Friday, May 8, 2015

French Court Orders Picasso’s Electrician to Return Nearly 300 Artworks

A court in the town of Grasse in southern France on Friday found a retired electrician and his wife guilty of possessing 271 stolen works by Pablo Picasso, rejecting the couple’s claims that the trove of art was a gift from the artist’s wife. Pierre Le Guennec, 75, who was employed by Picasso in his home in nearby Mougins, and Le Guennec’s wife, Danielle, 72, were handed a suspended two-year jail sentence on a count of possessing stolen goods.


The court also stipulated that the works be returned to the artist’s heirs. But it did not establish who had stolen the collection of sketches, watercolors and collages that have been dated to a period ranging from 1900 to 1932. While the collection has not been officially valued, reports in the French and international press have estimated that it could be worth as much as 120 million euros, or about $130 million.


Jean-Jacques Neuer, the lawyer for Claude Ruiz-Picasso, one of the artist’s sons and the administrator of the Picasso estate, said that the six Picasso heirs represented in the suit were satisfied with the ruling. Evelyne Rees, a lawyer for the Le Guennecs, could not be reached to comment on whether her clients intended to appeal the conviction. They have always maintained that the art was a gift from Jacqueline Picasso, with her husband’s consent, in the early 1970s, when Mr. Le Guennec worked at Picasso’s home.


Mr. and Mrs. Le Guennec, both of whom took the stand at the trial, said that the works then sat untouched in a box in the garage of their home in the small town of Mouans-Sartoux for nearly 40 years. They say they decided to have them authenticated after Mr. Le Guennec was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2008 and started worrying about his children’s inheritance. They took the collection to Paris in 2010 for examination by Mr. Ruiz-Picasso, who quickly recognized its authenticity and, suspecting theft, brought a suit against them that led to a formal investigation.

A Toxic Wasteland Called Home

Since he was a college student, the Houston artist Trenton Doyle Hancock has been drawing into existence a world that might be what Texas would look like if all of the state’s oil were to bubble up and turn it into a toxic zombie wasteland. Populated by creatures called Mounds, the work seems to be the residue of a postmodern fever dream, borrowing as much from museum walls (Peter Saul, Mike Kelley) as from comic-book pages (Basil Wolverton, Spain Rodriguez).


On Thursday, the Studio Museum in Harlem opens “Trenton Doyle Hancock: Skin and Bones, 20 Years of Drawing,” the first extensive look at Mr. Hancock’s drawings, collages and works on paper. Organized by Valerie Cassel Oliver of the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, the works on display, as Ms. Oliver says, “blend absurdist imagery with trenchant commentary to create a profoundly contemplative meditation on the strange fruit of intolerance.” (Through June 28, 144 West 125th Street; 212-864-4500, studiomuseum.org.)


This week on Popcast: Reviewing the first season of “Empire,” which came to a calamitous end on Wednesday night with a two-hour episode that – spoiler alert – featured a murder, an attempted murder, an announced pregnancy and an arrest. The show has been renewed for a second season, and it will likely take the several months before it returns to process all that happened – “Empire” moves quickly, and does not stop for explanations.


Since its premiere in January, it has been a runaway hit for Fox, and it’s beginning to have an effect in the real-life world of pop music that it depicts. It also serves as a strong rebuke to any television executives who’d argue that shows with predominantly black casts can’t have broad appeal.
This week Jon Caramanica, the host of Popcast, was joined by Gilbert Cruz, television editor of The New York Times and “Empire” hyper-enthusiast, and Justin Charity, a writer at Complex who’s written extensively on the show and its music.

The Hero’s Journey offers the Possibility of Escape and Transformation

Alexander has not published his medical findings about himself in any peer-reviewed journal, and a 2013 investigative article in Esquire questioned several details of his account, among them the crucial claim that his experience took place while his brain was incapable of any activity. To the skeptics, his story and the recent recanting of The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven are just further evidence that NDEs rank right up there with alien abductions, psychic powers, and poltergeists as fodder for charlatans looking to gull the ignorant and suggestible.


Yet even these skeptics rarely accuse experiencers of inventing their stories from whole cloth. Though some of these stories may be fabrications, and more no doubt become embellished in the retelling, they’re too numerous and well documented to be dismissed altogether. It’s also hard to ignore the accounts by respected physicians with professional reputations to protect. Even if the afterlife isn’t real, the sensations of having been there certainly are.


There is something about NDEs that makes them scientifically intriguing. While you can’t rely on an alien abduction or a spiritual visitation taking place just when you’ve got recording instruments handy, many NDEs happen when a person is surrounded by an arsenal of devices designed to measure every single thing about the body that human ingenuity has made us capable of measuring.

What’s more, as medical technology continues to improve, it’s bringing people back from ever closer to the brink of death. A small, lucky handful of people have made full or nearly full recoveries after spending hours with no breath or pulse, buried in snow or submerged in very cold water. Surgeons sometimes create these conditions intentionally, chilling patients’ bodies or stopping their hearts in order to perform complex, dangerous operations; recently they have begun trying out such techniques on severely injured trauma victims, keeping them between life and death until their wounds can be repaired.

The Science of Near-Death Experiences

Near-death experiences have gotten a lot of attention lately. The 2014 movie Heaven Is for Real, about a young boy who told his parents he had visited heaven while he was having emergency surgery, grossed a respectable $91 million in the United States. The book it was based on, published in 2010, has sold some 10 million copies and spent 206 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list. Two recent books by doctors—Proof of Heaven, by Eben Alexander, who writes about a near-death experience he had while in a week-long coma brought on by meningitis, and To Heaven and Back, by Mary C. Neal, who had her NDE while submerged in a river after a kayaking accident—have spent 94 and 36 weeks, respectively, on the list. (The subject of The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven, published in 2010, recently admitted that he made it all up.)

Over time, the scientific literature that attempts to explain NDEs as the result of physical changes in a stressed or dying brain has also, commensurately, grown. The causes posited include an oxygen shortage, imperfect anesthesia, and the body’s neurochemical responses to trauma. NDErs dismiss these explanations as inadequate. The medical conditions under which NDEs happen, they say, are too varied to explain a phenomenon that seems so widespread and consistent.


Recent books by Sam Parnia and Pim van Lommel, both physicians, describe studies published in peer-reviewed journals that attempt to pin down what happens during NDEs under controlled experimental conditions. Parnia and his colleagues published results from the latest such study, involving more than 2,000 cardiac-arrest patients, in October. And the recent books by Mary Neal and Eben Alexander recounting their own NDEs have lent the spiritual view of them a new outward respectability. Mary Neal was, a few years before her NDE, the director of spinal surgery at the University of Southern California (she is now in private practice). Eben Alexander is a neurosurgeon who taught and practiced at several prestigious hospitals and medical schools, including Brigham and Women’s and Harvard.


It was Alexander who really upped the scientific stakes. He studied his own medical charts and came to the conclusion that he was in such a deep coma during his NDE, and his brain was so completely shut down, that the only way to explain what he felt and saw was that his soul had indeed detached from his body and gone on a trip to another world, and that angels, God, and the afterlife are all as real as can be.