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Friday 16th December 2016Legal Limbo Ends for Recovered Art Horde

Faithful readers will no doubt remember the story of the treasure trove of artwork discovered recently in the attic of an elderly man in Munich and his second home in Salzburg. Cornelius Gurlitt had inherited the works from his art dealer father, a man who worked closely with the Nazis during World War Two during their destruction and confiscation of so-called 'degenerate art' (which essentially covered anything that wasn't classical Greco-Roman and Aryan, or that they just didn't like).

The provenance of the works was called into question repeatedly, and there were numerous issues concerning the methods by which he had attained them, until the story about his father was revealed. Since then, however, the legal drama has not ended.

Gurlitt eventually passed away in 2014 after undergoing heart surgery, but before he died he left everything in his possession to the Kunstmuseum in Bern, which included all the artworks in his possession. The collection was an impressive one too, featuring works by famous painters such as Otto Dix, Paul Cezanne and Claude Monet, among many others. Unfortunately for the Kunstmuseum, they rapidly received a legal challenge from Gurlitt's next of kin who would otherwise have received the ownership of the pieces.

Uta Werner maintained that Gurlitt was not of sound mind and therefore his will should have been thrown out and typical estate distribution would occur, leaving her the sole beneficiary. Finally, at long last, the Munich Higher Regional Court ruled against the legal challenge, saying that the fact that he wrote the will before his heart surgery indicated he was aware of the seriousness of the situation.

The Kunstmuseum is no doubt very pleased with the news, and the German Culture Minister Monika Grütters issued a statement lauding the fact that a proposed exhibition of the works can now move forwards.

"It is good that we all now have a clear understanding of the legacy of Cornelius Gurlitt. This decision helps us to continue the elucidation of the artifact quickly and transparently. In the end, the path is now free for the joint exhibition plans of the Kunstmuseum Bern and the Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundes in Bonn for the coming year."

"This step is essential for a responsible and transparent handling of the works and their history, but above all we are also responsible for this treatment for the victims all over the world," Grutters continued.

Photo by Markus Hannich

Posted on December 16th 2016 on 03:35pm
Labels: , art horde, gurlitt

Wednesday 14th December 2016The Hunt for Marcos' Missing Art

It's not unusual for art thefts to make front page news, no matter where they happen in the world. But there is one long-running hunt for missing art that you've probably never heard of, but perhaps you can be forgiven since it started way back in 1986.

Ferdinand E. Marcos, the dictator in power in the Philippines, had just been removed from power after two decades of brutal rule characterized by massive personal excesses and corruption. You've no doubt heard of his wife, Imelda Marcos, and her famously massive shoe collection. But you probably haven't heard that the pair were suspected of purchasing some fairly impressive paintings with embezzled government funds.

The paintings were by such famous masters as Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, and Edgar Degas, but they have yet to be found. Instead, when the volunteers investigated the Manhattan penthouse that the Marcoses' kept to throw lavish parties and entertain wealthy socialites, there were simply empty frames hanging on the walls with copper identification plates that described the pieces which used to hang there.

The decades-long search hasn't been without any success. In 1987, several important and valuable paintings were recovered by Raphael, Titian and El Greco, which sold for $15.4 million USD at a Christie's auction. In 1998, a missing Picasso was discovered after it was brought to Christie's for authentication, which eventually sold for just shy of $1 million USD.

The commission charged with finding these artworks has grown frustrated over the last few years, as so much time has passed that leads and trails have gone cold. However, they have not given up hope, and are turning to modern communication and crowdsourcing methods in an attempt to gain new leads on the still-missing pieces.

While they have achieved impressive results, the Filipino government has estimated that the full worth of the collection could be as much as $500 million US dollars, and the return of these pieces would not only be a fantastic public relations coup for the current administration but also a boon to the art world in general.

All too often the general public is neglected in consideration of stolen artworks, because once they have been stolen they obviously must be hidden away from the world. Hopefully, as the hunt for these missing treasures picks up steam again, the missing paintings will be restored to their rightful place where they can be appreciated again by the world at large.

Posted on December 14th 2016 on 03:20pm
Labels: art theft

Friday 09th December 2016Is Trump's Time Photograph Subversive Art?

So it looks like the world is going to have to come to terms with the presidency of Donald Trump, of all people. What once seemed like a joke (in fact, the TV show The Simpsons made just such a joke over a decade ago) has become the reality, and while that raises all kinds of postmodern questions about the nature of life imitating art, it's also a grim political reality.

Thanks in large part to his presidency, Trump recently graced the front cover of Time magazine as the Person of the Year. Before this becomes too outrageous, remember that 'Person of the Year' doesn't come with the word 'best' attached, it merely reflects influence - for example, Hitler was also a Man of the Year with a Time magazine cover, as were Stalin and Ayatollah Khomeini.

However, this particular cover features a rather atypical photograph of the President-elect, and some have even gone so far as to call it "a subversive work of political art." There's quite a thorough breakdown of this theory in a fascinating article published by Forward, which you can read here:

Time's specific definition of the criterion for choosing their Person of the Year is simply "the person who had the greatest influence, for better or worse, on the events of the year.” Their feelings about Trump may very well be coded into the photograph.
Strangely enough, the fact that the letter M in Time happens to place the two peaks just above Trump's head seems to have been only mentioned in passing, perhaps due to the crudity of the reference or its blatancy, but it does rather look like someone has drawn devil horns over his portrait.

The rest of the analysis is far more indepth, however, even breaking the image down so completely that they read into the fact that there is a slight cracking of the upholstery in one place, which seems a rather ridiculous point to make.

The primary features of the critique involve the colour reproduction, which mimics old Kodachrome film, calling up feelings of antiquity and a return to the past. There's also his odd pose, looking back over his shoulder into the camera with an air of disdain - it's not usually polite to sit with your back to someone. Finally, there's the chair itself, which is a classic Louis XV chair design - and for those of you who aren't history buffs, the reign of Louis XV was hardly a well-managed one.

It's an interesting theory that probably comes a fair bit closer to fact. The photographer, Nadav Kander, has undoubtedly hidden some commentary in his cover piece, so be sure to read the full theory on Forward.

Posted on December 09th 2016 on 02:54pm

Wednesday 07th December 2016Artist Spotlight: Miguel Chevalier

For thousands of years, churches of every denomination were the center points of art and culture in the West and beyond. They were protected places that escaped much of the harsher aspects of life, allowing them to preserve many more cultural treasures than other places could manage. Of course, this isn't usually the case today, where arts and culture flourish around the world in the absence of global wars, but on one special night the ages were crossed in a very unique way.

That night, of course, was Nuit Blanche in Paris. For those of you unfamiliar with the special day, Nuit Blanche ('white night' in English) is an arts festival that has spread around the world. Essentially, the entire night is transformed through the magic of art, transforming everyday spaces for a single night of celebration. Nuit Blanche festivals can be found in almost every major city with a decent arts presence, from Paris to Vancouver to Melbourne and many places in between.

The particular project we started discussing took place this past Nuit Blanche in the Saint-Eustache Church in Paris. Transformed by digital artist Miguel Chevalier, the massive vaulted ceilings of the church were covered in incredible light shows that transformed the very nature of the shape of the building. The piece, entitled Voûtes Célestes, was accompanied by improvised organ music by Baptiste-Florian Marle-Ouvrard, the organist who usually performs at the regular church services.

While this is Chevalier's latest massive installation project, he's actually been working with digital media for a surprisingly long time. He was one of the first artists to begin employing computers in his work, going back as far as 1978 according to the biography on his personal website.

He has had an incredibly distinguished career, with hundreds of solo and group exhibitions under his belt, springboarded by a degree in Fine Arts and Archaeology from Université de Paris La Sorbonne.

As he puts it himself: "Since 1978, Chevalier has focused exclusively on computers as an artistic means of expression. He quickly secured a spot on the international scene as a pioneer of virtual and digital art. Miguel Chevalier continues to be a trailblazer, and has proven himself to be one of the most significant artists on the contemporary scene.

Miguel Chevalier's oeuvre is experimental and multidisciplinary. Taking references from the history of art and reformulating them using computer tools, his works investigate and explore recurrent themes such as nature and artifice, flows and networks, virtual cities and ornate designs. His images are a rich source of insights into ourselves and our relationship with the world."

Posted on December 07th 2016 on 05:20am

Friday 02nd December 2016Artist Spotlight Redux: Sky Ladder

In the past, we wrote an Artist Spotlight about Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang, and a relatively strange installation piece he had created involving tortoises. In today's follow up we're going to look at a specific project that he created, and the Netflix documentary that goes along with it of the same name: Sky Ladder.
Aside from playing around with tortoises, which actually sounds like it might be kind of fun regardless of its relative artistic merit, Cai Guo-Qiang has had an extraordinary career in many other non-traditional media - namely in fireworks, coloured smoke and flame. Tortoises are great and all, but pyrotechnics must be a lot more fun, and Cai Guo-Qiang gained an incredible amount of fame for devising the pyrotechnic displays at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

In 2014, he took his pyrotechnic effects to a new level using coloured smokes and incredibly carefully designed forms and was able to create a stunning range of effects, painting in the sky with smoke and flame. This eventually led to the development of his lifelong project, which has been chronicled in the documentary of the same name.

Produced by Kevin MacDonald and Wendi Deng Murdoch, Sky Ladder tells the story behind his life-long project that took a while to develop into a concept, and even longer into a feasible and performable project. There were many false starts before it was finally properly performed, but the final piece grows into a rather titanic scale that manages to look beautiful too - even though it's a touch more conceptual than the rest of his pyrotechnic work.

As Cai Guo-Qiang explains the project, it sounds like something the world could use more of:
Behind Sky Ladder lies a clear childhood dream of mine. Despite all life’s twists and turns, I have always been determined to realize it. My earlier proposals were either more abstract or ceremonial. Sky Ladder today is tender, and touches my heart deeply: it carries affection for my hometown, my relatives and my friends. In contrast to my other attempts, which set the ignition time at dusk, this time the ladder rose toward the morning sun, carrying hope. For me, this not only means a return but also the start of a new journey.

Posted on December 02nd 2016 on 05:00am
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