Internet are hilarious photoshop images replacing the heads of figures in master pieces with the “fresco’s fuzzy head.” Some of these funny pics of Giménez’s Jesus are things like, The Last Supper by Leonardo where every face of those seated at the table have the “fuzzy” face. It must be remembered that a lot of the group against Giménez are taking it very seriously. To this group it is amazing to hear that there is a large number of people vouching for Giménez’s work to be allowed to remain.

As Chris Brown of the Los Angeles Times describes, “… a Change.org petition started in Madrid has received more than 20,000 signatures in an effort to preserve Gimenez’s version against any recovery effort…” He continues by saying that some have even said the work is, “a clever reflection of political and social situation of our time.” There are pictures of supporters ranging from gallery owners, museum curators, and other artists holding signs showing solidarity to Giménez. These supporters of the Jesus remade fresco are just as passionate as those against them.

So, who is right? Who decides what should be done? If this piece is determined its own fresco of an abstract style, just as important in the timeline of art’s history as the original, should it be protected? Is the original portrayal of Jesus the victim that should be given justice?

Personally, I believe that if Giménez honestly set out to make a statement about the state of art then she should have chosen a different place to hop on her soap box. The destruction of a piece older than some states of the US have been settled is a travesty. Giménez should make herself a few canvases, paint her fuzzy statement on those, and with her new fame have these pieces shown in a gallery. Covering over hundreds of years old fresco is a great injustice. This is no longer just a piece of art, it is a part of history. We would not allow the heirogylphs in Egypt to be covered by graffitti or a Jackson Pollock painting just because they were new and contemporary art styles. There are times and places for art movements to occur, these choices should not include over a fresco form the 19th century.

You may have an opinion that differs from mine, that is your choice. But, I will ask again. Who knows what the qualifiers are for what makes “good art” and important art? It will be a difficult decision choosing which fresco should be kept.

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