Lovely art, missed lesson at Neue Galerie

neueNEW YORK – Art from fin de siècle Vienna has been a favorite since my semester study abroad in Austria. The taut pull of multiple styles gives energy to the paintings and prints – even the pillows – produced by Schiele, Kokoschka, et al. With good cause these artists professed to have seceded from the staid traditions of the Austro-Hungarian imperial past.

It was thus with great anticipation that I visited the Neue Galerie, opened a dozen years ago just up 5th Avenue from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Neue’s dedicated to showcasing the Vienna Secessionists’ works. “Showcase” is indeed the word, for the art is displayed amid the lustrous appointments of a circa-1914 mansion.

The art did not disappoint. Especially stunning were the golden, otherworldly portraits of the women of Klimt‘s world. Among the most famous is the one at top, of socialite Adele Bloch-Bauer – a painting I had admired years ago at an Austrian national museum.

In 2006 that museum handed the 1907 portrait over to Maria Altmann, the Bloch-Bauer niece who fought for years to reclaim it and other artworks looted from her family when the Nazis overtook Austria. As lawyers well know, a watershed in her struggle came in 2004, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 against Austria’s contention that sovereign immunity shielded it from Altmann’s lawsuit. That holding set the stage for the 2006 arbitral award of 5 looted Klimts to Altmann, and for her sale of Adele to the Neue Galerie. (In 2011,  Altmann, then 94 years old, died at her Southern California home.)

My visit to Neue thus brought some disappointment. The judicial story was not to be found in the exhibit, nor even in a gift shop children’s book that purported to trace Adele‘s provenance. At least for this lawyer, that absence seemed a missed opportunity to show that even in the world of art, law may serve justice.

U.N. World Food Programme adds longterm lens to quick-response focus

Emergency food aid was Job No. 1 when the World Food Programme was founded in 1961. U.N. General Assembly Resolution 1714, adopted in December of that year, stated:

‘In the administration of the Programme attention should be paid to … Establishing adequate and orderly procedures on a world basis for meeting emergency food needs and emergencies inherent in chronic malnutrition ….’

Annex, ¶ 10(a). WFP fulfilled that role in the ensuing half century, providing food aid across the globe. But those efforts have not been enough: today, by the WFP’s own count,

‘From Africa and Asia to Latin America and the Near East, there are 870 million people in the world who do not get enough food to lead a normal, active life.’

cousinThe persistence of hunger, in parts of the world detailed in this interactive map, has led WFP to include a longterm lens within its focus. So indicated WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin yesterday, when she returned to her alma mater, the University of Georgia School of Law, to keynote the annual symposium of the Georgia Journal of International & Comparative Law. ((c) Georgia Law photo by Cindy H. Rice) To sustain development of sufficient, healthy food sources, Cousin said:

‘We must move from food aid to food assistance.’

By “assistance,” she referred to approaches that would build food security over time – particularly for women, given their fundamental role in food production. It’s a focus reflected in another paragraph of Resolution 1714 (1961), which urged the WFP to pay attention to:

‘Implementing pilot projects, with the multilateral use of food as an aid to economic and social development, particularly when related to labour-intensive projects and rural welfare …’

Annex, ¶ 10(c). In her speech yesterday, Cousin stressed the challenges posed by imbalances in demand and supply, and then described some WFP projects intended to meet those challenges. Examples:

  • A partnership called EthioPEA, aimed at helping women in Ethiopia, working through cooperatives, plant, grow, and sell a staple crop – chickpeas – in order to meet market demands.
  • The Global Dry Land Alliance, in which Qatar has taken the lead in sponsoring research aimed at increasing food security in the 100 “dry land” states, constituting 40% of the world’s land mass. The alliance will research conservation and resource management, as well as improvements in crops that are traditional to dry-land regions – sorghum, for instance – but that, Cousin said, have garnered little R&D attention to date.

For skeptics who might underscore structural challenges – inequalities rooted in traditions of governance, land tenure and land use, and gender roles – Cousin offered this energetic retort:

‘Just because it’s always been that way doesn’t mean it has to stay that way.’

Universal theme of dispossession gives a global edge to The Cutting Season

Not long ago I heard a presentation that grounded an argument for uniformity in property law on the premise that property is fixed, certain, predictable. The claim seemed out of place, at least with respect to some property. Jumping immediately to mind was an overseas context – the link between land ousters and armed conflict explored in a 2011 Darfur report that I was honored to help produce. A  novel published a few months ago brought the question closer to home.

coverReleased in September 2012, The Cutting Season is the 2d novel by the Houston-born and L.A.-based author Attica Locke. On the surface it’s a murder mystery that plays out on an antebellum Louisiana plantation managed by Caren Gray, a Tulane Law dropout whose mother had been the plantation family’s cook. At a deeper level, it’s an exploration of identity – that of Gray, of course, but also of the land on which she lives. Little more should be said lest the story be spoiled. Read it, and as you do, keep in mind Article 17 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees that “[e]veryone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others,” and that “[n]o one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.”