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American museums shy away from Abu Ghraib art

American museums shy away from Abu Ghraib art

Colombian painter and sculptor Fernando Botero, who is known for his “portraits and sculptures of happy rotund people,” focuses his latest work on Abu Ghraib and the American abuses at the Iraq prison, reports National Public Radio’s Margot Adler. His work is based on his reading of news reports, especially Seymour Hersh’s article, “Torture at Abu Ghraib,” in The New Yorker.

Botero is shocked and upset; in response, he spent over a year creating 100 drawings and paintings of this subject matter. About half were shown at the Marlborough Gallery in NYC from October 18th to November 18th, according to Robert Ayers of artinfo.com.

But, when the Abu Ghraib series was proposed to several museums in the United States, none of the museums expressed interest in displaying these controversial works. Botero’s retrospective will travel to ten American museums next year, but the Abu Ghraib paintings will not be a part of the show as artforum.com mentions.

These works were extensively shown in European museums before coming to NYC’s gallery and will be shown again in different museums in Italy. Botero tells Ayers, “I believe that I have special responsibilities as an artist, and I wanted to say something about Abu Ghraib. The artist has the ability to make invisible things visible.” These paintings will eventually be donated to a museum, rather than being sold for profit.

University of Alabama sues artist for painting its football team

The University of Alabama is suing Daniel A. Moore, a sports artist, for his paintings, prints, and reproductions on calendars, books, and coffee mugs of its football team, reports Adam Liptak of The New York Times. The lawsuit claims that Moore’s work violates the university’s trademark rights and asks that Moore not even be allowed to use the “crimson and white color scheme.” An alumnus of the university, Moore has been painting these works for over 25 years and claims that he should be protected by the First Amendment as newspaper photographers are; he owns the copyright.

He references photographs but uses his own compositions and style. Moore refers to his approach as “photofuturism,” states Liptak.

How do the courts determine whether artistic expression deserves First Amendment protection? In the case of a Three Stooges charcoal drawing, the California Supreme Court ruled against the artist because the drawing was “so simple [and] didn’t convey additional meaning,” continues Liptak.

In the case of a painting of Tiger Woods winning the 1999 Masters Tournament, a federal appeals court ruled against Woods, stating that there was “significant transformative or creative contribution” in the painting. It was protected under the First Amendment. A ruling on Moore’s case is expected in the next few months.

Italian toilet sings national anthem, impounded by police

Two artists, Eleonora Chiari and Sandra Goldschmied, have created a toilet that flushes to the sound of Italy’s national anthem, according to BBC News Online. The toilet was on display at the Bolzano Museum of Modern Art in Northern Italy when it was impounded by the police.

The museum is currently fighting to get the installation piece back. A museum spokesperson was quoted on artinfo.net explaining that a right-wing political party complained to local authorities about the piece. Prosecutors said that the national anthem is a “national emblem, which should be protected and should never be open to ridicule.” Perhaps their interpretation is that as the toilet flushes to the national anthem, Italy is being ridiculed. It is as if Italy is going down the drain.

The defense attorney for the museum stated to the BBC that while the national anthem “does have patriotic and sentimental value, it is not a national symbol.” Thus, the ownership of the national anthem is one of the questions for the court. The Association of Italian Modern Art Museums supported the museum and “its professional authority”; artinfo.net described the Museum as a victim of censorship.

Munch painting comes home after 50 years

An Edvard Munch painting looted by the Nazis during WWII has been returned to its rightful owner. After a 53-year battle with the Austrian government, Munch’s Summer Night on the Beach (1902) returned to the heir of composer Gustav Mahler, according to Charlotte Higgins of The Guardian. Austrian cultural minister Elisabeth Gehrer stated on November 8th that the claim “would be accepted, after a meeting of Austria’s art restitution commission,” reported Higgins.

Mahler’s wife, Alma Mahler-Werfel, had left the painting behind when she fled Austria in 1938. The next year, her Nazi stepfamily looted and sold it, without her knowing, to the Austrian Gallery now called The Belvedere. She fought for its return until her death, after which her granddaughter Marian continued to fight for it and won. When asked by Higgins about her plans, Marian said, “I’m just going to look at it, sit and look at it, and let it have its beneficial effect on me.”

Christies’ takes $60 million Picasso painting out of auction

Christie’s recently withdrew a painting from Picasso’s blue period, Portrait of Angel Fernandez de Soto (1903) also known as The Absinthe Drinker, after a claim that its former owner, a German man of Jewish decent, was forced to give up the artwork by the Nazi government, reported The New York Times. At the last minute, Christie’s and the Andrew Lloyd Webber Art Foundation, which owned the painting, withdrew the painting even though the federal court had deemed that it did not have the legal right to prevent the sale from going ahead.

Julius H. Schoeps, a Berlin-based historian, claimed that this painting belonged to his great-uncle, Paul von Medelssohn-Bartholdy. Schoeps filed a lawsuit in New York claiming that he was the rightful owner and went to state Supreme Court in Manhattan. He either wanted $60 million plus interest or the return of the painting.

Schoeps said discrepancies exist in Christie’s records that state it was a transfer of a sale from a Jewish owner in Germany to an art dealer in Switzerland in 1935. But, in the court papers, Christie’s listed that the painting was sold after Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’s death by his widow, not before.

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