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International News Digest


After the spectacular opening of MAXXI, Rome is getting ready for yet another fresh addition to its contemporary arts scene. As Agence France-Presse reports, the new wing of the city’s contemporary art museum MACRO will open to the public on December 4. MACRO, which already existed within a classic building, added 32,800 square feet to its total surface; the extension cost of twenty-seven million dollars. The dramatic red, white, and black wing, designed by the French architect Odile Decq, will feature both temporary exhibitions and selections from the permanent collection. Decq added an auditorium with places for one hundred guests in the foyer. The opening installation promises works by Yves Klein, Lucio Fontana, and Jannis Kounellis.


Silvio Berlusconi has offered his very own extension to two sculptures in Rome. Citing a report in La Repubblica, Agence France-Presse notes that the Italian prime minister restored the missing penis on a sculpture of Mars and the missing arms on a sculpture of Venus, both located in the Palazzo Chigi. Dated 175 AD, the two marble figures are part of a group that was installed at the palazzo last February against an azure blue background. The decision to restore the sculptures was made by Berlusconi’s personal architect Mario Catalano. The restoration, which was expressly requested by Berlusconi and Catalano, stands in “total contradiction” with the country’s strict restoration rules for such works. According to these rules, restorations should not trick the spectator by confounding the original work with later alterations.

“Why do the sculptures in China look new while ours are missing arms and heads?” Berlusconi is reported to have asked Catalano when the sculptural group was delivered to him, according to La Republica’s original report on the incident. While the ministry of culture has just gone through drastic cuts––minus 46 percent for 2011––the extensions ordered by Berlusconi cost $95,000 and have been likened by some oppositional politicians not to archeological restoration but to cosmetic surgery.


The Dutch government’s plans to cut the cultural budget by a full 20 percent are being met with resistance. Eurotopics cites a critical assessment in the NRC Handelsblad by Gerard Marlet, the director of the research institute Atlas. Marlet warns that the cuts will have a negative impact on Dutch cities and not just on each city’s calendar of cultural events. Critics of the austerity measures believe that the 20 percent cut, combined with other government cuts, will effectively end up halving the Dutch cultural budget. “Is culture only a hobby of the elite?” asks Marlet. “Is this hobby being taken away from them? No.” Marlet argues that cities offering culture can also offer more jobs. “Many of these jobs are in supporting sectors such as hotels and catering and retail,” writes Marlet. “It is here that people with little education stand to benefit.” The short-term savings, however urgent, could be shortsighted. “In the long term (these cuts) will do far more damage to our country than the savings in the culture budget will bring.”


While most cities are vying to be included in UNESCO’S World Heritage list, some residents in the Bulgarian seaport of Nessebar plan to start a petition to be removed from the list. Eurotopics cites a report by Standart’s Martin Karbovski, who is troubled by the Nessebar residents, who fail to recognize the value of cultural heritage. The plans for petition began after the city’s building authorities started to demolish unauthorized extensions to houses and to shops, which have brought locals income from tourism. “There are people who are prepared to sacrifice the history, the state, and their culture for the sake of a little attic room or another floor added to their homes and the rent this provides them with,” writes Karbovski. “They have a facile approach: If UNESCO poses a threat to our stable, then UNESCO should go, so that the stable can stay. It’s enough to make you weep, because it’s not the poor citizen who is making all the fuss but rather the old landlady who rakes in cash from dumb tourists every summer. And it doesn’t even occur to her that her guest room is worth nothing without the ancient churches in the old part of town.”


At a meeting in Nairobi last week, UNESCO added a few new entries to the world’s cultural heritage list, including the Catalan custom of making acrobatic human pyramids on festive occasions. Eurotopics cites a report by El Periódico de Catalunya, which claims that the “castells” both strengthen the community and have a beneficial effect in times of crisis. “Thousands of citizens from all over the country dedicate time for several months each year to the castells,” notes the newspaper. “These offer (citizens) the opportunity to interact with people of different origins,” including differences in class, status, and age. “Moreover the castells have transcended borders in recent years so that groups have started to form in places as far away as China and Chile. This is further proof of their appeal and the universal applicability of the principals which inspire them: strength, balance, courage, and good judgment. A fourfold model which serves well as an attitude to life, particularly in times of crisis like the present.”