Welcome To The Emperor’s New Clothes, 21st-Century Style

(I’m using the words “con man” as an all-purpose term instead of specifying “con woman” or “con person” or “con whatever.”)

The Emperor’s New Clothes, an 1837 folktale by Hans Christian Anderson, is in part a story that’s been around as long as humans have:

The con man.

And the phrase “Emperor’s New Clothes” has, according to scholars, become “a standard metaphor for anything that smacks of pretentiousness, pomposity, social hypocrisy, collective denial, or hollow ostentatiousness.”

Read on to see why I’ve referenced it.

*****

If you were among the nearly 40,000 victims of con man Bernie Madoff who were swindled out of billions of dollars, you were feeling some sense of relief back in 2009 when he was convicted and sentenced to 150 years in prison:

If you’re someone who’s been conned in this scam:

You’re hurt and angry, and you’ve got plenty of company:

“A shocking number of Americans will spend Valentine’s Day not only broken-hearted – but dead broke – after being swindled by digital-dating deceivers.

“The lovelorn were grifted out of $547 million by dating-app scammers last year, a shocking 78% increase over the previous record $307 million in losses in 2020, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

“The number of reported cases climbed from 33,000 to 56,000, or 70%, over the same year.”

Oh, sure – there are lovable con men, like these guys…

But that was a movie, and nobody actually got stung.

Here – in my opinion – is another real-life, contemporary con man.  He’s been conning people, and some are falling for his bullshit.  Some have even bought his bullshit “art.”

He was making plenty of headlines a year ago, though I learned about him only recently:

Meet Salvatore Garau, born in 1953, from the Mediterranean island of Sardinia.  According to this website:

“Salvatore Garau’s work has been offered at auction multiple times, with realized prices ranging from $34 to $26,636, depending on the size and medium of the artwork.”

Here’s a sampling of what I assume is Garau’s work, from his Facebook page:

Or…maybe they go this way?

Or…maybe it doesn’t matter?

Garau’s been around for awhile, creating his works and occasionally selling them.

And – again, from his Facebook page – he occasionally makes headlines:

The headline translates to, “Today’s altarpieces Garau’s gaze towards the sky.”

It maybe lost something in the translation.

So Garau is selling some artwork, and making some headlines.  Seems like an OK life for an artist, sì?

Maybe, but in 2021 it will…

Diventare molto meglio!

Become much better!

Let’s go back to those headlines from a year ago.  There were plenty of them, national and international, like this one:

I’m quoting directly from the article because it’ so absurd that even I – who loves the absurd – could not make this up:

“…artist Salvatore Garau sold an ‘immaterial sculpture’ – which is to say that it doesn’t exist.

“To be fair, the artist might disagree on conceptual grounds.  For Garau, the artwork, titled Lo Sono (which translates to ‘I am’), finds form in its own nothingness.  ‘The vacuum is nothing more than a space full of energy, and even if we empty it and there is nothing left, according to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, that nothing has a weight,’ he told the Spanish news outlet Diario AS.  ‘Therefore, it has energy that is condensed and transformed into particles, that is, into us.’

“Lo Sono went up for sale in May at the Italian auction house Art-Rite.  The pre-sale estimate valued the piece between €6,000-9,000, according to AS, but competing bidders pushed the price tag to €15,000.”

“Competing bidders.”

It wasn’t just one idiot – multiple idiots were competing to buy nothing.

And one of those idiots paid €15,000 – $18,300 – for it.

“The lucky buyer went home with a certificate of authenticity and a set of instructions:  the work, per Garau, must be exhibited in a private house in a roughly five-by-five-foot space free of obstruction.”

I can’t show you a picture of Lo Sono – nor can anyone else – but I can show you an image from the “Italian auction house Art-Rite” showing the sale of another of Garau’s…um…whatevers:

The name of this…um…whatever is Davanti a te, or In Front of You.  The website notes:

Intangible sculpture to be placed in a place free of encumbrances
Variable dimensions, 200 x 200 cm circa
Work accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by the artist

Selling price:  $28,887.

Another idiot!

Has Garau got a con going?

Can you doubt it?

He created nothing – twice – and was paid more than $47,000 for it.

Incurring practically no costs to himself at all:  for art supplies, for crating and shipping and insuring artwork, for publicity. 

Would you like to not see more of his…um…whatevers?

Here’s Buddha in Contemplazione, meaning Buddha in Contemplation, installed in February 2021 at the Piazza Della Scala in Milan:

Cost to artist:  One roll of white tape from Lowe’s, $4.78.

Of Buddha, Garau said,

“Now it exists and will remain in this space forever.  You do not see it but it exists.  It is made of air and spirit.”

Uh-huh.

And again from 2021, here’s Afrodite Piange or Aphrodite Crying in New York, a few steps from Wall Street:

Cost to artist:  One hula hoop from Target, $6

Of Aphrodite Garau said,

“You don’t see me but I exist, right above this white round shape.
“I am Aphrodite, an intangible sculpture made of air and spirit.
“Still don’t see me?  And yet I am here, in front of you.
“And I cry because I am beauty and love which is disappearing.”

Stronzo!

And not only are idiots throwing money at Garau, the Italian Cultural Institute in New York…

…bought into this nonsense!  Their website says (I’m assuming from 2021):

“From Saturday, May 29, therefore, the digital platform ‘Stanze italiane’ of the Italian Cultural Institute of New York – which represents a new way to show Italy as a country going beyond traditional styles and open to the new, the unprecedented, the unexpected – will offer a preview of the video documenting the positioning in New York of the new immaterial sculpture by Salvatore Garau Afrodite Piange:  a white circle with a red dot at its center, on the notes of an intense soundtrack that is almost endowed with a co-protagonist role, featuring Anna Tifu’s violin, Andrea Cutri’s guitar and the drums played by Garau himself, a member of Stormy Six in the 1970s and 1980s.”

Gosh, I overlooked the cost to the artist of that “red dot”:  ½¢ also from Target.

An article dated May 2021 said that Aphrodite Crying is “the third in a cycle of seven ‘immaterial’ works that will be installed in as many cities around the world.”

I’ve been unable to find any information that indicates Garau has graced our lives with any further installations.

In fact, I’ve been unable to find anything online about Garau beyond that flurry of interest in spring/summer 2021.

Perhaps Garau – like his “art” – has become invisible.

Or “intangible,” as in his Aphrodite Crying:  “an intangible…made of air and spirit.”

And perhaps that’s just as well, because Garau is being sued:

“A Gainesville artist who created an invisible sculpture is suing an Italian artist for profiting off his idea.”

“Tom Miller, a multidisciplinary performance artist, installed his sculpture called Nothing at Bo Diddley Plaza in 2016.”

Tom Miller at Bo Diddley Plaza, with his invisible sculpture. Or, maybe not.

“Now, he said an Italian artist is trying to sell a different ‘nothing’ for $18,000.

“‘The space in our world is legitimate to work with as an artistic product.  So the idea is fashioning nothing into a sculpture, and that’s what the lawsuit is all about,’ said Miller.”

If Miller wins his lawsuit, I wonder if Garau will pay him with…

Invisible money?

My takeaway?

I am sincerely sorry for many of the nearly 40,000 victims who were conned by Bernie Madoff.  Sure, some of them were just plain greedy, but many more of them were hardworking people who trusted Madoff with their life savings, and lost it.

I am sincerely sorry for the thousands of people who went looking for love in all the wrong online places, and were conned out of $547 million last year, and those who are being conned as we speak.

But I am not, and never will be, sorry for the idiots have been – and may well continue to be – taken in by Garau’s con game.

Garau personifies not only the Emperor’s New Clothes, but also an old saying from arguably the world’s greatest con man, P.T. Barnum:

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