Hidden “Void” Discovered in Egypt’s Great Pyramid—and the 9 Other Biggest News Stories This Week
01 A team of researchers and scientists have discovered a “void” in Egypt’s Great Pyramid of Giza with the help of particle physics.
In an article published in the journal Nature on Thursday, an international team of researchers detailed their discovery of a previously unknown giant “void” above the Grand Gallery of the 4,500 year-old, 50-story pyramid. With the permission of Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities, a group of scientists entered the Great Pyramid in December 2015 and left several bathroom tile-sized panels containing special photographic film on the floor of the queen’s chamber, an area usually closed to the public. They left the panels, made with nuclear emulsion film, there for more than three months to capture images they could later use to discover new passageways in the pyramid. The film works by recording pictures of tiny particles called muons (like electrons but heavier). The process has previously been used to observe the magma of volcanoes and the inside of Belize’s Mayan pyramids. Physicist Jacques Marteau told Wired that “it’s the same principle as X-rays,” only stronger. Overall, the team of researchers employed three independent measures to verify the 153-foot-long, 26-foot-tall space, which they’ve decided to call a “void” rather than a chamber, as its purpose remains unknown. The team will likely work with specialists on ancient Egyptian architecture as it aims to uncover the void’s ancient uses.
02 Hundreds of works from the famed trove of Nazi art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt went on view this week at a pair of exhibitions in Germany and Switzerland.
(via the New York Times)
The roughly 450 pieces, by artists including Claude Monet and Paul Cézanne, that are on view as part of the dual-venue exhibition “Gurlitt Status Report” are only a fraction of the 1,500 pieces found during a 2012 police raid of the Munich apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt, Hildebrand’s son. A subsequent raid unearthed more works in his Salzburg home. The initial seizure only became public about a year later, and led to early speculation that the collection held $1 billion worth of art, estimates that have since proven wrong. The exhibitions at the Kunstmuseum Bern in Bern and Bonn’s Bundeskunsthalle are the first opportunity for the public to see some of the pieces Cornelius hoarded away in his apartment after the death of his father. Cornelius, who died shortly after the discovery of his work, bequeathed the collection to the Kunstmuseum Bern, but a legal challenge to the will by a distant cousin delayed exhibition. An ongoing investigation into the provenance of the works has so far confirmed that six pieces were looted by Nazis, though many of the works on view are of dubious provenance as well. Though Gurlitt bequeathed his entire collection to the Kunstmuseum Bern, the institution has only accepted works for which the provenance has been firmly cleared.
03 Linda Nochlin, a pioneering scholar who famously shepherded feminist theory into the art-historical canon, died Sunday at the age of 86.
She is best known for her essay “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?,” a searing takedown of gender inequality in the art establishment. First published by ARTnews in 1971, it shook the deep-seated patriarchal underpinnings of the art world by asserting: “The fault lies not in our stars, our hormones, our menstrual cycles, or our empty internal spaces, but in our institutions and our education.” Other groundbreaking writing followed. Woman as Sex Object: Studies in Erotic Art, 1730–1970 (1973) and Women, Art and Power (1988), for instance, combined Nochlin’s incisive intelligence with her passion for communicating art’s cultural influence. Beyond her wide-ranging scholarly achievements, Nochlin is also remembered for her intellectual generosity and consistent support of aspiring art historians over her many years teaching at Vassar College. “She was brilliant, of course,” art writer and former Nochlin student Aruna D’Souza of the trailblazing historian’s far-reaching impact told Artsy. “But she was also kind and empathetic, she was funny and sharp, and most of all she treated everyone as if they had the potential to change the way she, and the field, thought about art. How empowering that was, and how refreshing, too, her determination not to reproduce herself—to support work that challenged her own views, that took unusual paths and awoke new curiosities.”
04 Thousands signed a letter denouncing sexual harassment in the art world, and Artforum contributing editors publicly criticized their publishers, as fallout from the Knight Landesman scandal continues.
Over 150 artists, gallerists, and curators, among others in the art world, penned an open letter last week addressing discrimination and harassment against women in the art industry and distributed it through social media channels with the hashtag #notsurprised. “We have been silenced, ostracised, pathologised, dismissed as ‘overreacting’, and threatened when we have tried to expose sexually and emotionally abusive behaviour. We will be silenced no longer,” it reads. Though the letter was seemingly prompted by sexual harassment allegations against Landesman, who resigned as a co-publisher of Artforum last week, it said, “the resignation of one publisher from one high-profile magazine does not solve the larger, more insidious problem: an art world that upholds inherited power structures at the cost of ethical behaviour.” Around 2,000 people signed the letter before it was released to the public. In a separate message posted to Artforum’s website Wednesday, several of its contributing editors—including Hans Ulrich Obrist and Anne M. Wagner—said they “stand with the magazine’s current and former staff in condemning the publishers’ handling of the allegation of Knight Landesman’s sexual misconduct—as reflected in their original statement.” The letter also expressed “full support” for David Velasco, who assumed the role of editor-in-chief after his predecessor, Michelle Kuo, tendered her resignation from the role on October 18th. “We expect the magazine’s publishers both to assume responsibility and to take all action necessary,” the letter stated. Following the publication of the contributors’ letter, Artforum’s publishers reached out to each of them individually to tell them the publication’s original statement from October 24th, which called the complaint “unfounded,” was made in response to the legal suit and was “in no way intended as a defense of Knight Landesman or any of his actions.” They added, “as publishers, we assume complete responsibility for the statement, despite the profound regret we feel for the making of it.”
05 Cyber criminals are stealing “large sums” from galleries, dealers, artists, and collectors by impersonating them in email correspondence.
(via The Art Newspaper)
The theft involves “straightforward email deception,” in the words of The Art Newspaper. Thieves hack into the email accounts of art dealers and collectors, monitoring their correspondence. When a legitimate sale has occurred and an invoice is sent to a purchaser for payment, the thieves send a follow-up email to the buyer from the seller’s account claiming that the details of the legitimate invoice were incorrect. The buyer is then told to wire funds to a different bank account belonging to the criminals, who then move the money, so that both buyer and seller are unable to recover funds after the deception is discovered. London dealer Laura Bartlett only realized she’d fallen victim to the scam after she called a U.S. client after not receiving payment for a sale. The collector had wired funds to the account of the scammers, who then used the client’s account to send Bartlett a series of emails promising payment and stalling her inquiries. “This particular sale was going to pay a lot of bills,” said Bartlett, who shuttered her gallery shortly after the fraud. Other times, the fraudsters send a gallery or art fair accountant an invoice from the email account of an internal source asking for funds to pay for a fictitious service. Global gallery Hauser & Wirth and Tony Karman, president of EXPO Chicago, were both targeted, but detected the fraud and avoided any loss of funds. The thefts and attempted thefts have raised awareness about the need for cybersecurity across the art industry, which is not known for being on the cutting edge of technology.
06 A judge in a Massachusetts court heard arguments on whether to grant an injunction against the proposed sale of works from the Berkshire Museum’s collection.
The roughly two-hour hearing at Berkshire County Superior Court on Wednesday grew contentious as lawyers for each side debated whether the board of the museum had breached its fiduciary duties and been honest and transparent with its members. They also debated whether the plaintiffs, who include museum members and the sons of Norman Rockwell, whose donated works are due to be sold for tens of millions of dollars on November 13th, had legal standing to pursue the museum in court. The office of Massachusetts Attorney General Courtney Aladro filed a motion Wednesday to join the suit as a plaintiff in case others were found to lack standing. Judge John A. Agostini said in closing “that he would rule as soon as possible, and thanked the crowd for its attention,” ARTnews reported. Agostini had noted at the opening of the hearing that the courtroom typically didn’t see such crowds “except for a few large murder cases.”
07 Sotheby’s CEO Tad Smith reported a third-quarter loss of $23.5 million—slightly better than expected—during the company’s earnings call Friday.
The auction house’s total revenue over that period was $171 million, beating projections by roughly $60 million. The $23.5 million overall loss amounted to a $0.45 net loss per share, above an anticipated $0.67 per share decline (the third quarter is typically the slowest for the New York auction house). Some of the better-than-expected results can be chalked up to $7.4 million that Sotheby’s set aside in 2013 for a potential tax liability. When the statute of limitations on that liability expired, Sotheby’s was able to count that money as income, boosting third-quarter bottom line. “Such an action provided a one-time discrete cash infusion that, while relatively insignificant, made a ripple in this most uneventful of quarters, and was responsible for a $0.14 per share benefit,” reported ARTnews. Smith also cited sales in Hong Kong, the scheduling of which meant they were included as part of the company’s third-quarter this year, for the uptick. Total sales for the auction house nine months into the year are up 13%, according to Smith.
08 Police seized a $1.2 million ancient bas-relief from a dealer at The European Fine Art Fair.
(via the New York Times)
Last Friday afternoon, prosecutors and police officers entered the Park Avenue Armory, the New York home of The European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF), with “with stern expressions and a search warrant,” reported the Times. They left after seizing an ancient limestone relief depicting a Persian soldier from the booth of London-based antiquity dealer Rupert Wace. While police did not provide details around the evidence underpinning the warrant, some experts suspect that the work—which was unearthed during a 1933 excavation of the ancient region of Persepolis, in modern-day Iran—left the country after the Persian government passed a law in 1930 prohibiting the export of antiquities. An Iranian cultural official told the Tehran Times that the relief had been stolen, and “legal follow-ups are underway to first prove that the relic belongs to Iran and finally repatriate it.” But Wace maintains he purchased it legally, telling the New York Times that “this work of art has been well known to scholars and has a history that spans almost 70 years.” He said an art collector donated the bas-relief to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in the 1950s, where it hung until it was stolen in 2011. Authorities recovered the work in 2014, but the museum kept the insurance money it received and left the work to AXA, the insurance company that Wace said sold him the object. As of Friday, the Manhattan district attorney had yet to make any arrests in connection with the seizure.
09 Artist Sean Scully’s former assistant has been arrested for allegedly stealing a triptych and later offering it at auction.
Brooklyn-based artist Arturo Rucci purportedly stole a small three-panel painting from Scully’s Chelsea studio in 2011 before consigning it to Bonhams Auction House. Scully contacted the NYPD when the auction house called to confirm the authenticity of his 1985 work (valued between $400,000 and $600,000) and he realized it was missing. The 50-year-old Rucci has seen modest success as an artist himself since leaving Scully’s employ, exhibiting in various New York galleries and selling work for sums hovering just below $2,000. Pieces by Scully, a famed Irish artist, on the other hand, have appeared at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, Chicago’s Art Institute, and London’s Tate Modern, among other institutions. They generally sell for upwards of $1 million. Police arrested Rucci on Thursday, charging him with “criminal possession of stolen property,” according to the New York Post
10 London architecture firm dRMM won the Royal Institute of British Architects Stirling Prize for its rehab of a disused pier in Hastings, England.
The winning plan transformed the 1872 pier into a wide-open deck with a visitor’s center clad in reclaimed wood. The large, unadorned deck allows flexibility in how it is used, departing from the typical pier plan that has a lot of commercial spaces, such as restaurants or cafes. The design also has “a grand external staircase that doubles as a performance space,” according to dezeen. The annual RIBA Stirling Prize goes to a project “judged to have made the biggest contribution to British architecture in the past year,” dezeen reported. The judges said dRMM’s pier project had “evolved the idea of what architecture is and what architects should do.” Shortlisted twice before, dRMM’s final victory this year follows last year’s selection of Caruso St John Architects for designing Newport Street Gallery in south London.
Cover Image: Pyramids of Giza. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.