Month: January 2010

Chasing Art

Vermeer, The Concert

The Concert, Vermeer
Taken from the Dutch Room gallery in the Stewart museum in 1990

Will we ever recover all of the great art that’s been lost over time? Sometimes I’m drop-jaw about what sometimes can happen to art. How can people be so clumsy as to “fall into a Picasso” at an art museum, which is what just happened on Friday with “The Actor” at the Met. All this art being dropped, shredded (Sotheby’s in London), thrown out for trash (immpressionist paintings in Manhatten), cannonized by a wrecking ball (the Netherlands), tripped over by a shoelace into a Ming vase (UK), or knocked to the floor to smithereens by an errant elbow (Tavern on the Green), is giving me anxiety!

And how about all of the art that’s been stolen? I just finished reading “The Heist”, a great read on the heist of the Vermeer, Rembrandt, Degas, et al. at the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum in Boston in 1990. So many people went on the hunt, but all leads have run dry. There are many eccentricities about the Gardner museum and the case that make it unique — that per her will, all of the art remain on the walls as it was in Gardner’s time, that the thieves may not have discriminated which art they chose to take (several of the most expensive pieces were left untouched), etc. etc. It’s a fascinating romp, complete with the Boston mafia and the IRA. Interested in a moderately fascinating read? Check out the FBI’s Art Crime Team website:

I’m surprised that people seem to be so good-humored about these travesties (at least that’s the way the press spins it), but then again, we’ve got some great artists now creating some great art. Not that it will replace, but it will make up for what we’ve lost in a different way.


Istanbul: The Next Art Mecca

The New York Times a few weekends ago featured an article “The 31 Places to Go in 2010”. In it, they pronounce Istanbul as an art mecca:

The reputation of Istanbul’s contemporary art scene has been steadily growing in recent years, with the Web site recently calling it “one of the most innovative in the world.” That reputation is bound to be burnished even more this year, now that Istanbul has been named the 2010 European Capital of Culture (a designation it shares with Essen, Germany, and Pecs, Hungary). There will be a series of events, gallery shows and stage performances throughout the city to mark the occasion. (A complete list of events can be found at

But one of the best ways to get a crash course in what Istanbul’s leading artists are up to right now is to spend some time wandering around the Misir Apartments (311/4 Istiklal Cadessi), right on the busy pedestrian thoroughfare that cuts through the trendy Beygolu neighborhood. Inside this elegant, early-20th-century building are some of the city’s most cutting-edge art venues, like Galerist ( and Gallerie Nev (

Hmm, add this to my slight obsession with Orhan Pamuk’s writing and his efforts to promote art in Istanbul, and I think this trumps MY list of “where to go next”.

Art Triumphs over Philosophy… as a Hedgehog?

Does art do a better job of conveying the human condition than studying philosophy?

I’m in the midst of reading Muriel Barbery’s incredible novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog. I admit, I just finished another book that is in my top-ten all-time delicious books, The Matchmaker of Perigord, by  Julia Stuart, and so I am less over-the-moon about Hedgehog (how relative life is!). Barbery writes

One wonders why universities persist in teaching narrative principles on the basis of Propp, Greimas or other such punishing curricula, instead of investing in a projection room. Premise, plot, protagonists, adventures, quest, heroes and other stimulants: all you need is Sean Connery in the uniform of a Russian submarine officer and a few well-placed aircraft carriers.

While I wouldn’t argue that Sean Connery is “everyday” or Hollywood either, I think what Renee, one of the oxymoron protagonists in the story (smart but unschooled, has read Kant and Marx, appreciates Mozart and Vermeer, yet a concierge in an apartment building in France) learns is that life is best learned by living it; it’s found in both the glaring and nuanced realities of life. We just have to learn how to observe it. And who are better observors but artists?