Controversial Sam Durant Sculpture to Be Ceremonially Burned—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 A Sam Durant sculpture at Minneapolis’s Walker Art Center that drew protests from the Native American community will be removed and then ceremonially burned.
(via Star Tribune)
A two-story structural work by Durant, Scaffold (2012) was a recent addition to the Walker’s renovated sculpture garden and was intended to critically evoke imagery of the gallows used in the 1862 hanging of 38 Dakota in Mankato, Minnesota. However, Native American groups asserted that the work insensitively portrayed a history of violence and genocide. Following two days of protest, the Walker’s executive director Olga Viso announced that she and Durant had agreed upon the work’s removal. In a prior statement, Viso expressed regret that the museum excluded Native American groups in the decision to host the work. “It’s a small victory,” said Dakota artist Graci Horne, who broke news of the removal to a crowd of roughly 100 protesters. “It happened so fast. We were prepared to be in a marathon with this.” As part of a removal process determined jointly by Dakota elders, Walker staff, and Durant, the work will be disassembled beginning Friday and ceremonially burned in a Dakota-led ceremony. Due to the events, the gardens’ re-opening has been pushed back to June 10th.
02 On Wednesday, a noose was left in the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s Segregation Gallery.
(via the Washington Post)
This is the second noose left on Smithsonian grounds this week, after police discovered another on Saturday among the grounds of the Hirshhorn Museum. The incident is under investigation by U.S. Park Police. After finding the noose, the NMAAHC closed part of its galleries as the Smithsonian Office of Protection Services joined police in an investigation. “The noose has long represented a deplorable act of cowardice and depravity—a symbol of extreme violence for African Americans,” said the museum’s founding director Lonnie Bunch III in a statement. “This was a horrible act, but a stark reminder of why our work is so important.”
03 A work of art looted by Nazis will be auctioned in July, with the proceeds to be divided between the trust of the previous owner and the heirs of the Jewish couple who originally held the piece.
(via the New York Times)
La Punta Della Dogana e San Giorgio Maggiore by Michele Marieschi was looted by Nazis during World War II after the Graf family fled Austria during the late 1930s, leaving the painting and other possessions behind. A multi-decade search eventually surfaced the work, which was being held by an unidentified collector, though the discovery did not result in a restitution. While a judge revealed the name of the collector to the Graf heirs, the identity otherwise remains secret, and the collector refused to part with the piece up until her or his death in 2013. Two years later, the collector’s trust reached out to a mediator who began negotiations with the heirs. The current settlement, which the son-in-law of the original Jewish owners called “bittersweet,” is a compromise that brings the dispute to an end without restituting the piece to the heirs. The agreement sees the painting head to auction at Sotheby’s in July, where it is expected to bring between $650,000 and $905,000. The eventual sum will be split between the trust and the heirs, though the exact details of the settlement remain confidential.
04 On Tuesday, Art Basel sued the German sportswear manufacturer Adidas for trademark infringement and a host of related allegations in a Florida federal court.
Art Basel and its Swiss parent company, MCH Group, assert that Adidas did not receive permission to emblazon “Art Basel” on roughly 1,000 limited-edition sneakers distributed during the fair’s 15th edition in Miami Beach last November. The art fair—which holds a registered trademark on its name—is seeking treble damages, the destruction of the “offending” shoes and connected material, and other relief. Calling its brand one of the fair’s most “valuable and important corporate assets,” the complaint notes that Art Basel has licensed its “mark” to several companies—from UBS to BMW, but not Adidas. The complaint charges that by placing “Art Basel” on its shoes without such an agreement, Adidas infringed on a “registered and incontestable” trademark, while implying a nonexistent affiliation between the manufacturer and the art fair brand in consumers’ minds.
05 A prominent Geneva-based antiquity-dealing family is under investigation for potentially handling ISIS-looted objects.
(via the Wall Street Journal)
Brothers Ali and Hicham Aboutaam, who together run Phoenix Ancient Art, are currently the subject of three separate probes by Swiss, Belgian, and French authorities. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is also looking into the family’s affairs, as part of a broader examination of U.S.-based antiquities dealers and their connections with trafficked material. In March, a driver working for Ali was arrested by Swiss law enforcement on suspicion of avoiding value-added taxes; around the same time, Ali’s wife was detained for two weeks when she failed to produce proper documentation for several artifacts. However, no charges have been leveled against the brothers at this time. A lawyer representing the dealership said it “has never knowingly purchased or sold any looted items, let alone items looted by ISIS.” The the Aboutaams have run afoul of the law in the past. In 2004, Hicham pled guilty to falsifying a customs declaration and was fined in New York court.
06 MoMA revealed the final design for its ongoing $400 million expansion on Thursday.
The first phase of the project—a reconfiguration of the museum’s east section, begun in February 2016—was also completed this week, increasing MoMA’s public space by 25 percent. The institution’s upcoming Frank Lloyd Wright exhibition will open this month in a suite of these renovated galleries. The second half of the expansion will see an overhauled main lobby and additional, flexible galleries. But change is not limited to the physical space—MoMA will now organize many of its galleries according to time period or theme rather than discipline. “It’s a rethinking of how we were originally conceived,” museum director Glenn D. Lowry told the New York Times. “We had created a narrative for ourselves that didn’t allow for a more expansive reading of our own collection, to include generously artists from very different backgrounds.” This mission will be put to the test in 2019, when the museum will only display works from its collection to mark the opening of the expanded building. MoMA said it has already raised the money necessary for construction, aided by a $100 million donation from entertainment mogul David Geffen.
07 New York City’s Public Artist in Residence Tania Bruguera will work with a team of women to deliver important information on social services by bike to immigrant communities.
(via the NYC Office of Immigrant Affairs)
New York City Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl announced the project, CycleNews, on Tuesday at a City Hall rally in solidarity with immigrants, alongside Immigrant Affairs Commissioner Nisha Agarwal and Bruguera. CycleNews will launch with a pilot program in Corona, Queens, where roughly 15 women will travel by bike and provide immigrant populations with information on the “critical services MOIA provides: IDNYC, ActionNYC legal services, English conversation classes, and know your rights materials,” the press release said. The women are part of Mujeres en Movimiento, a group of Spanish-speaking mothers and community advocates. “After spending time getting to know the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, I wanted to build on MOIA’s community outreach strategies and initiatives, furthering their relationship with the communities they serve,” Bruguera said.
08 A Greek LGBTQI and refugee rights group has stolen an artwork that is part of documenta 14.
The theft is an act of protest against the expenditure on the high-profile art event as refugees live in dire conditions across Europe, and, according to statement put out by the group, condemns the “fetishization” of refugees. The artwork, Replica of Oath Stone, by Spanish artist Roger Bernat in collaboration with Roberto Fratini, was “a facsimile of a limestone table where oaths were sealed” and made of “porexpan, fiberglass, and acrylic paint,” according to Artforum. Bernat’s project, “The Place of the Thing,” saw the sculpture carried through Athens in a fake funeral procession, after which it would be shipped to Kassel for a burial. Artforum reported the LGBTQI group had agreed to be one of the groups in the performance, and had accepted a €500 payment for its participation. But in its statement, it mocked the “grand donation” of €500, and said the disappearance of the rock symbolized the disappearance of the many refugees who had died “seeking better lives in Europe.”
09 El Museo del Barrio has fired one of its senior executives as internal issues continue to mount.
(via the New York Times)
In recent years, the New York museum has faced numerous financial and institutional challenges, including seeing three different directors in just seven years. Now added to that list is the firing of deputy director of institutional advancement Berta Colón, who was only named to the position in August. The museum cited “performance reasons” for her May 19th dismissal. However, in a letter to the museum’s board of trustees, Colón claims that the revenue goals provided to her were “not based on solid expectations” and that her performance had never been officially evaluated. In the same letter, Colón accused interim executive director Carlos Gálvez of employee intimidation, suggesting he unduly influenced museum workers toward his preferred candidate for the executive director position. Patrick Charpenel, the latest appointment as executive director, comes to El Museo del Barrio from a curatorial position with Museo Jumex in Mexico City. Officially named as director on May 1st, Charpenel has seen his appointment delayed as he awaits the necessary paperwork for U.S. work clearance.
10 The sculpture personifying justice as a woman removed from Bangladesh’s Supreme Court last week has been reinstalled.
(via the New York Times)
Only two days after protests from the hardline conservative Islamic group Hefazat-e-Islam—which claims Islam prohibits artistic representations of living things—pressured authorities into removing the statue, the decision was reversed. The work was returned but relocated 300 yards away, near a less prominent annex to the country’s Supreme Court building. Though Bangladesh is a secular country, strict fundamentalism spurred by groups such as Hefazat has exerted increasing influence in the nation’s rural areas. This ideological conflict came to a head Friday when left-wing student groups countered conservative religious groups at rallies in the capital of Dhaka. Sunday’s compromise appears to have left no party satisfied, the Times reports: Sculptor Mrinal Haque said his statue has been “sent to isolation” while Hefazat’s leader, Shah Ahmad Shafi, is unhappy with its continued existence.
Cover photo by Lorie Shaull, via Flickr.