liverpool galleries – a day trip

31 August 2010 § Leave a comment

Adrian Wiszniewski

If you like this post please make a comment or like it. If you enjoy the blog please sign up for regular updates (right). Thanks akuta

Liverpool has never been very high on my radar as a spot to consider for a flying visit. Naturally, as all Southerners know, any northern town is obviously grimy, dirty and highly dangerous – if the muggers do not get you then, in time, the pies, chips and fried Mars bars will reap their toll! Next is the weather. It is of course icy cold and rains all the time – not just in nice quick falls but in a steady, penetrating wind-blown sort of way that lasts for days, especially around Liverpool. As if that was not enough it also is such a bloody long way – I do not know how far of course, but I do know for certain that it is way, way too far to consider travelling anywhere north of the Watford Gap except in the case of an extreme emergency. And as for a day trip – fuhgeddaboutit!

That is until yesterday. Tempted by the Picasso: Peace and Freedom at the Liverpool Tate I had a couple of weeks ago looked at the possibility of a brief trip. Initially I had considered an overnight stay but after checking out the trains I discovered, to my amazement, that it only takes just a fraction over two hours from Euston to reach Liverpool Lime Street – a station that is not on the edge of the city but bang in the heart of town, next to the fabulous Walker Gallery. Then the price – plan ahead and it is a bargain £22 return. Sold! Walking shoes on foot, plastic mac and thermos in backpack and city map in hand I ventured northwards.

The 1854 neo-classical St Georges Hall is the first stop – you virtually trip over it as you step out of the station. Fortunately open (not always so), it is the one of the finest buildings of its type in Britain. The main hall is stunning, although sadly the amazing Minton floor is usually covered with a protective wooden parquet. From here it is just a few yards to the  Walker Gallery, the ‘National Gallery’ of the north, with its exceptional collection of pre-Raphaelite art. There are fine works by all the major artists of the period: Lord Leighton, Gabriel Rosetti, Holman Hunt, Albert Moore and many more – all very Victorian and very British. Suddenly, right out of the blue, appears an 1891 Giovanni Segantini – my Italian co-traveller nearly fell over backwards. A smaller version of a much larger Italian one (I forget where) it is a beautiful symbolist work. Here is what the Walker say about it:

Segantini - The Punishment of Lust

The souls of the women are depicted floating against a snowy background based on the Swiss Alps where Segantini spent much of his life. The grandeur and spirituality of the Alps was a constant inspiration to Segantini whose last words before he died were: “I want to see my mountains”.  In the painting the spirits of the women are punished for having committed the sin of abortion consciously or by neglect.

We were a couple of weeks too early to see the entries for the next John Moores Painting Prize so we settled for an exhibition of previous winners. It was an impressive selection that included the likes of  David Hockney, Peter Doig, John Hoyland and Peter Davies. One could have done much worse than buy up a work buy each winner as they were announced – you would certainly have made a few bob! I liked the work by the Glaswegian School artist Adrian Wizniewski (pictured at top of post) whilst the 1993 winning work from Peter Doig was a lovely work called ‘Blotter’ for which you would need some £2m at auction today. This is what the artist says about it:

‘Blotter’ was painted from a photograph I took of my brother standing on a frozen pond. The reflection was enhanced by pumping water onto the ice. It is a variation of earlier paintings that have been more reliant on the imagination. The title refers to (amongst other things) the notion of one’s being absorbed into a place or landscape, and to the process through which the painting developed: soaking paint onto the canvas. The figure is deliberately shown looking down into the reflection; this is to suggest inward thought, rather than some sort of contemplation of the scene.”

Next stop was the fine Bluecoats Gallery for Arabcity: Such a Near East where six Middle Eastern artists who ‘explored cultural heritage from unique perspectives’. Most interesting were Chant Avedissian, with witty Elizabeth Peyton-like  portraits of stars and commoners alike, and Ayman Balbaaki’s cityscapes. Two worth watching.

Via a gawk at the Cavern Club, its beer-sticky street and the tourist throng we took a stroll down to the Tate. I will not review the Picasso exhibition  – because firstly, it ended yesterday and secondly, it has already been reviewed to death, but I will just make a couple of observations. Although it was interesting and neatly brought together elements of Picasso’s political and post-war work one has to say there was a certain amount of , let us call it ‘Picasso Blindness’. An exhibition of Picasso’s wine-stains or phlegm-traces I feel are nowadays uncritically hailed as further examples of his genius. I do not buy it. This was a moderately interesting, comprehensive and competent exhibition of a period of Picasso’s work. There were a handful of great works, a few moderate ones and a bunch of ‘fillers’. It was reasonable.


The DLA Piper Series: This is Sculpture also only just makes the grade. Supposedly ‘curated’ by Michael Craig-Martin it is nothing more than a seemingly random selection of every, broad, aspect of sculptural practice –  ‘one of each’ is the mantra here. And as for the headphones with random dance tracks – what were they thinking? There were however some excellent works that could be selected from the ‘mess’ and made a trawl around the three rooms well worthwhile.  A tremendous Lipchitz was my pick.

Finally, we took a look at the two contrasting and despite ther ugliness, strangely appealing, Cathedrals – the dour red block of the Anglican Cathedral and the modernist crown of the Catholic. The climax of the day was a pint in the wonderful Philharmonic pub to admire the ornate Victorian decor and capped off a wonderful day. Oh – and Ialmost forgot to mention that it was hot and sunny all day and although the muggers did not get us the greasy chip shop did! I must go again soon.


cat, dog or chimp – the battle for best animal art!

27 August 2010 § 3 Comments

I have recently seen some quite remarkable cat art. I should firstly make clear that when I say ‘cat art’ I actually mean art made by cats, rather than of cats. The paintings naturally, I suppose,  show a preponderance of expressionistic sweeping paw strokes together with pointillist dabbing. Varying in style from abstract through to abstract impressionism the paintings actually show a quite remarkable sense of colour and feeling for space. 

It was quite a revelation, bearing in mind that the only animal art I have seen before was by Congo the chimp (see later!). My revelation was courtesy of the wonderful book Why Cats Paint by Burton Silver & Heather Busch. Impressively illustrated with a broad selection of varied paintings by different cat ‘artists’ it is divided in to a number of chapters which investigate the phenomena of these talented felines. It includes the abstract expressionist Minnie, the trans-expressionist Bootsy as well as Ginger the neo-synthesist. There are critics though who feel that the book did not go far enough. Here are the thoughts of  Jon Torkelson: 

‘Influential feline artists are discussed and their work reprinted in glorious detail. There is, however, a strong bias towards the mainstream of cat art. Important, indeed vital, underground movements are completely ignored. The street art of alley cats is sadly overlooked, perhaps reflecting the authors deference to the curators of that ivory tower, the Museum of Non Primate Art. Also lacking is any serious discussion of Queer Theory, so vital in the deconstruction of any mammalian artistic representations. Yet in spite of these flaws, Why Cats Paint remains an important and influential volume that no connoisseur of feline aesthetics can afford to ignore. 

At this stage some of you may be a little sceptical but before you dismiss the talents of feline artists may I respectfully suggest that you take a look at the MONPA (the Museum of Non-Primate Art) web site. This covers topics like the history of feline art, uncovering fakes, discovering the latent talent in your own moggies and a list of upcoming exhibitions. There are also a couple of video clips showing a couple of pussy Picassos in full flow. I certainly learnt a lot including the existence of cat markings from the 5,000 year-old Aperia scrolls. All highly impressive and convincing. And yet… 

So can you see what it is yet? Yes, sadly it is all an elaborate hoax. From the book to the museum, website and the elaborately constructed history of the art it is all fake. I do have to admit that it was so cleverly done and with such excellent illustrations that I was briefly taken in by the whole thing. Oh, how I wish it was all true. How I tried to convince myself that it was! I longed to believe in a talented Tiddles dancing around his multi-coloured canvas, coat paint-spattered and crazy-eyed like some latter-day Jackson Pollock. Alas, it was not to be. But the book is still a great christmas gift! You can even buy its companion edition – Why Paint Cats? Fantastic! 

Tillamook Cheddar 2010

Of course anything that cats can do dogs can do better – and for real. Most famous is Tillamook Cheddar whose fame extends to an entry in Wikipedia and dozens of TV and media appearances. The art looks great too even if its production (as shown on youtube) involves a fair amount of DIA (Destruction In Art)! Also featured in a number of US publications and TV shows are the Shore Service Dogs (similar to Guide dogs in the UK). Trained to hold a brush between their teeth and mark a canvas the results are actually not dissimilar to those of Ginger the imaginary neo-synthesist. Here a video of ‘Sammy’ in full flow: 


Now on to Congo the painting chimp. Nope, not a hoax either. This is the genuine thing – a 100% genuine primate Picabia, a real monkey Matisse. With the encouragement of renowned zoologist (and quite talented) surrealist painter Desmond Morris Congo forged quite a lengthy and succesful career in the art world. This from Wikipedia: 

Desmond Morris first observed his abilities when the chimp was offered a pencil and paper at two years of age. Morris soon observed that the chimp would draw circles, and had a basic sense of composition in his drawings. He also showed the ability of symmetrical consistency between two sides of a sketch; when Morris drew a shape at one side of a piece of paper, Congo would balance the structure by making marks on the other half of the paper. Similarly, if a color on one side contained blue for example, he would add blue to the other side as well to keep balance. By the age of four, Congo had made 400 drawings and paintings. His style has been described as “lyrical abstract impressionism“. 

Pollock at work

His artistic career continued in leaps and bounds, so to speak. Picasso was a fan and had a painting hanging on the wall of his studio. Miro swapped two of his for one of Congo’s and Salvador Dali declared that Congo was human whilst Pollock was actually the animal! Other works have made their way to auction, the Artnet website revealing a reasonably robust record,the climax so far being at Bonhams in 2005 when three paintings sold for a remarkable £14,400 leading to all sorts of newspaper headlines (Art World Goes Wild, Chimp not a Chump and so on). I sadly missed bidding on one I spotted at Christie’s last year – the price a quite reasonable £750 – however I shall keep my eye open for the next one and will naturally be hoping to pick it up for something around a monkey*! 

* Cockney slang for £500 

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the krays, adolf hitler and von ribbentrop’s watch (by marks & gran)

25 August 2010 § Leave a comment

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To continue on from the theme initiated in the last post there is the difficult question on the moral rights and wrongs of owning works by villains of various types. I certainly had some initial misgivings about my modest purchase of a signed copy of Kray Poems, despite the relatively low rating on the international ‘evil’ scale of these archetypal London hoodlums. What was my deeper motivation behind owning a Kray Twins  ‘souvenir’?  Naturally we are all intrigued by the mentality of – let us not beat about the bush – deranged and brutal murderers – whilst being strangely attracted by their notoriety. In the end I felt that their murderous tendencies had by now been long been subsumed by their kitsch value. They are now little more than cartoon twins with dark glasses and suits, Hale & Pace’s ‘Management’, a spoof representation of the 1960’s East End. Ultimately my little book is little more than a perverse ‘joke’ on the lack of intelligence of the average post-war gangster – The Thoughts and Poems of Ronnie Kray – Thoughts? Are you kidding me!

Somewhat higher up on the naughty list is someone like Adolf Hitler, who was a notorious dauber of course, refused entry to art school in Vienna before a slight change in direction. Thirteen works of his sold in Shropshire last year for £95,000, whilst in 2008 Mark & Dinos Chapman overpainted another thirteen watercolours bought for £115,000 before re-selling them for £685,000 stating that they were redeeming the work rather than Hitler – the exhibition entitled If Hitler Had Been A Hippy How Happy Would We Be. White Cube were forced to announce that they would be ‘extremely careful’ as to who the works were sold to. Whilst I could never imagine owning a Hitler watercolour I love the way the Chapmans have seized these works from the realm of the Nazi memorabilia collectors.  Now ‘recreated’  in the art world they brilliantly destroy their previous nazi-sympathiser associations and, in their new incarnation, are highly desirable and guilt-free! For an interesting Sunday Times article about Hitler art at auction click here.

I recently discovered another, rather ingenious, way to assuage guilt over ownership of an item of dubious provenance. Over an entertaining dinner with Laurence Marks of the Marks & Gran writing team (famous for Birds of a Feather, New Statesman etc) he described his dilemma upon discovering that he was the unwitting owner of a piece of very valuable nazi memorabilia. An innocently bought watch had turned out to be a relic from the notorious Nazi Von Ribbentrop. Despite excitement over the value (some £50,000) writing partner and family were quite naturally mortified and alarmed at the potential attraction of the watch to collectors of Nazi memorabilia as well as the problem of explaining away their ownership of such an item. How could one dispose of it? Should one sell it at all? Should it be destroyed? The ingenious solution was to write a play, Von Ribbentrop’s Watch, based on the story whilst the watch would be consigned securely to a bank vault, never to be sold or seen. Opening at the Oxford Playhouse (9-18 September) it is then touring, via Richmond Theatre, before reaching the West End. If the story is half as interesting or amusing as the snippets that I have heard so far it will be one to – let us say – watch!

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ronnie & reggie – the art of the krays

24 August 2010 § 2 Comments

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Two artists that were more likely to have a brush with the law than one with a canvas (sorry!) are the notorious East End gangsters, the Kray twins. They did however manage to produce a number of works whilst they were in ‘the slammer’ and, with a total of nearly 60 years behind bars, there was certainly no lack of spare time to practice their brushwork. I already knew much of their art, not least because last January I was at Chiswick Auctions at an auction of Kray possessions where a small attractive landscape took my eye. With a reserve price in the hundreds it looked good value as a novelty investment but sharp bidding took it quickly up to £3200. I settled for a signed book of Ronnies Poetry (!) for a couple of hundred instead.

This week it has just been announced by Bloomsbury Auctions that five paintings, in this case produced by Reggie in 1986, are due to be sold at auction. Although clearly amateurish it turns out that these works are actually not that bad. I actually love the Kirchner styled street scene whilst a couple of impressionistic landscapes recalling Monet have some artistic qualities too.

Value? There is a recent history of Kray paintings on the market. Another of Ronnie’s at Chiswick sold for £4,800 whilst a couple of months later in Andover in March 2009 nine paintings tripled their low estimates and sold for £17,000. Back in 2008, in Suffolk, eight paintings in one lot fetched a total of £16,000. The Blomsbury sale has five canvases plus a batch of letters estimated at £1,500 to £2,000- a price which looks like it is set at a deliberately low level in order to tempt in potential buyers. Look for a price to match previous sales – about £2000 each  looks right – with a hammer of well over £10,000 on the day.

the battle of trafalgar – the fourth plinth

20 August 2010 § 1 Comment

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Let battle commence! The finalists have been announced in the competition to find a replacement for Yinka Shonibare’s Ship in a Bottle. This in turn had followed Anthony Gormley’s One & Other, which allowed 2,400 members of the public their 15 minutes, or rather 60 minutes of fame atop the empty plinth. In my view the plinth has actually beome as important and certainly as talked-about as the work to be allowed to sit upon it – the thing itself surely is now worthy of elevation to iconic status. Why not just create a copy, gild it, and plonk it up on high? All hail the plinth. Problem solved! Sadly nobody asked for my view, so here are the competing sculptures arranged in my preferred order. The selection is actually is quite interesting,varied and is hard to criticise – too much – and I look forward to hearing the panel’s choice. The list is in reverse order (the artists own words in italics, my comments following) to allow the excitement to build to a crescendo!

6 Katharina Fritsch. Hahn/Cock.  “The sculpture, a larger-than-life cockerel in ultramarine blue, communicates on different levels. The mostly grey architecture of Trafalgar Square would receive an unexpectedly strong colour accentuation, the size and colour of the animal making the whole situation surreal or simply unusual. The cockerel is also a symbol for regeneration, awakening and strength and at the same time plays with an animal motif that was popular in classic modernism. Finally, the theme refers, in an ironic way to male-defined British society.” But are we not long over the male-dominated society hang-up by now? A big blue cock? Oo-er missus. Regeneration and strength surely not – it is just a big chicken. It is all just a bit silly – was she influenced by Wallinger’s Horse?

5 Brian Griffiths Battenburg. “The pink and yellow cake is a humble commemoration of the Victorian era and a link with a British past that has slowly crumbled. Increased to gigantic proportions, fashioned from a selection of traditionally made household bricks and placed on a plinth alongside other Victorian statues in Trafalgar Square, the cake becomes a wry monument to monumentality. The sculpture transforms the Battenberg as a symbol of teatimes past into a contemporary comment on commodity, commemoration and collective identity.” Cake as cultural icon. Witty, with the bricks referring nicely to the Victorian housing of London. But in the end looks like, well, a pile of bricks.

4 Hew Locke Sickandar. “The plinth was designed to receive an equestrian bronze: 170 years later Sikandar fulfils that original ambition. The artwork replicates the statue of Field Marshal Sir George White (1835-1912) in Portland Place and transforms it into a fetish object. The sculpture will be embellished with horse-brasses, charms, medals, sabres, ex-votos, jewels, Bactrian treasure and Hellenistic masks. It is not an anti-military critique. It is an investigation into the idea of the hero and the problematic and changing nature of heroism.” Fun and interesting, but down the list because it is totally impractical. Weather and pigeons will turn this into a plastic-bag regaled, dirty, messy lump, dripping with pigeon sh*t.

3 Allora & Caldazilla Untitled (ATM/Organ).“Untitled (ATM/Organ) consists of installing an automated teller machine in the fourth plinth, connected to a functioning pipe organ which will produce sound by driving pressurised air through pipes selected via the ATM machine keyboard. This project addresses a range of themes and subjects such as personal banking, global financial systems, commerce, the sacred and the profane, music-making and personal and public space in a humorous manner.” Fun at first it will become very, very annoying – and 100% sure to break down.

2 Mariele Neudecker It’s never too late and you cant go back.“It’s Never Too Late And You Can’t Go Back is elevated above the plinth and represents a fictional mountainscape. If viewed from above it reveals the flipped and reversed shape of Britain. From below, the map is the right way around and more familiar. Its location and fabric link with features of Trafalgar Square as well as to classical sculptures and sublime landscape paintings in the National Gallery. It provokes thoughts about a monumental past and future of both landscape and city.”  An interesting monument to Britain but I wonder about the practicalities. Will we see it properly or will the plinth get in the way?

1 Elmgreen & Dragset Powerless Structures Fig 101. “In this portrayal of a boy astride his rocking horse, a child has been elevated to the status of a historical hero, though there is not yet a history to commemorate. As in a Hans Christian Andersen fairytale, this enfant terrible’ gently mocks the authoritarian pose often found in the tradition of equestrian sculptures. His wild gesture, mimicking the adult cavalier, is one of pure excitement — there will be no tragic consequences resulting from his imaginary conquest.” A runaway winner. Mocks the daftly heroic statues of old with style and a sense of optimism and fun.

And the winner is……..  (to be continued)

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frieze – the bigger picture

19 August 2010 § Leave a comment

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There is litle need to introduce Frieze – now firmly established as the premier art fair in the London calendar – the 2010 Fair should be inked in to your calendar for the 13 – 16 October. However, year on year an increasing number of events are piggy-backing on the fair looking to take advantage of the temporary influx of potential buyers. Last year’s satellite Zoo Art Fair is not taking place this year clearing the field for these new entrants.  Here is what we know:

Club Nutz at Frame 09

Deep down in the bowels of the University of Westminster the subterranean Ambika P3 is hosting Sunday (14 – 16 October), a fair for young international galleries. It is being organised by London gallery Limoncello, the Brussels-based Tulips & Roses and Croy Nielsen from Berlin and will feature about twenty galleries, some of which appeared in the Frame section in last years Frieze which hosted galleries under six years old. Initially launched as a one-day event in Berlin it here seems to be a competitor to the Frieze ‘Frame’ section for solo shows from young galleries.  Henrikke Nielsen of co-organiser Croy Nielsen Gallery notes that “Frame does not have the capacity. The focus in London will be more international, with galleries from New York “. Participants are selected on an invite-only basis. The low-cost has parallels with the Independent fair held during the NY Armory Show. Nielsen says “There are similarities, such as having open stands, but Independent is a bigger project.”

A McAttee courtesy Eyestorm

Over at Christies in South Kensington they are taking advantage of the move of the October Contemporary sale’s move to King Street by launching Multiplied – ‘an exciting new fair in the field of contemporary art’. The fair will be held 15-18th October ‘providing a platform to promote emerging talent in two and three-dimensional contemporary editions’. According to Richard Lloyd, Head of Christie’s Print department, when he attended the Editions and Artist’s Book Fair in New York last winter: “I was inspired to stage something similar in London and help to create a buzz and a platform for the very best in contemporary publishing”. He states that Christie’s are not taking any percentage of the sales; stands are competitively priced and fair entry to is free.

To assuage worries that they are in true competetion to the dealers at Frieze he adds “Previous divisions between the primary and secondary market are no longer particularly relevant. There will be no direct competition between participating galleries and Christie’s. Only five to ten per cent of what will be on show at the fair would have come up for sale at a Christie’s auction.” He says that “We will benefit simply from people visiting South Kensington. It is now a great space in which to view contemporary art, and we want people to feel comfortable just dropping in to see what’s on.”

Despite his comments Christie’s action is sure to put the backs up of the dealers at Frieze who will feel that they are, since buying Haunch of Venison, further intruding on dealer’s traditional ground.

Meanwhile, way over east at Village Underground there is a new urban art event, the Moniker International Art Fair (14-17 October). The fair ‘highlights the work of a generation of artists often overlooked in British mainstream fairs. These artists, extensively collected transcend various genres, readily exploring high and low aspects of visual language.’

Their spokesman says “The event will consist of six international galleries and six project spaces showcasing individual artists that will reflect the finer side of urban art with artists who have shown in major institutions and galleries.” Participants include New Image Art of Los Angeles and Galleria Patricia Armocida of Milan and admission is free.

There will be other smaller events and gallery tie-ins. Last year the wonderful Museum of Everything had a great pop-up exhibition – no doubt there will be more initiatives from the galleries year yet to be anounced… I will keep my ear to the ground and letyou know in due course!

pordenone montanari – postscript

18 August 2010 § Leave a comment

I stumbled upon some more information regarding the rather dubious ‘discovery’ of Italian ‘genius’ Montanari – please see my post from 16 August entitled Pordenone Montenari – genius or senile dauber? I was checking out the artmarketblog of Nicholas Forrest when I read his post regarding some alternative art hedging ventures. Here is his summary dated 3 August 2010, which is itself based on an Art Newspaper article dated 6 July 2010:

Over in India, another innovative art investment project has been started by an Indian entrepreneur. Indian investor Arun Rangachari, chairman of venture capital firm DAR Capital, has purchased the rights to the entire life’s work of a reclusive Italian artist by the name of Montanari, who has lived in seclusion for the past 18 years. Rangachari is building up an art collection, of which the work of Montanari will play a significant part, with the intention of setting up an art fund in the future. Before selling any of the paintings, Rangachari plans to increase the value of Montanari’s work by holding exhibitions and building a foundation dedicated to the artist’s work. According to ‘His (Rangachari’s) first art investment consists of 40 paintings by the Italian artist Americo Montanari, with the option to buy many more……..When asked why his art fund would succeed when other ventures, including Indian-based funds, had recently failed he said: “Our entry level will be affordable, we’ll be focusing on artists who have not yet built a reputation and we will have no hidden costs, everything will be up front, so we’ll be quite different from everyone else.”

Apart from the artists first name (a mistake I assume) this is basically the same story ‘broken’ by the Observer on Sunday. Interestingly rather than the farcical assertion (Observer) that 500 paintings had been purchased for an assumed £5-10 million there seem to be just 40 ‘with options’.

His knowledge of art? This from the Art Newspaper: “I don’t know anything about art at the moment. I’ve just started learning,” said Rangachari whose other business interests range from media technology and commercial agriculture to adventure sports, Bollywood films and the theatrical rights to the Indian Premier League (ie showing cricket on large screens in public venues).

So here we have the real story. Let me summarise quite bluntly: a wealthy financial speculator, with no knowledge in art,  has bought a number of almost worthless paintings with the plan to hype them up into something of value, before selling them on to gullible investors aspart of an investment fund.

For my personal view on his future ‘art fund’ please arrange the following words in to a popular phrase: with a dont barge-pole it touch.

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