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May 31, 2011 > State of the Arts

State of the Arts

By Margaret Talt, Fremont Cultural Arts Council

"Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life." Picasso

Last month this column was about the value of the cultural arts to the business community. There is also the question of whether the business community is good for the cultural arts? One would think so, but that does not necessarily follow.

Art theft is big business and global in nature, so in this sense, business is not good for art. In Europe, valuable paintings sometimes are stolen and held for ransom rather than for sale. Insurance companies find that ransom is cheaper than paying a museum millions for lost art.

Art theft is also an old business that began a long time ago. Historically, triumphant winners of wars usually took all of the valuables they could find. Then along came archaeologists, both professional and amateur, and they too began to remove cultural items from sites, sometimes with and sometimes without permission, perhaps most often in Greece, Italy, and Egypt.

A famous instance was the removal of sculptures in the early 1800s from the Greek Parthenon by the English Lord Elgin. At least he had permission of the Turkish government, which was in power at that time.

Five paintings valued up to E500m were stolen in May 2010 from the Museum of Modern Art in Paris, including works by Picasso and Matisse. Most recently, in May of this year nine works of art valued at about one million pounds were stolen from the Forbidden City in Beijing, China. The theft is very unfortunate and embarrassing because the art was on loan from a private Hong Kong museum.

Sometimes stolen artworks with false provenance show up in museums and private collections. European states have had difficulty obtaining the return of their cultural art and have found the courts their best ally. Just last December the Getty Museum returned the 2,500-year-old statue of Aphrodite to Sicily and the New York Metropolitan Museum returned a 2,500-year-old vase by Greek artist Euphronius to Italy.

Lest you think, "It can't happen here," think again. Art theft can and does happen in the U.S., sometimes closer than one would expect. In 2009 in Salinas, residents Kennaugh and Amadio reported art stolen that they stated was worth millions.

Four bronze-mix sculptures of children at play were stolen from Newark civic center in 2009. Even closer, in 2007 a charming sculpture of a boy, his dog, and a girl was stolen from a business on Mowry Avenue in Fremont.

Antonia Kimball, recovery manager at Art Loss Register, London, says paintings sometimes are used as easily transported, high-value collateral for drug and arms deals.

Producing a cultural art event can be very costly, even when volunteers do the work. Companies, corporations, and small local businesses often contribute goods and money to the cultural arts. Added to ticket sales and private donations from citizens, support from the business community in any city helps enable the presentation of many cultural events, from theatre plays to art exhibits to symphony performances. When residents use local businesses they may not realize this, but they may also be supporting local cultural arts.

So, while the cultural arts are good for the business community, is the business good for the cultural arts? Yes, it definitely is.

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