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Hobby Lobby Forfeits Thousands of Smuggled Artifacts—and the 9 Other Biggest News Stories This Week

01  The arts and crafts supply chain Hobby Lobby will forfeit thousands of smuggled artifacts to the U.S. Government as part of a settlement announced Wednesday.

(Artsy)

Hobby Lobby seemingly ignored red flags raised by an internal expert about the provenance of the artifacts purchased in 2010, and worked with shady dealers who actively attempted to keep their import out of the view of customs officers. Under the terms of the settlement with the Department of Justice, Hobby Lobby will pay a $3 million fine and forfeit more than 5,500 illicit objects—mainly cuneiform tablets and clay seals—purchased from unidentified agents for $1.6 million at the behest of Hobby Lobby president Steven Green. The government will list the pieces on forfeiture.gov for the rightful owners to claim within 60 days, after which the Iraqi government can submit its own claims. Additionally, Hobby Lobby will have to submit reports on its acquisitions for the next 18 months, work with customs brokers, and abide by industry guidelines governing the purchase of such works while tightening its own internal review processes. “We should have exercised more oversight and carefully questioned how the acquisitions were handled,” Green said in a statement on the company’s website.


02  London’s Old Masters auctions saw strong sales generally, but just a single bidder on a prominent Turner painting.

(via Antiques Trade Gazette and ArtTactic)


Sotheby’s and Christie’s held their Old Masters paintings evening sales this past week, with the total for the two houses coming in at £82.8 million, 16.1 percent higher than July of last year, but shy of the combined pre-sale estimate of £95.5 million for both sales. One highlight was the sale at Christie’s of Francesco Guardi’s Venice: The Rialto Bridge with the Palazzo dei Camerlenghi, for £26.2 million after an extended bidding war. On the other end of the spectrum, J.M.W. Turner’s Ehrenbreitstein, one of the few of the English painter’s famous light-filled landscapes left in private hands, sold “on its revised low-estimate to a lone phone bidder” for £17 million, the Antiques Trade Gazette reports. Sotheby’s evening sale saw 85 percent of its lots sell through, in what Art Market Monitor called “a figure of remarkable strength in this category.”  


03  The postponement of the Met’s $600 million expansion will not impact Leonard Lauder’s gift of Cubist masterworks.

(via the New York Times)


Originally slated to open in 2020, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s David Chipperfield-designed expansion was to house Modern and contemporary art. But the plans were shelved as the institution’s budget deficit continued to grow and director Thomas Campbell resigned amid increasing pressure. Leonard A. Lauder—who pledged his collection of 78 artworks by Cubist masters—firmly rejected any speculation that his gift could be imperiled. The exact terms of the agreement remain confidential, but the Met has until 2025 to create a “suitable” home for the collection, according to information obtained by the New York Times. The Chipperfield expansion would certainly have provided that space for Lauder’s Picassos and Braques, but even after approaching people with a net worth of $5 billion, the Met has been unable to secure donations to cover half the $600 million price tag.


04  A new cybersecurity law in China may impact the country’s artists who rely on the internet.

(via The Art Newspaper)


The new law “requires companies to prohibit anonymity and to monitor and report on their employees’ activities online,” The Art Newspaper reported, and has already been used to crack down on accounts promoting celebrity gossip on the social media platforms WeChat and Weibo. Artists fear the law will have a further chilling effect on China’s already-restricted internet community, which for some artists is a source of inspiration, as well as the medium through which they express themselves and reach their audiences. “Digital restrictions are the backdrop to the work of all Chinese artists, and for some, the so-called Great Firewall—the online surveillance structure that blocks data from foreign countries—provides both subject and medium,” The Art Newspaper reported.


05  Turkish authorities have condemned a German artwork that the country’s foreign ministry argues calls for violence against the country’s president.

(via The Local)


Set up temporarily outside the offices of Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Monday, the installation features a car and a banner that shows an image of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan—among other political leaders—and reads “Do you want this car? Kill dictatorship!” The piece, mounted by the art collective Center for Political Beauty, received a formal rebuke from Turkey’s foreign ministry, which also complained that the local police should have intervened. The dispute is just the most recent source of controversy involving Berlin and Ankara over works of art that mock or challenge Erdoğan. Most notably, Merkel received fierce criticism over her government’s prosecution of German poet Jan Böhmermann, who wrote a satirical poem mocking the Turkish leader. Formal charges that the poem amounted to “abusive criticism” of a foreign leader—illegal under German law—were eventually dropped.


06  The $570 million art collection of Francesco Federico Cerruti will go to Turin’s Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art.

(via artnet News)


The collection belonged to a bookbinder’s son who “made his fortune by growing his family’s business into Italy’s first automated bindery,” artnet reported. Cerruti passed away in 2015, leaving the collection to a foundation along with instructions to permanently lend it to the nearest museum, the Castello di Rivoli. The collection includes works by Francis Bacon, Pablo Picasso, Wassily Kandinsky, Amedeo Modigliani, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, René Magritte, and Andy Warhol, among others, but extends back to the Middle Ages and also includes “various furnishings and rare and ancient books.” While encyclopedic museums have been adding contemporary work to their historic collections, integrating the wide-ranging Cerruti collection into the holdings of the Turin contemporary art museum will be the first time a contemporary institution expands its collection into the past, according to the museum’s director, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev.


07  The Boulder Museum was forced to pull an ongoing exhibition following mass resignations at the museum.

(via the Denver Post)


A statement from the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art’s executive director David Dadone revealed that “Walk the Distance and Slow Down”—an exhibition of works by 29 artists loaned by collector JoAnn Gonzalez Hickey—was taken down at Hickey’s behest. Dadone’s statement links her decision to recent “staff issues.” Last month, the New York Times reported that five full-time employees, at least two part-time employees, and seven contract workers resigned in protest of what they alleged were unfair labor practices. While the Denver Post reports there are no plans to pull other exhibits, this recent decision is evidence of increased pressure facing the museum caused by the walkouts. In an e-mail to the Denver Post, Dadone thanked Hickey for her partnership, writing, “we respect her decision to remove the installation.” In its place, a show of paintings by Jason Karolak opened Thursday. Meanwhile, Dadone said the museum has begun recruiting to fill the recently vacated positions.


08  The Hepworth Wakefield has won one of the world’s most prestigious museum prizes, beating out other institutions on the short list, including the Tate Modern.

(via The Guardian)


The West Yorkshire institution was named the 2017 Art Fund museum of the year on Wednesday, with judges citing its creation of the inaugural Hepworth sculpture prize—and the ensuing national prestige—as one of the key reasons. The David Chipperfield-designed gallery will receive a £100,000 prize, with each of the shortlisted museums receiving £10,000. “Wakefield has suffered economically, socially, it has had more than its fair share of troubles over a long period of time and the fantastic reinvention of the city has been part of our story…we are a major part of that,” said museum director Simon Wallis in accepting the award.


09  London Mayor Sadiq Khan announced a city-wide cultural competition among the city’s 32 boroughs.

(via BBC News)


The London Borough of Culture Award is part of an effort to “reach out to our neighbours and celebrate London’s unique and diverse culture,” Khan said. In February 2018, two winning boroughs will be announced—one for 2019 and another for 2020—with each receiving over £1 million to help fund cultural events and initiatives. The prize is supported by a £300,000 grant from City Bridge Trust and additional money from London cultural institutions, among them the Barbican Centre, the Museum of London, and the National Trust. The Heritage Lottery Fund and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation have also dedicated their assistance to helping winners secure additional funding. According to a statement by City Hall, winning boroughs will be “chosen based on their artistic vision and ambition to deliver outstanding cultural initiatives in their local area,” in a community-based approach. The deadline for competition submissions is December 1.


10  A recently discovered photograph may suggest Amelia Earhart survived her famous disappearance.

(via the New York Times)


Eighty years ago Sunday, Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan plunged their twin-engine Lockheed Electra into Pacific waters. Or maybe not, as a recently uncovered National Archive photograph may suggest. A longstanding theory—one that conflicts with official governmental reports—is that Earhart was captured on the Japanese island of Saipan in 1937, not long before the U.S. went to war with Japan in 1941. The theory’s latest support comes from a photograph discovered by retired federal agent Les Kinney that purportedly shows Earhart on a Marshall Islands dock, facing away from the camera beside Noonan and the Electra. Concurrently, National Geographic is leading a team to investigate competing claims by Ric Gillespie, executive director of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery. Gillespie asserts that Earhart landed in an atoll over 1,000 miles from the Marshall Islands, where past investigations have turned up airplane fragments and cosmetic jars. Despite recent developments, this decades-long mystery will likely remain unsolved for the foreseeable future.


Cover image: Cuniform tablet, via the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

Artsy Editors