News
Stolen Degas Discovered on a Bus near Paris—and the 9 Other Biggest News Stories This Week

01  French customs officials discovered a stolen Edgar Degas painting on a bus near Paris.

(via Reuters and the BBC)

Authorities found Les Choristes (1877) in a suitcase stored beneath a bus during a random search conducted last week at a motorway service station about 20 miles east of Paris, French culture minister Françoise Nyssen said on Friday. None of the bus passengers admitted to traveling with the pastel work, valued at roughly €800,000, and as of Friday no arrests have been made. A French government statement released Friday “gave no information about why the painting was on the bus or who left it there,” Reuters reported. The painting has been missing since 2009 when it was stolen from Marseille’s Musée Cantini, where it was on loan from the Musée d'Orsay in Paris. A police investigation at the time yielded no signs of forced entry to the museum and also no arrests.


02  New research has found that the earliest cave paintings are at least 65,000 years old, suggesting Neanderthals were the first artists.

(via Smithsonian Magazine)

Researchers examined work found in three Spanish caves, finding they were produced a minimum of 65,000 years ago. The age suggests Neanderthals, the extinct cousin of modern humans, created the work given that Homo sapiens are not believed to have arrived in Europe until 25,000 years later. To date the cave paintings, the research team used a method called uranium-thorium dating, which has been criticized for the physical damage it can require. Previously, the dating technique involved scraping large amounts of matter from the cave’s wall, but as technology has advanced, extracting copious amounts of material is no longer necessary. Now, a small amount of stone and a great deal of attention are all that’s needed for uranium-thorium dating to reveal an accurate time frame for when a work was created. “I think it was an excellent, really careful study and speaks to the fact that with these new technologies, we keep discovering exciting new things we didn’t have the capacity to discover before,” paleoanthropologist Genevieve von Petzinger told Smithsonian Magazine.


03  The United States Supreme Court ruled that ancient Persian objects cannot be seized to satisfy a legal judgement against Iran.

(via Reuters)

The ruling stems from a 1997 bombing in Jerusalem, which killed five civilians. Several American survivors sued Iran in U.S. court, charging the country “provided material support for the attackers,” as Reuters reported. A court awarded them $71.5 million in damages, which Iran refused to pay. The survivors then moved to seize the Persian artifacts, held by the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute, in lieu of payment. But lower courts sided against the plaintiffs, finding that Iranian property is protected from seizure under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), which shields foreign governments from the jurisdiction of U.S. courts, with some exceptions. The plaintiffs appealed the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which issued its opinion Wednesday. Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote the majority decision in the 8-0 case (Justice Elena Kagan abstained) in which the court found that, even though FISA carves out exceptions for government sponsors of terrorism, the artifacts in this case remain immune from seizure.


04  Frieze will launch a new fair in Los Angeles, with the inaugural edition set to take place in February 2019.

(via the Los Angeles Times)

The fair will be run by Bettina Korek, a native Angeleno who has worked for the Getty Foundation’s Pacific Standard Time initiative and who is also the founder of ForYourArt, which has staged a variety of performances and exhibitions. Chiefly important to Frieze is to quell concern that the city’s great sprawl makes it hard to host a centrally located fair—previous entrants into the L.A. fair gambit, such as Paris Photo and FIAC, failed to stay afloat and were cancelled or postponed. There are two existing Los Angeles fairs, the L.A. Art Show and Art Los Angeles Contemporary, but they attract mostly local galleries, and Korek thinks that Frieze Fairs—which was started in London in 2003 and expanded to New York in 2012—can expand the city’s international art market cache. “Frieze has unparalleled experience developing new fairs and integrating them into the cultural fabric of international art world destinations,” she told the Los Angeles Times. It also helps that Frieze has leading investor Ari Emanuel, the collector and Hollywood superagent, who heads up the Endeavor agency and manages one of the city’s top talent stables. The fair—which will feature only 60 galleries compared to the roughly 190 that show in New York—will open on February 14th, 2019 at Paramount Studios, in Hollywood. The announcement comes in a big week for the Los Angeles art world. The city’s Hammer Museum announced on Thursday that it had received a $30 million donation from philanthropists Lynda and Stewart Resnick, and a $20 million donation from board chairwoman Marcy Carsey, bringing the total raised for the institution’s $180 million capital campaign to $132 million. Roughly $80 million from the campaign will go towards a new expansion of the museum, the Los Angeles Times reported.


05  An artwork depicting Spanish political prisoners has been removed from Arco Madrid.

(via artnet News and the New York Times)

The work by Spanish artist Santiago Sierra was taken down in the hours before the VIP opening of Spain’s premier art fair, Arco Madrid, artnet News reported. It featured 24 “black-and-white photographs of politicians, activists, artists, and journalists whose faces have been obscured,” according to artnet News, who are unnamed although identifiable, and include activists and politicians who have supported the Catalan independence movement. The request reportedly came from the president of IFEMA, an organization that manages conferences in Madrid and which is controlled by regional and local government, although the mayor’s office of Madrid criticized the move. Sierra’s dealer, Spanish gallerist Helga de Alvear, told artnet News the work had already sold to an unnamed collector for for €80,000 ($98,000).


06  Controversy continues over the decision by Scotland’s public arts agency to completely defund numerous cultural organizations.

(via the Scotsman)

Creative Scotland has come under mounting pressure from elected officials and cultural policy advocates to explain how the decision was reached to eliminate funding to 20 arts organizations, including the Glasgow art gallery Transmission, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, and the UNESCO City of Literature. Creative Scotland’s interim chairman Ben Thomson asserted in January that the group unanimously agreed to the funding cuts, even though two Creative Scotland board members resigned due to the decision. In a testimony before Scottish Parliament’s cultural committee, longtime leader of the organization Janet Archer walked that characterization back, stating “the board has reflected on the use of the word unanimous on the minutes of the meeting in January and has now amended it to say it was a majority decision.” While Archer said she was “profoundly sorry that the delivery of this process has been such a negative one,” she rejected calls for an independent review of the organization, which saw its budget unexpectedly raised by £16.6 million last year. While Creative Scotland subsequently reversed five of the total funding cuts, many observers remain frustrated with the lack of transparency around the decision making process and why certain groups were defunded to begin with. “It is deeply worrying that these concerns are being expressed about an organization that manages public funds and we believe that it requires further scrutiny,” Joan McAlpine, a member of Scottish Parliament, said in the hearing.


07 Artist Lina Iris Viktor sued Kendrick Lamar, alleging the music video for Lamar’s song for the “Black Panther” soundtrack copied her work.

(Artsy)

The music video for the the centerpiece of the movie’s soundtrack, the Kendrick Lamar and SZA song “All the Stars,” has been viewed over 32 million times on YouTube and reached the number nine slot on the Billboard Hot 100 (the album rose to number one on the chart this week). But an artist is charging that parts of the video’s imagery were copied from her own artwork, according to federal court documents filed in New York Tuesday. British-Liberian artist Lina Iris Viktor is suing Lamar, SZA, Universal Music Group, and others involved in the video’s production, alleging that the gold print patterns that appear in roughly 19 seconds of the video infringe on her artworks, which are painted in a similar style, using materials including 24-karat gold. Viktor is seeking damages, along with an injunction prohibiting the use of her work to promote the film and preventing the video from being shown further in public.


08  An ancient Buddhist temple in Lhasa, Tibet, caught fire over the weekend, but Chinese state media said arson was not to blame and that its relics are unharmed.

(via the Guardian and the South China Morning Post)

On Saturday, February 17, videos began circulating on social media which appeared to show the Jokhang Temple, a Unesco world heritage site, engulfed in flames. Locals said the fire coming from the seventh century structure could be seen throughout the holy Tibetan capital. After several hours of silence, the government news agency Xinhua reported that the fire was “soon put out,” but censorship of images of the blaze have led scholars to fear that the government is covering up serious damage to the revered site. “People are hugely concerned, rightly or wrongly, that the damage might be much more severe than the media is letting on,” Robert Barnett, a Tibet expert based in London, told the Guardian. Neither the main structure nor 6,510 of the site’s registered relics were damaged by the fire, which broke out in a ventilation chamber, according to the Xinhua report. The Jokhang temple was the site of a protest witnessed by foreign journalists in 2008—one of the last times any outside media was allowed into Tibet.


09  The Tate Modern announced artist Tania Bruguera as the winner of the Hyundai commission for the museum’s Turbine Hall.

(via the Guardian)

Bruguera, a Cuban performance artist, joins the ranks of artists including Carsten Höller, Doris Salcedo, Ai Weiwei, and Louise Bourgeois, who have previously shown work in the Tate Modern’s spectacular Turbine Hall. Bruguera has worked with Tate Modern multiple times before––her performance piece, Tatlin’s Whisper #5 (2008), was acquired by the museum in 2009, then staged in 2016, and she displayed the ongoing project, Immigrant Movement International, at the museum in 2012. Like much of Bruguera’s oeuvre, these projects are politically charged works. In Tatlin’s Whisper #5, the artist mounted two police officers on horses and had them corral museum-goers using crowd control techniques. As part of Immigrant Movement International, she made visitors pass a lie detector test developed from United Kingdom immigration questions before entering the museum’s Tanks gallery. The museum chose Bruguera for this prestigious commission because of the social and political commentary running through her work. Tate Modern director Frances Morris noted that her work is regarded for “the highly original and compelling way in which she addresses major political concerns of our time, not only within debates about art and art history, but also in the hope of effecting real change in the world around us,” the Guardian reported. The exhibition is slated to open in October of 2018, but no further information has been provided on what Bruguera plans to do with the enormous 35,520 square foot space.


10  The burning of a structure that resembled a Catholic church by a group of artists has attracted controversy in Russia.

(via the BBC)

Every year, the art park Nikola-Lenivets, which is near the western city of Kaluga, celebrates the Orthodox festival of Maslenitsa, or “Butter Week,” by setting fire to an effigy. This year, a sculpture called the “Flaming Gothic,” described by BBC News as “a 30m-high structure of twigs and debris, roughly resembling a West European medieval cathedral,” was incinerated. The burning of a structure that recalled the Catholic faith quickly attracted criticism, with a well-known TV personality asking how such an act could be justified on an Orthodox holiday and noting that a Russian law bans actions deemed “insulting to the feelings of believers.” In 2012, members of the feminist punk rock group Pussy Riot were found guilty of hooliganism for staging a rock concert in a Moscow cathedral.

Cover Image: Edgar Degas, Les Choristes, 1877. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.