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Mona Lisa “Grand Tour” Nixed by Louvre—and the 9 Other Biggest News Stories This Week

01  The Louvre rejected the French culture minister’s idea to send the Mona Lisa on a “grand tour.”

On March 1st, Françoise Nyssen, France’s culture minister, officially floated the possibility of sending ’s masterpiece on a “grand tour,” in order to fight “cultural segregation.” Following the minister’s pronouncement, the Louvre’s director, Jean-Luc Martinez, met with Nyssen to explain how detrimental travel would be for the artwork. The Mona Lisa (1503) has not travelled since 1974, when a woman tried to spray-paint it red while it was on view at Tokyo’s National Museum. Since 2005, the painting has been in a specialized, temperature-controlled, bulletproof box, and experts warn that creating a similar enclosure suited for travel would be impossible. On top of that, a crack that runs through the artwork’s panel would rapidly expand when taken outside of its safe box. With some scientists warning that the crack could rupture the paint layers that comprise the Mona Lisa’s face, the museum has decided that it is best to keep the painting exactly where it is. Prior to the Louvre’s warning, Nyssen conversed with the mayor of Lens, a former mining town with a population of about 36,000 people, about sending the work there. Despite the Louvre’s pronouncement, Nyssen told The Art Newspaper that the idea is “still under consideration.”

02  Art Basel in Hong Kong opened Tuesday afternoon to swarms of VIPs and collectors.

Talk at the fair was dominated by ’s Untitled XII (1975), a masterpiece from the collection of Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen, which sold for $35 million by the Lévy Gorvy gallery in the first hour. “We all said that Asia has arrived, and it has,” noted Adeline Ooi, director of Asia for Art Basel, calling the sale “a testament to the strength of the Asian market.” Indeed, Art Basel in Hong Kong opened one day after visitors flocked to openings at H Queen’s, a Jenga tower of world-class exhibition spaces that are orders of magnitude larger than the broom closets that previously passed for galleries in Hong Kong’s cramped environs. The building houses swaggering mega-galleries Hauser & Wirth and David Zwirner, the first spaces in Asia for both. Pace Gallery secured a floor, as well, its second Hong Kong gallery, as did local stalwart Pearl Lam, which adds another jewel to a crown that already includes a spot in the city, as well as two others in Singapore. All at once, Hong Kong’s burgeoning art scene got a shot in the arm.

03  Billionaire collector Budi Tek announced an unprecedented partnership between the Yuz Museum and LACMA.

(via ARTnews)
The art collector announced what he calls the “marriage” of his Shanghai-based Yuz Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) during a panel discussion at an event hosted by Sotheby’s during Art Basel in Hong Kong. Tek, who is ill with pancreatic cancer, decided the best way to preserve his legacy is to keep his works together as one collection and pair up with LACMA, which can give the art a home with global connections beyond the Yuz Museum’s reach. The partnering institutions will collaborate on exhibitions, and Wu Hung, a Chicago-based art historian, will be a consulting artistic director. “We’re going to connect collections, we’re going to come up with programs that don’t exist anywhere else,” he told ARTnews. This merger is a major win for LACMA, too, whose collection currently has a deficit of Chinese contemporary art. The first exhibition is set for 2019, but the institution that will host it has yet to be announced.

04  Photographer Nicholas Nixon retired from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design ahead of an investigation into his classroom conduct.

(via the New York Times and the Boston Globe)
abruptly resigned from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design (MassArt) earlier this month, according to a letter by college present David Nelson, who said the school “received allegations of inappropriate behavior” by the photographer. Though the letter doesn’t detail the conduct, the allegations prompted an inquiry into whether Nixon violated Title IX, a provision of federal law banning discrimination due to gender. Bruce A. Singal, Nixon’s lawyer, told the Boston Globe that the investigation was prompted by charges that the photographer made “inappropriate comments in the presence of students and staff members.” According to Singal, the investigation, which will continue after Nixon’s resignation, will focus on Nixon’s remarks inside the classroom. Nixon is best known for his series “The Brown Sisters,” a photographic odyssey in which he captured a group of siblings over the course of four decades.

05  An Indonesian tourism park is under fire for featuring close copies of work by contemporary artists Yayoi Kusama and Chris Burden.

The Instagram account Diet Prada, which acts as a social media watchdog for ripoffs, posted about the similarity between an installation of lights at the Rabbit Town park in Indonesia and ’s Urban Light (2008), currently on view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Rabbit Town, which opened in January in the Indonesian city of Bandung, subsequently disabled comments on its own Instagram account. But that hasn’t stopped internet users from pointing out more similarities, including one attraction that bares a striking resemblance to ’s iconic polka-dot rooms, Hyperallergic reported. The Museum of Ice Cream, which has popped up in several cities and been featured in many an Instagram selfie, accused Rabbit Town of ripping off its own name and attractions, as well (the Indonesian park includes an area that is literally titled “Museum of Ice Cream”).

06  Scientists studying King Tut’s tomb determined that brown spots scattered over wall paintings inside, which had sparked concern, are just harmless mold.

(via the New York Times)
For years, scientists and Egyptian authorities have fretted that a slew of brown spots scattered atop paintings lining the walls of King Tutankhamen’s burial tomb in Egypt were caused by tourists visiting the popular site. But this week, a team of scientists from the Getty Conservation Institute in Los Angeles wrapped up a study of the wall paintings and found that the array of blotches are nothing to worry about. After closely comparing a photograph of the tomb taken in the 1920s to the site now, and performing microscopic and chemical testing, the team announced that the spots have a microbiological origin––meaning, in other words, it’s just some dead mold. Prior to this conclusion, many worried that the humidity emitted by sweaty tourists was to blame, or that bat droppings were at the root of the brown dapples. “Now we can say they are mold and fungus but they are dead, no life in them at all,” Neville Agnew, the project’s director, told the New York Times. Still, the harmless spots will be sticking around since they have embedded themselves into the paint, so removing the spots would mean removing the artwork. The research, organized by the Getty and Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities, is a part of a nine-year-long, multimillion-dollar undertaking to study and protect the tomb from further deterioration. In addition to this test, the tomb has seen the addition of ramps, railings, a ventilation system, and a cap to the amount of visitors allowed inside the space at once.

07  The wealthy spent more on art than on wine in 2017, though the latter remains a better long-term investment, according to a new report.

Ultra-high-net-worth individuals (those holding assets in excess of $30 million) spent more on art than on wine for the first time in eight years, according to The Wealth Report, published by consultant Knight Frank and broker Douglas Elliman. Art also performed better last year than any other category tracked by the report, growing by 21% compared to wine, which grew by 11% and landed in second place. But art’s growth over a decade, which clocked in at 78%, was outpaced by wine (192%), as well as several other categories including cars (334%) and jewelry (138%). Part of art’s comparatively poor long-term performance can be attributed to the sector’s volatility, according to artnet News, while the dramatic growth in 2017 partially stems from the record-smashing $450 million sale of ’s Salvator Mundi and the intensified focus on the art market since then.

08  A Bulgarian commission has claimed that influential philosopher Julia Kristeva acted as a secret agent for the Communist regime.

A Bulgarian commission investigating those who worked for the state during the Communist era has claimed that Kristeva, a major postmodern theorist and psychoanalyst, was one of roughly 100,000 people working for state’s clandestine agency. Kristeva began working with the Committee for State Security in the early 1970s, according to the commision, which “did not say how long she had worked for state security or whether she had received any payment,” The Guardian reported. Kristeva, who lives in France and is a visiting professor at Columbia University, could not be reached by the publication for comment.

09  Michael Rakowitz unveiled his sculpture depicting a mythical sculpture destroyed by ISIS in London’s Trafalgar Square.

On Wednesday morning, Rakowitz’s sculpture The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist was unveiled on a vacant plinth in the square’s northwest corner, where it will remain until March 2020. It is the twelfth contemporary artwork to take up residence on the site, which, since 1999, has hosted one-off commissions from art-world giants including , , and . The artwork is a recreation of a statue of a lamassu, a mythical winged beast that, for nearly three millennia, stood at the gates of the ancient city of Nineveh, in present-day Iraq. In 2015, this astonishing artifact was very publicly dynamited by ISIS militants, its destruction recorded for posterity in a widely circulated online video. While the original was heroically carved from Mesopotamian stone, The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist is a work constituted of rather humbler materials: namely, colorfully designed cans of date palm syrup, a commodity once vital to the Iraqi economy.

10  The Louvre remained the most-visited museum in the world last year, though the National Museum of China was close behind.

The National Museum of China clocked in a little over 8 million visitors in 2017 for its first appearance on The Art Newspaper’s annual museum visitor survey, released Monday. The Beijing museum’s tally was only a few thousand shy of the Louvre, which saw 8.1 million visitors in 2017. The most-trafficked exhibition in the world, in terms of daily visitor totals, was “Unkei: the Great Master of Buddhist Sculpture” at the Tokyo National Museum. The Fondation Louis Vuitton’s exhibition of from collector Sergei Shchukin was the most visited overall, welcoming 1.2 million visitors total, and had the second-highest per-day average attendance at 8,926 visitors. Overall, the top 20 exhibitions show a “greater geographical spread” than in years past, The Art Newspaper reported, with shows in Spain, France, and Australia all making appearances.

Cover image: Photo by Brian Chiger, via Flickr.