Dispute over Bacon Painting Complicates Phillips Nonpayment Lawsuit—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 The failure of the winning bidder to pay for a $24 million Gerhard Richter painting sold at Phillips last year has set off a complex nonpayment dispute.
Estimated to sell for upwards of $25 million at a Phillips auction last November, Gerhard Richter’s Düsenjäger (1963) was the top lot at Phillips’s 20th-century and contemporary art evening sale last November—without attracting a single bid in the room. The Richter had been guaranteed for $24 million by 28-year-old Beijing businessman and art collector Zhang Chang. But Zhang has so far refused to pay. Zhang’s refusal to make good on his guarantee has resulted in an increasingly tangled series of lawsuits. The dispute has also ensnared a significant piece by Francis Bacon, which Zhang acquired in a separate sale, using borrowed funds he never repaid. The collector’s nonpayment for Düsenjäger (1963) is among the most high-profile instances of a phenomenon relatively commonplace in mainland Chinese auctions and, to a lesser extent, in Hong Kong. About 41% of lots sold at Chinese auctions from May 2015 to May 2016 were never paid for, according to a recent report compiled by Dr. Clare McAndrew for Art Basel and UBS. The figure has risen in recent years from a low of 30% in 2013. It is rare, however, for such a prominent instance of nonpayment to occur in a New York sale.
02 All 17 remaining members of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities resigned in protest on Friday.
(via the Washington Post)
The resigning members of the committee, including artist Chuck Close and architect Thom Mayne, strongly criticized President Donald Trump’s blaming of both sides for the deadly violence in Charlottesville last weekend, where white supremacists clashed with counter-protesters. “Reproach and censure in the strongest possible terms are necessary following your support of the hate groups and terrorists who killed and injured fellow Americans in Charlottesville,” the group said in a letter explaining their resignation, released Friday morning with signatures of 16 committee members. “The false equivalencies you push cannot stand.” Established by Ronald Reagan in 1982, the commission advises the president on matters related to arts and culture but is mostly ceremonial. Some members of the commission who had been appointed by former president Barack Obama resigned following President Trump’s victory in the fall, though others initially decided to stay on until successors could be named. But in recent days, according to the Washington Post, all but one of the remaining members decided to resign. On Friday afternoon, the final member, George C. Wolfe, also added his signature to the letter and resigned.
03 Several U.S. cities announced plans to remove Confederate monuments in the wake of violence in Charlottesville.
Protests erupted in Charlottesville last week, as neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups protested the removal of a Confederate monument in the city. The violence turned deadly for one counter-protester when a suspected white nationalist drove his car into a crowd of demonstrators. In the wake of the violence, state and local government efforts to take down Confederate monument ramped up, with cities from Baltimore to Memphis to Jacksonville removing, or announcing plans to remove, Confederate statues. The removals have even attracted some bipartisan support. Larry Hogan, Maryland’s Republican governor, called for the removal of a statue honoring a Supreme Court Justice who voted to affirm slavery in a crucial 1857 case. “While we cannot hide from our history – nor should we – the time has come to make clear the difference between properly acknowledging our past and glorifying the darkest chapters of our history,” he told Reuters. While a growing number of cities appear resolved to take down the statues, where they go after they are removed remains undecided in some cases.
04 Chinese police evicted artists from their homes and studios in Beijing’s Caochangdi art district.
(via Art Asia Pacific)
Chinese dissident artists Ai Weiwei and Wu Yuren, who spent years under state surveillance, uploaded footage showing the forced removal of artists from the district’s beloved co-op, Iowa, as construction workers wait to begin demolition. In late July and early August, residents were served eviction notices citing illegal construction and land-use. And last Friday, police officers arrived to remove residents, in some cases forcibly. Several of the videos show police handing artists bags filled with money, which some outraged artists then threw or emptied. Mass evictions had also occurred in Beijing’s Chaoyang art zone seven years ago, and more recently when China’s largest artist colony, Songzhuang, was demolished in March. Yet still, many artists reportedly revived a “utopian spirit” in Caochangdi, where they had, until now, sought refuge from rising rents in central Beijing.
05 The International Criminal Court in Brussels ruled that an extremist responsible for the destruction of cultural sites in Mali must pay $3.2 million in reparations.
(via US News)
Thursday’s ruling comes after Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, the first person to be tried for cultural destruction as a war crime before the ICC, pleaded guilty to destroying World Heritage sites in Timbuktu. The court fined al-Mahdi $3.2 million, on top of sentencing him to a nine-year prison term, for the physical, economic, and moral damage done by rebels he led during June and July of 2012. Arrested in 2014 after his forces were routed by French troops, al-Mahdi pleaded guilty and expressed remorse for his role in the destructions, urging Muslims around the world not to commit similar acts. Prosecutors charged that al-Mahdi was a member of Ansar Dine, an Islamist extremist group with links to al-Qaeda. In levying the judgment against al-Mahdi, the court stated that despite his economic hardships, the reparations are reasonable and would not preclude his reintegration into society.
06 A de Kooning painting stolen over three decades ago has been returned to its museum after surfacing in a New Mexico antique shop.
(via the New York Times)
Two thieves stole Woman-Ochre, a 1950s abstract canvas by Willem de Kooning, from the University of Arizona Museum of Art in 1985, in a swift heist that lasted less than 15 minutes. Buck Burns and David Van Auker, proprietors of a furniture store in Silver City, New Mexico, bought it as part of a recent estate sale. They thought it was “cool and unique,” but realized it might have a little more going for it after visitors to their shop noticed it on the floor and asked whether it was by de Kooning. They researched de Kooning’s work online and found a story about the stolen piece. Once they concluded it was in their hands, they promptly returned it to the museum, comparing their accidental treasure with “finding a lost wallet.” The museum’s interim director, Meg Hagyard, had a different analogy: “The best way I can think to describe it is that it’s sort of like Cinderella’s glass slipper,” she told the Times.
07 Boston’s Holocaust Memorial has been vandalized for the second time in two months.
(via the New York Times)
Designed by Stanley Saitowitz and dedicated in 1995, the memorial features black granite ramps adorned with the word “REMEMBER” and six glass towers etched with numbers, evoking the numbers tattooed on victims of concentration camps. The design incorporates and centers around the number six—representing the six million Jews killed, the six deadliest years of the Holocaust (1939–45), and its six main death camps. The most recent vandalism of the museum was perpetrated by a 17-year-old from a town six miles north of Boston. The unnamed teenager shattered glass with a rock and was subsequently detained by bystanders. He was charged with willful and malicious destruction of property. James R. Isaac, the 21-year-old who previously vandalized the museum, was similarly charged. While police did not specify a motive for Monday’s event (which occurred three days after last weekend’s neo-Nazi and white supremacist rally in Virginia), police commissioner William B. Evans said that “in light of the recent events and unrest in Charlottesville, it’s sad to see a young person choose to engage in such senseless and shameful behavior.” The executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, Jeremy Burton, reportedly informed local Holocaust survivors and their families of the event in “indescribably painful” conversations.
08 Scotland Yard’s “Art and Antiques” unit may be headed towards closure.
(via The Art Newspaper)
Detectives from London’s Metropolitan Police have been temporarily reassigned to work on the Grenfell Tower investigation, which is looking into the fire that killed more than 80 people in June. Police authorities, however, have not given assurance on if or when the detectives will be returned to the unit, which was set up in 1969 to document and combat art crime. Vernon Rapley, who headed the department until 2010, voiced concern over the effects of the unit’s potential closure—especially in London, the world’s second largest art market. He warned, “Losing it now, when cultural heritage is under threat in so much of the world, would represent a very serious loss.”
09 Billionaires Poju and Anita Zabludowicz’s plan to demolish part of a 19th-century London church to create expanded space for their art collection is facing challenges.
(via Business Insider)
In January, the couple announced their plans to knock down the church’s two-story former Sunday school to expand collection space and add a café. The church is next to the Zabludowicz Collection in north London’s Belsize Park, which opened in 2007 and has since hosted exhibitions for artists such as Tracey Emin. The couple first revised plans for the expansion after receiving a letter from Historic England, a public organization that aims to catalogue and preserve old buildings, in February. But those plans also attracted controversy, with Historic England stating it was “disappointed to note that the revisions include a great degree of demolition to the middle gallery.…The justification for this change is not clear.” The collection has reportedly not immediately responded to inquiries for comment. The pair also owns galleries in New York and Finland, and supports artists around the world. Awarded Officer of British Empire (OBE) in 2015 for her services to the arts, Anita has claimed to have two galleries at the Tate named in her honor.
The $260 million project was meant to span the banks of London’s River Thames, offering pedestrians a stretch of urban greenery akin to New York’s popular High Line. But the bridge, designed by Heatherwick, faced criticisms of spiraling costs, prompting London mayor Sadiq Khan to order a review of the bridge project, which had been supported by his predecessor Boris Johnson since 2012. The resulting report found that the project didn’t result in value for public funds, and advocated its cancellation. This week the Garden Bridge Trust announced the cancellation in a letter published in The Guardian, citing a lack of political and financial support by the public, which has made it impossible to raise the additional money needed to finance construction.
Cover image: Gerhard Richter, Dϋsenjäger, 1963. Image courtesy of Phillips.
A previous version of this article stated that 16 members of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities had resigned. The 17th and final remaining member of the committee also resigned Friday, several hours after the original group made their announcement.