Case of Picasso’s Handyman Takes Another Twist—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 Monday, a retired electrician told a French appeals court that he lied about how he came to be in the possession of 271 works on paper by Pablo Picasso.
77-year-old Pierre Le Guennec, hired by Picasso in the 1970s for a series of odd jobs, originally claimed that the painter’s wife Jacqueline Picasso had gifted him a box full of artworks in 1971 or 1972. After Le Guennec and his wife were convicted in March 2015 for possessing stolen goods, the couple appealed. Now, the electrician has revealed a new version of the story: he claims that Jacqueline was trying to prevent Picasso’s grandson Claude Ruiz Picasso from inventorying certain works for the artist’s succession. She therefore stored 15 to 17 sacks full of Picasso works in the Le Guennecs’ home after the Spanish painter’s death in April 1973, leaving one behind as a thank-you when she reclaimed the bags later that year. Le Guennec’s revision marks the latest development in a long-running dispute over the provenance of these rediscovered works—a legal battle as “surrealistic” as a Picasso work itself, according to one lawyer involved in the case.
02 A 6.6-magnitude earthquake hit central Italy last Sunday morning, heavily damaging cultural heritage sites already rocked by an earlier quake that struck in August.
(via The Art Newspaper)
No deaths have been reported due to the earthquake, the strongest faced by the country since 1980. By comparison, the 6.2-magnitude tremors that struck the same area in August killed almost 300. Concerns about the possibility of aftershocks prevented culture ministry officials from entering damaged buildings, leaving the fire brigade to be the first to handle urgent preservation tasks. The town of Norcia, the closest urban area to the epicenter, suffered the collapse of several historic buildings including the Basilica of San Benedetto and the cathedral of Santa Maria Argentea. In Amatrice, the town struck hardest by the August quake, the civic tower and church of Sant’Agostino fell (although the paintings and sculptures it once housed were spared, after being moved to another storage facility in September). The culture ministry is reeling from the second major natural disaster to strike the area in just over two months. “We are on our knees,” said Umbria’s culture superintendent Marica Mercalli. “The earthquake was longer than the others and has frustrated everything we were preserving.”
03 A New York Supreme Court is allowing part of a $6 million lawsuit brought by Italian art dealer Fabrizio Moretti against gallerist David Zwirner and his gallery David Zwirner, Inc. to proceed.
The case centers around an edition of Gazing Ball (Centaur and Lapith Maiden) (2013), a Jeff Koons sculpture purchased by Moretti in 2014. Alleging breach of contract and other charges, Moretti claims the gallery did not provide legally required information about the work and its editions, and also that Zwirner failed to deliver the purchased piece within the necessary timeframe. By way of recompense, Moretti is seeking a refund and damages. The gallery disputes Moretti’s characterization of the facts and says the work is completed and ready to be delivered. The ruling, first reported by The Art Newspaper, came after Zwirner looked to have the case dismissed. Though far from a conclusion to the saga, both Moretti and Zwirner declared victory after the decision, the latter because Justice Barry R. Ostrager dismissed two counts of fraud against the gallery while absolving the gallerist of personal liability. But the ruling affirms that Moretti will—barring settlement—receive his day in court on the remaining allegations of breach of contract, breach of warranty and, most notably, on if Zwirner violated Article 15 of New York’s Arts and Cultural Affairs Law by failing to disclose information about the edition purchased at the time of sale.
04 A sculpture by Turkish artist Ali Elmaci was temporarily withdrawn from Contemporary Istanbul after protesters descended on the fair Thursday, demanding its removal.
(via The Art Newspaper)
The work, I Can’t Reciprocate Your Feelings Osman III (2016), depicts a smiling, bikini-clad woman with a portrait of the Ottoman sultan Abdul Hamid II painted on her stomach in vivid color. Culture website Sanat Atak reported that a group of approximately 20 men from the conservative Erbakan Foundation arrived at the fair on Thursday and called for the piece to be taken down. The artist complied, stating: “I have followed the reaction towards my work exhibited as part of Contemporary Istanbul, and have decided to withdraw it in order not to create further tension, which wears out our society to a great extent, especially during the current situation of our country.” A series of terror attacks within its borders and July’s failed military coup against president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have left Turkey on edge—other Istanbul-based fairs (including Art International and Moving Image) have gone so far as to cancel their 2016 editions. After the protesters left, the work was reinstalled and will remain on view for the duration of the fair, which opened to the public on Thursday and will run through Sunday.
05 The Los Angeles Police Department is investigating three acts of vandalism against art galleries in Boyle Heights as possible hate crimes.
(via the L.A. Times)
The vandalism—including one instance when a gallery was spray-painted with the words “white art”—occurred over a period of months and comes amid a heated debate about the role galleries will play in gentrifying the mainly Latino neighborhood. The burgeoning art scene in Boyle Heights has many concerned that the presences of galleries and artists will drive up rents and force out longtime residents. Defend Boyle Heights, an activist group, said in a statement: “We don’t know who tagged up these galleries, but we … certainly don’t condemn it.” Detective John Parra of the LAPD provided his rationale for classifying the act as a hate crime, explaining: “We don’t know who actually did [the vandalism], but because it actually made a reference to anti-white art or anti-white, it’s basically saying that it’s a hate crime based on that.” But the designation has met with confusion and critique from others, including a local resident who believes that “at worse, it’s an aesthetic critique of a certain cultural expression of art.”
06 Artist Theaster Gates has launched a new initiative to offer workforce training to unemployed residents of Chicago’s South Side.
(via Rebuild Foundation)
Gates’s Chicago-based nonprofit Rebuild Foundation announced the new program, Dorchester Industries, this week. The initiative will provide workforce training and apprenticeships to unemployed and underemployed people of the city’s South Side. To staff the program, Rebuild is tapping into its artists in residence and local contractors and artisans, who will share their expertise with the community through training sessions where they will learn skills for building and creative industries—masonry, millwork, carpentry, and pottery among them. In addition to hands-on construction experience, trainees will work in artist and artisan studios to create art and design objects, which will be sold, with proceeds going to program participants. “By providing workforce training in highly employable crafts such as carpentry or pottery work, we support the people in our community in real and tangible ways while also fostering an engagement and appreciation for a variety of artforms,” said Gates in a press release. Dorchester Industries grew out of Rebuild’s programs to develop workforce opportunities within the community. Participants will be involved in Rebuild’s community revitalization projects, including renovating vacant homes and buildings in the neighborhood, which have been at the core of the nonprofit since Gates founded it in 2010.
07 The city of Helsinki has offered a new plan to finance the proposed Guggenheim museum there, relying more heavily on private donations.
Following the state government’s rejection in September of a plan that would require it to pay €40 million ($44 million) to aid in the museum’s construction, Helsinki city officials announced a new plan on Thursday, which will see private donors pay €66 million, to make up for the loss of state support. The plan calls for the city to pay €80 million ($89 million). The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation first proposed the Guggenheim Helsinki in 2012. From the project’s early days, Finnish government officials and citizens have been reticent to direct taxpayer money towards the museum. Supporters of the project purport that the museum would boost the city’s status as a major international cultural destination and thus its economy overall, citing as an example the massive growth and revitalization that the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim incited in Bilbao in the early 2000s. Under the new plan for Helsinki, the Guggenheim has agreed to decrease the annual licensing fee it would charge the museum to carry its name, from $30 million to $20 million. “You could say this is our last proposal,” Ari Lahti, head of Guggenheim Helsinki Support Foundation, said to the press. “The city must now either take it or leave it.”
08 German baking and frozen food giant Dr. Oetker suspects works in its art collection may be Nazi loot.
(via The Art Newspaper)
A family-owned German company that produces baking goods and frozen food has found four works of art in its private collection that may have been looted by the Nazis. The company has located heirs to the original Jewish owners of the works, and pledged to reach an “amicable settlement” if the art turns out to have been stolen or sold under duress. The collection—which includes painting, porcelain, and silver—was amassed largely during the 1950s by the company’s executive director Rudolf-August Oetker, who retired in 1981 and passed away in 2007. It is notable that Dr. Oetker has been proactive in reviewing its collection for works obtained under dubious means, and stating it will those work with those affected. After releasing a study about the company’s history during the Third Reich, Dr. Oetker hired a researcher to investigate the collection. Due to a confidentiality agreement with the heirs, a company spokesperson has declined to offer details about the implicated works of art.
09 Nearly two decades in the making, Greece’s first National Museum of Contemporary Art has opened to the public in Athens.
(via Al Jazeera)
Although legislation establishing the National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST) was passed in 1997, delays fueled by government disagreements around regulations and administration, as well as a shortage of funds, kept the museum from opening for 19 years (the delays lost the project a $3.3 million European Union subsidy.) During the first 11 years, the museum shelled out $37 million to convert an abandoned Athens brewery into an exhibition space—but once completed in 2014, it still didn’t open its doors due to regulatory and administrative struggles. Soon after, a $3 million grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation was pledged but then withdrawn in November 2015 because of continued delays. The EMST’s challenges speak to the wider economic crisis in Greece and how these problems have been impacting the country’s artists and cultural institutions. But encouraged by the news that Athens would host documenta 14 in 2017, the museum has finally opened its doors. The inaugural show, “Urgent Conversations: Athens—Antwerp” combines the Greek museum’s collection with work by Belgian artists from the Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp (M HKA).
10 The spinning Astor Place cube was reinstalled Tuesday after months of false starts, concluding the beloved public sculpture’s two-year hiatus from the New York plaza.
Officially titled Alamo (1967), the 1,800-pound work was created by American sculptor Tony Rosenthal in 1967 to serve as a temporary installation. However, East Village residents liked it so much they successfully petitioned for the cube to stay. Since then, it’s been removed from Astor Place only twice—first in 2004, when the sculpture required internal repairs, and second in October 2014, to facilitate construction for the plaza’s redesign. Signs announcing the sculpture’s return appeared as early as June, although subsequent delays pushed the date to November. New Yorkers welcomed the work back enthusiastically, with one onlooker going so far as to wear a cube costume to the installation.
Cover image: VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images