This week saw art being censored at Karachi Biennale, more nefarious connections revealed amongst MoMA’s board members and donors, artists going up against government and art world fever over Basquiat and Banksy continued.
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Auction house Sotheby’s pulled off a quick leadership change before the fall auction season, turning heads in the art world and beyond. Charles F. Stewart, from a US communications and media company, became CEO with immediate effect, taking over from Tad Smith who will become a senior adviser to Stewart. The new appointment is one more among a slew of changes since the auction house was bought over by French-Israeli telecommunications magnate Patrick Drahi in June this year, going private after 30 years as a public company. Stewart, like other new staff Drahi brought into Sotheby’s over the last few months, are from his own stable of companies.
MoMA’s Quicksand of Shady Donors and Board Members
This week, the New York Post revealed that museum donor Glenn Dubin had a longstanding friendship with sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein. This might make the MoMA’s new wing, which is named after Dubin and his wife, rather awkward for institution to deal with but it gets worse. The Post also reported that the museum’s board chairman since 2018, Leon Black, had listed Epstein as a director in his charity for over a decade. During this time, the charity made a series of donations to MoMA, amounting to over US$ 40 million.
These revelations come on the heels of last week’s protests against board members Larry Fink and Steven Tananbaum for their respective associations with private prisons and the economic crisis in Puerto Rico. The museum’s connections to Fink drew the ire of British multimedia artist Phil Collins. In protest, the artist reportedly withdrew his video work Theater of Operations: The Gulf Wars 1991-2011 from an exhibition about American military interventions opening this weekend at MoMA’s sister museum, MoMA PS1 in Queens.
Museums Go Global to Stay Relevant
In a promising collaborative effort, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), the Yuz Museum Shanghai, and Qatar Museums will be putting on exhibitions and programming together and sharing their collections with one another. The museums reportedly hope to reach a “larger global audience” through their partnership. The first joint exhibition, curated by LACMA’s head of contemporary art, titled In Production: Art and the Studio System will open at Yuz Museum in Shanghai on 7 November.
Artists Who Are All The Rage
The artist who made this week’s auction news is none other than iconic late 20th century American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat with The Ring (1981) estimated to go for US$ 10 million to US$ 15 million at Philips’ upcoming fall auction in New York. Sotheby’s will also be exhibiting works by Basquiat, alongside another great American artist, Andy Warhol, at a selling exhibition in Shanghai and Hong Kong in November. Basquiat fever is not strictly exclusive to auction houses, with the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia presenting works by Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat in Crossing Lines, a blockbuster exhibition in December this year while a Basquiat solo exhibition is currently on view at Tokyo’s Mori Arts Center Gallery until 17 November.
For anyone wondering when the world will tire of Banksy, it does not look to be anytime soon. On the heels of a record-breaking sale through Sotheby’s London last month, when the artist’s painting of chimpanzees in the British Parliament sold for US$ 12.1 million, the street artist’s work is making an appearance in Hong Kong this December in an exhibition titled “Banksy: Genius or Vandal?” Produced by Art Projectors Hong Kong in collaboration with Last Bullet Production and HKPI this travelling exhibition, which is reportedly unauthorized and is not in collaboration with the artist, will bring to the city 70 works including the highly divisive Girl with Balloon, similar to the one self-destructed during a Sotheby’s auction last year.
Columbian artist Doris Salcedograbbed headlines for winning the largest art prize in the art world today. The Nomura Art Award, an inaugural annual prize by financial services company Nomura Holdings Inc., based in Japan, awards the artist with US$1 million in cash. The artist will be using the funds for her on-going series of expansive installations commemorating victims of Columbia’s civil war titled Acts of Mourning.
Artists Take on Government
In a widely covered move this week, internationally renowned German artist Hito Steyerl announced that she would no longer allow her work to be exhibited by Federal German institutions. She cited the government’s lack of condemnation of Turkey’s military campaign against the Kurds in Northern Syria and its role in selling arms to Turkey as reasons for her stand.
The artist who is known for her hyper-contemporary and visionary perspectives in her work as a filmmaker, visual artist, and essayist, made her statement during a protest performance with other artists at Berlin’s Maxim Gorki Theatre on 26 October.
Across the pond, in our corner of the world, AFP reported that Vietnamese interdisciplinary artist and educator Thinh Nguyen was picked up by police outside his house in Hanoi for several hours of questioning at a nearby station. He told the news agency that the police asked him “many questions concerning my work.” The artist is known for his art and films about land right issues and death row inmates in Vietnam.
Memebers of civil society in Karachi stage a die-in at the site of the Biennale installation “Killing Fields of Karachi” by Adela Suleman – to protest its closure by authorities pic.twitter.com/q13kYNuyz5
First reported by Newsweek Pakistan, authorities ordered the closure of Pakistani artist Adeela Suleman’s art installation The Killing Fields of Karachi (2019) last Sunday claiming the 440 headstones placed in and around the Karachi Biennale space was “vandalism.” This action incited flak on social media. However, the series of developments that followed only drew more criticism from the arts community.
On Monday, the Biennale organisers released a statement on Facebook that they were against censorship of art but deemed Suleman’s work “not compatible” with its theme of “Ecology and the Environment.” The headstones stood for individuals killed by Pakistani police and were accompanied by a short film about one of the victims.
Also by Monday morning, the gravestones placed outside the space were found on their sides. The same day, protestors arrived on site to lie down amongst the remaining stones in a bid to save the work. Photographs of the protest went viral on Twitter. By Tuesday morning, the tombstones were reportedly found “smashed to bits.” According to the artist this act of destruction was allegedly by the security services.
In Other (Worrying) News …
This week, the wildfires moving through California came close to the vicinity of a few museums including the Getty Museum, after which this specific fiery conflagration is named. The museum sits directly in the evacuation zone of the fire which began early Tuesday morning. The most recent update on the museum’s Twitter account was on Wednesday morning stating the “Getty Center and Getty Villa remain safe…Fire agencies and equipment continue to be staged at Getty Center.” Both sites remain closed through Friday and will reopen on Saturday, November 2. Fortunately, there was no damage to the buildings the museum’s collection.