Attacks on Artistic Freedom Double in 2015—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  In their earnings call Friday morning, Sotheby’s reported a fourth quarter loss of $11.2 million, adding further credence to the narrative that the art marking is cooling.


Sotheby’s CEO Tad Smith noted that the next two quarters are also expected to be tough, reportedly forecasting that Q1 2016 sales are likely to show a significant loss compared to this time last year. The froth in the market is also deterring potential consignors who are holding onto their works while waiting for the sea to settle rather than testing the waters. The earnings call comes a day after two high profile departures from the auction house, which on Thursday confirmed the loss of Alex Rotter (global co-head of the contemporary art department) and 31-year veteran David Norman (vice chairman of Sotheby’s Americas and co-chairman of Impressionist and Modern Art worldwide.) According to tweets from Kelly Crow, Allan Schwartzman did announce that since Sotheby’s $85 million purchase of Art Agency, Partners last month they’d successfully retained “all” the clients of the consultancy firm. However, by closing bell, Sotheby’s stock had fallen 6.77%. (via Bloomberg, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times).



02  Artistic freedom came increasingly under fire in 2015, with China and Iran flagged as the least free countries for artists.


According to a report released Monday by Freemuse, 469 cases of attack or censorship of the arts were registered last year—a number that has nearly doubled since 2014. With 20 “serious violations” (a count which does not include cases of censorship) in 2015, China was the least artistically free country in the report; Iran came in second with 16 cases. Egypt offers an ongoing example of this continuing problem—Townhouse Gallery, one of the country’s leading contemporary art nonprofits, was raided and forced to close by the state censorship bureau in December. This Tuesday, it began the process of acquiring permits and undertaking requested building alterations which the government has labeled necessary for its to reopening, conditions that gallery director William Wells called “a means to control freedom of expression.” (via Hyperallergic and artnet News)



03  On the heels of cancelling the 2016 edition of Paris Photo Los Angeles, Reed Exhibitions has announced that they will postpone their FIAC satellite fair Officielle.


Set to open in October, the emerging art fair was expected to host 60 galleries in Paris’s Cité de la Mode et du design. Organizers cited the event’s remote location and the prohibitive cost of the booths, stating that a number of exhibitors lost money last year. Competition from contemporary fair Paris Internationale, which launched its inaugural edition in 2015, also played a role in the decision to put Officielle on hold. FIAC, Reed’s flagship fair, appears unaffected—in fact, in 2016 the fair will add a space next door to the Grand Palais to its floor plan to accommodate a new section. (via The Art Newspaper)



04  A Nazi-looted Pissarro painting that had made its way into the University of Oklahoma’s collection will return to its original owner in France.


The settlement, announced Tuesday, followed a protracted fight between the school and Léone Meyer, a French Holocaust survivor whose family owned Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep (1886) when it was stolen during World War II. The University of Oklahoma and its president, David Boren, had challenged the lawsuit by claiming the school had sovereign immunity. Valued at $1.5 million in 2008, the painting will now alternate between museums in France and Oklahoma according to the terms of the settlement. (via the Washington Post)



05  Federal support of museums in the United States benefits a relative few institutions—and the larger and more prestigious those museums are, the more likely they are to get funding.


For those who reside in art-world hubs, the prevailing headlines in recent years suggest a boom in the fortunes of museums around the country. “Boom” gives a false impression of the health of U.S. institutions as a whole. In the towns and cities that dot the nation, thousands of small and mid-sized museums that serve as crucial sources of local history and culture have struggled to recover from the recession as sources of public and private funding have vanished or steadily depreciated, according to interviews and data analyzed by Artsy over the past month. (via Artsy)



06  A British artist plans to gather all of Britain’s publicly owned art into one massive online catalogue.


Organized by contemporary artist Bob and Roberta Smith (actually a single person, Patrick Brill), the database already contains more than 3,000 collections—ranging from the paintings hanging in government offices to Oxford University’s private collections. Some 200,000 oil paintings are currently available on the website; next year, Brill will upload more than 100,000 sculptures, using 3D scans for some of the works. The project, titled Art UK, will also offer an online commercial platform for museums and galleries to sell prints and other goods. (via The Guardian)



07  The art world has joined the fray in the ongoing standoff between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Apple.


The PEN American Center published an open letter Monday, which includes the signatures of artists Richard Serra and Lawrence Weiner and art biographer Deborah Solomon, demanding that the FBI cease pressuring Apple to provide software that could be used by the government to unlock the iPhone of the San Bernardino shooters, and, by extension, any iPhone worldwide. Although the letter conveyed the signees’ outrage over the shootings, it also expressed concern that this level of access to information “would erode the vital U.S. values of free expression and privacy, and could endanger writers and human rights advocates in countries around the world.” (via ArtNews)



08  Looters opened fire at an Egyptian archeological dig Saturday night, killing two guards and injuring a third.


The site, located in the Coptic village of Deir el-Bersha along the Nile’s east bank, is home to a necropolis containing the tombs of a number of ancient Egyptian leaders. It is closed to the public, due to the delicate nature of the area and past instances of looting—in May, a group of archeologists reported that a relief fragment had been chipped off the wall of a 3,850-year-old tomb. (via the Association for Research into Crimes Against Art)



09  Fairs are the latest in a long list of art-world players to speak out against a German amendment that would restrict the movement of old or highly valued artworks across the country’s borders.


Koelnmesse, which runs Art Cologne and Cologne Fine Art, bashed the proposed legislation this week in an open letter from CEO Gerald Böse. The amendment addresses a range of issues, including repatriation of stolen works and cracking down on black-market trading of cultural artifacts. However, it is one particular clause—which would require works valued at more than €300,000 or over 70 years old to be appraised by the government before leaving the country—that has the German artistic community up in arms.  (via artnet News)



10  There’s been a changing of the guard at New York’s performance art biennial, Performa.


Earlier this week, the organization announced that philanthropist and collector Toby Devan Lewis is taking Salon 94 founder Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn’s place as chair of the board of directors. Rohatyn, who served as chair for seven years, still holds a seat on the board. Additional changes include Iranian artist Shirin Neshat’s appointment as the board’s 13th member, while American artist Rashid Johnson, who first joined the board in 2014, has been appointed as vice chair. Performa has also established a new five-person advisory council as they prepare for their seventh edition to be held in 2017. (via ARTNews)




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