This is a story which starts a long way from Mallorca in the land of the rising sun, a land from which Mallorca might hope one day to attract tourists, who are said to be particularly interested in Mallorcan footwear, according at least to some mad buggers in Inca who seem to think they can create a flourishing tourism industry in the town. That's another story, though, as this one, indirectly, begins with a Japanese artist called Ito Shinsui (real name Ito Hajime). If you don't know who Shinsui was, you will almost certainly be familiar with his work. He was one of the great names in the shin-hanga art movement in Japan, one that was typified by those paintings of geisha girls and landscapes which consisted of lots of creams, whites, some blacks and splashes of colour here and there (you might sense that I'm not exactly an art critic or reviewer).
Anyway, Shinsui became so ultra famous and important that he was honoured with being a Living National Treasure in Japan and with receiving the Order of the Rising Sun. He also became very rich. His son, and this is where the story begins to move closer to Mallorca and Spain, is someone by the name of Kazumasa Katsuta, and he is one of the world's leading art collectors. To give a flavour of how much he has tended to collect, in 1991 he bought 530 works at Sotheby's. They were all by the one artist, the Barcelona born but mainly Mallorcan resident Joan Miró.
Putting an exact figure on Miró's total artistic output is difficult. Approximately though, he was responsible for 2,000 oil paintings, 500 sculptures, 400 ceramics and 5,000 various drawings and collages. Whatever the precise number, in 1991 roughly 7% of the entire Miró ouevre was scooped up at one bid by Shinsui's son.
Not all of Miró's work was done in Mallorca as he didn't finally settle on the island until 1956, though he had periods when he had been living here prior to this; his wife and mother were both Mallorcan. But a great deal of his work was created on the island. Miró is inextricably linked to Mallorca as much as he is linked to the city of his birth, Barcelona, and nowadays the Miró Foundation has premises in both Palma and Barcelona.
Though the foundation is the keeper of the greatest number of Miró's works, Katsuta is probably the keeper of the largest private collection, but he hasn't sought to keep them under lock and key somewhere in Japan. He has sent some of the works to Barcelona. In 2000 the foundation received 25 works to mark the 25th anniversary of its founding. In 2005, by which time Katsuta's total stock of Mirós was said to have increased to 780, some important landscape paintings from the mid-1920s were ceded to the foundation. Five years later, ten more pieces arrived. By now, Katsuta was also a patron of the foundation, and in 2011 he was made an honorary citizen of Barcelona in recognition of his collaboration with the foundation and, by extension, with the city.
So, Katsuta has been a very important figure in the Miró story and in supporting the foundation in Barcelona and Palma. But into this story we must now add Portugal. And why? In order to answer this, one has to go back to 2006. In that year the Banco Português de Negócios (BPN) bought 85 works by Miró from Katsuta. They are said to be worth 35 million euros but could fetch at least double this at auction.
BPN bought the works solely as an investment. They have never been exhibited in Portugal, though the bank did once consider exhibiting them. This was before its former president was arrested on corruption charges. BPN was a victim of economic crisis and of less than scrupulous behaviour. It collapsed in 2008, the Portuguese Government nationalised it and acquired, into the bargain, the 85 Mirós. It still has them, sitting in a vault somewhere, but it is planning to sell them at auction. They are not a priority, and the government says it doesn't have the spare cash to acquire them, a line of argument which doesn't wash with a number of critics. What is there to acquire, if the government and so therefore the state already owns them?
Putting the Mirós up for auction has caused a storm of protest, opponents saying that they belong to Portugal and should be exhibited and enjoyed by the Portuguese people. The government seems unmoved. Though 70-odd million euros would come in handy, in the scale of things (national debt), it isn't really a lot. But, auction it will doubtless be. Whether Kazumasa Katsuta will be one of the bidders would probably be unlikely. Why would he buy them for a second time? Wherever they end up though, the chances are that, like the works that Katsuta owns, they might find their way back, if only to be exhibited. Not, one imagines, to Portugal, but to Miró's lands - Barcelona and Mallorca.