READING PASSAGE 1
Alexandria in Virginia, USA, and particularly its well-tended Old Town section, is the sort of upscale suburb that rings most major American cities. From the array of pubs, sushi-restaurant chains and pasta joints that line its streets, you would never guess that within 20 minutes you can find some of the best Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese, Pakistani or Bolivian food in America. Its 18th-century homes have been carefully maintained; now that the nasty, dirty business of living in them is done, they are at last free to house upscale boutiques selling ornate pepper-shakers, local wine, birthday cakes for dogs and other essentials. Yet this suburb was a city before cars existed, making it especially dense, walkable and charming. It has also turned an instrument of war into an instrument of art.
The day after the armistice that ended the first world war in 1918, the United States Navy began building the US Naval Torpedo station on the waterfront across the Potomac and just downriver from the Naval Research Laboratory in south-west Washington, DC. After a brief period of production, it stored munitions between the wars. When the second world war broke out, it built torpedoes for submarines and aircraft; when that war ended, the building was again used for storage. In 1969, the local Alexandria government bought the site, which had grown to comprise 11 buildings, from the federal government.
Five years later, after all the debris was removed and walls erected, the main building was refitted to house artists' studios. A quarter-century, and several extensive renovations, later the artists are still there: over 160 of them sharing 82 studios, six galleries and two workshops. The Art League School and the Alexandria Archaeology Museum also share the space, bringing in thousands more aspirants and students. All of this makes the Torpedo Factory, as it is now called, a low-key, family-friendly and craft-centred alternative to the many worthy galleries across the river.
The building is three-storeys tall; on the first floor the studios and galleries are laid out along a single long hall. The arrangement grows more warrenlike, and the sense of discovery concomitantly more pleasant, as you ascend. Artists work in a variety of media, including painting, fibre, printmaking, ceramics, jewellery, stained glass and photography.
Don't anticipate anything game-changing or jaw-dropping here. Expect plenty of cats and cows in different media, as well as watercolours of beach houses, ersatz Abstract Expressionist paintings, stained glass made for the walls of large suburban houses, baubles and knick-knacks and thingummies galore. All of it is skilfully done; most of it is pleasant.
The photography is an exception: the Multiple Exposures Gallery is first-rate, displaying not merely beautiful pictures but inventive techniques as well. On a recent visit the gallery showcased landscapes, including an especially arresting wide-angle aerial shot of a field in Fujian after a storm. Crops glinted in the rising sun like rows of wet sapphires, the scalloped grey clouds echoing the terraced farming beneath.
The Torpedo Factory's biggest draw, however, particularly for visitors with children, is not on what is sold but in the demystifying access visitors have to artists. While the galleries function traditionally, the artists work and sell out of the same studio; their raw materials and works in progress, the artistry behind the art, are all on display. Many of them are happy and eager to talk; one was soliciting the help of passers-by to complete a work, she wished to know how to say and write a certain phrase in Hebrew vernacular, a quest that might take time to complete in a yachty southern suburb. A metal sculptor sat on a stool patiently working a piece of metal back and forth in his hands. The centre of his studio was filled with a huge hollow sphere made from hundreds of cylinders of perhaps anodised aluminium. It seemed we were witnessing the first step in a thousand-mile march.
READING PASSAGE 2
Questions 14 - 26
The Dutch and their Ice
The stolid, clog-wearing, cheese-making Dutch are not your obvious Romantics. But when Holland gained independence in 1813, after decades spent fighting the French, a resolute high-mindedness that was thrifty, intimate, idealistic and in its way peculiarly Dutch, finally settled on the Low Countries.
These good people had no time for the high Romanticism of the Germans, who hankered after the lances and legends of the Middle Ages, or the leafy ideals of the English with their love of daffodils and the bucolic greenery of the Lake District. For their Romantic inspiration the Dutch turned back to their own golden age, the 17th century, with its enduring characteristics of domesticity and diligence. Nineteenth-century Dutch pastorals show windmills and waterways, red-cheeked boys and little yellow hatchlings. Spring, summer and autumn are sometimes the backdrop. But one after the other, artists such as Jan Jacob Spohler, Nicolaas Johannes Roosenboom, Francs Breuhaus de Groot and Andreas Schelfhout, turn their attention to the icy landscape of winter.
Nothing epitomises the ideal of Dutch 19th-century life so much as ice-skating on winter’s frozen waterways. Market days and jolly parties bathed in a pinkish winter light all happen on ice, where dogs and children cavort among men in tall hats and women in fur muffs enjoying the small pleasures of daily life. That these canals might be transformed in summer into stagnant ditches rank with mosquitoes and malaria, or even altogether overwhelmed by the ever-present sea nearby, is a reality that never intrudes.
Dutch cityscapes show a similar moderation. Tall buildings gather, hugger-mugger, along the edges of canals. Ruined gateways and cracked roofs radiate timelessness. The human figures on the pavements are small and rarely give expression to extreme emotions. They call their dogs, tie their shoelaces, shush their teething babies and look for reassurance to the striking of the town clock. Within, Hubertus Van Hove’s Amsterdam orphan girl, in her characteristic red and black uniform, with white cap and white apron, prepares a simple meal. The Bible has the last word and the clock stipulates a life of domestic continuity.
Barend Cornelis Koekkoek, a modest citizen of Cleves, father of five daughters, was a master at portraying the contrast between humble humanity and the greatness of creation. Regarded as the father of Dutch Romantic landscape painting, he counted among his clients King Willem II of the Netherlands, King Friedrich-Wilhelm IV of Prussia and Tsar Alexander II, which goes some way to explaining why there is a fine example of his work in the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg.
In 1846 Koekkoek began working from a new atelier in Cleves, heralding the start of his most important period. “Le vieux manoir” was the first picture he painted there. Against a massive sky is a filigree of trees and branches. A woman pushes a laden toboggan and small children carry bundles of kindling, indicating that in a fulfilled life everyone must play their part. But it is to the far left of the painting that the viewer’s eye is drawn: a woman, well bundled against the cold, is trudging along the snowy road. Holding her hand is a child who, given her height, cannot be more than five or six. They have far to go, and you can almost see how their even breaths mark the passing of the miles.
In a buoyant market the finest Koekkeoks have almost always exceeded their estimate. An 1843 work, “Late Afternoon with Numerous Skaters by a Town”, sold in April 2006 for €1.25m ($1.56m) against a top estimate of €350,000, whereas another winter landscape sold the following October for €1.15m against an estimate of €500,000. Collectors who were happy to sell during the boom are now being leaned on by the auction houses to reduce their expectations. If so, this is the moment to buy. Koekkoek’s “Le vieux manoir” may be smaller than the two pictures that sold in 2006, but even if it fetches only its top estimate, it will be a bargain.
READING PASSAGE 3
Questions 27 - 40
How to make art history
A "GREAT art stands the test of time," goes the adage. But how exactly is the work tested? Put another way, in a world where anything can be art and where concept is king, how do works by living artists accrue value? The answer lies beyond the art market, in the broader terrain of the art world where artists and their oeuvres undergo a complex filtering process that insiders call "validation".
B Validation is not straightforward. If you are pursuing a career in accountancy, you are confronted with a series of hurdles; clear them all, and you have arrived. For artists, life is much more complicated. In a social setting where the official rule is rule-breaking, the artist who crawls under the first hurdle, knocks over the second and does a strange scissor kick over the third may ultimately win the greatest recognition. Almost by definition, a competent artist is an insignificant one.
C Although most artists under 50 now have a fine-arts degree, after graduation, the biggest hurdle is finding a good dealer to represent them. "Validation is at the core of our business," explains Iwan Wirth, a dealer with galleries in London, Zurich and New York. "It is our expertise. Credibility is what an artist needs in the long run." When recruiting new artists, the quality of their work is most important, but with young artists a dealer may have only a few years of work to consider. "So you do a risk-assessment based on their character," says Mr Wirth.
D A gallery's credibility rests on its stable of artists. The location, scale and aesthetics of a gallery's exhibition space inspire confidence, and strong curatorial connections and monied clients make a difference. What matters most however is a cluster of artistic reputations. When recruiting, dealers often act on the recommendations of artists who are already on their roster. It helps lend coherence to the gallery's programme and acknowledges that other artists are important arbitrators.
E Emerging art galleries also need the approval of prestigious art fairs to be taken seriously. The four leading fairs, in Basel, London, Miami and Paris, are oversubscribed and turn away many applicants. They rely on rigorous selection committees to impose quality control and do their best to avoid any hint of cronyism. According to Amanda Sharp, co-owner of the Frieze Art Fair, "Frieze's number one unique selling point is integrity. We try to make decisions in as balanced and informed a way as possible."
F Repeated display in different contexts tests the work as well as building an audience for it. Within a given museum, project spaces, group shows and solo retrospectives offer different platforms. And not all museums are equal. The Museum of Modern Art in New York used to be the most important judge, but now institutions such as Tate Modern and the Centre Pompidou have the muscle to ratify artists. Even so, the authority of the institution is no guarantee of success; a poorly received exhibition in a renowned museum can be worse than no show at all.
G Since Andy Warhol, media exposure has been increasingly important and a handful of artists are celebrities of sorts. An artist's work needs to accumulate a body of interpretation and, better still, a series of narratives about the creation of the work that brings it to life. Artists' personalities are important to the marketability of their oeuvre. To that end, scathing reviews can be just as useful as good ones. They suggest the work has touched a nerve, violating good taste or established norms.
H Auction-house specialists suggest that there is a strong correlation between quality and price. As Amy Cappellazzo, deputy chairman of Christie's in America, puts it, "a high price can result from two people feeling emotional about an object in a way that defies the natural market. However, the best is worth more, by a large margin, than just a nice example. The auction process roots out quality and rewards it."
I A high price at auction, however, can be followed by a backlash if enough people feel that the artist does not deserve it. During the boom Anselm Reyle, a German artist who makes large series of decorative abstractions, was doing well at auction for a while, but his museum exposure was limited and it was widely felt that his prices had become unduly inflated. They have since come down dramatically. Ideally, the market follows other mechanisms of validation. "When the prices go sky-high, artists' careers can become unhinged and it can be psychologically difficult for them," says Victoria Miro, a London dealer. "Auction houses have enormous short-term influence but it is a bad sign if careers are managed there."
J Validation is closely linked to the perceived integrity of artists and the lasting truths evoked by their work. It is a complicated process in which the art world's many different constituencies - artists, dealers, curators, critics and collectors - all play a part. Unless they all believe in it, the work will not stand the test of time.