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Fifty great stories The Art Newspaper has carried since we first hit the news-stands in October 1990

Celebrating our fiftieth issue with fifty of our best

1990

October

We kick off with a survey of who holds the power in the art world, country by country. The analysis of the Moscow scene, with the individual’s telephone numbers, is particularly trenchant, and, although it’s a different world out there now, still useful.

November

Sir Ernst Gombrich gives us his personal memoir on the founding of the Warburg Institute.

December

The state of dilapidation behind the former Iron Curtain is becoming apparent. President Havel’s architectural advisor talks to us about the scale of the problem and how the Czechs hope to develop their tourist industry in a controlled way without spoiling what they have.

1991

January

We reveal the creation of a new and huge financial power on the European art scene: the merger of two Spanish banks produces the Fundacio La Caixa, the fifth richest in the world, with $90 million a year to spend.

February

The Gulf War: we get hold of the Pentagon’s map of strategic targets in Iraq and discover that most of the major archaeological and historical sites are right next to them: the oldest city in the world, Ur of the Chaldees, is inside an air base. We do the same research for Israel and publish maps.

March

The first warning of visual illiteracy among US art historians, which the directors of the Metropolitan, Philippe de Montebello and of the Getty Museum, John Walsh (see pp.16-17), have since declared to amount to a real crisis for the museum profession as few qualified candidates are presenting themselves for jobs. Keith Christiansen, head of the department of Western paintings at the Met, writes: “All too often I encounter students who have been taught to adopt a highly critical attitude in evaluating source material or in reading current literature on art, but who are innocently passive when confronted with the actual works”.

• We publish the text of the The Hague Convention of 1954 for the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict together with an article asking why, unlike World War II, there are no expert advisors on historic monuments attached to the army in Iraq.

April

The French art copyright agencies Spadem and Adagp describe their procedures and intentions. Auctioneers and publishers express their fears for what this will mean for their professions.

May

We routinely read all the major newspapers internationally. A passionate diatribe by Günther Grass in Die Zeit strikes us as deserving a wider readership. The German army has had the ignorance and insensitivity to use Picasso’s “Guernica” as a recruiting poster. Grass writes: “The fact that not an enemy but his screaming victims were turned into a picture is ignored. Mendacious concealment brushes aside the fact that that it was German pilots, planes, bombs and machine-guns that destroyed Guernica and murdered 1,654 of its citizens....At most, the ministry of defence will be given a reprimand, much as one might reprimand the Bayer works at Leverkusen if its publicity department conceived the idea of advertising some pain-killer with a perfectly printed reproduction of the Matthias Grünewald Altarpiece...I claim an unwritten right, the human right to a past”.

o We pick the winner in the contest for the directorship of the British Museum, Robert Anderson

June

We publish FBI/Garda operations linking Noraid and the international trade in Irish art treasures, with the sting set up by Assistant Keeper Eamonn Kelly of the National Museum of Ireland and Robert O’ Neill, director of the Burns Library, Boston

July-September

The complete official list of German national treasures which may not leave the country is in this issue—all 276 of them. Art lovers and professionals in Germany, who had never seen the list before, are shocked to discover how short and unrepresentative it is.

o Equally shocked are the editors of the British quality newspapers who all paid great lip service to the arts in their statements to us—but when we measured the column inches, we discovered that art, architecture and the heritage averaged a mere 1% of newsworthiness.

October

War again. We are the first to report the Serbian attacks on historic buildings in Croatia, among them, the palace of Eltz in Vukovar, a town which was to be totally destroyed later on. This crime, which attracted public attention only when Dubrovnik began to be shelled in November, passed without public comment from the top museum directors, with the exception of Neil MacGregor of the National Gallery, London. In December we publish an appeal to Laclotte of the Louvre, Carter Brown of the National Gallery, Washington, de Montebello of the Metropolitan, Dube of Berlin, Wilson of the British Museum and Garin of the Prado to speak out. Silence.

November

The first public statement by a senior Soviet official on war booty restitution: the head of the Department of Fine Arts, Genrikh Popov raises the matter which has remained ever since the justification for not sticking to Gorbachev’s agreement: “Where are the treasures removed from the USSR?”, he asks.

December

A study conducted by us of the German museum scene shows that in the previous fifteen years, they have built, refurbished or extended ninety-five museums and spent DM3.755 billion.

1992

January

The first account in English of a massive fraud between Besançon, Paris, London and New York involving fake Diego Giacomettis. A phone tap on a gym suspected of supplying anabolic steroids uncovers the foundry in Port sur Saône.

February

A hitherto unpublished BBC interview by George Heard Hamilton with Duchamp in 1959. On ready-mades, he says: “As we know, art means to make, hand-make. It’s a hand-made product of man, and there, instead of making it, I take it ready-made. So it‘s a form of denying the possibility of defining art.”

March

We appeal to Lord Cholmondeley not to send Holbein’s “Lady with Squirrel” to auction but to negotiate with the museums: “Holbein, like Handel, is an honorary Englishman”. The warning that an auction may fail plays its part in the subsequent private treaty sale to the National Gallery.

April

To relieve the general bafflement—including our own— when faced with European institutions, and because the closer union of 1993 was approaching, we put together a four-page idiot’s guide to all aspects of European government and officialdom which affect culture: the five Directorate-Generals, the personalities, VAT problems, grants available, the decision-making hierarchy, how to lobby, and a glossary of Euro-terminology.

May

“France has her Julius II—so where is her Michelangelo?”: that is the title of Michael Ignatieff’s review of Marc Fumaroli’s important book, L’etat culturel: essai sur une religion moderne which argues that Lang and Mitterrand have, with all the money spent on culture in France, only succeeded in transforming Paris from a centre of artistic life into a cultural Disneyland.

June

Bogdan Bogdanovich, Serbian ex-mayor of Belgrade and architect of war memorial parks, bitterly—and bravely— denounces Milosevich, the Serbian premier, for the insane war-mongering hold he has on national consciousness and on the intelligentsia. He says revealingly, “The people of the Balkans have become addicted to guns in the same way that we have drug addicts in other parts of the world. There is an erotic attitude to weapons...In Belgrade slang, an attractive woman is called a gun. A nation that equates women with guns is a nation that is addicted to them...this is true not only of Serbs, Croats, Albanians or Moslems but of all the Balkan peoples.”

o Francis Bacon died in late April. We publish some of his last thoughts, confided to Jean Clair (director of the 1995 Biennale, see p.8).

October

Savely Yamshikov, a prominent figure in the Russian art establishement gives us his interview with George Costakis, collector of the Avant-garde, in which he describes how he finally got permission from Andropov, then head of the KGB, to export part of his collection from the Soviet Union.

December

We map out (literally) the museums built, financed or lent to by German chocolate millionare Peter Ludwig—all nineteen of them. His power has grown yet more since then, but we remain the only English-language publication to take note of his activities.

1993

January

We publish the discovery of 430 unknown drawings by Modigliani. These go on to be exhibited all around the world, from the Palazzo Grassi in Venice to the Royal Academy, to France to Japan.

March

The story of the rediscovery of Caravaggio’s “Christ taken into captivity” on the stairs of an Irish religious college comes out first in The Art Newspaper.

o Lord Rothschild gives us an almost unique interview, in which he comments on the government’s attititude to museums and Britain’s national heritage.

June

Fake drawings by Joseph Beuys are exhibited in an officially sponsored exhibition in Milan. We publish the row about them and the Guggenheim Museum, which had some of these drawings on approval, subsequently returns them.

October

A bitter quarrel breaks out in Spain between the figurative artist Antonio López, whose retrospective at the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia had just had 325,000 visitors, and Antonio Tàpies, grand old man of the Spanish avant-garde. The thrust and counter-thrust is given here: “A painter for the nouveaux-riches...”; “A dangerous and truculent dogmatist...” etc, etc.

November

An eye-witness account of life among the intelligentsia of Sarajevo under siege, with an account of Professor Enver Imamovich’s incredibly courageous rescue from destruction or looting of the Sarajevo Haggadah, an early and precious Jewish text.

o Another eye-witness describes the dying of the 800-year-old German towns in Siebenbürgen, Romania, with the abandonment of medieval churches and their contents, in consequence of the Federal Republic’s opening of its doors to everyone in Central Europe of German descent.

December

Beware Ca’ Dario! After the suicide of Raul Gardini, ex-chairman of Montedison, and owner of this ravishing palazzo on the Grand Canal, we count up how many of it occupants have come to a violent end—at least eight, of whom four this century.

1994

January

We discover that in the1960s, senior figures in the British Foreign Office recommended the return of the Elgin Marbles to the Greeks. “I do not think the museum authorities’ letter need have been quite so rude”, said a hurt FO mandarin after the predictable reaction by the British Museum.

February

The first photographs of the ruins of Kabul National Museum, destroyed after the withdrawal of the Russians by rival factions of the mujaheddin: ransacked coin drawers, museum ceramics shattered among the rubble. We report also that items from this collection are being offered on the British market.

March

Symptoms of social change: with the title “Poverty more deserving than art”, we record that the Lannan Foundation in Los Angeles has decided to stop spending $2-3 million a year on art and will redirect the funds towards the poor and disadvantaged (see p.1). Time still has to tell whether in this, as in so many aspects of life, the trend started on the West Coast of the US will catch on everywhere else.

April

It is open season for conservators, with sensationalist reports in the dailies of major works of art “ruined” by conservation. We employ an independent, academic conservator to look into the accusations in detail (the Sistine Chapel, Bramantino’s “Adoration of the Kings”, the Brancacci Chapel in Florence, Velasquez’s “Rokeby Venus”, Michelangelo’s “Entombment of Christ”). The answer is reassuring, but also explains many popular misconceptions.

May

The French Minister of Culture, Jacques Toubon, gives a frank interview to our sister paper Le Journal des Arts, published also in The Art Newspaper, in which he reveals that he is generally in favour of the big auction houses, Sotheby’s and Christie’s, being able to operate normally in France but admits that there is a difference of opinion over this with the Ministry of Justice which is responsible for the commissaires-priseurs.

June

We break the news that the Hammer Leonardo Codex will be coming on the market in the autumn.

July-September

We break the news that a large part of the Luton Hoo collection will be sold because of financial problems.

October

Riccardo Elia, Professor of Archaeology at Boston University, argues that, “The world cannot afford many more collectors with a passion for antiquities” and that the exhibiting by museums of private collections of antiquities merely encourages the looting of archaeological sites. This article provokes strong reactions in the art world.

November

Sir Anthony Blunt was not just an eminent art historian and a spy; he also performed the confidential service for George VI of bringing the Hanoverian crown and jewels out of war-torn Germany to be kept in safety at Windsor Castle. The story is told by us for the first time.

December

Bill Gates, buyer of the Hammer Codex (see above) and billionaire creator of Microsoft, talks at length about what he thinks the computer world can do for art, publishing, research and education.

1995

January

Our league table of visitor-numbers to the major 1994 exhbitions world-wide throws up some surprises (205,000 in three months to “Goya: truth and fantasy” at the Art Institute of Chicago, a very high figure) and some predictables (500,000 in three and a half months to the Barnes Collection pictures at the Art Gallery of Ontario). Impressionists are still the most popular, rivalled only by Picasso.

February

London’s museums have grown ad hoc and are full of inconsistencies and duplication, if not of collections, at least of effort. We interview leading figures such as Nick Serota, Ernst Gombrich, David Sylvester and Neil MacGregor on whether the museums should be rationalised, on whether they agree with deaccessioning, on whether London needs any new museums, or, indeed, should close some.

March

To coincide with former President Mitterrand’s inauguration of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, we publish a survey of all France’s Grands Projets, on which $5.853 billion have been spent since the early Eighties. The head of the British Arts Council, Lord Gowrie, talks about the difference between the British and the French approaches to culture.

April

The French presidential candidates tell the Journal des Arts what their cultural policies would be. All agree that spending on culture should be 1% of the budget.

May

Drawings by Dürer, many now in top museums, were returned by the US to Prince George Lubomirski after the war. He retired to the Riviera on the proceeds of their sale. Did he have the right to sell, as his ancestor had given them to the museum in Lviv? We are the first to publish this story, an exercise in the complexities of the issue of war booty.

June

Velazquez’s “Innocent X”, Botticelli’s “Madonna with a pomegranate”, Giorgione’s “Three philosophers” and “The man with a golden helm”, then attributed to Rembrandt: these are a few of the works Stalin wanted for a super-museum which would have outdone even Hitler’s planned Führermuseum in Linz. We preview the publication of Konstantin Akinsha and Grigorii Koslov’s researches into Soviet war booty.

o It’s always said that there are no British collectors. Well, we have discovered a major one. Graham Kirkham if a Yorkshire furniture tycoon who is a major player in the old art and antiques market. He paid £3.5 million for the Royal Holloway College Gainsborough, for example.

Appeared in The Art Newspaper, 50 July 1995