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Some Observations on Art and Its (Mis)Use

I saw an article in Hyperallergic a few weeks ago about this guy who supposedly burned a Frida Kahlo drawing so he could sell digital reproductions — NFTs — of the piece and make a ton of money. No one seems to know if the drawing he burned really came from Kahlo, but the burning has blown up as the art stunt of the year.  

Another article in T Wanderlust, a new travel newsletter from the editors of the New York Times T Magazine, also caught my eye, with the headline, “The Central Mexican City of Morelia Is Home to Historic Monuments and Heritage Crafts.” Officials in Morelia are using art as a draw to make the city a bright, shiny new travel and living destination for gringos with dollars.

Kind of like many other well-known Art Tourism destinations all over the globe. But is the intent here really just to support the city? This reads as a new page in the gentrification playbook to me.  

Above image courtesy Melike Ayan, Mel Strategies. Screenshot Elaine Velie/Hyperallergic.
Right, Morelia central square: the curiously landscaped Plaza de Armas. Photo: Diego Berruecos

Every week brings bizarre new stories about the ways that art is (mis)used in the pursuit of profit. Artists moving into affordable live/work spaces are often the first signs of the bulldozers that follow. Unethical and disrespectful stunts that climb on the backs of legitimately famous foremothers and fathers have become commonplace.


Antiquities can no longer be easily stolen, but we see other more devious means to steal art. These two stories about Kahlo and Morelia make me wonder: Has México become the new exploitable art resource for Americans? México sits so conveniently, temptingly close to the Norteño art industry/factory…


If I were México, i would keep my eyes open and my profit-sniffing senses on high alert.

Activist Vicky Hamlin, a retired tradeswoman,
shop steward, and painter, shines the light 
in her art and this column 
on the lives of
working people and the world they live in.