28 February 2016

"Misfortune" in the British Isles

by Marc Masurovsky

Most cultural institutions around the world are controlled or owned by governments. In political terms, the State oversees and controls culture, sometimes intimately, most often at a distance. There are ministries, departments, specifically tasked with the management of culture, at all levels of society.

The State allocates funds to thousands of projects, large and small, as long as it thinks that it can afford them. But it also abuses its discretion to decree what works of art remain within its territory or what works should be incorporated into its collections, forever.

To wit:

Here are some examples of such State intervention in the United Kingdom

The so-called Waverley criteria are invoked to determine the validity of an export ban. Based on the Waverley criteria, the British government deems what work or object is too important to be exported. Its loss has to be construed as a “misfortune”. That sounds a bit tepid. A misfortune? How about a loss to the nation? People experience misfortunes. How does the disappearance of a work of art constitute a “misfortune”? And yet…

In 2011,  Culture Minister Ed Vaizey prevented a portrait signed Edouard Manet from leaving Brish territory.

Image result for ed vaizey
In 2012, a Picasso painting, "Child with a Dove," was banned from leaving the British Isles because the government wants it to remain within its borders.

Child with a Dove
Jane Austen's ring (left) and Kelly Clarkson (right)

 In 2013, the British ministry of culture bans Jane Austen’s ring from leaving the UK, to Kelly Clarkson’s dismay who had bought it fair and square. She had to give it up.

Alberto Giacometti Femme (1928-29) Photo: The Department for Culture, Media and Sport
Femme, by Alberto Giacometti

In February 2016, that would be this month, the United Kingdom prevented a Giacometti sculpture from leaving British territory.

With no Government rule book that spells out what would cause “misfortune” to the British nation if an object left the British Isles to adorn someone else’s living room, display wall, or mantle, it is frankly hypocritical on the part of British officials and especially its bureaucrats who are responsible for defining what constitutes a “misfortune” for remaining deliberately vague until they decide to strike. Ask Kelly Clarkson how she felt.