Washington, D.C.’s Newseum Faces Uncertain Future—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 The Newseum’s parent foundation will consider selling the museum’s Washington, D.C., home, following an upcoming financial review.
(via The Washington Post)
The Freedom Forum, the creator and primary founder of the press-focused institution, made the announcement on Monday; museum president and chief executive Jeffrey Herbst resigned the same day.
The news comes on the heels of five rounds of staff reductions since 2009 (most recently in January 2017). Despite more than $500 million in funding from the Freedom Forum, the museum has not proved self-sustaining, according to the foundation’s statement. Freedom Forum CEO Jan Neuharth told the Post that “this deficit spending rate would eventually drain the Freedom Forum’s entire endowment.” Beyond the outright sale of the Newseum’s downtown building, the consultants conducting the financial review will consider other options, including the partial sale of the property or joint ventures. For now, the museum will remain open, led by a three-person team: the museum’s chairman, its chief operating officer, and Freedom Forum’s Neuharth.
02 Houston’s museums have largely avoided significant damage from Tropical Storm Harvey, but its theater district has been inundated.
The Art Newspaper surveyed Houston’s major arts institutions and found that they have mostly avoided damage to their collections. The Museum of Fine Art Houston has posted on its website that despite the destructive effects of the hurricane its collection is safe. The Contemporary Arts Museum Houston and the Menil Collection have also said that precautions taken have successfully safeguarded their collections. In addition, The Galveston Arts Center, Project Row Houses, and Rothko Chapel have all reported no damage. The Houston Center for Photography additionally confirmed a lack of damage, however director Ashlyn Davis has said that “several artists in the HCP community who have taken direct hits and are in real need of support.” According to The Art Newspaper, The Rockport Center for the Arts in Corpus Christi “sustained serious external damage.” Houston’s arts district has also seen the impact of Harvey and faces significant repairs that will likely halt the fall performance season at the Alley Theatre, the Wortham Theater Center, and a smattering of the city’s major ballets, symphony, performing arts, and theatre companies. With more than 30,000 residents in need of shelter and at least nine deaths, many have come forward to help, among them the singer Beyoncé, a native of Houston’s historic Third Ward, who has pledged to help as many victims as she can. Local arts nonprofits Fresh Arts and Texas Commission on the Arts have also compiled a list of resources available to artists affected by the hurricane. According to Hyperallergic, the National Endowment for the Humanities has also pledged $1 million in aid cultural institutions impacted by Harvey in Texas and Louisiana in addition to funding for outreach and damage assessment.
03 The Trumps will not be attending this year’s Kennedy Center Honors, the first time in the gala’s history that neither the president nor the first lady will be present.
(via the New York Times)
The White House’s announcement comes after weeks of rising tension. A number of honorees—including television producer Norman Lear and dancer and choreographer Carmen de Lavallade—had announced their intention to skip the traditional White House reception to protest the president’s call to eliminate the National Endowment of the Arts and his comments surrounding the deadly Charlottesville protests. Now, the Trumps’ decision to skip the gala has raised new concerns about the future of the awards ceremony. In past years, participants have largely endeavored to rise above politics and maintain a bipartisan feel, with presidents often honoring cultural figures with opposing party views. “One hopes that President Trump’s decision to forgo this year’s honors is a solitary event,” former Kennedy Center president Michael M. Kaiser told the Times. “We need government officials to attend the arts, to support them in their speeches, to encourage others to participate and to involve artists in their special events.”
04 Christie’s will raise its buyer’s premiums, following news of increases at rival auction house Sotheby’s.
(via artnet News)
Both houses will now welcome clients to the fall auctions with heftier fees for the lucky winners at their live auctions. The new fee structure “widen[s] the brackets for prices charged the highest fees and increas[es] the percentage tagged on its most expensive items,” artnet News reported. Sotheby’s also announced last week that it would eliminate buyer’s premiums for online auctions, a move Christie’s did not match. Forfeiting those fees would likely make a bigger dent in its bottom line than at Sotheby’s. Christie’s has shifted more aggressively into online auctions, framing them as a gateway for new clients, roughly one-fifth of whom go on to attend a live auction.
05 A judge in New York ruled that documents related to the long-running Rybolovlev-Bouvier case can be released for use in the Monaco suit.
(via artnet News)
The lawsuit between billionaire Russian art collector Dmitry Rybolovlev and Geneva Freeport executive—and Rybolovlev’s one-time art advisor—Yves Bouvier took its latest turn on Monday. A New York judge ruled that documents related to Rybolovlev’s $127.5 million purchase of Leonardo da Vinci’s Christ as Salvator Mundi could be released. The collector’s lawyers believe the documents will show the details that illuminate how Bouvier brokered his sales. Rybolovlev’s multiple lawsuits, which are ongoing in Monaco, New York, France, and Singapore, claim the dealer made disproportionately high markups. Bouvier’s attorney Ron Soffer told artnet News that the ruling was “nothing new” and that Rybolovlev and his team have “had these documents for months and gave them to the Monaco judge months ago.” Artnet also reported that “judges have allowed different sets of documents to be produced in cases in each different country,” adding to the confusion surrounding this complicated, high-profile case.
06 Massachusetts’s Berkshire Museum has refused a $1 million donation that would have required postponing the planned auction of 40 artworks from its collection.
(via The Berkshire Eagle)
The museum sparked debate in July, when it announced plans to sell several works (including two by American artist Norman Rockwell) to strengthen its endowment and renovate its building. Deaccessioning, the practice of removing an object from a museum’s collection, is only sanctioned by two influential museum organizations if the proceeds are used for acquiring new works. The $1 million donation to the Berkshire Museum, proposed by an anonymous group, would have come with strings attached—namely, a review of the institution’s finances by an outside panel that could postpone the auction by up to a year. But Elizabeth McGraw, the president of the museum’s board, said their internal research was “thorough and comprehensive” and that “it would not be appropriate for me to ask my fellow board members to cover ground that we have already covered.” The money also represents a fraction of the $50 million the museum expects to raise from the sale.
07 Italy passed a law easing export restrictions on artworks, a move expected to boost the market for post-war Italian artists.
(via The Art Newspaper )
The law extends the window during which a private owner of an artwork can self-certify it for export. Previously, the limit was 50 years after the work was made; now, that period has been extended to 70. “The law further streamlines Italy’s bureaucratic licensing process by introducing a minimum value threshold of £13,500, although this excludes archaeological artefacts, manuscripts and incunabula,” The Art Newspaper reported. Dealers working in the market for Italian art said the new law would be a boon, especially since “works from the 1950s and early 60s, by artists such as Lucio Fontana, Alberto Burri and Paolo Scheggi, are particularly desirable internationally in today’s market,” according to The Art Newspaper.
08 Christie’s and a hedge fund manager continue their defense in a legal battle with the Republic of Turkey over a 5,000-year-old antiquity.
(via artnet News)
On Tuesday, hedge fund manager Michael Steinhardt and the auction house filed a motion to dismiss a case over the antique idol known as the Guennol Stargazer. Acquired by New York collectors in 1961, the Stargazer has been in Steinhardt’s hands since 1993. Following his consignment of the work for auction in April, Turkey claimed the item was illegally excavated. Christie’s and Steinhardt have argued that the object had been in the U.S. for more than five decades before Turkey attempted to recover it, placing it outside the statute of limitations for the recovery of looted objects. In addition to pointing out references to the antiquity in museum catalogues and academic publications, their most recent defense argues that “Turkey knew the Guennol Stargazer was in New York by 1997…and had all the information it needed to make a claim of ownership.” Christie’s also raised concerns over setting a precedent “inconsistent with New York law” that would have potentially disastrous consequences for collectors.
09 Swiss gallery Freymond-Guth announced its closure in a deeply personal letter.
(via artnet News)
Founder Jean-Claude Freymond-Guth cited a growing alienation from his work, in a climate of “ever growing demand in constant, global participation, production and competition.” Freymond-Guth was described by artnet News as “a highly regarded dealer who recently relocated his operation to a pristine new space in Basel.” Since opening his original Zürich space in 2008, he had worked with “emerging artists like Hannah Weinberger, mid-career artists like Virginia Overton, and historical figures like the late painter Sylvia Sleigh, whose reputation he did much to revive,” according to artnet News. In the letter, Freymond-Guth notes how few alternative models have emerged to allow galleries to survive, but said this moment may be the breaking point that generates new solutions. “I trust this current state of crisis and confusion bares an immense potential for invention,” he wrote.
10 Switzerland’s Bern Museum has opened a restoration workshop to the public that aims to treat works from the infamous Gurlitt trove.
(via The Art Newspaper)
The Kunstmuseum Bern has so far received 220 artworks from the more than 1,500 inherited by the reclusive hoarder Cornelius Gurlitt, who unexpectedly gifted the collection to the museum upon his death in 2014. Works by Claude Monet, Gustave Courbet, Wassily Kandinsky, and Edvard Munch were discovered amidst piles of detritus and a harmful fungus when museum employees visited his long-neglected Munich apartment in February of 2014. After inheriting the unattended collection from his father Hildebrand Gurlitt, an art dealer who worked for the Nazis, Cornelius had attempted some restoration but abandoned it. With the help of professionals and students from the University of Bern, the museum has endeavored to restore as much as possible. However, the Swiss institution has refused to accept art suspected of having been acquired through Nazi looting; suspect works will remain in Gurlitt’s apartment until the completion of provenance research. The exhibition, “Taking Stock of Gurlitt: Degenerate Art—Seized and Sold,” opens officially in November.
Cover Image: Courtesy of Maria Bryk/Newseum