Politics makes funny things into important symbols. Such is the case of the trove of Joan Miró works that were acquired by a Portuguese bank that was taken over by the government. Although the works have never been shown in the country, Portuguese lawmakers are fighting a battle to stop the sale of the collection and even bully the government into building a museum around the works.
Rafael Minder’s terrific story in the New York Times shows how art has become a potent symbol for left politicians:
“The obsession with eliminating everything that is public is leading the government to go further down the privatization road, and perhaps they consider paintings to be part of the same strategy,” said Gabriela Canavilhas, a Socialist lawmaker and Portugal’s former culture minister. “But even in Detroit, which was declared bankrupt, their final decision was not to sell any art.” […]
“The only good thing about BPN is that they at least brought some special art to Portugal,” said Álvaro Beleza, a Socialist Party official. “We’re in economic trouble, many state assets can be sold, but there are limits and keeping these paintings is part of our dignity.” […]
The Miró collection has not been shown in public in Portugal. In fact, Pedro Lapa, director of the Berardo Collection Museum and one of the few Portuguese art experts to have seen the works, said he had been stunned to discover “such a huge collection was here and not even properly stored by the bank.”
Mr. Lapa said he failed to convince BPN, and more recently the government, to organize an exhibition. Portugal should now strive to create a new museum built around the Miró collection and other works to fill a cultural gap, he said, as “no Portuguese government ever built an international collection of modern art.”
Asked why a Catalan painter like Miró should be used to promote Portuguese culture, Mr. Lapa was unperturbed. “People go to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa, but Leonardo was Italian and not French,” he said.