Palmyra Recaptured from ISIS—and the 9 Other Biggest News Stories This Week
01 Trailblazing Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid died on Thursday at the age of 65, following a sudden heart attack in Miami, where she was being treated for bronchitis.
02 After 10 months of ISIS occupation, the Syrian city of Palmyra was retaken by government forces earlier this week and investigation began into the extent of the damage done to its ancient ruins.
Following capture by ISIS in May, Palmyra and its antiquities were looted by the terrorist organization while significant sites—including the 2,000 year old Temple of Bel—were significantly damaged. After the town’s recent recapture, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad promised to “restore [Palmyra] anew so it will be a treasure of cultural heritage for the world,” though experts differ over if that will be possible and to what degree. The United Nations heritage and cultural organization, UNESCO, announced they are prepared to go in and assess the damage. According to the Syrian antiquities chief, a preliminary assessment based on photos and field reports indicates that Palmyra’s ruins are in better shape than expected. Satellite imagery, however, seems to suggest that this is an optimistic assessment and that the damage was extensive.
03 Bentonville, Arkansas (pop. 40,000), may soon become the next hotspot for contemporary art after the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art announced plans to convert a former Kraft factory into an exhibition space.
(via the New York Times)
In the scope of the sector, the move isn’t unprecedented—the Tate Modern morphed a derelict power station into a major museum. Yet, unlike the Tate’s London home, Crystal Bridge’s new space will be located in northwest Arkansas, the home of Walmart. Funded by the Walton Family Foundation, the space’s development will be overseen by Steuart and Tom Walton, two grandsons of Walmart’s founder. Hosting everything from films to exhibitions to music, the space will measure some 63,000 square feet and is part of a broader bid to make Bentonville a more enjoyable place to live as well as more attractive to younger people. Though the Walmart fortune has resulted in ambitious art undertakings in Bentonville and the surrounding area, they have not been without controversy, particularly as Crystal Bridges acquired, or attempted to acquire, works significant to particular major cities.
04 Sotheby’s worldwide head of contemporary art, Cheyenne Westphal, becomes the latest in a series of upper-level staff members who have left the auction house in recent months.
Westphal’s 25 years with the company will come to a close in mid-April; her co-head, Alex Rotter, resigned in February. Westphal, who Harper’s Bazaar once lauded as “Sotheby’s secret weapon,” was responsible for such ground-breaking moments as the 2008 artnet News consider the auction house’s shakeup to be “unique in living memory,” and while they have no doubt that Sotheby’s will weather the storm, they predict that the coming years will be challenging. However unprecedented, it’s worth noting that under CEO Tad Smith the company has already begun to shift directions—purchasing art advisory firm Art Agency, Partners and hiring from outside the art world, for instance. Although the departure of a number of senior employees may mean a loss of institutional knowledge, it also may be necessary to make significant changes in the way an auction house traditionally functions.
05 Agnès Saal, currently the public face for high-level corruption in the French civil service, will plead guilty to misuse of funds during her tenure as managing director of the Centre Pompidou and director at the Institut National de l’Audiovisuel (INA).
The scandal came to light in April 2015, when a French paper reported that Saal had racked up a €40,000 taxi bill in 10 months while working for the INA—€6,700 of which was spent by her son. It was also discovered that she spent a similar amount on transportation between January 2013 and April 2014 while at the Pompidou. By pleading guilty, Saal escapes a public trial. It’s a headline unlikely to be repeated in the United States, where museum directors earn exponentially more than their publicly-funded colleagues across the pond. Last year the New York Times noted that while salaries in the $91,000–$170,000 range are competitive in Europe, they would be paltry in American terms. Museum of Modern Art director Glenn Lowry earned $2.1 million in 2013, with a number of other heads of major museums making upwards of $1 million.
06 Tate trustee Elisabeth Murdoch announced the creation of a £100,000 annual prize, dubbed the Freelands Artist Award, intended for a mid-career female artist based in Britain.
Notably, women artists over 50 are welcome to apply—in comparison to the Tate’s Turner Prize, for which 50 is the age cutoff. The news comes on the heels of a slew of female-only shows across the art establishment (and the resurfacing of numerous, under-recognized women artists of the ’60s and ’70s), which might suggest the art world has turned a corner with regard to gender inequality. This new award, which selects its inaugural winner this fall, will further that momentum by working to redress the gender imbalances noted in a recent report commissioned by Murdoch’s Freelands Foundation that explores gallery representation for female artists.
07 The high-profile legal battle between Swiss freeport tycoon Yves Bouvier and Russian billionaire collector Dmitry Rybolovlev will unfold in Singapore court, according to a ruling by the country’s High Court last week.
(via the Straits Times)
The backstory is convoluted, but the pair met 2003, and Rybolovlev began purchasing artworks through Bouvier—38 in total, including pieces by the recently-settled Knoedler trial) has the potential to reveal the inner workings of private sales on the art market, a sector that comprises billions of dollars per year yet traditionally remains shrouded in secrecy.
08 A drawing by Italian Renaissance painter Paolo Veronese that sold to a buyer outside Britain for £15.4 million—making it one of the priciest works on paper the art world has seen to date—will remain in the U.K. until June due to export laws that allow in-country buyers a chance to match the price.
An export license is required for all cultural goods located in the U.K. that are of a certain value and age, a process that offers British citizens and institutions the chance to retain ownership of the item in question. The law made news last week, when a French foundation that purchased a ring thought to be owned by Joan of Arc refused to return the artifact to the U.K. for proper export licensing. But at this particular
09 Austrian museum director Max Hollein has been appointed as the director of the Fine Art Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF), which will see him helm the de Young Memorial Museum and the Legion of Honor beginning June 1st.
(via the New York Times)
Hollein has been a force to be reckoned with during his tenure at Frankfurt’s Schirn Kunsthalle, Städel Museum, and Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung. He joined the Schirn as director in 2001 and in 2006 was appointed director of the further two institutions. Hollein cut his teeth in New York at the Guggenheim, helping to develop initiatives such as the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin and the Guggenheim Bilbao. He took an American affinity for private museum funding with him to Germany, raising over half of the $69 million it took to construct a new expansion for the Städel from private donors. It was created to house a new contemporary art collection, which was also largely sourced via cooperations with corporations such as DZ Bank and Deutsche Bank. Both were novel accomplishments for a European museum. With FAMSF’s low endowment for an organization of its size, this acumen will no doubt come in handy. And considering the cultural influx that the Bay Area is currently seeing—from SFMOMA’s expansion, the newly renovated Berkeley Art Museum, and galleries flocking to Silicon Valley—Hollein’s swap is one among a number of indicators that San Francisco should be near the top of art worlders’ watchlists.
10 Charges of vandalism levelled against Russian artist Pyotr Pavlensky, related to a performance piece in which he set the doors of the Russian national security agency on fire, have been changed by investigators to “damaging a cultural heritage site,” according to the artist’s lawyer.
Pavlensky could receive a sentence of up to three years in jail—the same as the maximum sentence under the old charges. The work, entitled Threat. Lubyanka’s Burning Door, took place in November of last year and saw the artist setting fire to the door of Russia’s Federal Security Bureau (an organization that serves as the successor to the KGB). Referencing the case of Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov, who was charged with terrorism in 2014 for organizing arson attacks on pro-Kremlin party offices in Crimea, Pavlensky has demanded that he be tried for terrorism instead. This news comes a month after organizers of the country’s most prestigious art award rejected Pavlensky’s nomination for Threat, leading to the resignation of several selection committee members and the cancellation of the 2016 prize itself.
—Abigail Cain, Alexander Forbes, Casey Lesser, Isaac Kaplan, and Tess Thackara
Cover image: Ruins of Palmyra’s Temple of Bel in 2010, before its destruction by ISIS. Photo by Bernard Gagnon, via Wikimedia Commons.