Documenta Faces $8.3 Million Deficit—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.
Documenta’s parent company came close to insolvency, according to reporting by local German newspaper HNA. A $4 million loan from the German state of Hesse and the city of Kassel will allow the exhibition to run through its scheduled end date of September 17th and keep it from declaring bankruptcy, at least temporarily. Although it’s not yet clear why Szymczyk and his curatorial team went over their original $44 million budget, early reporting suggests that it was the result of an additional venue in Athens. Documenta 14 was the first time the venerated quinquennial had been split between two cities; previous versions were held solely in the German town of Kassel. In addition to a potential decline in ticket sales and transportation costs involved in moving art between the countries, air-conditioning costs in Greece were higher than expected due to the unusually warm summer. A board meeting next week will review a post-mortem compiled by independent auditors. The curatorial team of Documenta 14 released a statement expressing “astonishment” with the news reports, charging journalists didn’t check facts or “gain a more complex picture of the situation.” While the statement vigorously defends the team’s use of funds and states that “politicians have prompted the media upheaval,” it does not directly address any financial specifics around the Documenta budget and whether it was exceeded. Artists participating in Documenta released a statement of their own, noting that “shaming through debt is an ancient financial warfare technique,” adding, “we ask the documenta supervisory board, and future curatorial teams, to vigorously defend the curatorial team’s vision of Documenta 14.”
The New York Times reported a combination of “careful preparations and good luck” helped Florida’s many arts institutions, from museums to private collections to performing arts spaces, weather Hurricane Irma. For example, the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), which faces Biscayne Bay, had been built to withstand Category 5 hurricanes, with an elevated structure and windproof windows. It was considered so sturdy that 14 museum staffers stayed there for the storm, a spokesperson told the Miami New Times. Two Jeff Koons sculptures at the luxury development Oceana Bal Harbour were “cushioned in foam and covered with an anchored metal box draped in fabric,” the Times reported, noting also that “ten people who rode out the storm at the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum emerged unscathed, as did the property’s famous six-toed cats.”
03 The last of 10 lawsuits brought against former Knoedler Gallery director Ann Freedman has been settled, six years after the gallery shuttered amid a forgery scandal.
(via The Art Newspaper)
In 2000, collector Frances Hamilton White and her then-husband purchased what they thought was a work by Jackson Pollock for $3.1 million from Knoedler Gallery. In reality, the couple were among numerous Knoedler clients sold work attributed to famed Abstract Expressionists but in reality forged by a Chinese immigrant artist as part of a $70 million forgery ring. The 40 forged pieces, more than 30 of which were eventually sold, were brought to Knoedler by Glafira Rosales, a Long Island art dealer who recently pled guilty to money laundering and tax evasion. After news of the forgery ring broke, ten Knoedler clients sued Freedman personally, alleging she “knew or should have known” the artworks were fake despite her professed ignorance to the paintings’ origins. The terms of the settlement with White were not disclosed. While this ends litigation against Freedman personally, several civil suits against the gallery and others related to the forgery are continuing.
04 New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has backtracked on his promise to fully review the city’s “symbols of hate.”
(via the New York Times)
The mayor had promised to conduct a comprehensive review of the city’s historical monuments to identify “symbols of hate,” but that seems to have been downgraded into a more expedient mission for the newly appointed commission. “Instead of conducting a full review of hateful iconography, the commission would merely ‘develop guidelines on how the city should address monuments seen as oppressive and inconsistent with the values of New York City,’ according to a news release,” the Times reported last week. The commission will be led by New York’s commissioner of cultural affairs, Tom Finkelpearl, and Ford Foundation president Darren Walker. The commission “will also make recommendations for a ‘select few items’—but neither [Walker nor Finkelpearl] would say which those may be,” the Times reported.
05 The Walker Art Center’s handling of the controversial Scaffold sculpture, combined with staff departures, has some questioning the Minneapolis museum’s leadership.
(via the New York Times)
Though the Walker will bury the sculpture by Sam Durant, which depicted gallows, evoking the hanging of 38 Dakota tribesmen, its executive director Olga Viso is still facing questions about her vision and management style. The highly respected museum, which has won kudos for its “its interdisciplinary collaboration, avant-garde first commissions and award-winning publications,” according to the Times, has seen roughly a fifth of its employees leave over the past year. “Two dozen staff members have departed the museum, out of a total work force of just under 120,” the Times reported, for reasons ranging from reaching retirement age to “an environment of long hours and high expectations” and a sense that “Ms. Viso was not always open to criticism or warnings — including over ‘Scaffold.’” Viso told the Times she would not apologize for her ambitious agenda.
06 Far-right protests in Brazil caused the bank Santander to shut down an exhibition of queer art that it was sponsoring.
“Queermuseum: Queer Tactics Toward Non-Heteronormative Curating,” an exhibition of 85 artists whose diverse work spans decades, opened at Santander Cultural in Porto Alegre in August. The show began attracting protests a little less than a month after it opened, when members of Movimento Brasil Livre (MBL), described by Hyperallergic as a libertarian group, charged that the exhibition “supports pedophelia,” is blaphemous, and is “harmful” to children. Santander pulled the exhibition last Sunday, stating that it was “not in line with our view of the world.” Curator Gaudêncio Fidelis, who was not consulted by the bank prior to its decision, wrote in the show’s catalogue that the art, including works by Lygia Clark and José Leonilson, celebrates “variety, plurality, and difference.” Speaking to Hyperallergic, Fidelis added, “I don’t consider the exhibition to be polemical in any way.”
07 A settlement was reached in one of the world’s strangest copyright cases, which centered around whether animals hold the rights to photos they take of themselves.
(via The Independent)
Though different publications are heralding different sides as victors (The Independent went with the photographer, artnet News declared the monkey the “moral” champion), the actual law remains clear: Animals cannot hold copyrights in the United States. The two-year legal battle revolved around a rare crested macaque monkey named Naruto, who snapped the infamous—and now litigious—selfie with the camera of David Slater, a British nature photographer, on Indonesia’s Tangkoko Reserve in 2011. Slater had previously battled Wikipedia in 2014 for reproducing the image without his permission and lost when the U.S. Copyright office ruled that “photographs taken by animals cannot be copyrighted.” However, it didn’t end there: In 2015, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) sued Slater for damages on behalf of the monkey, arguing for Naruto’s authorship and Slater’s infringement of copyright. A U.S. district judge dismissed the case over the toothy-grinned selfie in January 2016. Still determined, PETA appealed to the 9th Circuit Court in San Francisco, and Slater’s lawyer motioned for another dismissal. The two parties reached a settlement, with Slater agreeing to donate 25 percent of all revenue from the “monkey selfie” to charities dedicated to protecting the endangered crested macaque. Asking the lower courts to dismiss the previous decision that animals can’t own copyrights, Slater and PETA released a joint statement asserting that “this case raises important, cutting-edge issues about expanding legal rights for non-human animals.”
Dubbed “Diller Island,” the performance center, which would have been located 186 feet from the Manhattan shoreline, was canceled following years of battles with what the Times describes as a “small band” of critics. Originally slated to cost $35 million six years ago, the cost of Diller’s self-funded project exploded to $250 million due to design and legal issues related to the pier’s location in a protected estuary. “Because of the huge escalating costs and the fact it would have been a continuing controversy over the next three years I decided it was no longer viable for us to proceed,” Mr. Diller told the New York Times. The project’s termination, which took both proponents and critics by surprise, follows the cancellation of another ambitious public space also designed by architect Thomas Heatherwick: London’s Garden Bridge. London Mayor Sadiq Khan shelved that project—which was partially supported by public funds—last month amid ballooning costs. “Both Pier 55 and the Garden Bridge riffed on the High Line model of public-private partnerships to build parks” in which rich donors “foot the bill” in exchange for land and funding, writes Diana Budds in Fast Company. “The demise of two high-profile public space projects spearheaded by the elite signals that these singular visions are on their way out.”
09 Famed art dealer Jonathan Poole has been sentenced to four years in prison after admitting to 26 counts of theft and fraud.
(via The Guardian)
The Gloucester crown court announced the sentence on Tuesday. Poole pled guilty to stealing £500,000 in artworks from nine victims between 1986 and 2013. The stolen pieces include work by artists Auguste Rodin and Sebastian Krüger to John Lennon and Ronnie Wood. The 69-year-old Poole worked out of two galleries in the Cotswolds and “specialised in selling artworks created by music stars,” The Guardian writes. In addition to his 40-year career as a dealer, Poole himself has exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts in London and various galleries around the world. After firing his defense team, the accused represented himself in court and blamed his actions on business struggles due to the internet. However, the case’s prosecutor, James Ward, asserted that Poole may have channeled funds towards gambling, debts, or his own future. While much of his business proved legitimate, police found several occasions in which Poole failed to return proceeds or artworks. Poole insisted he retained none of the missing pieces, which include work by jazz legend Miles Davis, among others. Detective Constable Steve Crilley of Gloucestershire police nonetheless said he has “been able to reunite nearly all of the victims with their artwork.”
10 The National Endowment for the Arts published a report last week suggesting potential health benefits for “older adults” who attend arts events.
The NEA report, created in collaboration with Drs. Kumar and Rekha Rajan, showed a correlation between attending arts events and increased physical, mental, and cardiovascular health. Similar benefits were found for those who created art and those who both created and attended arts events. In addition to a relationship between attending art events and slower declines in health, researchers observed that simply appreciating or valuing the arts similarly coincided with a decreased decline and better overall health. The report noted, however, that more research must be done to prove a causal relationship between attending or creating art and better health outcomes for the elderly.
Cover Image: Ibrahim Mahama, Check Point Sekondi Loco. 1901–2030, 2016–2017, 2016/2017, on view at documenta 14, 2017. Photo by Benjamin Westoby for Artsy.