The work, Seated Man with a Cane (1918), is at the center of a World War II restitution lawsuit between Philippe Maestracci, the grandson and heir of a Jewish art dealer, and the the art dealer David Nahmad and his family. Stettiner sued the Nahmads in 2011 in an attempt to reclaim the work, though the case was withdrawn after the Nahmads argued that a Panamanian company called International Art Center (IAC) actually owned the work. Maestracci filed another lawsuit in 2014, this time alleging that IAC was a shell company owned by the Nahmads. Information in the Panama papers seems to substantiate Maestracci’s claim, with the Mossack Fonseca documents revealing that IAC has been controlled by the Nahmads since its inception in 1995—thus making the Nahmads the owners of the Modigliani piece in question. Nahmad has since asserted that the question isn’t who owns the work now but if it ever belonged to Maestracci family. Regardless, Swiss authorities acted quickly on the new information, opening a criminal investigation and searching a storage facility on Friday and confirming that they had taken the Modigliani work on Monday.
05 Sport and media agency WME-IMG will be investing in Frieze, making it the first outside investor in the prestigious art fair.
The move, which is being framed as a “strategic partnership,” will see WME-IMG investing a currently unknown amount into the art fair in order to “expand the resources and expertise available to Frieze’s clients through events, media and technology,” according to a press release. The arrangement will also see WME-IMG, which is co-helmed by Hollywood mega-agent Ari Emmanuel, continuing to support the Frieze Tate Fund, which allows the London museum to purchase works at the fair. Until now, Frieze had not received any third-party investment during its 25-year history, nor had WME-IMG picked up any holdings in the art world. Frieze’s founders, Matthew Slotover and Amanda Sharp, will remain in their current positions managing the fair. According to the pair, the partnership is linked to expanding the fair’s presence in the digital realm and maximizing value for galleries and sponsors. The investment will provide the ability for the fair to “start realising innovations we have been developing over the last year,” the duo said. While it’s not clear what the future of Frieze looks like, the investment by a thoroughly non-art-world company suggests that previously disparate businesses could be coming together for larger reach.
06 It seems only Holocaust art restitution can bring a polarized Congress together, with Republicans and Democrats co-sponsoring a bill that would reduce the legal obstacles facing heirs of looted work.
The Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery (HEAR) Act was introduced to Congress on April 7th by unlikely bedfellows, with Texas senator and candidate for the Republican presidential nomination Ted Cruz, who famously derided “New York values,” joining longtime New York senator Chuck Schumer, John Cornyn (R-TX), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) in proposing the legislation. The bill applies to Holocaust restitution cases, extending their statute of limitations, which have long proved to be a difficult technical challenge for those attempting to assert claims to work looted by the Nazis. If passed, heirs could bring court cases within six years of discovering and locating looted property as opposed to statute of limitations today, which provide a more limited time frame for legal action after the work should have been discovered (and vary from state to state). Other than the fact that Holocaust restitution is an uncontroversial issue, it’s difficult to know why exactly Cruz is sponsoring this bill, given that Chuck Schumer is thoroughly unpopular among Republicans. It remains to be seen if this bill factors in any prominent way into Cruz’s attempt to grab the Republican nomination.
07 On Saturday, protesters descended on Tehran’s Museum of Contemporary Art (TMoCA) after reports emerged that the Iranian government had plans to privatize the institution.
News of the change came out on Friday, with reports indicating that the government planned to turn over the museum to the Roudaki Foundation. The news roiled up those who argue that the institution is a crucial guardian of Iranian history and that as such the work held by the museum belongs to the people, not in private hands. Responding to the protests, the Ministry of Culture denied the accusations, stating that they did not have plans to transfer the museums. For his part, TMoCA director Majid Mola-Nourozi has stated that the plan was “dissolved.” The protests and privatization plans come amid easing tensions between the West and Iran following November’s historic nuclear deal, though the current demonstrations are unrelated. Still, as relations between governments begin to warm, museums may benefit from, and also play a role in, that process. Western museums could be looking to receive loans from TMoCA’s collection, which includes work by major artists—from Picasso to Warhol—that have gone largely unexhibited in the West for 40 years.
08 Artist Oscar Murillo flushed his passport down an airplane toilet during a flight from London to Sydney, resulting in his being detained upon arrival and subsequently deported.
Four hours before landing in Australia for the 20th Sydney Biennial last month,
—a dual citizen of Colombia and the UK—flushed his UK passport down the plane’s toilet. The act prompted Australian border authorities to detain him for two days, and ultimately deport him from the country. The act only emerged later at a panel in Art Basel in Hong Kong (and was confirmed Monday by Murillo’s gallery David Zwirner). At the panel, Murillo’s comments on the seemingly brash stunt offered insight into his frustrations and subsequent protest of the biennial and the art world at large. During the talk, he explained his disappointment with the ongoing systemic oppressions inflicted by colonialism, before critiquing several prominent curators “that keep with the status quo from a Western context.” He followed that up by speaking with French journalist and curator, Judith Benhamou-Huet
, whom he told that, while excited for the project he was proposing, he “was at the same time feeling uncomfortable because, despite the agenda for the biennial, which wanted to propose a strong situation, there seemed to be a lot of conservative attitudes toward allowing an artist to be very freely expressive.” It seems, then, that Murillo’s biennial self-sabotage was an act of artistic integrity that challenges the politics of the art world.
09 Although its department of architecture and design is the oldest in the world, New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) announced this week that it will shut down all galleries specifically devoted to these collections.
has said that the closure is not permanent—simply a consequence of the institution’s current expansion and renovation—museum officials have not detailed how the collection will be shown once construction is complete. In the meantime, these “medium-specific” galleries will be repurposed to hold special exhibitions and works from the general collection. Although it is too soon to tell, these changes may offer another example of a growing trend among museums. With the rise of “big art history” that links works across cultures and time periods
, there has been an accompanying interest in incorporating different branches of the art world into multidisciplinary exhibitions. This has the potential to create new connections between fields and deeper contextualization that will allow for a richer understanding of both architecture and design. But some worry that these fields may be marginalized, simply providing historical background for another art movement rather than serving as the main thrust of an exhibition.
10 The irreverent artist duo Elmgreen & Dragset will curate the 15th Istanbul Biennial, scheduled to take place in fall 2017—the first time that artists have led the biennial’s curatorial team.