Wassan Al-Khudhairi Named New Chief Curator of Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis

Wassan Al-Khudhairi

Lisa Melandri, executive director of the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, announced today that Wassan Al-Khudhairi, currently the curator of modern and contemporary art at the Birmingham Museum of Art in Alabama, will join CAM as its new chief curator. She succeeds Jeffrey Uslip, who left the museum following backlash over a controversial Kelley Walker exhibition which he organized last year. Al-Khudhairi will take up the post on August 1.

“I am so delighted to have the chance to work with Wassan,” Melandri said. “She has extraordinary breadth of experience and global knowledge of the contemporary art world, which is seamlessly balanced with her attention to local and regional communities and audiences. We are grateful to have her vision and abilities at CAM and in St. Louis.”

During her term at the Birmingham Museum, Al-Khudhairi cocurated an initiative called Shift, a temporary platform for social change that served as a satellite space in downtown Birmingham. Previously, she served as founding director of Mathaf, the Arab Museum of Modern Art in Qatar, and coartistic director at the Gwangju Biennale Foundation in South Korea. She has held positions at the Brooklyn Museum, the British Museum, and the High Museum of Modern Art. Al-Khudhairi studied at the Getty Leadership Institute at Claremont Graduate University and received degrees from the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies and Georgia State University.

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October 17, 2017

Virginia Commonwealth University to Open New Institute for Contemporary Art

Rendering of the Broad Street entrance of the Virginia Commonwealth University’s new Institute for Contemporary Art.

The Virginia Commonwealth University has announced that it will open its new Institute for Contemporary Art (ICA) in April 2018. Designed by Steven Holl Architects, the new non-collecting contemporary arts institution will be free to the public.

“We need institutions dedicated to creative, civil, and intellectually grounded discourse now more than ever,” said ICA director Lisa Freiman. “When the ICA opens in April, it will become a platform for open dialogue and sharing perspectives. We can’t wait to welcome Richmond, VCU, and the world into the ICA and begin engaging our visitors through contemporary art and ideas.”

The university successfully completed a $37 million capital campaign in support of construction for the new 41,000-square-foot building, which will be located at the Markel Center at the intersection of Belvidere and Broad Streets. It has also launched an endowment campaign for which it hopes to raise $12 million. The ICA will boast of a thirty-three-foot-high central forum and flexible gallery spaces that will support exhibitions, performances, films, and other interdisciplinary programs.

October 17, 2017

Norman Rockwell’s Family Tries to Stop Berkshire Museum Sale of Artist’s Works

The Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

The financially struggling Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, which announced in July that it was auctioning off some of its permanent collection through Sotheby’s in order to help finance a $20 million renovation and a $40 million endowment, is now facing backlash from members of Norman Rockwell’s family, according to Andrew Russeth of Artnews. Two of the museum’s Rockwell paintings, Shaftsbury Blacksmith Shop, 1940, and Shuffleton’s Barbershop, 1950, are headed for the auctioneer’s block. The artist donated the works to the museum himself, with the expectation that they stay with the Berkshire permanently. The Rockwells met with representatives from the office of the Massachusetts attorney general in Boston to see if there’s any way of halting the sale. A spokesperson for the attorney general said, “our office is reviewing the proposed transaction to see how it comports with applicable charities law.” In addition to the Rockwell pieces, the Berkshire Museum is also planning on selling works by Albert Bierstadt, Frederic Church, and Alexander Calder. Sotheby’s has already sent a number of the museum’s artworks on an international tour to whet the appetites of buyers.

Since the Berkshire Museum’s announcement, it has faced criticism from the American Alliance of Museums and the Norman Rockwell Museum. The Berkshire also severed its affiliation with the Smithsonian Institution as a gesture of “respect for the good relationship we have with the Smithsonian . . . because we knew the decision to deaccession art to fund an endowment would not be in compliance with the American Alliance of Museums’ guidelines for the use of proceeds,” said Van Shields, the Berkshire’s executive director.

“It’s possible that these paintings could go into a Swiss vault or a Russian oligarch’s dining room. You may never get to see them again,” said Margaret Rockwell, a representative for the family who is married to Geoffrey Rockwell, one of the artist’s grandchildren. “What is happening is that the Berkshire Museum is breaking Norman Rockwell’s trust, and the public trust at the same time, and hurting the reputation of the people of the Berkshires, and it’s a bad precedent for museums all over.”

October 17, 2017

Galerie Daniel Templon in Paris to Open Second Space

Chiharu Shiota, Destination, 2017, wool thread, metal, dimensions variable.

Grace Halio of Artnews reports that Galerie Daniel Templon in Paris, which represents artists such as Franz Ackermann, Larry Bell, Saint Clair Cemin, Jonathan Messe, and Kehinde Wiley, will be opening up a second space in the city, close to the Centre Pompidou, at Twenty-Eight rue de Grenier Saint Laraze. The gallery, which started in 1966, just celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. The French architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte, who created parts of the Museum of Islamic Art and the Louvre, is in charge of the project.

Artforum.com contributor Sarah Moroz covered the artist Chiharu Shiota’s exhibition at the gallery in a Critic’s Pick this past summer. Moroz called Shiota’s Destination, 2017, “a site-specific, room-engulfing labyrinth that has the sprawl of an uncontrollable fungus, a haywire cat’s cradle, or a webbed cathedral in red.”

October 17, 2017

Beatrix Ruf Steps Down as Director of Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum

Beatrix Ruf. Photo: Robin de Puy.

Beatrix Ruf has stepped down as director of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, writes Gareth Harris of the Art Newspaper. For the last two weeks, Ruf has been heavily criticized by the Dutch media for running her own advisory business while at the helm of the institution. The press has alleged that her company is a conflict of interest and may have interfered with her management of the museum.

Earlier this month, the Dutch paper NRC investigated Ruf’s private art-advisory firm, Currentmatters. Registered in Switzerland, the company was not included on the list of her external activities in the museum’s annual report. The business netted $513,961 during the first year of her directorship.

According to NRC, Ruf was also not transparent about donations made to the museum. It reported that a donation of 600 works from German collector Thomas Borgmann last year was only a partial gift. In order to receive the works, the institution agreed to a contract that stipulated the museum had to buy an additional six works by German artist Michael Krebber, as well as an installation by Matt Mullican. Ultimately, the museum will spend $1.76 million on the donation. The paper also alleged that many of the exhibitions mounted at the museum since the beginning of Ruf’s tenure have featured a small circle of artists with ties to galleries that Ruf regularly works with.

October 17, 2017

Suzanne Cotter Named Director of Luxembourg’s Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean

Suzanne Cotter

Suzanne Cotter has been named the director of Luxembourg’s Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean, also known as MUDAM Luxembourg. She begins her new post on January 1, 2018.

Prior to MUDAM, Cotter has been the director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Serralves Foundation in Porto, Portugal, since 2013, where she oversaw a number of major exhibitions and projects by artists such as Theaster Gates, Wolfgang Tillmans, Julie Mehretu, and Monir Farmanfarmaian. As a curator at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation from 2010–12, she helped develop the New York Guggenheim’s art program and led a curatorial team for the museum’s Abu Dhabi Project. She was also the curator of the UAE’s Sharjah Biennial in 2011.

“We are delighted to welcome her to MUDAM Luxembourg,” said Princess Stéphanie, Hereditary Grand Duchess of Luxembourg. “The clarity of her vision, her tremendous experience in both Europe and the United States, as well as her international recognition, are all factors which I am sure will make her an excellent director.”

October 16, 2017

Pyotr Pavlensky Arrested for Setting Bank of France on Fire

Pyotr Pavlensky in front of the Bank in France in Paris. Photo: Twitter @capucinema

Dissident Russian artist Pyotr Pavlensky, known for his radical performance art, was arrested for arson in Paris after he set the façade of one of the branches of the Bank of France on fire early Monday morning, the Moscow Times reports. If he is charged with the crime, Pavlensky may face deportation from France.

The artist has been living in France since he was granted asylum there earlier this year. Pavlensky fled Russia with his family after he and his partner Oksana Shalygina were accused of sexual assault by actress Anastasia Slonina. The artist claims the allegations are false, and that the case is the Russian government’s way of forcing him to leave the country.

According to photographer Capucine Henry, who shared a photo of Pavlensky standing in front of the fire on her Twitter feed, the artist was detained by the authorities at 4:10 AM. Activist Sarah Constantin, who also witnessed the performance, reported that the artist said, “the revival of revolutionary France will trigger the global fire of revolutions.”

October 16, 2017

Omer Fast’s Exhibition at James Cohan Gallery Accused of Racism

View of “Omer Fast: August,” 2017. Installation view, James Cohan Gallery, New York.

A group of artists and activists known as the Chinatown Art Brigade—established in 2015 by Tomie Arai, ManSee Kong, and Betty Yu—have called out what they perceive to be racism in the current exhibition at James Cohan Gallery’s Chinatown location in New York. The show is an installation by the Berlin-based artist Omer Fast that includes works in video and film, including a 2016 work inspired by the life and work of German photographer August Sander, but also perhaps most notably features a change in the façade and interiors of the gallery to resemble “what they were like before gentrification: the waiting room of a Chinatown business with an eclectic aesthetic,” according to the gallery’s press release. While the gallery goes on to note that the installation is meant to address the following: “In a very tense political climate, this ambiguous gesture represents a futile attempt to roll back the clock and speak about community, citizenship and identity,” CAB issued a letter to the gallery that stated, “Not only does this guise have little to no bearing on the actual works being shown, the choice of visual signifiers is a racist aggression towards the community of Chinatown that James Cohan Gallery is currently gentrifying.”

The letter goes on to address how the artist’s practice fits into the context of Chinatown specifically as well: “As a gallery representing the non U.S., non New York based artist Omer Fast, it is reprehensible that you see fit to support this exploration of ‘temporal space’ while contributing to the displacement of low income tenants and business owners in Chinatown. The artist may be heavily invested in ideas of ambivalence, ambiguity and the theatrics of performing authenticity, but let it be known that there is no ambiguity in the critical conditions residents here are facing today.” The writers close their statement with the hashtags “#RacistGallery” and “#JamesCohan #ShutItDown.” You may read their letter in full here.

October 16, 2017

Audrey Azoulay Elected Next Director General of UNESCO

Audrey Azoulay.

Though the United States and Israel will be withdrawing from UNESCO, the organization has also recently announced that the former French culture minister, Audrey Azoulay, will be their next director general, according to a report by Aurelien Breeden in the New York Times. She was elected to the position, for the next four years, on October 13, winning the vote to lead the cultural agency by a short margin with thirty votes to twenty-eight against the Qatari candidate Hamad bin Abdulaziz Al-Kawari. Despite two and a half years of using his financial leverage to campaign for the job, and an expectation that it was the Arab region’s turn to run the organization, Al-Kawari was seemingly handicapped by his country’s diplomatic isolation. The director general is a post usually chosen by UNESCO’s executive board after three rounds and the results of the election shall be confirmed during UNESCO’s general conference next month.

Azoulay, whose father once served as an adviser to the Kings of Morocco, was minister of culture for only fifteen months, after serving as Hollande’s councilor. During her tenure, the country’s budget for cultural heritage was slashed, though funding for French museums was seemingly a priority for the ministry when she headed it. Though she claimed to support the campaign launched by France to protect cultural sites in conflict zones globally, her commitment to this was disputed by multiple observers, including Jack Lang, France’s special envoy for the mission, who publicly stated she “made things very difficult for the project.” The French candidate’s victory was apparently something of an upset also due to the fact that UNESCO’s headquarters are based in Paris and UN tradition dictates that the host country of one of its agencies should not also run it. Her bid was supported by the country’s former president François Hollande—against the counsel of the foreign affairs ministry according to diplomatic sources—and also endorsed by his successor, Emmanuel Macron.

The new director general will take charge of an organization which has “lost 40% of its budget in adjusted value over the last decade,” according to a Western diplomat. The crisis deepened under current director general Irina Bokova’s watch when the US suspended its financial contributions back in 2011—more than thirty percent of UNESCO’s annual budget—after Palestine was admitted as a full member state. The US withdrawal will take effect on December 31, 2018.

October 15, 2017

Foundations Feud Over Work By Shusaku Arakawa and Madeline Gins

Shusaku Arakawa and Madeline Gins at 124 West Houston Street in New York in 2008. Photo: the Reversible Destiny Foundation

Two organizations started by artists Shusaku Arakawa and Madeline Gins are tied-up in a legal battle over who is the rightful owner of The Mechanism of Meaning, a monumental work comprising eighty-three canvases made between 1963 and 1973, Alice Dingle of ArtAsiaPacific reports. The conceptual art project presents puzzles and diagrams on subjects ranging from Chinese poetry to physics.

The Architectural Body Research Foundation (ABRF), established by the husband-and-wife team to fund major projects in 1987, claims to be the rightful owner of the work. It filed a lawsuit after learning that the Reversible Destiny Foundation (RDF), set up by Arakawa and Gins in 2010, was planning to sell one of two editions of The Mechanism of Meaning after Gagosian Gallery agreed to represent the foundation.

According to a federal lawsuit filed on Wednesday, October 11, ABRF is accusing RDF of copyright infringement and unlawful exploitation of the work with wrongful possession of the property. ABRF is asking the court to declare it the rightful owner of the second edition of the project and is seeking $1 million in punitive damages.