Friday. 6/3/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Nolan Giles

Behind the wrecking ball

It’s a common story within our cities: an old building needs to be replaced with a new development and a process of demolition begins. Sometimes it’s met with outrage and a fight from citizens; other times it goes quietly and, occasionally, it gets more complicated. Enter two recent cases that made headlines in Norway and the US relating to art within architecture – instances that we hope will push city builders to rethink the concept of redevelopment.

In Oslo, two giant concrete Picasso murals (pictured) attached to a 51-year-old government building will be relocated to avoid the wrecking ball (while the building they’re attached to gets destroyed). In New York, an Isamu Noguchi sculpture is likely to be removed from a modernist Manhattan tower as it undergoes a revamp. The trouble is that both examples are from a period when art and architecture were thought of as part of a whole – and urban developments were constructed with a little more care.

While the art may be rescued in both cases, its meaning is likely to be lost by separating it from the architecture it was created to complement. As soulless profit-driven developments continue to rise in our cities, perhaps architects will learn lessons from these failures and push clients a little harder to consider more artful approaches to their projects in the future.

Diplomacy / Global

Man of the world

The name Javier Pérez de Cuéllar might not be the most recognisable among UN secretary-generals but his period in office was one of its most consequential. The fifth leader of the UN – and the first from Latin America – died this week at the age of 100. He served between 1982 and 1991, a period of geopolitical upheaval that allowed him to raise the UN’s profile as a trusted mediator in global conflicts. Pérez de Cuéllar (pictured), a Peruvian, played a pivotal role in brokering a ceasefire between Iran and Iraq in his second term in office. “He worked very steadily… and gradually brought results,” Edward Mortimer, a former UN director of communications, told Monocle 24’s The Briefing. “He exploited the collapse of the Soviet Union very skilfully. The prestige of the UN was much higher when he left office than when he came in.” Sometimes the unexpected course of history can define the success of a leader as much as being a key player in shaping it.

Art / Global

Fair trading

The total value of global art and antiquities sales declined in 2019 by 5 per cent year-on-year, according to the Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report. But perhaps more interesting is that the findings show how and where collectors are choosing to close deals. Sales by galleries and dealers have grown two per cent year-on-year to reach $36.8bn (€32.9bn), and despite discussions in the sector questioning the relevance of art fairs, about 45 per cent of these sales (by value) still happen at such events. The findings suggest that “art fairs remain a critical part of the art market’s infrastructure,” says Paul Donovan, chief economist of global wealth management at UBS. Meanwhile, online sales have declined for the first time after five years of continuous growth. The appeal of buying digitally might be strong for younger buyers – but it seems that the time-honoured tradition of getting together and seeing work in person can’t be counted out just yet.

Urbanism / St Petersburg

Missing persons

Moscow’s Higher School of Economics (HSE) recently released figures that estimated St Petersburg’s population to stand at 7.1 million – 32 per cent higher than the current official figure of 5.4 million as recorded by the statistics agency Petrostat. The discrepancy has to do with outdated measuring techniques. HSE tracked phone signals to measure if people were in the city consistently over a three-week period, while Petrostat primarily uses figures from the 2014 census while accounting for registrations of births and deaths in the interim. It’s a contradiction that might have cost the city dearly in terms of funding while also providing an explanation for its stretched infrastructure and congested city centre. “St Petersburg is operating by completely obsolete standards,” says Mary Dejevsky, the former Times correspondent for Moscow. “The city is hugely overcrowded.” Find out more by listening to Monocle 24’s The Foreign Desk Explainer, with Andrew Mueller, later today.

Culture / Naples

Retail therapy

On the front page of Italy’s La Stampa newspaper yesterday was a story about a huge new bookshop that opened in Naples at the end of February. It’s a development that is good news for many reasons, not least that the southern Italian city was in dire need of such an establishment. Across three floors, The Spark bookshop will stock about 20,000 titles (mainly from independent publishers) as well as featuring a co-working space and an in-house book imprint. The venue, designed by architect Michela Musto, will also host workshops on photography, creative writing and more. The opening of the bookshop to an enthusiastic audience demonstrates the ability of culture to lift spirits at a time when the headlines in Italian papers are dominated by coronavirus updates. This welcome piece of news could help rewrite the narrative.

M24 / Meet The Writers

Monocle Reads: Dr Rahul Jandial

Leading brain surgeon and neuroscientist Dr Rahul Jandial talks about his book ‘Life Lessons from a Brain Surgeon’, which reveals ways to boost your memory, minimise stress and control your emotions.

Monocle Films / Global

Monocle preview: March issue, 2020

Why Austria? This landlocked central European nation is quietly offering global lessons in everything from diplomacy to design – not to mention dining. Our dedicated special takes an in-depth look into its Alpine attractions, entrepreneurial clout and hands-on craft culture. Our journalists reveal how the Habsburg’s changed history and how the nation is setting an example for the rest of the world.

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