It’s understandable why you’d want to disassociate yourself from a Jeff Koons sculpture—sensible people do this in droves—but it’s interesting when the disavowal comes from the artist himself, and he’s so determined to put a little distance between Him and It that he’s willing to go to court to do it. Or fail to do it, as the case may be. “An Italian art collector is celebrating a court victory over Jeff Koons after a statue he owned was found to be genuine, despite the American artist originally claiming that it was a fake,” reported The Times of London. “The collector, who has not been named in Italian media reports, bought Serpents 2/3 at a lost property auction in Milan in 1991 for the equivalent of a few hundred pounds.” The man had tried to auction the piece at Christie’s in the 90s, but Koons—whose work has sold for as much as $91 million—denied him a certificate of authenticity.
The tip-off that it was real was right there from the start. According to the newspaper, when the collector brought his purchase home and opened the box, revealing “a porcelain statue 34 inches long representing two cheerful-looking snakes with black and yellow eyes and green bow-ties,” the man’s wife looked at the snakes and said, “It’s them or me.” In other words, a Koons. Think of what they all could have saved on legal fees.
Why was a lecture on Hong Kong security by a former editor in chief of the South China Morning Post suddenly canceled at the University of Edinburgh? Depends whom you ask. Mark Clifford, who just published a book that’s critical of the Chinese government, had been invited by the university’s Asia Scotland Institute. However, reported The Times of London, “Clifford was informed with little notice that the event had been cancelled on the grounds of ‘global developments in Ukraine’. Organisers said in a note to those who had registered for the event that the Russian invasion had ‘intervened to make the eventual mounting of Mark Clifford’s talk challenging’.”
Clifford isn’t so sure, telling the newspaper that “the move could likewise have been ‘pre-emptive self-censorship by the university’, which he said ‘has one of the highest concentrations of Chinese students of any British university. In the present academic year nearly 7,600 students from China are registered at the university — more than 16 per cent of its total student population — and it is estimated that they will bring in about £115 million [$150 million] in tuition fees this year.”
A wax figure of Vladimir Putin has been removed from the Grévin Museum and placed in storage, “at once a rebuke of the belligerent leader and a matter of security,” according to the online arts magazine Hyperallergic. Vandals have already been at the statue (which looks to be only slightly more waxen than the original), and the museum’s director said it was inappropriate to ask the staff to continue to maintain and repair it. He added, “Maybe president Zelensky will take his place.”
Whither—or, rather, wither—the Bordeaux wine industry? With temperatures rising, “if we don’t change anything, in some areas there will no longer be any vines,” the chairman of the Bordeaux Wine Council told The Times of London. The Château La Tour Carnet, hoping to adapt to global warming, has “plans to produce ‘wines of the future’ from vines being heated to simulate the impact of global warming.” The experiment “involves the study of 84 grape varieties all planted at the château, including the Spanish Tempranillo, Georgian Rkatsiteli, and Portuguese Touriga Nacional, but also ancient Bordeaux vines such as Carménère and modern hybrids such as Voltis.” The château told the newspaper its aim was “to identify the varieties of tomorrow that could defeat future climate hazards whilst preserving the aromatic signature of the great Bordeaux wines.”
Think of it as a kind of unsanctioned (as it were) occupancy movement in which squatters took up residence in some very nice properties that Zillow just wasn’t listing. In recent days, protesters made themselves at home at the $65 million central-London mansion of the oligarch Oleg Deripaska. “Activists claiming to belong to the London Makhnovists, a group affiliated with the No Fixed Abode Anti-Fascists (NFA-AF), entered 5 Belgrave Square just after midnight and draped Ukrainian flags and a banner reading ‘this property has been liberated’ and ‘Putin go f*** yourself’ over the balcony,” reported The Times of London. “Protesters said the six-storey property appeared deserted and claimed the heating was turned off, the fridge empty and the power off in some parts of the building.” So they left. (Or, O.K., they were evicted.)
Over in France’s Basque country, activists entered a $5 million oceanfront villa in Biarritz belonging to Katerina Tikhonova, Vladimir Putin’s younger daughter, changed the locks, and “declared it to be a shelter for Ukrainian refugees,” said The Times. Pierre Haffner, a businessman who lived in Russia for 25 years, led the unofficial tour and was arrested, though not before posting a video showing “marble-clad bathrooms, eight bedrooms, a music room with a piano and guitars, a gaudy bar, a library, a large living room and a terrace overlooking the sea.” Really, “gaudy”? Hard to believe.
A historic Tuscan estate is changing hands for some $440 million, reported The Times of London, from Massimo and Chiara Ferragamo (as in Ferragamo) to “a group representing investors from several continents.” The estate, which is part of a UNESCO World Heritage site, includes a medieval hamlet and a church with a 14th-century fresco by Lorenzetti and produces 250,000 bottles of Brunello di Montalcino each year. “It also comprises the Rosewood Castiglion del Bosco resort, with a helipad, villas, suites, two restaurants and a spa,” said the newspaper. “Former guests include Barack Obama and Paul McCartney. The resort has an 18-hole golf course designed by Tom Weiskopf, the British Open winner.” Most importantly, the Web site WineNews.it reported that “no Russian investors, nor the French luxury giant LVMH, who were rumoured to be shopping in the Montalcino area,” were among the potential buyers.
From East Asia to the East Coast: the Joro spider, an invasive species that spent part of last year spinning 10-foot webs in Georgia, has the potential to work its way up the Eastern Seaboard. The spiders would survive, researchers at the University of Georgia believe, because Japan—their primary home—has a similar climate and latitude. The Joro is “known for its ability to spin highly organized, wheel-shaped webs,” noted The Guardian. “Females have blue, yellow and red markings and can measure up to 3in when fully extended.”
To which one should immediately add that the Joro, while perhaps heftier than many people prefer in a spider, is harmless: they can bite when cornered, but their fangs aren’t large enough to break the skin. “There’s really no reason to go around actively squishing them,” one of the researchers told the newspaper. Another added, “People should try to learn to live with them.” No problem—we’ll do whatever that spider says.
George Kalogerakis, one of the original editor-writers at Spy, later worked for Vanity Fair, New York, and The New York Times, where he was deputy op-ed editor. A co-author of Spy: The Funny Years and co-editor of Disunion: A History of the Civil War, he is a Writer at Large for AIR MAIL