Art Serves the Government How Symbiotic Is the Relationship between Art and the State?
In 1998 the Dutch National Bank bought a Mondrian painting for 36 million
Euros and gave it to the Dutch people. Journalists found out that the pur
chase had been handled behind closed doors using intermediaries and
that a special arrangement had been used because the deal had not been
entirely legal. The `gift' from the bank to the Dutch people came from public
money; therefore, parliament should have been asked for permission to
spend this money on the purchase of the painting. The elected representa
tives of the Dutch people must be able to decide what the Dutch are going
to give themselves. The Prime Minister, who had known about the deal all
along, admitted that he thought that parliament would have never con
sented to the deal. Therefore, a `minor' disingenuous procedure and some
concealment had been required. The intention of the government and the
bank director had only been to do something `nice' for the country.
While the gift was meant to be public, the deal had to remain veiled. When it
finally became public, a row ensued and the public reacted particularly
negatively. The people were not happy with the gift because they did not
like Mondrian's painting.
Alex remembers that he and his friends had mixed feelings about the affair.
They liked the painting very much, although they thought that it had cost far
too much money. But that wasn't their main issue.
Alex's colleague Rosa had the most extreme opinion. `I like this Mondrian,
but I could never accept it as a gift. The president of the bank is a thief; he
gives away what is not his to give. He is more than just a petty criminal. This
so-called gift comes from a theft worth — think of it — eighty million guilders.
For that money a thousand visual artists could paint murals on public build
ings for the rest of their lives.' This is what Rosa does when she has paid
work. Then Peter asked her: “How certain are you that those murals are
what the people want?” And Rosa responded, “Of course they'd rather
spend their money on bus trips to the Costa Brava, but at least their local
board representatives like my murals.”
Peter was really disgusted by the sneaky maneuvers of this fraternity of