Roman Forum at Risk Due to Italy’s Debts—and the 9 Other Biggest News Stories This Week
Catch up on the latest art news with our rundown of the 10 stories you need to know this week.
01 The city of Rome, currently €12 billion in debt, is calling upon private investors to bankroll €500 million in much-needed repairs for the capital’s numerous historic sites.
(via the Guardian)
It’s not the first time Rome has sought help from corporate sponsors, particularly luxury brands—fashion label Fendi pledged €2 million to clean the Trevi fountain in 2013, jeweller Bulgari financed upkeep of the Spanish Steps last year, and the shoe brand Tod’s is aiding in the ongoing restoration of the Colosseum. Despite these successful partnerships, there are still a number of unrealized projects, such as excavations beneath the Forum and the restoration of the gladiator’s school that once supplied the Colosseum with fighters. Each line item comes with a price tag, ranging from a hefty €10 million to rehabilitate 80 fountains to a more affordable €300 to pay for weeding at the site of an ancient market. Other Italian cities have recently struggled with conservation efforts—last week it came to light that, as a result of bureaucratic mismanagement, Sicily and Naples had forfeited more than €150 million in European Union culture and tourism funding that could have gone towards the restoration of churches and monuments.
02 The protracted legal battle between art dealer Larry Gagosian and a member of the Qatari royal family over who owns a Picasso sculpture worth more than $100 million has finally come to a close.
A settlement was announced this Monday, although which party actually ended up with the sculpture Bust of a Woman (1931) remains a mystery. The case first made headlines in January, with reports that Picasso’s daughter, Maya Widmaier-Picasso, had backed out of a $47 million sale of the work to an agent of the Qatari royal family. Instead, she sold the bust for for $106 million to Larry Gagosian who, in turn, planned to sell the work to billionaire financier Leon Black. Although the case brought to light the inner workings of a transaction between some of the art world’s most powerful players, the deal’s conclusion remains shrouded in secrecy—so far, neither side has commented on the arrangement.
03 A nine-minute video installation on a Hong Kong skyscraper has been pulled by organizers and officials after the work’s political undertones were highlighted by its artists.
(via the New York Times)
Titled “Our 60-Second Friendship Begins Now,” the piece covered the facade of the International Commerce Center—Hong Kong’s tallest building—for just six days before being axed. Created by artists Sampson Wong and Jason Lam, the work mostly displays seemingly apolitical words and phrases in Chinese and English. But on May 18th, the creators revealed that the the illuminated nine-digit sequence of numbers that occurs towards the final moments of the video is a countdown clock indicating the number of seconds until semi-autonomous Hong Kong is transferred fully to mainland Chinese rule. That date of July 1, 2047 is one rife with anxiety for some in the former British colony, with many residents concerned that complete rule by the Chinese mainland will erode civil liberties. The political undertones of the clock may well have gone unnoticed had the two artists not pointed them out, earning the ire of government officials and organizers of the public installation alike. Ellen Pau, the chairwoman of the organizing council that commissioned the piece, chided the artists for not being forthright and claimed to support artistic freedom even as the work vanished from view.
04 The forensic accountant charged with managing the daily operations of Los Angeles’s Ace Gallery has found millions of dollars sent to private accounts and 60 works of art transferred to a private facility.
(via The Art Newspaper)
The accountant, Sam Leslie, was appointed by a court after Ace Gallery filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Leslie’s findings, delivered in a status report compiled as part of the proceedings, prompted him to terminate the relationship between the gallery and its founder Douglas Chrismas. According to Leslie, “significant sums of money were diverted by Chrismas to affiliates of Douglas Chrismas, ie, ACE Gallery New York Corporation and ACE Museum.” Through his lawyer, Christmas denied that the funds had been improperly diverted (the diversion of funds from a bankrupt estate is potentially a criminal act depending on intent). Leslie also alleges that Chrismas asserted ownership over some 60 pieces of art transferred into private storage one day before Leslie took over operations. When asked to back up those claims, Chrismas reportedly asserted that he’d taken ownership of them in the 1970s and 1980s. But, as Leslie notes, “none of these pieces, including one of significant value, were listed in the bankruptcy petition he personally filed in 2004.” It is unclear whether there is currently any criminal investigation of potential wrongdoing.
05 An emergency meeting was held at the Smithsonian, with attendees calling on French authorities to halt the imminent sale of sacred Native American objects at a Paris-based auction house.
Constituting yet another skirmish in a long-running conflict between Native Americans and French auctioneers, the emergency meeting in Washington—which included Native American leaders and U.S. government officials—is an attempt to stop a French auction that includes indigenous objects of spiritual and cultural significance. Organized by EVE (Estimations Ventes aux Enchères) and slated to occur at the auction house Drouot’s Richelieu location, the “Art Amerindien, Art Precolombien, Afrique et Oceanie” sale is expected to fetch tens of thousands of euros. Legal attempts to stop similar previous sales in France on the grounds that the Native American objects included are both of dubious provenance and living significance to indigenous groups have failed. As such, public and governmental pressure may be the only avenue left to Native American tribes—though there is no indication that this latest effort will stop the upcoming auction, scheduled for May 30th.
06 Charged by the Manhattan U.S. Attorney with dodging $45 million in taxes, investor Morris Zukerman was arraigned at a federal courthouse in New York on Monday.
Found within the panoply of allegations brought against Zuckerman by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara are claims that the businessman evaded sales and use tax on paintings bought at Manhattan galleries and hung in his Park Avenue home. Though Zuckerman pleaded not guilty to all charges, authorities allege that he was allowed to “test drive” paintings in his New York home before purchasing them. The works were then allegedly shipped from the galleries to Zuckerman’s company’s addresses in Delaware and New Jersey—an act that allowed them to evade New York taxes. But Zuckerman’s indictment alleges that within hours or even just minutes after arriving at those out-of-state properties, the works were quickly sent to Zuckerman’s home in Manhattan (During a search of Zuckerman’s residence executed by authorities, the government seized $1 million in art.) Though the sales and use tax law underlying this aspect of Zuckerman’s indictment is the essentially the same as the statute currently driving New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s tax probe of the art world, it doesn’t appear as though the two investigations are directly connected. Zuckerman faces up to 28 years in prison if convicted of all charges, though his attorney reports that he is in talks to resolve the case.
07 Brazil’s interim president Michel Temer reversed his decision to eliminate the country’s independent Ministry of Culture, restoring the department to its original status after a week of nationwide protests by major cultural figures.
Temer hoped to reduce Brazil’s massive government deficit by consolidating the nation’s 32 ministries into a more streamlined 23. His plan would have relegated the Ministry of Culture to a branch of the larger Ministry of Education, sparking a series of impassioned protests from thousands of local artists and cultural groups. So, just over a week after announcing its dissolution, Temer reinstated the ministry with a presidential decree. Diplomat Marcelo Calero, previously the Municipal Secretary of Culture in Rio de Janeiro, took the reins of the department on Monday. In a news conference he reassured Brazilians that “We will build a path of truth, competence and transparency.” Reportedly, Calero was not Temer’s first pick—the interim president initially offered the role to at least five women, but all turned him down.
08 As the U.K. referendum on Brexit looms, Anish Kapoor, Tracey Emin, Jeremy Deller, and almost 300 other creatives across British cultural industries have signed an open letter calling on the country to remain in the European Union.
(via artnet News)
The letter’s signatories also include actors Keira Knightley, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Jude Law. Though the extent of its impact is not yet known, a public vote to leave the E.U. on June 23rd could come with dire consequences for U.K. trade agreements with Europe and other countries around the world. Europe is currently the U.K.’s largest export market, amounting to 56% of overseas trade. President Barack Obama, on a recent trip to the U.K. to urge Britain to vote “no” on Brexit, noted that it might take 10 years to renegotiate trade agreements between the U.S. and U.K. As the open letter notes, the U.K.’s presence in the union also grants artists access to E.U. funding, as well as opportunities to live and work in other E.U. countries, and to otherwise collaborate freely with communities in other parts of the continent. “What would ‘Out’ really mean?” the letter reads. “Leaving Europe would be a leap into the unknown for millions of people across the U.K. who work in the creative industries, and for the millions more at home and abroad who benefit from the growth and vibrancy of Britain’s cultural sector.”
09 Jho Low, a businessman under scrutiny by the FBI for his connections with a contentious Malaysian state fund, has unloaded much of his $300 million art collection over the past year—most significantly a $35 million painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat.
(via the Wall Street Journal)
Named one of ARTnews’s “Top 200 Collectors” in 2015, Low’s extensive collection included paintings by Picasso and Monet. Since February of last year, however, he has sold at least $205 million worth of those works, often for prices below their low estimates. Low also liquidated his other best-known U.S. asset, selling his stake in Manhattan’s Park Lane Hotel for an undisclosed sum. The investor and subject of an FBI probe for his financial dealings, both in-country and abroad, has consistently denied any wrongdoing. Investigators disagree, claiming that some $6 billion was illegally removed from the Malaysian state fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd. (or 1MDB for short) that Low helped establish in 2009. They believe a portion of that money was used to fund Low’s art and real estate purchases over the past several years.
10 Winners of the BMW Art Journey Award (granted in conjunction with Art Basel) and the Frieze Artist Award were revealed this week in two separate announcements.
The BMW Art Journey Award, a twice-annual award granted to emerging artists exhibiting at Art Basel in Miami Beach and Hong Kong, was given to British artist Abigail Reynolds. Reynolds—one of Artsy’s 30 emerging artists to watch this spring—was chosen unanimously from a shortlist of three artists showing in Art Basel in Hong Kong’s Discovery sector in March. Her project sponsored by the prize, The Ruins of Time: Lost Libraries of the Silk Road (2016–2017), will explore the religious and secular histories of Europe and Asia through a multi-continent journey to 16 historic book repositories. Meanwhile, the Frieze Art Award went to young Irish multimedia artist Yuri Pattison. The international prize is granted annually and offers the winner, between 25–40 years of age, the opportunity to produce a site-specific work for Frieze London. This October, Patterson’s winning proposal will be realized as part of Frieze Projects, and will explore “trending data” through a series of large networked monitors that will be installed throughout the fair.
Cover image: Photo of ruins of the Roman Forum by Michael Wilson, via Wikimedia Commons.