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

December 19, 2020

Unsolved string of incidents at multiple museums, vandalising more than 100 objects, in Germany

Last October the museum world was shocked by mysterious vandalism of sixty objects in four hours at three prominent German museums on Berlin's Museumsinsel (Museum Island), the Pergamon Museum, Alte Nationalgalerie, and the Neues Museum.  On October 3rd of this year, the artefacts were splashed with an oily liquid.  Nothing more about the substance of the liquid has been shared with the media and it is unknown at what time the widespread vandalisation occurred. 

News of the attacks was not made public for more than two weeks after the damage was identified and a police report on the incidents was not published until October 21st, the results of which were brief and gave few little details:

“Unknown perpetrators attacked numerous works of art and artifacts in several museums on Berlin's Museum Island from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on October 3. The strangers applied a liquid to the objects and thus caused damage that cannot yet be quantified. The responsible commissioner for art offences in the Berlin State Criminal Police Office has taken over the investigation. In order not to jeopardize the investigations and research, the investigators decided, in coordination with the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, not to comment publicly on the event for reasons of tactical investigations and only now to address the public with a call to witnesses.” 

The vandalism occurred on German Unity Day, a public holiday which commemorates German reunification in 1990 when the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic were unified. It is, however, unclear whether the motivation behind the attack was political, as the incidents are believed to have occurred on the first day that the Pergamon and other museums reopened following a shutdown related to the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions earlier this year. 

Image Credit: Markus Schreiber-AP.  Friederike Seyfried, director of Antique Egyptian Department of the Neues Museum in Berlin, shows media a stain from the liquid on the Sarcophagus of the prophet Ahmose on Wednesday.

The criminal director at the State Criminal Police Office, Carsten Pfohl, has commented that they would not “engage in speculation” about motives behind these incidents as they have not been able to identify any of the perpetrators on the security footage.  No link has been found between the damaged artefacts at the three museums, and a full accounting of which objects were affected has not been made public, although it is believed to include an Egyptian sarcophagi, some stone sculptures, and painting frames.  

Image Credit: Markus Schreiber-AP News

The lack of concrete information regarding the motivations of the perpetrator(s) has led some in the German media to speculate about why the museums' artworks were targeted.  While the true motives of the culprit(s) remain to be determined, one theory proffered places blame for the damage on having been inspired by conspiracy theorist Attila Klaus Peter Hildmann.

Hildmann, a best-selling cookbook author, turned QAnon follower, has been wildly outspoken regarding Covid-19 who sees the coronavirus in connection with the planned introduction of a so-called “ New World Order. ”  He has also been vocal in his criticism of the Pergamon museum, launching protests and accusations denouncing it as “the throne of Satan.”  Hildmann has also made wild claims about night-time practices surrounding the use of the museum's reconstructed Pergamon altar, a Hellenistic Period (c. 200-150 BCE) altar to the Greek gods Zeus and Athena which was created in Pergamon, Turkey.

Calling the museum a "centre of global satanists and Corona criminals" he has implied that the alter (currently closed for restorations, has been used for human sacrifice.   In one of his accusations he referenced Revelations 2:12-13 which reads:

“To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:  These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword.  I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.” 

While Hildmann has made no comment regarding his involvement in the museums' vandalism, he has tweeted links to articles which reference his potential involvement.  Hildmann has also made comments in the past encouraging his supporters to take action against the museum, encouraging them to storm the museum in August.  The deputy director of the museum, Christina Haak, commented that there had been many acts of vandalism over the summer, mostly limited to the exterior of the museum and involving either graffiti or torn posters.  

On October 21st the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation held a press conference and questions were asked regarding the potential involvement of Hildmann or his supporters.  Pfohl commented that the police suspect a single perpetrator but could not rule out the involvement of multiple people at this time.  He also commented that the participation of Hildmann supporters could neither be excluded, nor confirmed, at the moment.  

Image Credit: Markus Mayer, Flickr

As a result of the vandalism, an offer of aid in the restoration of the objects has come in from the Ernst von Siemens Art Foundation which has said that it will provide €100,000 to assist the museums. A spokesperson for the Berlin State Museums, who spoke with Artnet News  said that they were “very pleased about the fast and unbureaucratic support.”  The costs of the damage have not been assessed, but the funds will undoubtedly be needed. 

In November the German daily newspaper, Frankfurter Rundschau, based in Frankfurt am Main reported additional attacks at the Wewelsburg district museum in North Rhine-Westphalia and an attack in the Cecilienhof Palace in Potsdam, as well as an earlier Mid July attack at the Wewelsburg district museum over the summer.  In the latter incident and similar to the attack in Berlin, employees discovered 50 objects which had also been damaged by an oily substance.  According to that newspaper, the liquid used in Potsdam and Berlin tested as being vegetable-based. 


By:  Lynnette Turnblom


Bibliography

Brown, Kate. 2020. “An Art Foundation Has Pledged €100,000 in Aid to a Group of German Museums Attacked by Vandals.” Artnet News. October 22, 2020. https://news.artnet.com/art-world/berlin-museum-vandalism-security-1917316.

Eddy, Melissa. 2020. “Vandals Deface Dozens of Artworks in Berlin Museums.” The New York Times, October 21, 2020, sec. Arts. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/21/arts/design/berlin-museums-vandalism.html.

Koldehoff, Stefan, and Tobias Timm. 2020. “ZEIT ONLINE | Lesen Sie Zeit.de Mit Werbung Oder Im PUR-Abo. Sie Haben Die Wahl.” Www.Zeit.De. October 20, 2020. https://www.zeit.de/kultur/2020-10/kunst-vandalismus-berlin-museumsinsel-recherche.

Kurianowicz, Tomasz. 2020. “Attila Hildmann: Pergamonmuseum Beherbergt „Thron Satans“.” Berliner Zeitung. October 21, 2020. https://www.berliner-zeitung.de/kultur-vergnuegen/attila-hildmann-pergamonmuseum-beherbergt-thron-des-satans-zerstoerung-museumsinsel-berlin-li.112933.

Morris, Loveday, and Luisa Beck. 2020. “Dozens of Artifacts Vandalized in Three Berlin Museums.” Washington Post, October 21, 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/berlin-museum-vandalism-germany/2020/10/21/2cb1e194-1383-11eb-a258-614acf2b906d_story.html.

Nicholson, Esme. 2020. “Dozens Of Artifacts Apparently Vandalized At Berlin’s Museums.” NPR.Org. October 21, 2020. https://www.npr.org/2020/10/21/926200421/nearly-70-artifacts-apparently-vandalized-at-berlins-museums?t=1603358606430.

Oltermann, Philip. 2020. “Berlin: Vandalism of Museum Artefacts ‘Linked to Conspiracy Theorists.’” The Guardian, October 20, 2020, sec. World news. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/oct/21/berlin-vandalism-of-museum-artefacts-linked-to-conspiracy-theorists.

“Weiteres Museum von Attacken betroffen” The Frankfurter Rundschau, November 20, 2020. https://www.fr.de/ratgeber/medien/weiteres-museum-von-attacken-betroffen-zr-90107022.html

“Zahlreiche Kunstwerke Mit Flüssigkeit Angegriffen – Zeugen Gesucht.” 2020. Www.Berlin.De. October 21, 2020. https://www.berlin.de/polizei/polizeimeldungen/pressemitteilung.1006830.php.


April 10, 2020

Friday, April 10, 2020 - ,,, No comments

While the world is shuttered for COVID-19 vandals and thieves can exploit opportunities


The city of Rome's mayor Virginia Raggi is angry, and not without good cause. 

Sometime, last sunday evening despite the stay at home orders mandated in Rome to minimise health concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic, someone strolling through the city's Villa Doria Pamphilj park, used the occasion to destroy the statue of Neptune, the mythical king of the sea, which once sat on the pedestal in the historic garden's theatre.

One of lessor known areas of Villa Doria Pamphili, the Garden of the Theatre was built between 1652 and 1664 and takes its name from the large semicircular exedra with its 11 reliefs which document a series of myths.  The space was intended to be used to host outdoor theatrical and musical performances and is flanked by the Nymphaeum of the Tritons.

The city park, and all parks in Rome have been  closed  to the public since March 13th as part of the city's policy during the quarantine imposed by the coronavirus emergency. Yet in the span of a week, vandals or the same vandal have not only  destroyed the statue of Neptune, but some antique decorative vases and six marble toponymic plaques between the 2nd and 3rd of April. 

Years of neglect had already wreaked havoc on the 1990's replica
Protecting the 180 hectare park has long been a challenge, an easy-to-climb-over fence, and many "blind" spaces make patrolling the park a complex endeavour. Thankfully, the statue destroyed is a 1990 replica, the original having been moved to a more secure garden attached to the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, an administrative palazzo which supports the Prime Minister of Italy.

Rome's may called the destruction a shameful and intolerable gesture, even more so in a moment like the one Rome is experiencing. 

Teatro di Giardino, Villa Doria Pamphilj
Image Credit: Associazione per Villa Pamphilj
The Association for Villa Pamphilj, a grassroots nonprofit aimed at safeguarding and protecting the park, has been active in complaining about areas of the Villa's grounds in need of routine maintenance, conservation and upkeep.  They, and law enforcement, note this is not the first examples of theft and damages to the city park even before the current COVID crisis. 

The broken windows theory in criminology states that visible signs of crime,  disorder and misbehaviour in an environment encourage further disorder and anti-social behaviour, which in turn can encourage more serious crime. Untended, and in public space areas less than ideally maintained for years, the Villa Pamphilj park, and others like it, become fair game for inconsiderate people venting their frustrations with random acts of vandalism or for thieves.

August 12, 2019

More from the Rogues' Gallery - An orphaned William Ashford painting, stolen in 2006, returns home.


Some art thieves are savvy characters, others are...let's just say, special.

By December 2018, burglar, petty criminal, art and book thief, Andrew Shannon has racked up 52 convictions for burglary, theft and criminal damages, 13 of which related to offenses which took place in foreign jurisdictions, including the handling of stolen property.

Andrew Shannon Photo Credit: Collins
Some of his criminal offenses have been mundane, like the 2016 theft of seventeen electric toothbrushes worth only €200 from a supermarket in Swords, a suburb of Dublin.  Others have been just plain peculiar, like the intentional damage he inflicted punching Monet's 1874 painting Argenteuil Basin with a Single Sail Boat, an incident that took place at the National Gallery of Ireland on 29 June 2012.  That bizarre act of vandalism resulted in three tears, the longest of which was 25 centimeters, and took conservators eighteen months to repair.  For this impulsive incident, Shannon was sentenced by Judge Martin Nolan in December 2014 to six year imprisonment, with the final 18 months of his sentence suspended. 


A known serial thief as far back as 2009 Shannon seems to have had a penchant for burgling stately homes, often with the help of accomplices. Travelling from Ireland to target English properties, he often posed as a tourist, pilfering porcelain vases, ashtrays, books, ornamental lions, figurines, valuable antique books and once, even a walking stick. 

Carton House in Kildare
The historical family seat of the FitzGerald family.
By 2014, police were narrowing in on his escapades and in April Ireland's Gardaí or "the Guards", the police service of the Republic executed a search warrant on Shannon's home and recovered some 43 paintings some immediately linked to known thefts and others not.  While owners were identified for some of the artworks, others went unclaimed despite a nationwide appeal.  Shannon sued for the return of these remaining art orphans, however, Judge John Coughlan ruled against him.  Basing his ruling on the fact that Shannon was already notorious as a thief as well as the fact that the claimant had failed to provide verifiable proof of actual ownership, the judge ordered the forfeiture of all remaining unclaimed artworks which then become the property of the state.

In 2016 Shannon was convicted of stealing 57 stolen antique books, once part of the library at Carton House in Kildare, including one of only six rare 1660 editions of the King James Bible.  The books had disappeared in November 2006 when left in storage during a restoration of the country house.  These were recovered in the suspect's home, displayed in neat rows.  When questioned about their origins, Shannon lied to the authorities and stated that he had purchased them in 2002 at a fete in the Midlands.

As recently as May 2019 Shannon lost his appeal Dublin Circuit Criminal Court over an earlier conviction stemming from the theft of an 1892 oil painting by Frederick Goodall stolen from Bantry House, in Cork, in March of 2006.  Blaming his sticky fingers on both his heart disease and his addiction to benzodiazepines and harder substances while recovering from a quadruple heart bypass, the court prosecution built their case against the prolific offender by illustrating how the kleptomaniac had habitually and repeatedly filched a surprising array of objects, some of which had very little monetary value.  Not buying into offender's medical complications excuse, Judge Patricia Ryan sentenced Shannon to two years imprisonment, backdating Shannon's sentence to 20 February 2018,  the day he was taken into custody for this particular offense. 

Flash forward to this summer, when in June 2019 one of the seized 2014 artworks, a painting by English painter William Ashford, was put up for sale at Adams Art Gallery.  As a result of the publicity around the upcoming sale, the painting was recognized by someone who had once worked on the artwork when it was part of the collection at the Royal Dublin Society.

This orphaned artwork, missing since 2006, has now been returned to the RDS.

July 28, 2019

Conference: 5th Annual New Zealand Art Crime Symposium - Save the Date and Call for Presentations

Image Credit:  City Gallery Wellington
Event:  ArtCrime2019 - the 5th Annual New Zealand Art Crime Symposium
Location: City Gallery Wellington
Te Ngākau Civic Square, Wellington, New Zealand
Date: Saturday 19 October 2019

Hosted by the New Zealand Art Crime Research Trust, in conjunction with City Gallery Wellington and other sponsors, ArtCrime2019 will encompass a wide range of presentations on issues and aspects of art crime in New Zealand and elsewhere, under the umbrella of the overall theme of "iconoclasts, vandals and artists".

The event will include a range of presentations, plus ample opportunities for networking.

Those interested in presenting are invited to submit 200-word abstracts for 20-minute presentations, within the broad ambit of the overall theme by Friday 9th August 2019 to:

artcrimenz@gmail.com

Abstract proposals should be pasted into the body of submission email and include a short biography (up to 350 words, and including were appropriate short summaries of relevant publications and previous conference or symposia presentations). 

Successful presenters will be notified by email by Friday 30 August 2019 and will have their Symposium's registration fee waived. 

For further information please see ehe New Zealand Art Crime Research Trust  symposium website page

December 6, 2018

From the Rogues' Gallery: The interesting life of Andrew Shannon, convicted (again) in Dublin for possessing a stolen painting


Some art thieves are savvy characters, others are, lets just say, special.

As of this week, burglar, petty criminal, art, and book thief, Andrew Shannon has 52 convictions for burglary, theft and criminal damage.  

Some of his criminal offenses have been mundane, like the 2016 theft of 17 electric toothbrushes worth €200 from a Swords supermarket.  Others have been more peculiar, like the intentional damage he inflicted in December 2014 when he punched Monet's 1874 painting Argenteuil Basin with a Single Sail Boat at the National Gallery of Ireland.  That bizarre act resulted in three tears, the longest of which was 25 cm, and took conservators 18 months to repair. 


A serial thief as far back as 2009 Shannon has had a penchant for burgling stately homes, often with accomplices. Travelling from Ireland to target English properties he often posed as a tourist, stealing porcelain vases, ashtrays, books, ornamental lions, figurines, valuable antique books and even a walking stick. 

Carton House in Kildare
The historical family seat of the FitzGerald family.
In 2016 the kleptomaniac was convicted of stealing 57 stolen antique books from the library at Carton House in Kildare, including one of only six rare 1660 editions of the King James Bible. 

His most recent conviction comes from the theft of an 1892 oil painting by Frederick Goodall stolen from Bantry House, in Cork, in March of 2006.  Blaming his sticky fingers on both his heart disease and his addiction to Benzodiazepines and harder substances while recovering from a quadruple heart bypass, the prolific offender filched a surprising array of objects, some of which had very little monetary value. 

In 2016 when law enforcement searched his home, police officers recovered thousands of toothbrushes, oh and Star Wars toys.

I guess the man had a penchant for Sci Fi and clean teeth, as well as art and literature. 



May 6, 2018

Arrest warrant issued for UK suspect in 2017 Aspen Gallery Vandalism

One year ago, on Tuesday May 02, 2017, a man wearing sunglasses and a cap entered the Opera Gallery in Aspen, Colorado and slashed a £2.16 million ($3 million) painting by artist Christopher Wool with a razor before fleeing the gallery in under one minute. 

The episode, documented by internal CCTV security cameras made public by Aspen law enforcement authorities, showed a caucasian man in black jeans, a black jacket, who entered the gallery, blocking the door open with a small piece of wood before proceeding to bypass valuable works of art by Marc Chagall and Pablo Picasso.  Arriving in front of the Untitled, 2004 "new expressionist" artwork by contemporary artist Wool, the vandal then, taking a black-handled object out of his pocket, made two quick downward slashes to the the canvas before hurrying back out the front door of the gallery. The consignor of the painting, kept anonymous at the time, was Harold Morley, 74, of Barbados, who had purchased the painting through a trust called Fallowfield Ltd.



One year later, felony criminal mischief charges have been filed along with an arrest warrant in Pitkin County District Court in Colorado which seem to implicate the son of the owner of the painting, Nicholas Morley, who is believed to have called the gallery on three occasions prior to the vandalism in order to ascertain security details within the gallery before carrying out the crime. 

It is believed that the 40 year old suspect flew from London's Heathrow Airport to Minneapolis-St. Paul on May under an assumed name before taking another flight on to Aspen, Colorado, where he then rented a car at the Denver airport under the name Nikola Marley, simply with the intent of defacing a painting belonging to his father, a wealthy property developer.

Police became suspicious when Harold Morley began making requests to downplay the incident, sending a letter on to the owner of the gallery stating that the painting "can be easily restored" and that he did not plan on filing an insurance claim. On May 10, the suspect himself, Nicholas Morley wrote an email to the gallery manager, indicating that Fallowfield Ltd., did not plan to hold the gallery liable for the incident happening while the painting was under their consignment. 

According to the court affidavit, in this email Nicholas Morley stated:

"It would appear possible based on the video footage (and is our judgment) that this was an accident rather than malicious damage," and "(We) kindly suggest that Opera either A: issue a press release that the incident was in fact an accident, or B: issue no further press comments." He also suggested that the Gallery advise the police that this was not a criminal act.

The motive for the event is not clear at this time.

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 Bronius Maigys, then 48 years old, who threw sulfuric acid on the painting and attacked it with a knife.  Maigys was later judged insane, and some say targeted the Hermitage as a symbol of Russian state power.  Maigys spent six years at the Cherniachovsk psychiatric hospital in the Kaliningrad Region. While museum staff attempted to take quick action, (the Hermitage’s restoration staff were not on duty at the time) the painting had been badly damaged and to this day is not the same. Conservators 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.