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This Week’s 10 Most Important Art News Stories
Portrait of Amy Cappellazzo and Allan Schwartzman of Art Agency, Partners, courtesy of Art Agency, Partners. Photo by Roe Etheridge.

Portrait of Amy Cappellazzo and Allan Schwartzman of Art Agency, Partners, courtesy of Art Agency, Partners. Photo by Roe Etheridge.

01 

Art dealer Larry Gagosian has squared off against a representative of the royal family of Qatar in a legal battle over who owns a nine-figure Picasso sculpture. Both Gagosian and Pelham Holdings, which represents the Qatari Royal Family, claim to have purchased the work, a plaster bust of the artist’s muse and mistress, from Picasso’s daughter Maya Widmaier-Picasso. The case hinges on issues of contract law and has brought attention to the often secretive dealings of the art market. (via the New York Times)


02

In a groundbreaking move, Sotheby’s announced Monday that it will pay up to $85 million for art advisory firm Art Agency, Partners. This acquisition will play a key role in President and CEO Tad Smith’s plan to transform Sotheby’s traditional auction house model and focus on client-first art services. The news follows an end-of-year buyout of 80 employees and a steady decline in the company’s stock price. (via Artsy)


03

Tate announced today that Frances Morris will serve as the new director of Tate Modern. Morris, currently the Tate’s director of collection of international art, has worked at the museum since 1987. She will take the reins from outgoing director Chris Dercon, who has been named director of Berlin’s experimental Volksbühne Theatre beginning in 2017. (via The Guardian)


04

The discovery of a Nazi-looted painting in the collection of an Israeli museum has raised bigger questions about the absence of national policies to aid in restitution. A polish doctoral student studying the work in the collection of the Museum of Art Ein Harod noticed the letters “MA” (initials for Mobile Aktion, the name of a Nazi program that looted the personal belongings of Paris Jews) on the back of a painting. The finding has renewed calls for Israeli museums to open up their collections to ensure they are free of looted work but, with no governmental budget for the project, Israel’s major museums claim they lack the resources necessary to identify and return stolen artworks to their original owners. (via Forward)


05

Following a controversy involving Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, Lego will cease to ask customers who purchase bricks in bulk what they intend to use the them for. Ai attempted to buy large quantities of bricks for an installation celebrating political dissidents in September, but Lego refused to complete his order. According to company policy at the time, requests for bricks that would be used to “endorse specific agendas” were rejected. Ai accused Lego of censorship, triggering a public backlash from supporters of the artist. (via BBC News)


06

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a 2015 case which struck down part of the California Resale Royalty Act. The law originally required a seller of artworks over $1,000 to pay a 5% resale royalty to the artist “if the seller resides in California or the sale takes place in California.” For example, an auction of a work in New York by a seller based in California would have been subject to the fee. In May, the Ninth Circuit ruled that the portion of the law regulating sales outside of California was unconstitutional because it violated Congress’s right to control interstate commerce—although royalties on in-state sales remain. (via Reuters)


07

A retired schoolteacher and longtime museum volunteer bequeathed $1.7 million to the Detroit Institute of Arts, a sum that will aid in acquiring contemporary artworks and bolstering the institution’s operating budget. Elizabeth Verdow, who died in 2014, spent her career as an arts teacher in Detroit’s public schools and had for nearly two decades volunteered at the institute. This represents a dramatic reversal in fortune for the D.I.A., which only two years ago feared its collection might have to be sold off in an effort to pay Detroit’s debts. (via ArtsBeat)


08

Two works by two Israeli caricaturists at a Tel Aviv exhibition are alleged to have been censored after concern was expressed by the French Embassy. The show, which is being held at the French Institute, commemorates last year’s terrorists attacks on the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo. A drawing depicting the Prophet Muhammad posing as a nude model was removed, while another, illustrating Muhammad greeting the five murdered cartoonists at the gates of heaven, was partially covered with a sticker. The French Institute claims that only space considerations dedicated which works were shown and that the allegations of censorship are unfounded. (via The Times of Israel)


09

Records have revealed that David Turner, a suspect in the 1990 robbery of Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, had his prison sentence for an unrelated 1999 robbery of an armored car secretly reduced by seven years, perhaps indicating that Turner agreed to aid authorities in recovering the museum’s stolen masterworks. The missing pieces, which include works by Rembrandt and Vermeer, were valued at $500 million—making the Gardner heist the largest art theft to date. (via the Boston Globe)


10

Earlier this week, ARTnews Ltd. (which publishes Art in America, ARTnews, The Magazine Antiques, and MODERN) named Vincent Fremont as its new CEO. Fremont has a long history with Andy Warhol—his credentials include serving as vice president of Andy Warhol Enterprises and executive manager of Warhol’s studio, and helping to found the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts after the artist’s passing in 1987. (via ARTnews)


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