“Discovery of the Century” in King Tut’s Tomb—and the 9 Other Biggest News Stories This Week

Artsy Editorial
Mar 18, 2016 10:17PM

Catch up on the latest art news with our rundown of the 10 stories you need to know this week.

01  In what is being heralded as a potential “discovery of the century,” Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities announced Thursday that radar scans may indicate new rooms hidden behind the walls of King Tutankhamun’s Luxor tomb. 

(via The Art Newspaper and the Telegraph)

Data analysis indicates that these chambers probably contain organic and metallic goods—both signs that point to the presence of preserved grave goods. Research published in August by Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves kick-started the search, when he suggested that anomalies in his replica of the tomb were in fact “ghost” doorways (radar scans found what may be door lintels), entryways which had been sealed and covered before King Tut was buried. Reeves has suggested that the additional rooms may contain the tomb of Queen Nefertiti, whose final resting place has never been found. The ministry will conduct more scans at the end of this month to determine the wall’s thickness and gather more information about the items that might lie behind it.

02  New York City’s Asia Week has been punctuated by a succession of federal raids—dubbed Operation Hidden Idol and carried out in conjunction with the Manhattan district attorney—on auction houses and galleries selling what turned out to be stolen Asian antiquities.

(via the New York Times)

It began last Friday, when agents seized two Indian sculptures from Christie’s meant to be auctioned off this week. Another sculpture, which was en route to New York to be sold, was confiscated on Tuesday. The next morning, authorities took possession of an eighth-century Afghan marble sculpture of Hindu gods from an East 67th Street gallery. The force behind Operation Hidden Idol, a combination of Homeland Security and the office of Manhattan district attorney Cy Vance, was responsible for compiling much of the evidence against Subhash Kapoor—a New York gallery owner who is allegedly responsible for stealing as many as 2,622 (mainly Indian) artifacts worth $107.6 million, making him one of the most prolific antiquities smugglers in history. The high-profile nature of the seizures has frustrated the organizers of Asia Week, but prosecutors claim that advance notice for dealers might cause works to disappear underground. For federal investigators, the 10-day event seems to be the perfect moment to draw attention to a market that is often criticized for its penchant for secrecy.

03  Italian investigators have pinpointed 13 suspects in the case of the Castelvecchio Museum heist, during which 17 paintings worth around $16 million were stolen from the Verona institution.

 (via the Washington Post)

The November 2015 theft stumped the community. Theories ranged from the fairly ridiculous (it might have been orchestrated by the Islamic State) to the plausible (that it was the bidding of a private collector). The thieves’ timing was impeccable, breaking into the museum immediately after the staff departed for the evening but before the alarm had been turned on. So it comes as little surprise that the heist was at least partly an inside job. After watching 4,000 hours of surveillance footage and listening to hundreds of wiretapped phone calls, the section of the Carabinieri (Italy’s national police) that investigates art theft determined that the security guard on duty during the crime was involved, along with his wife and twin brother. Eleven of the 13 people arrested are Moldovan, which is where the investigators believe the stolen paintings still reside. The works, including paintings by RubensTintoretto, and Mantegna, have not yet been recovered.

04  Eighteen people—including Henrike Grohs, director of the Goethe-Institut in Abidjan, Ivory Coast—were killed Sunday in an attack on an Ivory Coast seaside resort town, Grand-Bassam, carried out by the North African branch of Al Qaeda. 

(via DW)

Grohs, who worked previously for the Institut in Johannesburg, had transferred to its Ivorian outpost in 2013. Characterized as a cultural ambassador, Grohs has been remembered for her “joie de vivre” in tribute posts on Facebook. This is the latest in a series of recent Al Qaeda attacks targeting West African hotels that serve both the local upper class and Westerners, a demographic which often includes members of the cultural community. In January French-Moroccan photographer Leila Alaoui died from injuries sustained during a 15-hour hotel siege in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, that killed 30 people and injured many others.

05  The increasingly complex dispute between art dealer Larry Gagosian and a representative of the Qatari royal family over who owns a Picasso bust that was allegedly sold twice continues, with the latter party filing court papers detailing their claim to the multi-million-dollar sculpture. 

(via the New York Times)

The court battle arose after Picasso’s daughter, Maya Widmaier-Picasso, reportedly canceled a $42 million-dollar sale of the work in question to a representative of the Qatari royal family, before selling it for $106 million to Larry Gagosian, who in turn sold the sculpture Leon Black. In January, the dealer asked a court in New York’s Southern District for a declaratory judgement and for a judge to cement his claim to the work. Late on Friday night, the agent for the Qatari royal family, Pelham Holdings, responded outlining their chronology of events, which includes the contention that the Picasso family rushed to transfer the title of the work to Gagosian before a final payment was made. In a statement to the New York Times, a spokesman for Gagosian Gallery said, “We bought and sold the sculpture in good faith and with good title.”

06  Following an investigation into the restoration of two Moscow convents, several senior members of the Russian culture ministry are now under scrutiny for allegedly embezzling money from state coffers.

(via The Art Newspaper and TASS)

The list includes Russia’s deputy culture minister Grigory Pirumov, who has reportedly been detained in relation to Moscow’s Novodevichy Convent, a UNESCO World Heritage Site (and the burial place of Nikolai Gogol and Anton Chekov) that had been allotted 800 million rubles (roughly $11.2 million) for restoration. Suspicions of foul play emerged as far back as 2013, when a government audit revealed that roughly $2 million had gone missing during a project to repair the 14th century Izborsk Fortress. In December, President Vladimir Putin reprimanded the ministry for allowing monuments to disappear due to disrepair or demolition in 2015. Aside from merit from the perspective of historical preservation, Putin’s concern also falls in line with his emphasis on Russian heritage as a means of bolstering national pride—and, at times, international tensions more reminiscent of the Cold War era.

07  Over 40 art handlers went on trial Monday after allegedly stealing thousands of lots from Paris’s oldest auction house.

On Monday, art handlers and four auctioneers from Hôtel Drouot, the venerated Parisian auction house, found themselves on trial charged with organized theft, conspiracy, and handling of stolen goods. Prosecutors allege that over the course of several years, possibly even decades, members of a tightly knit society of art handlers systematically stole thousands of valuables—including jewelry, furniture, and a painting by Gustave Courbet—from the auction house in a scheme reportedly called la yape (the pilfering). Those charged could each be slapped with up to €175,000 in fines and face as many as seven years in prison if convicted. While some have confessed to the changes, others, including four auctioneers caught up in the scandal, deny their involvement.

08  Five Francis Bacon paintings, a combination of landscapes and portraits worth a total of €30 million, have been reported stolen from a Madrid apartment. 

(via the Guardian)

Although reported on Sunday, the theft reportedly took place last June. It’s an odd timeline that raises the question: Why weren’t the authorities involved sooner? The thieves appeared to be professionals, carefully monitoring the owner’s schedule to make sure he did not return to home during the theft, dismantling the alarm system, and leaving behind no clues to their identity. Despite their skill, however, stealing such high-profile paintings is not necessarily a smart move. Because Bacon’s works are so coveted, it will be almost impossible for the thieves to sell their haul without making waves in the art world.

09  Now several years beyond his controversial run as director of MOCA Los Angeles, dealer-cum-curator Jeffrey Deitch is said to be reoccupying his former gallery’s home at 18 Wooster Street—currently home to nonprofit exhibition space Swiss Institute—this coming August. 

(via ARTnews)

Deitch closed the doors of his New York gallery in 2010 to helm the Los Angeles museum (which at the time was in imminent danger of shuttering due to low funds). However, he hung onto the two buildings he’d purchased to house his boundary-pushing program, which launched in 1996. Now back on the East Coast after a rocky three-year run at MOCA, Deitch has inspired much speculation as to his future plans. Last September, rumors quieted after he re-installed himself at 76 Grand Street, the first building to house his former gallery. Armed with the news that he’ll also be returning to his second, much larger downtown space—a 5,000 square-foot former lumber yard—we’re left to wonder, yet again, what ambitious plans he might have in store. Meanwhile, the word is still out as to where the Swiss Institute will land as their five-year lease of the building comes to a close.

10  He’s already compared himself to Leonardo da Vinci; this week, Kanye West went further and declared via Twitter that his 140-character posts are a “form of contemporary art.” 

(via artnet News)

Sure, Kanye has collaborated with a number of art-world characters—from a music video directed by Steve McQueen and displayed at LACMA, to a performance by Italian artist Vanessa Beecroft at his recent album listening party (an album whose title, incidentally, references Pablo Picasso). However, the rapper also has a reputation for making grandiose claims. And, despite an expanding view of what can be considered “art” today, this probably falls in that camp. Does that mean his tweets won’t be published on glossy paper by an art imprint? It happened to Kim Kardashian’s selfies, so we wouldn’t bet on it.

—Abigail Cain, Alexxa Gotthardt, and Isaac Kaplan

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Artsy Editorial