December 30, 2010

After Protests, Sotheby’s Withdraws African Mask from Sale

According to Ben Sharp in The Independent, Sotheby’s has scrapped its February sale of a controversial $7-million mask believed to have been looted by British forces from nineteenth-century West Africa.

A number of private individuals contacted the auction house last week to complain about the sale of the sixteenth-century ivory mask, once thought to have belonged to an ancient Nigerian king. Local government officials in Nigeria have publicly condemned the sale and criticized the object’s current owners, the descendants of a former British government official involved in an 1897 British invasion of Benin, a city-state in what is now Nigeria.

The mask, one of the last great masterpieces of Benin sculpture remaining in private hands, is believed to have been worn by the “Oba” or king of Benin on ceremonial occasions. It was due to be sold by the descendants of Sir Henry Lionel Galway, who took part in 1897’s punitive expedition in southern Nigeria. This was carried out by British forces in retaliation for the killing of a previous British-led invasion force. Troops deposed the king and looted the city.

The British confiscated many of the treasures they found, auctioning them off to finance the expedition. Many of the artefacts ended up in the British Museum, which currently holds another of the same group of masks, although some remained in private hands.

“The Benin ivory mask and other items consigned by the descendants of Lionel Galway which Sotheby’s had announced for auction in February 2011 have been withdrawn from sale at the request of the consignors,” said a Sotheby’s spokesman.

Protests against the sale emerged on social networking sites last week. An online petition was organized by the Nigeria Liberty Forum, which describes itself as a “UK-based Nigerian prodemocracy group.”

“They should seek good counsel and refrain from selling the mask,” Orobosa Omo-Ojo, an official in the state government of Edo, which contains the modern city of Benin, told the press in Nigeria. “Anything that makes them ignore this call [from] the Edo state government will [make us] use this as a starting point to protect our intellectual properties.”

December 30, 2010

Serbian Police Find Modigliani Painting in Manhunt

Serbian police searching for a war-crimes fugitive on Thursday instead found photographs of a Modigliani painting they suspect is in his possession, reports the Associated Press.

The war crimes prosecutor’s office said the police searched a house in the northern city of Novi Sad belonging to a close friend of Goran Hadzic, a former Croatian Serb rebel leader wanted by a UN tribunal over atrocities during Croatia’s war for independence.

Prosecutors say they found photographs of an oil painting by the Italian master worth more than one million dollars ($1.3 million) that they believe Hadzic has. The prosecutors said in a statement “we suspect that the painting was intended for sale to collect funds for his hiding.” The statement gave no name or description of the painting shown on the photographs. It was not clear whether the painting was stolen, or belongs to Hadzic.

Hadzic and wartime Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic are the last two suspects wanted by the UN court in the Hague, Netherlands.

December 30, 2010

Stephen Irwin (1959–2010)

Elizabeth Kramer reports in the Louisville Courier-Journal that Louisville artist Stephen Irwin was found dead Monday at Zephyr Gallery, an artists’ collective in which he was a member. Irwin also showed with Invisible-Exports Gallery in New York.

Fellow artist and friend Chris Radtke said she came to the gallery about 11 AM and found Irwin lying near a chair in front of a computer. Radtke said she contacted family and his partner, Dean Holdiman of Brooklyn, NY, who also worked with Irwin to operate the home store Elizabeth Hills on East Market Street.

“To have him gone is just so numbing,” Radtke said. “A light has gone out. Hundreds of people he knew from all walks of life were his dear friends.”

Irwin exhibited his multimedia art at several galleries around town, but after his third heart attack about ten years ago, he decided he needed a serious lifestyle change. He became a member of Zephyr Gallery, an artists’ collective, and devoted himself to working on his art nearly every day.

In the past few years, Irwin had earned wider attention with group and solo exhibits in galleries in New York, New Orleans, Berlin, London, and Munich. Much of the attention came after he became associated with New York’s Invisible-Exports in 2008.

Irwin’s work is in the collections of the 21c Museum and the Speed Art Museum. Nearly two years ago, art curator and New Yorker writer Vince Aletti began purchasing Irwin’s work and included a piece in an exhibit that opened in September at London’s Maureen Paley gallery. His work is scheduled to be shown in a group exhibit opening in January at Galerie Stefan Roepke in Cologne, Germany.

Writes Gabriel Wrye in the Louisville Courier-Journal, “Stephen was an unparalleled Louisville artist who revealed invisible grace in the obscene and mundane, in his city, in his friends and in his world. He gave generously of his experience, time and love, inspiring, encouraging and enabling other artists and the creative life of Louisville.”

December 29, 2010

Three Convicted for Munch Theft in Sweden

CBC News reports that three men were convicted Wednesday in Malmo, Sweden, in the theft earlier this year of three paintings, including one by Edvard Munch. The Malmo Art Museum hadn't known the paintings were missing until police recovered them in October while investigating another crime.

Munch’s Two Friends, and two other paintings by Swedish artists Gustaf Rydberg and Paer Siegaard, had been placed in storage. A thirty-five-year-old man was sentenced to six months in prison for receiving stolen goods, and a thirty-four-year-old man was convicted and fined for handling stolen goods. A fifty-two-year-old man, who claimed he found the paintings amid debris on a wharf near the museum, was given extended probation on theft charges.

The three men were also ordered to pay $4,800 in damages to the municipality of Malmo. The Malmo Art Museum says the attention the theft focused on the small regional museum has helped it raise funds. As a result, it has upgraded its security measures.

December 29, 2010

International News Digest


Susana Sáez has been named the new director of Heidelberg’s Kunstverein. As Monopol reports, Sáez replaces Johan Holten, who will take on the directorship of the Kunsthalle Baden-Baden on April 1, 2011. Sáez, a German-Spanish national born in 1975 in Zaragoza, Spain, studied art history and literature in Berlin. Her work with the departing director Holten dates back to 2004. “With Susana Sáez as the commissioned director, the exhibition program that has been adopted until spring 2012 will be carried out at a high level,” said the head of the board of directors and state secretary Michael Sieber. “Susana Sáez has not only formed the position of the Kunstverein with respect to content in recent years but also brought many organization threads together.”


Berlin’s C/O gallery for photography, which must move from its current location in a former postal building in the city’s Mitte district, has faced a setback in its search for a new home. As Monopol reports, the gallery had hoped to secure a location in Auguststrasse in the former Jewish Girl’s School, which was used as an exhibition site for the fourth Berlin Biennial “Of Mice and Men” co-curated by Maurizio Cattelan, Massimiliano Gioni, and Ali Subotnick. The Jewish Community, which decides the fate of Jewish buildings in the city, has instead chosen the investor Michael Fuchs from Galerie Haas & Fuchs. “This decision, which comes during ongoing negotiations, comes as a surprise to C/O Berlin,” said a press rep for the gallery. C/O Berlin must move out of its current location by the spring but is still hoping for an extension of its lease until the end of 2012.


The Hamburg collector Harald Falckenberg will be offering his private collection as a long-term loan to the city’s Deichtorhallen. As the Süddeutsche Zeitung reports, Falckenberg’s collection includes 1,900 modern and contemporary works, including creations by Jonathan Meese, Martin Kippenberger, and Daniel Richter. Falckenberg––a jurist and an entrepreneur––was awarded the Art Cologne Prize in 2009 for his activities in contemporary art. “This is a real Christmas present,” said Deichtorhallen director Dirk Luckow, “and for us an enormous gain.” The collection will be shown in the Deichtorhallen as well as in the Phönix-halle, which will become another branch of the Deichtorhallen. The Falckenberg collection will also get an annual curatorial budget of $92,000 and an extra grant of $660,000. The agreement begins on January 1, 2011 and will last until at least December 31, 2023.


Le Monde’s Harry Bellet takes a tour of the new Mathaf museum in Doha, the capital of Qatar. Mathaf––the Arabic word for museum––was designed by the French architect Jean-François Bodin and features 6,000 works dating from 1840 to the present in an 18,000 square-foot exhibition space. As Bellet reports, the museum reflects the ambition of Sheik Hassan bin Mohammed bin Ali Al-Thani, an artist, the vice president of the Qatar Museum Authority, and a collector who has been amassing artworks from the Arab world for over twenty years. “Here it’s about Arab art, not Islamic art,” writes Bellet, adding “[t]he nuance is important.” Along with art historical selections, Mathaf’s three inaugural exhibitions include a contemporary show with works by Ghada Amer, Kader Attia, Walid Raad, Mounir Fatmi, and Zineb Sedira. “This group is of an exceptional level,” writes Bellet. “If it were presented at the Venice Biennale, for example, it would merit the prize for the best pavilion.”


Snow has become a problem not only for holiday travelers but also for museums. As Le Monde’s Nicolas Bastuck reports, the Centre Pompidou branch in Metz, France, is feeling the weight of the white stuff. For the second time in one month, the building, co-designed by Shigeru Ban and Jean de Gastines, has suffered breaks in its elegantly curved roof due to the weight of snow. While the first break in the roof occurred on December 5, the most recent break, a twelve foot-long tear, occurred on the night of December 20. Every day workers are checking the snow, and have used high-pressure water jets to remove it from the roof. “It wasn’t enough,” said Antoine Fonte, an assistant to the Metz mayor who is in charge of culture. “When things started to thaw, all the snow accumulated on the roof rushed down the sloping roof, provoking mini-avalanches.” Despite the negative impact of the wintery weather on the roof, the building itself remains solid. “The structure is not threatened,” said Jean-Luc Bohl of Metz-Métropole, which owns the building. “We can continue to welcome the public in a secure manner.”

Jennifer Allen

December 29, 2010

Xin Li Appointed Christie’s Development Director for Asian Business

Christie’s has announced the appointment of Xin Li as Asian business development director on Auction Central News. In this capacity, she will be responsible for developing new business in Asia and managing relations with Christie’s collectors from mainland China and Asia.

Reporting to François Curiel, president of Christie’s Asia department, and Marc Porter, chairman of the Americas, Li will work closely with Ken Yeh, chairman of Asia, and the international heads of Christie’s Impressionist & Modern, Post War & Contemporary, Jewelry, Old Masters, and Asian art departments.

December 29, 2010

Chronicle of Higher Education Issues Statement Regarding Art & Letters Daily

Carolyn Kellogg reports for the Los Angeles Times that the Chronicle of Higher Education, which has owned the website Arts & Letters Daily since 2002, has released a statement regarding the death of founding editor Denis Dutton and the future of the online journal.

Dutton died of cancer in New Zealand, where he made his home. “Denis was the creative force behind Arts & Letters Daily and wrote all the items on the page himself, even when he was on vacation. He is nearly irreplaceable,” Phil Semas, president and editor in chief of The Chronicle, said in the statement. “Even so, we intend to continue Arts & Letters Daily in the spirit in which Denis created and nurtured it.”

December 28, 2010

Agnes Gund and John Casteen Nominated for Key Administration Posts

Last week, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Agnes Gund as a member to the National Council on the Arts. He also announced his intent to appoint John Casteen as a member of the board of trustees of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, according to the White House website.

Of these nominations President Obama said: “I am confident these talented individuals will serve the American people ably in their new roles. I look forward to working with then in the months and years to come.”

Gund is president emeritus of the Museum of Modern Art and chairman of its International Council. She is also chairman of the MoMA P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center. Gund joined MoMA’s Board in 1976 and served as president from 1991 until 2002. A philanthropist and collector of modern and contemporary art, she is chairman of the Mayor’s Cultural Affairs Advisory Commission of New York City, and currently serves on the boards of Chess in the Schools, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, the Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies, The Frick Collection, the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, and Socrates Sculpture Park, among others. Gund is the founder and a trustee of the Studio in a School Association, a nonprofit organization she established in 1977 in response to budget cuts that substantially reduced arts classes in New York City public schools. She earned a B.A. in History from Connecticut College and an M.A. in Art History from Harvard University.

John Casteen is president emeritus of the University of Virginia and also University Professor and professor of English. He was president from 1990 through 2010, and held the same position in the University of Connecticut from 1985 through 1990. He was previously an English professor at the University of California at Berkeley, Admissions Dean and English professor at the University of Virginia, and Virginia’s Secretary of Education under Governor Charles S. Robb, from 1982 until 1985. He has chaired the College Entrance Examination Board, the Association of American Universities, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and the International Universities' Consortium known as U-21. He won the Gold Medal of the National Institute of Social Sciences in 1998, and he is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He holds a B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. in English, all from the University of Virginia.

December 28, 2010

New Strategies for Nordic Pavilion at Venice Biennale

The partnership between the three nations that share the Nordic Pavilion at the Venice Biennale––Sweden, Finland, and Norway––will try a new concept for the next three biennials, reports The previous requirement that artists should represent all three countries will be set aside to enable solo exhibitions. Sweden, which is responsible for the Nordic Pavilion in 2011, will present two separate projects.

The artists Fia Backström and Andreas Eriksson are currently producing new works for the 2011 biennale. Once these projects have reached a more mature stage, they will be presented in a new press release.

Backström has enjoyed increasing international acclaim in recent years. For more than a decade, she has been living and working in New York, participating in numerous exhibitions and projects, including the Whitney Biennial in 2008 and Performa in 2009. For this year’s edition of the “Moderna Exhibition” at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm she was created a new work, The Worker Through the Ages, which was presented as a performance, and documented to be shown for the remainder of the exhibition.

Eriksson employs a variety of techniques and media in his practice, including painting, sculpture, photography, installation, and, more recently, film. In 2007, he was awarded the Art Balois Prize at Art Basel Statements. He had a major solo exhibition at the Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig in Vienna in 2008, and has participated in numerous group exhibitions.