Art Agonies: Politics Over Preservation

At present we live in a climate in which lovers of great art must put up with the strangely tortured and often ill-informed opinions of others. From nonsensical tweets about the nature of art by celebrity astrophysicists incapable of dressing themselves properly, to lowest common denominator garbage from princes of the Church who have been inexplicably tasked with matters of culture, it’s enough to make this writer want to throw up his hands and just walk away from all of it. I would probably have much more fun simply interviewing and highlighting the work of creative friends and acquaintances – painters, cosplayers, musicians, chefs, writers, etc. It tires me to read about risky decisions being made about art for the sake of political popularity.

A perfect example of this may be found in a recent interview with Françoise Nyssen, France’s Minister of Culture, given on Thursday to Europe 1 Radio. Mme. Nyssen floated the idea of sending the most famous painting in the world, Leonardo’s “Mona Lisa”, out on tour in order to combat what the Minister calls “cultural segregation”. If any of my readers can explain how a work of art is “culturally segregated”, when it is on display to everyone in a public museum, by all means do your best in the comments section. As an aside, I shudder to think what the insurance premiums would be on moving and displaying such an important object, which for decades The Louvre has not even dared to attempt cleaning.

This is not the only half-baked idea to come from the government of France’s greatest aficionado of sheer cover foundation, President Emmanuel Macron. Another ill-conceived project is to send the Bayeux Tapestry, which commemorates the Norman Invasion of Britain and the ensuing Battle of Hastings, across the English Channel to be displayed in a British museum. Like the “Mona Lisa”, the Bayeux Tapestry is an incredibly fragile object, arguably the most famous of its type in the world, and has not left its home in France for many years. Many French historians, preservation specialists, and locals are appalled at the notion of even attempting to move the Tapestry off-site, let alone send it out of the country, but for political reasons Monsieur Maquillage seems determined to proceed with this idea.

Exhibitions which allow works of art to travel from one institution to another are not bad things in and of themselves. When handled properly, they can bring to new audiences objects which they might never be able to visit otherwise. Consideration of the state of preservation of such objects, particularly when of significant age, fragility, or difficulty in transport, must be given absolute priority: Michelangelo’s “David” is never going to leave Florence to go on tour, for example.

However, placing irrational, politically-motivated thinking ahead of issues such as preservation and integrity (and yes, Your Holiness, appropriateness) is morally reprehensible. It plays Russian roulette with the ability of future generations to see, appreciate, and learn from these objects, all for the sake of temporary political popularity. Those who engage in such games by putting at risk the cultural patrimony under their temporary care should be publicly criticized and called to account.


8 thoughts on “Art Agonies: Politics Over Preservation

  1. The use of the words “Cultural segregation” may be referring to two things. First, the increasing distance between the current insular vision of America and its traditional European allies, including France; and second, the cultural segregation that does occur when a great work of art can only be experienced by a trip to a foreign country. I believe it was these very two reasons that inspired Jackie Kennedy to persuade France to send the Mona Lisa to the United States over 50 years ago. It helped French-American political relations and enabled many to experience the artwork in person for the only time in their lives.


  2. My parents said when the Mona Lisa was brought here it was guarded by two soldiers with fixed bayonets. Rather unsettling to the viewers. Cultural segregation to me personally means a work of art whose meaning escapes our culturally illiterate who must
    depend on the Secular even Marxist commentaries by contemporary art historians to misunderstand the artist and the work itself. Thanks so much for this wonderful blog.


  3. I long to be told more and more by the French as to how I should live my life and see the world through “leurs yeux.” Seeing the artwork in its rightful place would, in my opinion, make you even more “culturally” developed as it would require a trip to said foreign country, to experience their customs, art, social life, food, locale, etc. But hey, what do I know, I’m just a culturally vacant American.


  4. I read recently about the sinking of the Lusitania. Onboard was I believe a bookseller, who had some rare manuscripts aboard which he was selling in England.

    They went down with the ship, he survived though. (I’ll have to check on the story, but it was something to that effect)


  5. Pingback: Thought-Pourri: Genius Edition | Blog of the Courtier

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