Alleged Conflict of Interest Pushes Beatrix Ruf to Resign from Stedelijk Museum—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 Beatrix Ruf resigned as director of Amsterdam’s influential Stedelijk Museum on Tuesday amid allegations of conflicts of interest.
The allegations stem from Ruf’s operation of a private art advisory service while serving as director, and the terms attached to a major donation to the institution last year. Ruf’s resignation comes less than two weeks after a pair of investigations were published by the Dutch daily NRC. One of the reports revealed that Ruf earned €437,306 in 2015 from her private art advisory company, Currentmatters. The Stedelijk’s annual report from the same year—which specifically provides a space for the museum to disclose its director’s activities outside of her employment there—includes no reference to Currentmatters, which is registered in Switzerland, nor to any income she derived from it. A statement posted on the museum’s website cites “speculations in the media over the past weeks that may have an impact on [our] reputation” as reason for Ruf’s departure. Ruf is frequently cited as among the contemporary art world’s most influential players, and served as the director and chief curator of the Kunsthalle Zürich for nearly 12 years before taking up her post at the Stedelijk in 2014. “We brought extraordinary collections to Amsterdam and significantly deepened our relevance to society and our communities,” she wrote in the statement posted on Tuesday morning. “I value the interests of this outstanding institution, and place the interests of the Stedelijk first, above my own, individual concerns. In light of that, I feel that this is an appropriate moment for me to step down.”
02 Controversial Russian performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky was arrested in Paris after setting fire to France’s central Bank.
(via the New York Times)
On Wednesday, the artist and his partner Oksana Shalygina stood before a Paris judge, charged with “damaging property in a way that put others in danger,” according to the Times, after starting a fire at the Banque de France. Photographs of the performance began circulating on social media on Monday. Pavlensky is known for his spectacular and often gruesome political art; in one notorious performance, he nailed his scrotum to Russia’s Red Square to make a statement about political apathy. Pavlensky also set fire to the Moscow headquarters of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) in November of 2015. Both Pavlensky and his partner applied for and received political asylum in France earlier this year, following allegations of sexual assault made against them in Russia, which the couple argue were untrue and politically motivated.
03 Protesters gathered outside James Cohan in Chinatown in response to Omer Fast’s transformation of the gallery into a faux Chinese business.
Fast transformed the white cube gallery into “the waiting room of a Chinatown business,” according to its website. But critics charge that Fast’s depiction—replete with broken ATMs, a damaged awning, and hole-ridden walls—amounts to “poverty porn” that stereotypes the very Chinese businesses being forced out of the neighborhood by gentrification. Dozens of activists, including members of the local artist collective Chinatown Art Brigade, demonstrated inside and outside of the gallery earlier this week to protest what they called its “racist narratives of uncleanliness, otherness and blight that have historically been projected onto Chinatown.” In response, the gallery stated that “people are free to draw their own conclusions about art, but they should also be given the opportunity to do so—without censorship, barriers or intimidation.” In his own statement, Fast defended his piece but said he was “truly sorry that some persons find the installation insensitive or offensive.”
04 A jury began hearing arguments on Tuesday in a lawsuit brought by 5 Pointz graffiti artists against the real estate developer who destroyed their work.
(via the New York Times)
For decades, the 5 Pointz complex served as a graffiti mecca, attracting dozens of street artists and thousands of visitors to Long Island City, Queens. The artists who coated the building complex in their colorful and dazzling work acted with the permission of the owner, Jerry Wolkoff, since 1993. But in 2014, Wolkoff redeveloped the site, demolishing the buildings and, in the process, destroying the graffiti. The artists sued Walkoff for monetary damages under the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA), a rarely tested federal law that, among other things, entitles artists to certain rights over their work if it is of “recognized stature,” even if that work is public and on someone else’s property. Oral arguments in the case began Tuesday, with a lawyer for the artists—who have tried to make the site a landmark, or even buy it—asserting they were not given 90 days’ notice prior to the demolition, as required under the law. The jury will hear from art experts who will testify that the 5 Pointz graffiti works meet the definition of recognizable art. Lawyers for Wolkoff will argue that his ownership gives him the right to demolish the building as he pleases.
05 German citizens and cultural figures have signed an open letter, protesting the appointment of a member of Germany’s far-right party as chairman of the country’s Committee on Cultural and Media Affairs.
Siegbert Droese, a member of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), was appointed to head the German Bundestag’s cultural committee after the AfD secured 12.6 percent of the vote in last month’s elections. The open letter, published on September 26th in response to the appointment, warns that the AfD cannot be allowed to “[inject] its nationalist poison” into German cultural policy, arguing that the radical right-wing group is “unashamedly undermining the principles of our co-existence in this country.” Among the letter’s 25,000–plus signatories are directors, writers, producers, journalists, actors, musicians, and politicians, all prominent figures in Germany’s art and culture sector. In response, Droese said, “Our young party has specifically made the preservation and promotion of tradition, art, and culture a central task. The development of our culture as the sum of national and European values can provide cultural self-definition as well as give stability, purpose, and meaning to people of other cultures.”
06 The copyrights to works by deceased Aboriginal artist Albert Namatjira have been returned to his family after years of campaigning.
Namatjira, who was described by Reuters as “Australia’s most famous Aboriginal artist,” sold part of his works’ copyrights to his friend John Brackenreg in 1957, and upon Namatjira’s death two years later, the artist’s will transferred the remainder of them to his widow. But in 1983, the trustee of the Northern Territory, the Australian state that administered his will, sold those remaining copyrights to Brackenreg’s publication company without consulting family members, some of whom fell into poverty since losing the rights to Namatjira’s work. Aided by an arts organization, the family campaigned unsuccessfully for years to get the rights to reproductions of Namatjira’s watercolors and paintings, one of which was given to Queen Elizabeth II in 1947. And last weekend, those efforts finally were successful, thanks to Australian businessman Dick Smith, who knows the Brackenreg family and intervened on behalf of Namatjira’s descendants. “It’s a just cause,” Smith told Reuters.
07 Christie’s will auction a Fernand Léger painting estimated at $65 million without a guarantee.
(via Art Market Monitor)
After being held in the same family collection for a little over six decades, Léger’s Contraste de formes (1913) will hit the New York auction block as the star lot of the Impressionist and Modern sale at Christie’s on November 13th. The auction marks the first time the painting has ever been at auction, and Christie’s has high expectations, estimating the work at $65 million—roughly $25 million above Léger’s previous auction record, set in 2008 for the painting Étude pour La Femme en Bleu (1912–13). Notably, the work is being put up without a guarantee, according to Art Market Monitor. The star lot of October’s Post-War and Contemporary auction at Christie’s, Francis Bacon’s Study of Red Pope (1971), went unsold without a guarantee.
08 A Spanish court ruled that the tarot card reader who claimed to be the daughter of Salvador Dalí must pay for July’s exhumation of the artist’s body.
For decades, tarot card reader Pilar Abel claimed to be Dalí’s daughter, arguing in a long-running paternity lawsuit that DNA tests would prove her correct. The judge presiding over the suit ruled that body of Surrealist artist Salvador Dalí would be exhumed to gather a DNA sample, but subsequent tests showed that Abel is not, in fact, Dalí’s daughter. Earlier this month, the judge dismissed Abel’s case and required her to pay for the ordeal. Abel had previously argued that Dalí had a “clandestine love affair” with her mother, Antonia Martínez de Haro, in the 1950s, while she was an employee in the artist’s summer home in Port Lligat on the coast of Spain. While the court has yet to specify the cost of the exhumation of Dalí’s corpse, which is kept in a crypt in the Figueres museum dedicated to the painter’s life and work, the process required the removal of a 1.5-ton slab. According to AFP, the Dalí Foundation has not yet evaluated the total cost, and it’s still possible that Abel can appeal the court’s judgement.
09 The Matisse family has prevailed in an ownership lawsuit over two of the artist’s cutouts.
(via The Art Newspaper)
A French appeals court ruled that two Henri Matisse cutouts—collectively valued at $4.5 million—belong to the family of the artist’s son, Pierre Matisse, and not Jérôme Le Blay, a French dealer who claimed he held good title to the works. The pieces were consigned to Sotheby’s in 2008, but the auction house pulled the works after receiving a letter from Georges Matisse, the artist’s great-grandson, claiming ownership on behalf of the family. The Matisse heir asserted that the pair of works are two of hundreds that went missing while in storage. It later emerged that a company called Rozven, registered in Hong Kong, consigned the works to Sotheby’s. Rozven claimed they acquired the works from Jérôme Le Blay. But the Versailles appeals court found that Rozven was actually a “cover mounted by Le Blay” to confound scrutiny, according to The Art Newspaper. This latest court victory, which Le Blay can appeal, creates the possibility that hundreds of missing pieces could be recovered if found.
10 The World Monuments Fund added locations damaged or destroyed by recent hurricanes and earthquakes to its 2018 heritage site watch list.
(via The Art Newspaper)
The World Monuments Fund (WMF) added locations in the Caribbean, U.S. Gulf Coast, and Mexico to its list of sites currently or previously threatened by conflict, change climate, and natural disasters. The fund’s director, Joshua David, said, “Just as we were concluding our review process, Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and the earthquakes in Mexico, hit one after another,” according to The Art Newspaper. He added that the WMF put sites impacted by the recent disasters on the list in order to bring attention to the need for their conservation. Sites already on the 2018 heritage list included the historic Souk of Aleppo, damaged during the Syrian Civil War; the Blackpool Piers in England, which are at risk due to rising sea levels; the Italian city of Amatrice, which was destroyed by a 2016 earthquake; and locations in Alabama connected to the Civil Rights Movement.
Cover Image: Portrait of Beatrix Ruf by Robin de Puy. Courtesy of the artist.