01 On Tuesday, a federal judge ruled that an artwork at the center of a bizarre four-year-long legal battle was not painted by artist Peter Doig.
(via the Chicago Tribune)
U.S. District Judge Gary Feinerman ruled that Doig “absolutely did not paint the disputed work” based on “massive evidence” put forward over the seven-day trial in Chicago. The ruling also determined the creator of the work was actually Peter Edward Doige, a carpenter and amateur painter who has since passed away. Doig—an internationally renowned artist whose paintings are worth millions—insisted that he could not have painted the work. Following the hearing, Doig issued a statement regretting the duration, and the mere existence, of the case: “Today’s verdict is the long overdue vindication of what I have said from the beginning four years ago: a young talented artist named Pete Edward Doige painted this work, I did not.… Thankfully, justice prevailed, but it was way too long in coming. That a living artist has to defend the authorship of his own work should never have come to pass.” Meanwhile, gallerist Peter Bartlow still believes the work is by Doig, while fellow plaintiff Robert Fletcher, who owns the painting, maintains that he brought the case in a desire to uncover the truth about the painting’s authorship, rather than for a potential payday. The painting was estimated to have been worth $6 million if it was found to have been painted by Doig.
02 The Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi was not damaged by the earthquake that rocked Italy on Wednesday morning, but fears mount over destruction to many other historic museums and churches.
The 6.2-magnitude earthquake that devastated central Italy and killed upwards of 260 people this week, with countless others still missing, has left art experts with concerns over the nation’s priceless cultural heritage. Italian officials emphasized that rescue and medical efforts are of top priority, but officials planned to meet to discuss the cultural damages on Thursday. In the northern part of the Lazio region, the town of Amatrice, which has suffered some of the worst damage (it’s estimated that three-quarters of the town is in ruin), was known for its Cento Chiese, 100 churches filled with sculptures, frescoes, and mosaics; among them, the 15th-century church of Sant’Agostino lost half of its facade and a rose window. In the town of Norcia, in southeastern Umbria, historic sites including the 12-century basilica of St. Benedict, 14th-century frescoes, and Roman walls are feared to have sustained major damage. In Assisi, head restorer Sergio Fusetti inspected the Basilica of St. Francis on Wednesday morning and found no signs of the quake. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the church is renowned for its late Medieval frescoes by Cimabue, Giotto, Pietro Lorenzetti, and Simone Martini. Previously, an earthquake in 1997 caused damages to frescoes by Cimabue and the school of Giotto, and destroyed the basilica’s vault; an aftershock of that same quake killed two friars and two specialists who were surveying the church for damage. This most recent earthquake follows another severe earthquake in 2009, which killed more than 300 people and wrecked several towns; some buildings affected this week were still undergoing repairs following the previous disaster. The event draws attention again to the fact that Italy sits on two crucial fault lines, making it susceptible to serious tremors such as these, and thus in dire need of preventative measures to keep its centuries-old infrastructure and cultural heritage, and, more importantly, its people, safe.
03 Data from an artnet and CAA report shows a decline in mainland China’s art market in 2015, while the value of Chinese art overseas continued to rise.
(via artnet News)
According to the fourth annual report from artnet and the Chinese Association of Auctioneers (CAA), there appear to be two distinct trends with regard to the market for Chinese artworks. Total sales in mainland China fell 19% from 2014 to $4.4 billion in 2015, continuing a three-year decline in sales value. Nevertheless, the Chinese art market still makes up 32% of the global total auction sales. Despite the overall downward trends in the mainland, there are still plenty of high-selling individual lots, like Eagle, Rock, and Flora by Pan Tianshou, which, at $43 million, was the most expensive artwork sold at auction in China last year. The report also notes that nonpayment rates remained high, at 41% to 2014’s 45%, and the top five auction houses’ control of the market continues to increase—up to 55% in 2015 from 47% in 2013. “The market in mainland China witnessed one of its worst declines since 2012,” said head of Arts Economics Dr. Clare McAndrew. “In contrast the market outside the mainland was one of the strongest performers in the entire global market.” In fact, while total sales value in the mainland has declined to less than half its 2011 value of $9.3 billion, the total sales value of Chinese art and antiques outside of China has increased by 14% to a record $2.6 billion. This latter statistic is particularly impressive, considering that the global art market value was down 7% in 2015. The average price for Chinese art at auctions outside of China has increased to a four-year high of $54,265, three times higher than mainland China’s average, $17,697. For the first time, there were more lots above $1.5 million sold overseas than in mainland China. Unlike a recent Artprice report, the artnet and CAA data doesn’t break out Hong Kong as its own market. While mainland China has struggled, the art market in Hong Kong has grown significantly so far in 2016. The indication is that jittery mainland buyers looking for safe harbor for their currency may be turning to art sold overseas, including in Hong Kong.
04 A member of a group affiliated with Al-Qaeda has pleaded guilty in a landmark case that saw cultural heritage destruction being prosecuted as a war crime at the International Criminal Court.
On Monday, Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi stood in front of the ICC and admitted that he organized and oversaw the destruction of several holy sites in Timbuktu, Mali, roughly four years ago. Expressing regret and remorse, Mahdi’s confession is a major victory for prosecutors in a case that marks the first instance where cultural heritage was prosecuted as a war crime at the ICC. Under the terms of the plea agreement, prosecutors are recommending a sentence of nine to 11 years out of a possible 30, all while avoiding a potentially lengthy and expensive trial. In statements to the court, prosecutors alleged that Mahdi, a radical Islamist who helmed a so-called morality brigade, “identified the sites to be destroyed” and “provided [followers] the means” to do so. Mahdi was charged with the destruction of nine mausoleums and one mosque during Mali’s period of unrest in 2012, which saw radical Islamist groups targeting ancient manuscripts, historic sites, and other pieces of cultural heritage seen as idolatrous.
05 Ai Weiwei says his work will not be displayed at the Yinchuan Biennale because of “political sensitivity.”
(via Hong Kong Free Press)
In a series of posts on Twitter, the dissident Chinese artist revealed that he had received what he called a “vague” letter from Xie Suzhen, the art director of Museum of Contemporary Art in Yinchuan, which informed Ai that his work would not be shown at the region’s upcoming biennale for unspecified political reasons. Slated to open on September 9th, the Yichuan Biennale, the first in the region and the second in China, is part of a strategy to foist the northwest region into the international art scene. Ai blasted the move on Instagram, writing, “Censorships in communist regions have been present since the existence of the power. Yet it still comes as a surprise to me for an ‘international art biennale’, with over a hundred international artists and a foreign curator participating, to remove a single artist for the reason of defending human rights and freedom of speech. This shows what we face is a world which is divided and segregated by ideology, and art is used merely as a decoration for political agendas in certain societies.”
06 A protected Banksy mural poking fun at government surveillance has been heavily—potentially irreparably—damaged by a construction project.
(via The Guardian)
The Spy Booth mural appeared in April 2014 on the side of a residential building in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, just a few miles from the home of the U.K. government’s surveillance agency, known as GCHQ. The work was granted a special status by Cheltenham borough council in February 2015 which meant that the mural, which depicts three secret agents in trench coats and sunglasses spying on the adjacent telephone booth, could not be removed without prior council approval. Despite this, on Saturday photos began appearing on social media showing the wall of the house on which the mural is painted stripped down to the brickwork and covered by scaffolding and tarps. News spread that the mural was reduced to rubble to allow for repairs on the building to take place. In January, the house was listed for sale for £210,000, but the advertisement for the property made clear that the building was in urgent need of renovations. A Cheltenham MP—who ironically has vocally supported the work of GCHQ—called for an investigation into the construction and the status of the mural.
07 Organizers of Manifesta 11 have been criticized for alleged worker non-payment, though Manifesta’s deputy director stringently denied the extent of the allegations.
(via artnet News)
Christian Jankowski, curator of Manifesta’s 11th iteration, along with the biennale’s commissioner Hedwig Fijen and other event organizers, received harsh criticism from the public during an open discussion held in Zürich this week. The discussion—held to evaluate the event some 75 days into its 100-day run—took place at the Pavillon of Reflections, a floating pier on Lake Zürich designed specifically for the biennale by Architecture students at the Institute of Technology in Zürich. The accusations by some in the audience come after Manifesta took flak earlier this year for allegedly underpaying workers. In advance of the biennale’s opening in June, several Swiss publications reported that workers were offered 3,700 Swiss francs (about $3,840) for limited-time employment during the 100 days of the biennale, and that employees of participating institutions had to take unpaid vacation for the event’s duration and were replaced by volunteers. Fijen maintains that no Swiss laws have been broken and Manifesta’s deputy director Peter Paul Kainrath said that the matter of outstanding payments is being taken care of. When artnet News asked Kainrath to comment on the delayed payments, he replied, “the majority of people… receive their fees and salaries on time; a smaller group of volunteers were not on time in handing over some important documents which needed to be processed to get the right legal status for this kind of collaboration.”
08 According to Syria’s chief of antiquities, nearly 70% of looted objects seized in Syria and Lebanon are fakes.
(via The Art Newspaper)
In an interview on the status of his war-torn country, Syrian antiquities chief Maamoun Abdulkarim said that among the fakes seized in Damascus are 30 ancient Bibles and 450 gold medieval coins, in addition to numerous Korans, mosaic tableaus, and statues. Lebanon is currently the only country working with Syria in its anti-looting investigation. While Abdulkarim does not expect non-participants Turkey and Jordan to return all objects to Syria, he hopes that they will publicly report what they had taken and provide data to UNESCO and Interpol. Abdulkarim also discussed restoration efforts in Palmyra, confirming that more than 90% of artifacts are safe in the city, which was recaptured from ISIS in March. He also asks for the help of the Western community: “I appeal at all times for French archaeologists, British archaeologists, German archaeologists to come.” Concerning Aleppo, he is less optimistic: More than 150 historic structures have been damaged amidst continued violence in Syria’s largest city. The antiquities chief has been acknowledged internationally for his efforts to protect a shared heritage. “I refuse to use our cultural interest for political agendas. It’s our common heritage, it’s our common identity,” he said. “The politics will change, but the heritage won’t change.”
09 Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the U.K. Labour Party, plans to provide primary schools in England with cash to fund arts activities.
(via BBC News)
At Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival, Corbyn announced his plans for an arts “pupil premium” following the model of grants already in place for physical education and athletics. The politician—whose leadership is currently challenged by Owen Smith—pledged to reverse the £42.8 million cuts to central funding and grants to the Arts Councils of England and Wales and Creative Scotland by cancelling the Conservatives’ planned capital gains tax cut. A portion of the estimated £670 million resulting from this CGT cut would go towards providing schools with a cash boost for the arts. In doing so, Corbyn hopes to meet the average spending of EU states on arts and culture (0.5% of GDP) and encourage low-income communities to participate in the arts. “Drawing on Britain’s rich cultural heritage, Labour under my leadership will commit to extending access and participation in the arts to all people and all communities across Britain,” he said. “There is creativity in all of us but we need to give people the opportunities for this creativity to flourish.” Though currently planned for primary schools only, the arts pupil premium could later be expanded to secondary schools. In addition to the proposed grant, Corbyn revealed a number of plans for the arts and culture, including a law that will require councils to provide a library service; a moratorium on the privatization of museum services; increased distribution of cultural funds to the English regions; a national program for arts scholarships; and a discussion of dance and drama in the national curriculum.
10 The Italian government will offer a “cultural bonus” worth over $500 to every 18-year-old in an attempt to balance counter-terrorism spending with an investment in culture.
Starting next month, Italians citizens and legal residents born in 1998 will be eligible to receive a “cultural bonus” of €500 to use towards cultural enrichment. Young people who turn 18 this year will be able to register on a government website and then spend the money through the program’s “18app” app, which participants can download onto smartphones, tablets, or computers. Government undersecretary Tommaso Nannicini said of the bonus, “The message is that our community embraces your adulthood and reminds you of the importance of cultural consumption; not only for your personal enrichment but also to strengthen the country’s social fabric.” The nearly 575,000 teenagers who will benefit from the initiative will have through the end of 2017 to spend their stipend on books, museums, exhibitions, theater, and concerts, but not on recorded music, something the head of the Italian Music Industry Federation Enzo Mazza sees as a snub to the recording industry. When Prime Minister Matteo Renzi announced the program last November, 10 days after the terror attacks in Paris, he said the Italian government would commit to increasing defense and security spending by €1 billion, but that this investment in public safety must be matched by an investment in cultural programs. “We will not give in to terror,” Renzi said. “We have centuries of history that proclaim the fact that culture will beat ignorance, that beauty is more tenacious than barbarism.”
Cover image: @ARIS_ArgoGroup, via Twitter.