At Christo’s June 25 meeting in Salida, Colorado, he spent a lot of time explaining his Over the River project for the Arkansas river which runs through Salida. A woman asked him if he would consider selling the drapery fabric and donating the money to Salida’s art venues. He said no. He never sells anything. He gives away the fabric in small pieces and recycles the metal support structures but doesn’t so much as sell t-shirts. He gives them away. Light blue with a “I support Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s Over the River.” He did sign the front.
One of the nice things about Christo’s art is that it can’t be stolen. On second thought, in a way it can. The actual art work can’t, but ideas aren’t protected by copyright. Witness the AT&T television commercial featuring the draping of Las Vegas in orangish colored cloth like Christo used in The Gates of Central Park. There is a tiny print disclaimer at the bottom of the commercial stating that Christo had nothing to do with it. If it didn’t remind us of Christo, why the disclaimer?
Robert Wittman in Priceless tells us that art theft is the fourth big money crime after drugs, money laundering, and illegal arms sales. By all accounts it is a down and dirty business whether the criminal is a museum employee like the insignificant guy who stole the Mona Lisa in 1911 (see R.A. Scotti’s Vanished Smile) or a high class guy like Lawrence Salander whose “convoluted and fraudulent business dealings” are reported in the summer issue of ARTnews.
When the Mona Lisa was stolen in 1911, the whole world cared and her face became the most recognized face in the world. She’s also not protected by copyright.
The challenge in fiction is to make the reader care about art theft or forged art. Peter Carey does it well in Theft. Michael Gruber weaves a sympathetic tale of a forger in The Forgery of Venus. Non-fiction sets up the facts for us as in Wittman’s Priceless. Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo examine the strange world of a real con and a forger in Provenance. And we wonder at the world in which art commands such money and such crime.
In Artists&Thieves I tried to look at what makes art valuable. The story evolved into a tale of a family treasure which needed to be returned to its ancient place of honor.
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