Michelangelo's Rondanini Pieta is being moved from the Castello Sforzesco to Milan's prison, reports The Art Newspaper, so they can tart up the castle to attract more visitors. The article quotes Andrew Neilson of the British Howard League for Prison Reform: "There is a long tradition of art projects aiding the journey of long-term prisoners as they serve their sentence." Quite right, but this isn't an art project - it's a Michelangelo! Showing art to prisoners is a fine idea, but this deprives everyone else. It's a despicable example of what happens when well-meaning philistine politicians are allowed to pursue pet projects without concern for the value of art.
Tim Robertson of the Koestler Trust, another prison arts charity tells The Art Newspaper: “This is what art is about, and the most useful art should be for people who are falling off the edge of society.” What a horridly instrumental idea - that art is just a handrail, its purpose merely to stop people 'falling off the edge of society'. I'm sure that Robertson's charity is engaged in laudable work, but I venture to suggest that some of us hold a rather broader notion of art - which can be for many purposes, or none at all.
I've been to the Castello Sforzesco several times, and relished its relative quietude. It is less polished than some museums, but all the more charming for that. It's a massive castle in a prominent position, listed in all the guidebooks and freely accessible. If 'only' 350,000 people a year choose to visit, so be it. I'm sure disabled access could be added without a huge renovation; I just don't believe that the move is even necessary.
This horrid plan puts a great sculpture at risk of damage and deprives the world of the opportunity to see it. It is unavoidably a zero-sum game. Prisoners have been sentenced to jail because society has determined that they should be deprived the benefits and freedoms of society. What have the rest of us done to deserve this?