Friday, August 19, 2011

I May Not Know Much About Art

I May Not Know Much About Art

We always think of the art world as being rather genteel and well-heeled. No sensational or controversial stories, unless someone stole a painting from a museum, snuck it back in with a forgery painted over it, and the thief slept with the attractive female insurance investigator trying to track down the missing painting.

Or is that the Thomas Crown Affair?

There's the occasional news story about how a famous painting was sold at auction for a kajillion dollars, making the rest of the world wish we had that much money to spend on a single painting. Or that we had as much money as was spent on the painting. Or that the buyer would adopt us.

Some of these objets d'art — which is French for "dart objects" — disappear from the public view, into some private (i.e. snooty) art collection, where the very wealthy study their newly-purchased paintings, cackling with glee and rubbing their hands together. At least that's what I tell myself to make myself feel better at not having a kajillion dollars.

Other works that are purchased for the price of 80 teachers' salaries make everyone wonder what the big deal is, and why, if anyone had that much money, they didn't spend it on something much better. Like "Dogs Playing Poker."

It's times like this that I really understand the saying, "I may not know much about art, but I know what I like." And as a mature and responsible adult, I also know that I should not try to destroy art I don't like.

Susan Burns of Arlington, Virginia, has yet to figure that out, and she's 53 years old.

She's also bat crap crazy.

Burns was arrested at the National Gallery of Art on August 5th after she slammed the Henry Matisse oil painting, "The Plumed Hat" against a wall three times, and damaged the painting's frame. She was charged with, among other things, destruction of property for trying to break the $2.5 million painting.

The frame itself is valued at $250 — yes, two hundred and fifty dollars — which makes me feel bad for the guy who built it. How would you like to have your life's work reduced to .01% of the value of the thing it protects?

This is Burns' second arrest at the National Gallery. Back in April, she tried to destroy the Gauguin painting, "Two Tahitian Women," which depicts two bare-breasted women, and is worth $80 million. The painting was protected behind a piece of plexiglass, which she tried to punch and smash her way through, yelling, "It's censorin' time!"

Back in April, she told investigators, "I feel that Gauguin is evil. He has nudity and is bad for the children. He has two women in the painting, and it's very homosexual. I was trying to remove it. I think it should be burned."

The coincidence of her name and her view toward art notwithstanding, her actions in April don't explain her actions in August. "The Plumed Hat" frankly is not that interesting. No one is naked, the woman is rather plain, is wearing a shapeless white dress, and frankly, looks like a high school art contest entry. No one is naked, gay, or evil in "The Plumed Hat," although the hat is made with a big feather.

As part of her release, Burns signed paperwork saying that she would not visit any more art museums or galleries in the Washington DC area. Since she returned to a gallery just four months later, she's also under arrest for unlawful entry.

She also told the investigators in April, "I am from the American CIA, and I have a radio in my head. I am going to kill you."

Clearly, this is untrue, since everyone knows that 1) agents from the CIA never refer to their employer as "the American CIA," and 2) the USDA is actually the agency responsible for all art-related assassinations on American soil.

Right now, no one knows what "logic" Burns used to attack another painting, this one with a noticeable absence of boobs. Maybe she doesn't like paintings of women. Or she hates French painters. Or the feather was sexually suggestive.

Whatever her reason, something tells me we haven't heard the last of the art-hating CIA agent. Until then, museums will take extra precautions against further attacks, not only from Susan Burns, but from other morally uptight art haters around the country.

The guy who bought Dogs Playing Poker should take extra precautions.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

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  1. If you're interested in learning more about the art world, check out Seven Days in the Art World by Sarah Thornton. I can loan you my copy.

  2. The Plumed Hat painting might be a little more valuable now that it has captured the attention of a nut case. It got people like Eric Deckers blogging about it.


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