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April 15th, 2016

A Caravaggio in the Attic


Finding a long lost treasure is headline material. Should the trove be a multi-million dollar painting by a master, it generates additional press coverage and ratings. A version of Judith Beheading Holofernes discovered in a Toulouse attic is being attributed to Caravaggio.

il mistero del Caravaggio ritrovato in soffitta (La Repubblica) click

Caravaggio Masterpice (ArtInfo) click

“Lost Caravaggio Causes a Rift” (The Guardian) click

Let’s compare the Toulouse candidate to the Galleria Nazionale d’arte antica, Palazzo Barberini Judith Beheading and notice some interesting details. The Roman piece was a product of Caravaggio’s stay at the Palazzo Madama working for Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte.

Roman Judith Beheading Holofernes, c. 1598-1599, Galleria Nazionale d'arte antica. Painted for Cardinale del Monte.

Judith Beheading Holofernes, c. 1598-1599, Galleria Nazionale d’arte antica. Painted for Cardinale del Monte.

Let us now look at the Toulouse candidate:

Toulouse Judith Slaying Holofernes

Toulouse Judith Slaying Holofernes / Charles Platiau, Reuters

Let us compare the Holofernes on the Toulouse candidate and the Barberini Judith Beheading.

Comparison of Holofernes

Comparison of Holofernes. The Toulouse candidate is on the left, the Barberini Judith Beheading is on the right.

Are we in the presence of the same painter? Would this be Caravaggio?


Catherine Puglisi in her 1998 Caravaggio monograph (Phaidon) states “choosing a distinct moment in the narrative, Caravaggio boldly represented Judith slicing Holofernes’s neck with his sword. This choice of the climax must have challenged him to consider the question of exactly how a woman decapitated a strong man and to reconstruct the physical as well as the emotional experience (page 69).” In the Barberini piece, Puglisi notices “Caravaggio’s skillful command of expression… Judith’s face presents the most  impressive study in expression. A few lines disturb her smooth brow, dark shadows partially obscure her eyes fixed on Holofernes, and her lips are slightly parted. That she is deeply troubled and even repelled by this act is heightened by the arc traced by her body, curving back from her victim at the shoulders at the legs where her skirt is swept up. (page 70). ”  How dramatically consistent would it be for Judith, in the Toulouse candidate, to be slaying a strong man who fights for his life while she looks away, at the spectator? The force used to grab the Assyrian general’s hair is totally absent from the French candidate.

Caravaggio’s peripatetic lifestyle during this period (Naples, Valletta, Syracuse, Messina, Palermo, Naples) makes an identification of the models difficult, not the case with the Barberini Judith Beheading. Of the period of the Toulouse candidate, a simple look at the London’s National Gallery Salome with the Head of Saint John the Baptist and the Borghese’s David with the Head of Goliath make the French Judith Beheading more problematic. The provenance research presented just points to the existence of a second version of the Judith painted at Del Monte’s Palazzo Madama.

Moving beyond from experts’ opinions, the public has not been presented with real evidence: X-rays, brushstroke pattern, chemical analysis of the pigments (comparison is possible to paintings of the period), infrared imaging spectroscopy,  reflectography, Luminescence Imaging Spectroscopy, pentimenti to aid in the attribution process. It is often the case that iconography and poor research justify the existence of a masterpiece where there is none. Opinion often bypasses the role of serious scientific study. Art historians and the French people are owed the results of thorough scientific inquiry and the new algorithms in place to avoid speculation based on inflated scholarly egos.


April 12th, 2016

Freeports and secret accounts in the art world

Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi painted for Louis XII of France between 1506-13, terribly restored and sold to Dmitry Rybolovlev by Yves Bouvier.

A Nazi-looted Modigliani was seized from the Geneva Freeport in the collection of Edmond Safra’s cousin David Nahmad. That heaven of anonymity was also the site of the “Bouvier affair,” an art world scandal involving an art handler turned dealer, a Russian oligarch, secret bank accounts, and even a Leonardo.

Yves Bouvier, “the king of the freeports,”  was arrested in Monaco in 2015 charged with fraud and money laundering. According to The Wall Street Journal, HSBC is being investigated for issuing false documentation to help the case against Bouvier. Allegations of stolen Picassos from the painter’s daughter have been questioned when payment for the pieces appeared in Lichtenstein trust.  U.S. prosecutors have opened an investigation.

Bouvier’s Pôle R4, Île Seguin (Seguin Island) is scheduled to open next year.

The New Yorker: “The Bouvier Affair” (article from February) click

Full disclosure? Department of Justice inquiry – No regulation on the art market – Bloomberg (click)

April 11th, 2016

Painting looted by Nazis hidden offshore


Modigliani, Sitting Man, 1918

Le Monde and Conaissance des arts tell the story of a Modigliani sold by Christie’s and purchased by a marchand and collector cousin of Edmond SafraThe Nazis stole the work from Jewish art dealer Oscar Stettiner. The Nahmad family, alleged owners, represented to US authorities that the painting was part of the assets of IAC, an offshore company created by Mossack Fonseca. According to a Swiss paper, David Nahmad (colossal art dealer) is the sole owner of the corporation. Mr. Nahmad is himself Jewish. The family’s impressive art collection is held, according to media reports, in the Geneva Freeports, a customs-free heavily guarded facility. Swiss prosecutors raided the storage space and seized the painting.

Le Monde (click)

Conaissance des arts (click)

April 8th, 2016

‘Panama Papers:” Doomed to Oblivion? A History

A Rake's Progress

Public memory is short, so is media editorial attention. With the release of the “Panama Papers,” Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson resigned.  In a world of impunity for the powerful, he will possibly remain the sole sacrificial lamb.  Britain’s conservative Prime Minister David Cameron finally admitted to a beneficial interest in his father’s offshore investment trust. Figures implicated in the Mossack Fonseca leak include a Spanish Infanta (another princess is being tried for corruption and hiding assets). The list of the notorious includes Vladimir Putin, Ukrainian President Petro Proshenko, the Qatari, Moroccan and the Saudi royal families, the Chinese Communist Party leadership and Venezuelan Chavista apparatchiks.

The revelations should come as no surprise. Italian journalist Roberto Saviano has recently published ZeroZeroZero detailing the operations and political tentacles of drug cartels and the Russian mafia. Money laundering through offshore accounts is their vehicle to power, political connections and luxury.

Hervé Falciani with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists made public extensive information about HSBC Geneva . The bank held over 181 billion € for close to 100, 000 individual depositors and 20, 000 offshore companies. Clients included Wellington Florida resident and former Chavista Alejandro Andrade, billionaire Alfred Taubman, Argentine socialite collector Amalita de Fortabat*, actor Christian Slater, designer Diane von Fürstenberg, among others. Socialist Venezuela ranked third among countries with the largest dollar amounts, the United States fourth with $13.4 billion (USD).

In a story that has gone cold, senior management of Banca Privada d’Andorra was arrested, the bank taken over after the US Treasury revealed that it was a “primary money laundering concern” for the Russian mafia, Chinese shady operators and Venezuelan corrupt officials. Matters became complicated when it was revealed that BPA had acquired Banco Madrid, a private bank in the Spanish capital. The country’s central bank took control of the entity. The United States had expressed concern over suspect operations and correspondent relationships with HSBC, Citigroup, Bank of America and Deutsche Bank. The results of the investigations were never released to the press. The identities of those involved remain a secret.

In 2012, Assistant Attorney General (a Clinton family friend, “FOB”) Lanny Breuer offered HSBC a sweet settlement deal after the British bank admitted to violating financial regulations, criminal law and federal statutes when laundering billions of dollars for Mexican and Colombian drug cartels. According to a Rolling Stone story, none of the bank officials were criminally prosecuted, their punishment: “deferred compensation bonus.” HSBC was recently sued by American victims of violent crime from drug cartel activity.

A “60 Minutes” segment aired on January 31, 2016 showed American lawyers’ inclination (including top-notch New York legal firms) to set up staggered corporate structures shell companies with offshore origins. They would be designed to invest funds in Manhattan real estate, yachts, airplanes and items of conspicuous consumption.

McClatchy Miami Herald investigators reveal that Mossack Fonseca retained the services of a Miami representative. Not without irony, Olga Santini worked out of a “Miami Vice”-featured Brickell apartment. The city’s luxury real estate market is awash with stories of corrupt Brazilians, Italian gangsters, Venezuelans and other colorful Latin Americans buying multi-million-dollar properties.  Interestingly, the paper has not revealed any Russian name from the resident Sunny Isles and Aventura plutocracy. Area politicians have objected to a FinCEN geographic investigation of high-value real estate transactions. Waterfront apartments on Brickell, downtown Miami, Miami Beach, Surfside, Aventura, Bal Harbour and Sunny Isles are all in the seven figure range.

With Espirito Santo Bank, Miami was the setting for another international banking and money laundering scandal. The parent company in Lisbon was taken over by the government, investigated, its CEO detained on suspicion of fraud, mismanagement and irregularities. The conglomerate was audited for evidence of money laundering. The empire included a diamond mine in Angola, Miami luxury condos and a Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF) office and hotel (Conrad) skyscraper on Brickell Avenue. The tower was quietly sold for $142 million. The sale took place after Santo Espirito Bank had been sued for fraud and aiding and abetting money laundering. In February 2014, SSB agreed to a consent order with the FDIC regarding bank secrecy and anti-money laundering requirements. According to The Wall Street Journal, as recently as December 2014, New York prosecutors and a federal grand jury sought to ascertain if the Miami subsidiary had been used by a Venezuelan businessman to launder money and transfer large sums to the Cayman Islands and Switzerland. In July, 2015, Ricardo Espirito Santo Salgado, head of the empire, was placed under house arrest in Lisbon. In a surprise move announced in May of last year, a Venezuelan group headed by Salomón Benacerraf (owner of newspaper Diario Las Américas)  and the Cohen family of the Sambil Group (shopping centers in Curaçao, Dominican Republic and Spain) purchased Espirito Santo Bank Miami for $10 million. It is has been rebranded as Brickell Bank.

Miami banking authorities and regulators are now looking at increased activity in bearer bonds from non-citizens and account-holders from non-resident corporate entities. It is often that offshores seek the anonymity of Delaware corporations to allow them entry into the United States.

Only The Guardian has reported on a common practice by offshore companies for portfolio diversification: art purchases. The British paper tells the story of currency trader, John Lewis, a former George Soros partner, who purchased the Ganz collection and using Christie’s changed the course of art world economics, the history of the auction house and the investment in visual arts as a high-value high-return asset for offshore agents. The ease with which art sales can take place, relatively unsupervised, to international companies – especially at the gallery level or within the context of international art fairs – makes this an ideal venture instrument, easy to transport, easy to hide and with a fast turnaround possibility as long as the provenance is legitimate and the piece is certified by a recognized expert. The very galleries or auction houses that sell the pieces to an offshore corporation have no problems encouraging museums to showcase the works in special exhibits (further enhancing the value of the asset) if in the collection of a corporate owner. This affords anonymity and legitimacy.

The “Panama papers” are evidence of a sense of entitlement and assured impunity. Socioeconomic status confers privileges on a ruling oligarchy. Politicians, sports figures, hedge fund billionaires, royalty, entertainers, powerful investors and bankers are actors in a global economy and a transnational financial system. It assures them profit and permanence. Laws and financial regulations are flexible and accommodating to hegemony. The major players in the system, multinational corporations and international financial institutions have evolved into a “transnational historic bloc” that exercises global power by controlling even the information released to the public through the media they control and the way justice is administered. Economic and financial structures respond to political patronage. With financial and power concentration in fewer hands, instances like the “Panama Papers” will provide short-term  entertainment but no real pressure for transparency and accountability.

The world financial system’s fragility was tested by fraudulently rated mixed mortgage-backed instruments. No systematic investigation and prosecution of culprits ensued from our Justice Department. Is one to expect any difference this time?


  • Pictures of the author with the late Amalita de Fortabat, Dolores Smithies and Mrs. Javier Pérez de Cuéllar were published in the New York media. No more than a social acquaintance brought the author together with Mrs. Lacroze de Fortabat, introduced by his friend Cuban-American socialite, collector and Sotheby’s employee Dolores Smithies.

May 2nd, 2011

Justice Has Been Done

President Obama announces the news of Bin Laden's death

“To win that war, we need a commander-in-chief, not a law professor standing at a lectern.” Sarah Palin, 2008

The bully who promised to “smoke him out of his cave” and his pack of thugs (Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld) failed to deliver. A Constitutional law professor accomplished the mission. Three years into his presidency, Barack Obama’s CIA and Department of Defense did away with the mastermind behind the September 11th attacks on America.

Looking at this event, one cannot but notice the restraint of the US President, his terse prose, his gratitude to the servicemen and women who executed the operation. The flow of his sentences had the elegance of sound reasoning. His ideas were clear: “We did not choose this war; war came to our shore.” He added: “Our war is not with Islam.” There was an underlying theme in Obama’s speech: a nation committed to ideals will pursue them no matter the time or effort. He spoke with a sense of conviction and beckoned the nation to unity in time of crisis. A soft-spoken man offered closure where bravado failed. A sad chapter of our history started with hatred by others but was ended by the United States with the universal language of justice.

The rhetoric of Al Qaeda is overblown. Hateful tirades contradict the very essence of the Quran. Theirs is the appeal to nationalism, ethnocentrism and a limited sectarian view of Islam. The President’s speech was not about revenge but about the XVIII century Enlightenment principles that guided the Founding Fathers. Far from an exercise in might, the mission was not a First World nation using its military and financial prowess to do away with the enemy. Bin Laden was, after all, part of the privileged Arab ruling elite. The President articulated what happened today as the discharge of a moral obligation to innocent victims and the nation.

For tonight, the world looks beyond religion. What transpired tonight is a duty of justice: it is the fulfillment of a law, not a matter of personal ethics. Tonight we rejoice not in vengeance but in justice accomplished.

April 28th, 2011

O Ceremony, Show Me But Thy Worth

English taxpayers have graciously agreed to contribute $30 million as a wedding present to Prince William and Kate Middleton. The country meanwhile has implemented austerity measures. This sum comes in addition to the nearly $13 million the monarchy receives in public funds. What do the English receive from the Crown? Entertainment, elaborate spectacles, pump and circumstance.

Theatre for the dispossessed will be broadcast by the international media as a feudal ritual translates into handsome profits for television, newspapers, and magazines. Pageantry in the XXI century reaffirms social stratification and is transmitted to the tax-paying audience: the marginalized.

November 6th, 2008

I Hear America Singing


Tuesday’s victory for Barack Obama proved that poetry and justice are still vibrant possibilities. I hear America singing. Whitman, Thoreau, Martin Luther King still ring with authenticity. Could days of lies, unfairness, and blindness to inequity be part of our painful growth as a nation? Can a new leadership bring new optimism in the political process and the country’s economy? Can a healing force and a new transparency extend from the White House to the halls of Congress to Wall Street?

“I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear, The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing, Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else, The day what belongs to the day.”  Walt Whitman

 America, we rescued the dream; it marches on to the land of promise. Let unyielding hope be our hymn.

September 14th, 2008

Miami’s Fake Princess Now Divorced from Greenberg Traurig Partner. Real Emperor Dies in Paris

The marriage of Thi Nga Goldman (TiNa, her childhood name in Chatelet) to Miami lawyer Steven Goldman has ended. Court records indicate that the partner at Greenberg Traurig has filed for divorce.
-2011-000030-FC-04 -132011DR000030A001CH -N/A FC17 (Section, FC 17) DOM 01/03/2011.

While the divorce of the faux Imperial Highness was finalized (a Miami Beach created by Ana Remos, Selecta Magazine and the Bass Museum), the death of His Imperial Highness Crown Prince Bao Long, eldest son and heir of the late Emperor Bao Dai, last Emperor of Vietnam, titular head of the Nguyen Dynasty, was announced in Paris.

In the press release made public by the royal family, Mrs. Goldman is obviously absent:

The Imperial Order of the Dragon of Annam

HIH Crown Prince Bao Long, the eldest son and heir of of the late Emperor Bao Dai, the last monarch of Vietnam, died in Paris on 28 July 2007 at the age of 71.

Prince Nguyen-Phuc Bao Long was born at the Kien-Trung Palace in the Purple Forbidden City, Hue, on 4 January 1936, eldest son of Emperor Bao Dai by his first wife, Empress Nam Phuong. He was educated in Vietnam and France, and underwent military training at the École Militaire de St Cyr (Coëtquidan, France) and the École d’Instruction de la Cavalerie et de l’Artillerie (Saumur, France).
Appointed as Heir Apparent with the style of Dong-Cung Hoang-Thai Tu, 17th September 1938, the Prince was invested in an elaborate Mandarin ceremony at the Palace of Can-Chanh, in the Purple Forbidden City, Hue, on 7 March 1939. Granted the style of His Imperial Highness on 18 June 1945, he came of age and was confirmed as Heir Apparent on 15 June 1954. The Prince represented Vietnam at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey, in London on 2 June 1953.
The Prince was commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant in the 1st Armoured Cavalry Regiment of the French Foreign Legion on 14 July 1955, served in Algeria 1955-1958, retiring as Captain in 1958. Honorary Lieutenant Colonel of the Regiment of Musketeers, 1949; Honorary Colonel of Imperial Guard, Vietnamese Army. He received the Kim Boi medal 1st class, Grand Cordon of the National Order of Merit of Vietnam (15 June 1954), the Order of the Legion of Honour, the Cross of Military Valour with red, silver and bronze stars (1958), France’s North Africa Medal (1997) and the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal (1953).
The Prince retired from a long career in investment banking and lived quietly for most of his adult life in London and Paris. He succeeded on the death of his father as Head of the Imperial House of Vietnam and Sovereign of the Imperial Orders on 31 July 1997.

The following email is received from a friend of Thi Nga Goldman’s family who previously submitted a comment to this site:

We have met all the family in their Chatelet Vietnamese restaurant in Paris.

The person adds:
We are friends of Ung Thi family , the VN restaurant in Place Chatelet is closed now , our son Ng Khoi was working there when he was a student for Sup Aero and Space ENSAE. It’s possible that there is a confusion of Ung Thi ‘s name , from our side we are certain that our friend Ung Thi is the father of Thi Nga (her child nick name was “TiNa”).

On September 3rd he adds:
You know better than me about some aspects of Ung Thi’s family and the big royal family of Bao Dai . I think you are right about some results of your reseach , HIH is not a correct title for Thi Nga . I am sure there are only 2 HIH princesses daughters of Bao Dai and Nam Phuong: Phuong Mai and Phuong Lien (one was working in a Hong Kong bank , the other was married to the French pilot of Bao Dai and divorced later on) . I have some difficulties to find the name of Ung Thi’s restaurant. I ‘ll try again with our friend Dieu Hy, (daughter of Vinh Du , a royal cousin ) after her summer holidays in Pyrenee until 15 /09/08 . I can tell you now that Thi Nga has two sisters and two brothers. I am trying to have some news from them.

May 22nd, 2007

Investigation Looks to Museum and Miami Beach City Hall

The Imperial Downfall of the Bass Museum
A Simulacrum of Feudal Order in a City of Delusion


The alleged princess and philanthropist Dolores Ziff

Hollywood made it to SoBe. A polychromatic elephant parade moved down Collins Avenue, the production of a princess, the Bass Museum and the City of Miami Beach. There were “Gifts of the Silk,” fifty foot dragons, and Thai dancers. A newly arrived princess from la Conchinchine married a powerful real estate lawyer was blessed by influential philanthropists Sanford and Dolores Ziff, and, alas, received the key to the city. Thi-Nga Goldman, imperial princess of kitsch, combined Thai and Vietnamese rituals at will in elaborate social affairs with largesse of photo-ops. An impeccable website full of promises (nonexistent companies) and a complex genealogy assured the absence of Google activity or independent research. There was talk she attended a synagogue A rabbi married her to Mr. Goldman. A fervent anti-Communist, the new Miami royal understood the plight of Cuban-Americans. The princess greeted fans riding alongside the mayor in a Jaguar convertible. Flags flew all over Miami Beach and connecting bridges: “The Jade Collection of HIH Princess Thi-Nga of Vietnam.” The Bass Museum of Art had just elected Mrs. Thi-Nga Goldman (allegedly HIH Princess Thi-Nga of Vietnam) to chair its Board of Directors. Upon taking office, the institution opened a one-owner exhibit of Mrs. Goldman’s jade collection. It was curated by Ms. Diane Camber, the museum director, without express board approval, without addressing the possibilities of appearances of impropriety or consulting existing museum policies, without provenance documentation, and without curatorial expertise in Oriental art.

DermerThiNga.jpgMayor and Thi Nga

The alleged princess and the mayor, at left receiving the Key to the City

Countless calls to Ms. Lee Ortega, the museum’s press officer, about this matter went unanswered. The Bass exhibit and the provenance of the objects were to be the subject of an article in a bilingual arts magazine. The lack of response from Ms. Ortega or Ms. Camber made it necessary to contact the State Attorney’s Office to intervene on a Sunshine Law request for documentation. The information arrived on a piecemeal basis and after countless dilatory practices. It finally became possible to examine the exhibition budget, the VIP party’s expense report, Mrs. Thi-Nga Goldman’s contribution (from her personal American Express, not her alleged foundation or company as the museum falsely declared in its press releases), and, most importantly, to read the minutes of the Board of Directors. The prevalent attitude at the Bass was that the museum— almost like a private club — owed no explanation or information to taxpayers.

I. Conflict of interest

The American Association of Museums looks askance at an institution doing a one-owner exhibit of the collection of an employee or member of the board of directors. Since they have undue influence in programming decisions and stand to gain from exhibition of their holdings, it is a blatant conflict of interest. The Bass violated §§IB and IC of the AAM Code for Borrowing Objects.

“I. Borrowing Objects
The policy will contain provisions: A. Ensuring that the museum determines that there is a clear connection between the exhibition of the object(s) and the museum’s mission, and that the inclusion of the object(s) is consistent with the intellectual integrity of the exhibition. B. Requiring the museum to examine the lender’s relationship to the institution to determine if there are potential conflicts of interest, or an appearance of a conflict, such as in cases where the lender has a formal or informal connection to museum decision making (for example, as a board member, staff member or donor). C. Including guidelines and procedures to address such conflicts or the appearance of conflicts or influence. Such guidelines and procedures may require withdrawal from the decision-making process of those with a real or perceived conflict, extra vigilance by decision-makers, disclosure of the conflict or declining the loan.” AAM GUIDELINES ON EXHIBITING BORROWED OBJECTS

It is a well established fact that in today’s world, museums depend on collectors to borrow pieces in order to complement exhibits. Serious museums, however, avoid one-owner shows when the collection is unknown or can be supplemented by local or nearby holdings. Neighboring Lowe and Norton museums have distinguished Oriental art collections and have experts that could have made this a solid educational enterprise for the benefit of South Florida.

II. An exhibited not vetted

The jade show was never looked at by a true Asian art expert; the provenance of the pieces remain a mystery to this day. Ms. Camber proceeded without board approval to curate the exhibit on her own. Ms. Camber has no credentials as an Asian art expert. A sign, subsequently removed, informed the visitor, that an ancestor of Thi Nga (Mrs. Steven E. Goldman) had met with guillotined Louis XVI in 1812. This is shoddy curatorship. Ms. Camber does not have a Ph.D. but the fact that Louis XVI was executed in 1793 is high school information. Not only is there a conflict of interest situation at hand but also reckless actions on the part of the museum’s director. What if the collection has no aesthetic or historical merit? What about if the provenance is questionable? South Florida taxpayers have a right to know.

III. Misrepresentations to the press and public

The museum, in its website, states: “The Private Jade Collection of Her Imperial Highness Princess Thi-Nga of Vietnam will be on view at the Bass Museum of Art through April 29, 2007, and will travel nationally and internationally.”

No curator or expert at Harvard’s Sackler Museum, the Asia Society, the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, among others, was aware of the collection, its importance, or the existence of the princess. The collection, naturally, is not traveling anywhere outside the Goldmans’ living room.

IV. A questionable owner

At that juncture the imperial identity of Cong Tang Ton Nu Thi-Nga or Thi-Nga-Cong-Tang-Ton Goldman’s (Mrs. Steven E. Goldman) became an issue. There were banners all over the city that read: “The Jade Collection of HIH Princess Thi-Nga of Vietnam.” In a VIP event at the Bass, the alleged princess received the key to the city of Miami Beach. Some experts reacted in the following manner:
“Hello, this genealogical tree is false [in Thi-Nga’s website specifically at

“The last King of Vietnam (Bao Dai, Prince Vinh Thuy) was born in 1913. He was of the fifth generation of King Minh Mang. According to this image, Thi-Nga is of the fourth generation of King Minh Mang! She should then be more than 130 years old! In any case, she is not in the direct line of the king, she is not princess; she is nothing at all.”
Mr. Tan Loc NGUYEN, France, Vietnamese history and art website operator used by UCLA “Internet Links for Vietnam”

According to Professor My-Van Tran, Ph.D.:“Re your question. I do not know or hear anything about this ‘princess’. Nor I have any dealing with her. By the way she should be Ton Nu Thi Nga. However, please bear in mind that as the Nguyen monarchs had many, many wives and concubines there have been many, many, many grand children and great grand children. If they all claim royal title as ‘prince or princess’, we should have many thousands of them all over the world, including Vietnam!!!!!
Dr. My-Van Tran, Associate Prof. and Coordinator, International and Asian Studies

According to the Royalty system and title. Thi Nga’s father is not an Emperor. He … connects with the royal family. In this regards one should not use the title HIH Prince or princess. Possibly Lady
Dr. My-Van Tran

Thi Nga offers her own genealogy at
Her alleged grandfather, in any official Vietnam royal history consulted, died at age 15 in 1855 and her father is never referred to as “Prince Ung-Thi” (though known as a wealthy man, owner of the Rex Hotel). Her great great grandfather is a Duke and is referred to as HH the Prince. He was the son of an Emperor (Minh Mang) who fathered over one hundred children with over one hundred wives and concubines. Ms. Camber, as Director and Curator was charged with the responsibility to do the research and find out that there is only one His Imperial Highness Crown Prince of Vietnam: the grandson of the last Emperor of Vietnam. It is a simple matter. The family lives in France. “Bao Long is the head of the Imperial Family. In when the Emperor Bao Long inherited the position of head of the Nguyen_Dynasty . He has remained out of politics and lives quietly in Paris and he has not married and currently does not have any children. Bao Long has been working with Prince Bao_Vang who serves under him as the Grandmaster of the Order of the Dragon of Annam. The position is non-political in Vietnamese politics and the role of the royal family under the leadership of Crown Prince Bao Long is for humanitarian, educational, and cultural endeavors of the people of Vietnam,_Crown_Prince_of_Vietnam

The trouble with claiming special status from this [descent from Minh Mang], even if true … is that Minh Mang had a huge harem and produced over a hundred children, meaning his great-great-grandchildren and so on today would constitute a small army. Because of this very tradition, titles were not inherited in Vietnam beyond the second generation. …and has had no contact or endorsement by the Emperor’s heir Crown Prince Bao Long, who lives modestly in France.” This is in a site on Modern Royal Pretenders assessing the validity of a Vietnamese royal pretender who wishes to trace his lineage (just like Thi-Nga Goldman) to Minh Mang.

Royal historian Henry Soszynski, based in Austria, writes to me: “In the 1930’s there were some 10,000 Vietnamese royalty. In the Asian system of declining nobility her position as ggggdau of Gia Long (Phuc Anh). It basically means she is a commoner now. There was a website devoted to her, a perfume website of all things! I can’t find it now. This is all very suspect, proceed with caution.”

Professor Henry Bolt, Emeritus, University of Richmond, researched in an effort to assess the basis of Mrs. Goldman’s genealogy and came to the conclusion that there were indeed sound arguments to question her claim to imperial status.

Anyone with access to Google could have performed this type of inquiry. Ms. Camber did not exercise due diligence. Had the museum any concern for its community, it would have discovered that there is no Princess Thi-Nga Foundation nor any Imperial Holdings International Corporation in Florida. The other enterprises in Mrs. Goldman’s website have had the “coming soon” sign since inception.

There is no shadow of critical inquiry or scholarly practice when it comes to this exhibit or to Mrs. Goldman. The museum and City Hall acted like hysterical teenagers in the presence of a “star.” Even the Miami press lost all semblance of objectivity or credibility. When sharing this information with a MIAMI HERALD investigative reporter, he found that there was “no story” and that the public would not be interested. Leaving the information for over a month and picking it up again, he never confronted Thi Nga Goldman with tough questions, never interviewed her husband, the powerful attorney, never looked at the Board minutes, had no idea of a royal pre-Miami past nor pressed her for verifiable details. He never contacted anyone from Prince Bao Long’s office in France. For this journalist, the public was not interested in this type of thing and THE HERALD could afford to wait for the kind of story “others” would publish about it, to his mind “full of inuendo and speculation.” Managing editor David Wilson in an email made the claim that “we are always weighing how much time and energy are to be invested in pursuing stories of all sorts. I’m glad we got to this one, and I’m satisfied that Dan Chang did a thorough job with it.” Mr. Chang never published a story about the irregularities with the Bass’ Board Chairman. EL NUEVO HERALD, however, suffered the public embarrassment of having to write an ERRATA after Social Editor Ana Remos published a three-month old story about the Museum’s VIP gala having announced to her readers that the recently closed Jade exhibit was opening next year. Ms. Remos has made Mrs. Goldman a regular feature in her columns, somewhat of a change for her monarchical hispanophilia.>

She made statements to EL UNIVERSAL in Mexico that announced the creation of a jade collection museum next to her summer house in Exuma, The Bahamas. These allegations took place in the context of a trip with honorary Bass Board member Nora Bulnes and with Bass Friends member Dolores Ziff. The following communication was issued from the Prime Minister’s office representative in Exuma:
Good Afternoon Mr. Sanchez, Please be advised that Mr. Danny Strachan the representative for the Prime Minister’s Office here in Exuma has contacted the Ministry of Financial Services and there is no such company registered in the Bahamas. Thanks and regards, Rhonda E. Ingraham
Exuma Tourist Office, Exuma, Bahamas P.O. Box Ex-29041 Mr. Sanchez, We have thoroughly checked all relevant sources here in The Bahamas and to date there is no Oriental Art or Jade Museum registered in Exuma, The Bahamas.
Kind Regards,
Rhonda E. Ingraham, Exuma Tourist Office, Exuma, Bahamas.

Having corresponded with other entities of the Government of the Bahamas, enough information was gathered to come to the conclusion that there are no Imperial Holdings International, no Imperial Resorts, no building activity under Imperial Resorts or under Princess Thi-Nga or under Mr. and Mrs. Steven E. Goldman. The Mayor and the Commission are also at fault. Had they done the necessary research, the mayor would not have awarded Thi-Nga Goldman the Key to the City.
With so many questions about the owner, a number of requests were made to the mayor, the city manager and the Bass to examine the documentation backing up the collection’s provenance. Two messages from Ms. Camber’s assistant state that there are no records nor have ever been, to verify purchases, line of provenance, or authenticity. The mayor and city manager have always maintained silence and do not respond to emails.

V. UNESCO fiasco

In April of 2006, Mrs. Thi-Nga Goldman told the Bass’ board of directors (reflected is in the minutes) that she was leaving for Vietnam to work with UNESCO on the preservation of Hue. The communication received from that institution shows that she is unknown in Vietnam or Paris. She is also unknown in the Friends of Hue Foundation in California. Could this not be construed as misrepresentation to the Board of Directors?
Sent: Wednesday, May 02, 2007 10:26 PM
To: jjsanchez
Cc: ‘Boccardi, Giovanni’; ‘Do Nhu Quynh’
Dear Justo Sanchez
I am writing to you from the UNESCO Office in Vietnam. Apologies for my late reply. I was out of the office yesterday, and only received your email forwarded from the World Heritage Centre today.
Since I arrived in Vietnam in August 2004, we have not had any cooperation with a Princess Thi Nha, nor received any donations from the Princess Thi Nga Foundation. More specifically, we have not received any portion of any Imperial Ball in Miami during November last year. Of course, we cannot exclude that she has cooperated with other bodies for the purpose of the restoration of the Complex of Hue Monuments. This morning, we contacted the Head of International Relations of Hue Monuments Conservation Centre, the body responsible for the restoration of the World Heritage Site of Hue, reporting to the provincial Governor. He has not heard of Princess Thi-Nga and has not had any cooperation with someone of that name. He is now checking with other bodies in Hue if they have heard of her. I will write back to you if I have any news.
Best regards,
Edle Tenden (Ms.)
Culture Programme Coordinator, UNESCO Hanoi Office
23 Cao Ba Quat Street, Hanoi, Viet Nam
Tel: +84 4 747 0275 (Ext. 16) .Fax: +84 4 747 0274
Mobile: 0904 398 481
From: Boccardi, Giovanni/ UNESCO

VI. Misrepresentations by the Board Chairman

In its Code of Ethics, the AAM states that: “Sections on individual ethics, personal conduct, and conflict of interest issues that spell out such details for staff, volunteers, and members of the governing authority.” It adds: “The effectiveness of a nonprofit institution is directly related to the public’s perception of its integrity.” In April of 2006, Mrs. Thi-Nga Goldman (the alleged Princess) told the Bass’ board of directors (reflected is in the Board minutes) that she was leaving for Vietnam as part of her work with UNESCO on the preservation of the city of Hue. As it happens, they do not know her in UNESCO Vietnam or Paris (proof in writing from the institution). Subsequent investigations reveal that they do not know her in the Friends of Hue Foundation in California. Was this not misrepresentation on the part of the future Board Chairman? Does she not owe the Board and her community an explanation? Mrs. Goldman has not created a Princess Thi Nga Foundation in Florida, does not have an Imperial Resorts in the Bahamas (documentation available) does not own any of the registered trademarks she claims she does in her website . She is not an imperial princess since HIH Crown Prince Bao Long is the head of the Nguyen Dynasty and Thi-Nga Goldman is not directly related to him. There is no Imperial Holdings International company in Florida or the Bahamas. There is no IMPACT company in Florida. All of these nonexistent institutions have been given credit for events at the Bass Museum of Art. Can an AAM museum have a person like that at the head of its Board of Directors? “The Commission expects an accredited museum to have ethical guidelines that address ethical duties of the governing authority, staff, and volunteers, ethics related to the relationship of the governing authority and director, conflict of interest, collections ethics issues, museum management practices, and responsibility to the public.”

How long will the Bass Board continue its inaction regarding Ms. Diane Camber, the Jade exhibit, and Mrs. Thi-Nga Goldman? Is there any measure of accountability in the institution’s policies? What is the role of City of Miami Beach officials like Max Sklar, Director of Tourism and Cultural Development and City Manager-Bass Trustee Jorge González?The American Association of Museums and the International Museums Council, both, having been asked to look into this matter, will perform a thorough investigation and will prescribe pertinent policies. Miami-Dade County Cultural Affairs Council is discussing this matter as well as the State of Florida.

The institutional usefulness of a “yes” board is questionable. Bass trustees have never been actively involved in curatorial or administrative issues (refer, please, to the Board minutes). The Board and the City of Miami administrators, with their dormant attitude are partly at fault for this type of imbroglio. How long will it take for them to realize that this is a case of an “Imperial Princess with no clothes”?

June 18th, 2006

Children: Death and Abuse

goya.jpgSongs on the Death of Children

Sully innocence. Squash naivete. Extinguish potential. Abscond with goodness. Self-loathing is a party in its own destruction. Self-annihilation extends to nascent life. Priests do it, policemen do it, “hicks” and “white trash” do it, alas, even stars do it. Child abuse knows no socioeconomic differences.

The American media, in spite of itself, has sensitized society to the horrors of missing, neglected, abused, and sexually assaulted children. Crimes against kids provide shock value and drama favorable to news consumption. Certainly, this is not an American aberration.

Germany, not to be outdone, reported a case of child cannibalism. The French government has instituted measures to control child pornography and internet seduction by sexual predators. According to our State Department, Belgium is both a transit point and a destination for trafficking in children.

According to the Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, child sexual abuse is reported up to 80,000 times a year. The number of unreported instances is far greater because children are afraid to relate the experience. The legal procedure for validating an episode is difficult. Instant celebrities John Coney, Earl Richmond, David Onstin, Wayne Williams, Harell and Michelle Johnson are now inextricably connected to the plight of their innocent victims. Sensationalist coverage has concentrated on the human tragedy and police investigative acumen; it has failed to find common characteristics among the offenders. No serious inquiry exists of their childhood experiences or proneness to act on their fantasies (impulse control disorder).

The DSM IV argues that paraphilic fantasies start late in childhood and could be the result of past or present abuse, sexually deviant behavior, or sex as a requisite for affection. Interpreting survey study data, Professor Jan Looman claims that child molesters are more likely to fantasize about children while in a negative emotional state or under stress. There is a marked trend to fantasize about a child as an inappropriate way of coping with dysphoric moods, thus enhancing dysphoria and leading to further inappropriate fantasies. A bizarre rock star stands accused of pedophilia after several multi-million dollar arrangements to buy silence from alleged victims. No sexual abuse case among the economically privileged finds its way into newsrooms. Does an Upper East Side address guarantee virtue and love of children? Wealth provides a way to hush these cases. Are childhood sexual traumas confined to Freud’s Viennese fin-de-siecle patients? Suffering, abuse, and neglect explain why 85 to 90% of the criminal population in the United States comes from foster care. Treatment of psychological cruelty and estrangement is confined to the bourgeoisie, able to afford the luxury of therapy. The sources of candidates for foster care do not provide an environment conducive for kids to go through the stages of moral reasoning. If not directly victimized at home, there is an exposure effect at the socioeconomic margin that makes violence a possibility. Lacking access to psychological treatment, healing and moral values come with religious experience.

While there has been a slight decrease in sexual abuse cases, mistreatment accounts for the death of three children a day. A child is reported missing or abducted in the United States every 40 seconds, 2,000 children per day, 800,000 a year (Department of Justice). Of this number 40% are killed, 4% never found, 71% taken by a stranger and 29% by family or a slight acquaintance. Family abductions stem from power struggles, quest for punishment, or incest. Most are abducted within a quarter mile from their home and, if ultimately murdered, 74 percent are dead within three hours of the abduction. A study by Becker and Murphy provides evidence that sexual offenders of boys have higher rates of abuse in their histories. Sexual victimization is not the necessary condition for this type of aggressive behavior. Most sexual victims never perpetrate the same crime against others. Abuse or murder of children voices rejection, isolation, sexual dysfunction, and social anger.

Alice Miller, a psychotherapist, argues that corporal punishment coupled with a Victorian early upbringing where sex is not discussed make the child ill-prepared for puberty. Psychosexual development is therefore a random product of hormones, social learning and conditioning. The contradiction between rearing practices, silent on matters sexual, and the media-supplied flood of erotic and violent imagery is a trite but necessary issue for discussion. Some could see a media-induced link between eros and thanatos. Powerful economic interests will keep this debate as a First-Amendment problem. Under what circumstances could children be “obscure objects of desire?” They become cathectic in their proto-sexual “purity” and powerlessness. The risks involved in breaking taboos can prove liberating and stimulate desire. An element of revenge and subversive social disruption is present in the abduction and sexual abuse of children.

Jonathan Pincus, an American neurologist, maintains that this type of aggressive behavior constitutes a form of retaliation: “systems of terror that get directed back at society… Even previously non-involved members… are being hurt and consequently have to suffer in the very same way the former child suffered.” Lives of rejection, fear, and paranoia beget today’s Saturns (devouring their clildren as in Goya’s opus). Their effort of survival, like Saturn’s, is through primal murder. Our cannibal gods devour children, symbolic castration of an alienating society (Ouranos) and punishment of a cruel family (mother Gaia). Our present-day infanticides act on the self-perception as “the most terrible of sons: the crooked and scheming Kronos.” Self-loathing turns lethal.

In this weather, in this roaring, cruel storm
they rest as they did in their mother’s house
they are frightened by no storm,
strong and are covered by the hand of God
Ruckert, Kindertotenlieder

September 20th, 2005

Gays and Catholic Intolerance

The Christian faith is one of epiphany and inclusion. Vatican-appointed inspectors will travel to Roman Catholic seminaries throughout the United States looking for “evidence of homosexuality” (“Instrumentum Laboris for the Apostolic Visitation”).

Scheduled to begin later this month, the “apostolic visitations” will include interviews with seminarians and recent graduates. Paranoia and intolerance are based on magisterium, not Biblical references. The costly witch hunt headed by Archbishop Edwin O’Brien extends “to those who have not been sexually active for a decade or more.” The Church must stay, he declared, “on the safe side,” anticipating a Vatican document that decides whether gays should be barred from the priesthood. Coincidentally, O’Brien heads the Archdiocese for Military Services.

The mission, not entirely clear, is either pastoral or exploratory. Is the identification of “same-sex-attraction seminarians” the main item on the agenda? How can one detect or evaluate matters sexual? How can one screen sexual orientation or “inclination” during the admission process (question B3.3)? Has the Church developed a new clinical method to be used in confidential interviews?

In a private institution, seminarians and professors hang certain constitutionally protected rights at the door. The inquiry seeks to reveal dissenting voices in the faculty (questions B1.1 and B2.7). A daunting challenge is posed when asking if “the seminary [is] free from the influences of New Age and eclectic spirituality.”

Another area of concern is the extent to which candidates “use the Internet, television, etc., with prudence and moderation (question B5.4). A legally problematic area is the monitoring of “seminarians’ behavior outside the seminary” (question B5.5). If one is to follow the American Church’s line of reasoning, heterosexual priests or candidates are exempt from carnal temptations unlike their “same-sex-attraction” counterparts. Catholics are left to wonder if “same-sex-attraction” is synonymous with incontinence and pedophilia. Does it rule out the possibility of celibacy? Is sexual orientation a matter of volition? Is there a category of Christians excluded from the fulfillment of a priestly vocation?

June 22nd, 2005

Byzantine Art: A World of ‘Phantasma”

A World of ‘Phantasma’

Justo J. Sánchez / New York


Two-Sided Icon with the Virgin Pafsolype and Feast Scenes and the Crucifixion and Prophets. Byzantine (Constantinople?), second half of the 14th century. Collection of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Istanbul. Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has achieved the inconceivable: it has made a Byzantine art exhibit a blockbuster. The amazing feat was possible only through diplomacy, tenacity in negotiation, dedication, and love of art. “Byzantium: Faith and Power” includes masterpieces from as far away as Meteora, Mistras, Istanbul, Konya, Moscow, and a great collection of icons from the Holy Monastery of Saint Catherine, Sinai, Egypt.

Professor Thomas Matthews of NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts argues that the armies of the Fourth Crusade dismembered the Byzantine Empire in 1204 “Prepar[ing] it for its final dissolution.” The Byzantines however “were able to overthrow their Western lords in 1261 and re-establish a much-diminished empire. In this third or Late Byzantine phase, art found a new humanism that appealed strongly to surrounding countries and influenced profoundly the Italian Renaissance.” (Matthews, Byzantium. New York: Abrams, p.12.)
The third in a tripartite examination of Byzantine art at the Metropolitan, the exhibit resumes the narrative at the point when Michael VIII Palaiologos entered Constantinople in 1261 with the icon of the Virgin Hodegetria. From the period under scrutiny (1261-1557), the viewer has the opportunity to observe a variety of media: illuminated manuscripts, fragments of mosaics and of architectural elements, sculptures, liturgical implements, reliquaries, and icons.


Mosaic Icon with Christ Pantokrator. Byzantine (Constantinople), 1300–1350; Parish Church of Saints-Pierre-et-Paul, Chimay, Belgium. Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art

There is a syntactical orthodoxy in the Byzantine discourse, a constant in its thousand-year history. The transcendental and fixed nature of its universe of discourse and its signifieds, account for the continuity in grammatical rules of composition and representation. The miracles attributed to certain icons help explain the lack of radical artistic experimentation. The specificity of syntax anchor semantic relations. The placement of arms, the location of certain objects, even facial features of expressions, distinguishes the characteristics of a type of Virgin, apostle, saint or angel.
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There may be certain calligraphic changes that point towards a new humanism and realism as in the early XIV century icon with the Synaxis of the Apostles from Constantinople or in the sanctuary doors with Saints George and Demetrios from XV century Crete or in the Getty’s Nicaean Tetraevangelion from the XIII century. These works show that within the parameters of a rigid grammar, it was possible to allow a measure of stylistic change. It just did not happen at the same increased tempo of the West where the winds of change took Europe from the Romanesque to the Gothic magnificence of Chartres, Notre Dame, Burgos, Cologne and found itself taking a leap to the radical paradigmatic transformation of XV century Florence. In the visual arts, the West moves from Berlinghiero to Cimabue to Giotto to Simone to the Renaissance, or from Ottonian manuscripts and late versions of the Beato to Pucelle’s Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux and the Très Riches Heures.


Mosaic Icon with the Akra Tapeinosis (Utmost Humiliation), or Man of Sorrows. Mosaic icon, Byzantine, late 13th–early 14th century; icon of Saint Catherine (reverse), late 13th–early 14th century; case, late 14th–17th century. Basilica di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, Rome. Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art.


“Byzantium: Faith and Power” is about tradition and faith in the face of a dwindling empire, about a visual discourse in different media that upholds a metanarrative. At a fundamental level it is about the role of imagery in Christianity. The visitor witnesses how an icon or a mosaic image or a religious vestment can perform many functions. It can sanctify an environment, it can “protect” the holder or his community, it can teach a lesson, it can place the viewer within the context of a religious tradition, it can “recall” a presence to memory, it can become transparent as a window to transcendence or vehicle to prayer, it can stand in place of the absent or invisible, in this case holy entity.

Most of the images presented in the exhibition have a connection to ritual where they serve to establish an institutionally-mediated connection with transcendence. In a typically conservative, orthodox fashion, it is the institution that governs the rules of grammar and construction for the visual language used within its confines.
The exhibition’s icons, liturgical instruments, and vestments indicate that this is a visual culture that resonates with mystery and mysticism. The ceremonies of Christianity took place behind iconostasis, “mysterion,” secret or closed rituals except for the initiated (“myste”). Christianity was for the baptized. Only the priests or deacons could enter behind the veil of the iconostasis. Only the initiates (the baptized) could participate in the holy liturgy. “Myein” is to close shut, as lips in secrecy or the doors of the iconostasis.
Byzantine art emerges out of contradiction in its attempt to make the invisible visible. In an effort to represent the divine in two dimensions, it uses the human dramatis personae in the Judeo-Christian narrative of salvation: Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, the Apostles, and the Saints as well as some of the Old Testament prophets. Byzantine art responds to a drive for “phantazein,” to make visible. In Timaeus, Plato offers an account of why we dream and our dream images “phantasma.” Imagery is similarly conceived in Plato’s epistemology. The images in “Byzantium: Faith and Power” are “phantasma” inasmuch as they are shadows of an otherworldly reality. They obey a “phantazein” need for figuration, of intelligibility through vision, and the need to make a space holy. They float as ethereal apparitions reminding the viewer of transcendence.



May 24th, 2005

Latin American Art – Kiss Boredom Goodbye


Latin American Art sales in New York have taken a new turn. The usual fare is predictable: Boteros, Lams, Zunigas, some Tamayos. Collectors are traditionally nationalistic in their purchasesSome exciting pieces have come to market. Diego Rivera is the “flavor of the month.”

Rousseau arrives in Mexico with the lush 1931 Rivera, La Ofrenda, at Sotheby’s. MoMA once owned it, a gift of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. Acueducto, at Christie’s, described as “Cezannesque,” stems from the concern with volume and monumentality that occupied Rivera during a stay in Arcueil.

Matta’s L’Impensable (Grand Personnage), at Sotheby’s, is a translation of his two-dimensional work into a delicate – almost fragile – sculpture. In the same medium, the dramatic Untitled bronze by Alicia Pena (at Christie’s) is massive and solidly primordial. Joaquin Torres-Garcia appears in both auction houses. His 1943 Construccion gris at Christie’s is important in the artist’s canon. It once belonged to Jose Gomez-Sicre.

A refreshing change from the traditional Botero offerings, his 1972 Still Life with Onions is a virtuoso piece for sale at Sotheby’s. Monochromatic (charcoal on canvas), its intense drama is product of Baroque chiaroscuro. His impeccable technique is cliche to discuss.

Claudio Bravo’s masterful Italian Collector of Roman Heads is homage to Classical antiquity. It has the self-referential element to Mr. Bravo’s collecting activity. The artist explores the depth and complex emotions represented in Roman statuary, here arranged as a still life. The young Italian’s features, of Praxilesque beauty, impart the character narcissistic detachment. His empty stare is juxtaposed to the passion portrayed in the objects of his collection. The aristocratic self-consciousness, even the position of the protagonist’s hand, establishes a connection with the Metropolitan Portrait of a Young Nobleman by Bronzino.

Vik Muniz has had a meteoric rise to international recognition. The Brazilian’s Carceri is unusual in his oeuvre; it is a clever dialogue with Piranesi. Tamayo’s Cabeza Monolitica is an imposing steel totem of Giacometti elongation. His fellow Mexican Maria Izquierdo is present in both houses: the playful Tony y Teresita at Sotheby’s and El Gallo, a still life with a rooster — executed with characteristic Mexican palate — at Christie’s.

Examples of Lam’s Spanish period rarely come to market. His 1937 Untitled, a nude self-portrait facing a woman, ties him to Fauvism at that juncture of his trajectory. In this painting, at Christie’s, the visual language is in tune with the work’s erotic possibilities.

Latin American Modernism and Contemporary art are not the sole concerns of these sales. Important colonial pieces have surfaced this spring. Christie’s XVIII century Biombo de los proverbios (Mexican or Colombian) is an exciting study of the Book of Proverbs. Framed in an ornamental screen, the different components create a visual sermon on moral rectitude. Four XIV century Ex-Votos, once in Andre Bretton’s possession, exemplify genuine piety, rich in the narrative of miracles. The link to Frida Kahlo is immediately established. Sotheby’s features a Rococo Nuestra Senora del Rosario, “La Marinera” . The Holy Family in Nazareth, set in an idyllic landscape, departs from the traditional hieratic idiom of Cuzco School. The Quito School is represented by the Apocalyptic Virgin of Quito, dynamic and Europeanized. Important fresh works, not subject to the usual recycling, bring renewed interest to the spring Latin American Art sales in New York.

May 16th, 2005

New Spring for Old Masters


Bartolome Esteban Murillo, Saint Augustine in Ecstasy

This spring New York Old Masters’ sales at Sotheby’s and Christie’s complement each other in historical periods and artists’ nationalities.

After brokering the sale of Duccio’s Stroganoff Madonna now at the Metropolitan Museum Christies has put together an illustrious group of paintings for its May 26 sale. Murillo’s Extasis de San Agustin illustrates the emotionalism, tenebrism, and naturalism of the Spanish Baroque. The saint’s open arms, upward gaze, and facial expression establish his dialogue with Zurbaran and Jose de Ribera. The theatrical use of light confirms the date of this painting to the 1640s. Jordaens’ Flight into Egypt, a favorite topic of the Flemish Baroque, is a reminder of Rubens’ several takes on the subject. The Death of Seneca is the work of Giambattista Tiepolo, an artist that wielded enormous power in Enlightenment Spain under Carlos III.

Jean-Honore Fragonard is generally known for his Frick series. Christie’s oil study for Jupiter and Callisto gives the viewer a glimpse into his working methods, use of light, application of color, and creation of environment. The two lots by Pieter Breughel Jongere represent a dialogue with his father’s Wedding Feast. The younger painter’s Wedding Feast (one in at the Irish National Gallery) and Peasants Giving Gifts to the Bride, caricaturesque, are not as moralistic and condemnatory as his father’s eponymous work.

Francesco Guardi is a contemporary of Canaletto and Bernardo Bellotto. His Chiesa di S. Giovanni e Paolo at Christie’s shows the atmosphere and emotion of an early Canaletto. The work represents a different perspective of the same subject depicted by Bellotto in 1741.

Sotheby’s offering is remarkable for its samples of trecento and quattrocento Italian religious painting. The Norton Madonna and Child with Saints Anthony Abbot and Saint Bernardino by Sano di Pietro exhibits a notable dichotomy: the Madonna’s hieratic, formulaic face and the Child’s naturalistic depiction. Sano di Pietro’s oeuvre appears at the Louvre and the Kress Collection Lowe Art Museum. The examples of Sienese art at Sotheby’s attest to the city’s sophisticated visual concern with delicacy and ornamentation. Standing Male Saint by Benedetto di Bindo offers further evidence of Siena’s continuing hold of its Italo-Byzantine idiom. Jacopo del Landini (his works appear at the Boston MFA and the Kress Collection) relates to Cimabue and ignores the naturalistic expression of Maso di Banco and Taddeo Gaddi, working in Florence at the same time. Landini’s opus disregards Ambrogio Lorenzetti, the link between Siena and Florence While Bicci di Lorenzo worked in his Crucifixion, for sale at Sotheby’s, Masaccio and Donatello (perhaps even Fra Filippo Lippi) were already active in Florence. His artistic activity took place within the context of a family workshop (son of Lorenzo di Bicci, father of Neri di Bacci). This work is proof of the Early Renaissance conflict between iconographic tradition and revolution.

A notable Van Dyck portrait, Ferdinand de Boisschot, Baronet of Saventheum is a deep psychological study of the subject more than an exercise in aristocratic portraiture. A truly intriguing piece comes up for sale at Sotheby’s: the Persian School’s Portrait of a Nobleman. An XVII century work confirms the Safavid’s court cosmopolitan refinement. Grace, attention to detail, and exposure to Western art are evident in the piece. European visual aesthetics arrived in Isfahan with its aperture to trade, patronage and Armenian influence. Portrait of a Nobleman is a fascinating pastiche.

The spring Old Masters sales at Sotheby’s and Christie’s come at a time when important collectors and marchands are already in New York for the yearly International Fine Arts and Antiques Fair.

May 16th, 2005

Rethinking a Party


Le Figaro stated that this year’s presidential elections would lead the Democrats to “an examination of conscience.” The French daily quoted party insiders who see the future of the Party in the hands of new figures like Barack Obama. “We came up short in the White House and in the Senate,” complained Hillary Clinton to CNN’s Larry King. “I think that means we’ve got to take a hard look at what we stand for as a party and how we present to the American people both the values and the priorities that Democrats are willing to fight for.” This hard look will have to take into account the right swing of the American nation.

Most pundits attribute George W. Bush’s victory to the influence of Christian hardliners opposed to abortion and gay rights. The religious vote is but a factor in the complicated dynamics of a “Right Nation.” Bill Clinton’s populist charm was keenly mindful of the right sway of post-Reagan America. The populist factor was, in 2004, one of the key ingredients in the Republican formula for success. For the American electorate, a distant East Coast Catholic patrician married to a Portuguese billionaire was no match for a warm and inarticulate Texas bully.

Worse than the accusations of “flip flopping” on Iraq policy, the “liberal” stigma haunted Mr. Kerry’s bid for the White House. Liberals are perceived as soft on foreign policy, economic disasters, and morally ambiguous.

The American Left has had to reposition itself after the victory of the democratic free-market paradigm. Bill Clinton was able to sell his ideas on the basis of pure charm, articulating a right-of-center Democratic platform. Mr. Clinton presided during a period of unprecedented prosperity and foreign policy success.

The contested 2000 election – where the populist element was noticeably absent chez Gore – was followed by the September 11th tragedy. The Bush administration used this historical juncture to advance the “neocon” agenda of Vice President Cheney, Secretary Rumsfeld, and ideologue Wolfowitz. Draped in the American flag, the militarization of society and foreign policy as well as the Iraq excursion became necessary compensation devices in light of the barbarian aggression. Little has been written of the Iraq adventure as a national compensation mechanism to a national trauma and the unsuccessful search for Bin Laden.

Silencing the critical voice of Howard Dean in favor of a “high road,” gave Republicans the time necessary to mount a serious campaign that dictated the terms of the debate. It afforded the Bush camp the possibility of ignoring the budget deficit, the absence of weapons of mass destruction and an exit strategy in Iraq, the medical insurance crisis, unemployment, and, above all, the findings of the 9/11 Report and the judicious, disparaging “tell-alls” of insiders Paul O’Neill and Richard Clarke.

Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge’s The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America (New York: The Penguin Press, 2004) singles out the sources of George W’s brand of conservatism: Texas, business, and religion.

The right swing in government policy is seen as the product of the many Conservative think tank alumni now in positions of power, the offspring of Protestant ministers currently in the Cabinet, the cultural cohesiveness of the Right leadership, and the sense of purpose afforded the administration by the September 11 th tragedy. “Conservatism’s progress goes much deeper than the gains that the Republican Party has made over the past half century or the steady decline in Democratic registration. The Right clearly has ideological momentum on its side in much the same way that the Left had momentum in the 1960s.” Micklethwait and Wooldridge argue that “the extent to which the center of gravity in American politics has moved to the right has been clearly illustrated by the current president and his predecessor. First came the first two-term Democratic president since the Second World War, who only achieved that feat by governing like an Eisenhower Republican. Now the grandson of Prescott Bush has cut taxes, catered to the Religious Right and generally governed like a Sun Belt business tycoon.” The authors point to the most important characteristic of the 2004 election: “If our survey has been one of conservative success, it has also been one of liberal failure. American liberalism, as both a body of ideas and a political coalition, is a shadow of its former self.” The Democratic Party will survive as a political alternative as soon as it confronts the right swing of American culture and the electoral need for populism.

April 30th, 2005

Fra Carnevale


Exciting in its detectivesque scholarship, From Filippo Lippi to Piero della Francesca: Fra Carnevale and the Making of a Renaissance Master rediscovers a long neglected artist. Mentioned by Vasari, Giovanni di Bartolomeo Corradini was born in Urbino where he would later return. Moving to Florence in his twenties, Corradini joined the workshop of Filippo Lippi. The Brera-Metropolitan venture investigates early Renaissance rules of apprenticeship, workshop practices, and patronage. It reaffirms the status of Medicean Florence as a visual arts metropolis. Interestingly, it makes the viewer aware of linguistic diffusion and geographic adaptation. The catalogue, however, does not clearly address the interaction of the artists represented and the Guild of St. Luke (Compagnia di San Luca o dei pittori). It does not study in depth the artistic dialogue between painters and Florentine architects.

Professor Keith Christiansen, Emanuela Daffra, Andra de Marchi, and Matteo Ceriani extend a vector of inquiry from Fra Filippo Lippi to Piero della Francesca. In the process, the viewer discovers lesser known artists: the Pratoveccio Master, the Master of the Castello Nativity, and Rovezzano. Their work illustrates the shedding of the Italo-Byzantine, proto-Renaissance hieratic idiom and the adoption of XV century Florentine naturalism. The conflict is clearly evidenced in Da Camerino’s opus. Could one not argue the same about Gentile da Fabriano, Bicci di Lorenzo, and Lorenzo Monaco? They are surprisingly absent. (The Metropolitan owns Monaco’s Nativity and the Uffizi his 1422 Adoration of the Magi.) Fra Carnevale, trained with a Late Gothic painter in Urbino, made the transition clearly illustrated in the Crucifixion, Saint Peter, Saint John the Baptist, and Saint Francis polyptich reunited at the Metropolitan.

The Making of a Renaissance Master also brings together the Barberini panels. Along with the Annunciation, they are responsible for the characterization of Fra Carnevale as the author of architectural fantasies. The artist uses architecture to create perspective and establish the axes that organize space. The contrast of columns with arches and arcades imparts dynamism and excitement. The setting and characters are tools for theological speculation and symbolism.

Florence’s early XV century visual output is a conversation with architecture. A Vitruvius manuscript was found in 1412. Brunelleschi, Alberti, and Michelozzo did not go unnoticed by Masaccio (1420’s Cappella Brancacci fresco, 1425’s Holy Trinity), Fra Filippo Lippi (1930’s Tarquinia Madonna and Barbadori Altarpiece), Fra Angelico, and Domenico Veneziano (another import). Alberti’s Treatise proved influential in articulating a new artistic paradigm.

Fra Carnevale, upon his return to Urbino, advised Federigo da Montefeltro on matters architectural and found himself involved in several projects (Monastery church of San Domenico, Palazzo Ducale). In Florence, he used architecture as the stage for the dramatic representation of the sacred. He acquired a profound respect for a discipline that gave visual expression to the Renaissance ideals of geometry and rational order as bases of beauty.

From Filippo Lippi to Piero della Francesca: Fra Carnevale and the Making of a Renaissance Master closes May 1st at the Metropolitan Museum.

April 16th, 2005

Enigma From Barcelona: Who is Lucrecia?


She is gradually becoming a recognized presence in U.S. stages. Kathleen Battle meets Sade and sings boleros as “lieder.” A version of the following article appeared in Media3 publications.

For the second year in a row, Cuban-Catalan diva Lucrecia, has peeked the interest of the American music world. During the most recent installment of Festival Miami, jazz critics, the Hispanic press, and loyal fans jammed the University of Miami’s Gusman Hall for a bolero recital.

Lucrecia turned the bolero into an art song (lied, canzone d’arte). William Hipp, dean of the School of Music recognized in the singer “a privileged voice and great musical intelligence.”

After her U.S. debut with celebrated saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera, Lucrecia was noticeably absent from the American music scene. She was consolidating her Spanish career especially on TVE (Television Espanola), recording for Warner Records and working on the documentary Balseros. The Academy-Award nominated soundtrack “La noche de la iguana” would jump-start her career internationally.

In the context of an exclusive gala, the singer packed Coral Gables Merrick Park surprising and delighting an audience that included pop mega star Gloria Estefan and Pedro Knight, widower of the legendary Celia Cruz. The media in singing her praises declared her the “successor of Celia Cruz.” A cautious Lucrecia declared: “I do not want to be typecast within an established parameter.”

In a coup, the diva returned to Florida this year to perform accompanied by renowned jazz pianist Michel Camilo. She was again invited to the annual “Voices for Children” benefit. By now a South Florida household name, loved by Hispanic radio stations, she sang at “Carnaval de la Calle Ocho.” These various contexts and challenges established her musical versatility.

Lucrecia is a well known figure in Spanish television. Her recently published children’s book proved a successful venture. A soon to be released CD has her performing with international musical luminaries.

The Barcelona singer had already entered the realm of the bolero in a live recorded performance. It was her Festival Miami recital’s fresh and stylized approach to the genre that proved of great impact to serious jazz critics and the specialized press. Accompanied by Michel Fragoso, the singer offered a streamlined yet bold reading of the staples “Tu no sabes nada” and “La gloria eres tu.” Her penchant for boleros-turned-lieder reaffirms the diva’s often used characterization: “Kathleen Battle meets Sade.”

April 16th, 2005

Nostalgia and Cuban Interiors

cubanelegance.jpgNostalgia and Cuban Colonial Interiors

Now that everything is hypertrophic, made to the measure of the prehistoric buffalo or the mammoth, let us turn back to the numbers of delight, the beautiful measure and proportion, the response to the caress of the hand that Havana still reaches.
Jose Lezama Lima, November, 1949

Cuba is a sure source of bestsellers and lovely coffee table books. The Buena Vista Social Club phenomenon has transcended music and mojitos into a generalized Cubanophilia. Travel restrictions, the interest in architecture and an exotic environment that seems frozen in time pique the curiosity of Western photographers, artists, historians, journalists and critics

A survey of bookstores reveals that there are, in large format, an average of 35 readily available titles (in English and Spanish). One of the latest arrivals is Michael Connors’ Cuban Elegance (Abrams). The book follows the pattern established by Llilian Llanes in The Houses of Old Cuba (Thames & Hudson, 1999) and Maria Luisa Lobo y Montalvo’s Havana: History and Architecture of a Romantic City, as well as the illustrated architectural history monographs by Eduardo Luis Rodr iguez .

Magnificently photographed and designed, Cuban Elegance affords a glimpse into Cuban interiors from Colonial times to the 20th century. Michael Connors, a New York University graduate and antiques marchand, is best when confining himself to his metier: furniture and design. The book provides some memorable inaccuracies and oversimplifications. ”Finally, many exiles fled from Saint Domingue [now Haiti] to Cuba, particularly to the neighborhood of Santiago, but also to other places in the island.” Does Connors mean to the neighboring city of Santiago de Cuba?

Cuba was a leading source of mahogany for English furniture makers during the 18th century but Connors glosses over the possibility of a Cuban influence in carving techniques and styles over Sheraton and Hepplewhite. He does address the possible Cuban influence — from 1740s sacristy chests — in block front New England chests. His discussion of the development of roperos and Cuban versions of planter’s chairs is indeed enlightening.

The reader is left thirsty for a lengthier analysis of the “sillon” or “balance” (rocking chairs) that Connors traces to the 1830s as a North American import. Things Cuban, even in the arts, entail a political dimension. Many of the environments that so mystify the author may well be reconstructions or approximate reconfigurations of the original milieus. The only exception may be the Museo Napoleonico, Julio Lobo’s collection where Natalia Bolivar may have played a role in the preservation of the collection and the interiors.

Any person concerned with history and a certain sense of accuracy must keep in mind that during the 1960s the contents of most mansions and palaces ended up in the warehouses of the Fondo de Bienes Culturales (Institute for Cultural Resources) and redistributed to the houses of the new government elite, foreign embassies, official government residences, or sold for hard currency in auction houses. The office of the city historian, Eusebio Leal, has had access to the inventories of things taken from these houses. Not even the resourceful Leal can undo the systematic sale and abuse of the national heritage of which art experts have accused the Cuban government. The book is a wonderful alternative to the trite compendia of neocolonial photographs of jineteras (Havana call girls) leaning against dilapidated buildings or skimpily dressed youths contorting their bodies to the music of Los Van Van. It is a hymn to the sense of quiet grandeur, measure and proportion that so enthralled Lezama Lima. Connors deserves credit for going where others fear to tread: the exploration of the European subtext in Cuban culture.

Art critic and historian Justo J. Sanchez has taught art history at Miami-Dade College and the New World School of the Arts

December 15th, 2004

The Business of Art: Art Basel-Miami Beach

Note: No representation of accuracy is made of the price, sales, and gallery information.

Over 30,000 visitors attended the third installment of Art Basel-Miami Beach. The art business is symptomatic of a specific stage in the business cycle. The volume of sales indicates the extent to which art is an investment strategy, a store of value, and an alternative instrument of exchange. The feverish activity during Art Basel-Miami Beach was foreshadowed in New York. Sotheby’s and Christie’s reported a considerable jump in sales from $482 million a year-ago fall, and from $400.5 million in the autumn 2002. Both auction houses noted the intense competition for the better quality modern masters.

Acquisition and collecting point to the economic structure that shapes a social system, praxis, and legitimating practices. Art Basel-Miami Beach affords a picture of the current aesthetic debate, the demand and uses of the Masters, contemporary taste, patronage, and collecting practices. In the case of contemporary works, Art Basel – Miami Beach allows a glimpse at the dynamics of art merchandising and the tactics of positioning. Key players in the international market need not be identified within the Miami Beach mixture of fashionistas, models, social climbers, poseurs, and assorted party stuffing. The purchase of art in South Florida speaks to the possibility of legalizing and investing ready money from a shadow economy. In a young city of fluid social lines and mobility, the purchase and exhibition of important works of art constitutes the rigorous entry point to validation and respectability.

Collecting by the laity emerged in the XVth century, following the tradition of collecting curiosities and natural history specimens. Venice in the XVI century and the development of oil painting allowed visual art easy mobility, thus adding to the element of commodification of the medium. The Dutch bourgeoisie in the XVII century used art as a vehicle of social escalation. Acquiring works of art may be motivated by aesthetic preferences, investment, speculation, scholarly study, or even as a social statement. Patrons began to provide space for pioneering works as in the impressive XVIII century holdings of the Countess of Verrue.

According to the curators of “The Business of Art” at the Getty: “Fascinated by the high prices achieved by contemporary (postwar) art, the German art critic Willi Bongard developed a system, known as the Kunstkompass, for ranking artists based on indicators of fame.” Getty experts explain that “using data gathered from museums, commercial art galleries, and art journal reviews, Bongard calculated the success of an artist from year to year and compared it to gallery prices, thus determining the artist’s investment potential.” The curators traced the economic approach to art to the late 50’s when “dealer Spencer Samuels attempted to change the marketing approach of the New York firm French & Company, with a decided emphasis on art purchase as an investment opportunity. In 1959 he began publishing a newsletter for businessmen, Currency of Art, which presented the acquisition of art as a classic investment. Taxes and Art took this marketing approach to a more refined level. The publication gave detailed instructions on how to purchase magnificent works of art while deducting great amounts from one’s taxes. These instructions were accompanied by glossy illustrations of works of art, all owned by French & Company.”

Idyllic winter weather in South Florida, trendy and sophisticated restaurants and hotels, a great party atmosphere, and the strength of the Euro made Art Basel-Miami Beach a natural alternative for the European art buyer. For quite some time, low interest rates and stock market instability have made art a sound investment option for Americans.

The third installment built on the successful formula of previous fairs. Modern Masters were carefully placed around a central axis and at a premium core space close to the main entrance. An affluence of Picassos characterized this last installment: a 1913 Compotier ($20 million at Gray Gallery), a 1956 Buste de femme ($2.75 million), a 1949 Femme assise (sold), the impressive Les dormers (12.5 million at Landau), a spirited Bacchanale on paper ($245,000 at James Goodman Gallery), a 1957 Juan les pins at Munich’s Galerie Thomas, a 1945 Tete de femme (2.8 million at Cologne’s famous Gnurzynska Gallery). Other important European Modern masters included Chirico’s Trovatore (sold) and his Piazza d’Italia ($320,000) at Waddington Gallery. Mattise’s great bust Jeannette III ($4.5 million) came to Miami via Acquavella Gallery. His Carmen ($950,000) was found at Landau and his 1940 Grand Figure ($550,000) at James Goodman Gallery. Goodman also showed Miro’s 1967 Femme ($550,000). Among European Masters, a rare treat was Max Ernst’s Hommage to Velasquez ($215,000) at Galerie Thomas.

Cologne’s Gnurzynska’s Gallery boasted of Motherwell’s never shown landmark Arabesque ($1.8 million) commissioned for the corporate headquarters of General Electric. The piece had languished in a warehouse until last week. Two other Motherwells (Open No. 16 and Ultramarine and Charcoal) were shown at Ameringer and Yohe Fine Art accompanied by a great Helen Frankenthaler Castle that sold during the fair. Among the other American masters represented were Willem de Kooning’s Untitled XII (1.650 million) at C&M Arts. Nevelson’s Wall Relief ($168,000) could be seen near her Skygate II ($58,000) at Galerie Thomas, Munich. Josef Albers’ Homage to the Square (1980) was sold for an undisclosed amount. Adolph Gottlieb’s The Bent Arrow ($375,000) was prominently displayed facing an important traffic lane. Rothko’s 1959 Brown, Maroon, Rust and Plum ($1.6 million) was part of Acquavella’s exhibition.

Important Latin American art made its presence felt at Art Basel-Miami Beach. Matta’s Argemouth (1.3 million) was shown at Acquavella. Ramis Barquet sold Kuitca’s Baroque Theater and displayed two great Bedias: Vamos a tener que mudar la mesa y Tenemos todo el tiempo por delante. The New York gallery brought Tamayo’s 1958 Tete and Matta’s 1957 Oscillation du present. Nina Menocal also displayed two wonderful 2004 Bedias. Marlborough Gallery displayed Claudio Bravo’s virtuoso 2004 Three Colored Papers (sold).

There was a marked difference in the catalogue’s emphasis on contemporary art and the main fair’s emphasis on important modern works.

Art Basel-Miami Beach has already acquired a distinctive profile that distinguishes it from other U.S. events of that nature. The very effective mix of Modern Masters with carefully selected contemporary works from leading international galleries has made it a remarkable business success. The event has also contributed significantly to the revitalization of Miami and the positioning of the city as an important arts venue.