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15 February 2008

Trouble brewing and Ginsberg howls again

Art heists, ethics, and Beyonce in Aretha’s bad books

By Milly Getachew

Treasure Trail

This week a “top 10” survey of paintings to steal has been published and £84m worth of Impressionist paintings have been stolen from a museum in Zurich. The robbery took under 3 minutes and was a low-tech affair: masked armed men strode into the museum, took the paintings off the wall, and drove off in a waiting vehicle. The robbery was the biggest one in Europe, with the thieves stealing works by Van Gogh, Cézanne, Degas and Monet. In the past this sort of swift low-tech heist has seen thieves make off with iconic paintings like Edward Munch’s Scream. Curators, however, can take heart at the thought that stolen need not mean gone: this week an $8m Basquiat which had been smuggled out of Brazil was discovered in a Manhattan warehouse. And sometimes low-tech robberies can be thwarted in low-tech ways: one would-be thief in Saanich, Canada, this week was trapped in flagrante delicto because he had jammed the door while breaking in.

A rare 270-year-old Giuseppe del Gesù violin has been bought for an undisclosed amount, “well in excess” of the $3.5m world auction record, by Russian violin collector Maxim Viktorov. Mr Viktorov has said that he will allow the violin to be played in public regularly – although maybe he won’t immediately be lending it to David Garrett, the violin virtuoso who this week broke his 290-year-old Stradivarius at a concert at the Barbican. Another aural treat has been uncovered for us this week: a previously-unknown tape has been found of Allen Ginsberg performing his visionary poem Howl in a student hostel on 14th February 1956. It is the first known recording of Ginsberg and will be posted here.

Rights and Wrongs

A new Professorship has been created at Holy Cross University, USA, which aims to integrate art and ethics. Outside of academe, Steven Spielberg has resigned as artistic advisor to the Beijing Olympics in protest of the Chinese government’s stance on Darfur and Sudan. There is speculation that more high-profile artists are also set to boycott Beijing 2008. Other brewing conflicts and controversies emerging this week are the Tolkien estate suing New Line studios over how the Lord of the Rings film trilogy profits have been shared; and Danish newspapers are set to re-print the infamous “Mohammed cartoons” from the 2005 controversy. The London Development Agency’s arts funding strategy has been called “incompetent rather than criminal” by a senior London Assembly figure, after an investigation and critical report into how its £70m of arts funding has been distributed. And legendary soul singer Aretha Franklin has expressed surprise that R&B entertainer Beyonce Knowles chose to introduce Tina Turner as the “Queen of Soul” at last weekend’s Grammy’s. While Tina Turner is often called the “Queen of Rock ‘n’Roll”, it is generally agreed that the “Queen of Soul” title is reserved for Aretha. Seems to be a lack of R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

New Developments

The Hollywood writers’ strike has ended, and hot on the heels of the launch of e-book Kindle , UK publishers have said they will be experimenting with online free books. Following Culture Secretary Andy Burnham’s comments on getting arts fans involved in arts Boards, the Department for Children, Schools and Families has announced plans to make culture an integral part of school curriculum, with at least 5 hours of cultural activities each week, and a “Find Your Talent” scheme. Perhaps this is the end of X-Factor.

Madrid has added to its rich arts scene with the opening this week of CaixaForum, a dramatic new gallery/event space and cultural centre just minutes from the Prado; the CaixaForum’s first major show will be on 21 Feb. And in Da Lat, Vietnam, an unusual private home developed by architect Dang Viet Nga has officially been recognised as a work of art due to its “extraordinary characteristics”. Viet Nga has indicated she may turn the distinctive and impressionistically-designed house into a hotel: Terence Conran, you have competition.

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