Showing posts with label art vandalism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label art vandalism. Show all posts

July 14, 2016

Thursday, July 14, 2016 - ,, No comments

“What light through yonder window breaks?” The Case of Corey Menafee and a stained glass window at Yale University

In history as today, vandalism is an act imbued with meaning and the gap between how heritage professionals react to deliberate damage of artworks and the perceptions of the agents of these changes and the groups they represent presents interesting food for thought.  


On June 13, 2016 a cafeteria worker, Corey Menafee, took a broomstick and smashed a historic stained glass window depicting two slaves picking cotton at Yale University's Calhoun College residence hall.  Confessing to the crime, he was arrested shortly thereafter.

Existing US criminal law does not distinguish art vandalism from vandalism in general and typically classifies the deliberate destruction of artwork under the general category of criminal mischief.  In Connecticut the offence falls under the state’s General Statutes § 53a-115a.  This law addresses persons who acted "with intent to cause damage to tangible property of another and having no reasonable ground to believe that such person has a right to do so, such person damages tangible property of another in an amount exceeding one thousand five hundred dollars."

As a result of his actions, Menafee was charged with first-degree criminal mischief, which is a felony, as well as second-degree reckless endangerment, a misdemeanor.  For his actions, under Connecticut law, Manafee faces up to five years in prison on the felony charge and up to two years of incarceration on the misdemeanor offense.  

Menafee apologised for his actions and subsequently resigned. 

The residence hall's namesake, John C. Calhoun, is significant in that he was a well known 19th century American statesman and political theorist from South Carolina who served as Vice President under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson.  Calhoun was an outspoken supporter of slavery as well as an 1804 graduate of Yale University.  For years students concerned staffers alike have advocated against the name and imagery of the building, saying that it takes a heavy toll on all persons of color who live and work within the historic building. 

But despite the illegality of his actions, students, alumni and members of the New Haven community chose instead to rally around Menafee.  Taking to social media, they voiced their support for his actions and created a petition calling for all charges to be dropped. Other supporters established a GoFundMe account, set up to help him raise money for his defence.

Based on the sensativity of the issue, Yale University released a statement that it would not advocate for Menafee to be prosecuted and would not seek restitution for the loss of the stained glass artwork. 

Additionally, the destruction to the historic window led to a new review by Yale’s Committee on Art in Public Places of other historic windows in answer to petition created for the Yale administration which stated that artwork such as the window “conveys disrespect toward black perspectives, and serves a barrier toward racial inclusiveness.” 

On Tuesday July 12th Yale issued the following statement:

“After the window was broken in June, the Committee recommended that it and some other windows be removed from Calhoun, conserved for future study and a possible contextual exhibition, and replaced temporarily with tinted glass. An artist specializing in stained glass will be commissioned to design new windows, with input from the Yale community, including students, on what should replace them.”

Acts of violence against art such as these explore and challenge society’s ideas of what constitutes “civil disobedience” or “vandalism”.  It also exemplifies why we occasionally deem some crimes against art, such as the deliberate damage to symbolical art which records painful pasts, as acceptable, while other destruction is opposed as negative.

In today’s conflict-filled world, where war is no longer about conquering territory but about changing the perceptions of those under your control ancient statues and historic sites are mutilated or smashed because they are seen as pagan idols. In the past, deliberate attacks against statues depicting Saddam, Stalin and Lenin underscored the end of dictatorial regimes. Each of these examples show how society's interpretation the destruction of art can be a political symbol, and as such, as a weapon for change.  Each shows that art vandalism can be interpreted as positive or negative depending on the eyes of the beholder.

The broken window at Yale reminds us that context authorship and intention of the vandal often play an important role in how society perceives, interprets, accepts, rejects or adjudicates an criminal act deeming one as backward, another as revolutionary, or in the case of Yale's stained class, perhaps a wrong that long since needs to be righted.  It probes the concept of when art destruction is acceptable and when it isn't and forces us to rethink the ways that we interact with art and react to its power to shock or subdue.

By Lynda Albertson

December 16, 2014

Essay: Bringing Art to the Masses, With Limited Success in Rome

Image Credit: Roma Capitale
By Lynda Albertson

It was an initiative to bring the museums to the streets and the streets to the museum.  The city of Rome, in cooperation with three city municipalities, three Rome museums and Italy’s Cultural Ministry, set about to beautify the periphery of Italy’s capital with interesting artworks.  Commuters on their way to work, would be given a unique opportunity to explore the potential of Rome’s artworks within the comfort of their daily routine and hopefully learn a little bit about artists that they might not otherwise have known while they were at it.

The pilot installation, designed to entice passers-by to visit the collections housed at the MACRO - Museo d'arte Contemporanea Roma, the GNAM - Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, and Palazzo Braschi, a large Neoclassical palace in Rome near Campo de' Fiori, have been scheduled to run for six months. 

Image Credit: Roma Capitale
Fifteen masterpieces were photographed at high resolution on a 1:1 scale then printed on canvas and hung along common transit areas.  Like art exhibitions held in New York City’s "Subway Art"  and London Transit Authority’s extensive “Art on the Underground” Rome’s goal was to allow art lovers to appreciate the city's ever-growing collection of Contemporary and Modern art by making more accessible works of art by painters like Carla Accardi, Paolo Anesi, Giacomo Balla, Benedetta Cappa Marinetti, Pablo Echaurren, Filippo Gagliardi, Gavin Hamilton, and Titina.

They even sweetened the pot by publicizing to residents that if they took selfies in front of the artworks they would gain admission to the museum where the artwork was housed for free. 
Image Credit: Roma Capitale

In addition to the free ticket photo shoots, the city scheduled a series of cultural and educational events which include guided tours and workshops for school children designed to  incorporate the masterpieces and the artists that created them. For those too busy to attend, the exhibition also includes a QR code on the captions located beside each of the artworks.  Used in conjunction with a specially-developed smart phone app called "Musei in Strada”  (Museums in the street) rushing pedestrians could also get information on the art works and the museum’s that host the originals.

Giovanna Marinelli, councillor for culture, was quoted in Arte Magazine as saying "We want to reduce the distance that separates, physically and metaphorically, museums in the city center from the suburbs, with the objective being to discover or rediscover the artistic heritage of Rome’s cultural identity and to strengthen the bond of its citizens to the history of their city.”   
Image Credit: Twitter user @anderboz
Unfortunately for Rome’s art loving citizens, some folks got a little too physically close.  In the past week someone has defaced one reproduction with graffiti and destroyed another, setting fire to the reproduction of Benedetta Cappa Marinetti’s "Velocità di motoscafo" on Sunday, December 14th. 

It makes one glad that these were simply reproductions, and not original works of art. 

Not to be discouraged, the city has vowed to replace the damaged artworks and to carefully review CTV footage to identify the art-hating culprit. 

January 25, 2014

Damage to Cairo's Museum of Islamic Art: Why Does Art Always Take in on the Chin?


By Lynda Albertson, ARCA's CEO

As news of the explosion affecting Cairo’s Museum of Islamic Art has spread and images of the destruction were replicated across social media sites few people or news agencies paused to mention what objects were actually inside one of Egypt’s spectacular museums or talk about the heart of Islam the collection represents. 

Started in 1881, the Museum of Islamic Art initially was housed within the arcades of the mosque of the Fatimid caliph Al-HakimBi-Amr Allah. Commencing with 111 objects, gathered from mausoleums and mosques throughout Egypt, the original collection has grown substantially over the last 130 years. 

Today the objects in the Cairo museum represent one of the most comprehensive collections of Islamic art in the world. With more than 103,000 artifacts housed in 24 halls, its collection celebrates every Islamic period in Egypt covering the Fatimids, the Mamluks, the Abbasids, the Ummayads, the Tulunids, the Ottomans, and the Ayyubids dynasties.

Photo Credit: http://www.discoverislamicart.org
The museum’s glass collection alone counts 5,715 pieces in its inventory.  Some are very rare, others, like this glass vessel fragment, are more commonplace. Notwithstanding, each piece helps visitors and scholars embrace and understand the history of the region and its people.

Some of the glass enameled lamps in the museum come from the mosque of Sultan Hassan who ruled Egypt twice, the first time in 1347 when he was only 13 years old.  One of the most outstanding of these glass pieces is an eight-sided chandelier made up of three layers with a dome-shaped cap and detailed Islamic decorations imprinted on its glass.

Some of the museum’s glass comes from excavations undertaken at Al-Fusṭāṭ, on the east bank of the Nile River, south of modern Cairo.  As the first Muslim capital of Egypt, Al-Fusṭāṭ, was established by general ʿAmr ibn al-ʿĀṣ in AD 641 and was the location of the province’s first mosque, Jāmiʿ ʿAmr.

Glass vessels, phials and fragments excavated from the former capital and on display at the museum give the world an understanding of the chronology and origin of the Islamic glass industry as well as the history of Islam during the Umayyad and ʿAbbāsid caliphates and under succeeding dynasties.

Until the 9th century Islamic glass artisans used the Roman technique of making glass mixing calcium-rich sand and Natron, a salt substance used in Egypt to preserve mummies.  At the turn of the millennium, they opted to use plant ash for the soda component in their formula for glass making and experimented with colors, shapes, techniques, and surface decoration. 

From the piles of shattered glass, pieces of bricks and smashed cases seen in the first images released by Monica Hanna after the bombing it seems that the damage to the museum’s collection may be significant, though for now how significant has yet to be established with detailed clarity.  Talking heads on news sites triage the damage from horrifying to optimistic though without any formal inventory of which rooms were damaged and the objects purportedly on display in that room, it’s hard to know if the pulverized glass we see in initial photos comes from broken windows and collection storage cases or damaged artifacts. 

To rectify that gap in knowledge, museum staff and volunteers worked under difficult conditions and despite safety hazards from a partially collapsed roof before sealing the museum as per security directives.  Their goal: provide an initial assessment and to secure the collection to prevent further damage or possible theft.  Until a formal reporting is given, all we can do is hope that things remain calmer so that the Ministry of Antiquities can salvage as many of the museum's artifacts as possible.

August 16, 2011

June 26, 2011

History of Art Vandalism: The 1985 Destruction of Rembrandt's "Danaë" at The Hermitage Museum

Rembrandt's Danaë, Oil on Canvas, 185x202.5 cm
The State Hermitage Museum
by Kirsten Hower, ARCA Blog Contributor

While Greek mythology may not claim her as the most beautiful woman in the world, she is certainly one of Rembrandt’s most beautiful women: Danaë. Voluptuous and naked, she reclines across the eight-by-ten canvas, looking into the distance beyond the frame of the painting. This painting may not be Rembrandt’s most famous work or even his most famous painting of a female, but the Danaë has certainly drawn attention from scholars and vandals alike.

While scholars may be fascinated by the beauty and technique of Rembrandt’s peculiar but stunning Danaë, there are others that are not quite as fond of this painting. On June 15, 1985, while hanging on the walls of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, the Danaë was attacked by an undisclosed ‘madman’ who threw sulfuric acid on the painting and attacked it with a knife. Conservation efforts went into action, but it was questioned whether it was too little too late (the Hermitage’s restoration staff were not on duty at the time) or whether the efforts would yield any results. The painting had been badly damaged and to this day is not the same. Conservationists struggled with the ethics of repainting the damaged parts of the painting but decided against full restoration (meaning repainting the parts that had been damaged) because it would mean that the painting was no longer a true Rembrandt:
In the resulting painting, ‘some parts are 100 percent Rembrandt, some are 50 percent Rembrandt, and some had to be redone,’ Mr. Gerasimov [a staff member of the Hermitage] said. ‘The left thigh is slightly restored. The right arm was 90 percent damaged but is now back to normal. The pearls were intact, but the jewels needed work. What the visitor sees is not ‘the original,’ and we would never put it forward as such. But the spirit of Rembrandt is intact.’

Classical mythology tells us the story of Danaë, daughter of King Acrisius of Argos who was told of a prophecy that his grandchild would kill him. To keep this from happening, Acrisius had his daughter locked in a tower in which no one could get to her. However, he had not considered the infamous lust of Zeus, who was thoroughly in lust with Acrisius’ beautiful daughter. The god of thunder changed himself into a golden rain and fell on Danaë, impregnating her with a son who would become as famous as his mother: Perseus.

The part of the story depicted in Rembrandt’s painting is not entirely clear. Danaë’s upraised hand, as if she is warding someone off or welcoming them forward, suggests that there is someone beyond our field of vision. Even the older maid, partially hidden behind the curtains of Danaë’s luxurious bed, is looking in the same direction of Danaë. Did Rembrandt defer from the traditional story and imply the appearance of Zeus in another form to Danaë in her confinement? Is that the scene that the two women are looking towards?

The appearance of a maidservant is not traditionally a part of the story either. However, realistically, her appearance is not all that surprising: even in confinement a princess would be likely to have a maidservant to take care of her. While there is this practicality to her appearance, she also serves a second purpose which is to emphasize the beauty of Danaë. The wrinkled, leathery skin of the maid is a perfect foil for the soft, pale beauty of Danaë who is almost entirely exposed to the viewer. Only her lower legs are hidden from view, creating a sensual figure moments before seduction.

The appearance of the cupid above Danaë’s head is also interesting, though not unusual. Both Titian and Correggio depicted their Danaës accompanied by angels as the golden rain fell upon them. However, this golden cupid, with a tortured expression upon his face, is completely gold and could be interpreted as representing the golden rain which impregnated Danaë. His expression is a bit troublesome though unless it is meant to allude to the fact that Danaë was impregnated without her consent. If not for this reason, then what reason is there for his tortured expression?

While she may not be the same Danaë that Rembrandt painted, the essence is still there—despite being attacked by a ‘madman’ with undisclosed motives. Was it the nudity that inspired some religious-driven attempt to destroy a woman representative of tales of pagan lust? We may never know.

Source:
John Russell, "Healing a Disfigured Rembrandt's Wounds," The New York Times, August 31, 1997.