The Scandalous World of Art

Edvard Munch, The Scream

 On May 1, CPL is hosting a program on The Art of the Scandal: Thefts, Vandals and Forgeries.

 Well, that’s nice, you say, but art doesn’t interest me.

Are you sure about that? Everyone loves a good mystery, and high art is probably the most mystery-filled subject there is. Anything with that much crime circling around it means there is a bank vault of money involved. 

There are many sides to fine art – the talent side (no one disputes a da Vinci, but you can start a fight over Pollock), the artsy side (the use of light and dark in paintings creates mood and movement that symbolizes man’s desire to control the universe: discuss), the history side (Phoenician art of the 18th century BCE shows a developing amalgamation of influence of the entire Mesopotamian region), and the rarity side (there are more Roman statues than there are da Vincis). We can discuss the purpose of art, of man’s desire to create, of the abstractness of art that leads back to man as the only animal who creates art for art’s sake, despite our knowledge that apes will draw and paint for pleasure, and that elephants, dolphins, and rabbits can be taught to paint as a behavior. It often boils down to one thing: 

Money.

The price of fine art (paintings and drawings, as opposed to jewelry work, sculpture, enamelwork, etc) has a few things going for it. First is rarity – many of the greatest paintings are hundreds of years old. They are one-of-a-kinds, and not a lot of them have survived. There are only 15 authenticated da Vincis known – as opposed to 400 Rembrandts. A second consideration is fragility – light, moisture, and age can cause ancient paintings to crack, flake, and fade (Van Gogh liked using red lake pigments, which fade rather quickly). The Mona Lisa is not painted on canvas, but an old board. A third thing is authenticity, and here is where the art world goes to pieces.

Salvator Mundi, by da Vinci

Because of the money involved in fine art (Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi sold for $450 million dollars), as in too many movies, everyone is out to steal or fake originals. Forgery rings have been around for hundreds of years – one of the biggest was by Han Van Meegeren in the late 1930’s, a talented artist who sold more than $30 million in fake Vermeers to the Nazis. In 2004,  Xiao Yuan, the Chief Librarian at an academy of fine arts, stole more than 140 paintings in his care by carefully replacing them with his own copies – only to find some of HIS copies stolen and replaced with less-skilled replacements. Forgeries (actually, they’re called counterfeits, since legally only documents can be forged) are so rampant (about 50% of the market), Sotheby’s bought their own forensics lab to weed out fakes

Modern fakes are often easy enough to spot – today’s paints and canvases and even brushes aren’t the same as the 1500’s, and simple chemistry will find them. But what if the work copied is of modern origin – say, a Picasso, or a Warhol? Because of the modernity of materials, it is incredibly difficult to prove authenticity. 

Conan the Barbarian, by Boris Vallejo

Questions still arise, though, as to what constitutes an authentic work of art. That 450 million dollar da Vinci has had so much restoration that there is more paint by restorers than by da Vinci, so is it still genuine? If a student of an artist (Rembrandt, Renoir, Reubens, etc) is so talented that a professional art historian/critic cannot tell the difference, how are you defining fine art and value? Where does the value lie – in the skill, the history, the age, or the subject matter? Why do we so value Edvard Munch’s The Scream (of which four originals exist, two of which were stolen), yet not value Boris Vallejo?

Art, by its very interpretational nature, is a scandal.

Art of the Scandal is an on-line program sure to peak your interest. You can sign up for the attendance link here.

What’s up all you cool cats and kittens? Books for those craving more Tiger King!

You, like many others across the world, just finished watching Tiger King. The Netflix docuseries just launched on March 20th, and it’s already taken the world by storm. The series received acclaim from critics, and according to Nielsen ratings, was watched by 34.3 million people over its first ten days of release, ranking as one of Netflix’s most successful releases to date.

The series follows the larger than life character Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage, also known as Joe Exotic, and his sprawling zoo, the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park. Joe has quite the history, with the law and with other big-cat owners. He twice unsuccessfully ran for public office, first for President of the United States in 2016 as an independent, and then for Governor of Oklahoma in 2018 as a Libertarian. In 2019, Maldonado-Passage was convicted on 17 federal charges of animal abuse (eight violations of the Lacey Act and nine of the Endangered Species Act) and two counts of murder for hire, for a plot to kill Big Cat Rescue CEO, Carole Baskin. He is currently serving a 22-year sentence in federal prison.

It doesn’t seem like reality until you’re watching it unfold in front of your eyes, and like some terrible fire, you can’t pull your eyes away from the madness. There are no “characters” you can root for, except for the cats. As a true crime lover, I felt myself wanting more after the credits rolled! Instead of digging deeper into the depths of Netflix, I decided to do some digging through the libraries’ digital collections to satisfy my craving for tiger true crime mania.

Due to the fact that the library is closed at this time, we’re recommending books and audiobooks that are accessible through the libraries’ digital services, including RBdigital, Libby, and Overdrive. If you need help accessing these services, help is available on our website, and librarians are available by phone remotely. Call 203-272-2245 and leave a message. Someone will get back to you shortly! 

First up is The Lizard King: The True Crimes and Passions of the World’s Greatest Reptile Smugglers by Bryan Christy. The book is described as “The Sopranos of Snakes”, focused on the fascinating account of a father and son family business suspected of smuggling reptiles, and the federal agent who tried to take them down. If you’re looking for more animal justice and federal takedowns, then The Lizard King is the perfect fit. The audiobook and ebook are available online through RBdigital.

Next is a little bit more fanciful, but showcases a star tiger, Richard Parker. Life of Pi is a classic, and mixes fantasy and dangerous reality into a beautiful story, in which you can’t quite tell reality from fiction (much like tiger king, is this guy real life?) The story’s back cover states: ” Pi Patel has an encyclopedic knowledge of animal behavior and a fervent love of stories. When Pi is sixteen, his family emigrates from India to North America aboard a Japanese cargo ship, along with their zoo animals bound for new homes. The ship sinks. Pi finds himself alone in a lifeboat, his only companions a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra, and Richard Parker, a 450-pound Bengal tiger. ” The story is an escape from reality all of us could use right now. The audiobook and ebook are available online through RBdigital. 

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt is a true crime classic, covering art dealings, murder and mystery, all in the deep south. It includes the same courtroom drama that was brought to life in Tiger King. The book is described as: ” Shots rang out in Savannah’s grandest mansion in the misty,early morning hours of May 2, 1981. Was it murder or self-defense? For nearly a decade, the shooting and its aftermath reverberated throughout this hauntingly beautiful city of moss-hung oaks and shaded squares. John Berendt’s sharply observed, suspenseful, and witty narrative reads like a thoroughly engrossing novel, and yet it is a work of nonfiction.” Another classic worth checking out from our digital collections, available online as an audiobook through RBdigital, and ebook through Overdrive.

If you spent the whole documentary wishing they’d focus more on the tigers less on the mullets, then The Human, the Orchid, and the Octopus could be your fit. Written by Jacques Cousteau, an author and researcher who studied the sea and all forms of life in water, the book “weaves gripping stories of his adventures throughout, he and coauthor Susan Schiefelbein address the risks we take with human health, the overfishing and sacking of the world’s oceans, the hazards of nuclear proliferation, and the environmental responsibility of scientists, politicians, and people of faith”. It’s a heartfelt tale which inspires us to do better, and be better for our planet, and the animals we share it with. It’s available online as an audiobook through RBdigital.

“A man is killed for his prized pet fish” Whaaaaaat? That first line hooked me right away on The Dragon Behind the Glass: A True Story Of Power, Obsession, And The World’s Most Coveted Fish“A tycoon buys a single specimen for $150,000. Meanwhile, a pet detective chases smugglers through the streets of New York. Delving into an outlandish realm of obsession, paranoia, and criminality, The Dragon Behind the Glass tells the story of a fish like none other” This book follows tiger kings footsteps in chasing animal smugglers throughout the globe, all for the very expensive, very lucrative, animal black market. Download the audiobook through RBdigital.

Looking for more? Here are a few more titles available through RBDigital, Overdrive and Libby for your phone, tablet, or computer!