International News Digest

JANUARY 30

Reuters reported that the Prado in Spain has received its biggest private donation in decades: twelve medieval and Renaissance paintings and sculptures by Spanish artists. The collection, donated by Barcelona-based businessman and engineer Jose Luis Varez, includes The Virgin of Tobed. Attributed to Jaume Serra, the altar centerpiece is often cited as a prime example of Catalan Italo-Gothic painting. “These aren't times of lavish state spending, so this donation is generous and tremendously timely,” said president of the Prado's board of trustees Jose Pedro Perez Llorca. Reuters noted that the Spanish government has recently been forced to cut spending drastically in the cultural sector in order to reach deficit targets as part of an agreement with the European Union.

If accusations are true, a leading Modigliani expert has turned out to be the mastermind behind an unthinkably brazen con-game. Christian Gregori Parisot, who Il Tirreno identifies as the president of the Archives Legales Amedeo Modigliani, was placed under house arrest last month after a two-year investigation. Dealer Matteo Vignapiano has been arrested as well. Investigators seized forty-one drawings, thirteen prints, four bronze sculptures, and one oil painting. Over the years, Parisot had apparently positioned himself as a leading expert on Modigliani, even serving as a consultant to the Cultural Heritage Protection agency, and boasting of having worked with Modigliani’s daughter Jeanne in the 1980s. Surprisingly enough, Parisot managed to keep his game going after being apprehended five years ago. In 2008, the Art Newspaper reported that Parisot was sentenced to two years in prison for forging drawings by Modigliani muse Jeanne Hébuterne. Why people continued to consult Parisot after that episode is anyone’s guess.

Brazil is instituting a rather generous new cultural policy: Workers will soon be paid a twenty-five-dollar monthly stipend they can spend on cultural expenses including museums, movies, or books. According to the AFP, culture minister Marta Suplicy said in an interview, “In all developed countries, culture plays a key role in the economy.” Suplicy cited the precedent set by popular former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, whose policies included conditional cash transfers to poor families.

Al Arabiya reports that Somalian artists have “resurfaced from their hideouts and are now painting in the open.” Their troubles began in 2006 when the extremist organization al-Shabaab, a group with ties to al Qaeda, took power in the country and forbade all forms of entertainment, including sports and the arts. Abdulkadir Yahya Ali, an arts patron who founded Mogadishu’s Center for Research and Dialogue, was murdered by suspected al-Shabaab soldiers. Now, the center’s director, with aid from several government agencies, has started a project helps artists create pieces about their country’s recent political history. Thus far, the project’s members have installed over twenty paintings in various public spaces throughout Mogadishu.

As Somalian artists regroup after facing the nation's right-wing regime, curators revealed that a number of priceless artifacts are safe now from the Islamic extremists who took over Timbuktu, Mali, last year. “Archivists and librarians associated with the Ahmed Baba library, in fact, over the months of the occupation, worked to take the manuscripts out, to conserve them and hide them,” said Shamil Jeppie, Timbuktu Manuscripts Project director at the University of Cape Town, adding that “over 90 percent” of the 40,000 manuscripts archived at the Baba collection have miraculously been saved. The manuscripts, most dating from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, were smuggled to safety in trunks and hidden around Bamako and Timbuktu while the extremists in power destroyed centuries-old texts, shrines, and other cultural artifacts throughout the city.

Dagens Nyheter reports that over 195 artists have signed a petition imploring the government to save the autonomy of the International Artists Studio Program in Sweden. Founded in 1996, IASPIS promoted exchange between local artists and an international art scene, and was headed by curators who over the years included Daniel Birnbaum, Sune Nordgren, and Maria Lind. In Kunstkritikk, Joel Tunström noted an increasing concern shared by many: Following bureaucratically driven restructuring, the program’s curator (currently Lisa Rosendahl) is no longer allowed to develop any programs without approval from the politically appointed head of the Swedish Arts and Grants Committee. Rosendahl told Tunström that now “it is not possible for the IASPIS director to organize a seminar on cultural and creative industries from a certain point of view, when the museum as a whole has been commissioned by the government to deal with this issue in a larger perspective.” Ponders Tunström, “In whose interests was IASPIS’s autonomy cut?”