Armory Show Director Out after Sexual Harassment Allegations—and the 9 Other Biggest News Stories This Week
01 Benjamin Genocchio was replaced Wednesday as the executive director of The Armory Show after a report was published in the New York Times, in which multiple women accused him of sexual harassment.
Genocchio will be replaced by Nicole Berry, who has been the New York art fair’s deputy director since she joined last year from EXPO Chicago. A spokesperson for The Armory Show did not say whether Genocchio’s departure was permanent. “The Armory Show seeks to maintain a respectful workplace and prohibits harassment or discrimination of any kind,” wrote the spokesperson in an emailed statement from Thursday. The Times story detailed a range of allegations against Genocchio, ranging from inappropriate comments to running “his hand up [a colleague’s] sequin pants” and asking her, “Is this the only time I get to touch your ass without getting yelled at?” This incident was recalled by Artnet’s then-marketing coordinator, Colleen Calvo, who said it happened as she was checking guests into the company’s holiday party in 2014. Genocchio served as editor-in-chief of the editorial wing of the online art website until joining The Armory Show in 2016. The Times did not interview Genocchio, but he issued this statement to reporter Robin Pogrebin: “Launching start-up news websites definitely led to conflicts with a few employees, but I never intentionally acted in an inappropriate manner nor spoke to or touched a colleague in a sexually inappropriate way. To the extent my behavior was perceived as disrespectful, I deeply and sincerely apologize and will ensure it does not happen again.” The allegations against Genocchio follow sexual harassment allegations against Knight Landesman, who stepped down as a co-publisher of Artforum at the end of October.
02 A judge’s ruling Tuesday cleared the way for the planned auction of 40 artworks from the Berkshire Museum’s collection but the Massachusetts Attorney General asked an appellate court to halt the sale.
(via the Berkshire Eagle)
The struggling museum hopes that the sale, due to start on Monday at Sotheby’s in New York, will bring in as much as $60 million to shore up its endowment and help it pivot towards science and nature programming. Deaccessioning is typically frowned upon unless the proceeds are used to buy more art. This move by the museum has prompted widespread criticism, as well as a legal suit by a number of plaintiffs, including the three sons of the painter Norman Rockwell—a local icon who had donated paintings that will now appear at auction—and the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office (AGO), which joined as a plaintiff in an emergency motion on November 1st. Judge John Agostini ruled that none of the original plaintiffs had standing, and “scolded the [AGO] office for failing, as he saw it, to provide ‘any other theory by which the proposed auction would violate the law of public charities,’” the Berkshire Eagle reported. In his 25-page decision, Agostini called deaccessioning “a necessary evil in the museum industry due in large part to loss of funding and economic upheaval.” But the AGO filed an 11th-hour motion with the Massachusetts Appeals Court on Friday, asking it to prevent the sale. A ruling is expected by Monday.
03 Recently resigned Stedelijk Museum director Beatrix Ruf told the New York Times that the controversy over her paid side-employment was a “misunderstanding.”
(via the New York Times)
Ruf resigned in mid-October amidst questions over whether her paid, private art advisory services were in conflict with her role as steward of a public institution. In her first interview since then, Ruf told the Times over email that her outside activities had been approved by the Stedelijk’s board. She also said the $500,000 in profit she received in 2015 represented part of a farewell bonus from her former client, Swiss collector Michael Ringier, as a “thank you” for 20 years of work, and did not represent any ongoing service provision. In October, the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad published an investigation into her earnings at Currentmatters, her art advisory firm, which far exceeded her $130,000 annual salary at the Stedelijk Museum. “Choices that museum directors make about exhibitions affect the market value of works of art, and if the director is simultaneously advising private clients, the ethical lines can become blurred,” the Times wrote. But if she fully disclosed her activities to the board and they were approved, the blame may lie with the board, said Jo Houben, director of an art-related Dutch nonprofit, when interviewed by the Times. The museum’s supervisory board, which was responsible for overseeing Ruf, has commissioned a pair of independent investigations into the affair. The findings of both reports will be made available to the public.
04 After a five-year delay, the Louvre Abu Dhabi will finally open its doors to the public on Saturday.
The day will be a milestone for a French-Emirati partnership that hasn’t always been popular in France—and has been marred by criticism of its workers’ conditions. At the press conference earlier this week, Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, chairman of Abu Dhabi’s Tourism & Culture Authority and of the Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC), was keen to put all this behind. He celebrated an institution that will be, he said, a “hub of tolerance,” and congratulated “genius” French architect Jean Nouvel. As part of the deal, the Louvre committed to a 30-year cooperation with Abu Dhabi, which included the loan of artworks for 10 years, four exhibitions per year for 15 years, and the use of the Louvre name. In exchange, the Emirati agreed to pay the Louvre €974 million ($1.12 billion) over three decades, providing funds that have been used, in part, to fund the Paris museum. The Louvre Abu Dhabi is surely hoping some of its contentious background will be eclipsed by its stunning inaugural display, which gathers around 300 loans from 13 French institutions, as well as 300 pieces from the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s fledgling collection.
05 The four artists shortlisted for the prestigious Berlin Nationalgalerie prize called on organizers to pay the award’s finalists.
Finalists Jumana Manna, Iman Issa, and Sol Calero, along with the prize winner Agnieszka Polska, issued a joint statement on Friday, arguing that artists who are shortlisted for the prize should be compensated for the work the award requires—including mounting an exhibition and participating in panel discussions, among other commitments. They asserted that the prestige and solo museum exhibition that comes with winning the Berlin Nationalgalerie prize—given every two years to an artist under 40 residing and practicing in Germany—doesn’t necessarily replace monetary compensation. “The logic of artists working for exposure feeds directly into the normalization of the unregulated pay structures ubiquitous in the art field,” the artists wrote. They also voiced concern that an emphasis on their birthplace and gender (all four are women; none were born in Germany) in press materials has overshadowed their art. “It is clear to us that in a more egalitarian world, the fact of our gender and national origin would barely be noticed,” the group wrote. In response, the Nationalgalerie told artnet News via email that it “welcomes the statement of the four nominees” and will evaluate their points seriously.
06 A Brooklyn jury found in favor of the 5 Pointz graffiti artists on Tuesday, following a closely watched trial that hinged on a rarely tested provision of federal law.
The verdict against defendant Gerald “Jerry” Wolkoff, the developer who destroyed graffiti mecca 5 Pointz, which housed the artists’ work, will not be the final word in the case. Due to an agreement reached between the parties prior to the start of jury deliberations, the judge presiding over the case will ultimately decide its outcome. The lawsuit dates back to November 2013, when Wolkoff whitewashed 5 Pointz overnight, before any of the artists were able to remove or preserve their work. A group of artists sued, alleging Wolkoff committed violations of the 1990 Visual Artist’s Rights Act (VARA). The act grants visual artists limited rights over work they created but do not own, and can entitle them to monetary damages if their works of a “recognized stature” are destroyed, or if mutilation to the work is prejudicial to the artist’s reputation. There remains little case law on the VARA, especially in the context of graffiti art. The judge’s final ruling in the 5 Pointz case will potentially bring much-needed clarity around the applicability of the statute, paving the way for more aggrieved artists to seek justice if their works are damaged.
07 A New York appeals court is allowing a claim over a $25 million Modigliani painting to proceed against the Nahmad family.
(via The Art Newspaper)
The court ruling from November 2nd allows the grandson of Parisian art dealer Oscar Stettiner to continue his claim against the powerful Nahmad family of art dealers. In 2011, the plaintiff, Philippe Maestracci, sued seeking the return of the Amedeo Modigliani painting Seated Man with a Cane (1918), which was allegedly looted from Stettiner by Nazis. This week’s appellate ruling gave Maestracci legal standing in the case. In rejecting the Nahmads’ argument that Maestracci was bound by France’s or Switzerland’s statutes of limitations, the court cited the recently enacted Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery (HEAR) Act. The act gives claimants six years from the date that they discover the location of a Nazi-looted work to begin its recovery. The decision potentially clears the way for other cases that may have arguably been subject to statutes of limitations.
08 Scholars and art historians in the U.K. have called for an end to the fees museums charge for reproducing images.
(via The Times of London)
Dozens of art historians told The Times that the “unjustified” rule, which requires scholars to pay to reprint historic artworks, represents a “tax on scholarship.” Historians assert that they pay thousands in fees to reproduce works—many of which are legally out of copyright—for academic texts that carry minimal commercial viability. “Copyright generally expires 70 years after an artist’s death, but galleries say that digitally scanning an artwork creates a new copyright,” reported The Times. British institutions like the Tate and the British Museum charge the fees, arguing that the costs of creating and reproducing images are high, while low-resolution images for non-commercial use come with little to no fees. Although the charge can vary, some scholars have said that certain museums are inflexible when it comes to pricing. A letter penned by 28 signatories stated, “We urge the UK’s national museums to follow the example of a growing number of international museums and provide open access to images of publicly owned, out-of-copyright paintings, prints and drawings so that they are free for the public to reproduce.”
09 London’s Lord Mayor Andrew Parmley has returned a Dutch Old Master painting looted by the Nazis from the Netherlands.
(via The Art Newspaper)
Insured for £1.5 million, Jacob Ochtervelt’s painting The Oyster Meal (c. 1664–65) adorned the walls of the Lord Mayor’s official residence for nearly three decades before being returned on Monday to Charlotte Bischoff van Heemskerck, the 96-year-old daughter of the work’s original owner, J.H. Smidt van Gelder. Following the announcement, Lord Mayor Andrew Parmley called the occurence “a happy, albeit long overdue resolution for her and her family.” Following the British retreat after the Battle of Arnhem (a major battle during World War II in the eastern region of the Netherlands), the Nazis took fourteen works from a bank vault where Smidt van Gelder, the director of the region’s children’s hospital, had stored them. The painting by Ochtervelt was one of six works from the vault that the Smidt van Gelder family could not locate following the war. Europe’s Commission for Looted Art made a claim on behalf of the heir of the original owner earlier this year. Recalling the battle and the painting, Bischoff van Heemskerck said that the work “is very meaningful to my family, and we are delighted to bring it home again to honour my father’s legacy.”
10 A conservator discovered a grasshopper encased in the thick paint layers of a Vincent van Gogh landscape.
Conservator Mary Schafer found the small insect after magnifying the bottom of van Gogh’s 1889 landscape Olive Trees while researching the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art’s collection of French paintings. While it is not totally out of the norm to find plant or insect matter in works made outdoors, Schafer hoped that the insect—unnoticeable to the casual observer—would provide an opportunity to discover more information about the work (like, perhaps, the season in which van Gogh painted it). But fossil insect specialist Dr. Michael S. Engel said the little creature had died prior to embedding in the masterpiece, making more precise dating impossible. Further analysis of the painting, however, did find that a red pigment van Gogh used may have faded over time, impacting how the color is seen today, a morsel of information that may serve to clarify the the original hues of Olive Trees.
Cover Photo: Portrait of Ben Genocchio by Emily Johnston for Artsy.