International News Digest


It looks like there’s a nostalgia for the boom years—and the boom artists—still lingering in France. As Agence France-Presse reports, the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami will make his mark on Château de Versailles between September 12 and December 12. What better place to highlight the death of the glam years than the old abode of the Sun King, Louis XIV?

It will be the first retrospective in France for Murakami. The artist, who was born in 1962, follows Jeff Koons and Xavier Veilhan, who took on the castle in 2008 and 2009 respectively. Murakami will present works in fifteen of the castle’s rooms, from the royal apartments to the gallery of mirrors. One-third of the exhibition, from sculptures to paintings, will include new creations made for the site. After the uproar over the Koons exhibition, the institution is taking precautions to make sure that there are no works with “pornographic” or “morbid” connotations in the show, due to the presence of children visitors.


Just after Christmas, the Moderna Museet in Stockholm opened a branch of the museum in Malmö in southern Sweden. The Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Johan Schloemann checks out the new Moderna Museet Malmö, which is located in a former power station built in 1901. For Schloemann, the bridge over the Öresund, which links Sweden with Denmark, has played a role in the creation of the new museum. More Danes are not only living in southern Sweden but also more ready to use the bridge for a daylong excursion over to Malmö, including museum visits. Moderna Museet Malmö will feature works from the permanent collection, which was built up by Pontus Hultén, as well as three exhibitions per year. “Spectacular Times: The ’60s—The Moderna Museet Collection” runs until February 27, while Astrid Svangren’s “what I remember” runs until March 14 and Luc Tuymans’s “Against the Day” until April 25.


France is considering taxing Internet giants like Google to finance culture. According to Le Monde’s Cécile Ducourtieux, Laurence Girard, and Nathaniel Herzberg, the proposal was made in the Zelnik Report, which explores the impact of the digital revolution on culture. The report, which was commissioned by the French ministry of culture, calls for a “Google tax” on the advertising revenues of not only Google but also other Internet giants such as Microsoft, AOL, Yahoo!, and Facebook. The problem: Google captures advertising dollars by referencing the content of French cultural and news sites, albeit without paying the French sites directly for the content.

President Nicolas Sarkozy seems to have warmed up to the proposal in the report, which calls for the Google tax revenues to be rechanneled to cultural realms hit hardest by the Internet, from music to journalism. Yet without explicitly referring to the Google tax, President Sarkozy invited the minister of finance to engage experts “as quickly as possible” to examine fiscally “the advertising activities of the largest international sites and search engines present in France.” “For the moment,” said Sarkozy, “these businesses are taxed in the countries where they have their headquarters while they are puncturing a major vein in our advertising market. This drain in fiscal matters is particularly harmful.”

Google—the world’s largest search engine, with a 67.5 percent global share for online searches as of November 2009, according to ComScore—has its European headquarters in Ireland. While the figures for French advertising on Google are estimated at $1.1 billion annually, this French-generated income is taxed in Ireland, with only a percentage, estimated at fifty-five million dollars, going to the French branch of Google. “As a result,” write Ducourtieux, Girard, and Herzberg, “Google is said not to be paying the costs corresponding to its real activity in France.” While the Google tax heads into uncharted legal territory, France may have luck with the idea if the tax gains momentum in the rest of Europe. The European Commission examined Google’s position with respect to online advertising in 2007 when the American search engine took over DoubleClick. While the European Commission found nothing amiss in 2007, since then Google has grown, and its size may well infringe on the European ideals of free and open market competition.

If France is eventually successful, the tax would likely be a modest one. The Zelnik report suggests 1 to 2 percent of advertising proceeds, which would amount to fourteen million to twenty-eight million dollars more each year for France. That’s hardly a bump for Google—which recorded a 4.2 billion profit in 2008—but certainly a boost for culture.


While many try to stick to their New Year’s resolutions, for others, it’s too late. Mona Lisa—and her cholesterol—is a case in point. As the BBC News reports, Vito Franco of Palermo University believes that the famed sitter with the enigmatic smile was suffering from high cholesterol. The woman in the portrait “shows clear signs of a build-up of fatty acids under the skin, caused by too much cholesterol.” According to Franco, that’s not her only problem. The painting shows signs of a lipoma—which is a benign fatty-tissue tumor—in the sitter’s right eye. A professor of pathological anatomy, Dr. Franco recently unveiled his findings at a conference in Florence and shared them with La Stampa, cited by the BBC. “The people depicted in art reveal their physicality,” said Franco, “[they] tell us of their vulnerable humanity, regardless of the artist’s awareness of it.” Other painterly patients include Botticelli’s Portrait of a Youth which suggest the boy was suffering from Marfan syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects connective tissues. Even Michelangelo, depicted in Raphael’s The School of Athens, gets a poor health report card. Dr. Franco says that the painter’s swollen knees indicate “excessive uric acid”—a possible symptom of renal calculosis.