Art Basel Will Foster New Cultural Capitals —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 On Wednesday, Art Basel announced a new initiative that will see the Swiss organization expand beyond its role of hosting the world’s preeminent art fairs, to work with cities around the globe to create cultural programming aimed at placing them on the international art world map.
Patrick Foret, Art Basel’s director of business initiatives, leads the new division, and will work with a team of advisors and experts to develop a bespoke program for each of the cities that Art Basel partners with. Although Art Basel has yet to announce the initial set of Art Basel Cities, Foret said that they are in advanced discussions with several potential partners. Lest anyone be mistaken, Art Basel does not plan to expand beyond its three current shows (in Basel, Miami Beach, and Hong Kong). Each new program will be specifically tailored to the partner city; initiatives such as Art Basel in Hong Kong’s partnership with the ICC tower and Basel’s Art Parcours public art initiative give a taste of what could be in store.
02 While dealers, collectors, and institutional buyers descended on Hong Kong this week for the city’s fourth edition of Art Basel, the larger business and investment community was focused on China’s mainland.
Growth of GDP in the country is at a 25-year low, and analysts project at least two more years of hard times for the country’s real economy. According to government economists, we have entered a “new normal,” where China’s economy will expand at a pace that better resembles that of the rest of the world, rather than the country’s explosive growth of the past two decades. For those who are deeply entrenched in the art world, this narrative may sound familiar because a similar situation is taking place in our own industry. At the Hong Kong fair, however, the changing market didn’t appear to slow sales. During the opening days dealers reported a slew of six- and seven-figure purchases, but most were waiting until the end of the fair to confirm sales on truly major works. At Sean Kelly’s stand, for example, while the gallery reported that they had “sold across the board”—placing works by Marina Abramović, Sun Xun, Los Carpinteros, and Hugo McCloud—the most significant works hadn’t yet been confirmed.
03 Sales during New York’s Asia Week—widely used to assess the state of the Asian art market—were down significantly compared to last year, according to figures from major auction houses.
Total sales at Sotheby’s were the lowest since 2013; and Christie’s brought in less than a quarter of 2015’s $161 million (although last year’s particularly strong numbers were due in part to the sale of an exceptional private collection). This reflects a trend noted in the most recent TEFAF Art Market Report, which tracked a 23% decrease in domestic art sales for China in 2015. However, it appears as though these contractions are limited in scope. Time-tested favorites such as calligraphy continued to be in demand, with gallerists noting that the slowdown simply marks the arrival of a developed market after the skyrocketing prices of recent years. And a more holistic economic analysis of Chinese consumers has projected a 10% increase in spending annually for the next five years, particularly in the realm of luxury items—indicating that perhaps the Asian art market slowdown is not here to stay.
04 A new guide for artists and cultural institutions facing legal action in Turkey is slated to be released later this year, as a growing climate of censorship grips the country.
Last year marked something of a high point for Turkey’s contemporary art scene, with more than half a million visitors flocking to the city for the ambitious and well-received 14th Istanbul Biennial. Yet some say that as the government of current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has risen to power over the last decade, cases involving censored journalists, artists, and cultural institutions have been rapidly increasing. Such restrictions on speech can take many forms; anti-terror laws have been brought to bear against politically minded Kurdish artists, while building codes have allegedly been used as a cover to shutter nonprofit art spaces. Many fear the crackdown has resulted in widespread self-censorship, something the forthcoming legal guide from research platform Siyah Bant may help to alleviate. Turkey ranks near the bottom when it comes to press freedom—Reporters Without Borders placed it at 149 out of 160 in 2015.
05 Canadian arts and cultural institutions will receive a major bump in funding over the next five years thanks to the recently announced budget crafted by the Liberal government of freshman prime minister Justin Trudeau.
(via CBC News)
Funding for the the Canadian Council, which distributes money to arts and culture programs across the country, will see its budget of $182 million nearly double by the end of the five-year funding period. Next year the Council, whose CEO called the additional money a “game changer,” is due for a $40 million increase. Fulfilling a campaign promise to expand cultural funding, Trudeau has budgeted for several major museums to receive millions in direct cash infusions for maintenance and operating expenses. A program that sends Canadian artists across the world and funds events in embassies, which was canceled under the nation’s period of Conservative rule, is also due to be revitalized. Such aggressive expansions in funding stand as a stark contrast to both the relatively meager federal arts agency budgets in the United States and the government belt-tightening that is threatening museums in the United Kingdom.
06 Working in concert, Swiss and Italian police returned €9 million in artifacts stolen from Italy by a prolific British dealer who was also a major player in the world of black market antiquities.
The cache of stolen goods—which included some 45 crates of items dating between 700 BC and 200 AD—was discovered in 2014 inside a storage unit at Switzerland’s Geneva Freeport. The unit had been rented by dealer Robin Symes, who worked in concert with Italian tomb raiders during the 1970s and ’80s to collect tens of thousands of artifacts from digs in Sicily, Campania, Calabria, and Puglia. The Italian culture minister said Tuesday that these items would be distributed to museums in the area from which they had been looted decades ago. This announcement comes on the heels of a series of government raids during New York’s Asia Week, when authorities uncovered a number of stolen antiquities from the trove of dealer Subhash Kapoor—a former New York gallery owner who has been linked to the theft of thousands of artifacts, mainly from India, worth $107.6 million in total.
07 UK culture minister Ed Vaizey published a white paper Wednesday announcing the government’s intention to, among other things, widen access to the arts and complete an in-depth review of British museums by summer 2017—the first time in more than 50 years that the country has released a document of this kind.
(via The Guardian)
The first, and until this week, only, white paper on the arts was written by Labour’s Jennie Lee in 1965. It’s considered a groundbreaking document in Britain, even half a century after its publication date, and Vaizey’s version will certainly draw comparisons—already, it’s been noted that while Lee increased Arts Council England’s grant by 30%, today’s white paper doesn’t explicitly funnel new money to the arts. It does suggest that regional players work together to support cultural funding in their area, addressing concerns following deep spending cuts by local authorities. Many of the proposals work to open doors for populations who are traditionally cut off from the art world, including a “cultural citizens program” to give thousands of disadvantaged schoolchildren new access to cultural spaces and an explicit requirement that all publicly funded museums, theaters, galleries, opera houses, and arts groups must “reach out to everyone, regardless of their background.”
08 The shortlist for the BMW Art Journey was announced on Wednesday during Art Basel in Hong Kong, comprised of emerging artists Abigail Reynolds, Newsha Tavakolian, and Alvin Zafra.
(via Art Basel)
Now in its third edition, the joint initiative between Art Basel and BMW debuted last year and funds a single artist to embark on a journey of their choosing, with the aims of fostering growth and enabling them to pursue new artistic endeavors. The three artists chosen were all featured in the Discoveries sector at Art Basel in Hong Kong this week, a section devoted to new work by emerging artists: the Cornwall, U.K-based Reynolds shows a large-scale sculpture that involves printing on glass with Rokeby, London; Tavakolian is a Tehran-based photojournalist who shows with Thomas Erben Gallery, New York; and the Filipino-born Zafra shows drawings comparing the National Capital Region of the Philippines and Hanover, Germany, with Artinformal, Mandaluyong City. Past winners include sound artist Samson Young and video artists Henning Fehr and Philipp Rühr.
09 Chelsea galleries Anton Kern and Andrew Kreps announced on Tuesday that they will open a temporary gallery together at San Francisco’s Minnesota Street Project on April 28, in advance of the reopening of SFMOMA.
(via the Observer)
The news comes two weeks after we learned that Gagosian Gallery and John Berggruen will open new spaces across the street from the museum. Presented under the name Anton Kern/Andrew Kreps Gallery, the collaborative exhibition, which runs through May 21, will feature 16 artists drawn from both galleries’ rosters, including Andrea Bowers, Anne Collier, Roe Ethridge, Mark Grotjahn, and Chris Martin. The show is situated among other galleries and artist studios located within the newly opened Minnesota Street Project, an endeavor begun by philanthropists Deborah and Andy Rappaport (a retired venture capitalist), which is aimed at supporting the local arts scene while appealing to the Silicon Valley community.
10 British officials have asked that a French foundation return a recently purchased ring, purportedly owned by Joan of Arc, in order to issue the historical item a proper export license—a request that the buyers have resolutely refused to honor.
(via The Art Newspaper)
The Puy du Fou Espérance Foundation, which operates a history-themed amusement park in France, paid £297,600 to U.K.-based TimeLine Auctions for the ring in late February. It was then transported from England to France without an export license, a legal requirement for all items of national importance that have resided in the U.K. for half a century or more and are valued at over £39,219 (over £65,000 for items within the European Union). This process would also give British museums the opportunity to keep the ring, assuming that one could match the price paid by the French buyers. The ring’s new owners, however, declared their intention to keep the artifact on French soil for a ceremony on Sunday at the themepark. And that’s not the only controversy surrounding the ring. According to The Economist, there are a number of experts who strongly doubt that the ring was ever owned by the Maid of Orleans. Instead, they believe it was most likely linked to her during the Joan of Arc mania that began in the 19th century. Despite its murky provenance, the relic fetched a world auction record for a medieval European ring.
—Abigail Cain, Casey Lesser, and Isaac Kaplan
Cover image: Installation view of work by BMW Art Journey shortlisted artist Abigail Reynolds at Rokeby’s booth, Art Basel in Hong Kong, 2016. Photo courtesy of Art Basel.