Hobby Lobby Forfeits 5,500 Illicit Iraqi Antiquities and Agrees to Pay $3 Million Fine

A clay cuneiform tablet, one of the artifacts that the owners of Hobby Lobby illegally imported into the United States from Iraq. Photo: United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York

Hobby Lobby, the privately owned chain of craft stores that won a landmark Supreme Court case in June 2014 by arguing that having to pay for insurance coverage for employees’ contraceptives was against its strict Christian principles, bought millions of dollars worth of smuggled antiquities from Iraq, Michael Hiltzik of the LA Times reports.

According to a civil complaint filed by federal prosecutors in New York on Wednesday, the Oklahoma City–based company bought more than 5,500 artifacts, including tablets, clay talismans, and cylinder seals, from an unnamed dealer for $1.6 million in December 2010, despite being warned by a cultural property law expert that many of the objects were most likely looted and were therefore illegal to purchase and ship to the United States.

Hobby Lobby said in a statement that it purchased the artifacts to honor “the company’s mission and passion for the Bible.” It said that it “did not fully appreciate the complexities of the acquisitions process,” which resulted in “some regrettable mistakes.”

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October 17, 2017

Charity Auction for Survivors of Grenfell Fire Raises $2.5 Million

Annie Morris’s sculpture, Stack 7, Ultramarine Blue, was among the works for sale at the Art for Grenfell auction. Photo: Toby Melville/Reuters.

Works by artists such as Antony Gormley, Wolfgang Tillmans, and Tracey Emin that were sold at auction to raise funds for the survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire that occurred on June 14, 2017—and took the lives of at least eighty people, including artist Khadija Saye—brought in about $2.5 million, according to Anna Codrea-Rado of the New York Times. The money collected by the Art for Grenfell auction, which took place at the Sotheby’s auction house in central London on October 16, will be divided between the 158 families who lived through the fire. Most of the survivors, still without a permanent place to live, are waiting for new homes and living in hotels.

“The Grenfell disaster has had a profound effect on all of us. We are very glad to be able to do something to help provide support to the victims,” said Harry Dalmeny, the Sotheby’s UK chairman. The idea for the sale came from Katie Heller, an art consultant, and Hamish McAlpine, a film producer. “When Grenfell happened, like everyone, I was totally incensed and upset and wanted to be able to do something,” said Heller. “We asked the families what they really needed and it was financial support.”

October 17, 2017

Courtney Donnell (1945–2017)

Courtney Donnell

Courtney Donnell, a curator of twentieth-century painting and sculpture at the at the Art Institute of Chicago, died of complications from multiple sclerosis on September 27, writes Bob Goldsborough of the Chicago Tribune. She was diagnosed with the disease in 1975.

Donnell earned her bachelor’s degree in art history from Wellesley College and her master’s degree in architectural history at New York University. She was hired by the Art Institute in 1974 as a curatorial research assistant. She rose through the ranks during her time there: In 1990, Donnell was named associate curator of twentieth century painting and sculpture. At the museum she organized the catalogue for painter Ivan Albright’s 1997 retrospective, an exhibition which eventually traveled to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. She also oversaw the acquisition of Alice Neel’s painting Ginny with the Yellow Hat, 1971, for the museum’s permanent collection, and became an expert on art collector, artist, and painter Frederic Clay Bartlett, who donated Georges Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte—1884, 1884/86, among other early modern works, to the museum in 1926.

“There was something wonderful watching Courtney, the museum professional, the human with the sense of humor, talking about famous paintings and then an hour later laughing with the donor about being pelted with acorns by a squirrel on an oak tree. It’s a wonderful dichotomy, and that was really her whole approach to life,” said John Craib-Cox, a longtime friend of Donnell’s.

October 17, 2017

Virginia Commonwealth University’s New ICA to Open in 2018

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

Stedelijk Museum Director Beatrix Ruf Steps Down Amid Controversy

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 Fire to Bank of France

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.