Buyer of $450 Million Leonardo Revealed—and the 9 Other Biggest News Stories This Week

Artsy Editorial
Dec 8, 2017 10:23PM

01  Christie’s confirmed that Leonardo Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi was acquired by Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism.

(via Reuters, the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times)

The confirmation from the auction house Friday followed days of reports identifying different individuals as the buyer of the roughly $450 million (with fees) piece. On Thursday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (known as MBS) was behind the bid that won Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi (c. 1500), which went up for auction at Christie’s New York last month. That report came one day after the New York Times identified a different Saudi prince, Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud, as the buyer. Prince Bader—who has no known source of wealth, according to the Times—placed the winning bid on behalf of the Abu Dhabi department, according to a document reviewed by Reuters. One person “briefed on the deal” told the Financial Times that the Saudi government had purchased the work for the United Arab Emirates, the federation that includes Abu Dhabi, saying, “It is supposed to be a state to state gift, like when France gave the Statue of Liberty to the US.” But a Saudi official flatly denied that MBS was the buyer. “Contrary to media reports, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman did not purchase this art piece,” the official told Reuters. The assertion seems to conflict with Thursday’s Wall Street Journal story that identified MBS as the buyer, citing U.S. intelligence and a major art-world figure in Saudi Arabia. A spokeswoman for the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism department confirmed that it had acquired the piece but “declined to say whether it was bought by the Department,” Reuters reported. The piece is slated to go on view at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the institution confirmed via Twitter.

02  British artist Lubaina Himid has become the first woman of color and the oldest artist ever to win the Turner Prize, Britain’s most prestigious art award.


The 63-year-old Zanzibar-born artist—whose work deals with race and black identity—grew up in London and lives in the northern city of Preston. Himid was presented with the award by the DJ and artist Goldie in a ceremony held on Tuesday evening in the northern English city of Hull, where her work is on view in an exhibition dedicated to artists shortlisted for the prize. In her acceptance speech broadcast live on the BBC, Himid thanked the Turner Prize jury and her supporters. “To the people who have stopped me in the streets of Preston and Hull to wish me luck—thank you, it worked,” she said. Himid also thanked the art historians who wrote about her practice in what she called the “wilderness years.” Administered by London’s Tate, the Turner Prize was founded in 1982 and aims to promote “public debate around new developments in contemporary British art.” A £25,000 prize is awarded to an artist for an “outstanding exhibition or other presentation” in a given year.

03  Art Basel in Miami Beach opened this week with 268 participating galleries from more than 30 countries filling the Miami Beach convention center.


The recently renovated interior of the convention center boasts 10% more space, resulting in a complete reshuffle of every gallery on the map for this edition of Art Basel in Miami Beach. The new layout offers dealers more room to display their wares and gives visitors wider halls to walk along and a pair of large plant-filled plazas in which to sit, talk, or even exercise. Sales were strong on Wednesday, when the fair opened to VIPs, with several galleries reporting that buyers had snapped up pieces after adjusting to the new layout. “I think people are having a hard time finding what they used to find, and there were some complaints about getting in as it was quite a long wait,” said David Zwirner, who had a booth near the entrance where VIPs picked up their passes. “But once people are in here I think they’re very happy.” David Maupin of New York- and Hong Kong-based gallery Lehmann Maupin said the changes had gotten rid of visual disruptions like electrical boxes, making the fair “much smoother, more elegant,” Maupin said. “The new layout is definitely an improvement.”

04  The Jewish Museum suspended all ongoing projects with curator Jens Hoffmann following allegations of sexual harassment against him.

(via ARTnews)

According a statement released Monday by the Jewish Museum, “a number” of museum staff members came forward on November 30th with claims that Hoffman had sexually harassed them during his time at the institution. “In light of this information,” the statement continued, “we have suspended all current projects with him while we review the allegations.” Hoffmann, who was the Jewish Museum’s deputy director for exhibitions and programs from 2012 to 2016, had continued to serve as director of special exhibitions and public programs there. Other museums and shows also took action against the curator following the allegations. The Honolulu Biennial suspended Hoffman, who was set to curate its 2019 edition. The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, where Hoffman was a curator at large, placed him on unpaid leave. Hoffman’s lawyer, Lance Gotko, spoke with ARTnews on Monday and denied all claims of sexual harassment against his client, adding that the curator has “not been informed about the nature of any allegations.” Hoffman made headlines last week when he abruptly resigned from the forthcoming FRONT International’s Cleveland triennial, citing artistic differences.  

05  The United States Supreme Court seems divided over a case that pits a baker’s claim of artistic expression against gay rights.

(via the New York Times)

The nine justices in the U.S.’s highest court heard arguments in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission on Tuesday. This major civil rights case—described as a “sequel to the court’s 2015 decision establishing a constitutional right to same-sex marriage” by the New York Times—centers around an unlikely question: Are cakes art? Jack Phillips, a religious baker, claimed as much when he refused to create a wedding cake for Charlie Craig and David Mullins, a gay couple, in 2012. In Tuesday’s oral arguments, lawyers for Phillips asserted that the government cannot compel him or others to create artwork, such as custom wedding cakes, since that would violate the First Amendment, which protects free speech. But the attorney representing Craig and Mullins, on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union, argued that public businesses must serve everyone regardless of their sexual orientation, and that ruling in favor of Phillips would create constitutionally justified discrimination. During almost 90 minutes of oral arguments, the court appeared generally divided on ideological lines, with the conservative wing siding with Phillips and the liberal flank incredulous that food warranted free speech protections, among other objections. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, expected to be the deciding vote, had tough questions for both sides. He asked a lawyer for the Trump administration, which filed a brief in favor of the baker, if a store could put up a sign stating “we do not bake cakes for gay weddings.” The lawyer said the baker could do so if the cakes were custom-made, which troubled Kennedy, according to the Times. But Justice Kennedy also seemed to reject the notion that Phillips turned Craig and Mullins away because they are gay men, instead asserting he refused because they were getting married, which violated of his religious beliefs. “It’s not their identity,” Justice Kennedy told a lawyer for the couple. “It’s what they’re doing.”

06  A brush fire ignited in the hills of Los Angeles in the early hours of Wednesday morning, not far from the Getty Center.


Surreal video footage circulated online of the Skirball fire (named after the nearby Skirball Cultural Center), as it raged through land alongside the highly trafficked 405 Freeway. The major Los Angeles thoroughfare currently separates the Getty from the blaze. The priceless artwork and artifacts—from pre-modern European masterpieces to contemporary sculpture—held at the Getty Center, one site of the J. Paul Getty Museum, which sits on the west side of the freeway, won’t be moving anywhere, thanks to the building’s fire-resistant architecture. “The safest place for the collection to be is right here at the Getty Center,” Ron Hartwig, vice president of communications at the museum, told Artsy on Wednesday afternoon. As of Thursday evening, the Skirball fire had burned 475 acres and was 30% contained. As of Friday morning, the Getty Center had reopened to the public.

07  Artist Jaishri Abichandani staged a performance outside New York’s Met Breuer in response to an exhibition of photographer Raghubir Singh, who Abichandani says sexually assaulted her.

(via Hyperallergic)

About 30 people held signs that read “ME TOO” and wore red gags over their mouths in a silent performance last Sunday outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Met Breuer building, which is exhibiting a Singh retrospective, Hyperallergic reported. Abichandani herself held a sign that read “I SURVIVED … RAGHUBIR SINGH # ME TOO!” Earlier this year, Abichandani came forward with allegations that Singh sexually abused her during a two-week trip to India in the 1990s when she was in her twenties. A prominent and influential photographer, Singh died in 1999, and so far, the Met has welcomed the protest, though the exhibition remains on view. “The Met fully supports the right to free expression and therefore we wish to assure you that we will not try to stop you,” wrote Sandra Jackson-Dumont, who heads the institution’s education department, in a message to Abichandani. No action was taken against Abichandani even after she and a few other protesters took their performance inside the museum. Abichandani called the demonstration a “feminist participatory public performance” telling Hyperallergic, “[Singh] used his art to trap me, so I can use my art to talk about my experience with him.”

08  Art is projected to beat out fine wine as the best luxury investment of 2017.

(via The Guardian)

According to the Knight Frank luxury investment index, the category of fine art will likely overtake fine wine as the “best-performing luxury investment asset this year,” as investors who pulled back from the market during the 2007–08 financial crisis re-enter, reported The Guardian. Auction sales of art rose roughly 16 percent by value from September 2016 to September of this year (only one percent behind the value increase for fine wine). As Andrew Shirley, partner at London-based consultancy firm Knight Frank and author of the index, told The Guardian, “we are predicting that art will comfortably overtake wine as the best-performing asset class this year.” They expect it to take back its pre-crisis position as one of the index’s top performing assets, due in part, he noted, to the record-breaking $450 million sale of Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi (c. 1500). “Confidence seems to have returned to the art market in 2017,” he added, highlighting interest in and exposure to artists like Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Lucian Freud, as well as an expanding market for western art among Chinese collectors. Other items in the index include collectable cars, watches, and coins, all of which have have also shown modest increases over the past year. “Art,” he told The Guardian, “is a lot more tangible than stocks or shares; you can’t hang them on your wall.”

09  The United States Supreme Court heard arguments on Monday in a lawsuit seeking the seizure of several Persian artifacts from a U.S. museum.

(via Reuters)

After winning a $71.5 million verdict in a 2001 civil case brought against Iran following a 1997 terrorist attack in Jerusalem, a group of American victims filed to potentially seize tens of thousands of artifacts—on loan from Iran in the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute—to pay the judgement. Lower courts ruled that the objects cannot be seized due to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, a law that bars foreign countries from being sued in the United States. While there are exceptions, including for nations designated state sponsors of terrorism (a designation that applies to Iran), a lower court found that such exceptions do not apply in this place. The court reasoned that the property is being used by a third-party domestic institution, not Iran, and noted that the objects—including ancient tables—are non-commercial property. The Supreme Court is expected to issue its ruling by the end of June.

10  Vincent Honoré will curate and oversee a special edition of the Independent Art Fair in Brussels this spring.

(via Independent Art Fair and ARTnews)

Honoré, senior curator at London’s Hayward Gallery, will curate and organize the fair’s third iteration to open in Belgium on April 19, 2018, and run for three days. It will feature presentations, as well as an expanded program of talks and performances, at the historic Vanderborght building. Honoré will make selections of artists, galleries, and institutions to invite from around the world, while collaborating with Independent Brussels founder Laura Mitterrand and Brussels project director Goedele Bartholomeeusen. Honoré is also organizing the 13th Baltic Triennial’s forthcoming opening in May 2018. Of the decision, Independent founder Elizabeth Dee said in a statement: “Vincent brings a strong vision and track record of exhibitions that go beyond the traditional brick-and-mortar format.”

Artsy Editorial

Cover image: Leonardo da Vinci, Salvator Mundi, c. 1500. Courtesy of Christie's.