October 16, 2017

Audrey Azoulay Elected Next Director General of UNESCO

Audrey Azoulay.

UNESCO has recently announced that the former French culture minister, Audrey Azoulay, will be its next director general, according to a report by Aurelien Breeden in the New York Times. On October 13, Azoulay was elected to the position for a tenure of four years. She won 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 will be confirmed during UNESCO’s general conference next month. |Also of significance is the US’s and Israel’s announcements of their withdrawal from UNESCO |www.artforum.com/news/id=71644|, effective December 31, 2018.

Azoulay, whose father once served as an adviser to the kings of Morocco, was minister of culture for only fifteen months, after serving as former French president François Hollande’s councillor. During her tenure as minister of culture, 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. While she claimed to support the campaign launched by France to protect cultural sites in conflict zones globally, her commitment 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 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 run it. Her bid was supported Hollande—against the counsel of the foreign affairs ministry, according to diplomatic sources—and was also endorsed by his successor, Emmanuel Macron.

The new director general will take charge of an organization that 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.

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 which is the rightful owner of The Mechanism of Meaning, a monumental work by the artist duo 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), also 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.

October 13, 2017

German Cultural Figures Up in Arms over New Right-Wing Parliament Representative

AfD's Siegbert Droese.

More than twenty-five thousand people have signed an open letter protesting the appointment of Siegbert Droese as the new chairman of the German parliament’s Committee on Cultural and Media Affairs, Monopol reports. Droese is a member of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, the country’s growing young far-right political party.

Published on September 26, the “Open Letter – For Freedom and Diversity in Art and Culture!” was sent to members of the Council of Elders of the German Bundestag and to the other main German political parties.

It reads: “The AfD, a right-wing radical party, [is] moving into the German Bundestag for the first time, unashamingly undermining the principles of our co-existence in this country. These new developments call for a clear attitude from all democrats in the Bundestag, beyond [any] coalition-tactical considerations. It cannot happen that in the struggle for spheres of influence, the AfD injects its nationalist poison into the debates within one of the most sensitive, most important places of our parliamentary system: German cultural policy. It is therefore imperative to prevent the AfD from chairing the Culture Committee.”

October 13, 2017

Smithsonian Acquires Its Largest Audiovisual Art Archive

Painter Larry Rivers (center) with Artists Talk on Art board members Doug Sheer and Vernita Nemec at an event on February 17, 1995. Photo: Smithsonian Archives of American Art

More than five hundred New York panel discussions, screenings, and public dialogues about art have been procured by the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art. Featuring artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Agnes Denes, Robert Longo, Ana Mendieta, and Alice Neel, the audio and visual collection is the largest ever acquired for the archive.

Founded in 1974 and considered the longest-running art discussion series, the Artists Talk on Art (ATOA) gifted thousands of records dealing with concerns in the American art world, dating from 1975 to 2015. Many of these dialogues are featured in Mutiny and the Mainstream: Talk That Changed Art, (1975–1990), a book by Judy Seigel published in 1992, and are considered a primary source for contemporary American art history.

“We see the fit with the Archives of American Art as uniquely perfect in that they are dedicated to maximum accessibility and democratic use, which is what we have always stood for,” said Douglas I. Sheer, cofounder and board chairman of Artists Talk on Art. “We were courted by a number of institutions and only Archives of American Art possessed the experience, capability, massive capacity, and appreciation of our historic content, which is what convinced us to choose them.”

October 13, 2017

Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald to Paint the Obamas for Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery

Artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald.

The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, in Washington, DC, announced today that artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald have been commissioned to paint Barack and Michelle Obama for the institution’s permanent collection. The portraits will be revealed at the museum in early 2018.

“The Portrait Gallery is absolutely delighted that Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald have agreed to create the official portraits of our former President and First Lady,” said Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery. “Both have achieved enormous success as artists, but even more, they make art that reflects the power and potential of portraiture in the twenty-first century.”

Wiley, known for his large-scale portraits of young African Americans that reference iconic portraits of prominent figures by Western artists, was selected by Barack to create his likeness. For her portrait, Michelle chose Sherald, whose works often challenge stereotypes and notions of identity.

October 13, 2017

El Museo del Barrio Adds Six New Board Members

El Museo del Barrio.

El Museo del Barrio in New York announced today that it has appointed six new members to its board of trustees: Juan Domingo Beckmann, CEO of Jose Cuervo; entrepreneur and film producer Moisés Cosio; Veronica G. Powell, cofounder of Zona Maco: Mexico Arte Contemporaneo; art historian Clarice Oliveira Tavares; philanthropist and collector Renata Paula; and Monica Vidal, managing partner at the investment firm A+Capital.

Director Patrick Charpenel, who began his tenure at the museum on September 18, said, “El Museo del Barrio is thrilled to welcome these extraordinary individuals to its evolving board of trustees. With their valuable input, care, and diverse perspectives, we are confident that El Museo will continue to grow in its exhibitions, programming, and influence in the Latin American and global arts communities.”

Charpenel was tapped to lead the institution in May, after Jorge Daniel Veneciano stepped down after serving two years as director. El Museo del Barrio was established as an arts space dedicated to Puerto Rican art in 1969, but it eventually expanded its mission to include Latino, Latin American, and Caribbean cultures.

October 13, 2017

Hikaru Fujii Wins Nissan Art Award’s 2017 Grand Prix

Hikaru Fujii and his award-winning work Playing Japanese, 2017, at the BankART Studio NYK in Yokohama. Photo: Yukio Koshima

The Nissan Art Award has named Hikaru Fujii the winner of its 2017 Grand Prix. The artist will receive around $44,500 as well as the opportunity to participate in a three-month residency program at the International Studio and Curatorial Program in New York. Founded in 2013 to celebrate achievements in contemporary art, the biennial award honors emerging Japanese artists.

Playing Japanese, 2017, Fujii’s winning work, is a multichannel video installation of footage gathered from a workshop where the artist asked members of the public to “perform” what it means to be Japanese.

“Fujii’s artwork broaches an extremely complex period of Japanese history from around when the nation started to interact with other cultures, and then, through the means of a workshop, presents us with a strong message and questions,” the jury chair, Fumio Nanjo, said. “Responding also to the state of affairs in the world today, his superb work transcends cultures and nationalities to resonate with all kinds of people.”

October 13, 2017

Diana Baldon Appointed Director of Fondazione Modena Arti Visive

Diana Baldon.

The Italian Copenhagen-based art historian, curator, and critic Diana Baldon has been named director of the Fondazione Modena Arti Visive, which was founded by the city of Modena and the Cassa di Risparmio Foundation on October 3. The arts organization brings together three of the city’s cultural institutions: the Galleria Civica di Modena, the Fondazione Fotografia Modena, and the Museo della Figurina.

Baldon joined the Fondazione Fotografia Modena on June 1. Previously, she was director of Malmö Konsthall and Index, the Swedish contemporary art foundation where she staged solo exhibitions by Nina Beier, Goshka Macuga, Ad Reinhardt, Lili Reynaud-Dewar, and Heimo Zobernig, among other artists. Prior to her appointments in Sweden, she worked at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna as a curator-in-residence and a member of its teaching staff.

The Fondazione Modena Arti Visive aims to strengthen the individual identities of the three institutions while presenting an exhibition program that both showcases the twenty-first-century art practices of various disciplines and promotes the organizations’ collections of contemporary art.

October 13, 2017

Chinese Museum Removes Exhibit After Complaints of Racism

Installation view of “This Is Africa,” an exhibit at the Hubei Provincial Museum in Hong Kong.

The Hubei Provincial Museum in Wuhan, China, has pulled from view its “This Is Africa” exhibit, which featured photographs of Africans shown side by side with images of animals, after it received complaints that the section was racist, Russell Goldman and Adam Wu of the New York Times report.

The offending works included a photograph of a young boy, who appears to be yelling, next to a howling chimpanzee, and a man and a lion who are both bearing their teeth.

While the images were created by the award-winning photographer Yu Huiping, who is vice chairman of the Hubei Photographers Association, curator Wang Yuejun said that it was his decision to juxtapose the portraits of Africans with photographs of the continent’s fauna.