Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Tyrannical tastes

It occurred to me the other day that it might be a rather fun idea to have a museum or gallery exhibition of artworks collected or favoured by tyrants and dictators all over the planet. Dictators have an artistic taste, all right: a bad one. Saddam Hussein collected science fiction artwork while sponsoring monstrous monuments to himself to bestride city squares and gaze in a visionary fashion out over the desert. Stalin instructed Shostakovich to write music for the people while happily dispatching with large portions of said people on a whim. Later communist leaders cheerfully funded heroic Soviet artworks at the same time filling up their capitals with hideous concrete squares as a convenient means for disposing of the citizenry.

One problem with such an exhibition, of course, would be where to put it all. Sure, you could accommodate a national orchestra here or there, maybe even a crowd doing synchronised dancing for the glory of their dear leader (whoever he or she may be) but what about the "Palace of the People", funded by Rumanian leader Ceausescu, requiring four square miles of Bucharest, including 27 churches and synagogues and countless homes? Perhaps the exhibition could take place in this building, although, come to think of it, the building itself might have to be housed in the proposed Chess City of Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. And there would have to be room for all of the many Presidential palaces belonging to Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gadaffi, and friends - complete with lurid, gold-plated toilets, opulent chandeliers, and replete with the pilfered wealth of their respective lands.

The favourite subject for dictatorial art, inevitably, seems to be the dictator's themselves - as if all the architecture and sculpture and poetry and song of their land inevitably has to emanate from their own glorious form; these would all, of course, find a place at such an exhibition. Think of all those statues of Hussein, and so on. The absolute best example of the dictatorial art genre would have to be the golden statue of Turkmen dictator Sapurmurat Niyazov, which rotated so that it was always facing the sun. The statue was apparently removed in 2006, which is I think rather a pity: it would have been excellent to dry clothes on.

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