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Recap (June 22 – July 6)

So, I’ll be doing something I’ve never done before here. I’ll be doing a recap of roughly the past two weeks. Because a lot of notable stuff has been going on, and it would be wrong to talk about just one of these stories. First thing’s first… Salvador Dalí’s daughter.

In late June, a Spanish judge ordered the exhumation of Dalí’s body because of the crusade of one woman to prove her parentage. Maria Pilar Abel Martinez has claimed for years that she is the result of an extramarital affair in 1955 between Dalí and her mother, who worked as a maid near Port Lligat, where Dalí and his wife had a house. I must say, many people have been fighting Ms. Abel on this for years, yet I can’t understand why. Reportedly, Abel has been told by her mother and other family members that Dalí is her father since childhood, so she obviously isn’t lying when she says she is absolutely sure that she’s Dalí’s daughter. Previous tests from Dalí’s death mask and nasal gastric tubes have come back inconclusive, which has left a full exhumation the only viable option to close this case. Yet again, the only reason I see why people are opposed to the exhumation is, to put it frankly, greed. Because he had no recognized children and died seven years after his wife, Dalí’s entire estate was left to the Spanish government, and is currently overseen by the Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation. Should the tests come back positive and prove that Abel is indeed Dalí’s daughter, then all the assets of the estate, estimated at around €300 million, would go to her being she is his sole heir. Dalí’s body is currently interred at the Dalí Theater and Museum in Figueres, which, with it’s giant egg-topped façade, looks less like a museum dedicated to a great Spanish artist, and more like Humpty Dumpty’s palace. So I guess a lot of eyes are going to be fixed on Figueres over the next few months.

Sticking with the topic of individuals, a more contemporary artist has been in the news lately and all because of a very mundane reason: someone may have said his name. I never thought that great artists could share any characteristics with Voldemort, but apparently Banksy is an exception to that.

The great street artist and graffitist Banksy has been amazing the world for years with his incredible works with deep messages pertaining to our society that resonate with such a large portion of the population. Most recently, he’s displayed his opinions regarding Brexit in a piece that popped up in Dover, showing a workman chipping away one of the stars in the European Union flag, sending cracks shooting out towards the others. There have been many theories as to the identity of Banksy, but one candidate has just gotten exponentially more popular all because of a DJ. The British rapper and DJ Goldie, who worked as a graffiti artist in the 1980s and 1990s, was a guest on Scroobius Pip’s podcast Distraction Pieces on June 20th. While talking about the art world and how many people are trying to place profitability over message when it comes to Banksy, Goldie said, “No disrespect to Robert, I think he is a brilliant artist. I think he has flipped the world of art over.” That major slip-up has completely changed the discussion of Banksy’s identity, and has elevated one person to the forefront of that debate. Robert Del Naja, also known as 3D, is a member of the band Massive Attack. He’s also a graffiti artist who’s friends with Goldie. The first major argument for Del Naja as Banksy came from a journalist named Craig Williams last year, who not only concluded that Robert Del Naja is responsible for Banksy’s work, but that Banksy is a group of street artists led by Del Naja. Williams cites Banksy’s works appearing in the same towns that Massive Attack had gigs as evidence of the veracity of his theory. Del Naja, of course, has denied William’s theory, saying that it is an exaggeration. Personally, I don’t really care about the Banksy identity debate. I think people should just leave it alone. In creating the mysterious figure of Banksy, the artist responsible has become a voice without a face. Someone who can speak up for many others without showing who he is, because a lot of things are revealed by the face. Race, gender, ethnicity; they all contribute to people’s perceptions of individuals. Dana Schutz, for example, created a painting showing the lynching victim Emmett Till in his casket. If that painting was created by an anonymous artist, I think it would have been universally hailed as a monument to Till’s memory, and a potent reminder that race still matters in the United States today. But because Schutz is not anonymous, many have attacked her and her work because of the ridiculous assumption that white artists shouldn’t be allowed to portray non-white subjects since, apparently, white people cannot possible be sympathetic to the plight of others. Anonymity for Banksy is a good thing. So let’s keep it that way.

All right, I’ve just calmed down after that rant. I want to end on a positive note, so I’m trying to get all of the annoying and/or horrible stuff out of the way. This is the most recent story of note, and it involves Hobby Lobby. I never thought I would find Hobby Lobby’s name in the news ever again after the whole birth control thing three years ago. But Hobby Lobby has done it again and has wound up doing something worse than before: knowingly buying looted artifacts.

I’ve talked about looting before in several articles, mostly about crimes against art during the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Iraq. But those stories were about militant groups destroying art, or selling art to fund their efforts. On Thursday, the story broke that Hobby Lobby, an evangelical craft store, has to pay a $3 million fine because of their illegal dealings. To add some context, Hobby Lobby has been acquiring artifacts since 2009 for a planned bible museum. Even though in 2010, one of Hobby Lobby’s lawyers warned that “the acquisition of cultural property likely from Iraq, including cuneiform tablets and cylinder seals, carries a risk that such objects may have been looted from archaeological sites in Iraq,” the company went ahead and bought about $1.6 million in antiquities anyway. Hobby Lobby then received crates full of artifacts shipped from the United Arab Emirates and Israel containing, unsurprisingly, thousands of ancient Mesopotamian cylinder seals and cuneiform tablets, as well as bibles, manuscripts, and other cultural artifacts, worth millions of dollars. According to the Department of Justice, employees had falsified the accompanying customs documents, claiming Turkey had been the artifacts’ country of origin. They also falsely labelled the crates, saying they contained clay and tile samples. There are even accusations of Hobby Lobby smuggling some of their new merchandise into the United States. And their president could not have put out a more pathetic excuse: that Hobby Lobby is “new to the world of acquiring these items, and did not fully appreciate the complexities of the acquisitions process.” Hobby Lobby has been given sixty days to return the items.

All right, now for something that’s not depressing. The World Trade Center in New York is, next to the State of Liberty and the Empire State Building, one of the most recognizable landmarks of the city. I see it literally every day on my way to work from the New Jersey Turnpike. One of the new additions to the area is the train station designed by Santiago Calatrava known as the Oculus. At $4 billion in construction costs, it’s the world’s most expensive train station. But now, the incredible architecture isn’t the only thing drawing tourists there.

The Westfield Corporation is putting on an exhibition of full-size replicas of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel frescos in the middle of the station. The exhibition, entitled “Up Close”, will be at the Oculus until July 23 before travelling to several locations across the United States, including Los Angeles, Annapolis, San Diego, Seattle, and Paramus, NJ (right near me). I’ve been to the Sistine Chapel before, and it was not as much of an awe-inspiring experience as I had imagined it to be. The church was packed and loud, your neck hurts from looking up for such an extended period of time, and you can’t even get close to the Last Judgment fresco because it’s on the back wall of the chapel right near the exit from the Vatican Museums, where people are continually pouring out. On top of that Pope Francis has instituted a no photography policy when it comes to the chapel. Also, not everyone has the ability to just get up and travel to Rome to see these paintings up close. So it’s a great service that the people behind the exhibition are doing by bringing Rome closer to home.

About Nathan Scheer

Nathan Scheer is contributor to The Artoholic and a webmaster for TheArtExperts.org, who is currently studying History and International Studies at Elon University in North Carolina. He has also worked for Rehs Galleries, Inc. and Rehs Contemporary Galleries, Inc., which specialize in 19th and 20th Century European paintings and contemporary academic paintings, respectively, as well as Christie's Rockefeller Center.


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