Cuban Authorities Detain Tania Bruguera Once Again—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 Artist and activist Tania Bruguera was detained and interrogated by Cuban authorities on Thursday while on her way to deliver supplies to hurricane victims.
Accompanied by biochemist Oscar Casanella, the Cuban-born Bruguera was en route to Baracoa from Havana when police intercepted their vehicle. The van was full of mattresses and rice the pair planned to deliver to those affected by Hurricane Matthew, on behalf of the Instituto de Artivismo Hannah Arendt (INSTAR), which Bruguera co-founded two years ago. Officials inspected the rented vehicle, alleging that there was a technical or administrative problem. Bruguera and Casanella were held at a police station in Havana, during which time Casanella was allegedly physically attacked and Bruguera was interrogated for six hours by a group of counterintelligence officials. The artist will not be allowed to deliver the humanitarian aid, and instead planned to fly back to Boston Friday to teach her class at Harvard University. Bruguera’s sister told Hyperallergic, “I think this was ‘just’ a warning to let her know that the next time she enters Cuba and wants to perform a humanitarian or artistic action, she will have all the governmental weapons pointed against her.” This is by no means the first time the artist has come face-to-face with hostile Cuban officials in recent years. In January 2015, she was arrested for her plans to stage a performance in Havana; although she was released later that month, her passport was not returned until late summer. Since then, she’s been detained multiple times by Cuban authorities.
02 More than 130 artists and critics, including Cindy Sherman and Richard Serra, are urging American cultural institutions to close on the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration.
The petition, published on e-flux last week, calls for a nation-wide strike among galleries, museums, concert halls, nonprofits, and art schools on January 20th. Labelled the “J20 Art Strike,” the organizers hope it will serve as “one tactic among others to combat the normalization of Trumpism—a toxic mix of white supremacy, misogyny, xenophobia, militarism, and oligarchic rule,” according to a statement. Several high-profile museums, including MoMA, MoMA PS1, and LACMA, will not participate and have promised to remain open on inauguration day. The Dia Art Foundation will also maintain regular hours, although staff can take time off to attend protests. The Whitney, for its part, will feature special programming and free admission on Inauguration Day. Though many in the art world are opposed to Trump, reactions from artists were mixed on social media. Some vocally championed the strike, while others wondered what impact, if any, a shutdown would have on the incoming administration. The Guardian’s Jonathan Jones made similar remarks, noting that while he sympathized with the signatories, “an art strike is just about the least effective idea for resisting Trump that I have heard.”
03 Labour MP Tristram Hunt has been tapped for the directorship of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, offering a surprising contrast to reports that longtime museum director Maria Balshaw will take the helm at the Tate.
Though he has since resigned from the political party following his appointment to the V&A, Hunt served as Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent from 2010, and was in the running for the party leadership position after the defeat of Edward Miliband in the U.K.’s 2015 elections. The prevailing argument for Hunt as museum director is that his time in Parliament makes him an excellent communicator and a worthy negotiator of internal institutional politics. Unlike Hunt, whose name drew nary a whisper in the art world before his surprise appointment, Balshaw has long been considered a frontrunner to head the Tate after Nicholas Serota announced he was stepping down last year. During her 10 years as director of the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester, she oversaw a much-heralded £15 million renovation of the gallery, which reopened in 2015. Though the official announcement that she is to direct the Tate’s museums in London, St. Ives, and Liverpool isn’t expected until next week at the earliest (Prime Minister Theresa May must sign off), British papers have all but confirmed the news—which, if accurate, would make her the first woman to hold the post.
04 In a surprise verdict on Thursday, a French judge acquitted billionaire art dealer Guy Wildenstein of hiding millions in art and other inherited assets from the country’s tax authorities after his father’s death in 2001.
Prosecutors asked the court to sentence the 71-year-old to pay a $250 million fine and serve four years in prison (two suspended) for tax fraud and money-laundering in a case that has thrown a very public spotlight onto the normally reserved and secretive family known in France simply as “Les W.” The trial began in September of last year, with prosecutors charging that Wildenstein and his late brother, Alec, used secretive trusts to move $250 million in art from New York to Switzerland just days after their father, Daniel Wildenstein, died. They also alleged that these trusts were not independent as claimed, instead directly benefiting the brothers. But Judge Olivier Geron found Wildenstein and the family members and associates implicated in the trial not guilty of all charges. “It is not the role of the court to take the place of the legislator,” the judge stated in his ruling. He also said that while he found “clear intention” by Wildenstein and others to conceal the extent of their fortune from the state, prosecutors did not go far enough in demonstrating that the so-called independent trusts benefited the family. The acquittal is likely to shock and disappoint those hoping to crack down on tax evasion by the wealthy. While the judge acknowledged this interpretation of his decision, he noted that the law must apply equally to all defendants “be they rich or destitute.”
05 George Lucas has chosen Los Angeles as the home for his $1 billion museum.
(via the L.A. Times)
After years of speculation, Lucas has announced that his Museum of Narrative Art will be built in L.A.’s Exposition Park, with a target launch year set for 2021. The museum, which will house Lucas’s personal collection of art and Star Wars ephemera, will be designed by Chinese architect Ma Yansong. L.A.’s bid for the museum—which is expected to bring not only tourism, but also several thousand jobs in the form of both temporary construction contracts and permanent roles at the institution—beat out a competing proposal to base the museum on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay. Chicago’s earlier attempt to secure the institution was hamstrung by lawsuits, prompting Lucas to look elsewhere. The museum board said Lucas selected Los Angeles because it will position the museum to “have the greatest impact on the broader community, fulfilling our goal of inspiring, engaging and educating a broad and diverse visitorship.” The futuristic, 275,000-square-foot structure is slated to break ground in 2017 and will be entirely funded by Lucas. Among other works, it will house a cache of Norman Rockwell paintings, artwork by the cartoonist R. Crumb, and the original Darth Vader mask. L.A.’s art landscape has seen rapid expansion over the past few years, with powerhouse galleries and collections such as Hauser & Wirth and the Broad Museum moving in.
06 Auctionata Paddle8 may be experiencing financial difficulties, according to reports that the Berlin-based startup has failed to pay employees since December.
An email sent to staff and obtained by German business publication WirtschaftsWoche reportedly notes that healthcare and retirement benefits will not be not impacted. Through a spokesperson, the Berlin-based startup refused to comment “on such rumor and speculation,” instead pointing to what they labelled a “promising” new round of financing. Auctionata Paddle8 did confirm, however, that founder Georg Untersalmberger will leave the company at the end of next month to focus on other projects. In his farewell email, Untersalmberger reportedly referenced the company’s current difficulties but assured a promising outlook, without providing further detail. Auctionata merged with fellow online auction platform Paddle8 in May 2016. The company has been helmed by CEO Thomas Hesse since September, when Auctionata founder Alexander Zacke stepped down. These new reports come after major staff changes and layoffs at Paddle8 in May and months after an April audit of Auctionata found an alleged history of trade violations at the auction house, in which Zacke was said to have participated in Auctionata’s own sales. Auctionata Paddle8’s alleged financial troubles come roughly a week after Artspace laid off three-quarters of its staff.
07 A painting in the U.S. Capitol building depicting police as animals shooting at African-American demonstrators in Ferguson, Missouri, was removed by a Republican Congressman, sparking controversy.
Painted by high school student David Pulphus, the work was placed in the Cannon tunnel (which connects the Capitol and legislative offices) through the U.S. Congressional Art Competition. Annually, each lawmaker’s district holds a competition to have one work by a constituent hung at the Capitol. Republican Representative Duncan Hunter of California unscrewed Pulphus’s work from the wall on Friday, and then dropped it off with the staff of Democratic Representative Lacy Clay, whose district had chosen the work. Clay explained that he had no part in choosing the painting, which shows cops depicted as a horse and a boar aiming firearms at black men, one of whom is shown as a wolf, with others crowded in the background holding up signs with messages including “racism kills.” The removal of the painting occurred after lawmakers had aired concerns that it was “anti-police” following an article in the alt-right publication Independent Journal Review. Hunter told Politico he and other Congressmen had “talked about how disrespectful [the painting] was to men and women who served in uniform,” and that he was not concerned with backlash from the Congressional Black Caucus. Clay re-hung the painting on Tuesday, calling the episode “manufactured controversy,” and calling the Republican congressmen “pathetic” for denying the artist his first amendment rights.
08 Frieze New York announced the list of 190 galleries from 30 countries that will participate in the fair’s sixth edition.
Once again located on Randall’s Island, the fair puts further emphasis on modern art this year, with Daniel Blau, Eykyn Maclean, and The Mayor Gallery joining Acquavella, Lévy Gorvy, and Skarstedt, among others. Newly joining Frieze’s lengthy list of curators this year is Toby Kamps of The Menil Collection, who takes charge of a growing Spotlight section focused on 20th-century masters. Dealers offering tribal art will feature at Frieze New York for the first time, including Donald Ellis, L&R Entwistle and Co, and Galerie Meyer - Oceanic Art. This reflects a continued widening of collector interest that was once focused intently on contemporary art (also Frieze’s traditional strength). However, new young galleries are also to be found among the list of 2017 exhibitors, including New York’s Chapter NY, Bridget Donahue, and On Stellar Rays. This marks the first time that Frieze New York hasn’t coincided with the NADA New York, which this year will take place during The Armory Show. Following a politically charged edition of Art Basel in Miami Beach, Frieze New York is similarly keen to highlight its socially-engaged programming, which will include a solo presentation of Andres Serrano’s “America” series at Galerie Nathalie Obadia and a booth by Salon 94 focusing on the feminist work of Huma Bhabha, Francesca DiMattio, and Katy Grannan.
09 New York’s elevated public park, the High Line, will erect a special plinth devoted to temporary art installations.
(via The Guardian)
The director and chief curator of High Line Art, Cecilia Alemani, announced plans this week to install a 10-by-10-foot pedestal to host special projects by contemporary artists. The exhibition platform will be located within a much-anticipated extension of the park at 30th Street and 10th Avenue, which debuts in 2018. While art installations have bedecked the High Line and its surrounding billboards since the park’s grand opening in 2009, this will be the first space in the 1.5-mile-long park designed specifically for the display of art. Although the plinth’s unveiling is more than a year away, Alemani and her team have already begun to plan the program for the new exhibition space, which will host artworks for 18-month stints. High Line Art sent out a call for proposals and have whittled the original 50 down to 12 by artists including Charles Gaines, Haim Steinbach, Cosima von Bonin, and Lena Henke. Between February and April of this year, models of each proposed artwork will be displayed in an existing area of the park to allow for public feedback and inform final programming for the new exhibition space.
10 A major renovation of the Grand Palais in Paris will oust FIAC, Paris Photo, and La Biennale Paris from the space.
(via The Art Newspaper)
Beginning in late 2020, the Grand Palais will close its doors for a more than two-year renovation, forcing three major art events, Foire Internationale d’art Contemporain (FIAC), Paris Photo, and La Biennale Paris, to find temporary venues. This is not the first time the historic arts venue, inaugurated in 1900, has shuttered for refurbishment; the building also closed from the mid-1990s to 2005. During this time, FIAC, held at the Grand Palais annually since 1978, spent a stint at the Pavillon du Parc at the Porte de Versailles. The new locations for the three events have not yet been announced. According to Sylvie Hubac, president of the Réunion des musées nationaux (RMN), the renovations are intended to produce “exceptional high-quality, generous exhibition spaces to accommodate our partners and visitors.”
Cover image: Photo by Claudio Fuentes, courtesy of Tania Bruguera.