Welcome back to UKRG Culture Club! Every few months we will be looking at how Registrars, and the issues we face, influence and are portrayed in popular culture. A registrar’s role, as we all know, has many different guises – the issues we face are commonly reported in the news and media, and find their way into popular culture. This blog will be reviewing exhibitions that catch our eye and reporting on how registration issues are highlighted in pop culture, through literature, film, music and beyond.

UKRG Committee would love to hear from you! Please send your own UKRG Culture Club reviews to Becca England, Supporting Officer [email protected].

Now, if you fancy curling up with a DVD this January, you might have thought about having a look at George Clooney’s The Monuments Men. Becca England tells us more.

Dad’s Army meets Show me the Monet?

The reviews of The Monuments Men were not particularly kind when they came out, but I wondered if perhaps the repatriation of stolen artwork just wasn’t sexy enough for the British media. Unfortunately, upon watching I realised that this film is drier than a de-humidifier.

The film follows the story of seven brave curators, conservators, architects and academics that were gathered together to ensure the artwork looted by the Nazis ended up in safe hands (with the Allies). By ’44, the horrendous looting of (predominantly) Jewish collections had become public knowledge, with Hitler planning to display the very best of the haul at his planned Führer Museum in Linz, Austria. As the German army weakened the fear was that the collections would be destroyed when the Third Reich fell, or fall into Russian hands. The gang, with minimal military training, had the daunting task of locating the collections around Europe and ensuring they were recovered. The men managed to save hundreds of thousands of artworks by locating the stashes in salt mines and private homes. Unfortunately, much of the artwork was burnt as the German army fell, with many artworks lost forever. Most of us are also familiar with the vast amount of art that never made it back to its rightful owners, with many cases active today.

Photocall at The National Gallery, London with the cast of the film and real-life Monuments Man Harry Ettlinger 
The peril these brave characters experienced was astonishing; with two soldiers giving their lives to the mission. In real-life however, one brave soldier perished on the mission, being hit by a shell while rescuing a damaged altarpiece. I googled this fact, and discovered that only about 80% of the story was actually based on truth. Here’s a wonderful quote from Gorgeous George, Director:

“Almost all of the scenes happened. Sometimes they happened with other characters…But that’s moviemaking. We’re not killing Hitler in a movie theater… We’re landing at the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944. We’re not landing there when it was convenient for us to land there. We follow all the rules, we just made the characters more interesting, I think. Not that the real people weren’t interesting. It’s just that, you know…” 

Hmm… truth not that interesting, eh George?

The film itself looks like a big-budget Dad’s Army. The tone for the movie was off for me – this film is neither funny nor serious. It is sanctimonious though, with Clooney delivering three speeches about the importance of preserving art for future generations.  Registrars don’t need to be reminded of that, we care for art for future generations on a daily basis. However, the film did resonate with me following the recent bombing of the Temple of Baalshamin at the ancient ruins of Palmyra in Syria. The truth is that without the bravery of experts during wartime; artworks and monuments are lost forever. The British Museum’s exhibition in 2011 Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient Worldwas a vivid shock to me. At first I felt a little cheated that I had paid to see an exhibition with so little in it… and then I realised that this was all that was left.

My summary would be that this film tells an important story, but would have been better as a documentary  told through real life interview, photographs and footage. Perhaps on BBC4. Narrated by Matt Damon.
A much better alternative

The good news is that… there is a fantastic documentary about this very subject! The Rape of Europa is a fascinating documentary exploring not only the discovery by the Allies of the looted art, but also looking at current claims to artworks and how they are being reunited with their rightful owners over 70 years later. Well worth a watch!