The museums may all be shut down and the street artists quarantined, but in no way does that mean that the art world had gone dormant. They’re going about their business, many responding to the global COVID crisis, others just doing their thing. The news is shocking, scintillating and sometimes strange.
A Van Gogh got stolen
What better time to flourish in the glamourous universe of art theft, than when the world has shut down its museums and is looking the other way. Except, there was nothing glamourous about this particular theft.
Far from the Tom Cruise-Mission Impossible scene to avoid the lasers, thieves allegedly smashed through the front door of the Singer Laren museum in the Netherlands at 3.15 am on a Sunday morning (29 March), triggered the burglar alarm, and walked away with Van Gogh’s ‘Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring’, worth a cool £5m.
The police arrived and found no thieve and no Van Gogh painting, which was on loan from the Groninger Museum, also in the Netherlands.“This is exactly what you don’t want as a museum that has a painting on loan,” said Jan Rudolph de Lorm, the museum’s director, looking incredibly pissed off on a Youtube press conference after the theft was confirmed. He also said that he was “incredibly pissed off”. Interestingly, though, the painting was stolen on the post-impressionist painter’s 167th birthday.
Banksy got a rat problem
What do street artists do when the street is no longer available to them? Work from home, like the rest of us mortals?
Solitude seems to be working for Banksy, the world’s most unknown street artist. On April 15, several days into the lockdown, he shared a picture of his latest masterpiece – a series of rats causing mayhem in his bathroom.
The rats, a repeating trope for the elusive artists, are seen swinging on the towel ring, taking a leak on the toilet seat and wheeling out TP to the ground, where another rat is coming out of his hole. The guy reflected on the bathroom mirror is all of us – prisoners in our homes, counting the days under lockdown (in sets of four, because that’s how rats count), lest we lose track.
You could have owned a piece of Damien Hirst too
The art collective MSCHF has been up to some of their regular brand of mischief. Back in April, they bought a $30,000 Damien Hirst spot print, cut it up into 88 little squares, and sold them on their site for $480 apiece. We’ll leave you to do the math.
The leftover stencil of the spots, which they’re calling ‘88 Holes’, is up for auction on severedspots.com. At the time of writing this piece, with 18 hours left, the bid was at $238,750
Why would they do it? The ‘Severed Spots Manifesto’ on their website explains.
The idea is to disrupt the high throne on which fine art sits. It’s long been used as a vehicle for the affluent to stow away their wealth through secret ownerships, disproportionate value appraisals, and, more recently, fractional ownership.
“From one owner to many - a distinction immaterial as long as the piece is destined for a storage locker in Gibraltar,” reads the collective’s manifesto.
(Yes, the Brooklyn-based collective has a reputation of making us ponder and question the ways of the world like that. And it’s not just art. They’ve tackled our media consumption and brand obsessions too in the past.)
The manifesto also talks about the big M in art – merchandising, “the key to runaway artworld success”. “Maybe we don’t need more zombie wall works, we just need to distribute the ones we’ve got!” Indeed.
Pro tip: Check out the MSCHF app if you want to be in the know when they announce their next secret drop. You never know what they’ll offer up next!
Damien Hirst puts a spin on Snapchat
Speaking of Damien Hirst, the master of spin has been keeping himself busy during the lockdown.
First, he made his own version of the rainbow, titled ‘Butterfly Rainbow’ (which can be downloaded for free and printed), as drawings of rainbows started springing up on windows across the UK, in a show of support for the NHS (National Health Service), the UK’s public healthcare provider. “I wanted to do something to pay tribute to the wonderful work NHS staff are doing in hospitals around the country. The rainbow is a sign of hope and I think it is brilliant that parents and children are creating their own version and putting them up in the windows of their homes,” he says in a statement on his website.
Then he teamed up with Snapchat and Partners in Health, a non-profit healthcare organisation, to bring us a filter that allows users to make their own versions of his famous ‘Spin Paintings’ series from back in the ’90s. Might I say, yes, yes, yes!
New York, the city, shows its support
All that ad space in Times Square, and nothing to show for it during a lockdown? Not quite. While brands were laying low on their outdoor advertisements, artists stepped up.
Digital PSA messages of positivity, solidarity, gratitude, best practices and awareness by 22 prominent artists are being displayed on 1,800 billboards across the city and NYC’s five boroughs, starting 17 April.
The artists include Milton Glaser (the guy who designed the ‘I heart NY’ logo), Cuban American illustrator and children’s book author, Edel Rodriguez, who is best known for his satirical Trump creations; Pentagram partners, Emily Oberman and Paula Scher; Wes Anderson collaborator, Jessica Hische; Belgian illustrator, Klaas Verplancke; artist and illustrator, Maria Kalman; and Matt Dorfman, who art directs the New York Times Book Review.
The public art project is a collaboration between Print magazine, Poster House, Times Square Arts and For Freedoms and all that digital real estate has been donated by its respective owners.
Leave it to the commercial capital of the world to shine an LED ray of hope.