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The strangest stories behind famous art

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Van Gogh stamp
Van Gogh, while painting some of the most famous art in history, certainly had no idea that the strange act of cutting off his own ear would abound in cultural references that persist even today
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How low can you Picasso?

When Van Gogh sliced his ear off he had at that time not many premonitions or hopes about his living, or posthumous fame. He certainly never knew that his story of self-butchering would abound in cultural references.

Van Gogh and Tuna-Fish


A few years ago I even heard it noted by a rapper named Tuna-Fish from the group 'Jurassic 5,' "Then I disappear like his missing ear when I'm switching gears." Quite the homage, Tuna.

We seem to know more anecdotes like these and relatively few on the famous works themselves, let alone any that inspire an eye-roll or tittering which the tale of a man mutilating himself permanently doesn't exactly provide us.

Where the Stories Come From

Famous artists have led interesting lives, many rife with conflict, despair and saturnine depression. There aren't hordes of humorous stories about artists (though from what I've read, Picasso was a real hoot), but what are the strangest stories behind famous art? 

Maybe once the artist has finished the work, completed his labors and left it all to posterity, the welter of hands reaching to possess it for this or that palace, castle or modern art gallery all lend the work a certain touch of absurd humor.

Rocking the Boat

This was certainly true with Henri Matisse's painting "Le Bateau" (The Boat). On October 18th, 1961 it was hung in the MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) in New York City. Forty-seven days later Henri's son demanded it be taken down for it was on display upside down.

Extremely Important Piece of Art

In 2002 Britain's Tate Gallery paid 22,300 to obtain a work by the late Italian artist Piero Manzoni. "The Manzoni was a very important purchase for an extremely small amount of money," a gallery official declared. "Nobody can deny that." The "Manzoni" of "very important purchase" was a 30-gran can labeled "Merde Artista," the contents of which, for all those who don't know Italian, was a sample of the artist's feces.

Yarny Inspiration

In April 2003 the artist Cornelia Parker wrapped Auguste Rodin's renowned marble sculpture "The Kiss" in a mile of string to produce her masterpiece entitled, "The Distance: A Kiss With Added String." Her grand work of yarny inspiration (said to represent the claustrophobia of relationships) was attacked while it was on display (at Tate Britain in London) by a vandal with a pair of scissors. 

The Rodin was not damaged but a Tate spokesman reported that the devious, malcontent vandals had irrevocably and heart-breakingly damaged Parker's string. I guess in the world of art, she just couldn't cut it.

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