Louvre Sees $10 Million Loss Following Attacks—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 Due to a 15% drop in attendance last year, the Louvre has reported a $10 million loss.
In the wake of recent terrorist attacks in Paris and across France, the Louvre saw a significant dip in visitor numbers and profits in 2016, compared to 2015 figures. Louvre director and president Jean-Luc Martinez estimated that 2016 brought in 7.3 million visitors, 15% less than in 2015, at a loss of at least $10.2 million. He added that revenues from bookshops and restaurants had also declined. The number of French visitors to the city did not see the same decline in 2016 and the number of school group visits leveled shortly after the 2015 Paris attacks. The museum also faced threats of flooding and a fire in June, resulting in four days of closures in order to ensure the wellbeing of its collections. Despite reduced audience sizes, renovations to the entrance hall appeared to boost visitor satisfaction in 2016. Some 70% reported that they were “very satisfied” with their experience at the Louvre, compared to 53% in 2015. Though it draws a much smaller crowd each year, the Centre Pompidou, in contrast, saw a 9% increase in international tourists, reporting 3.3 million visitors in 2016.
02 Influential British art critic and novelist John Berger, whose hit television series “Ways of Seeing” upended existing notions of understanding art, died Monday at the age of 90.
(via the New York Times)
Berger’s 1972 BBC series was followed by a book of the same name, which sold more than a million copies and became a standard text in art school classrooms worldwide. He fought against what he considered to be centuries of elitist formal criticism, focusing instead on how political and social environments shaped artwork—from explorations of the male gaze in Western art to claims that oil paintings were capitalist symbols of material wealth. During a decade-long stint as an art critic at the New Statesman, he bashed Jackson Pollock and the Abstract Expressionists in favor of realism, and frequently championed little-known artists. This controversial, sometimes antagonistic approach would define his career, engendering both devoted fans and harsh critics. Although his influence in the art world was significant, Berger also wrote a number of critically acclaimed novels and screenplays; his book G., published in 1972, won the Booker Prize.
03 The Polish government purchased a private art collection that included da Vinci’s Lady With an Ermine (1489–90) for $105 million—a price well below its market value.
Polish deputy prime minister and minister of culture Piotr Glinski signed the agreement last Thursday, ensuring that the renowned Czartoryski family collection will remain in the country indefinitely. The more than 300,000-piece collection is over two centuries old and ranges from historic documents that belonged to Polish royalty to 593 prized artworks by masters such as Rembrandt, Renoir, and Dürer. The da Vinci work alone is insured for €300 million when it travels, and the full collection is estimated to be worth some $2 billion. Cognizant that the purchase was “way below the market price,” Glinski described the transaction as more akin to a “donation.” The president of the Czartoryski Foundation said that by accepting the offer, he was “basically following in the footsteps of my ancestors, who always wanted to serve the Polish nation.” Despite the change in ownership, the objects will remain at the cultural institutions where they currently reside; most are at the National Museum in Krakow. The decision continues ongoing efforts by the right-wing Polish government, which took power in late 2015, to instill nationalism and pride in cultural heritage.
04 Tourism in Egypt has seen a steep decline following the 2011 revolution, making it increasingly difficult to fund preservation efforts for the country’s many iconic heritage sites.
(via artnet News)
Egypt is home to some of the world’s most stunning remnants of past civilizations, including the Great Pyramid of Giza, the last of the Seven Wonders of the World. Maintaining the country’s numerous monuments and antiquities requires approximately 38,000 employees; the cost to pay them all has become particularly daunting in the face of decreasing visitor numbers. Tourism dropped from 15 million people in 2010 to 6.3 million in 2015, resulting in a $182-million decrease in revenue from entrance tickets to historical sites. One Egyptologist and professor in Cairo described the situation as “catastrophic.” To mitigate the deficit, antiquities minister Khaled el-Enany has increased visitor hours for the Egyptian Museum and pushed to open additional sites to public access.
05 New legislation may reinstate museum loans between the U.S. and Russia, following a six-year hiatus.
(via The Art Newspaper)
The act, approved by the U.S. Senate and signed into law by President Obama on Dec. 16th, will give new protections to works of art loaned to the U.S. by foreign institutions. Russia ceased to loan art to the U.S. in 2011, after a federal judge ordered Russia to return a collection of books stolen by Bolsheviks to an Orthodox Jewish community in New York. Russia refused, and the dispute caused gridlock between the two powers as museums in both countries stopped exchanging loans. Mikhail Piotrovsky, the director of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, believes this new law allows the American government to provide a guarantee that all loaned works will be returned to the exhibition’s home country. However, the resumption of loans will depend on how the Russian government responds to the legislation. Piotrovsky’s comments come amid increased tension between the Russian government and the Obama administration following Russia’s alleged interference in the U.S. election—but also amid an anticipated thaw of U.S.-Russia relations under a Trump administration. The law was supported by the American Association of Art Museum Directors, though opponents (including Marc Masurovsky, co-founder of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project) claim that it will make it “virtually impossible” for oppressed communities whose belongings have been seized to seek return through the U.S. courts.
06 Police arrested eight artists in the midst of protesting heavy air pollution in Chengdu, China.
In mid-December, as Sichuan Province faced severe levels of smog, a group of artists organized via WeChat to stage a silent protest by donning face masks and walking across the city. When they stopped to take a break, a group of more than 20 police officers confronted them; eight artists and one passerby were arrested after arguments broke out. One of the artists who was not arrested said, “Chengdu’s air pollution is really severe, I’ve been feeling unwell. [I thought] we want to take some action, we should stand up,” adding that the protestors had not broken any regulations. Due to the country’s reliance on coal heating, parts of China are often stifled by smog during the winter. The week following the arrests, art students in the city of Xi’an covered 800 lion statues with face masks in an unrelated demonstration; in late December, the Beijing artist Liu Bolin wore a vest covered with 24 smartphones to livestream the severe pollution in his city during a time that residents were advised to stay indoors.
07 France has placed an export ban on a €15 million Leonardo da Vinci drawing, granting the government 30 months to buy the work.
(via The Art Newspaper)
The work—a pen-and-ink study of Saint Sebastian tied to a tree, with optical studies sketched on the back—was discovered by Paris auction house Tajan and announced last month. Tajan has now requested an export certificate, according to Le Journal des Arts, which gives the French government 30 months to buy the work at its fair international market value. Should the government fail to purchase the work during that time, the temporary export ban will be lifted and the drawing can be sold elsewhere. In a statement, the ministry of culture noted that this “rare item… is precious testimony to the genius of Leonardo da Vinci; it is essential that it is kept [in France].” Experts note that this is the first undisputed da Vinci drawing discovered in over a decade. The last, a chalk-and-ink study of Hercules and whirlpools, surfaced in 2000 at Sotheby’s.
08 Online art marketplace Artspace has reportedly laid off nearly three-quarters of its staff.
As ARTnews’s Nate Freeman reports, just five of the 19 staffers currently listed on the Artspace website will remain on board. Artspace’s editorial arm appears hardest hit by the layoffs, with editor-in-chief Andrew Goldstein confirmed among those leaving the company. (This comes one month after Artspace unveiled a new print magazine at NADA Miami Beach.) The staffers that will remain at the company are reportedly in the company’s sales and marketing departments. The startup has raised a combined $12.2 million in three rounds; Canaan Partners led its series B in February 2013, before the company was acquired in 2014 by Leon Black-owned publisher Phaidon. CEO Emmanuele Vinciguerra told ARTnews that the move is intended to further integrate Artspace’s offering into that of Phaidon, but will see Artspace retain a dedicated team. Layoffs at Artspace follow cuts at BLOUINARTINFO CORP (formerly Louise Blouin Media), where earlier this week Modern Painters editor-in-chief Scott Indrisek was let go amid renewed reports that the company is failing to pay contractors. Goldstein served as the executive editor of Blouin’s digital arm ARTINFO before leaving to join Artspace in 2012.
09 A UK council in dire financial straits may auction off a £19.5 million Francis Bacon painting to raise funds.
(via the Guardian)
Budget cuts forced the Kirklees Council in West Yorkshire to close two local museums in 2016, with a third set to shutter this year. Although the painting, Bacon’s Figure Study II (1945-46), is estimated to be worth £19.5 million, experts noted that it might fetch three times that amount at auction—a sum that could reportedly fund the borough’s cultural institutions for years to come. The work currently resides in the vaults of the Huddersfield Art Gallery, and council leaders say it is rarely exhibited due to prohibitive insurance costs. A sale could potentially be halted by the Contemporary Art Society, which donated the painting to the Bagshaw Museum in Batley over 60 years ago. A spokesperson from the Society noted that the painting was a “conditional gift,” accompanied by a contract that allegedly prevents it from being sold. Regardless, sales from public collections typically spark ire within the art world; critics claim that they break donors’ trust and disincentivize future gifts. In the past, these sales have been met with serious consequences: In 2014, the Northampton borough council sold a 4,500-year-old Egyptian statue for £15.8 million. Arts Council England responded by revoking the museum’s accreditation through 2019, making it ineligible for certain government arts funding.
10 The Amon Carter Museum of American Art received a $20 million endowment from the Walton Family Foundation, the largest gift in the institution’s history.
(via the Dallas Morning News)
Alice Walton, daughter of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, served on the board of trustees at Amon Carter from 2004 to 2015. Currently, she sits on the board of the Walton Family Foundation and chairs the board of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas. The endowment was presented in honor of late arts patron Ruth Carter Stevenson, with whom Alice Walton developed “a very deep and abiding relationship…almost a kind of mentor-mentee circumstance,” according to Amon Carter executive director Andrew J. Walker. “This was an opportunity for Alice to really acknowledge Ruth and the museum and all that this great staff has done in order to elevate this institution to its world-class status.” The gift, which will be distributed over the course of five years, will go towards exhibitions and educational programming at the Fort Worth museum.