International News Digest


How is contemporary art faring in our hard times? To get an opinion on the state of contemporary art markets, the Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Catrin Lorch talked with Art Cologne artistic director Daniel Hug and Michael Neff, who is involved in the organizational side of this year’s Gallery Weekend in Berlin. “The past year does not even have to have been the hardest,” Neff said. “Now the crisis is really hitting art. Even the Americans prefer to buy an overpriced Gerhard Richter than a short-term fashionable young star, or to jump on the ZERO [group] bandwagon. Two years ago, one could have still hung a coat on a Günther Uecker [nail picture]. But now nobody wants to experiment anymore but rather rediscover [older works] instead—what’s already in the history books. Before, collectors bought an [Olafur] Eliasson for one hundred thousand dollars and an Annette Kelm for eleven thousand dollars on top of that, but now only the Eliasson will be purchased.”

For Hug, experienced collectors are enjoying the buyer’s market while there’s a generational shift underway. “That’s important after crises,” Hug said. “The successes of the 1980s were all gone by the ’90s: unfashionable, outdated. Collectors force a change by starting to favor certain young galleries.” For Neff, what’s missing is a paradigm shift in the generational shift. “Actually one would have thought that now the political and socially-critical art will come. Yet, just like after 9/11, there was hardly an artistic reaction to the crisis that could be taken seriously.” What can still be taken seriously in the crisis are each collector’s individual needs, as Neff attests. “Events like the Gallery Weekend are the only ones that really work financially,” said Neff who is taking care of three groups from the US, Canada, and Paris for the event. “There’s a parallel program, party and caviar everywhere, but that one secures seven hundred guests individual appointment in ateliers, that one is always in contact with them, that’s important now.” The Forty-fourth edition of Art Cologne runs from April 21–25 while Gallery Weekend Berlin 2010 runs from April 30 until May 2.


Students studying art in France will soon be judged not only by their artworks, but also by their academic research skills. As Le Monde’s Emmanuelle Lequeux reports, the EU has introduced a degree standard—the Bachelor, Master, Doctorate system (BMD)—which will affect higher education in all twenty-seven member countries. For France, the change represents nothing less than a revolution in arts education. Five thousand students currently studying at fifty institutions across the country will be expected, among other skills, to write a one- to two-hundred page thesis to earn their Master’s degree. “Some national schools, like the one at the Beaux-Arts in Paris, considered the most prestigious, have already adapted [to the new system],” writes Lequeux. “One must hold [the French] baccalaureate to gain admission and, starting in the first three years, the students must follow theoretical courses in art history, aesthetics, literature, and languages, too. They can be held back a year if they fail at these subjects.”

Many art schools, which have not yet fully instigated the changes, will be forced to reform in order to maintain the EU standard and to obtain subsidies. Each school is currently being judged by the minister of culture for its adaption to the reform; the results will come out in June. While art teachers in France have traditionally opposed a more academic training for artists, that opposition has waned. “The resistance is less,” says the director of the Nantes art school Pierre-Jean Galdin. Another problem: Some artists are better at traditional scholarly work than others. “(O)ur student body is less homogeneous than that of an engineering school,” says Stéphane Doré, director of the art school of Bourges. “Some write like great critics, others have difficulty stringing together a few words.” One solution is to allow the students to write a Master’s thesis that deals with an artwork that they have created. “A thesis doesn’t make a student paint better,” says Jean-Jacques Passera, director of the Caen school, who has added writing ateliers to the classic artist education. “But (a thesis) provokes an effect of a return trip to their practice, which becomes enriched.” Another benefit: Since barely 10 percent of students actually become professional artists, the rest tend to find employment in art-related jobs in the cultural sector that require research and writing skills.


The battle to restitute artworks heated up last week at a Cairo conference on the restitution of antiquities. As Le Monde’s Michel Guerrin reports, Zahi Hawass, the head of antiquities in Egypt, called upon the twenty-two participating countries to “unite, cooperate, and fight together” to bring back treasures scattered in museums around the world. For Hawass, Egypt’s priorities include the Nefertiti bust held in Berlin, the Rosetta stone held at the British Museum, and the Dendera zodiac held in the Louvre. For Greece, the conference was a chance to strengthen its bid to bring back the Parthenon friezes—redubbed the Elgin Marbles—from the British Museum. Significantly, France, Great Britain, and Germany were not invited to the conference. In addition to Greece, the guests included China, the countries of Latin American, Italy, Libya, Nigeria, Russia, South Korea, and the United States, which just restituted a sarcophagus to Egypt. Hawass praised the US for being one of the “first countries in the restitution of antique works.”


Usually, citizens don’t have a say about loaning artworks, but that’s not the case on Easter Island. As Le Monde and Agence France-Presse reports, one of the celebrated Moai head statues will not be heading to an exhibition in France after the loan was vetoed by a local referendum. The vote, which took place on the Polynesian island at the beginning of March, was overshadowed by the earthquake and the tsunami of February 27 in Chile, which includes the island among its territories. While the results came out only last week, 89 percent of Easter Islanders are against the loan, which would have taken one of the famed sculptures to Paris for an exhibition at the Tuileries gardens from April 26 to May 9. The project was initiated in 2008 by the Italian foundation Mare Nostrum and the French Louis Vuitton foundation. The sculpture—over sixteen-feet tall and weighing in at 26,000 pounds—was to make the 8,000 mile trip by plane. The referendum—which is stipulated by a convention of the International Labour Organization for Indigenous and Tribal Peoples—took place after the residents of Polynesian origin were informed about the project. Chilean authorities, which initially gave a favorable opinion regarding the loan, must render an official decision this month. According to the report, it’s “highly improbable” that they will go against the referendum outcome.