Thursday, July 05, 2007

In last year's dystopian film Children of Men, Clive Owen's character visits his brother who is the curator/Ministry of Culure at the Ark of the Arts in London, a huge complex (actually the Tate Modern,) into which have been deposited the rescued treasures of the world's masterpieces.
At dinner, the men dine in front of Picasso's Guernica while a young man plays ceaselessy with a video game. The sequence is an eerie evocation of many associations: fiddling while Rome burns, elite access to art, and the worth of art as the rest of life degenerates.


When they first meet, the men shake hands in front of Michelangelo's David, which has been "rescued," and looks a little worse for the wear in the left leg.



Having recently flipped through the book Rescuing DaVinci, (which is a kind of photographic companion piece to The Rape of Europa,) the film gave me visual and emotional connections to the story of the Nazi plunder of Europe's greatest art works.
I couldn't help but connect this idea of hording all of the great masterworks under the guise of "protection" to the way Hitler and Goering procured masterworks from Italy, Paris, etc,. Many of the great works of art that were stolen under these pretenses were destined for either Goering's residence at Carinhall, (at Right.) or for Hitler's projected Fuhrermuseum at Lisz (below) which bears an eerie echoe of the Ark of the Arts in the dystopian London of Children of Men.


There is an outstanding photo in the book Rescuing Davinci in which we see a beehive configuration bricks completely entombing the statue of David to protect it. Many of the great works, were, thankfully recovered by the Allies and returned promptly after being discovered and documented by the dedicated "Monument Men." (At Left, Eisenhower, Bradley and Patton inspect stolen paintings recovered at mine along with other artwork and gold.)



Slate's explainer talks about the job of a Ministry of Culture in the world today, and about our lack of one:



So, why doesn't the United States have a ministry of culture? For one thing, arts in the United States are largely privately funded, and the art world is less dependent on state support. A bunch of federal agencies perform the functions given to ministries of culture in other countries. That's not to say the idea for a ministry of culture—or something like it—hasn't been proposed. In 1859, President James Buchanan appointed a National Arts Commission, but it disbanded after two years. Teddy Roosevelt made a similar attempt 50 years later, and in 1937, during a fit of New Deal-fueled government expansion, a New York congressman introduced legislation to create a Department of Science, Art, and Literature, but the proposal never got beyond committee. Subsequent efforts to create a centralized cultural agency were hampered at least in part by negative associations with Nazi propaganda and "cultural planning" in the USSR.

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