A Former Venice Biennale Curator Hints Her Museum Might Show the Infamous ‘Salvator Mundi.’ But Is It Fake News?

Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev promises to reveal a work that "adds to the excitement" surrounding the $450 million painting attributed to Leonardo.

Taner Ceylan's take on the famous painting. Image: Antonio Maniscalco, courtesy Castello di Rivoli,

Is Salvator Mundi about to go on view in Turin?

The director of the Castello di Rivoli, one of Italy’s leading contemporary art museums, suggests that it might be, adding another twist to the mystery surrounding the $450 million painting attributed to Leonardo da Vinci. In an enigmatic press release, the Italian art museum said that a work will go on view later today, October 30, that “could” be Salvator Mundi.

It will, at least, have something to do with it. The museum has been tight-lipped about what exactly will go on view, but it says the piece will be a “painting that makes the mystery of Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi even more exciting.” The unknown painting is due to go on view this evening.

Considering the hype and media frenzy that swirls around the Old Master since its price skyrocketed, it is an eye-catching announcement, not least because the museum is run by the widely respected curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev.

Last year, Christov-Bakargiev told artnet News that she was unimpressed by the fuss that surrounds Salvator Mundi. “Why would you hang this painting that looks like a dead fish?” she asked. She has also expressed skepticism over social media about the much-restored work’s attribution.

Currently, the Turin museum is presenting the exhibition “D’après Leonardo,” which is on view until January 5, 2020. The small show features a pair of works, one by Leonardo’s student, Marco d’Oggiono, and another by the Italian postwar artist Gino De Dominicis. Whatever is about to go on view today is due to be added to this show. The announcement on the eve of Turin’s Artissima art fair seems designed to maximize attention. In the press statement, Castello di Rivoli called the reemergence of the Leonardo work the “birth of a new myth in recent artistic history.”

In the statement sent last evening, Christov-Bakargiev expanded on her views about the painting, and the new arrival at the Castello di Rivoli, whatever it might be: “[It] emerges from a reflection on the problematic of the critical reception and market that Leonardo da Vinci is going through in our digital age—characterized by a celebration of scientific rather than humanistic culture, by an accelerated dissemination of information, including fake news, and by the difficulty of ascertaining the authenticity of works as well as an increasingly concentrated attention on the canonical figures of art history.”

Due to Salvator Mundi‘s astronomical sale price (the painting sold at Christie’s for a $450 million in 2017), and its curious absence for around two years (there are rumors circulating that it is in Saudi Arabia on a superyacht owned by the Crown Prince), the work has become a fertile ground for conspiracy theories, but also artistic responses. Earlier this year, the Berlin-based artist Simon Fujiwara presented a model of a fantasy museum housing multiple, mini versions of the painting. The dioroma is called the Salvator Mundi Experience. 

The Louvre, which opened a major exhibition dedicated to Leonardo last week, is still hoping to borrow the elusive painting, should its owner oblige the curators. The Parisian institution seemed to have been planning to include it right up to the last minute, and even reserved wall space, according to version of the exhibition layout seen by the Art Newspaper.

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