$10 Million Deficit May Force Layoffs at The Met—and the 9 Other Biggest News Stories This Week

Catch up on the latest art news with our rundown of the 10 stories you need to know this week.


01  In light of a projected $10 million deficit for 2016, the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced Thursday that it would be undergoing a two-year financial restructuring with the possibility of layoffs and scaled-back programming.

(via the New York Times)

Museum officials said that, barring major changes, the deficit could skyrocket to $40 million by the beginning of the 2018 fiscal year. These financial troubles have been attributed to a confluence of factors, including a drop in retail revenue, an increase in staff salaries, and a growing resistance by younger visitors and tourists to pay entrance fees (the museum recently settled a lawsuit over its admission policy, replacing the word “recommended” with “suggested” on signs detailing how much visitors should pay). Although the Met plans to achieve a balanced budget in the next 24 months, it is also in the midst of preparing for the construction of a new wing to house its modern and contemporary art collection. A multi-million-dollar deficit hanging over its head may hinder future fundraising efforts for the expansion.



02  On Tuesday, art insurance company Hiscox released its fourth annual report detailing the state of the online art trade.

(Artsy)

5 Things You Need to Know about the Booming Online Art Market

Their findings, which examine data gathered by art market research firm ArtTactic, confirm indications in last month’s TEFAF report that the cooling of the global art market has not yet affected online sales—on the contrary, they are at an all-time high. Read our five takeaways from the 2016 report here.



03  Abstract painter Mark Bradford will represent the United States in the 57th Venice Biennale, set to open in May 2017.

(via the New York Times)

Mark Bradford’s Abstract Meditations on the AIDS Crisis Come to New York

The pavilion will be curated by Christopher Bedford, director of the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University and a former curator at LACMA, and Katy Siegel, the Rose’s curator at large and Eugene V. and Clare E. Thaw Endowed Chair in Modern American Art at Stony Brook University. Based in Los Angeles, Bradford is known for his large-scale, abstract collage paintings which serve as psychogeographic maps that grapple with the AIDS crisis and other social and political issues in America. He will be the fourth African-American artist to represent the country (notably, all three previous artists were also male). Bradford, who frequently addresses his queer identity in his practice, is a timely choice following a year in which gay marriage and sexual identity were at the forefront of cultural shifts across the United States. The selection also comes as a boon to the Rose Art Museum, which came close to being dissolved entirely just seven years ago. This announcement builds on an already existing relationship between institution and artist—when Bedford joined the Rose in 2012, the first work he bought for the collection was one by Bradford.




04  Hollywood billionaire David Geffen has gifted MoMA $100 million, to be spent on its latest renovation and expansion, almost a fourth of the project’s total budget and the biggest donation so far in the capital campaign.

(via Bloomberg)

The museum plans to expand into a residential tower currently under construction west of its current building, where new galleries spanning three floors will now be known as the David Geffen Wing. His name will also be affixed to galleries on the fourth floor of the existing building, MoMA said. The entire project, which will expand the museum’s exhibition space by a total of 174,000 square feet, is expected to wrap up by 2020 at the latest. Geffen, who donated another $100 million to renovate the home of the New York Philharmonic just last year, said he first stepped foot in MoMA 53 years ago and has visited regularly ever since. The entertainment mogul is a notable collector himself; he owns paintings by the likes of Jackson Pollock and Jasper Johns and his entire collection was recently valued at $2.3 billion.




05  In 2012, British artist Damien Hirst made headlines when he parted ways with mega-dealer Larry Gagosian after a 17-year partnership; on Friday, he announced that he will once again be represented by the gallery.

(via the New York Times)

Why, exactly, the pair split four years ago has never been fully explained. Gagosian noted simply that “sometimes a relationship runs its course. I think he wanted to think about the work and not think so much about the market and galleries.” Gagosian’s booth at Frieze New York next month will feature previous works by Hirst, tied to a concurrent installation at the gallery’s space on Madison Avenue. According to the gallery, the presentation will include one of the artist’s early shark pieces—works that came under scrutiny this week when a study published in a British scientific journal claimed they released formaldehyde fumes at higher levels than allowed by EU regulations. The report is based on two shows, a 2012 solo exhibition at Tate Modern, and an exhibition at Beijing’s Summer Palace. The author of the paper said he finds it unlikely that visitors would have been harmed, since they spent such a short time with the work. His concern is for the gallery and museum staff, who might have spent months in close proximity to the tanks. A statement on Hirst’s website responded to the findings, claiming that at the level the report indicated, “your eyes would be streaming and you would be in physical discomfort”—complaints they never received during the shows.




06  L.A. art dealer Perry Rubenstein was arrested on charges of felony grand theft by embezzlement, based on soured deals with major collectors Michael Ovitz and Eli Broad.

(via the Los Angeles Times)

The dealer was arrested on Thursday evening on three counts of the felony charge. A $1 million bail has been requested in the complaint against the 62-year-old dealer, who moved from New York in 2011. The charges arise from dealings with Creative Artist Agency founder Ovitz, namely around two works by Richard Prince, one of which Ovitz alleges was sold below the minimum price set without the collector’s authorization. (He sued Rubenstein in civil court, and the two parties settled earlier this year.) The other work in question, Takashi Murakami’s The World of Sphere (2003), was allegedly sold to the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation for $825,000 with the previous owner, Massachusetts collector Michael Salke, only receiving payments of $575,000. Rubenstein’s gallery declared bankruptcy in 2014, citing assets of $1.2 million and outstanding debts in excess of $5.4 million. The dealer’s lawyer denied the allegations against his client when speaking with the L.A. Times, saying they “look forward to clearing his name and getting his reputation back.”



07  The U.S. Senate passed a bill, already backed by the House, to ban the import of cultural property from Syria excavated after the outbreak of the country’s civil war.

(via The Art Newspaper)

Can This New Law Stop ISIS Profiting from Looted Antiquities?

The Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act, known as H.R. 1493 and already covered at length in an earlier article, is expected to head to President Obama’s desk for signature in the near future. The import ban provision—which has been linked to contentious debates over the extent to which ISIS is actually profiting from a Syrian antiquity trade—has overshadowed other important aspects in the legislation. For example, the bill looks to fill an information gap by mandating that the executive branch issue reports to Congress on what is being done by various government agencies to safeguard cultural property in volatile and dangerous areas. Perhaps more importantly, H.R. 1493 also urges the president to set up a new task force that would coordinate the numerous government agencies that each have some role in cultural property preservation. That task force, however, is not a mandated requirement of the legislation, and it remains to be seen if President Obama will create it.



08  After several protests and a roughly year-long process of negotiations, the Guggenheim announced that it was ending talks with the Gulf Labor Coalition (GLC).

(via Hyperallergic)

In an email sent to curators, artists, press, and others, Guggenheim director Richard Armstrong laid out his rationale for the decision, arguing that the talks with GLC—which is comprised of numerous artists, including Walid Raad—are no longer beneficial and that their demands are beyond the reach of an art institution. The move comes after a series of reportedly productive meetings between the institution and GLC, which has been protesting labor and living conditions of the workers who will be constructing the Guggenheim Museum in Abu Dhabi. In a statement to Hyperallergic, Raad critiqued the narrative that GLC was to blame for the breakdown, arguing that the Guggenheim was at fault. During the course of its campaign, GLC has mounted numerous protests in the Guggenheim’s Upper East Side space. Though such actions were suspended during the negotiating period, it is unclear if they will resume.




09  Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan is coming out of self-imposed retirement—a fact he announced, in his irreverent fashion, with a functional, solid-gold toilet that will be installed in a Guggenheim Museum restroom in early May.

(via the New York Times)

In 2011, on the heels of an $8 million auction record and a retrospective at the GuggenheimCattelan abruptly declared he would be leaving the world of artmaking for good. Although surprising, in some ways it felt like the logical progression of a career that began by avoiding making work at all. During an early solo show, his inspiration drying up, Cattelan closed the gallery and hung up a sign that read simply: “Be back soon.” When asked to exhibit at the Venice Biennale, he leased the space to an advertising agency instead. However, after several years in retirement, the artist has admitted that “it’s even more of a torture not to work than to work.” This news follows the premiere of Maura Axelrod’s documentary “Maurizio Cattelan: Be Right Back,” screened at the Tribeca Film Festival last weekend, placing the intensely private artist in a media spotlight he has avoided for most of his career.



10  Eleven Picasso lithographs and a Gabriele Münter painting have disappeared from the collection of a German financial services company—a haul valued at more than a million dollars.

(via artnet News)

Although the theft was confirmed by Portigon AG late last week, the artworks were stolen much earlier. During the winter of 2014, employees reported that the vault containing the art collection had been accessed at unusual times; the resulting investigation uncovered 12 missing works, including 11 lithographs from Picasso’s 1945 “Bull” series. Lacking leads or probable suspects, the police concluded their investigation early this year and have placed the works on the stolen art registry. Interestingly, the collection was inciting a separate controversy around the time the works were first discovered missing. In January 2015, Portigon (the successor to state-owned bank WestLB, following its collapse during the 2008 financial crisis) announced it was going to deaccession its nearly 400-piece art collection to pay its mounting debts. The prospect of state-owned work disappearing into private collections—in order for Portigon to pay back a government bailout package—sparked such public outrage that the bank eventually decided to sell the collection to another state-run foundation.


—Abigail Cain, Alexander Forbes, Isaac Kaplan, Tess Thackara

 Cover image: Exterior view of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo by Drew XXX, via Flickr.

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