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The greatest art theft in history

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The week’s best art and culture reads – including the story of the Nazi art theft, a new reading of Shakespeare and the power of mis-heard lyrics.

The devil and the art dealer
Alex Shoumatoff | Vanity Fair |  March 2014
How an elderly German called Cornelius Gurlitt came to have paintings worth a billion dollars in his Munich apartment. His father, though partly Jewish, had worked for the Nazis collecting looted masterpieces, selling ‘degenerate’ art abroad, and keeping the best for himself. The art-world theft of the century? Perhaps; except that no crime seems to have been committed by Gurlitt or his father, at least under German law.  

Obituary: Madeline Gins
Telegraph | 18 March 2014
Believing that comfort killed people, she “set out to achieve everlasting life through architecture”, designing buildings that made people “disoriented, dizzy, and slightly bilious”. Some of them even got built − with floors that “undulated like sand dunes”; kitchens “positioned at the bottom of steep slopes”; no doors; windows too high or too low; and everything painted in “dozens of clashing colours”.

Parsing is such sweet sorrow
Emma Pierson | FiveThirtyEight | 17 March 2014
"Romeo and Juliet" is wrongly named. It should be called "Juliet and Her Nurse", or "Romeo and Benvolio", if the title is meant to reflect the main relationship in the story, as measured by the dialogue between characters. Juliet speaks only 155 lines to Romeo, and he speaks only 101 to her. There again, the “perfect sonnet” that Romeo and Juliet exchange on first meeting “must count for more than 14 random lines”.

There must be some misunderstanding
Kevin Dettmar | Chronicle Review | 17 March 2014
On “mondegreens”, or mis-heard song lyrics. If you think Jimi Hendrix sang “’Scuse me while I kiss this guy” in Purple Haze, that’s a mondegreen. “This is one of the signature malaises of music in the age of mechanical reproduction. Words that are unintelligible in recordings often remain unintelligible”. They “harden in our memories into the misconstrued forms in which we’ve stored them, through multiple listenings”.      

Shane MacGowan: God’s lucky man
Matthew Hennessey | City Journal | 14 March 2014
Famed for his songwriting and debauchery, the Pogues leader is a Christian “squarely within the rich and sensual faith tradition practiced by his Irish ancestors”. His “tribal Catholicism” is “at home with the sacred and the profane”. God must be taking care of him, because he has “not been doing the job himself”. His rheumy eyes, throat-clearing cackle and toothless grin suggest “not genius, but late-stage dipsomania”.  

Christo
Barbara Rose | Interview | 12 March 2014
Conversation with the monumental wrapper. “Our projects have two distinct periods: software period and hardware period. The software period is where the work exists in the mind of the thousand people who try to stop us and the thousand people who try to help us. The hardware period is where the project gets built”. His latest work: a $350m pile of oil drums in Abu Dhabi bigger than the Great Pyramid.        

The Tri-X factor
Bryan Appleyard | Intelligent Life | 11 March 2014
In praise of Kodak Tri-X, the black-and-white film beloved by old-school photographers for its “grainy” and “dirty” tones. It was “flexible and forgiving”: you could muff the exposure and still get a decent shot. Devotees included Henri Cartier-Bresson, Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Don McCullin. When Kodak filed for bankruptcy in 2012, Anton Corbijn bought thousands of rolls of Tri-X and stuffed them in the fridge.

The gavel drops at Sotheby’s
Andrew Rice | New York | 11 March 2014
Portrait of the venerable auction house, lagging behind Christie’s and under siege from investor Daniel Loeb, who sees art as “an expanding economy” and Sotheby’s stock as “the only public route to investing in it”. Entertaining cast of tycoons and collectors including David Martinez Guzman, Mexican-born financier who keeps a billion dollars’ worth of art in a Swiss warehouse and never looks at it.      

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