If you’ve a fellow American who has traveled abroad in recent years, and visited artistic or historic sites, you’ll probably agree that there’s been an overwhelming increase in two factors at these locations which, at least at first glance, appear to be unrelated. There’s been a proliferation of international retail establishments in these areas, where chain stores and food outlets that you can find just about everywhere are often rather jarringly located right next to artistically and/or historically significant structures, replacing local businesses. At the same time, there’s also been an increase in anti-social behavior in and around these areas, engaged in by both residents and visitors alike.
So an interesting question that we might want to consider here is, are these two seemingly disparate trends, in fact, related?
Recently, the Edinburgh World Heritage group published the results of a survey on how both visitors and locals perceived the Scottish capital’s famous “Royal Mile” district. Among other interesting findings, the study found that many of the shops were viewed by tourists and locals alike as being either generic, international chain outlets, or stores selling cheap, imported products rather than local goods. Tourists also reported that they never seemed to meet any actual Scots when they visited the district, just other foreigners, while the Scots themselves preferred to avoid the area whenever possible.
The report was silent as to the perception and impact of anti-social behavior, which I found somewhat surprising. However, an annual survey conducted by the city revealed that overall, there’s a perception among Edinburgh’s citizens that anti-social behavior from graffiti to public intoxication is becoming more problematic in the city, including in areas that have been redeveloped specifically for attracting tourist revenue. That’s not to say that the Royal Mile has become a more dangerous place, necessarily, but it does provide some food for thought. If the Royal Mile is an area that locals have decided to abandon to tourists, and the tourists themselves don’t have a permanent stake in what happens to the area, should we be surprised if it becomes nothing more than a faded, archaeological memory?
Meanwhile in Rome, the Italian government appears to be interested in both addressing the issue of commercial globalization in historic areas, and in raising standards of public behavior in them. Italy’s Culture Minister Alberto Bonisoli, with support from Rome’s Mayor Virginia Raggi, recently nixed a proposed new, 8,600 square foot McDonald’s close to the 3rd century A.D. Baths of Caracalla, noting that it would be inappropriate for the chain to be located so close-by. As McDonald’s already has about 50 locations in Rome, many of which are right next to historic monuments, this seems to be a bit of a fart in a stiff wind, but there you are.
Earlier this summer, Rome’s City Council decided to reinvigorate a host of public behavior laws that were originally put into place after World War II, but which were only sporadically enforced in recent years. These include prohibitions on things such as open containers of alcohol on the street, swimming in historic fountains (sorry, Anita), and the affixing of so-called “love locks”. As part of this effort, visitors to the Eternal City may be shocked, if they make the mistake of sitting down on the Spanish Steps, to find themselves chased away by police officers on foot patrol, as part of a renewed effort to combat problems such as vandalism and loitering.
Perhaps there’s no connection between the homogenization of businesses in these areas, and the rise in anti-social behavior, or perhaps it’s some sort of symbiotic relationship. To me, it certainly seems possible to conclude that, the less locals take a personal interest in areas of artistic or historic importance – even areas heavily frequented by tourists – the greater the likelihood of anti-social behavior in that area. If you have thoughts on the subject, you are most welcome to post them in the comment box below.
And now, let’s move on to some art news from the week gone by.
Notre Dame News
At last, there is some good news on the reconstruction effort at Notre Dame de Paris, which is that the French Parliament has (correctly) chosen to eschew the suggestions of those who wanted to turn the building into some sort of hybrid of the High Line and a luxury hotel in Dubai, and instead has ordered that the Basilica be rebuilt exactly as it was at the time of the fire. Moreover, government oversight will be put in place to make certain that this occurs, and that proper construction standards and safety protocols are followed. Meanwhile, the (literal) fallout from the lead particulates issue, which I wrote about last week, continues to embroil the French press. City officials poo-pooed public concern over the issue, even as tests show that the exteriors of some schools in the area around the Cathedral still have an above-average amount of lead contamination, nearly four months after the fire.
No, you’re not experiencing déjà vu, gentle reader: Sotheby’s has just been hit by yet another lawsuit ahead of its proposed sale to French billionaire Patrick Drahi. If you’re not keeping track, this is suit #4, and it appears to be substantially similar to the other complaints, alleging that not all required information was disclosed to the company’s shareholders in order for them to make an informed decision on whether to accept the offer made by BidFair, a company wholly owned by M. Drahi. Of course, if you *are* keeping track, then you’ll remember that the plan is to take Sotheby’s private, so as to better compete against their arch-rival Christie’s, which is privately held by another French billionaire, François-Henri Pinault. For its part, Sotheby’s continues to brush off the lawsuits, including this latest one, and has indicated that it fully intends to go through with the sale by the end of this year.
After more than a century in storage thanks to its poor state of preservation, visitors to London’s National Gallery will be able to see a truly magnificent altarpiece by Giovanni Martini da Udine (1470-1535), an artist who is perhaps better known as a sculptor, but was also a very interesting painter of the High Renaissance in far Northeastern Italy. Martini’s “Madonna and Child with Saints” (painted for an unknown patron between 1500-1525) stands a massive 8 feet tall, and features the Virgin Mary and Christ Child on a throne at the center, with angels above, flanked by the Apostle St. James the Greater on our left, St. George on our right, and the image of the donor kneeling at the bottom. From this we can reasonably deduce that the artist’s patron was probably named Giacomo Giorgio (or Giorgio Giacomo), but I will leave that for the art historians to investigate. It took seven years to bring this piece back from the brink of ruin, the longest restoration process in the history of the museum; you can read about the appalling condition it was in, and what it took to conserve and restore the picture, by visiting the National Gallery’s press page.