Museum of the Missing: The High Stakes of Art Crime – A Review

missingKevin Nance of Booklist describes Houpt’s book through the following angle, “when houses like Sotheby’s trumpet their sales records – $104 million for a Picasso! – what’s a self-respecting art thief to do? In this brief and lively book, Houpt laments the transformation of art into an international commodity and sketches a series of quick portraits of famous latter-day art thieves and the intrepid detectives who try to catch them. In a few cases, Houpt has already been outpaced by events. Munch’s The Scream, stolen from a Norwegian museum in 2004, was recently recovered, and the Picasso sales record was eclipsed this year by the sale of a Klimt (once looted by the Nazis) for a reported $135 million.”

The Hypothesis

Auction house pricing has been a big complaint of many in the art world over the years. It is clear that such enormous prices for famous works by such well-knowns as Picasso only drive up the temptation behind nabbing one of these high-priced canvases for claim in a art thief’s private collection. Taking this idea, Houst takes the reader into the dark underbelly of one of the world’s largest markets and shows the reader just how underhanded some of the worst crimes in art have come to be.

From Munch’s The Scream to the Henry Moore Sculpture

Nothing will illicit intrigue more than when a largely famous work of art goes missing. Houpt does not miss a beat of the action in Museum of the Missing: The High Stakes of Art Crime as the author delves into heavy detail over such infamous thefts as the theft of The Scream and the even more bizarre theft of the nearly two-ton bronze sculpture by Henry Moore. Using photographs, illustrations and case studies, Houpt brings these crimes against art to life while still keeping the reader intrigued to learn just how people were able to pull off these brazen acts.

Large-Scale Thefts: From the Nazis to Iraq

What was most intriguing about this book was the coverage that Houpt included on much more large scale operations such as the Nazis’ art theft during World War II and the acts of looting that nearly crumbled the Iraqi Museum and outlaying institutions. If the Rape of Europa piqued your interest, then Museum of the Missing: The High Stakes of Art Crime will take it even another step.

Museum of the Missing: The High Stakes of Art Crime by Simon Houpt is available for purchase with ISBN 1897330448 through Black Walnut/Madison Press.

Advertisements

Anton Gill’s Art Lover – A Review

peggyPeggy Guggenheim is known for many things – the death of her father on the RMS Titanic, her sexual escapades and most importantly, her hand in the founding of Modern Art.

Anton Gill paints a colorful portrait of the late Peggy Guggenheim in his biography entitled, Art Lover. It begins where Peggy began, being the young daughter of a Jewish family in New York’s elite inner circle at the turn of the last century. From there, the book unfolds into Peggy’s illustrious life abroad.

Donna Seaman explains it best in Booklist, “Gill patiently records every battle in her two violently contentious marriages, her compulsive promiscuity, miserable failure at motherhood, and peripatetic lifestyle, then, with a sigh of relief, concentrates on her vision and generosity in supporting avant-garde writers and artists and her influential role as gallery owner and pioneering modern art collector. In spite of much chaos and unhappiness, Guggenheim–flamboyant and audacious, a magnet for gossip and a champion of artistic freedom–did move culture forward in the face of fascism, virulent anti-Semitism, and pervasive sexism.”

Guggenheim was Neither

Guggenheim was not one of her richer relatives, nor was she known to be a great beauty, however Gill focuses on not only how this would later form her life, but also how it would change it. Peggy preferred Europe to America and often used her sexuality to claim the things that she wanted- whether they be an artist or a painting.

Private Life

Gill outlines Peggy’s early life in a series of re-tellings about Peggy’s early marriage to the Dad sculptor, Laurance Veil. Together they would have two children and a very tumultuous relationship that would inevitably end in divorce. Gill depicts her life in New York with Veil, their move to Europe which seemed to only strengthen the intensity of Peggy and Laurance’s arguments, culminating in the destruction of furniture and prized possessions more often than not. Laurance’s affair with Kate Boyle would ultimately destroy the marriage and Peggy would go on to marry Max Ernst for a brief time.

Her Gift to Modern Art

According to Gill, Peggy lived out the remainder of her life in Venice where her collections still remains. In recent years, her home has opened as a museum, inviting guests from all over the world to see what was once only privy to Guggenheim and a select few of her artistic circle.

Death

Following her death, Peggy Guggenheim was laid to rest in Italy. Her marker lays next to a plaque remembering all of the dogs that she had owned during her life.

Art Lover: A Biography of Peggy Guggenheim by Anton Gill can be purchased online through ISBN 006095681X from Harper Perennial.

The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art – A Review

stuffedIn contemporary art, there are many questions to be raised as to why works sell and more strangely, how much they sell for. With each new movement, there are a series of new questions brought to the table – is this art? What will people pay to own it? Is there a place for it?

The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art takes an in depth approach to such questions that are raised daily within the art world. Drawing on psychology and the economics of the contemporary art world, The $12 Million Stuffed Shark brings to light the flat out insane prices and lengths that people will go to to own the next “big deal.”

Pollock

When Jackson Pollock, for example, was emerging as the face of abstract expressionism, he was doing so at a time where form and training defined art. Had it not been for the help of Peggy Guggenheim and his wife, Lee Krasner, Pollock’s work would have continued to be overlooked. So, why, under what circumstance does his work now sell for a cool $140 million? Answer – A major contemporary art world figure head deemed it worthy. It is just one side of the psychology of the art world and how it feeds the art market’s economic makeup.

Damien Hirst

Following the same sort of mindset, Hirst paid to have the shark caught and then had the two ton carcus taxidermied and mounted, titled it The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living and set a $12 million dollar price tag. It didn’t sell, largely in part because of the weight of the piece, but also because unlike Pollock, no art world big-wig proclaimed it as the next big movement. It was eventually purchased by a wealthy investor after much controversy.

A Question Raised

By covering these types of controversial pieces and their buyers, The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art makes the reader focus on questions that have plagued the art world, society and the individual ever since the Venus of Willendorf and those questions often have only personal answers. After all, what is art? What defines a creation as a work of art? Who needs to say it is art before it can seriously be considered as such?

The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art by Don Thompson is available for purchase through Palgrave Macmillan with ISBN 0230610226.