In case you missed the news, here’s a roundup of headlines from the art world in the last two weeks.
TEXT: CoBo News
IMAGES: Courtesy of various
The Art World’s Crypto-nite
Interest in the world of crypto art has skyrocketed lately, capturing the attention of digital enthusiasts and art collectors alike.
On 11 March, the highly anticipated sale of digital artist Beeple’s The First 5,000 Days, sold for a record-breaking US$69.3 million with fees at Christie’s, it is also the third-highest auction price achieved by a living artist.
The North Caroline-based graphic designer Mike Winkelmann, who goes by the alias Beeple, minted the JPG-collage back in February comprising 5,000 images that he made over 13 years into a “non-fungible token”, also known as NFT.
Over the course of the 10-day sale, 33 active bidders had contested over the work, which, beginning at US$100 without an estimate, culminated into a frantic two-minute bid extension that propelled it from US$30 million to its final unprecedented hammer price of over US$60 million.
The sale further attested to the simmering NFT-hype that has taken the mainstream art market by storm.
Just a couple of weeks ago, British artist Damien Hirst and printmaker HENI Leviathan announced that eight new prints from Hirst’s “The Virtues” series, which depicts cherry blossoms in bloom, are available for purchase with cryptocurrencies Bitcoin (BTC) and Ether (ETH), the sale ended on 3 March.
A company called Injective Protocol purchased Banksy’s Morons (White) (2006) and converted it into an NFT—and then burned it on a video posted on YouTube. The tokenised artwork was then auctioned off on 7 March for 228.69 ethers, which was worth over US$394,000 on the day, on the Open Sea NFT marketplace. The ever-elusive Banksy, who surprised the world recently with his new Oscar Wilde-informed mural on the walls of England’s Reading prison, created Morons as a critique of the art market, depicting an auctioneer at Christie’s.
Quickly jumping onto the crypto-craze, UCCA Lab, a division of Beijing’s UCCA Center for Contemporary Art, announced on 4 March that it will be staging what is dubbed as “the world’s first major institutional crypto art exhibition”. The show, titled “Virtual Niche—Have you ever seen memes in the mirror?”, will open on 26 March, featuring more than 60 artists working in the realm of crypto art, including Beeple, Robert Alice, DJ deadmau5, Mario Klingemann, Robbie Barrat, Pak, Fewocious, and Mad Dog Jones.
The Impact of COVID-19 Drags On
Reported by The Art Newspaper on 26 February, the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London will undergo a radical restructuring as part of a plan to reduce costs by at least £10 million in response to the financial losses incurred by the pandemic. It will also cut dozens of positions across the museum, including some of its curators. The museum’s director, Tristram Hunt, told The Art Newspaper cuts of 20%—around 30 positions—were likely from the curatorial group, and another 20%—around 110 jobs—from a number of departments across the V&A, including visitor experience and retail.
Both Switzerland and Germany are relaxing social distancing restrictions and allowing institutions to reopen. In Switzerland, museums, along with non-essential shops, and outdoor sporting facilities have reopened from the beginning of this month, the first of several steps to easing restriction rules imposed since the country’s second pandemic lockdown began in mid-January. In Germany, the government allowed museums in regions where the average number of new COVID-19 cases per day over the past seven days rests below 100 per 100,000 people, to reopen from 8 March.
Across the pond, California is also slowly loosening up restrictions as the state announced on 2 March that museums in some Bay Area counties—including the Asian Art Museum and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)—are able to reopen at 25% capacity or for a maximum of 100 people at a time with COVID-19 safety protocols in place.
In anticipation of the institution’s 200th anniversary, the National Gallery London will undergo a major makeover, including, as reported by The Art Newspaper on 8 March, demolishing a 1960s office block behind the Sainsbury Wing to make way for more exhibition space. The overhaul is expected to be complete by 2024.
In a surprising move, The Washington Post reported on 9 March that the board of the Metropolitan Museum of Art approved a major policy change that allows proceeds from artwork sales to be used for salaries and costs associated with the museum’s collection management.
Never an Art World Without Scandals
According to an annual survey published on 25 February by Copenhagen-based human rights organisation Freemuse, dissenting artists around the globe are increasingly threatened with persecution, censorship and imprisonment, not least intensified by the shutting down of worldwide cultural events due to the ongoing pandemic. In 2020, 17 artists were killed, 82 were imprisoned and 133 detained across 89 countries, according to the 150-page report, which counted 978 acts of violations of artistic freedom.
On 2 March, Dr. Seuss Enterprises—the business that preserves and protects the legacy of the beloved children’s books author—announced that six Dr. Seuss books— including And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, and Scrambled Eggs Super!, will cease to be published due to its allegedly insensitive portrayals of ethnic groups.
Meanwhile, South Korea’s art organisations are trying to save a multibillion-dollar art collection owned by Lee Kun-Hee, the late chairman of Samsung Group, as the heirs to his fortune are mulling over the idea of selling off the prized collection to international buyers to pay an exorbitant US$9.96 billion inheritance tax.
Transitions and Beginnings
Announced on 25 February, Virgil Abloh—renowned fashion designer and Off-White™ and Louis Vuitton Creative Director—joins London’s Royal College of Art as visiting professor, teaching masters classes throughout the year and sharing “unique employment opportunities” to students and alumni.
After more than two decades at the helm of the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia in Sydney, its director, Elizabeth Ann Macgregor announced on 3 March that she will be stepping down from the role in October.
Over at Christie’s New York, two new leadership roles have been appointed. Bonnie Brennan is now President of Christie’s Americas, taking over from Jennifer Zatorski, who has been promoted to Global Managing Director of Strategic Initiatives.
Cindy Sherman signs with Hauser & Wirth, two days after her long-time gallery, New York’s Metro Pictures, announced its closure by the end of the year on 7 March.
Hong Kong’s M+ Museum announced on 24 February that it has received a significant donation of 17 works of contemporary art from Hong Kong-based collector and museum patron, Hallam Chow. Comprised of works by artists of East and Southeast Asian origin, the new addition inspires a richer conversation in Asian art at the soon-to-open institution.
White Cube announced on 26 February the launch of “Salon”, a secondary market online sales initiative that showcases examples of post-war and contemporary art in month-long online viewing rooms. The programme made its debut on 1 March with a work by Cuban-American artist Carmen Herrera.
As the UK’s cultural sector continues to struggle in the aftermaths of the pandemic, London’s politicians proposed to transform the former site of Debenhams department store, which announced its closure in January, into a vast art space. Meanwhile, the UK government announced on 3 March that it will be infusing £485.8 million of financial support for the arts as part of a larger plan to salvage the economy, which shrunk 10% in 2020—the largest in 300 years.
Alan Bowness, British historian, art critic and former Tate director, passed away in his London home on 1 March, aged 93. He was known for helping establish the prestigious Turner Prize.