American Couple Donates $380 Million Collection to Musée d’Orsay—and the 9 Other Biggest News Stories This Week

Artsy Editors
Oct 28, 2016 6:16PM

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

01  Nashville-based collectors Marlene and Spencer Hays have announced plans to bequeath their $380 million art collection to the Musée d’Orsay.

(via The Art Newspaper and the New York Times)

In the largest donation to a French museum by a foreign collector since 1945, the couple will give their collection of over 600 19th- and 20th-century works to the Musée d’Orsay. This past weekend, the couple gave the first part of the donation—187 mostly Post-Impressionist masterpieces, including works by Odilon RedonPierre Bonnard, and Édouard Vuillard (for a sum of €173 million)—to the Paris museum. Though the entirety of the collection is now the property of the French government, the transfer of the works overseas is to occur in stages, with some pieces remaining with the couple until their death. As part of the terms of the arrangement, the museum will display the pieces in a dedicated, nearly 10,000-square-foot room. In a ceremony over the weekend, French president François Hollande gave the Légion d’Honneur to both Marlene and Spencer. Of the couple’s decision to send the collection overseas, Spencer Hays said, “We decided to give it where we thought it would be appreciated the most.” Talks between the couple and the French government occurred over many months. “It was a very tortuous path, but we succeeded,” said the director of the Musée d’Orsay. The institution sees nearly four million visitors per year, a third of those coming from the United States.

02  The European Fine Art Fair’s New York debut closed on Wednesday after welcoming 94 galleries to the Park Avenue Armory over its six-day inaugural run.


This edition was a decidedly smaller affair than its mothership in Maastricht, but unchanged in New York was the near-obsessive attention to detail that has been characteristic of TEFAF since its founding in 1988. The fair hired its go-to interior architect Tom Postma to transform the Park Avenue Armory’s 55,000-square-foot Wade Thompson Drill Hall—and, most astonishingly, the wood-paneled rooms on its second floor that, for the first time since the building was reborn as an art center in 2007, hosted exhibitors. The New York edition seemingly allowed TEFAF to branch out to Americans who otherwise hadn’t had the opportunity to travel to or fully understand what this fair is all about. Dealers across TEFAF suggested that Asian buyers were perhaps the second most prevalent at the fair, after Americans, perhaps no surprise given Chinese collectors’ proclivity towards antiquities. But whether due to the overall cooling of the art market at present, continued (though lessening) insecurity about the fate of the United States presidential election on November 8th, or this simply being TEFAF’s debut New York outing, few sales in the seven figures were to be found by Tuesday evening.

03  London mayor Sadiq Khan has announced a major new government-backed initiative to create affordable artist studios across the city.

(via The Art Newspaper)

This week, Kahn detailed plans to set up a Creative Land Trust to channel funds to artist studios. As part of his bid to become London’s mayor earlier this year, Kahn promised to defend artists’ workspaces from big developers. Following through on this promise, the trust will consist of both private and public money and will be used to help artists keep their studios and to finance loans to studio providers seeking to acquire their buildings. Khan is collaborating with Studiomakers, a group of entrepreneurs and philanthropists that includes Serpentine Galleries chief executive Yana Peel, on plans to work with developers, landowners, and local housing authorities to secure affordable spaces for artists. The news comes as steep rental prices in the U.K.’s capital continue to force artists out of the city. A 2014 report by the Greater London Authority claimed that 3,500 artist studios in the city are likely to be lost by 2019. The impact of Britain’s impending exit from the European Union has added further uncertainty to the cultural climate in the U.K., as artists may face drastically curbed access to grants and other funding available to E.U. members.

04  London’s Mayor Gallery has sued both the company behind Agnes Martin’s catalogue raisonné and members of its authentication committee after the latter rejected 13 works owned by gallery clients.

(via The Art Newspaper and the Art Law Report)

The committee’s rejection casts severe doubt on the authenticity of the works and drastically decreases their market value, since pieces not included in Martin’s catalogue raisonné will not be accepted by major auction houses. Mayor has promised to refund the collectors who purchased the 13 works at a cumulative cost of $7.2 million—also the amount the gallery is seeking in damages. Mayor’s complaint, filed in New York earlier this month, argues that the committee didn’t sufficiently respond to evidence submitted by the owners. Some observers believe the suit is unlikely to succeed, although it may influence art authenticators who already fear costly lawsuits brought by collectors angry at having their work deemed inauthentic. Numerous artist foundations, estates, and independent authenticators have stopped authenticating work for exactly such reasons. Legislation that would mitigate the costs for authenticators defending themselves at trial is currently before the New York State legislature.

05  The Museum of Modern Art in New York has added the original set of emoji to its permanent collection.

(via the New York Times)

Emoji, the ubiquitous smileys and ideograms used to communicate via text and social media, gained new recognition on Wednesday when MoMA announced that they would enter its collection and go on view in the museum’s lobby come December. The museum acquired a set of emoji released in 1999 for beepers by the Japanese mobile company NTT DoCoMo—the first pictographs to be used in mobile communication. These simple symbols made from lines and pixels may pale in comparison to the polished images employed today, but they represent efficient, effective design, and set standards for mobile keyboards still in use today. Rather than a means of speedy or playful communication between friends, some of these emoji were created with businesses in mind, to facilitate things like weather reporting and advertising. MoMA has a licensing agreement with DoCoMo that allows the museum flexibility in the way the emoji will be exhibited, such as through animations, as well as 2D graphics. “In a sense, what we’ve really acquired is a new communication platform,” Paola Antonelli, senior curator of architecture and design, told the New York Times. She added that she hopes to acquire more emoji in the future. This type of digital object acquisition is not unprecedented for MoMA—in 2010 it acquired the @ symbol and in 2012 it added 14 video games, including Pac-Man.

06  Sotheby’s has purchased the prominent Mei Moses Art Indices, part of a larger effort by the company to expand the traditional role played by an auction house.

(via Sotheby’s)

On Thursday, Sotheby’s announced the acquisition of the indices, which tracks the change in value of artworks that have been sold at Christie’s and Sotheby’s multiple times. This data can be used to compare the change in the value of art to returns reaped by more traditional asset classes. The auction house said that acquiring Mei Moses—which currently has a database of 45,000 repeat sales and will be rechristened Sotheby’s Mei Moses—will offer “unique access to an analytic tool that provides objective and verifiable information to complement the world-class expertise of the Company’s specialists.” This year, Sotheby’s has made several prominent moves to bring previously disparate art world services under one single roof. In January, it announced the purchase of Art Agency, Partners, an advisory firm, as the company reinforced itself as a client-first provider of art services rather than as an auction house in the traditional understanding of the term. In buying Mei Moses, Sotheby’s has added a robust analytic tool to its bullpen, which it can leverage both as a mechanism to read market forces intelligently (and thus reduce exposure on guarantees) and as a data service provided to consignors and collectors.

07  U.K.-based Swiss billionaire Urs Schwarzenbach has been fined $4 million for allegedly avoiding paying $10 million in taxes on some 200 imported works of art.

(via artnet News)

Schwarzenbach, who owns the luxury Zürich hotel The Dolder Grand, has been under investigation by Swiss authorities for neglecting to declare to customs authorities more than 200 artworks, worth over $130 million in total. These works include Giovanni Segantini’s Le Due Mardri (1891), which Schwarzenbach purchased at a Christie’s Geneva auction in 2011 for $1.4 million—and quickly transferred to the U.K. to allegedly evade paying tax in his home country. Other works that authorities suspect were not properly taxed include a Kazimir Malevich work worth $16 million and Yves Klein’s MG41 (L’age d’or) (1959). According to authorities, when Schwarzenbach did declare his art, he issued false receipts that undervalued the works (even as low as one-tenth of their actual worth, in the case of a  painting by Gottardo Segantini, the son of Giovanni Segantini). Though Schwarzenbach says he will pay the $10 million he originally allegedly dodged, he is challenging the $4 million fine, claiming that his avoidance was unintentional.

08  A historic Italian church that housed important 15th-century frescoes collapsed this week after being hit with two five-plus magnitude tremors.

(via The Art Newspaper)

Months after a 6.2-magnitude earthquake rocked central Italy in August, claiming the lives of at least 295 people, two smaller tremors shook the region again this week, damaging several heritage sites. The building hit hardest was the the church of San Salvatore a Campi di Norcia, in the village of Visso in the Marche region. The historic structure, which had already suffered cracking due to the August quake and contained notable frescoes, crumbled to the ground following the most recent aftershock; other religious buildings in the surrounding area, including the Basilica of Sant’Eutizio in Preci—known for its stained glass rose window—and the church of Santa Maria in Via in Camerino and its bell tower, experienced significant damage. In the aftermath of the August quake, the Italian government evacuated important artworks and cultural objects from the region, storing them in the city of Cittaducale in the region of Lazio. As of this Friday, Italy’s culture minister, Dario Franceschini, had yet to appoint a superintendent to oversee the towns and their cultural treasures affected by the most recent tremors. But Franceschini said the nomination would occur soon.

09  The president of the Turin Museum Foundation, Patrizia Asproni, has stepped down amid a public dispute with the city’s mayor.

(via The Guardian)

On Monday, Turin mayor Chiara Appendino confirmed Asproni’s resignation. As head of the the city’s museums, Asproni was credited with improving the city’s status as a cultural destination. Discord between Asproni and Appendino peaked last week when news broke that a major backer behind a Manet exhibition in Turin was leaning toward bringing the show to Milan instead. The mayor responded by calling for Asproni to resign and told the press, “The city cannot tolerate that the foundation is not able to maintain relationships with important sponsors.”  Insiders say that the conflict goes much deeper, stemming from a fundamental divide between Appendino, part of the “anti-establishment” populist party Five Star Movement (M5S), and the city’s cultural leaders. The 32-year-old mayor campaigned on  aggressive change for the city, including bringing greater accessibility to Turin’s existing, historic art collections rather than putting resources toward bringing in blockbuster shows. This stance, it is being reported, led the Manet show to fall through; sponsors believed that the city did not value the exhibition. In June, Asproni attempted to collaborate with the mayor on plans for the city’s museums, but was unable to secure a meeting. “It is a terrible thing that the mayor wants to decide which exhibitions go to museums,” Asproni said on Monday, and added that the mayor’s call for her resignation was a political move, having to do with the fact that she was hired by the previous mayor, Piero Fassino.

10  Art Basel in Hong Kong has announced the participating galleries for its fifth edition.

(via Art Basel)

241 galleries from 34 countries will descend on the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition center next March. Along with its previously existing sections Galleries, Insights, Discoveries, Encounters, and Film, Art Basel in Hong Kong’s 2017 edition will also see the introduction of Kabinett, an import from the Miami Beach edition of the fair. As in Miami, galleries participating in Kabinett show special projects off to the side of their main booths. The fair will welcome 29 new exhibitors in 2017. Ten of those are from the Asia, 10 from Europe, and nine from the Americas. Among first-time participants are König Galerie, Clearing, kurimanzutto, Luxembourg & Dayan, Waddington Custot, and Galerie Buchholz.

Artsy Editors

Cover image: Photo by Rafael Torres, via Flickr.