Riot police use tear gas to disperse demonstrators marching in protest of the raid of a squat in the area of Zografou, Athens, on March 13. Photo: EPA
Following the opening of Documenta 14 in Athens, an artist group published an open letter criticizing the exhibition’s silence after a series of evictions of artists and raids of buildings housing refugees in the city.
Artists Against Evictions claim that viewers are not “Learning from Athens”—the title of this year’s exhibition—but are instead only seeing a version of the city that is state-approved. It accuses the mayor of Athens, Giorgos Kaminis, of standing by while the government evicted artists from the shared space Villa Zografou, arrested 120 refugees who were squatting in Alkiviadou, and bulldozed refugee homes in Thessaloniki. Kaminis had said that refugees occupying buildings owned by the municipality are “degrading the city.” In response, the signatories declared that this is “not a time of culturally archiving crisis. Now is a time of action not blind consumption.”
Addressed to all Documenta 14 visitors, participants, and cultural workers, the letter states: “The silence of Documenta is not acceptable and only goes further to accommodate Mayor Kaminis, the State, the Church, and the NGOs who stand against us and force thousands into segregated concentration camps, prepped and ready for the very bodies your director says he’s trying to protect. This violent act is dividing the legitimate bodies from the illegitimate ones by state force and Documenta has so far been silent.”
Unofficial refugee housing, known as squats, have cropped up throughout Athens in order to provide shelters that often have far better living conditions than official refugee camps. While the mayor allegedly calls these spaces “ghettos,” Artists Against Evictions considers them to be homes to thousands of displaced people. The group calls for all those participating in and visiting the exhibition to help refugees by supporting housing for migrants in Greece. The group believes that Documenta has a responsibility to address the constant raids on refugee shelters. It also claims that the “Parliament of Bodies,” a series of programming—talks, events, workshops—that preceded the opening of Documenta, had pledged to represent minority voices. “Well, we are those voices, we are inclusive to all genders, we are migrants, we are modern pariahs, we are the dissidents of the regime and we are here.” The letter continues, “We walk with you, we tread the parallel streets, but you don’t see us.”
The full letter is as follows:
To all Documenta 14 Viewers, Participants and Cultural Workers,
We call for your attention, in this immediate moment of “Learning from Athens.”
We are the people who inhabit this city and we are talking to you as our guests.
Your jostling bodies crowd the streets of Athens, your mouths are speaking of our hardship, your feet are pounding the pavements. But this is not enough. Now is a time for carving out a space for all, not a time of culturally archiving crisis. Now is a time of action not blind consumption. We ask you to redirect your limbs into the shadows and the black outs, away from the feast the Mayor of Athens has staged for you.
You say you want to learn from Athens, well first open your eyes to the city and listen to the streets.
One of you laments the discourse of illegitimate bodies. At the same time, by staying silent, he is assisting the eradication of spaces for the thousands of bodies who inhabit this city in autonomous units. These squatted houses are under constant threat; daily we are told we will be evicted through violent means. Not only jeopardizing our basic human needs, but our support networks, spaces of autonomy and unified cultural practices. In these buildings, artists and activists coexist together with thousands of refugees, who have come here from war-torn countries to seek new lives with dignity and freedom.
The silence of Documenta is not acceptable and only goes further to accommodate Mayor Kaminis, the State, the Church and the NGOs who stand against us and force thousands into segregated concentration camps, prepped and ready for the very bodies your director says he’s trying to protect. This violent act is dividing the legitimate bodies from the illegitimate ones by state force and Documenta has so far been silent.
The precursor events of Documenta 14, entitled “The parliament of bodies” spoke of the voices of resistance, transgender voices, the voices of the minority. Well, we are those voices, we are inclusive to all genders, we are migrants, we are modern pariahs, we are the dissidents of the regime and we are here. We walk with you, we tread the parallel streets, but you don’t see us – you have your eyes trained on the blue dotted lines of your Google map. You have been programmed and directed not to see us, to just miss us, reverse and avoid us – our culture has been censored from you. We ask you to recalibrate your devices, we ask you to get lost, to hack your automation, and rewire your cultural viewpoint.
In the run up to all those budget airlines hitting the tarmac, we have confronted some serious battles.
Only three weeks ago, at dawn on the 13th March 2017 the state evicted the social space Villa Zografou. They simultaneously raided Alkiviadou refugee squat and arrested 120 refugees only to release them out into the cold, homeless and without their belongings in the streets at midnight. This is not an isolated incident of oppression. Last summer in Thessaloniki, people faced the violent eviction and bulldozing of refugee homes. Immediately after these barbaric evictions and abuses, mayor Kaminis stated that the occupation of municipality owned buildings by migrants is “degrading the city.” The same mayor stood before you on April 6th, presiding with pomp over the Documenta press conference.
The Greek government today threatens to destroy anyone who seeks grassroots solidarity, self-organization and to build spaces for new beginnings. Over 2000 refugees share these spaces with artists and others, and form communities.
This aggressive cleansing will not stop, and we are under threat of losing all autonomous houses by the summer of 2017. These houses are our culture, our homes, and our structures. The mayor of Athens calls them ghettos but what is one man’s ghetto is thousands of people’s home, and site of social expression and interaction.
WE ARE ASKING YOU TO FIRST SEEK ATHENS AND THEN LEARN FROM US.
BY PARTICIPATING BLINDLY YOU ARE SUPPORTING THE GOLDEN GHETTOISATION OF OUR NEIGHBOURHOODS, THE EVICTION OF OUR COMMUNITIES, AND THE SYSTEMS OF PATRIARCHY THAT STAND ON OUR FINGERS AS WE TRY TO BUILD OUR OWN, SELF-SUSTAINABLE ARCHITECTURES.
CONSIDER YOUR PARTICIPATION AND ROLE IN EVENTS THAT IMPLICITLY LEND COVER AND LEGITIMACY TO THE MAYOR AND STATE’S ACTIONS.
YOU ARE CONDONING THE WAR ON GRASSROOTS INITIATIVES FOR ALL IF YOU IGNORE OUR CALL.
WE CALL FOR YOUR SUPPORT AND SOLIDARITY TO:
CLOSE THE CAMPS, NOT THE SQUATS
SOLIDARITY TO ALL SQUATS
AGAINST THE AGREEMENT OF EU-TURKEY SHAME
OPEN THE BORDERS
8th April 2017, Artists Against Evictions
Tom Batchelor reports in The Independent that residents of a series of glass-walled condominiums adjacent to Tate Modern’s new Switch House have filed a lawsuit against the museum. The plaintiffs claim that visitors are violating their privacy and turning them into “public exhibits” by taking photographs of their homes while on the institution’s observation deck. The complaint states that this is a breach of their human rights due to “near constant surveillance.”
Residents, who said the photos of their apartments are being shared on social media, want the gallery to erect a screen blocking the view from the museum to their homes. The high court writ submitted in the case claims the viewing platform does “not provide a safe or satisfactory home environment for young children.” They also want Tate to pay their legal costs. The developer of the apartment buildings, Native Land, has previously said that prospective buyers of flats in what’s dubbed Neo Bankside—with apartments that have been marketed at nearly $25.5 million—could have easily seen marketing material showing the location of the planned viewing gallery at Tate, and that a model showing the planned Tate extension as it would stand next to Neo Bankside was also available.
A spokesperson for Tate said: “The design of the building has always included a high level terrace for the benefit of the public, but we cannot comment further given the conditions of the legal process.” Last year, the museum placed signs that read “please respect our neighbours’ privacy” in areas that overlooked the NEO Bankside buildings.
After stepping down from her directorship of LAXART in Los Angeles, which she founded in 2005, Lauri Firstenberg is creating a new art production studio in partnership with Los Angeles–based artist Anthony James, according to a report by Nate Freeman in Artnews. It will be located in East Hollywood and called there-there. The company will work with artists, institutions, and foundations in an advisory capacity while funding and producing work. The studio will also host exhibitions in a gallery that will be built into its prospective headquarters on 4845 Fountain Avenue, next to a Church of Scientology building.
Firstenberg said of the project: “Over the course of fourteen years things have evolved [in LA] tremendously, but some things haven’t changed…There’s so much to do if you think about so many international artists who have yet to work in Los Angeles.” She has also proposed that her initiative may bolster the trend away from the traditional model of gallery representation: “My generation of artists in LA, if you really break it down, a lot of their galleries have closed, they don’t have the support structure that they need—and so, they can come to there-there. And there’s a generation of emerging artists who have yet to come to LA and produce projects, and that’s something that I’ve been committed to since I started curating in my early twenties.”
The space will open this spring and programming will begin next September.
An infographic conveying the top arts and cultural exports in the United States in 2014. Photo: The National Endowment of the Arts
The National Endowment of the Arts and the Bureau of Economic Analysis have released a report that provides state leaders with data on the impact of the arts and culture on the economy and the job market. Based on data from 2014, its research shows that cultural industries in the US have contributed $729.6 billion to the economy, and between 1998 and 2014, the contribution of arts and culture to the nation’s gross domestic product grew by 35.1 percent.
“Information from the Arts and Cultural Production Satellite Account has been invaluable for understanding the role of arts and culture in our economy, demonstrating that the arts are indeed part of our everyday lives,” said NEA chairman Jane Chu. “Now with the new state data, state leaders have a powerful tool to assess and advance arts and culture for the benefit of all their residents.”
According to the report, between 2013 and 2014, the growth in arts and cultural workers exceeded the national rate in seventeen states, with the largest growth in Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and Washington. New York, Washington, Wyoming, and Hawaii had the highest concentrations of jobs in the arts. Hawaii’s twenty-three museums and seventeen zoos and botanical gardens contribute to the state’s high museum employment, which is four times the national rate.
The report’s findings come at a time when the future of the National Endowments of the Arts and Humanities, as well as the Corporation of Public Broadcasting and the Institute of Library and Museum Services, are uncertain. President Trump proposed eliminating them in his 2018 Federal Budget plan, which still needs to be approved by Congress.
Artist Chris Ofili and actor, director, and playwright Mark Rylance were among the honorees at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace on Wednesday, April 19, The Guardian reports. Rylance was knighted for his services to theater and Ofili was made a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE).
The Turner-Prize-wining artist said that the award was special due to his parents’ decision to relocate to England from Nigeria more than four decades ago. “We set up our life in England and it’s so special to be recognized for what I do in England and Britain, and for my parents that they made a great choice and invested so much in me,” Ofili said. “It feels as though I have achieved a lot.”
Among the other honorees are heptathlete and Olympic-gold-medalist Ennis-Hill, who was made a dame commander during the ceremony; Victoria Beckham, who became an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) for her contributions to the fashion industry; and Lieutenant Colonel Henry Worsley, who died while trekking across Antarctica to raise money for the Endeavour Fund—an initiative that supports the recovery of wounded, injured, and sick servicemen and women—last year.
Just after 5 PM on Thursday, April 20, a man vandalized a student’s painting on view in the education center at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Daily News reports.
Thirty-three-year-old Ryan Watson used a blue marker to write “Nazi art” on a work on display and then yelled, “go back to your country,” after he was approached by a security guard. Museum staff called the police after the incident occurred, who arrested Watson and charged him with graffiti and criminal mischief.
Met spokeswoman Annie Bailis said that every effort is being made to restore the piece, which is featured in the museum’s “Scholastic Art and Writing Awards” exhibit. She added, “The Met is grateful for the quick and effective action taken by security officers and the NYPD on this unfortunate incident.”
Polish sculptor and fiber artist Magdalena Abakanowicz has died at the age of eighty-six, the rector of Warsaw’s Academy of Fine Arts said on Friday, April 21. Perhaps best known for her biomorphic, large-scale sculptures of headless human figures made from thick fibers hardened with synthetic resins, the artist once said: “There is no tool between me and the material I use. I choose it with my hands. I shape it with my hands. My hands transmit my energy to it. By translating an idea into a shape, they will always pass on something escaping conceptualization. They will reveal the unconscious.”
Born on June 20, 1930, in Falenty, Poland, Abakanowicz began her artistic career as a painter and shifted to creating sculptural forms with textiles shortly after. Her soft sculptures made from dyed sisal fibre, known as ‘Abakans,’ were exhibited at the 1964 International Biennial of Tapestry in Lausanne and won a gold medal at the 1967 São Paulo Biennial. She was also the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including the Award for Distinction in Sculpture from the New York Sculpture Center in 1993 and the Leonardo da Vinci World Award of Arts in 1999. Abakanowicz was a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Poznań, Poland, from 1965 to 1990, and a visiting professor at a number of institutions in Los Angeles, Berkeley, Boston, New York, San Diego, Sydney, and Tokyo. Her permanent installations can be found in Grant Park, Chicago; at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC; and Warsaw’s Romuald Traugutt Park; the largest collection of her art is safeguarded by the National Museum in Wrocław in Poland.
In the November 1993 issue of Artforum, Marek Bartelik reviewed her shows at Marlborough Gallery and PS1 MoMA. He wrote: “Vivid memories of World War II and four decades of communism inform the art of the Polish artist Magdalena Abakanowicz . . . In order to create her sculptures, Abakanowicz peels the bark, cuts off the limbs, and inserts metal devices into tree trunks, making them look like subjects of double torture, first by an unknown hostile force, then by the artist herself. Yet such ‘cruelty’ allows her to question the binary oppositions of victim and oppressor, love and hate, life and death, while preventing her from simplistically repeating therhetoric that so often surrounds themes of war, totalitarianism, or ecology.”
William Booth and Zwelethu Mthethwa leaving the Western Cape High Court in in Cape Town on June 1, 2015. Photo: Nardus Engelbrecht
Following a court ruling last month that found photographer Zwelethu Mthethwa guilty of murder, several galleries and auction houses in South Africa have decided not to display or sell his work, Andrew Robertson of IOL reports.
“In a recent board meeting, the directors of Strauss & Co decided that the company would not be auctioning works by Zwelethu Mthethwa until further notice,” marketing and advertising officer Bina Genovese said.
Mthethwa was convicted of killing twenty-three-year-old sex worker Nokuphila Kumalo in 2013. His attorney, William Booth, recently postponed sentencing since he has been denied access to the prison and was unable to have a clinical psychologist and social worker meet with Mthethwa.
The artist remains in custody after two failed bail applications. “I am going to be applying for leave to appeal against his conviction once he is sentenced,” Booth said. “I will also be applying for bail to be fixed for him, pending the finalization of his appeal.” The lawyer added that the artist hopes to continue making art while in prison, but believes he may face an “uphill battle.”
On April 19, the BelgianArtPrize, a biennial award that recognizes the artistic achievements of mid-career artists, honored Otobong Nkanga. She will receive $26,000 and will be featured in an exhibition at the BOZAR Center for Fine Arts, which will run until May 28.
The international jury said that it chose Nkanga because she “is an artist who records the social and topographical changes of her environment, who observes their inherent complexities and understands how resources such as soil and earth, and their potential values, are subject to regional and cultural analysis.”
Since 1950, the nonprofit organization La Jeune Peinture Belge, which describes itself as a group of art lovers, professionals, and collectors, has collaborated with the BOZAR Center for Fine Arts to organize the prize with the goal of supporting artistic talent in Belgium and offering artists an international platform.
The international jury comprised Beatrix Ruf, director of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam; Hans Ulrich Obrist, artistic director of the Serpentine Galleries in London; Dieter Roelstraete, cocurator of Documenta 14; art collector Mimi Dusselier; and Estelle Francès Lasserre, director of the Fondation d’Entreprise Francès. The other artists shortlisted for the prize are Edith Dekyndt, Simona Denicolai & Ivo Provoost, and Maarten Vanden Eynde.
Iván Navarro Victor, (The Missing Monument for Washington, D.C OR a proposal for a monument for Victor Jara), 2008. Photo: Artist Pension Trust
The Artist Pension Trust, a mutual assurance fund that provides long-term financial security for artists, withdrew eighteen lots from an upcoming auction at Sotheby’s London after several artists decided that the sale “was not in their best interests,” Colin Gleadell of The Telegraph reports.
Works by David Shrigley, Jeremy Deller, Richard Wright, Jane and Louise Wilson, Liam Gillick, Martin Boyce, and Douglas Gordon, among others, were featured in a catalogue that had been released a month ago. The lots were estimated to bring in more than $250,000.
This year marks the first time APT chose to put works up for auction. The London sale was to follow a successful Sotheby’s New York auction last month. Only two out of fifteen works from APT failed to sell. A work by Chilean artist Iván Navarro was one of the highest-priced pieces of the group, netting $26,000. The sale raised a total of $231,000, which exceeded the original $160,000 estimate.
Al Brenner, CEO of the MutualArt Group, which merged with the artist trust in December 2016, said that the mass withdrawal of works was a result of the artists’ fears that their works would be undersold or not sold in and affect future sales. For now, Brenner said he is not planning any more auctions.
Founded by businessman Moti Shniberg in 2004, ATP invites artists to participate, and then asks them to contribute more than twenty works over the course of two decades. The works would eventually be sold and the profits would be split between all of the artists in the trust. The model allows emerging artists to benefit from the reputation of more established artists whose works might sell for more. ATP also promotes the work of all of its members by organizing shows or loaning works to exhibitions. ATP currently has more than thirteen-thousand works from two-thousand artists.