Drinks With Dead People

Raise a glass to history.

Tag: Cultural Property

Maria Altmann (& Liz Taylor, too)

Have a drink with: Maria Altmann and Elizabeth Taylor
Art lovers, ladies of style, legal pit-fighters.

Ask them about: goddamn Nazis.

Maria Altmann (2)

Behavioral advertising is like unexpectedly running into an ex: it seems to know an awful lot about you in ways you forgot you made possible, but for the most part just makes you feel awkward and vaguely regretful.

Thank Facebook for this epiphany, after it pushed the trailer for Helen Mirren’s latest movie on me at least seventeen times in a twenty-four hour period.  I’d be pissed at Zuckerberg and crew, too, except that for once technology read me like a cheap novel.  (You can lay off with the juice cleanses, though, Mark.)

“Woman in Gold” is the made-for-cinema story of Maria Altmann, her aunt Adele, and one of the most famous paintings of the 20th century.  If you’re into history, law, art and Nazis (and who isn’t?), it’s a kicker.

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Akhenaten

Have a drink with: Akhenaten
Pharaoh, gender-bender, sun-worshiper, innovator

Ask him about: Starting your own religion in five easy steps

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It’s amazing that so much interest persists in the ancient Egyptian ruler Akhenaten, a king about whom precious little is clear: no one knows when he was born or when he died, why he made the sweeping theological and societal changes that caused many scholars to call him the world’s first monotheist, or even who his successors were.

Still, it isn’t hard to see why the story’s a sticky one, and not least because company loves mystery. John Ray, writing in History Today, tossed off just a few of the speculations over which history has loved to ponder Akhenaten: “the ingredients are rich: a tormented visionary, a misunderstood poet, a visual artist of genius whose mission went unheeded, the apostle of domestic virtue, an incestuous child-abuser, a political disaster, an insane bisexual pope or ayatollah suffering from pathological endocrine disorder, a man out of his time.”

If Egyptian rulers were musicians, this guy is Gaga in a meat dress.

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Bruno Schulz

Have a drink with: Bruno Schulz
Writer, artist, cultural property puzzle, cult superstar

Ask him about: making hipsters’ heads explode.

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My husband recently bought a bag from a company whose gleeful tagline was, “They’ll fight over it when you’re dead.”  If post-mortem squabbles are really how you know you’ve hit the big time, Bruno Schulz is fist-pumping his way through the hereafter.

A prolific author and artist, Schulz is perhaps best known for his two volumes of short stories, The Street of Crocodiles (also sometimes known as Cinnamon Shops) and Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass. Schulz lived in the city of Drohobycz – then part of Poland, now Ukranian – for most of his life, working as a drawing teacher and publishing works which tended towards the erotic and the grotesque.  His art and writing were bold, unsentimental and yet wildly fantastical; Schulz was too grounded to be a surrealist, too oddball for mainstream, talented enough to be thoroughly disarming.

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The Monuments Men

Have a drink with: The Monuments Men
Artists, soldiers, detectives.

Ask them about: giving Dwight Eisenhower an art tour in a salt mine

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First things first: why make a movie about these guys?  Was art looting really a big deal in WWII?

It was a really big deal.

It’s easy to assume that the scattering and destruction of art was the unfortunate side effect of a very destructive European war. It wasn’t. Hitler knew what he was doing in going after art, and he wanted it to hurt conquered peoples very badly.

The Nazis created and supported specific infrastructure to target, hide, sell and destroy works of art, in each case as it most benefited the party agenda with money, power, property or prestige. Efforts were systematic, well-organized and brutal.

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