Kórē

Kórē (2010)

Hand cut screen print, 297 × 420mm. 5 editions.

Extract from Blink by Malcolm Gladwell http://www.gladwell.com/blink/index.html

In September of 1983, an art dealer by the name of Gianfranco Becchina approached the J. Paul Getty Museum in California. He had in his possession, he said, a marble statue dating from the sixth century BC. It was what is known as a kouros – a sculpture of a nude male youth standing with his left leg forward and his arms at his sides. There are only about two hundred kouroi in existence, and most have been recovered badly damaged or in fragments from grave sites or archeological digs. But this one was almost perfectly preserved. It stood close to seven feet tall. It had a kind of light-colored glow that set it apart from other ancient works. It was an extraordinary find. Becchina’s asking price was just under $10 million.

The Getty moved cautiously. It took the kouros on loan and began a thorough investigation.

A geologist from the University of California named Stanley Margolis came to the museum and spent two days examining the surface of the statue with a high-resolution stereomicroscope. He then removed a core sample measuring one centimeter in diameter and two centimeters in length from just below the right knee and analyzed it using an electron microscope, electron microprobe, mass spectrometry, X-ray diffraction, and X-ray fluorescence. The statue was made of dolomite marble from the ancient Cape Vathy quarry on the island of Thasos, Margolis concluded, and the surface of the statue was covered in a thin layer of calcite – which was significant, Margolis told the Getty, because dolomite can turn into calcite only over the course of hundreds, if not thousands, of years. In other words, the statue was old. It wasn’t some contemporary fake.

The kouros, however, had a problem. It didn’t look right. The first to point this out was an Italian art historian named Federico Zeri, who served on the Getty’s board of trustees. When Zeri was taken down to the museum’s restoration studio to see the kouros in December of 1983, he found himself staring at the sculpture’s fingernails. In a way he couldn’t immediately articulate, they seemed wrong to him. Evelyn Harrison was next. She was one of the world’s foremost experts on Greek sculpture, and she was in Los Angeles visiting the Getty just before the museum finalized the deal with Becchina. “Arthur Houghton, who was then the curator, took us down to see it,” Harrison remembers. “He just swished a cloth off the top of it and said, ‘Well, it isn’t ours yet, but it will be in, a couple of weeks.’ And I said, ‘I’m sorry to hear that.'” What did Harrison see? She didn’t know. In that very first moment, when Houghton swished off the cloth, all Harrison had was a hunch, an instinctive sense that something was amiss.

In the first two seconds of looking – in a single glance – they were able to understand more about the essence of the statue than the team at the Getty was able to understand after fourteen months.