In a short statement that spoke volumes about American engagement with the international community, the United States announced on Thursday that it will withdraw from United Nations cultural organization UNESCO at the end of the year. The U.S. Department of State cited “the need for fundamental reform” and “continuing anti-Israel bias” at UNESCO, along with “concerns with mounting arrears” owed by the U.S. The tangible financial and legal impact of leaving UNESCO, experts say, are few. The U.S. had its UNESCO voting rights suspended in 2013 after refusing to pay dues following the acceptance of Palestine into the cultural organization in 2011. The withdrawal may have knock-on effects, however, by emboldening the U.K., Japan, and Brazil, three other nations which, for differing reasons, have all not paid UNESCO dues in 2017. America’s annual contributions amounted to roughly $80 million, or 22 percent of UNESCO’s budget, and the U.S. owes in the region of $550 million to UNESCO.
02 The Obamas have chosen artists Amy Sherald and Kehinde Wiley to paint their official portraits for the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.
(via the Wall Street Journal)
This morning the Wall Street Journal reported that Wiley will paint the former president’s portrait, and Sherald will paint the former first lady’s for the museum’s collection. Wiley, known for vivid portraits of young black men in the Old Master poses of European aristocrats, and Sherald, known for surreal portrayals of elegant black women, are the first black artists hired by the Smithsonian for a presidential portrait. In a departure from the museum’s previous commissioned presidential portraits, done by lesser-known artists, Wiley and Sherald have been widely exhibited. Wiley, who explores issues of race and class, has had exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum and other institutions, and has sold works for over $100,000 at auction. Sherald, who often contrasts grayscale skin tones with vivid patterned clothing, won the Portrait Gallery’s national painting competition last year and has a piece at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The artists have declined to speak about what form their portraits of the Obamas will take until their unveiling early next year.
The award is given to “individuals who show exceptional creativity in their work and the prospect for still more in the future,” according to the MacArthur Foundation, and comes with a no-strings-attached grant of $625,000 distributed over five years. Among this year’s variegated list of winners are journalists and doctors, as well as photographers, painters, performance artists, and architects. A national network of nominators put forward potential recipients for the fellowship, commonly known as a “genius” grant, with the ultimate winners selected by an anonymous committee. Among this year’s recipients is Chicago-based photographer and educator Dawoud Bey, who documents often-marginalized communities in his work on collective history and memory. Another winner is Njideka Akunyili Crosby, a Nigerian-born, Los Angeles-based figurative painter who employs collage elements in her work to express transnational identities. Conceptual artist and geographer Trevor Paglen, who also won, focuses on exposing covert government activity and human rights violations. Other winners include landscape architect Kate Orff, designer and urban planner Damon Rich, and theater-inclined performance artist Taylor Mac.
The painting, Salvator Mundi, or “Savior of the World,” is from either the 1490s or early 1500s, according to experts. The work, one of fewer than 20 known paintings by Leonardo, was re-discovered in 2005 and was authenticated over a period of more than six years. Long thought destroyed, the Leonardo had been purchased by Dmitry Rybolovlev for $127.5 million, one of the pieces sold to him by the Swiss dealer Yves Bouvier, whom Rybolovlev accused of overcharging. The painting is estimated at $100 million, and Christie’s has lined up a third-party guarantee, according to Art Market Monitor, which means someone will go home with it—unlike the $80 million Francis Bacon painting offered without a guarantee in London in early October, which failed to find a buyer. Christie’s announced the Leonardo will be sold in its post-war and contemporary evening sale on November 15th, alongside Andy Warhol’s 60 Last Suppers (1986), which is estimated at $50 million.
05 Beijing’s Ullens Center for Contemporary Art has been purchased by a Chinese investment group, securing the 798 Art District landmark’s future.
(via South China Morning Post)
Art collector Guy Ullens, who co-founded and financially supported the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA), put the institution up for sale last year. It spent an uncertain year on the market before selling for an undisclosed amount to the investor group. Once a private company, the UCCA will now operate as a non-profit and tax-exempt foundation. Director of UCCA, Philip Tinari, has said he hopes the new status as a foundation will allow the institution to raise additional funding and improve exhibitions and visitor traffic. He also affirmed that the museum has received assurance of remaining in the 798 Art District for the long-term. “Our mission continues to be a desire to put Chinese art in a global context, to provoke and stimulate a discussion about a vital part of art history,” he told the South China Morning Post. Ullens’s decision to sell the museum raised questions about the sustainability of China’s private museums and art centers, institutions that are individually owned and dependent on those benefactors for funding. The center is slated to soon undergo renovations, reopening in 2018 with a solo show of artist Xu Bing.
06 Brazilian politicians and conservative groups are attacking the Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo as the country’s ongoing culture war ratchets up.
A September 26th performance by Brazilian artist Wagner Schwartz, in which the artist lay naked and invites museum visitors to move his body, prompted controversy after a video of a young girl and her mother touching Schwartz’s arms and legs went viral late last month. Commenters on social media have called the work “pornography” and said it “incites pedophilia,” Artforum reported. At a demonstration against the work, titled La Bête, protesters physically attacked museum staffers. An online petition calling for the closure of the Museu de Arte Moderna (MAM) had garnered 86,000 signatures as of Tuesday, and politicians have lined up against the work. São Paulo mayor João Doria denounced the piece, and Brazil’s culture minister Sérgio Sá Letião said it violates a law safeguarding the rights of children. São Paulo’s public prosecutor has launched an investigation to determine if there has, indeed, been any violation of Brazil’s Child and Adolescent Statute (ECA). Members of Movimento Brasil Livre (MBL), a conservative group, are thought to be among the forces driving negative reaction to the work. Last month, MBL successfully agitated for the closure of an exhibition on queer art in Brazil. Artists and other institutions have rallied to defend the work and artistic expression, with some charging that political critics are attempting to distract from their own scandals. The curator of the MAM is adamant that the thirty-fifth Panorama of Brazilian Art, of which La Bête is a part, will stay on view until its scheduled closure of December 17th.
07 Holly Block, director of the Bronx Museum and former director of Art in General, passed away on October 6th at age 58.
(via the New York Times)
Block had raised the visibility and attendance of the Bronx Museum of the Arts since she re-joined it as director in 2006, after having been a curator there in 1985. She helped propose, organize, and sponsor America’s 2013 contribution to the Venice Bienniale, a major coup for such a small institution. She also eliminated the museum’s admission fees in 2012, helping boost attendance four-fold to 100,000 visitors annually. “Her convictions about the importance of diversity, inclusiveness and community outreach, and about the global nature of contemporary art, were ahead of their time,” the Times said. In the 16 years before she joined the Bronx Museum, Block was director of Art in General, what was then a small Tribeca-based nonprofit whose profile she also raised significantly. While she was there, she launched an international artist residency, started a commission series of ambitious works, and helped stage shows of work by almost 4,000 artists, both domestic and international, and many of them unknown to the broader art world. She died at her home in Manhattan. The cause was breast cancer, her partner, Dana Emmott, said.
08 Arts institutions in northern California say their collections are unharmed by wildfires raging across the state, but several have closed to the public.
The wildfires raging across northern California have claimed at least 30 lives and hundreds of thousands of acres of land; thousands of people have evacuated their homes since Sunday night. Area arts institutions have mostly said their collections are so far unharmed, ARTnews reported. Napa Valley’s Hess Collection said on its website it was closed to the public for safety reasons, and Napa’s di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art was closed because of a power outage. A spokesperson for the center told ARTnews that “the fire touched the north end of the property, but did not reach the main campus, including all galleries and offices.” Napa’s Stonescape, the private art-filled property of Norman and Norah Stone, was unharmed, and Oliver Ranch in neighboring Sonoma said its collection was safe as of Tuesday, when the ARTnews story was first published.
09 Los Angeles philanthropist and museum founder Eli Broad has announced his retirement from his charitable foundation.
(via the Los Angeles Times)
On Thursday, the 84-year-old billionaire released a statement that he has decided “to step back” from the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, but will remain a foundation trustee and board member of the eponymous art museum he founded two years ago. Broad incrementally reduced his hours at the foundation after naming Gerun Riley president last year, according to a spokeswoman for the foundation. Riley will now assume control of day-to-day operations. The Detroit-born mogul, who moved to Los Angeles more than a half century ago, has been “a driving force in the intellectual and cultural life of Los Angeles,” wrote the L.A. Times. Along with gifting much of their contemporary art collection to The Broad museum, the Broads donated more than $4.1 billion to philanthropic initiatives, from scientific research and politics to the arts and education. Broad has also proved instrumental in bringing a $1 billion Frank Gehry-designed residential complex, called the Grand Avenue project, to downtown L.A. The city’s mayor, Eric Garcetti, said in a statement that Broad’s “imagination, tenacity and generosity have helped shape our city.”
The International Center for Photography (ICP), which moved into its $23.5 million Bowery location a year ago, announced it will move to the new Lower East Side development Essex Crossing in early 2019, where it will eventually be reunited with its photography school. The ICP’s executive director, Mark Lubell, told the New York Times that the value of the Bowery building has gone “through the roof,” and will finance its move to the new location. The New Museum, meanwhile, announced it will expand into the lot adjacent to its current location with a building designed by Rem Koolhaas and Shohei Shigematsu of Koolhaas’s firm Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA). The expansion will add 50,000 square feet of space at 231 Bowery, which the museum purchased in 2008. The New Museum’s director, Lisa Phillips, told the New York Times that the institution had raised more than half of the $85 million budget, and construction would start in 2019.
Cover Image: Photo by Jacques Demarthon/AFP/Getty Images.