Globetrotting: news from around the world — January/February 2015

The Swiss banking system is crumbling under the pressure of new investigations into tax evasion. Plus, art luminaries name the 10 greatest paintings of all time.


Those poor Swiss banks

"Swiss banking ain’t what it used to be," claims the Financial Times. The foundation of secrecy on which the country’s whole banking system was so painstakingly erected over the past century is crumbling.

The catalyst was the US government’s investigation into tax evasion against banking giants UBS and Credit Suisse (see November 2014). In pure monetary terms, the consequences were modest — the banks were handed relatively light fines of US$780 million and US$2.6 billion. But the notion of secrecy (which in this case took the form of helping foreigners hide money from taxation) took a beating. Swiss banks now have to compete on old-fashioned virtues such as service, performance and price. And they seem to be having a hard time: a KPMG report shows the median return of Swiss banks shrank more than 10% in six years — to 3.3% in 2012 from 14% in 2006.


Which is the greatest of them all?

Mona Lisa 

We’re often told that art is subjective. But what about long-revered pieces such as Van Gogh’s Irises or Monet’s Water Lilies? These works are nowhere to be found on a new list of the 10 greatest paintings of all time.

As the organizer of the contest, ARTNews asked 10 art luminaries to name their choices.  Artist Richard Serra picked the Altamira Cave Paintings. Gary Garrels, senior curator of painting and sculpture at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, opted for The Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grünewald. Only one judge, Martin Kemp, emeritus professor of the history of art at Oxford University, chose a legendary work, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.


Drawing parallels


Science is definitely making incursions into the realm of science fiction. A group of Griffith University academics in Australia has published an article in the prestigious journal Physical Review X that claims parallel universes really exist. Some of these universes are identical to ours, but most are very different. Rather than evolving independently, these universes interact and influence one another through repulsion. Appropriately, the new theory is called the Many Interacting Worlds approach.


B&Bs revisited

Think B&B stands for bed and breakfast? Think again. Now we have the bed and beverage, where the focus is on cocktails rather than eggs and sausages.

The new concept will make its debut with the Grand Pigalle in Paris. The hotel, set to be launched this month by financier-turned-barkeep Romée de Gorïanoff, will be defined by its wine bar and cocktail den on the first floor. This will be its key attraction.

Other B&Bs are opening in Los Angeles and Miami Beach — a throwback to the golden age of the hotel bar, when haunts such as Bemelmans at New York’s Carlyle Hotel and the American Bar at London’s Savoy reigned supreme.