Thought-Pourri: Fickle Finger of Fate Edition

Fate has a way of making you realize that you might have stepped in something without realizing it.

I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit over the last several days when it comes to the upper end of the art market, which is in a bit of a tizzy just now about a situation that it created all by itself over the past few decades. If you follow the news at all, you’ll know that art prices have become increasingly insane in recent years, thanks to a concerted charm offensive on the part of dealers, auctioneers, banks, the press, and even museums to persuade the very wealthy to buy Modern and Contemporary art for investment purposes. After all, not only is it (well, in some cases) nicer to look at than a stock certificate, art is also easier to transport and turn into liquidity than many other convertible assets, particularly if you’re trying to keep ex-wife #4 from getting her manicured claws on your hedge fund winnings.

Now however, both the US and the EU are working on increased regulation of the art market from a financial services perspective, in order to address issues such as buying art as part of a money laundering scheme. The art world is up in arms over this, naturally enough, because the livelihood of many who work in that arena depend on the artificially inflated market bubble for atrociously awful art. If the super-rich no longer see art investment as a safe haven, they fear, that money will be shifted elsewhere, and prices for such commodities will collapse. Forgive me if I don’t feel particularly sorry for these people.

Disappearing Digit

First there was the “brah” incident at the Franklin Institute, in which an idiot broke off the thumb of one of China’s legendary Terracotta Warrior to keep as a souvenir. Now it appears that, during the reinstallation of Bernini’s “Saint Bibiana” (1626) above the high altar, following its return from an exhibition at the Borghese to its eponymous church in Rome, someone has broken off one of the statue’s fingers. Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) was the greatest of all Italian Baroque sculptors and architects, and either directly or through his influence had an enormous impact not just on the art and architecture of the city of Rome, but of the entire world. As noted in the Italian press, this was the first time the sculpture had ever been lent out in its 400-year history. I rather doubt that it will be lent out again.


Purging Poland

Ah, the vicissitudes of history. While American cities are dismantling, altering, or otherwise arguing over the issue of historical monuments which may or may not be controversial – personally I think that most monuments to Confederate leaders should be sealed in concrete and thrown into the sea – in Poland a similar cultural battle over art of a comparatively more recent vintage is being waged. Like many countries behind the Iron Curtain, Poland was filled with art depicting Communist propaganda, as part of an effort to erase both Catholicism and Polish historical memory: fortunately, neither effort succeeded. While to those of us who have never had to live under Communism, it might seem only logical to remove monuments dedicated to Marxist oppression once the country reverted to democracy, there are still those in Poland who want to keep such things, and are fighting the ongoing government effort to remove them. Should they be destroyed, or should they be placed in some kind of museum? And if the latter, who should be responsible for maintaining such things? It’s an interesting question, and one which I leave to the Poles.


Bologna Bonanza

Some good news from the world of art crime for a change: Italian police have recently recovered three Early Renaissance paintings stolen from museums in and around the city of Bologna, including a 14th century painting of St. Ambrose brazenly taken from the National Pinacoteca in the city during regular opening hours. It appears as though the alleged thief was spotted using digital analysis of surveillance camera footage, and caught when he was seen “acting suspiciously” around another art museum in the city. The Carabinieri tailed him and eventually were able to search his home, where they found the missing art. A happy ending to an all-too-common problem in Italian cities, where the theft of art and antiquities is a perpetual headache for police forces.


6 thoughts on “Thought-Pourri: Fickle Finger of Fate Edition

  1. Very interesting! For my part, I oppose monuments to leaders of any great accomplishment. Build a monument to the accomplishment, sure, or better yet, the ordinary people who worked to make it happen. On such monument it may be all right to mention the person who came up with or popularized the idea, but it should be a mere parenthetical.

    And the recovery of the stolen art is a wonderful bit of news. Thank you for sharing!


  2. I always like to read about art thefts hoping that they’ll be pulled of like they do it in the movies – always intricate, high tech, and full of amazing copies made by ‘Benny’ the best forger in the business who comes out of retirement to pull one last job. In the real world it’s mostly smash and grab by regular Joe’s that have no idea what to do with the art once they get it home. Glad to hear that these works were recovered unharmed.


  3. In the light of the staggering +$650M made at the recent sale of the Rockefeller art collection last week, one cannot help wondering where the pieces went and how many were really in exchange for “black or dirty” money. Certainly, National Galleries cannot raise funds like this. I cannot help feeling that the Foundation might have been better served by creating a new gallery open to the public (a la Frick), but what do I know? I know that this money will be used for charitable purposes, but at the risk of super-dry-cleaning some possibly dubious funds.


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