Today's Featured Articles. January-February, 2008

The Dollar Sank
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The dollar sank to new lows in Europe February 27 following a series of dour reports on the U.S. economy & expectations that the Federal Reserve'll continue slashing interest rates. The 15-nation currency hit a series of highs, culminating at $1.5087 before falling back slightly to $1.5059 in afternoon trading, from the $1.4967 it bought in late trading in NY on February 26. In other trading, the British pound soared to $1.9971 before falling back to $1.9897, up from $1.9862 late Tuesday, while the dollar fell to 106.07 Japanese yen from 107.26 yen. With the rising pound, which is nearing $2 again, the muscular euro will not be kind to Americans visiting Europe. They'll have to pay more for a hotel room in Rome, for entrance to the Louvre in Paris, for chocolates in Belgium... The stronger euro makes shopping trips to the U.S. more appealing to Europeans. A higher euro makes goods from the euro-zone more expensive for customers abroad. And cuts into manufacturers' profits if they try to keep the American dollar price of products constant. In Paris, France's budget minister Eric Woerth called the euro "a handicap for our exports." The strong euro isn't expected to have any lasting effect on Germany's economy. Volker Treier said that they can't yet speak of a threshold of pain for German exporters. Howard Archer, the chief UK and European economist for Global Insight, said that the euro's strength isn't likely to weaken anytime soon, given that any worsening in U.S. interest-rate differentials dilutes a key support for the dollar. Archer said that growth prospects in the USA, coupled with its deficit, will exert a significant downward influence in the long term & cause some countries to shift more of their reserves from $ to other currencies, including the euro. He added that in addition, there is the very real possibility that several countries could switch a proportion of their foreign currency reserves out of U.S. dollars over time. Gary Thomson, an analyst with CMC Markets in London, said that markets'll be looking for clues from Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke about more rate cuts in the USA when he addresses lawmakers Wednesday. Investors shrugged off a 1 percent rise in the producer price index this week. The data could effect rate decisions coming out of the Fed. Thompson said, referring to a string of dissapointing economic reports out of the USA on Tuesday that inflation (or perhaps more to the point stagflation ) remains a concern for the Fed as seen with yesterday's PPI data and as a result now that the most significant of psychological levels since parity has gone, we could see further downside pressures emerging for the greenback. The NY-based Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index fell to 75 in February from 87.3 in January Its lowest level since February 2003. Inflation number that was worse than expected, Standard & Poor's reported that USA home prices fell 8.9 percent in the last 3 months of 2007 from a year earlier, its sharpest drop ever. Those reports, along with remarks by Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Donald Kohn that appeared to diminish inflationary concerns & focused instead on greater near-term risk to growth were seen as a clue that more rate cuts may be forthcoming...

ISLAMIC ART AT THE MUSEE DU CINQUANTENAIRE

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This room (54 x 14 x 6 m) is an extension of the temporary exhibition entitled «Art of Islam in the Belgian collections». Exhibit organized for the Cinquantenaire from 5 December 2003 to 25 April 2004, that had allowed the Royal Museums of Art & History to show their riches in this field. A survey carried out among the public & the guides of the educational and cultural services contributed to define precisely the concept of the room. In a splendid venue, designed by architects Jan Goots & Anne Pire, it hosts 340 of the 1200 objects from the collection. Not to mention the thousands of shards from Fustat & the nearly 200 weapons momentarily stored at the Musée de l'Armée...
Richness in textiles, carefully selected & restored for this event, cover a wide territory, from Southern Spain up to Northern India. The most famous ensemble is the one of the textiles, made up for the greater part from the donation of Isabella Errera (1869-1929). It includes the Egyptian textiles from the beginning of the Islamic period, a linen qamis dated between 1150 and 1230.
Also Andaluzan and Sicilian silks; Turk silk weaved cloths with a fragment from the çatma, probably the most ancient Turkish velour in the world; the Iranian textiles and those from central Asia, with its lampas that look like miniatures.

The collection includes ceramics that cover the period from the IXth to the XIXth centuries. It is Sassanian ceramics, glossy ceramics from Kashan, tiles from Iznik as well as a pair of unique Armenian pieces from Kütaya. In the collection of ancient glass an enameled glass tumbler from the end of the Ayubbide period or from the beginning of that of the Mameluks. Metal objects, the art of stonework, miniatures and books are also represented. Decorative wood fragments from a small mosque in North-Western Pakistan, as well as three columns from the same region, acquired by the Royal Museums of Art and History between 1992 and 1996, are set up in the room to form an ensemble that will be one of the highlights of the presentation. This is a diversified but ill-assorted collection, given the fact at it was made a little late. That certain elements are lacking: Indonesia, the largest Islamic country in the world, is not represented. Furthermore, the pieces assembled were made for a small sector of the population: the sovereigns, the merchants or the urban bourgeoisie. While it offers a rich insight, the collection does not pretend to represent Islam in its totality. An extension of the former room of the Near-East, to which it is linked by the architrave of Zebed (a masterpiece that bears the oldest Arab inscription in the world), the room is organized according to 2 criteria. On the lower floor, the exhibition is carried out by region & by period, in s7 different cells. On the mezzanine, themes are presented alternately. This 1st exhibition, entirely made up pieces from the collection, studies life in the desert, in a village & in a town. Videos, interactive stations & a game for children add a different, additional lighting to the objects shown.

Art and Crime

Authorities appealed Monday, February 10, for any witnesses to help reconstruct the robbers' getaway from the E.G. Buehrle Collection, a private museum of Impressionist works whose founder had his own troubled history with stolen art.
It is the largest art robbery in Switzerland's history and one of the biggest ever in Europe. It is an entirely new dimention in criminal culture.
The three robbers entered the museum 30 minutes before its scheduled close Sunday. While one trained a pistol on museum personnel ordered to lie on the floor, the two others collected 4 paintings from the exhibition hall.
The men, one of whom spoke German with a Slavic accent, loaded the paintings into a white vehicle parked out front.
A reward of $90,000 was offered for information leading to the recovery of the paintings — Claude Monet's "Poppy field at Vetheuil," Edgar Degas' "Ludovic Lepic and his Daughter," Vincent van Gogh's "Blooming Chestnut Branches" & Paul Cezanne's "Boy in the Red Waistcoat."
The FBI estimates the stolen art market at $6 billion annually. Interpol has about 30,000 stolen works listed in its database. But while only a fraction of stolen art is ever found, such thefts are rare because of intense police investigations and the difficulty of selling the works.
Michaela Derra of Ketterer Kunst GmbH, a Munich, Germany-based purveyor of modern and contemporary art said that it's extremely hard, if not impossible, to sell these works. Maybe they think they can blackmail the insurance (companies) and get money for the paintings in return. But this is all speculation.
Police said the museum had not received any such demand.
Steve Thomas, head of art law at Irell & Manella LLP's LA office, said it was unlikely the robbery was commissioned by a private collector looking to stash art in a secret location.
He thought the motive most likely would be an insurance ransom, a reward or leverage for someone who could be facing prosecution for even bigger crimes.
He sad that as values have skyrocketed, art has become more of a target, and we are seeing more and more major art thefts around the world.
But funding for art museums has not kept pace, Thomas said. Even with the best of museums, with the best of security, with guards standing there, people still manage to get away with the art.
Buehrle, a German-born industrialist who provided arms to the 3rd Reich during WW II, amassed one of Europe's greatest private collections in the aftermath of the war.
13 of the art works he owned at war's end were included on British specialist Douglas Cooper's looted art list, which was used to recover pieces stolen from Jews by the Nazis.
A 5-year, Swiss government study released in 2001 said Buehrle had acquired an unknown amount of "flight art," works smuggled out of Axis-controlled areas by Jews & sold at rock-bottom prices to avoid confiscation by the Nazis.
The study into Switzerland's wartime cooperation with the Nazis said that they couldn't examine the flight art acquisitions of Emil G. Buehrle systematically. But it added taht in general, there was more flight art available than looted art. This was reflected in collections such as Buehrle's.
Daniel Heller, author of "Between Company, Politics and Survival: Emil G. Buehrle and the Machine Tool Factory Oerlikon, Buehrle & Co. 1924-1945," said that Buehrle repurchased 77 paintings after the war from a Jewish dealer. After the Swiss high court ruled the works had been stolen. Heller said that the museum's catalog refers to those pieces as acquired in 1951 from a private French collection. The current collection is housed in a villa adjoining Buehrle's former home where he stored art in 1956, before his death. Museum director Lukas Gloor said that they happey that no employees or visitors were hurt. The robbers stole 4 of the collection's most important paintings. They appeared to have taken the 1st four they came to, leaving even more valuable paintings hanging nearby. The museum also owns Auguste Renoir's "Little Irene" & Edgar Degas' "Little Dancer." The sheer weight of the paintings probably made it impossible for the robbers to take more. Three other versions of the stolen Cezanne painting exist in the National Gallery in Washington, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. Gloor estimated its value alone at $90 million. The stolen van Gogh has special value because it was painted in the last six weeks of the artist's life. Switzerland boasts a large number of outstanding art collections, some of which have been hit by thefts and robberies over the years. Last week, Swiss police reported two Pablo Picasso paintings were stolen from an exhibition near Zurich. The two oil paintings -"Tete de cheval" ("Head of horse") & Verre et pichet ("Glass and pitcher") — had been on loan from the Sprengel Museum in Hannover, Germany. Police were pursuing the possibility the Picasso theft was connected with the Buehrle robbery. In a robbery in the late 1980s, 3 armed men made off with 21 Renaissance paintings worth hundreds of millions of dollars from a Zurich art gallery. The case was made public in 1989. Then FBI agents in New York arrested 2 Belgians & recovered stolen paintings. In 1994, 7 Picasso paintings worth an estimated $44 million were stolen from a Zurich gallery. They were recovered in 2000. A Swiss man & two Italians were jailed for the theft. The stolen paintings included Picasso's "Seated Woman," & "Christ of Montmartre," which had been stolen from the gallery in 1991 once before.

January, 2008

'Jerry Springer'

The great American musical of the early 21st century is an opera and it born in Britain. A convincing case for the rights to that title was made by the celestial "Jerry Springer: The Opera,” the notorious show from London about the transcendent within tabloid television, when it opened Tuesday night in a gorgeously sung concert version at Carnegie Hall for a sinfully short run of 2 performances. This remarkable work, which features a spectacularly inventive score by Richard Thomas, with a book and lyrics by Mr. Thomas and Stewart Lee, uncovers something grand within the small, squalid lives it portrays. Those who attended “Jerry Springer” (which stars an affectingly disaffected Harvey Keitel in the non-singing title role) expecting to snigger & hoot were not disappointed. There’s a guaranteed off-the-charts camp quotient in a show that sets the televised confessions of pole-dancing housewives, men with diaper fixations to music that often leans more toward Bach than Broadway. “Jerry Springer” is a work that features numbers with mock-liturgical titles like “Jerry Eleison.” The demonstrators who assembled outside the theater on Tuesday to protest a show that “blasphemes our Lord” would be disarmed if they ever got to see “Jerry Springer.” They would find all the ammunition they need to continue their vigil in the show’s otherworldly 2nd act. But from the moment the chorus files on, caroling in sweet harmony and sour language about the television host who fills their lives with wonder and excitement, you intuit that there’s much more than easy satire afoot. If there weren’t, the basic joke of combining sacred music and profane content would endure for only the length of a cabaret comedy. That “Jerry Springer,” directed here by Jason Moore, only occasionally loses traction during its two-and-a-half-hour length is because it hears genuine beauty.

Germany

Some German academics believe they have solved a mystery behind the identity of the "Mona Lisa" by Leonardo da Vinci's. Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a Florentine merchant, Francesco del Giocondo, has long been seen as the model for this portrait. Art historians have often wondered whether the smiling woman may actually have been da Vinci's relative or lover, or the artist himself. Experts at the Heidelberg University library say dated notes scribbled in the margins of a book by its owner in 1503 confirm that Lisa del Giocondo was the model for this portraits. An expert said that all doubts about the identity of the Mona Lisa have been eliminated by a discovery by Armin Schlechter. However, until then, only "scant evidence" from 16th-century documents had been available. This left lots of room for interpretation. There were many different identities put forward. Art experts say the Heidelberg discovery is a breakthrough, the earliest mention linking the merchant's wife to the portrait. Frank Zoellner told that there is no reason for any lingering doubts that this is another woman. The woman was first linked to the painting in around 1550 by Italian official Giorgio Vasari. However, there had been doubts about Vasari's reliability & had made the comments decades after the portrait had been painted. The Heidelberg notes were discovered two years ago in the library by Schlechter.Although the findings had been printed in the library's public catalogue, they had not been widely publicized & had received little attention until a German broadcaster decided to do some recording.The painting is also known as "La Gioconda" meaning the happy or joyful woman in Italian, a title which also suggests the woman's married name.

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