Trump Plans to Eliminate National Endowment for the Arts—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 President Donald Trump’s budget may eliminate funding for the National Endowment for the Arts.
(via The Hill)
As part of a plan that will reduce federal spending by $10.5 trillion over 10 years, Trump’s budget proposal will reportedly see the elimination of both the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the privatization of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). The NEA has long been a target for conservatives. Ronald Reagan considered cutting all funding for the agency during his presidency in the 1980s; more recently, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan called for its elimination in his proposed 2015 budget. Though the NEA has endured, years of political controversy during the culture wars of the 1990s saw harsh cuts in funding. Today, the NEA represents a miniscule fraction of federal discretionary spending—its budget of $146 million makes up just .012% of such funds. Even as reports swirl that Trump will do away with the NEA entirely, he has yet to name a director for the agency.
02 Responding to the call for an “art strike” to protest Trump’s presidency, many cultural institutions closed or hosted special programming on Inauguration Day.
The “J20 Art Strike,” which urged art spaces to close on Jan. 20th, was supported by prominent curators, critics, and artists including Hans Haacke and Cindy Sherman. According to a statement by the group, the strike was “one tactic among others to combat the normalization of Trumpism.” In response, many galleries across the country shuttered on the 20th. Major museums, on the other hand, resisted the call to close their doors for the day. “We’re actually going to do the opposite,” Whitney director Adam Weinberg said. “We’re going to make the museum free—pay what you wish—all day Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.” Other museums also opted to create spaces for dialogue, creativity, and visions of a more positive future—including the Brooklyn Museum, which hosted a marathon reading of a Langston Hughes poem. At the Queens Museum, which announced it would close in solidarity with the strike, the team began thinking about how to respond to the election long before the call for a strike. “We started working internally, essentially the morning after the election,” said Laura Raicovich, the museum’s executive director and president. “We felt people were feeling very vulnerable and the museum needed to respond.”
03 ISIS destroyed part of the Roman theater in Palmyra in the months after recapturing the city.
(via BBC News)
Satellite images confirmed that ISIS militants significantly damaged Palmyra’s historic antiquities after they regained control of the UNESCO World Heritage site in December. The Boston nonprofit American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) posted the images on Facebook, proving that parts of the the city’s tetrapylon—an architectural structure made up of four pillared structures that were primarily modern replicas—and Roman theater had been destroyed. ASOR asserted that the destruction occurred between Dec. 26, 2016, and Jan. 10, 2017, and alleged that at least some of it appeared to have been done intentionally with explosives. It was also reported that prisoners had been executed in the aforementioned theater, as well as nearby the Palmyra Archaeological Museum, and the Northern Necropolis. UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova called the destruction “a new war crime” and said that this, in addition to mass executions that occurred in the theater, “[show] that cultural cleansing led by violent extremists is seeking to destroy both human lives and historical monuments in order to deprive the Syrian people of its past and its future.” When ISIS previously held Palmyra, they destroyed the Arch of Triumph, the 2,000-year-old Temple of Bel, and ancient tombs, among other severe destruction and looting.
04 Eight months after their merger, Auctionata and Paddle8 announced on Thursday that they will split, with the former having filed for insolvency.
(via the Observer)
The news comes a week after reports circulated that the combined, Berlin-based company Auctionata Paddle8 was facing financial difficulties, with employees not having been paid since December, and comes amid consolidation in the online art space. Representatives for Auctionata AG said in circulated statements that the company would restructure its assets and business units through the insolvency proceedings. Auctions will continue during this time, with artworks and other merchandise held “in a separate estate.” Auctionata is reportedly continuing to pursue investment to recapitalize the business, despite being unable to close a round of financing before needing to file for insolvency. In a separate statement, Paddle8 announced that it had secured funding from what was described in reports as an undisclosed “strategic, majority sponsor” to buy back its brand and businesses from Auctionata AG. The deal, which is currently under legal review, also includes Auctionata-owned valuation tool Value My Stuff. It is rare for a merger to be unwound so soon after it is inked. However, Paddle8 and Auctionata had yet to actualize their plans to merge the two brands, making the decoupling potentially less difficult to execute than may otherwise have been the case, if the deal is approved.
05 A painting attributed to the circle of 16th-century Italian artist Parmigianino has been labelled a fake by Sotheby’s.
(via the New York Times)
On Tuesday in New York, the auction house filed a complaint against collector Lionel de Saint Donat-Pourrières in U.S. District Court. De Saint Donat-Pourrières consigned the alleged forgery, St. Jerome, to Sotheby’s for a 2012 auction, where another collector purchased it for $842,500. But in 2016, after receiving word that the painting had previously been associated with a source linked to other forgeries, Sotheby’s requested the buyer return the painting for inspection. Testing revealed that the portrait contains pigments not available for centuries after Parmigianino’s death. This news parallels another case in October of last year, when a work attributed to 17th-century painter Frans Hals that sold for around $10 million at Sotheby’s was found to contain pigments from the 20th century. The auction house has confirmed that European art collector Giuliano Ruffini has been linked to both the Hals and Parmigianino works. An Old Masters dealer described these discoveries as “a wake-up call, and it’ll make people look at what they have on the wall or what’s on consignment or what’s been purchased in the recent past more closely.”
06 Russian protest artist Pyotr Pavlensky has fled with his family to France to seek asylum after being accused of sexual assault.
(via the Telegraph)
Pavlensky—best know for nailing his scrotum to the Red Square to denounce his country’s police state—and his partner, Oksana Shalygina, were both accused of sexually assaulting a young Moscow actress. The couple denied these allegations; the artist noted that “a system of informing and reporting on others is re-emerging in Russia, showing that totalitarianism is setting in again.” The charges came to light on Dec. 14th, when Pavlensky and Shalygina were detained by state investigators at a Moscow airport and questioned for nine hours about the alleged assault. Upon their release, the couple were told they had “more or less two possibilities: either go to a prison camp for 10 years... or leave Russia,” Pavlensky said. The pair left the country the next day with their two daughters, travelling through Belarus and Ukraine before finally arriving in Paris last Saturday. Pavlensky’s intense performances have repeatedly made headlines—most recently his 2015 work Threat, during which he set fire to the front door of Russia’s Federal Security Bureau (the KGB’s successor). Following the performance, the artist was arrested and jailed until his release in June.
07 A Swiss art dealer has sued the J. Paul Getty Museum for $77 million, alleging that the Los Angeles institution cut it out of a potential multi-million-dollar acquisition.
In the federal lawsuit, Geneva-based Phoenix Ancient Art claims that it provided years of “hard work, professional judgement, and extensive knowledge regarding antiquities” to arrange a deal between the museum, the Torlonia family, and the Italian government. This agreement, valued between $350 and $550 million, would have seen the Getty acquire sculptures from the family’s world-class collection of Roman and Greek art. Although the deal never went through, Phoenix Ancient Art alleges that the museum still violated a non-circumvention agreement by speaking directly to the family and, in effect, “stole the value of years of work and relationships cultivated” by freezing the dealers out of negotiations. The complaint goes on to describe the Getty’s occasionally rocky relationship with the Italian government, which in 2005 accused a curator of conspiring to purchase looted art for the museum. A museum spokesperson called the claims “baseless,” noting that the plaintiffs “cannot plausibly demand payment for a deal that never occurred.”
08 A Wifredo Lam painting that has been the subject of a thorny restitution battle is back on the market.
(via The Art Newspaper)
Miami dealer Ramón Cernuda is again offering one of Afro-Cuban Modernist Lam’s paintings, Sin Titulo (Suenos Arcabes) (1955), for sale. The work first emerged on the American market in 2015, but was quickly removed after the heirs of a Cuban collector, Rene Diaz de Villegas, claimed that the painting had been looted by the Cuban government shortly after the 1959 revolution and was rightfully their family’s property. After year-long legal battle, in which Cernuda maintained that the de Villegas family in fact gave the painting to a Cuban monastery, which later sold it to a Spanish collector, the case was settled quietly out of court this past summer for an undisclosed amount. The painting is rumored to have a pricetag of over $2 million and is one of many Lam paintings to come out of Cuba with a murky provenance. The artist’s son Eskil Lam, who runs the Association of Friends of Wifredo Lam (an organization which authenticates the artist’s works), has warned of the flood of forgeries currently on the market. He maintains that Sin Titulo (Suenos Arcabes), however, is authentic.
09 A report by an Israeli news blog alleges that outgoing Israel Museum director James Snyder has received a double salary for five years of his 20-year tenure.
(via artnet News)
Israeli online news outlet Ha-Makom recently released an investigative report that claims Snyder has earned pay from both the Israel Museum and American non-profit organization American Friends of Israel Museum (AFIM) since 2010. Since his appointment as director in 1997, Snyder has received an annual income of between approximately $88,000 and $90,000 from the government-funded museum, the largest in Israel. In addition to this salary—considered low for the director of a major museum—Ha-Makom’s report also disclosed details around a second income from AFIM totaling $8.3 million between 2010-2015. Ha-Makom cited AFIM’s tax returns as their source. While these high sums came as a surprise to several of the museum’s board members, who called for the museum to cut ties with Snyder, they are not abnormal in the fiscal landscape of large-scale art institutions. In response to Ha-Makom’s report, the Israel Museum released a statement affirming that they were fully aware of Snyder’s receipt of double salary, and that it was not against the museum’s policy. While Snyder, who called the charges “slanderous,” will be stepping down as director this year—to be replaced by Eran Neuman—he will maintain his ties with the institution as international president, leading its global fundraising campaign. During Snyder’s 20-year tenure, the museum’s attendance doubled and he raised over $730 million.
10 Brooke Lampley, head of Impressionist and modern art at Christie’s, is leaving for Sotheby’s.
(via artnet News)
After working at Christie’s for more than 12 years, Lampley will join Sotheby’s as vice chairman of the Fine Art Division in 2018. Her departure was confirmed by the auction house on Friday. Lampley’s tenure at Christie’s was marked by success, as she oversaw an increase in revenue and sell-through rates (Impressionist and modern sales represented over $1 billion of Christie’s gross revenue in 2015). The move is the latest in a series of major staff shake-ups across Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Phillips over the past year, although it comes after such changes had appeared to subside. Most recently, Christie’s former head of contemporary art Brett Gorvy left the 250-year-old auction house to form a gallery with art dealer Dominique Lévy. During the summer alone, Christie’s watched as four executives bid their farewells: global managing director of post-war and contemporary art Lori Hotz, senior vice president and director of trusts, estates & appraisals Paul R. Provost, international head of Old Master paintings and 19th-century art Nicholas Hall, and head of 20th- and 21st-century design Cathy Elkies. Sotheby’s faced similar turnover, including worldwide head of contemporary art Cheyenne Westphal, chairman of Sotheby’s Europe Henry Wyndham, and co-chairman of contemporary art Alex Rotter, who will go on to be chairman of post-war and contemporary art at Christie’s Americas.
Cover image: Spencer Platt/Getty Images