Guggenheim Exhibition Embroiled in Animal Cruelty Controversy—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 Guggenheim pulled three artworks featuring live animals from a forthcoming exhibition amid protests against alleged animal cruelty.
The Guggenheim blamed unspecified but “explicit and repeated threats of violence” for the removal of the pieces, two videos and one sculpture, from “Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World,” which opens to the public October 6th. Controversy around the exhibition erupted late last week and initially centered on Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other (2003), a video piece by artists Sun Yuan and Peng Yu that shows restrained dogs on treadmills attempting to fight one another. The work quickly drew criticism, with a petition calling for “cruelty-free” exhibits at the museum gaining 40,000 signatures in less than 24 hours. A Case Study of Transference (1994), a video showing live pigs mating, and Theater of the World, the exhibition’s titular work of live insects and reptiles devouring each other, will also not be shown. While animal rights activists and some art historians applauded the move, critics charge that the museum is censoring the works. PEN America called it “a major blow to artistic freedom.” Artist Ai Weiwei, whose work is included in the show, also critiqued the museum. “When an art institution cannot exercise its right for freedom of speech, that is tragic for a modern society,” he told the Times.
02 Police raided a Berlin theater on Thursday to disband a six-day occupation by anti-gentrification protesters.
Artnet News reported that 20 protesters from the art collective Dust to Glitter were removed from the Volksbühne, or “People’s Theater.” They had been staging a protest “to recapture the venue’s freewheeling spirit and protect it from becoming increasingly corporate and exclusionary under its new director, Chris Dercon, the former director of Tate Modern in London,” artnet News said. Dercon had offered them the use of two portions of the Volksbühne for their occupation, so they could continue to protest but the building could still be used by staff and performers who needed to rehearse, but the collective refused. After negotiations about the theater’s management structure and other issues broke down, Dercon filed a police complaint on Wednesday night, according to Hyperallergic. The international artist coalition Hands Off Our Revolution and the art platform e-flux subsequently published an open letter to Dercon encouraging him to seek “a resolution of this conflict through dialogue and engagement with the cultural community.” It is not clear what the protesters will be charged with.
03 Art historians have discovered a 1620s Rubens masterpiece, missing for almost 400 years, hanging in a historic Glasgow house.
Dr. Bendor Grosvenor, a writer and art historian, spotted the portrait of George Villiers, First Duke of Buckingham, in the Pollok House in Scotland, and suspected it might be by 17th-century Flemish Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens. Previously dismissed as “merely a copy,” Rubenshuis Museum experts in Antwerp reportedly confirmed the authenticity of the portrait, which shows the the duke (and lover of Scottish King James VI). Sir William Stirling Maxwell, an art collector and former owner of the Pollok House, likely purchased the work in the late 19th century, which is now worth tens of millions of pounds, according to The Scotsman. Glasgow Museums, which maintains the art collection of the Pollok House, announced that the artwork will go on display in its flagship gallery, Kelvingrove. David McDonald, chair of the organization responsible for running the museums, Glasgow Life, said, “we are beyond delighted to discover the painting is by Rubens, an artist renowned globally as one of the most important painters in history.”
04 MoMA PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach is helping relief efforts for those in Puerto Rico affected by Hurricane Maria.
The hurricane was the worst to hit Puerto Rico in nearly a century, causing power to go out for the entire island. Biesenbach will be accepting donations at PS1 at least through October 9th. “Biesenbach has been active in storm relief efforts since Hurricane Sandy devastated his part-time home and curatorial space in the Rockaways,” artnet News reported. He also worked on organizing a procession through the Puerto Rican jungle in January of this year, as part of a work by artist Papa Colo. Biesenbach told Artforum there is also a Facebook group where people can find out what supplies are needed and communicate with those on the island. “Among the items considered necessities for those impacted by the storm are solar-powered chargers, lanterns, radios, gas stoves, headlamps, batteries, baby items, and USB car chargers, as well as medications for asthma and allergies, immune system boosters such as Emergen-C, and equipment for cleaning up debris such as masks and gloves,” Artforum reported. Readers can also donate directly to the Hurricane Maria Community Relief & Recovery Fund here.
05 A work at Skulptur Projekte Münster was vandalized with a swastika for the second time this summer.
The sculpture, Sketch for a Fountain (2017) by artist Nicole Eisenman, was vandalized last Friday night ahead of the German elections, that saw Germany’s far-right, anti-immigrant party Alternative for Germany, or AfD, enter the country’s parliament with almost 13 percent of its seats, according to the BBC. The sculpture “was spray-painted with a swastika, a phallus, and other imagery,” ARTnews reported. On her personal Facebook page, the artist related the incident to the rise of the German far right. This is the second time Eisenman’s work for the institution has been attacked this summer, the first instance occurring July. “We are deeply disgusted by such a violation and understand this as an attack against the values of the work,” Skulptur Projekte Münster’s organizers said in a statement. The sculpture, described by ARTnews as “a plaster and bronze fountain made up of a group of androgynous figures,” dealt with “ambiguity and non-normative body politics,” in the words of the Skulpture Projekte team. The team reported that another nearby sculpture of an 18th-century feminist poet was similarly denigrated.
06 Frieze Art Fairs has appointed Loring Randolph as Artistic Director (Americas).
The fair announced on Monday that Randolph will take up the post in mid-October. Randolph, who spent 11 years as a partner at Casey Kaplan, will play a “key role” in shaping the mission and form of Frieze New York, according to the fair’s press release. She will also serve as a liaison for galleries and collectors across the Americas. “I am delighted to be joining Frieze, to build on the integrity of Frieze New York and continue to grow the Frieze presence throughout the Americas,” Randolph said in a statement. She replaces Abby Bangser, who moved to the Dia Art Foundation in May, as the liaison for galleries, curators, and collectors from across the Americas and of Frieze New York. “Loring will bring dynamism and new perspectives to her role as Artistic Director (Americas), I am thrilled to welcome her to the Frieze team and I am really looking forward to working with her on Frieze New York,” added Victoria Siddall, director of Frieze’s New York, London, and Masters fairs.
07 A cartoonist from Equatorial Guinea known for criticizing the country’s dictator has been arrested.
Ramón Esono Ebalé was arrested in mid-September when he was visiting the small, oil-rich West African nation to renew his passport. Esono, who goes by the pen name Jamón y Queso, had been living in exile in Paraguay. He had been a critic of the country’s ruthless dictator, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, using cartoons described as “crude and outrageous and…focus[ed] squarely on President Obiang and his repressive leadership.” In 2014, he wrote a graphic novel called “Obi’s Nightmare,” in which Obiang wakes up as a normal Equatorial Guinean citizen and experiences all of the attendant indignities; it is possible a copy may have fallen into the wrong hands, prompting his arrest. Esono is now being held at the notorious Black Beach prison, where political prisoners have been known to experience torture, and the withholding of medical treatment and food.
08 The Studio Museum in Harlem unveiled plans for its new David Adjaye-designed building, with construction to begin in 2018.
(via the New York Times)
The museum space is set to close in January 2018, the museum’s 50th anniversary, and re-open in 2021. During construction, interim projects will continue in other locations. The museum has already raised $125 million as part of recent fundraising efforts, 70 percent of its $175 million goal. The Studio Museum is a major showcase for African-American art, and under the leadership of director Thelma Golden, the institution cemented its reputation as a national institution and local community center. It also provides “a model of how to develop racially diverse trustees, staff members and audiences,” notes the Times. The museum’s success and upcoming renovation is due in large part to Golden, who is rumored to be under consideration to fill vacant top posts at other museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She has also received praise from the many members of the art world, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s director, Michael Govan, and director of the Museum of Modern Art, Glenn Lowry.
09 An Osaka court ruled that tattoos are not art in a case that attracted international attention to Japan’s laws restricting body art earlier this year.
(via Japan Times)
The court found tattoo artist Taiki Masuda guilty of violating the country’s Medical Practitioners’ Law, which prohibits administering tattoos without a doctor’s license. Masuda, who operated a tattoo parlor in Osaka, was charged with tattooing three individuals in 2014 and 2015. He was convicted by a lower court earlier this year and ordered to pay ¥300,000 (roughly $2,700). Masuda appealed, arguing that tattoos are works of art and forms of self-expression, not medical procedures that require a doctor. The district court disagreed in a ruling Wednesday, citing health concerns related to tattooing. “Unless carried out by a doctor, there is a danger to health and no guarantee of sanitation, making this a medical activity,” Osaka District Court Judge Takaaki Nagase wrote in his ruling. Though Nagase cut Masuda’s fine in half, his lawyer Michiko Kameishi charged any fine sends a troubling message to tattoo artists. “The point is not whether he had to pay even ¥10,000 but that the ruling was unfair. He shouldn’t have had to pay anything,” Kameishi told the Japan Times.
10 The inaugural $250,000 “Sotheby’s Prize” will be split between the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and Duke University’s Nasher Museum of Art.
The award was created to support and expand “thought-provoking museum exhibitions….that explore overlooked or under-represented areas of art history,” according to the press release. The five-member jury (which included eminent art world figures such as Okwui Enwezor and Sir Nicholas Serota) considered 92 applications for the prize. The panel ultimately awarded $125,000 each to the MCA Chicago for “Many Tongues: Art, Language, and Revolution in the Middle East and South Asia,” slated to open on October 26, 2019, and to the Nasher Museum for “Pop América, 1965–1975,” which is planned to debut on February 21, 2019. “In one instance, we are helping to turn a big idea into reality and, in the other instance, we are enabling the fulfilment of a fully-researched concept that now needs to be executed,” Serota said.
Cover Image: Photo by David Heald © The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York.