Guggenheim Offers Gold Toilet to White House—and the 9 Other Biggest News Stories This Week

Artsy Editors
Jan 26, 2018 9:10PM

01  The Guggenheim declined the White House’s request to borrow a Vincent van Gogh painting, offering Maurizio Cattelan’s solid gold toilet in its stead.

(via the Washington Post)

The New York museum’s emailed response, dated September 15th, was reported by the Post Thursday. Written by the Guggenheim’s chief curator, Nancy Spector, the email references the White House’s desire to hang van Gogh’s Landscape With Snow (1888) in President Trump and the First Lady’s private quarters. Spector goes on to explain that, due to the work’s inclusion in an upcoming show at the Guggenheim Bilbao, the request cannot be accomodated. Instead, she proposes an alternative: a fully-functioning, 18-karat-gold toilet that had recently been on view at the museum in a fifth-floor bathroom. The work, titled America, was offered up by its creator, Italian artist and provocateur Cattelan. “The work beautifully channels the history of 20th-century avant-garde art by referencing Marcel Duchamp’s famous urinal of 1917,” Spector writes. The Guggenheim confirmed the email’s authenticity; the White House has not commented on the exchange.

02  The Los Angeles County Museum of Art announced plans for a satellite campus in the historically underserved South Los Angeles neighborhood.

(via the New York Times)

The Los Angeles City Council voted Friday to give LACMA a 35-year lease to an 80,000-square-foot South Los Angeles building once used to store buses and trains. LACMA plans to transform the structure into a cultural and contemporary art center for the majority Hispanic and African American neighborhood. Museum director Michael Govan, speaking to the New York Times, noted the district housed some of the city’s neediest students who may not have access to the institution’s Wilshire Boulevard location. Govan put the cost of renovating the old industrial warehouse at $25 million to $30 million, noting the new structure would also include space for on-site art storage, which LACMA currently lacks. The museum is also looking to acquire a second site in South Los Angeles and county officials have already identified another potential location. Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, which has awarded LACMA $2 million to acquire the new sites and develop community programming, called the museum’s plan “a radical idea, not being done at this scale by any museum in America.”

03  American painter Jack Whitten, long celebrated for his abstract compositions, died at age 78, his gallery confirmed Sunday.

(via Artsy, ARTnews)

Whitten was renowned for his boundary-pushing abstractions called “Slabs” from the early 1970s, which earned him a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum in 1974, thrusting the Alabama-born, Cooper Union-educated black painter into the art world’s center stage. From the outset of his five-decade career, though, Whitten worked in many styles, from traditional formalism to experimental modernism. In 2011, Whitten created his acrylic mosaic Apps for Obama, which depicts the artist’s vision of the former president’s iPad; five years later, Obama presented Whitten with the prestigious National Medal of Arts in September 2016. Hauser & Wirth, which has represented Whitten since 2016, announced his death on Sunday evening, calling him “an artist of endless inventiveness, originality, and honesty, as well as a wonderful friend. His intelligence, compassion, and love for life have influenced all of us who knew and worked with him.” A major survey of the artist’s work, which has been in planning since last year, will open at the Baltimore Museum of Art this April and travel to New York City’s Met Breuer in September.

04  Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum canceled an Ettore Sottsass exhibition amid conflict with the artist’s estate.

(via the New York Times)

An exhibition of the Italian designer’s work that was scheduled to open in Amsterdam later this year was abruptly cancelled last Friday. Jan Willem Sieburgh, the Stedelijk’s interim managing director, said the decision was motivated by the estate’s wish to exercise outsized curatorial control over what works would be included in the show and how they would be displayed—and to speak out publicly against the show if it proceeded without their approval. Sottsass’s heirs and the Gallery Mourmans, which represents the Sottsass estate, “gave too little scope for interpretations we wished to explore in the presentation,” Sieburgh said in a statement. “When all is said and done, analysis and research remain at the heart of a museum’s core academic mission.” A design curator at the Stedelijk said talks with the heirs and estate faltered after the Metropolitan Museum of Art mounted a Sottsass show that received only mixed reviews last year. But the designer’s heir and a representative for the estate called the museum’s account “misleading” in a statement to the Times. They allege that the Stedelijk organized the show in an “adversarial and divisive fashion”—charges the museum denies—and did not share detailed plans about what works would be included. The cancellation is the latest bump in a rocky spell for the Dutch museum, which saw the resignation of former director Beatrix Ruf last year, over conflict of interest allegations.

05  Former South Korean culture minister Cho Yoon-sun was sentenced to a two-year prison term for her role in creating a blacklist of the country’s artists.

(via Channel NewsAsia)

A South Korean appeals court handed down the sentence on Tuesday, reversing a lower court’s July acquittal of Cho on charges related to the blacklist. The existence of the list, which named 10,000 artists banned from receiving state funds for political reasons, became public in 2016. Outrage over the document fueled growing protests against then-president Park Guen-hye, who was impeached in December of 2016 and is currently facing a corruption investigation into her time in office. Cho’s sentence comes after five other officials, including one other former culture minister, were handed stiff prison terms of between 18 months and three years in connection to the blacklist’s creation.

06  Several French cultural figures have signed a letter asking the city of Paris to abandon its plans to install a memorial sculpture by Jeff Koons.

(via the New York Times)

The design for the as-yet-uncompleted sculpture, Bouquet of Tulips, was donated by Koons to the French capital in November 2016 as a memorial to the recent terrorist attacks that have taken place in the city. But Koons, one of the world’s richest living artists, didn’t donate the $4.3 million needed to create 40-foot-tall sculpture, which was raised separately via donations. And the work, slated for installation in front of the Palais de Tokyo and Paris’s Museum of Modern Art, has attracted opposition. In a letter published in the French newspaper Libération on Sunday, signatories—including Frédéric Mitterrand, the country’s former culture minister—demanded that the city halt its plans to install the sculpture, calling it “shocking.” It further criticized Koons for using the opportunity as a publicity stunt, as the sculpture’s planned location is in a tourist-heavy area far from where the 2015 terrorist attacks actually took place. “We appreciate gifts, [but ones that are] free, unconditional, and without ulterior motives,” the letter said. In any case, Parisian officials have not yet granted authorization to install the sculpture, according to the New York Times.

07  A sculpture of an angel by Greek artist Kostis Georgiou was stolen from its perch in Athens and damaged by protesters, who claim the work resembled Satan.

(via Reuters)

Titled Phylax, which means “guardian” in Greek, the 26-foot-tall red sculpture of a figure with angelic wings was installed above a busy road in the Athenian suburb of Palaio Faliro last December. The sculpture, created by the Athens-based artist Georgiou, quickly sparked criticism from local residents and religious conservatives, who thought it resembled a devil. On Wednesday, January 17th, roughly 10 to 15 protesters pulled the sculpture down under cover of darkness, then drove away with it dangling from a truck. The toppling was the latest in a series of actions against the work, which had previously been splattered with white paint by locals and splashed with holy water by a Greek priest in an exorcism attempt, according to Reuters. The town’s mayor, Dionysis Hatzidakis, said the sculpture was “severely damaged” from the heist, but Georgiou assured local news outlets that his work was transferred to a safe location. The controversy around the sculpture has left the artist “speechless,” and he told Reuters it “should remain down on the ground as a memorial of the irrational rationale.” Hatzidakis, meanwhile, has filed a lawsuit to track down the attackers, who he suspects are far-right political protesters.

08  The Louvre Abu Dhabi faced international criticism after it displayed a map of the Lower Gulf region without the Qatari peninsula.

(via The Art Newspaper)

The map, which completely omits Qatar, was designed by the newly opened museum and included in a children’s exhibition to illustrate the exchange route of an ancient vase. An image of the mishap taken by a U.S.-based researcher went viral on Twitter last week, prompting many, including the chairwoman of Qatar Museums, to charge the omission was political. Last June, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) cut diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar. In response, the Louvre Abu Dhabi issued a statement on Monday, assuring the omission was an “oversight,” and has since replaced it with an accurate map.

09  Flooding in Paris closed part of the Louvre, while a leaky roof threatened the Rijksmuseum’s outpost at Amsterdam’s airport.

(via the Guardian and the Art Newspaper)

Officials at the Louvre shuttered parts of the museum and moved artworks to safety as the nearby River Seine continued to flood. The river had risen roughly 13 feet above its normal height as of Thursday, resulting in flooding and travel disruptions. The Guardian reported that officials viewed the situation as “serious but not catastrophic.” The Louvre, which lies within view of the river, was also forced to close due to flooding in 2016. In Amsterdam, weather and a leaky roof threatened 17th-century paintings on view at the Rijksmuseum’s satellite exhibition in Schiphol Airport. The museum said no artwork was damaged by the leak, which began January 15th, but went unreported at the time. The airport exhibition will remain closed until this summer as construction work on the roof continues.

10  Sotheby’s purchased the “taste-based image recognition” startup Thread Genius.

(via Sotheby’s and TechCrunch)

Founded in 2015 by Andrew Shum and Ahmad Qamar, Thread Genius uses algorithms to analyze artwork and suggests similar pieces for customers to purchase. The auction house did not announce the value of the acquisition but TechCrunch reported that it said the sum was “non-material to the company.” Sotheby’s CEO Tad Smith said in a statement that the tools provided by Thread Genius will supplement other elements the auction house considers when matching clients with artwork, such as price point. Shum and Qamar will join Sotheby’s, working alongside Richard Vibert, a data scientist who was recently appointed as the company’s Head of Data & Analytics Strategy. The company’s stock rose slightly in the 24 hours following the announcement of the purchase on Thursday morning.

Artsy Editors

Cover Image: Installation view of Maurizio Cattelan, America, 2016, at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Photo by @loretoriveros, via Instagram.