This post has been UPDATED
When the Taliban destroy incredible pieces of architecture and art, or when American troops don’t protect museums in Iraq, you are seeing people losing their culture. And with the end of a country’s culture goes its identity.
George Clooney, W Magazine
I’m looking forward to seeing the film adaptation of THE MONUMENTS MEN, a new film produced, co-written, directed and featuring George Clooney as the leader of a platoon of art curators, preservationists, museum directors, and art historians to retrieve stolen art and masterpieces from Adolf Hitler during World War II. And yes, there were women too. Not all of them represented with the exception of one, Rose Valland, played by Cate Blanchett. The film is based on the non-fiction book The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Theives, and the Greatest Treaure Hunt in History by Robert B. Edsel and Brett Witter.
UPDATE: This serves as a mini-review. For the most part the critics have been right about “The Monuments Men.” The most compelling story does happen to be Rose Valland (Cate Blanchett). But the larger question of the movie has been one thrown up in my face on occasion — “Which is more important? Saving people or saving art?” For me the two are one and the same. But that’s part of a longer discussion.
If anyone’s noticed lately both the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities are lacking permanent chairs. The NEA has been without a chair since 2012 when Rocco Landesman left the post; the NEH has been without a chair since May 2013 when Jim Leach left that post. Director posts have been vacated in several divisions. This is not a good thing. Interims can only keep the lights on and take what comes. With a permanent chair you have leadership, direction and a vision. These appointments are made by the executive branch.
Since the Obama administration appears to measure artistic and cultural value by the standards of Twitter and Facebook algorithms, my recommendation would be a celebrity to fill one or both of the endowment posts for the next two years. Actor Jane Alexander was a fantastic chair of the National Endowment for the Arts during the Clinton administration from 1993 – 1997. And a capable one.
Would George Clooney be up to the challenge of saving his country’s cultural treasures? The endowments need someone in place, someone who will testify before Congress on the value of the arts and humanities to the life, livelihoods and people of our country. You want someone who will grab the attention. George is smart and passionate enough around these issues to lead the charge. And I believe this Congress will gladly take a meeting with George Clooney and hear him out, if for no other reason than to ask for his autograph.
UPDATE 2/13/14: President Obama has nominated Jane Chu, president and chief executive of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, Missouri to head the National Endowment for the Arts. Ms. Chu is also a pianist. Her appointment is pending confirmation by the Senate. The NEH chair remains vacant.
More Monument moments in our time:
Mali – “Saving Timbuktu’s Priceless Artifacts From Militants’ Clutches” (NYTimes.com)
Iraq – “Iraq displays hundreds of recovered artifacts” (USATODAY.com)
Egypt – “Egypt conducts global search for stolen antiquities” (Al-Monitor)
Afghanistan – “Saving Relics, Afghans Defy the Taliban” (NYTimes.com)
UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization)