Did you hear it? That was the sound of Vincent Van Gogh rolling over in his grave.
The Netherlands are generally more reasonable regarding the Drug War, but Dutch Customs officials pulled a prohibitionist move that has rattled the art world. Last December, agents seized two coca leaf-based works by Bolivian artist Gastón Ugalde that were scheduled to appear in an international group show curated by famed Dutch artist Scarlett Hooft Graafland. Earlier this month, a court in Amsterdam ordered the release of the paintings, noting the importance of the artwork and recognizing that varnish added to the leaves made them otherwise unusable. The curator arrived at the Customs office with the court documentation, and the agents informed her that they had burned the artwork. The pieces were valued at tens of thousands of dollars each.
"This is something I would expect to happen in the USA even though it has never happened in 20 years,” Ugalde told PRØHBTD via email. “It surprises that this took place in a country such as the Netherlands.”
Ugalde, who learned the fate of his artwork this week, vowed to send a new piece titled Cemetery. The exhibit is set to open June 9 at the Dutch Central Bank gallery.
Among the Andean tribes of South America, coca has played a role in religion, medicine and nutrition for thousands of years. Coca contains the alkaloid cocaine, but by itself, the leaf is about as potent as caffeine. Coca-Cola used coca in its original recipe (hence the name), and one of the destroyed works was the Coca-Cola logo reproduced using coca leaves. Though coca has legitimate health benefits, many governments banned the plant based on its association with cocaine. In the Netherlands, coca is a List I drug under its Opium Law. The coca-based art of Ugalde is technically prohibited, but this is the first time it created an incident such as this.
Numerous artists took to social media to express outrage over the destruction of the artwork.
David Jenison (email@example.com), who drank coca leaf tea while writing this, is Editor-in-Chief at PRØHBTD.