Project 6 : Paintings Designed to Make Money: The Diogenes Con Show & The Masterpiece Museum

This exhibition was also shown at the Blenheim Gallery between 6 May and 20 June 1975.

The purpose of the exhibition was explained in the notes for the 1997 Retrospective at Plymouth City Museum & Art Gallery:

This collection parodied some attitudes towards ‘Art’. The ‘Diogenes Con Show’ displayed 35 studies of ‘Diogenes’ all of which were titled: This study took 27 minutes, This study took 43 minutes etc. From early portrayals of St Jerome to today’s Father Christmas Cards, the be-whiskered, harmless philosopher-rogue has always been a money-spinner. Even Rembrandt painted such images for Russian and European collectors as a sure income.

‘Diogenes’ was a well-known tramp who lived in a barrel at Chelson meadow. Lenkiewicz wrote that one clear distinction between the ‘image’ of ‘Diogenes’/philosopher-rogue and ‘Diogenes’/Edwin Mackenzie in the real world, is that the ‘image’ of him is far more acceptable in the average household, than the man himself. Ethics and aesthetics was an issue again.

The second part of Project 6, called ‘The Masterpiece Museum’, considered another aspect of salesmanship/art. Lenkiewicz wrote:

“The innuendo of the ‘masterpiece’ is that it’s creator has transcended both himself and Society; that it is in some sense, prophecy. If the item has been purchased, then we are reminded of a slave-trader wily enough to buy ‘good stock’. Such images develop like institutions or minor religions imbued with qualities that we conspire with. The ‘masterpiece’ can be seen as an abstracted extension of the ‘hero’, and its function in Society operates as an amulet or talisman.”

The Exhibition was presented as though the painter had been dead for some years. Lenkiewicz wrote:

“There are many similar personalities in the colourful pageant of provincial ‘art-heroes’. Few share the distinction of achieving so complete an obscurity in so short a space of time.”

A cabinet containing various artefacts of the ‘deceased’ painter stood by the entrance. Of special interest was the article ‘The Uses of Bad Art’ by Geoffrey Grigson, with the note: “It is said that the painter died with this paper clutched to his heart.”

The centrepiece of 'The Masterpiece Museum' was the painting Plymouth Mourning Over its Unfortunates, an allegory of the social effects of alcohol. Ironically, Lenkiewicz's journal records that the painting went unsold but passed into the care of one of the artist's patrons who then sold it on the artist's behalf through a gallery "without my agreement" and that it was "now in Australia".


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