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June 2020

What Do You Figure? DespiteProfessor Chika Okeke-Agulu (Princeton University) arguing that Christie’s should not sell a pair of Igbo sculptures taken by a French collector during the Nigerian Civil War, the figurines sold for under the estimate at the Christie’s sale in late June.

No Silence Aloud. Hong Kong-based artists living in Europe are launching a platform called Silence is Compliance, featuring live-streamed performances and an online gallery, in response to China’s new national security law. Artists worry the law will restrict artistic freedom and expression. The program is spearheaded by the Young Blood Initiative, whose founder Candy Choi publicly questions if she and other artists will ever be able to return to Hong Kong after the show.

Vive les Artistes. The Paris Bar Association created the Barreau des Arts, a pro-bono initiative dedicated to helping French artists, inspired by the model of the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts (US) and the Arts Law Center (Australia).

Innovation in Iraq. The Cultural Protection Fund of the British Council released a report outlining their recent project to help protect artifacts in two museums in Iraq. The project placed SmartWater forensic traceable liquid on to 273,000 non-organic artifacts and trained dozens of local museum officials to continue applying the innovative trackers.

Galleries Getting On. Galleries in London’s West End reopened on June 15th after months of coronavirus-related closures as non-essential businesses. Galleries collectively decided to open by appointment only, and require all patrons to wear masks and follow proper social distancing requirements.

Letter for Liberty. A group of artists in the Philippines have banned together to protest a new anti-terror bill that will allow the government to infringe on their civil liberties. They launched an #ArtistsFightBack campaign and wrote a letter condemning the new legislation that has been signed by more than 1,500 people.

Spotlight on Museums: 

On June 12th, a group of demonstrators stormed into the Musée du Quai Branly Jacques Chirac in Paris to attempt to seize an African artifact. They wanted to “bring to Africa what was taken”. The five protesters were arrested and are due to appear in a Paris court on September 30th for charges of attempted theft.

On June 10th, the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art pledged not to engage in future contracts with the Chicago Police Department until they see “meaningful changes that respect black communities.”

The Toledo Museum of Art’s director Adam Levine released an apathetic statement condemning the protests following the killing of George Floyd, before claiming the museum is nonpartisan and apolitical. Artists organized a protest at the steps of the museum, demanding the museum do better to use its platform to end police brutality and racial injustice. The museum has since released two new statements outlining plans to increase representation in its collection.

Must Come Down. Over 200 monuments have been toppled or removed across America. Most notably:

  1. San Francisco’s Asian Art Museumhas removed a bust of the institution’s founding patron, Avery Brundage, a twentieth-century sports administrator with an eight-thousand-work collection who developed a reputation as a Nazi sympathizer and white supremacist.
  2. The Museum of Natural History has decided to remove the bronze statue of Theodore Roosevelt, on horseback and flanked by a Native American man and an African man, from the entrance of the museum.
  3. While the announced removal of the Robert E. Lee statue has been stalled by two lawsuits, the city of Richmond, VA removed the confederate statues of Gen. Stonewall Jackson and officer Fontaine Maury.
  4. Russian art collector Andrei Filatov offered to purchase the statues of Roosevelt in NYC and Alexander Baranov in Alaska, in an effort to preserve the memory of their efforts to advance Russian interests.


On the other side of the pond: The Oxford University council is debating the future of the Cecil Rhodes statue due to demands for its removal. Rhodes was a 19th-century imperialist, and the funder of the Rhodes Scholarship. Meanwhile, in Bristol, the statue of slave trader Edward Colston was thrown into the harbor. The mayor intends to display the toppled statue in a museum alongside Black Lives Matter placards, to educate visitors on the need for racial equality.

Botched. Conservation experts in Spain call for stricter laws concerning restoration work after a copy of a famous painting by the baroque artist Bartolomé Esteban Murillo became the latest in a long line of artworks to suffer a damaging and disfiguring repair. The painting was “restored” by a furniture restorer, and comparisons have been made to the botched restoration of a 16th-century polychrome statue of Saint George eight years ago.

Lost and Found. An obscure piece of US history was discovered from a cove off the coast of Manhattan. A crane salvaged what is believed to be the wreckage of the PT-59, a Navy patrol boat commanded by former president John F. Kennedy during his time in the military. The remnants of the World War II boat could wind up at a museum.

Facing the (Arti)Facts.  Facebook explicitly banned the sale of historical artifacts in its marketplaces. This announcement came in response to calls from watchdog groups including the ATHAR Project to regulate the online exchange platform. Read the Center’s spotlight.

Time’s Up. Staff at the Philadelphia Museum of Art announced in late May they are launching a union drive, following recent criticism of the museum’s deficient harassment policies in a New York Times report, which named former museum manager Joshua Helmer as a repeat offender.

New Twist On Resale Royalties. The foundation Kadist, based in San Francisco and Paris, developed a new sales agreement that artists can use to make sure profits derived from their works go to a charitable cause, which the Foundation hopes will be an extra incentive for buyers.

Conceptional Art Tour. Conceptual artist Gregor Schneider is holding tours for people in his hometown, Rheydt, Germany. Stops on the tour include the birthplace of Joseph Goebbels, a top figure in the Nazi regime. Schneider is a conceptual artist who typically transforms buildings and home to create a narrative.

Decommissioning. The Guggenheim decommissioned a Donald Judd work created by collector Count Giuseppe Panza di Biumo. A certificate to create the unconstructed Judd work was sold to Panza in the 1970s, but when Panza constructed the piece, Judd argued it was not exactly how he intended. Therefore, the museums are decommissioning, or retiring, claiming the piece is no longer recognized as art. This is different than deaccessioning, as the museum will not be selling the piece.

Podcast Episode: Art Scoping on Museum Decolonization. Dr. Victoria S. Reed discusses museum decolonizationand how it relates to recent calls to remove statues representing hate and racism. She contextualizes this topical issue with references to museums collections containing colonial plunder from abroad, Nazi loot, and objects caught up in the illicit trade.

Safety in the UK’s Law Society. The UK’s Law Society outlines how firms and professionals are keeping staff safe, abiding with regulations in uncertain circumstances and the broader (and not inconsiderable) challenge of keeping “the justice system functioning”. Virtual hearings and ‘e-bundles’ are showing how remote justice is being served in art cases during the pandemic. A focus on long-term planning and contract law are among the chief lockdown concerns.