Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Alexander Calder makes the Journal de Montreal


It is rare when our local tabloid covers things visual, and rarer still that it is available on line, but today Le Journal hit the motherlode. They inform everybody that there is an "abandoned piece of art" here in Montreal, which someone thinks is worth $50 million. (I gotta hand it to 'em, it does make for a great headline.) Basically the news in a nutshell; Alexander Calder's L'Homme was made and installed for Expo 67. Unlike most stuff from that era it hasn't been burned, razed, or transformed into a money making machine. It has merely been forgotten. Because of the upcoming World Aquatic Championships, everybody at city hall is in a tizzy about making the city look its best. So Francine Sénécal conveniently remembered the sculpture, and then pointed out to people with the checkbook's that the graffiti on it was unsightly (if it's been tagged, who exactly are the people with the lousy memories? Certainly not the youth of this fair city).

Ms. Sénécal pointed out that the Calder sculpture that had been destroyed when the World Trade Center came crashing down had netted the owners $20 million from the insurance companies. Maybe because of this they decided to pitch in $116,000 of our tax dollars to get rid of the graffiti on it. I would imagine that the bulk of the money is going to this guy (nice work if you can get it, eh?). What I find most interesting is the arguments that Ms. Sénécal, used to convince the dudes with the fancy signatures to cough up the cash.

1. She dug up some old catalogues from Sotheby's and Christie's in New York (why they didn't think to look in London, Paris or elsewhere, I don't know).
2. L'Homme is the biggest unpainted Calder sculpture in the world (Instead of this being a feature, maybe it's a fault?).
3. The value of Calder's work continues to increase since 1998 (duh! He's dead).
4. Calder created it when he was at the top of his career (chicken or egg?).
5. Great sculptures of Calder are rare; and few cities have any: Chicago, Paris, Cologne, Berlin, Spoletto and Mexico City. (Ummm, I'd dispute the first point, and if your list of cities includes Cologne and Spoletto, I'm not sure what the point is.)
6. None of the large Canadian museums has a work of art of such a great value (Can you say "wrong?" Or if they are referring to solely expensive Calders, then how does this factor in to calculating the value of Montreal's?).

While I'm not against them restoring it to its original glory. I don't like the method or means with which the arguments were made to get the cash to do it. And given Montreal's past history of caring for public art, I can only guess that there are some shady back room deals being made. Why else would the Journal explicitly ask "are you going to move the sculpture?" And why else would Ms. Sénécal qualify her answer by saying "we are in the process of evaluating Jean Drapeau park, and we would prefer to bring people to the park." C'mon! The latest and greatest trend is to bring the fancy ass sculptures to where the money is! How much would you like to bet, that whatever company gives the most money to the World Aquatic Championships, gets to stick the Calder in their lobby, or better still in the backyard of the country house of their CEO!

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