International News Digest


An exhibition of erotic art never even got the chance to open at the exhibition space of the Bibliothèque départementale de la Somme in Amiens, France. As Le Monde’s Michel Guerrin reports, “Pour Adultes Seulement” (For Adults Only) was canned just a few days before its opening. The show featured about sixty drawings, paintings, and prints by twenty-six international artists, including Tomi Ungerer, André François, Jean Claverie, and Nicole Claveloux. Curator Janine Kotwica’s proposal for the exhibition was accepted over a year ago and welcomed by the regional director for cultural development David Andrieux. Yet Andrieux had a change of heart, after the president of the general counsel Christian Manable had a look at the works in the show. “I will be taken for a fascist, a grouch,” said Manable, a member of the French socialist party, “although those who know me will know that’s absurd. I don’t see any problem with these drawings and paintings appear in a private gallery, but not in a place of the general counsel, with public funding.” Despite Kotwica’s offer to remove the offending works, the offer was not taken up and the exhibition was not opened.


The remains of Daniel Spoerri’s 1983 performance Un Déjeuner sous l’herbe (A lunch under the grass) has been unearthed after being buried for almost three decades in the Parc du Montcel at Jouy-en-Josas, France. As Le Monde’s Michel Guerrin reports, the title may be a play on Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (The lunch on the grass), but the work has come to lie somewhere between contemporary art and ancient archeology.

On April 23, 1983, Spoerri executed the performance: a picnic for one hundred friends, including the artists Erro and Jean-Pierre Raynaud, the gallerists Daniel Templon and Pierre Nahon, the art critic Catherine Millet, the publisher Christian Bourgois, and the writer Alain Robbe-Grillet. After the performance-picnic was finished, the remains of the day were buried forty meters underground in a pre-dug plot in the park which belonged to the patron of the event, Jean Hamon. Spoerri also called the work L’Enterrement du tableau-piège (The burial of the picture-trap or table-trap), a title that referred to his series of tableaux-pièges.

In 1987, Eric Godet, an archeologist friend of Spoerri, convinced the artist to dig up the remains, but the project was abandoned. Finally, this spring, the Institut national de recherches archéologiques preventives (INRAP)––the French national institute for preventative archeological research––took up the challenge on May 31 and will complete the task on June 6. So far, the archeologists have discovered a dozen plates, silverware, glasses, and even a corkscrew. It’s the first time that INRAP has dug for contemporary art. “Our work is a police investigation,” said archeologist François Renel. “Even if we don’t have a corpse. Here, we must make the object speak.”


Private collectors in Bulgaria are finally showing their collections to the public after private collections were recently legalized in the country. As Agence France-Presse reports, an exhibition featuring two hundred works from thirty-two private collections was inaugurated in the capital Sofia last week in order to improve the image of private collectors.

Last October, Bulgaria’s constitutional court approved a controversial law which legalizes, under certain conditions, the private “detention” of archeological treasures and works of art. Detractors and critics claim that the new law will only promote the pillage of the national heritage while a union of private collectors called for an end to all restrictions on the art market. The painter-collector Svetlin Russev congratulated his fellow collectors for “saving artworks which are part of the national heritage” and which art traffickers could have otherwise exported from the country. Private collectors have until October 31 to declare artworks in their collections––a call that has led 150 collectors to register with the state, which has outlawed the fresh acquisition of antiquities. Those who have not declared an antiquity could face a $2990 fine and a prison term of four years. Situated at the cross roads of Europe and Asia, Bulgaria holds 40,000 archeological sites which have often fallen prey to private pillages and art trafficking.

The law authorizes individuals to possess antiquities on the condition that they “declare to have acquired them in good faith more than five years ago.” Proof regarding the original provenance of the object is not required. Private collections that fulfill these conditions can be now exhibited.


Outlawing private collectors has never been an option in western Europe. But, in light of the recent rise of private museums, should public museums be more selective about what private collections they show? Eurotopics cites a report in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung by Niklas Maak who addresses the status of private collections in the wake of the recent robbery at Paris’s Musée d’art moderne. For Maak, the theft of five uninsured masterpieces demonstrates what risks Europe’s poorly financed museums are willing to take. “An abyss is opening up in the art world,” writes Maak. “While the public institutions struggle with budget cuts and dwindling sponsorship money, private museums are enjoying a boom,” a case in point being François Pinault’s two private museums in Venice. “Exhibiting your art collection at your own museum is becoming the ultimate status symbol,” writes Maak. “On the other hand, the art boom of recent years has produced a new generation of smaller collectors and amateurs. If museums paid them more attention they could become what they once were: places for shapes and paintings where society forms a picture of itself.”


The Musée National Pablo-Picasso in Vallauris, France, still remains closed after a work by the French artist Zineb Sedira offended former Algerian Muslim soldiers loyal to the French during the Algerian War. In the original version of the video that led to controversy, Sedira translated “harkis” into “collaborators”––a term related in France to people who collaborated with the Nazis during the occupation of France in WWII, not to the Algerian loyalists during the colonial war. As Le Monde reports, Sedira’s offer to modify the offending subtitles did not have an impact on the mayor of Vallauris, Alain Gumiel, who closed the museum for security measures. A move by the French state to take legal action against the office of the mayor has proved equally ineffective. On May 31, an administrative court in Nice ruled that the closure had not been justified––also to no avail.

“I hope that the exhibition will be reopened and that we will restore our excellent public relations,” said the museum director Maurice Fréchuret. Unfortunately, the mayor has one remaining argument: The museum may be national, but its personnel is paid by the city. Mayor Gumiel insists that one extra guard be hired––and paid––by the French state in order to prevent any possible protests from local harkis against Sedira’s controversial work, despite its modifications.

“The reopening of the museum risks giving rise to problems,” said the mayor’s office. “We would really like to (reopen the museum), but on the condition that the state provides us with the personnel.”


Hamburg’s Galerie der Gegenwart, the contemporary gallery inside the city’s Kunsthalle, will not be temporarily closing down, as was previously announced. The Süddeutsche Zeitung reports that city officials had planned to shut down the gallery temporarily in order to improve the building’s fire prevention system. Now––after the announcement of the closure led to intense criticism––it has been discovered that the defective fire shutters can be repaired during regular visitor hours.


Moscow may be planning to build a Russian Orthodox church and a cultural center in the heart of Paris. Eurotopics cites a report by the Corriere della Sera’s Fabrizio Dragosei, who claims that Moscow is trying to recapture the French capital both spiritual and culturally with the project.

“The Kremlin is adopting new tactics,” writes Dragosei, “because for some time now being a nuclear power has no longer sufficed to shine on the international stage.” The new church and center, which may be built near the Eiffel Tower, is the latest move towards rapprochement with France from “the Russian tandem Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev.” After the French energy giant Gaz de France Suez was involved in the Nord Stream pipeline, France then sold weapons to Russia. Now, there’s “the brilliant idea of Kremlin factotum Vladimir Kozhin [head of the Kremlin property department] to purchase a plot of land for an Orthodox cathedral just a few steps away from the Eiffel Tower,” writes Dragosei. To date, no one in Russia saw the need for a cultural and religious center in the city of lights. Yet for Dragosei, the plans “hails the return of Greater Russia to France and the continuation of the czars.”