Politicians Put Art on the Chopping Block—and the 9 Other Biggest News Stories This Week
01 The Australian Council released its multi-year budget last Friday, revealing severe funding cuts that may leave around 65 arts companies and organizations penniless.
(via the Guardian)
During what has been dubbed “Black Friday,” the council divulged figures that show a 28% decline in the number of small-to-medium organizations receiving multi-year funding since the 2013-14 fiscal year. The council also oversaw a precipitous 70% decline in grants to individual artists and projects during the same period. Although this money is offered to a wide swath of cultural players, these numbers are particularly devastating for visual artists because they tend to work alone. Unlike similar stories in recent years, these cuts are not the result of strict savings bills—rather, they are a direct consequence of former arts minister George Brandis funnelling $105 million over four years into his pet project, the National Program for Excellence in the Arts. Another $6 million was bookmarked for a national Book Council that never materialized. These bleak figures are considered by some to be the end result of a series of provisional policies passed by Australia’s Coalition government since 2013, which have tied arts funding in a knot that’s become increasingly difficult to untangle.
02 A week after assuming the role of Brazil’s interim president, Vice President Michel Temer eliminated the country’s independent Ministry of Culture by lumping it in with the Ministry of Education.
President Dilma Rousseff, currently on trial for impeachment, is being charged with disregarding laws around fiscal and budgetary responsibility. If found guilty, Temer could officially become the country’s president—a mixed blessing for Brazilians, since Temer has garnered even lower approval ratings than Rousseff. Already, the vice president has sparked demonstrations with his decision to consolidate the country’s 32 ministries. Thousands of visual artists, filmmakers, musicians, and more have staged protests throughout the week, vehemently opposing the Ministry of Culture’s demotion to a subset of the Ministry of Education. This would mark the second dissolution of the department; the first occurred in the 1990s as then-President Fernando Collor also faced impeachment. As for what these plans might mean for the future of Brazil’s cultural production, the Ministry of Education said, “It’s still too nebulous. These details are still being defined.”
03 Italy forfeited more than €150 million in European Union culture and tourism funding as a result of a string of bureaucratic missteps.
The southern cities of Sicily and Naples are particularly at fault, compared to other regions in Italy that have managed to spend between 70 and 80% of their EU grant money—a figure on par with other European countries. Between 2007 and 2013, the Sicilian government failed to secure funding for a series of projects due to insufficient documentation, discrepancies in their figures, and even a proposal emailed to an incorrect address. The EU also took issue with €70 million spent on events such as a living nativity scene and a 10km road race they say are proof of the region’s “uneven and fragmented” program of cultural tourism. In Naples, only 30% of conservation projects were realized before the 2015 deadline—a loss of around €100 million that could have gone towards restoring churches and monuments found in the city’s historic center.
04 The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced on Monday that divers have discovered a remarkable underwater cache of ancient Roman artifacts from a 1,600-year-old shipwreck.
During a recreational diving expedition in Caesarea National Park in late April, two Israeli citizens encountered the wreckage of a sunken ship. IAA archaeologists later confirmed it to be the remains of a merchant vessel caught in a severe storm during the late Roman period. Experts noted that the artifacts uncovered at the site—including bronze lamps and statues, jars containing drinking water, and, perhaps most notably, two hunks of metal that turned out to be aggregates of thousands of coins stamped with the face of Emperor Constantine I—are in remarkable condition after being preserved beneath the sand. This follows a similar discovery last winter, when divers spotted ancient gold coins in nearby waters.
05 Following a leadership dispute, the $24 million Palestinian Museum lacked an inaugural exhibit when it hosted its opening ceremony on Wednesday.
(via the New York Times)
Located in the occupied West Bank, the museum hosted a formal opening attended by Palestinian leaders earlier this week, though it remains closed to the public. While the space is replete with an outdoor amphitheatre and terraced garden, the museum was conspicuously missing its debut exhibition “Never Part,” a showcase of artistic interpretations of the artifacts held onto by Palestinian refugees who left their homes. Meant to tell the story of Palestinian history, the Palestinian Museum’s walls were left barren following a dispute between the board and director Jack Persekian, who was subsequently ousted. Persekian says the firing took him completely by surprise, though a museum official pointed to complaints with the quality of his three-and-a-half-year tenure as director. Though the museum lacks art, Palestinian leaders hoped the ceremony would imbue a positive spirit, providing an important symbolic energy for Palestinians (the institution is being funded by a non-partisan private entity.) The museum is still expected to open to the public on June 1st, though it remains unclear what exactly will be on display.
06 The storied collection of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art will go on display outside Iran’s borders for the first time this December, as part of an exhibition at Berlin’s National Gallery.
(via artnet News)
Although a potential arrangement between the two countries has been making headlines since last fall, the partnership was confirmed only late last week. The collection dates back to the 1970s, when the shah’s wife, Faran Diba Pahlavi, began buying up Western masterpieces using money gleaned from the country’s lucrative oil sales. Although the TMoCA was completed in 1977, it was promptly shut down two years later when the Islamic revolution ousted the shah. Even now, many of the works—including pieces by
07 Activists staged multiple demonstrations at the British Museum, protesting BP’s sponsorship of the institution during the launch of a major exhibition.
Both groups of protesters take issue with BP’s funding of the British Museum, particularly the company’s underwriting of the “Sunken Cities” exhibition, which opened May 19th. Dubbing the show “Sinking cities,” to highlight the impact of climate change, Greenpeace protesters scaled the museum’s columns and replaced British Museum promotional banners with their own. The act forced the museum to temporarily close on the exhibit’s first day and the police to be called. During the VIP opening the day before, the activist group BP or not BP? staged multiple protests inside the museum, also taking aim at BP’s role in climate change and funding the British Museum. The protests are coming during a time when BP’s funding of British cultural institutions is coming under increased scrutiny. Last month, the Museums Association announced it is investigating numerous museums, including the British Museum, to determine if BP funding had allowed the petroleum company to exert influence on curatorial decisions in violation of museum ethical standards.
08 Almost four years after Hurricane Sandy’s floodwaters damaged millions of dollars in art, several legal cases remain pending against Christie’s Fine Art Storage Services (CFASS).
The cases were brought by several different insurance agencies, who had to pay claims to those whose work was damaged after Sandy flooded Christie’s Brooklyn warehouse in 2012. Two key decisions by New York courts have kept the lawsuits alive. Should CFASS lose in totality, they may have to pay $23 million dollars to the insurance companies. Though several of the insurance companies’ suits were initially dismissed, one case involving XL Insurance has breathed new life into the legal battles. In that case CFASS argued that they could not be held liable for damage by XL Insurance because two clauses in their contract indemnified CFASS from paying damages even if CFASS had been negligent in protecting the art. The lower court partially agreed, ruling that one clause violated state law but the other did indeed protect CFASS from compensating insurance companies for their financial losses. However, in a March ruling, an appeals court overturned the later part of lower court’s decision, and XL Insurance’s lawsuit is primed to proceed—as are lawsuits, initially dismissed, brought by several other insurance companies against CFASS.
09 On Monday, four members of a contentious YouTube channel were sentenced to jail time for staging two fake art robberies.
On July 5, 2015, a group of British prankers called “Trollstation”—known for posting videos of pranks and provocative social experiments—stormed London’s National Portrait Gallery in nylon masks. Screaming and carrying fake paintings, they blasted a siren from a portable speaker and sent visitors into a mass panic. Later that day, they enacted a similar phony heist at Tate Britain, which included a staged kidnapping. The four members (Daniel Jarvis, 27; Helder Gomes, 23; Endrit Ferizolli, 20; and Ebenezer Mensah, 29) each pled guilty to two counts of “using threatening, abusive, or insulting words or behavior with intent to cause fear of, or provoke unlawful violence for their involvement in the two hoaxes,” according to the BBC. They will serve a combined sentence of 72 weeks for the National Portrait Gallery heist and eight weeks each for the Tate Britain stunt.
10 Graffiti artist Rime and fashion label Moschino have reignited their copyright battle.
The copyright suit between graffiti artist Joseph Tierney, better known by his alias “thorny litigation around the hotly contested whitewashing of New York’s graffiti hub, 5pointz.
Cover image: Photo of the British Museum by Paul Hudson, via Flickr.
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