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With so many postings on the demise of the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University (here and on Slow Painting) I have been thinking a lot about art ownership and how a work can take on a life of its own. In her scathing jeremaid about the Brandeis decision, Roberta Smith of the New York Times made the following comment:

The greater the art, the greater number of people “own” it. The greater its power, the more it expands our lives. In a just and moral society, art is crucial to our understanding of freedom, difference and individual agency.

So how fitting to watch the documentary about the pillage of art during World War II, The Rape of Europa. I had not fully comprehended the magnitude and scope of the Nazi art acquisition effort. Hundreds of thousands of works of art were moved by train and truck from France, Belgium, Poland and Italy to bunkers in the Alps, deep into salt mines, and to the Schloss Neuschwanstein castle cum art warehouse in Bavaria. While many were returned, the losses are staggering. And the film brings this too large to imagine tale to a human scale by highlighting the heroics of a few individuals who dedicated themselves to salvaging what could be salvaged. For anyone who is interested in the Western art canon, this is a fascinating and disturbing film.

Thank you to my early warning system for all things cinema, Teresa, for raving about this film when she saw it at a film festival in 2007. Now available on DVD, it is an easy Netflix rental.

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At Schloss Neuschwanstein in southern Bavaria, Captain James Rorimer supervises the safeguarding of art stolen from French Jews and stored during the war at the castle (April-May, 1945).

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Here’s a ray of hope on the Spiral Jetty preservation front. This article by Patty Henetz appeared on February 21 in The Salt Lake Tribune (and presents a much more hopeful view than a similar piece that ran in the other Salt Lake paper, The Deseret News.)

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Artists outraged at the possibility of oil drilling near the Spiral Jetty have inundated state agencies with e-mail protests. Now they have a new advocate: the Utah Department of Community and Culture.

The department is working closely with the Department of Natural Resources, which is now reviewing an application from a Canadian company to set up drilling barges and oil rigs in the lake’s Little Valley Harbor, five miles southwest of Rozel Point and the Spiral Jetty.

“This is very important,” said Palmer DePaulis, Community and Culture executive director and a former mayor of Salt Lake City. “We want to represent the [art community’s] interests so everyone’s voice can be heard.”

State agencies have received more than 3,500 letters and e-mails from artists and conservationists around the world who thought the threat to Robert Smithson’s massive earthworks piece was out of harm’s way under a year-old settlement.

In May 2006, conservation groups including Western Resource Advocates, the Sierra Club’s Utah chapter, Friends of Great Salt Lake and Great Salt Lake Audubon reached a settlement with the state that pulled back oil and gas leases in the northwest arm of the lake. The agreement covered 116,000 acres, but left out 55,000 acres.

But it turns out that Pearl Montana Exploration and Production LTD of Calgary, Alberta, holds three 2003 leases on the exempt acres. On Jan. 11, the company submitted to Oil, Gas and Mining an application to drill two wells from barges anchored in the lake.

Natural Resources executive director Mike Styler said today that review of the drilling application would include examining the company’s plans for spill control, blowout prevention and other safeguards.

DePaulis said his agency got involved because thousands of the letters of opposition were coming to the state museums and art division. The move to cooperate with DNR was a mutual effort between the two agencies, he said.

Smithson’s 1,500-foot-long basalt and soil earthworks sculpture that coils in the Great Salt Lake is an artwork of global significance. Drilling in the area occurred before and after Smithson finished his work in 1970.

The state must honor mineral rights. But leases can be canceled if the operator violates the lease terms, or if the state decides there is “imminent significant irreversible threat to the public trust” guaranteed in the Utah Constitution.

I’ll keep you posted.

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Satellite view of the Spiral Jetty

For those following the effort to preserve the Spiral Jetty, here is the latest from Tyler Green’s blog, Modern Art Notes:

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is out with a statement on the Spiral Jetty situation. From NTHP prez Richard Moe: “The National Trust for Historic Preservation believes that Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty on the Great Salt Lake is a significant cultural site from the recent past, merging art, the environment, and the landscape. We are deeply concerned about the potential harm that energy development could bring to the Spiral Jetty.”

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The Spiral Jetty is in need of your help. Here’s what’s happening by way of Tyler Green’s excellent blog, Modern Art Notes:

Nancy Holt, Robert Smithson’s widow, recently sent an email out detailing specific threats to Smithson’s masterpiece, Spiral Jetty.

Yesterday I received an urgent email from Lynn DeFreitas, Director of Friends of the Great Salt Lake, telling me of plans for drilling oil in the Salt Lake near Spiral Jetty…I have been told by Lynn that the oil wells will not be above the water, but that means some kind of industrial complex of pipes and pumps beneath the water and on the shore. The operation would require roads for oil tank trucks, cranes, pumps etc. which produce noise and will severely alter the wild, natural place.

If you want to send a letter of protest to save the beautiful, natural Utah environment around the Spiral Jetty from oil drilling, the emails or calls of protest go to Jonathan Jemming 801-537-9023 jjemming@utah.gov. Please refer to Application # 8853. Every letter makes a big difference, they do take a lot of notice and know that publicity may follow. Since the Spiral Jetty has global significance, emails from foreign countries would be of special value.

They try to slip these drilling contracts under the radar, that’s why we found out so late, not through notification, but from a watchdog lawyer at the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the group that alerted me to the land leasing for oil and gas near Sun Tunnels last May.

The comment period has been extended to February 13th. According to Green’s blog today, the State of Utah has received over 1000 comments. The acting director of the Salt Lake City Art Center Leslie Peterson said, “I think they were impressed to be taking calls from Europe and Japan about an artwork in Utah.”

Please write or call. If you have been to the site, you understand. If you haven’t, trust me that it deserves preservation.