Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Art World's roundup

The State Hermitage Museum in St . Petersburg.
by Alex Starace

Sometimes a little smooch can get you in trouble. The past weekend, a woman in Avignon, France, was arrested on suspicion of kissing a Cy Twombly painting at the Collection Lambert.

Cy Twombly.
The untitled painting consisted of 9-by-6 feet of immaculate white. French judicial officials claim the woman’s red lipstick smudged the canvas, harming an artwork worth over $2 million. The woman, Sam Rindy, will have her day in court on August 16th and will be charged with “damage to a work of art.” (The Guardian, The New York Times)

Russia may be known for its world-class writers, as well as its spectacular dance troupes, but pretty soon it may be known for the exact opposite: a dearth of art. Quite literally. A recently released report commissioned by President Vladimir Putin states that at least 160,000 artifacts have disappeared from Russian museums in the past 80 years.

The widespread disappearances reached a boiling point this past March when a curator at St. Petersburg’s The Hermitage was caught stealing $5 million worth of artifacts. The curator was a diabetic without enough money for her health – she and her husband sold the heisted items at local pawnshops and used the cash to buy insulin. It’s a sad state of affairs. Overall, authorities blame the widespread disappearances on a broken economy, a lack of funding and security in museums, and a large and sophisticated criminal element willing to bribe and collaborate with nearly-destitute museum employees. (Reuters)
The interior of The State Hermitage Museum.
Jeanne-Claude and Christo at The Gates.
The husband-wife duo of Christo and Jeanne-Claude have announced that they’ve found a site for their latest artwork: The United Arab Emirates. Their plan is to use the country’s vast desert as a backdrop for 390,500 oil barrels piled into a 500-foot high pyramid.

However, unlike their previous projects, such as the saffron “Gates” in Central Park in 2005, this project will be permanent. Additionally, the funding will be paid for entirely by Abu Dhabi – another divergence from their previous projects from which they gained financing by selling artist’s models and plans once the actual pieces had been taken down. (The New York Times)

The Venus in Question.
An Italian group, Italia Nostra, has appealed an April ruling that the Palazzo Massimo museum must return a second-century statue of Venus to its rightful owner, Libya. The statue was removed from Libya in 1912. The Italians claim that because Libya was an Italian colony from 1911 to 1942, it had been “discovered” on Italian soil and is therefore rightfully theirs.

In light of Italy’s campaign to gain restitution for it own pieces currently housed in the United States in museums such as the Getty, the Metropolitan, and Museum of Fine Arts (Boston), the group Italia Nostra was asked if they weren’t being a bit hypocritical. They claim the two situations aren’t equivalent – Italy was never a U.S. colony. However, skeptics believe the Italians are simply stalling. In 1947, Italy had promised to return a second-century-BCE stellae to Ethiopia after Mussolini’s troops had taken it the previous decade. Which they did: forty-eight years later, in 2005. (The Art Newspaper)

In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s been a construction boom in New York museums. MoMA expanded not too long ago, the Met opened up its newly-enlarged Greek and Roman galleries this past spring, and the New Museum of Contemporary Art is poised to open its fabulous location this fall. Even smaller places like the Museum of the Chinese in the Americas and the Museum of Art and Design are moving into new digs.

But who’s paying for all this? Museum insiders are starting to get worried – The Art Newspaper reports that its older trustees are the ones funding the $20 billion construction boom. It seems that whenever they try to pass the torch onto the younger generation, the torch goes clattering to the floor. And no one wants to pick it up!  There are many a youthful hedge fund executive building fabulous and expensive collections of contemporary art, but few want to help out established museums.
For example, Steve Cohen, a young collector on the sculpture and acquisition committee of MoMA, has no intention of giving his artworks to the famed museum. Instead, he plans on using part of his $3 billion-net worth to build his own private museum in Greenwich, Connecticut. What this says for the future museum world is unclear, but this much is certain: museum insiders are getting jittery. (The Art Newspaper)

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