February 9, 2003

Paris Prepares for Flood; Views on War and Culture, and More


Paris museums located near the river Seine are on flood alert. As Le Monde's Emmanuel de Roux reports, studies show that a “hundred-year” flood could hit the city, raising the Seine to levels last seen in 1910.

Museums in the danger zone include the Louvre, the Musée d'Orsay, the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, and the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, as well as the Musée Carnavalet in the Marais. Other important cultural institutions—including the Arsenal library—could also be affected.

After major floods damaged museums in Dresden and Prague last summer, Paris is taking no chances. Following the example of the municipal police, which had already developed an emergency plan last December, the minister of culture, Jean-Jacques Aillagon, is expected to announce an evacuation plan at a press conference later this week.

Some institutions have already begun to move works to safer locales. The Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris was forced to empty its reserves and archives—leaving only the works currently on display for the public.

At the Louvre, where eight thousand square meters are located underground, reserves are being moved to depots in the northeast of the city while some of the galleries in the upper floors of the museum—such as the Campana—have been closed to the public and transformed into shelters for both works and conservation equipment.

But current measures may not be enough. Extremely high flood waters—like those experienced in 1910—could even flow into the ground floors of the Louvre, inundating the Sphinx, Greek, Egyptian, and Islamic exhibition halls. Louvre head Henri Loyrette has developed an emergency evacuation plan that would see works in these galleries moved to safety within seventy-two hours.

Even if the prophecy of a hundred-year flood does not come to pass, the costs for all museal institutions are already mounting, as conservation and research is disrupted. “These reserves are not dead places,” explained Loyrette to Le Monde. “They are regularly frequented by researchers and participate fully in the scholarly life of the museum.”


Kasimir Malevich is being honored in Germany and France with exhibitions at the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin and the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. Le Monde's Geneviève Breerette takes in both shows and adds a history of the estate—in particular, the works collected at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.

As Breerette reports, both exhibitions rely heavily on the Stedelijk Museum, which recently added the Khardjiev foundation to its own impressive holdings acquired in 1956–57. Nicolai Khardjiev (1903–1996), once a curator at Moscow's Mayakovsky Museum, attempted to publish Malevich's work, but his research—and his growing collection of works—found mixed support from the communist state.

In the wake of perestroika, Khardjiev finally gained recognition for his efforts—some speculate, too late. In 1993, claiming he feared the Russian mafia, the collector left with his collection for Amsterdam and, before his death in 1996, set up a foundation there.

Shortly after this, a scandal erupted in Amsterdam when the foundation's administrators tried to sell part of the collection to the Gmurzinska gallery in Cologne. Finally, in 2000, the foundation, under new administration, sent its holdings—in all 1,672 works, including 172 works by Malevich—to the Stedelijk Museum for a long-term loan.

In an interview with Breerette, Rudi Fuchs, director of the Stedelijk for the last ten years, reflects upon the museum's Malevich holdings, now the largest in the world. While manuscripts could be sent back to Russia some day, Fuchs has no imminent plans to return the Khardjiev collection. “When we showed it at the museum in 1997–98,” explains Fuchs to Breerette, “the Russian minister of culture came. He had the same fears [as Khardjiev] and was happy that the collection is safe with us. We made a complete photocopy of the collection, which we have made available to Russian researchers.”

Taking a closer look at the show in Berlin, the Tageszeitung's Christian Semler considers the “cosmic dimensions” behind Malevich's enthusiasm for purity, while Libération's Elisabeth Lebovici describes the “concentration of energy” in the works on display in Paris: “The world of Malevich is in a permanent state of agitation.” Given the threat of floods in Paris, Malevich's works might very well find themselves on the move again.


In Britain, cultural secretary Tessa Jowell has given the go-ahead for an antiwar demonstration that will take place this weekend in London's Hyde Park. As The Guardian's Jamie Wilson reports, Jowell initially banned the demonstration against war with Iraq, claiming that the demonstrators—who are expected to number five hundred thousand—could damage the grass. To the satisfaction of demonstration organizers, Jowell was forced to reverse her decision after failing to find an alternative space in the city.

In Germany, discussion of war is taking a philosophical turn. In the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Armin Adam claims that the current crisis has reversed Clausewitz's belief that all wars are politically motived. “One should ask onself,” proposes Adam, “if it's not the other way around: The political motives often initially gain force and plausibility through technological possibilities. No war without at the same time a profile of its weapons.”

The Frankfurter Rundschau's Martina Meister reports on a discussion about violence held last week at the Einstein Forum in Potsdam, just outside of Berlin. The speakers—theorists Tzvetan Todorov and Jan Philipp Reemtsma—seemed to agree that violence cannot be easily grasped through notions of rationality and irrationality. While Reemtsma argued the moral categories of good and evil themselves drive wars, Todorov claimed that moral grounds can make some into soldiers and others into humanitarian helpers and rescuers.

Finally, Die Zeit asks, “Can the United States wage a private war against Iraq?” The question was put to thinkers from around the world, including prominent American intellectuals. The philosopher Richard Rorty portrays President Bush as a prisoner of his own rhetoric. “If Bush doesn't fulfill his threat,” writes Rorty, “he will have a hard time explaining to the American voters why he sent over all these troops.”

Theorist Judith Butler takes a strong position against not only the war but also American journalist Michael Ignatieff, who claims that “soft imperialism” is the best that one can hope from the United States. “With his compromise solution,” writes Butler, “he seems reasonable and pragmatic, which is why he can be heard everywhere in the European and American media while the voices of the peace movement can hardly get through.”


While the US and the UN attempt to reach a resolution on the war against Iraq, France's president, Jacques Chirac, has called for an international agreement to protect cultural diversity around the world.

According to a report in Le Monde, at the International Meeting of Professional Organizations for Culture, which was held in Paris from February 2 to 4, Chirac proposed that UNESCO should adopt “an international convention on cultural diversity” as early as 2005.

The aim of the convention? To recognize and protect the “equal dignity” of all cultures, especially in the face of economic pressures of globalization. “Culture should not bend to commerce,” affirmed Chirac to the three hundred conference participants, who work in the cultural sector and came to Paris from thirty-five countries around the world.

Since France is “the cultural exception,” protecting its culture against market forces, Chirac's proposal comes as no surprise. In 1998, France withdrew from the Multilateral Investment Agreement, which sought to establish international rules for foreign investment. Their withdrawal, as well as international protests, effectively brought the negotiations to a standstill.

“There are borders that globalization doesn't have the right to abolish,” reaffirmed Chirac in his speech, as reported in Le Monde. “These borders are what allows us to move from one culture to the other. It's on the territory of spirit that peace and the destiny of nations plays itself out.”

Jennifer Allen


February 2, 2003

Phillips Restructures; Musée de L'Homme Packs Up, and More

PHILLIPS STEPS OUT OF THE RING: Once again, Sotheby's and Christie's can look forward to the lion's share of the auction market. Their rival Phillips, de Pury & Luxembourg—also known simply as Phillips—has announced plans to drastically restructure and effectively reduce its activities to privately negotiated sales.

Despite some spectacular sales (most notably from Heinz Berggruen's collection), Phillips suffered two major financial setbacks last year, according to Le Monde. Bernard Arnault, the head of the luxury-goods group LVMH (Louis Vuitton–Moët–Hennessy), reduced his share in Phillips from 75 percent to 27.5 percent. An auction of Impressionist and modern art organized in New York last November dealt another blow: Only nineteen works out of a total of forty-four on offer found buyers, raising seven million dollars—a far cry from the fifty million expected from the sale.

Phillips will close its New York headquarters on Fifty-seventh Street but continue to operate out of the smaller “Milk Studios” on Fifteenth Street in Chelsea. Just how many of the 110 employees will lose their jobs through the restructuring is still unclear.

Moving the headquarters to Chelsea seems to be an indication of Phillips's new direction. According to a report in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the house will now focus on contemporary art.

“More and more young collectors are interested in young art,” Michaela Neumeister, Phillips's head of German operations, told the Süddeutsche Zeitung. “Therefore we have made the strategic decision to concentrate above all on contemporary art, design and photography.”

MUSÉE DE L’HOMME CLOSES—TEMPORARILY? Over the next two months, the Musée de l'Homme in Paris will close its exhibition spaces. According a report in Libération, the museum's holdings are gradually being packed up, with items to be transferred permanently to the new Musée des Arts Premiers at Quai Branly.

Now situated at the Trocadéro, the Musée de l'Homme–which is part of the vast Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle—will eventually open its doors in another form, although it is unclear what form and when.

“I was not appointed to liquidate the Musée de l'Homme but to renovate it,” explained Bertrand-Pierre Galey, the general director of the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, to Libération. Galey needs two hundred million euros over the next four years to renovate the buildings of the Muséum, which include not only the Musée de l'Homme, but the zoos at Vincennes and the Jardin des Plantes, which itself includes several galleries.

Libération also suggests that the prehistorian Jean-Pierre Mohen will be the new director. During the period of closure, there are plans for temporary exhibitions, including a show on the desert.

In the meantime, those who hope to see the Musée de l'Homme in its current state should make haste, as the renowned galleries for Africa, America, Asia, the Arctic; the music salon; and the Arts et Techniques hall will close between March and April.

According to Libération, March 2 will be the last day to visit the Africa galleries. The display—which includes objects Marcel Griaule collected during his 1931–32 Dakar-Djibouti mission—has remained essentially the same since it opened in 1938.

It's too late for the Musée des Arts d'Afrique et d'Océanie (MAAO), which closed last Friday. The new Musée des Arts Premiers will also receive the MAAO's entire holdings but on a permanent basis. Located at Porte Dorée, the museum was built in 1931 as an exhibition palace for the French colonies and became the MAAO only in 1960, when André Malraux rebaptized the impressive art deco building. Lamenting the closure, Neue Zürcher Zeitung's Samuel Herzog argues that the Musée des Arts Premiers—a pet project of President Chirac—has effectively destroyed an important museal document of French colonization.

AS THE CROW FLIES: When is the sale of an artwork final? In France, where complex laws on exports and the quality of works can bring a sale to court even retroactively, the answer could be Never. Le Monde's Harry Bellet and François Duret-Robert trace the complicated fate of Picasso's La Femme au Corbeau, a 1904 watercolor-pastel.

In the 1970s, Nicole Deon-Sainsère, granddaughter of the original owner, Olivier Sainsère (1852–1923), tried to sell the work but failed to obtain permission for it to leave the country. In 1979, she settled for 2.3 million francs from the Parisian representative of the Basel-based Galerie Beyeler—much less than she would have obtained had she sold it abroad.

As Bellet and Duret-Robert report, Beyeler eventually found a French buyer in the film producer Claude Berri, and also settled for a low price. In 1988, Berri obtained permission from then–minister of culture François Léotard to export the work, on the grounds that he was shifting the focus of his collection to contemporary art.

Thirteen years later, Deon-Sainsère discovered that Le Femme au corbeau was hanging in Ronald Lauder's collection in New York City. After learning of the state's change of heart, she attempted to annul the original sale to Galerie Beyeler.

Bellet and Duret-Robert explain that French law allows for the sale of an artwork to be annulled, even fourteen years—and two owners—later. The seller or buyer can question the “substantive qualities” of the work, including authenticity as well as “circumstances exterior to the object,” which, Deon-Sainsère argued, included exportability.

On January 23, Deon-Sainsère lost her case. While the court agreed that exportability indeed belongs to the substantive qualities of an artwork, they ruled that Deon-Sainsère could have taken into account that the judicial status of the work could change in the eyes of the French state.

While Deon-Sainsère's lawyer plans to appeal the judgment, Duret-Robert reviews the complex history of French exportation and heritage laws for artworks—recommended reading for collectors passing through France.

Jennifer Allen

January 31, 2003

Rembrandt Self-Portrait Uncovered

Art restorers have uncovered a self-portrait of Rembrandt that had been retouched hundreds of years ago by a pupil to resemble a Russian nobleman, according to the Rembrandt House Museum in Amsterdam, reports the BBC News. The painting was first done in 1634 when Rembrandt was twenty-eight years old.

January 31, 2003

Leslie Fiedler, Literary Critic, Dies at Eighty-five

Leslie Fiedler, the maverick man of letters whose best-known book, Love and Death in the American Novel, attempted to tear away traditional masks of literary discourse and engage the autobiographical and psychological considerations that might motivate the critic, died on Wednesday at his home in Buffalo, writes Christopher Lehmann-Haupt in the New York Times. He was eighty-five.

January 31, 2003

Foster's Plan for WTC All But Ruled Out

Lord Foster, the British architect whose design for a building to replace the World Trade Center was one of the most popular with New Yorkers, has been all but ruled out of the competition, writes Gary Younge in The Guardian. A team of architects rejected his proposal of two crystalline towers because they felt it would not be practical to construct or find tenants to fill. However, it is still possible that Foster's name will be thrown back into the ring.

January 30, 2003

Fogg Acquires Major Photography Collections

The Fogg Art Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has acquired four major collections of photography comprising ten thousand photos and forty thousand negatives, reports the Art Museum Network News.

January 30, 2003

Massacre of the Innocents at the National Gallery

Rubens's Massacre of the Innocents goes on show at the National Gallery in London today, writes John Ezard in The Guardian. For the first time in a century, the Massacre will be on a wall beside another Rubens, Samson and Delilah, dated by scholars as being from the same time, 1609–1610.

January 29, 2003

Art Institute Cancels Exhibition on Art Looting

The Art Institute of Chicago, the first American museum to settle a case involving a work of Nazi-looted art, has canceled an exhibition and catalogue called “Nazi Art Looting” set for this summer, writes Ralph Blumenthal in the New York Times. The show had been in the planning stages for about a year and was canceled without public announcement in the last few weeks, Eileen Harakal, the Art Institute's executive director for public affairs, confirmed last night, after people involved in the plundered-art issue heard of the cancellation.

January 29, 2003

A Hit for Fort Worth

Drawn by rave reviews in the press and by word of mouth, devotees of art and architecture are streaming to Fort Worth to visit the new home of the Modern Art Museum there, writes Stephen Kinzer in the New York Times. More people turned up in one two-day period after Christmas than came in any entire month of 2001, when the museum was still in its 1954 building nearby.

January 28, 2003

Raves for Eindhoven's Van Abbemuseum

In the Van Abbemuseum, reopened last week after a five-year closure, the Netherlands has one of the best contemporary art museums anywhere in Europe, opines Adrian Searle in The Guardian.