Vito Acconci Dead at 77—and the 9 Other Biggest News Stories This Week
01 Vito Acconci, an artist and architect who pushed the boundaries of conceptual art, died on Thursday at age 77.
Acconci leaves behind an influential body of work, including Following Piece (1969), a performance in which he trailed strangers throughout New York City; Seedbed (1972), which saw him masturbate under the floor of a gallery; and Murinsel (2003), a manmade island forged from glass and metal. A true polymath, Acconci began his career in the 1960s, writing fiction and poetry. He spent the 1970s producing radical performance art, and thereafter devoted his practice to experimental architecture. And while he moved deftly between mediums, the motivation behind his shape-shifting work remained constant. Acconci’s poems, artworks, and architectural structures all explore the charged interaction between personal experience (sexuality, spirituality, existential anxiety) and public space.
02 The Metropolitan Museum of Art is considering charging a mandatory admission fee to non-residents of New York for the first time.
(via the New York Times)
An obligatory admission fee would be a landmark aboutface for the institution, which is required to provide free access under the terms of a 1893 New York City law. But Met officials have reportedly begun exploring the potential for fixed admission for non-New York residents with city officials. Currently, it is unclear how the museum would determine residency at the door, or if the charge would be levied against those residing outside New York City or those outside New York State. The rumblings come ahead of the release of the city’s first-ever Cultural Plan. Additional revenue from a mandatory fee would supplement the revenue generated by the current suggested admission fee structure, about $39 million in 2016, or 13% of overall revenue, potentially allowing the city to divert some of the $26 million it now provides the museum to smaller organizations and institutions.
03 A Nazi-looted painting has been pulled from an auction in Vienna just hours before the sale, following criticism and threats.
(via the New York Times)
Seized from a Jewish industrialist by Nazis in 1943, the 17th-century Portrait of a Man by Bartholomeus van der Helst was to go on view in Adolf Hitler’s planned Führermuseum in Linz. Though recovered by Allied forces, thieves took advantage of post-war chaos to steal the painting again in 1945. The work’s problematic history was described in a catalogue entry ahead of its sale at Viennese auction house Im Kinsky, which was slated for Wednesday. But roughly 30 critical emails—some allegedly containing threats—sent to the auction house prompted the painting’s owner to yank it from the auction. The Austrian auction house maintains that the current owner purchased the piece in 2003 in good faith, giving them the legal right to sell the work, and that a negotiated cash settlement was rejected by original owner’s heirs. But their lawyer, Antoine Comte, stated that the heirs wanted the work returned, not money. If public pressure forced the work to be withdrawn, Comte said, then it was a “quite positive result.”
04 A new report found significant online art sales growth in 2016, with consolidation expected ahead.
The total value of online art sales grew by 15% in 2016 against a backdrop of a sleepy market, according to a new report from specialty insurer Hiscox. Released Tuesday and entitled “A market yet to awaken?,” the fifth annual report documents strong annual growth in online sales, but slowing momentum in converting customers to buying art online. The report also forecasts “long-awaited consolidation” in the sector, which today is fragmented across several main players. Hiscox’s report includes survey responses from 758 art buyers (up from 672 respondents in 2016) and 132 galleries and dealers (a slight increase from last year). This year’s edition also includes a new component: 42 interviews with managers and “key staff” at various online art platforms who provided information to Hiscox.
05 The renowned Venezuelan-American artist Marisol bequeathed her entire estate to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo.
(via the New York Times)
On Tuesday, the museum announced what it described as the largest gift of art in the institution’s history. Marisol, a major pop artist who infused her work with folk imagery, died last year at the age of 85. She left her estate to Albright-Knox, which was the first museum to purchase one of her works. The artist (born María Sol Escobar) trained in Abstract Expressionism under Hans Hofmann in New York, later shifting her practice in the early ’50s to incorporate a combination of pre-Columbian folk influences and assemblage, in part as a response to her mother’s suicide. The estate includes 100 sculptures, over 150 works on paper, thousands of photographs, her archive, and her Tribeca workspace. The gift is a major addition for the Buffalo museum, which will name a gallery in her honor.
06 City workers in armored jackets have begun removing Confederate monuments in New Orleans.
(via the New York Times)
After a December city council decision, disassembly began Monday on an obelisk honoring an insurrectionary, white supremacist group that in 1874 battled New Orleans police and state militia. The obelisk, which the Times reports served as a frequent rallying point for the Ku Klux Klan, was one of four statues slated for removal. Others include monuments to General Robert E. Lee, General P.G.T. Beauregard, and Confederate president Jefferson Davis. Threats over the removals prompted heavy police presence as workers dressed armored vests, helmets, and scarves disassembled the 15,000-pound work. Opponents of the removal cited what they see as importance of preserving historical and cultural legacies, while critics argue they are symbols of racism and oppression. A candlelight vigil met Monday night to defend the obelisk, which until 1993 bore the inscription, “United States troops took over the state government and reinstated the usurpers, but the national election of November 1876 recognized white supremacy in the south and gave us our state.”
07 A tax judge ruled that a Sotheby’s appraiser lowballed estimates for two paintings to help solicit business and lower estate taxes.
(via the New York Times)
The estimates for the more valuable painting, a 17th-century work by Pieter Brueghel the Younger, St. George’s Kermis With the Dance Around the Maypole, was set at $500,000 in 2005, a fourth of the $2.1 million it eventually sold for in 2009. George Wachter, chairman of Sotheby’s North America and South America and co-chairman of Sotheby’s Old Master paintings department, had been vying for the estate of the painting’s owner, Eva Franzen Kollsman, who died in 2005. In a letter, he valued the other painting at $100,000. The IRS challenged the estimates, and the case went to tax court. This is not uncommon: An analysis of 1,840 artworks showed that “taxpayers tend to underestimate the value of art that was given as gifts or bequeathed and, conversely, tend to overestimate the value of art donated as a charitable contribution,” the Times reported. The tax judge said Wachter had a “significant conflict of interest” when providing the estimates, and found his explanation that Russian buyers drove up the work’s value in the intervening four years unpersuasive. Sotheby’s has announced it will appeal the decision.
08 The Tate is drawing criticism after asking staff to contribute to the purchase of a boat for outgoing director Nicholas Serota.
(via The Guardian)
The request to “put money towards a sailing boat” as a “surprise gift” for Serota came in a notice posted in the staff rooms of both the Tate Modern and Tate Britain on Wednesday. One staff member who requested anonymity said the note was met with a mixture of “shock and laughter,” adding that “the chasm that exists between upper management and the staff on the ground is just farcical and this just made it clearer than ever.” While Serota was paid roughly £165,000 in 2015, the museum outsourced jobs to a private firm called Securitas, which pays below the London living wage. Museum staff also lost their canteen discount last week and there have been complaints over low pay. In a statement, the Tate said that employees are under “no obligation for any staff to give towards a leaving gift” and that the institute has “invested considerably in raising salaries over the past three years.”
09 A mural of Michelle Obama in Chicago ignited controversy this week following allegations that it copies a work shared on Instagram without crediting or paying the original artist.
Unveiled last Friday, the mural shows Obama as an Egyptian queen and is nearly identical to an image posted on social media by artist Gelila Mesfin last fall. To create that work, Mesfin drew on a photograph of the first lady by Collier Schorr for the New York Times, carefully manipulating Schorr’s image with intricate digital brushstrokes and layers of color. To fund the mural, Devins began a GoFundMe campaign, which eventually raised nearly $12,000. While Mesfin says she is supportive of the mural’s inspirational message, she has remained unyielding in asserting that she should have been asked for permission and attributed. Devins has started crediting Mesfin and offered to pay what he likened to the fee attached to a Getty stock image. Mesfin has stated through social media she hopes the issue can be resolved in “in an applicable and professional manner.”
10 A new lawsuit has been filed in the battle for the estate of photographer Vivian Maier.
(via artnet News)
Maier, who worked as a nanny for wealthy Chicago families and died “nearly penniless” and alone, according to the New York Times, posthumously became a cult favorite of photography fans for her street scenes in New York and Chicago. A 2014 film, Finding Vivian Maier, revived interest in her work and generated a debate over who should benefit from her work. Her estate has now sued a dealer for exhibiting and selling her work. The dealer, Jeffrey Goldstein, had purchased about 17,000 negatives and allegedly continued to sell her works even as he was negotiating with the Cook County Public Administrator, which will administer Maier’s estate until a relative is approved by the courts. Goldstein told the Times in fall of 2014 he had terminated agreements with the galleries through which he was selling her work and would stop selling them. The lawsuit said Goldstein was selling half a million dollars’ worth of Maier’s work annually by 2012. A judge ruled Tuesday that Goldstein can’t sell, destroy or move Maier’s work at least temporarily until he can decide on if a permanent injunction should be issued.
Cover image: Vito Acconci, Performance test, 1969. Courtesy of Galleria Fumagalli.