Van Gogh Mystery Solved—and the 9 Other Biggest News Stories This Week

Artsy Editors
Jul 15, 2016 4:40PM

Catch up on the latest art news with our rundown of the 10 stories you need to know this week.

01  A new piece of evidence has come to light that may help dissolve the longstanding dispute over how much of his own ear Vincent van Gogh actually cut off.

(via the New York Times)

While researching the Impressionist painter’s life, author Bernadette Murphy stumbled across a note in an American archive written by van Gogh’s doctor. It included two sources which appear to indicate that the artist lopped off his entire ear, not simply a piece, as some historians believe. This document is on view for the first time at Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum as part of their exhibit “On the Verge of Insanity,” exploring artifacts and other archival material surrounding the painter’s mental illness. It’s also included in Murphy’s recently published book, Van Gogh’s Ear: The True Story, which answers another contentious question concerning the artist’s life—the identity of the girl to which van Gogh gifted his severed ear.

02  In response to revelations that state officials had handed back Nazi-looted art to the Nazi families who stole it in the first place, the Bavarian government agreed Wednesday to publish a list of these illegally returned works.

(via CLAE)

An investigation by London’s Commission for Looted Art in Europe (CLAE), published last month, uncovered this widespread practice in Bavaria following World War II. One particular work, a Dutch painting once owned by a Jewish family in Vienna, had been sold to the wife of Hitler’s personal photographer, who turned around and sold it to the Catholic Cathedral Association of Xanten. Although the group was informed of the work’s provenance, they had displayed no intention of returning the painting. Following the CLAE’s report, however, the association issued a statement recognizing the painting’s history and agreeing to return the work to the descendants of the original owners. The Bavarian Parliament’s decision to publish a report detailing which artworks had been sold back to high-ranking Nazi families with the assistance of state officials will likely aid in the recovery of artworks with similar backstories. Currently, these families have limited legal recourse in Germany, since the 30-year statute of limitations for stolen property has expired—meaning that public attention may be necessary to force action instead.

03  Some 400 works collected by the late David Bowie will be auctioned by Sotheby’s in a three-part sale this coming November, the auction house announced on Thursday.


The collection includes pieces by Frank Auerbach, Damien Hirst, and Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose Air Power (1984) is the top lot, estimated to go for up to £3.5 million. Hailing from London, Bowie collected works by fellow countrymen Henry Moore and Graham Sutherland, though his eclectic and global taste drew him to pieces by Basquiat, Marcel Duchamp and Ettore Sottsass, the Italian founder of the Memphis Group, whose ‘Casablanca’ Sideboard (1981) is expected to fetch £4,000–6,000. Bowie also took an interest in contemporary African art. “On the whole it will be international artists who are relatively fresh names for people. It will be intriguing,” says Simon Hucker, Senior Specialist in Modern & Post-War British Art at Sotheby’s. For those interested in taking a peek firsthand, roughly 30 works—meant to “give a sense of how eclectic and unscripted” the collection is—will be exhibited in Hong Kong, New York, and Los Angeles in the leadup to the London sale.

04  Art dealer Olivier Thomas is under investigation following allegations that he stole several works by Picasso, a development that could have implications in the ongoing Yves Bouvier case.

(via artnet News)

Last year, Thomas was accused of stealing two Picasso works from Catherine Hutin-Blay, the artist’s stepdaughter. Hutin-Blay further alleged that the pieces were then sold to Dmitry Rybolovlev, who purchased them from Yves Bouvier. Rybolovlev is currently engaged in a contentious global legal battle with Bouvier, who Rybolovlev alleges inflated the value of works before selling them to him. In September, Rybolovlev returned the works to Hutin-Blay. Thomas was held by French authorities in May 2015 during an investigation into Hutin-Blay’s claims, though he denied having seen the Picasso works and noted that they “meant nothing to him.” But further digging by authorities revealed images of the pieces on Thomas’s computer, and now he is once again a suspect. No charges have been filed against Bouvier or anyone else in this case, though authorities continue to investigate.

05  A British bill that would return the controversial “Elgin Marbles” to Greece has been introduced in Parliament, with proponents claiming that Brexit strengthens their case.

(via the Independent)

The proposal—introduced 200 years after the British state purchased the marbles from Lord Elgin—is backed by a number of MPs across multiple parties. Known also as the Parthenon Sculptures, the works were chiseled from the ancient structure and then transported to England in the 19th century by Elgin under disputed legal circumstances. Now in the British Museum, the pieces continue to be plagued by controversy. “These magnificent artifacts were improperly dragged and sawn off the remains of the Parthenon,” said Liberal Democrat MP Mark Williams, a primary backer of the bill. Andrew George, a member of a group that has long argued for the sculptures’ reunification with the Parthenon in Greece, claimed that the recent “Brexit” vote adds additional weight to the current call. “If we are about to negotiate a decent trade deal with our European friends, the last thing we want to do is to show the kind of raspberries and two-fingers that [Nigel] Farage was displaying in the European Parliament the other day,” George said.

06  The Getty Foundation will distribute $8.5 million in grants across 43 exhibitions and events in Southern California that feature Latino and Latin American artists.

(via the Los Angeles Times)

These awards are a part of the upcoming “Pacific Standard Time: Los Angeles/Latin America,” a grouping of shows slated to begin in fall 2017. This will stand as the third series of exhibitions associated with PST—the first, in 2010, explored L.A. art from 1945–1980, and the second, in 2013, delved into the history of Modernist architecture in Southern California. Getty Foundation director Deborah Marrow discussed the historic nature of the endeavor, noting that “no one has ever put so many Latin American shows together at one time, especially side by side with shows by Latino artists, so people could dialogue about it.” Recipient institutions include the Hammer Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art—which alone has been awarded almost half a million dollars for three upcoming shows.

07  The 43rd edition of the FIAC contemporary art fair, held annually at the Grand Palais in Paris, will expand into two new spaces this fall.

(via The Art Newspaper)

Following the closure of Officielle, FIAC’s satellite fair for young galleries, the main fair will launch a new sector, On Site, at the historic Petit Palais—which sits conveniently across the street from the Grand Palais. On Site will showcase sculptures and installations throughout the interiors, garden, and promenade of the museum, presented in collaboration with the museum’s curator and director Christophe Leribault and associate curator Lorenzo Benedetti. The fair will also expand into Le Salon Jean Perrin, a new exhibition space on the first floor of the Grand Palais, where nine galleries will present work by artists from the 1970s. In addition, this year’s fair will also see an increased number of exhibitors—a total count of 185, up 12 from last year—including 42 new dealers.

08  Museums have seen spikes in visitor traffic this week, as popular smartphone app Pokémon Go sends players roaming through cultural institutions in search of virtual Pokémon.

(via Hyperallergic)

The game is now the most downloaded app in the U.S., boasting numbers of daily active users that rival Twitter. Pokémon Go centers around Pokéstops—places to stock up on free supplies—and, according to its creators, the locations of these Pokéstops are synced with the Historical Marker Database, which includes museums, public artworks, and notable buildings. Although this particular feature has reportedly directed many people towards their local museum for the first time, it has also sparked controversy. Certain historical monuments, including the 9/11 Memorial, the Holocaust Museum in D.C., and even Auschwitz, have been designated as Pokéstops. The Washington Post reported gaggles of players around the Holocaust Museum “who seemed to be distracted from its haunting exhibits as they tried to ‘catch ’em all.’” An online petition calling for the museum to be removed from the game has garnered more than 2,000 signatures, although the game’s creators have not yet responded to the request.

09  The art collective responsible for driving cross-country in a modified Donald Trump campaign bus has now built a portion of Trump’s proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall.

(via the New York Times)

David Gleeson and Mary Mihelic, who together make up the politically-minded collective t.Rutt, used cinder blocks to construct a wall about 20 yards away from the actual border in Jacumba Hot Springs, California. It’s decorated with a Trump campaign ad, as well as slowly rotting fruit and flowers, cleaning supplies, and other hardware meant to represent the economic effects of halting immigration. The wall is intentionally short, as Gleeson and Mihelic intend for other artists to join their project. And in response to Trump’s claim that he will force Mexico to pay for the wall, the artists mailed an itemized bill for $14,635.42 to the president of Mexico. This is not the first time the collective has engaged with Trump’s presidential campaign—last fall, the pair purchased an old Trump campaign bus, replacing the candidate’s slogan with “Make Fruit Punch Great Again.” They’ve logged thousand of miles attending Trump rallies in the vehicle and are currently en route to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

10  London dealer Timothy Taylor has announced plans for a new outpost in New York, set to open its doors in September.

(via The Art Newspaper)

The new gallery will take up residence in a Chelsea townhouse; its name, 16x34, comes from the dimensions of the first-floor space. The inaugural show, set to open the week of September 19th, will spotlight Mexican Modernist architect and engineer Luis Barrágan. Taylor noted: “We wanted to do something different and unexpected in New York, rather than opening another large commercial white space. The programme will be distinct from the London gallery, but similarly range from late European Modern masters through to younger contemporary artists.” The announcement follows a string of similar headlines last month—in particular, the news that Paris’s Almine Rech will expand to New York this October when it opens a 3,000-square-foot gallery space on the Upper East Side. Such decisions come as the global art market contracted by seven percent last year and has continued to cool throughout the first two quarters of 2016.

Artsy Editors

Cover image: Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, 1889. Image via Wikimedia Commons.