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57th Venice Biennale Opens to Mixed Reviews—and the 9 Other Biggest News Stories This Week

01  The 57th Venice Biennale kicked off this week, with curator Christine Macel’s main exhibition making an impassioned argument for the value of the artist today.

(Artsy)


The Centre Pompidou’s chief curator brought together 120 artists and collectives for the optimistic “Viva Arte Viva,” which opened to tempered reviews. In her exhibition, which spreads across the Giardini and the Arsenale in a series of thematic “pavilions,” Macel offers a view of human experience in which artists are the central protagonists. But as Artsy’s Tess Thackara noted in her review, Macel’s tightly curated selection at the Central Pavilion loses its way in the larger Arsenale, where the pseudo-pavilions start to feel, at times, too simplistic, at others, like an arbitrary device. Also debuting in Venice this week are 85 national pavilions. Among the highlights are the German pavilion, featuring transfixing performances mounted by Anne Imhof, and Mark Bradford’s bold takeover of the U.S. pavilion, which he has transformed into a ruin.


02  New York’s spring auctions are expected to post solid results, with an estimated $1.3 billion of modern and contemporary art for sale.

(via The Telegraph and Reuters)


Encouraging results last May and in November, with auction weeks bringing in $1.1 billion and $1.3 billion, respectively, have brought some choice lots back to the market, such as a nearly six-foot-square portrait by Jean-Michel Basquiat. It was guaranteed by Sotheby’s, and comes with a record estimate of $60 million, according to The Telegraph. Simon Shaw of Sotheby’s told Reuters that the auction house has “witnessed strong demand for breakthrough masterpieces,” and referred to Egon Schiele’s Danaë, one of the painter’s most important early works (he was just 19 when he painted it). It is expected to go for as much as $40 million. The auctions come as global public auction sales fell by 26% in 2016 from 2015, according to The Art Market | 2017, a report recently released by Art Basel and UBS. The decline has been attributed to political and economic uncertainty, which shifted some dealmaking to the private sphere.


03  Under a forthcoming cultural plan, New York may allocate greater resources to smaller organizations in less prosperous neighborhoods.

(via the New York Times)


New York’s Cultural Plan, which Mayor Bill de Blasio will put before the City Council by July 1st, will likely shift more of the city’s $178 million arts budget to smaller organizations in disadvantaged areas. Majority City Council leader Jimmy Van Bramer, who helped develop the plan’s legislation, said this budget would provide “more funding opportunities for small, emerging, community-based nonprofit cultural institutions.” Proponents of the plan say the proposed changes would not necessarily hurt larger museums—institutions like the Met, which takes $26 million of its $332 annual budget from city funding. Meanwhile, critics contend decreased funding would interfere with educational programs these museums provide. Representatives for major institutions have stressed the critical nature of city funding in wake of President Trump’s intent toeliminate the NEA. Arguing that it needs to shore up its budget, the Met recently formally asked for the city’s permission to charge admission to out-of-state visitors. The unprecedented move for the currently free institution is one the Brooklyn Museum wouldalso consider.


04  A seminary slated to join the Yale Divinity School has been failing to return sacred artifacts to Native American tribes.

(via the New York Times)


Federal regulators have faulted the Andover Newton Theological School for its poor compliance with a law that aims to reunite Native American tribes with special and sacred artifacts held by museums, dealers, and others. The seminary, which is selling its real estate and will be housed within the Yale Divinity School, has 158 Native American items. For the past 70 years or so, they were housed in Salem, Massachusetts’s Peabody Essex Museum. In 2015, the resource-strapped seminary proposed selling some of the items, a move the museum’s director called a “break of trust” and which federal officials warned would violate “a federal law that says any organization that receives federal funding must make every effort to return any spiritual or culturally significant items it holds to the tribes,” the Times reported. Several tribal representatives contacted by the paper said they had been in negotiations for a few years but had not yet received the items they were requesting.


05  The winners of the 2017 Absolut Art Awards are artist Anne Imhof and the writer, curator, and professor Huey Copeland.

(via Absolut)


German-born Imhof won the prize for artwork for her proposal to produce a performance in a salt desert in Death Valley, California. It, alongside a musical score she will create, will also be part of a film. Imhof’s performance piece Faust in the German pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale is currently receiving widespread critical acclaim. The prize for art writing went to Copeland for his book proposal, “Touched by the Mother,” a collection of essays on American art methods and discourse over the past half-century that “promises to be both a personal account of what it means to navigate…contemporary American culture as a gay black man, and a critical consideration…of many of today’s most important artists.” The prize is intended to fund the creation of art and writing, “free from commercial constraints,” and comes with a stipend of €20,000 each for Imhof and Copeland, as well as budgets of €100,000 and €25,000, respectively, to complete their proposals.


06  Damien Hirst’s current exhibition in Venice has sparked accusations of cultural appropriation.

(Artsy)


Along with massive crowds, “Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable” is attracting charges of cultural appropriation, with one of Hirst’s sculptures replicating a Nigerian work from the 14th century without proper historical context. The piece, Golden Heads (Female), appropriates a Yoruba sculpture taken from Nigeria during British colonial rule. One of the work’s first vocal critics, Nigerian artist Victor Ehikhamenor posted a photo of Hirst’s piece on his Instagram and commented “the British are back for more,” continuing “for the thousands of viewers seeing this for the first time, they won’t think Ife, they won’t think Nigeria. Their young ones will grow up to know this work as Damien Hirst’s.” In a statement, a spokesperson for Hirst pushed back against claims the artist’s sculpture lacked context. The show is “a collection of works influenced by a wide range of cultures and stories from across the globe and throughout history,” the statement read. “A reference to the Ife heads is in the text accompanying the work and in the guide to the exhibition and is integral to the concept of the work.”


07  A massive inflated sculpture of a ballerina by Jeff Koons has gone on view at New York’s Rockefeller Center.

(via Rockefeller Center)


Seated Ballerina (2017), which is from the artist’s “Antiquity” series, is on view courtesy of a partnership between Art Production Fund and the cosmetics company Kiehl’s. Hosted by real estate developer Tishman Speyer, the work of inflated nylon is 45 feet tall and will be up from May 12th through to June 2nd. Koons is no stranger to public art across New York City. He contributed an inflated balloon to the 2007 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and has had two prior installations at Rockefeller Center alone: Puppy in 1992 and Split-Rocker in 2000. If you’re hoping to spot the ballerina, it’s best to check the Rockefeller Center Twitter account before making the trip since inclement weather can force the work to be temporarily deflated.


08  A Japanese artist is going to court to fight his government’s criminalization of tattooing.

(Artsy)


Two years ago, Osaka police raided the tattoo parlors of Taiki Masuda and roughly 30 others, arresting many of the tattoo artists mid-way through their work. Authorities justified the sweep using a 2001 “medical practice notice,” which they argue criminalizes giving any tattoo without a medical license. The regulation was originally intended to ensure safety during cosmetic tattooing (such as procedures giving permanent eyebrows), but in a country with a deep-seated stigma against the practice, police have begun applying the law to tattoo artists, placing them in in ambiguous legal territory. While many of the tattoo parlor operators caught in the 2015 sting operation paid their fines and illicitly continued their practice elsewhere, Masuda chose to defend himself and his shop against the charges. A forthcoming ruling by the Osaka District Courts, slated for July, is expected to bring new clarity, either declaring tattooing legally in the clear or affirming the medical practice notice applies to tattoo artists.


09  After years of planning and construction, the Louvre Abu Dhabi is slated to open in November.

(via The Art Newspaper)


Remember that time the Louvre and the government of the United Arab Emirate of Abu Dhabi signed a €950 million licensing and loan agreement? That was a decade ago, and the museum is finally set to open this fall, most likely in November, The Art Newspaper reports. An internal memo circulated at the Louvre last week, alerting all departments to get ready to loan works to the Abu Dhabi location. While most of the construction is said to be complete, “three thousand workers continue to labour round the clock to put the finishing touches on the building,” according to The Art Newspaper, and the building is being tested for stability and security before the art will be installed. The construction of the Louvre, like other museum projects in the Gulf, has been dogged by accusations of exploitative labor practices of migrant workers from poorer countries such as Bangladesh and Nepal. The agreement between the Abu Dhabi government and the Louvre include a loan of 300 works from across France’s museums; the Emirati museum also has its own collection of around 700 works.


10  White House curator William Allman will retire next month, concluding a 40-year-long career.

(via the Washington Post)


Since 1976, Allman has been tasked with preserving the thousands of artworks, decorative objects, and items of furniture that make up the White House’s collection. During his tenure, he worked with Michelle Obama and Laura Bush to restore several historic rooms—one of which, the Family Dining Room, was rehung with works by Alma Thomas and Josef Albers during the Obama administration. “It has been a tremendous honor to serve eight Presidents and First Ladies in helping to preserve and beautify the White House, and maintain and interpret its wonderful collections of art and furnishings,” Allman said in a statement. Although his departure, announced Tuesday, closely follows the firing of Chief White House Usher Angella Reid, friends and associates said the curator planned to retire long before Reid’s dismissal. A spokesperson for Melania Trump said that, while Allman considered stepping down last year, he was “kind enough” to remain through the first several months of the Trump presidency to aid in the transition.


Artsy Editors

Cover image: Photo by Casey Kelbaugh for Artsy.