Obamas Reveal Official Portraits in Emotional Ceremony—and the 9 Other Biggest News Stories This Week

01  The official portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama were unveiled at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. on Monday.


The official portraits of former United States President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama were unveiled at an emotional and historic ceremony at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. on Monday morning. The stunning depiction of President Obama, by artist Kehinde Wiley, and of his wife, by Amy Sherald, drew gasps and applause as each subject and artist together removed the black veils covering the portraits for a dramatic reveal. Wiley’s portrait shows a seated and solemn Obama leaning forward as if in conversation, his arms crossed, against a background of dense and verdant foliage. Sherald portrayed the First Lady in the artist’s characteristic grey skin tones, wearing a mostly black and white gown by the designer Michelle Smith. “I am thrilled to welcome Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald into our collection,” said director Kim Sajet, who praised them for “taking the best of portraiture traditions and adding a fresh layer.” The two works will go on public view Tuesday at the National Portrait Gallery, which holds roughly 1,600 other likenesses of former presidents in its collection—though few are as expressive as those of the 44th president and the first lady.

02  A group of 21 street artists emerged victorious in their suit against the developer who whitewashed their work from the historic Queens, New York graffiti mecca known as 5Pointz.


A federal judge handed the group a $6.75 million judgment on Monday, ruling the developer’s destruction of the street art violated the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA), which provides certain artists rights over work even if it is not their property. The ruling provides closure for one of the most-watched legal battles in the art world, one that began after developer Jerry Wolkoff whitewashed 5Pointz without specific warning, destroying the graffiti artworks in November 2013. But the impact of the suit may well echo far into the future. The judgement marks the first time graffiti artists have triumphed in a VARA lawsuit and the 50 page opinion penned by Judge Frederic Block gives other graffiti artists hope that they could find success bringing cases under the statute—though they may not be awarded such high damages.

03  The Trump administration’s proposed 2019 budget includes massive cuts to cultural agencies such as the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

(via ARTnews)

Both the NEA and the NEH currently receive about $150 million per year in funding, meaning their budgets are a fraction of a percentage point of the government’s overall spending. But under President Donald Trump’s newly released plan, the NEH would get just $42 million and the NEA only $29 million. By way of explanation, the proposal said: “The Budget proposes to begin shutting down NEA in 2019, given the notable funding support provided by private and other public sources and because the Administration does not consider NEA activities to be core Federal responsibilities.” In his 2017 budget proposal, President Trump called for eliminating both agencies entirely. But following an intense backlash from cultural groups and some elected representatives, Congress actually slightly increased the NEA’s funding. Currently, the NEA is still run by Jane Chu, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, but the NEH has been without a Senate-confirmed chairman since William D. Adams left the post in May.

04  The Hirshhorn Museum postponed projecting artist Krzysztof Wodiczko’s video of a gun onto its giant facade after the school shooting in Florida.

(via The Art Newspaper)

The work by Wodiczko is part of the exhibition “Brand New: Art and Commodity in the 1980s” and depicts a man holding a gun in one hand and a lit candle in the other, both images projected across the entirety of the Hirshhorn’s iconic round exterior and visible from much of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. While the artist said in a statement he supports delaying the projection—“To me, the silence feels most respectful,” he said—several art critics and cultural figures objected to the decision, saying this week’s horrific school shooting made the politically charged work more relevant and necessary. Washington Post critic Philip Kennicott wrote a column urging the museum to put the work back on view and Guillermo Mena, a lawyer and policy leader at the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators, tweeted, “Don’t you think this is the time the Members of Congress need to see that projection?” The site-specific work was made in 1988, but even before Wednesday’s tragedy, Wodiczko knew that it remained relevant in 2018. “The 30-year-old projection appears to me today strangely familiar and at once unbearably relevant,” the artist wrote in the original press statement for the announcement of the piece’s re-installation. Video footage of the original installation is currently being shown in the museum lobby and the Hirshhorn will soon announce when the projection of the work will go on view.

05  Berkshire Museum members vowed to fight an agreement between the museum and the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office allowing the sale of several works from its collection.

(via Sullivan & Worcester LLP and the New York Times)

Three members of the Berkshire Museum said they would continue to fight the sale of 40 works, including the Norman Rockwell painting Shuffleton’s Barbershop, considered to be core holdings of the Massachusetts museum. The institution has argued it needs to liquidate works in order to expand its endowment, revamp the museum, and balance precarious finances. “The petition to which the Attorney General’s office has agreed claims to have convinced it that the museum’s financial condition is indeed perilous, yet the office chose not to require any change in the governance or management of the institution by the board that will now be entrusted with a $50 million windfall,” Nicholas M. O’Donnell, a partner at Sullivan & Worcester LLP, said in a statement on behalf of his clients, who had sued last fall to halt the sale. Earlier in February, the Massachusetts Attorney General and the Berkshire Museum said they had come to an agreement that would allow the museum to sell its prized Rockwell to an as yet unnamed nonprofit museum. The New York Times reported that, under the agreement, the painting will go first to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts for 18 to 24 months after which it may be displayed in other museums in the state or loaned nationally or internationally. Members of the Rockwell family, who had joined separate litigation against the sale, announced on Friday that they would cease their opposition as a result of the settlement.

06  A federal judge ruled that embedding a tweet of a photo of Tom Brady into a news story could constitute copyright infringement.

(via Billboard)

The shocking ruling seemingly upends precedent on whether linking is copyright infringement and has the potential to reshape fair use practices on the internet. The current dispute centers on a photograph of Tom Brady taken by Getty photographer Justin Goldman. The image was subsequently posted to Twitter without permission, and several media outlets including Vox Media and Breitbart embedded that tweet in their reporting. Goldman sued, arguing that the embed constitutes copyright infringement. The publishers countered that they were not hosting the infringing image, merely linking to it. In the past, courts have been guided by what is called the “server test.” Broadly, the rule holds that it is the entities that store the photograph, in this case Twitter, that are liable for the infringement. But U.S. District Court Judge Katherine Forrest found that the server test is not widely adopted, essentially setting it aside. Instead, she found the plain text and legislative history of the Copyright Act of 1976 gives weight to the display of an image, not where the image is stored. The defendants could still emerge triumphant, but if they don’t, an appeal can be filed once the case is decided.

07  Former Queens Museum director Laura Raicovich ‘misled the board’ before her resignation, an independent investigation found.

(via the New York Times)

Raicovich resigned as director in late January, citing divergence between her vision for the institution and the direction favored by the board as the reason for stepping down. But her departure followed a saga that first unfolded last summer, when an event at the museum hosted by the State of Israel to celebrate its 70th anniversary was cancelled and then reinstated after a fair amount of outcry, including one councilman accusing Raicovich of anti-Semitism. The event was eventually held in November, with Vice President Mike Pence as an invited guest. The report, conducted by the law firm Katten Muchin Rosenman, found that Raicovich was staunchly opposed to hosting the event and received support from deputy director David Strauss, who was terminated from his position last month. The investigation, which was made public this week, also revealed that Raicovich had neglected to inform the board that she had edited a book of essays called “Assuming Boycott” that, as the New York Times said, “includes essays strongly supportive of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, known as B.D.S., which is highly critical of the State of Israel.” The report also found that Raicovich had, without first consulting the board, allowed the Queens Museum to be named as a “fiscal sponsor” for a Kickstarter campaign that raised funds for a cultural center on the West Bank. Raicovich flatly denied the characterizations in the report. “I did not mislead the board,” she told artnet News.

08  A small but influential far right political group in Italy is protesting the country’s Egyptian Museum for giving a discount to Arabic speakers.

(via the New York Times)

On February 9th, members of the Brothers of Italy, a far right group, stood outside of the Egyptian Museum in Turin to protest the museum’s newly implemented two-for-one admission for Arabic speakers. With a “No Islamization” banner in hand, the Brothers of Italy secretary Giorgia Meloni declared, “There is racism in Italy––against Italians,” the Times reported. And on Sunday, the party’s head of communications, Federico Mollicone, declared the museum’s promotion to be a “symptom of the illness of the West,” to Italian news agency ANSA. The Brothers of Italy is a member of a right-wing coalition, helmed by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, currently leading in the polls ahead of next month’s general election. The museum’s director, Christian Greco, came outside to confront the group, stating, “The museum belongs to everybody.” Greco asked Meloni, “Why don’t you come to protest when students get in free on Thursdays?” In fact, this two-for-one deal is just one of many admission discounts the museum offers, including discounted fees for couples on Valentine’s Day. Both the museum board and the Italian culture minister Dario Franceschini have responded with support for Greco and the museum’s discount.

09  Artist Lina Iris Viktor said a Kendrick Lamar music video for the Black Panther soundtrack appropriated her work without permission.

(via the New York Times)

Viktor, a British-Liberian artist, accused the team behind the just-released Marvel film Black Panther, which includes a song by Lamar, of a copyright violation over the use of her signature 24-karat gold geometric mark-making aesthetic. In November of 2016, an assistant to Marvel’s set decorator approached Viktor asking to feature one of her works in the film itself. Viktor declined his offer because she “found the financial and artistic terms unacceptable,” according to the New York Times. In December of 2017, she was contacted again, this time by Marvel and Disney through the public relations firm, DDA. Viktor once again declined their offer after considering how the demand that she “enter into an exclusive license for the proposed artworks, thereby foregoing all artistic control,” would affect her inclusion in the upcoming Armory Show, according to a letter issued by Viktor’s attorney. But after the release of Lamar’s music video for “All the Stars”––a song created for the film––on February 6th, which features ornate gold patterning similar to her work, Viktor decided to push back. The music video’s glimmering line-work differs, just slightly, from Viktor’s own. Because the reproduction is not identical, and style is not copyrightable, Viktor’s claim might not pass legal muster, one expert told the Times. This is not the first time a music video has utilized an artist’s style without permission. In 2016, Drake’s “Hotline Bling” music video received criticism for its use of an ethereal light installation that closely resembled the work of artist James Turrell. But while Turrell didn’t object to the appropriation, Viktor sees the usage as an insult and has requested, at minimum, a public apology and licensing fee. Neither Disney, Lamar, his label head Anthony Tiffith, nor the music video director, Dave Meyers, have responded to Viktor or the Times.

10  A museum partygoer is responsible for stealing a thumb from a $4.5 million terracotta warrior on view in Philadelphia, police say.

(via USA Today and the Philadelphia Inquirer)

Security footage caught a man in a Philadelphia Phillies cap strolling into an exhibition of terracotta warriors at the Franklin Institute and breaking off a thumb from a statue known as “The Cavalryman.” The theft of the digit, which occurred during an after-hours event at the museum in December, was noticed by an employee on January 8th. The Federal Bureau of Investigation quickly identified the suspect as Bear, Delaware, resident Michael Rohana, and agents arrived at his house days later to ask “if he had anything in his possession that he wanted to turn over to the FBI,” according to the criminal complaint. Rohana produced the thumb from a desk drawer, and after a court appearance Friday was released on bail. The thumb was returned to the Franklin Institute and a spokesperson confirmed Wednesday that it will be reattached to “The Cavalryman.”

Cover Image: © 2018 Chuck Kennedy. Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, Washington D.C.