Glenn O’Brien, New York Cultural Icon, Dead at 70—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 Glenn O’Brien, the pioneering writer who captured the creativity of downtown New York, has died at 70.
Glenn O’Brien passed away on April 7th, after battling a long-term illness. A fixture in the 1980s downtown New York scene, O’Brien corralled its artistic energy into magazines like Andy Warhol’s Interview, serving as its first editor, and articles for Artforum, Rolling Stone, GQ, The New Yorker, and more. From 1978 to 1982, O’Brien also co-created and hosted an influential public-access television show, TV Party, in which he conducted humorous, deadpan interviews with downtown luminaries like Klaus Nomi, David Byrne, Debbie Harry, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. O’Brien collaborated with Basquiat on numerous projects before the painter’s untimely death in 1988; notably, he produced and wrote the screenplay for Downtown 81, a 1981 film that followed 19-year-old Basquiat around the city as he painted its surfaces. Along with extensive writings on art, O’Brien is remembered for his keen sense of style and pioneering men’s fashion journalism. In the 1990s, as contributing editor to Details magazine, he established the celebrated column “Style Guy,” which in 1999 he took to GQ; it ran until 2015.
02 The artist list for Documenta 14 was released on Thursday as previews of the quinquennial exhibition commenced.
Opening to the public on Saturday, April 8, Documenta 14 is split equally across two cities—Athens, Greece and its traditional home of Kassel, Germany—for the first time in the exhibition’s 62-year history. Titled “Learning from Athens,” Polish curator Adam Szymczyk’s iteration of one of contemporary art’s most significant and defining exhibitions features some 150 living artists and collectives, including Nevin Aladağ, Alexandra Bachzetsis, Geta Brătescu, Maria Eichhorn, Douglas Gordon, Hans Haacke, Hiwa K, Daniel Knorr, Ibrahim Mahama, Jonas Mekas, Otobong Nkanga, Pope.L, Georgia Sagri, as well as over 50 artists who have passed away—another break with tradition. The Athens portion takes place across 47 venues in the city and runs through July 16th, while Kassel will take place from June 10th through September 17th at currently undisclosed locations. As is customary for the exhibition, details about either city were scarce until Thursday morning’s press conference in Athens, where the artists for that city’s portion of the show were unveiled in spectacular fashion: All of the participating artists and curators appeared on stage to sing a work by Greek composer Jani Christou.
03 A federal court has ruled that Germany can be sued in the United States over Nazi-looted art, paving the way for the nation to face a U.S. court for the first time in a Nazi restitution case.
In what lawyers for the heirs are calling a landmark decision, last Friday a Washington D.C. District Court ruled that Germany can be sued in U.S. court in the Guelph Treasure case. A collection of 11th to 15th century precious Prussian artifacts valued at over $250 million, the treasure was sold under duress by Jewish art dealers in 1935 to members of the Third Reich. The case had already been heard by a German commission, which found that, though the sales prices were low, the sum wasn’t a result of coercion but of an art market decline. Germany’s attorney, Jonathan Freiman, told Reuters in an email that “this is a dispute that was already resolved on the merits in Germany, and it doesn't belong in a U.S. court.” But the District Court disagreed, instead siding with the argument put forward by the heirs of the dealers: that such a taking constituted a violation of international law and as such, falls under U.S. jurisdiction as an exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. Nicholas M. O’Donnell, a partner at Sullivan & Worcester representing the plaintiffs, said in a statement, “We are pleased that the Court agreed that a forced sale for an inadequate sum to agents of Hermann Goering enjoys no immunity from justice.”
04 Renowned Pop artist James Rosenquist has died at age 83.
(via the New York Times)
James Rosenquist passed away in his New York City home on Friday, March 31st, after battling an ongoing illness, according to his wife, Mimi Thompson. Rosenquist is known for working at the vanguard of 1960s Pop Art alongside the likes of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. Both celebrated and criticized for his pointedly political approach, Rosenquist, a former billboard painter, frequently adapted commercial imagery to critique American consumerism and militarism. F-111 (1964–1965), one of his most iconic works, depicts a military jet stretched across an 86-foot expanse of more than 50 panels and punctured by the imagery of mid-century advertising. His idiosyncratic, large-scale paintings are in the collections of MoMA, the Guggenheim and the Whitney, among other institutions, and an exhibition of his work will go on view at Germany’s Museum Ludwig later this year.
05 An Andy Warhol “Mao” broke an auction record in China but still came in under its estimate, sparking a debate about the country’s market.
(via South China Morning Post)
Backed by an irrevocable bid, Warhol’s red silkscreen Mao (1973) sold for HK$ 86 million ($11.1 million) with fees—below the low estimate of HK$ 90 million ($11.6 million)—at a Sotheby’s auction in Hong Kong on Sunday, April 2nd. Last sold at auction in 2014 for $12.2 million, the Warhol went to an unnamed Asian collector bidding over the phone. Though the sale was trumpeted for breaking the record for Western contemporary art sold in China, the relatively tepid interest in the Warhol work and a piece by Keith Haring—especially compared to the strong interest in Asian and Japanese art at the auction—signaled to some that the region’s appetite for Western contemporary artists has softened. But there are other reasons the Warhol may have underperformed. Dealers at Art Basel in Hong Kong earlier this month reported that stereotypically “Chinese” material no longer plays well in the region due to collectors’ rapidly expanding education and sophistication—one even singled out red Maos as a fad of the past. Asian buyers, dealers also said, have been compelled to spend more when bidding against Western collectors at sales in New York and London.
06 Groundbreaking artist Lorna Simpson is now represented by Hauser & Wirth.
(via Hauser & Wirth)
The international gallery announced Tuesday that it will take on worldwide representation of Simpson. This news precedes Frieze New York in May, where the artist’s work will show at Hauser & Wirth’s booth. “We are honored and delighted to welcome Lorna Simpson into the gallery’s family,” said gallery vice president Marc Payot in a statement. “Her rigor, her passion, and her incredible sensitivity produce not only extraordinary art but also an invitation to engage in a dialogue about identity that we are eager to share.” Since rising to prominence in the late 1980s, Simpson’s mixed-media photographs have scrutinized visual and linguistic representations of race and gender. In 1990, she became the first African-American woman to show her work at the Venice Biennale. Other artists represented by Hauser & Wirth include Zoe Leonard, Roni Horn, and Rashid Johnson.
07 Several museums are celebrating the 100th anniversary of Marcel Duchamp’s seminal readymade Fountain by offering free admission on Sunday.
Organized by Duchamp scholar Thomas Girst, several major museums across the globe—including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin, and the National Museum of Modern Art in Kyoto—are participating in the initiative, which also has the approval of Association Marcel Duchamp. Visitors who utter the name “R. Mutt” or “Richard Mutt,” the pseudonym Duchamp used to sign Fountain (1917), will be let in free of charge from 3-4 p.m. on April 9th. The timing stems from Duchamp’s notable affinity for trios (he once remarked “three is everything” to a BBC reporter). Inspired by the urinal used for Fountain, some museums will also host Duchampian events in their bathrooms. In what the Philadelphia Museum of Art is calling a “special location,” the institution will host a local theater company’s reenactment of the scandal first caused by the artwork in 1917. “Instead of doing your usual symposium, where people put their heads together and say things that have been said so many times before—most of it self referential and sometimes boring—it’s great to honor the anniversary with somewhat of a Dada gesture,” Girst told Artsy. Visitors can tag their experiences or follow along with the festivities via the hashtag “#Fountain100”.
08 Russia has criminalized images that challenge Vladimir Putin’s masculinity.
(via New York Times)
The Russian Justice Ministry declared last month that images showing Russian President Vladimir Putin in an unmasculine light constitute “extremist materials.” The ruling stems from an edited image depicting Putin in heavy drag makeup posted last year to the social network VKontakte. Those who share or display such images can now face a fine of 3,000 rubles ($52) or a 15-day detention. Putin is known for his cultivation of a personal mythos of hypermasculinity, with widely publicized photos showing him riding horses shirtless or sporting weaponry. Putin is also notorious for enacting deeply homophobic legislation—including a ban on adoptions by LGBT couples, the legalized detention of suspected gay citizens and tourists, and the classification of potential “homosexual propaganda” as pornography. This has led to allegations about Putin’s sexuality to become a common protest tactic, a trend this legislation is designed to stifle.
09 The FBI has recovered a stolen Norman Rockwell painting, 40 years after its disappearance.
(via the New York Times)
The Rockwell work, which depicts a slumbering child and his dog, was stolen during a home burglary in 1976. Originally purchased for no more than $100, over the intervening years the piece’s value has reached an estimated $1 million. Decades after the theft—and a few years after the original owner, Robert Grant, passed away in 2004—Grant’s son, John, was inspired to rekindle the search. On the 40th anniversary of the work’s theft, the FBI issued a news release and several Philadelphia outlets ran the story. The renewed attention did the trick as the painting had ended up in the possession of an art dealer who was unaware of its provenance. The dealer turned it over to authorities and the FBI subsequently returned the painting to John Grant last week.
10 A court cleared the Polish government’s controversial takeover of the country’s Museum of the Second World War.
(via New York Times)
The institution will fall under control of the Polish government following Wednesday’s decision by the Polish Supreme Administrative Court. Opened in March in the city of Gdańsk, the museum was conceived to be Europe’s most exhaustive public exhibition on World War II. However, indication that Poland’s right-wing government will seek to alter the museum’s historical direction has ignited a protracted debate. Museum director Pawel Machcewicz curated a permanent exhibition that adopts an international perspective on the histories of Polish citizens, Eastern Europeans, and Nazi Germany’s persecution of Jews. The current Polish administration has long criticized Machcewicz—an appointee of the previous centrist government—placing his future with the museum into question. Poland’s culture ministry has expressed its vision for a more nationalist perspective, one more narrowly focused on Polish losses during the Battle of Westerplatte. Culture Minister Piotr Glinski had previously argued that such a change in conceptual direction would greatly benefit the museum. And on Wednesday, Machcewicz criticized the court’s ruling, expressing his uncertainty over the permanent exhibition’s future integrity.
Cover image: detail of a portrait of Glenn O’Brien by Peter Ross via Instagram (@peterrossportraits)