Wandering Eye: Art is celebrated and suppressed in Russia, the Magna Carta at 800, and more

The story of George Lucas' self-financed, $100 million affordable housing project on his own land in Marin County, California, is so great you can't believe it. Described as "workforce housing," the 224 apartments would be available to households earning $66,000 to $101,000 a year, NPR's Marketplace reported Friday, before interviewing nice Lucas Valley Homeowners Association people who lamented the loss of the fields upon which they once rode their horses, etc. The back story, according to the radio piece, was a battle over affordable housing that began three years ago, which the show illustrated with an audio clip from a meeting where residents literally used the word "ghetto" to describe the threat posed from riffraff earning barely six figures (7:22). The Washington Post actually had more background in April, noting that Lucas originally wanted to use the site to expand his production company, but was beaten back by neighbors. The affordable housing use is his second choice. "We got letters saying, 'You guys are going to get what you deserve. You're going to bring drug dealers, all this crime and lowlife in here,'" Carl Fricke, a board member of the Lucas Valley Estates Homeowners Association, told the Contra-Costa Times in 2012. In the world of Lucas-level money there is a well-established tradition of "spite housing." (Baltimore residents may look no further than Reservoir Hill, where the "mother of all spite houses" blocks the lake view of the once grand—now very Baltimoreified—Emerson Mansion at 2500 Eutaw Place, which is set once again for auction next week.) Lucas professes surprise that anyone would see his plan in that light. WaPo found this quote, also from the Times: "I've been surprised to see some people characterize this as vindictive." Then WaPo throws in the kicker: "According to Census estimates, 7.7 percent of county residents live below the poverty line." The poverty line, remember, is not $66,000 a year, the minimum cutoff for this proposed affordable project. It's more like $24,000, for a family of four. Those people are nowhere in this conversation. (Edward Ericson Jr.)


Last Friday, Moscow opened its first museum of contemporary art, the Garage Museum. Housed in a former Soviet-style canteen, the museum was designed by famed Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, and opens under the directorship of Dasha Zhukova, art collector and wife of billionaire oligarch Roman Abramovich, who can be largely credited for bringing Vladimir Putin into the presidency and now serves as one of Putin's closest confidants. The museum promises to serve and educate the public, and kicks off with exhibitions featuring immersive works by popular art-world figures, namely the eccentric mixed-media artist "Polka Dot Queen" Yayoi Kusama and influential audience-participation-based installation artist Rirkrit Tiravanija. Meanwhile, less than six kilometers away at in Bolotnaya Square, Pussy Riot member and former political prisoner Nadya Tolonnikova (who made a visit to Baltimore last August to film an appearance in "House of Cards") and a fellow activist attempted to sew the Russian flag while wearing prison uniforms in support of Russia's female prison population, but were detained by police before they could begin sewing. However, they managed to continue the performance from within the paddy wagon, tweeting updates with a completed flag at the police station. Apparently, they were released shortly after. Also in Moscow, a photography exhibition documenting LGBT youth was canceled two days before it was scheduled to open after police interrogated the person who rented out the space to the gallery. On Saturday, organizers attempted to exhibit the photographs out in the street but were again thwarted by Russian police. As the Russian government attempts to suffocate the most powerful actions of Moscow's art communities, the establishment of an art institution closely linked to the dictatorship begs the question: How "contemporary" or avant-garde can a museum limited to the country's oppressive laws really be? (Maura Callahan)


Happy birthday to the Magna Carta! The 13th-century English document, "perhaps the world's first and best declaration of the rule of law, a thrilling instance of a people's limiting a ruler's power by demanding rights for themselves," as The New York Times puts it, is 800 and looking fabulous for its age. There's a huge birthday party for the charter going on in England today, with conferences, exhibits, speeches, and even an appearance by Queen Elizabeth II. But the Times is here to tell you the Magna Carta is not as big a deal as people are saying. Way to rain on the parade, NYT. For one, King John killed the provisions he agreed to shortly after agreeing to them. Also, the agreement was struck between very powerful barons and an uber-powerful king, with hardly a mention of commoners. Still, many contend the Magna Carta serves as the inspiration for many of the laws and legal systems we have today. Noah Feldman, a professor at Harvard Law School, is among those who still hold the highest regard for the Magna Carta, and he says any historian who says otherwise is doing so because "it's the cool thing to say." (Brandon Weigel)

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