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March 2020

UNESCO Goes Digital. Google Arts & Culture launched a new digital visualization platform that calls attention to five UNESCO World Heritage sites under threat from climate change. It documents the threat to each site, including rising sea levels, coastal erosion, and extreme weather patterns.

Antiquities Seized. Bulgarian authorities have authorized the Bulgarian National Museum of History (NIM) to seize the antiquities collection of Vasil Bozhkov, who was indicted in absentia for charges that include leading an organized crime group, extortion, and blackmail. Bozhkov is currently being held in the U.A.E., pending an agreement on extradition. The Bozhkov collection includes more than 3,000 pieces from across Europe and covers almost 4,000 years of history.

Bordering on Illegal. A burial site of the Tohono O’odham Nation has been destroyed in an effort to build a border wall between the United States and Mexico. Under the authority of the 2005 REAL ID Act, the Trump administration waived dozens of laws, including the Native Graves Protection Act and numerous environmental regulations, in order to build on this site.

Vandals in Melbourne. On February 9, 2020, a dozen masked individuals destroyed Melbourne’s Hosier Lane, a street art outdoor gallery that attracts 5,000 visitors per day, by covering its iconic graffiti walls with pink, blue, yellow and blue paint. The City of Melbourne has filed a complaint with the police, calling the destruction “self-centered…damaging and creates no value for anyone.”

Top Three. The estate of Donald Marron unconventionally decided to sell Marron’s art collection privately through top three galleries: Pace, Gagosian, and Acquavella. Marron’s art collection is some 300 works, reportedly worth upwards of $450 million, including paintings from prominent modern artists such as Pablo Picasso, Mark Rothko, and Cy Twombly. Reportedly one of Marron pieces already sold for about $70 million. You do the math.

Self-Exploding Art or Sabotage? Gabriel Rico’s “Nimbre and Sinister Tricks (To Be Preserved Without Scandal and Corruption)” was destroyed while it was on exhibit at Galería OMR in Mexico City. Avelina Lésper, an art critic, allegedly placed an empty can of Coke on a stone element of Rico’s $19,000 contemporary glass sculpture, which subsequently exploded.

Restitutions:– Ethiopia. The Dutch government recently returned a stolen 18th-century ceremonial crown to the Ethiopian government. The artifact went missing from a church 21 years ago. Sirak Asfaw, a Dutch civil servant born in Ethiopia, claimed he found the crown in a suitcase left behind by a guest in his apartment and kept the priceless object hidden for 21 years. He later approached the Dutch Ministry of Foreign affairs to let them know he was in possession of the object.

– India. The Indian government is requesting that the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford return a 15th-century bronze idol of Saint Tirumankai Alvar. The idol was stolen from a temple in the Tamil Nadu province of India in the early 1960s and replaced with a forgery. Sotheby’s bought the idol for £850 in 1967 from Dr. J.R. Belmont, an art collector specializing in Indian sculpture.

– Haiti. The U.S. conducted its first repatriation of artifacts to the nation of Haiti. The 479 cultural and historical artifacts represent the FBI’s single largest recovery of cultural property, as part of the US commitment to protecting Haitian heritage.

– Nigeria. Mexico returned an ancient bronze statue to Nigeria after it was seized by customs officers in Mexico City as smugglers attempted to bring it illegally into the country. The art world is not immune to the Coronavirus outbreak: fairs have been cancelled, such as Art Basel Hong Kong, and museums such as the Louvre and many institutions in Northern Italyhave closed their doors to the public due to public health concerns.

Scouting for Money. The Boy Scouts of America may be forced to sell its fine art collection, including 65 pieces by Norman Rockwell. The Boy Scouts filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy this month in response to hundreds of lawsuits alleging sexual abuse. The artworks may be the Boy Scouts’ most valuable assets, as the current record for the sale of a Rockwell painting was set at $46 million dollars in 2013.

DIY Art. Artist Ai Weiwei collaborated with the German home improvement store, Hornbach DIY, to sell a work of art which buyers can assemble themselves. The work, entitled “Safety Jackets Zipped the Other Way” costs between €150 and €500 depending on the model and comes with all of the necessary parts, instructions from the artist and a certificate of authenticity.

Paying Irish Artists. Ireland’s Arts Council developed a three-year plan to create a policy that will improve the living and working conditions of artists in Ireland. The plan seeks to acquire data on equitable pay for artists and organizations willing to contract fairly with artists for future projects.