Germany Creates Database to Help Prevent Looting of Cultural Property

The Temple of Baal in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, destroyed by ISIS. Photo: Sandra Auger / Reuters.

The German government has created an internet portal to support the country’s Cultural Property Protection Law, according to Catherine Hickley of the Art Newspaper. The law, which came into effect in 2016, was enacted to protect German national heritage and put an end to the illegal trafficking of looted art and antiquities. The portal offers information on artists, museums, archives, and cultural property regulations for collectors. There is also material on cultural heritage regulations from sixty other countries, including Egypt, China, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Dealers say German law protecting cultural property is made up severe regulations that are perhaps the toughest in the world. Any antiquity available for purchase in Germany requires an export license from the object’s country of origin. The law also mandates that exporters of cultural goods beyond a certain age and value need to have an export license from one of Germany’s sixteen states. Monika Grtters, Germany’s culture minister, says the law is one of her most significant achievements, especially in light of the ancient sites being looted and destroyed by terrorists in Syria and Iraq.

The new portal is accessible here. English and French versions of the site are in the works.


October 23, 2017

Creative Time’s Nato Thompson Named Artistic Director of Philadelphia Contemporary

Nato Thompson.

Creative Time’s artistic director, Nato Thompson, will step down after a decade at the New York organization to join the recently established Philadelphia Contemporary as its first artistic director.

“We’re incredibly proud of Nato and everything we accomplished together at Creative Time,” acting executive director Alyssa Nitchun said in a statement. “This is an exciting and timely new venture, and we look forward to celebrating his work with Philadelphia Contemporary.”

Thompson began his career at Creative Time in 2007. During his tenure he worked on a variety of projects, including Pledge’s of Allegiance, 2017, a serialized commission of sixteen flags responding to the current political climate; Pedro Reyes’sDoomocracy, 2016; Kara Walker’sA Subtlety, 2014; Trevor Paglen’sThe Last Pictures, 2012; and the annual Creative Time Summit.

Philadelphia Contemporary, was founded last year by Harry Philbrick, a former director of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. The nonprofit aims to build a non-collecting, multi-disciplinary, and sustainable art venue dedicated to contemporary art. While the organization works on finding a permanent home, it will focus on staging site-specific projects around the city. Thompson will officially assume his new role in November.

October 23, 2017

Miami Collectors Donate Two-Hundred Aboriginal Works to Three US Museums

Debra and Dennis Scholl.

Dennis and Debra Scholl, longtime collectors and supporters of the arts in Miami, have announced that they will donate two hundred contemporary aboriginal Australian works to the following museums: the Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum at Florida International University, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno.

“These three institutions are really engaged in this area and with us,” Dennis Scholl, told Jane Wooldridge of the Miami Herald. “We want the work to be seen.” The gift includes pieces by painters such as Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjari, Paddy Bedford, Gulumbu Yunipingu, and Nongirrnga Marawili. Ninety works will be given to both the Frost and the Nevada Museum. The Met will receive nineteen pieces.

The Scholls have been collecting aboriginal art more than twelve years ago when they began traveling frequently to Australia for their wine-making business. Dennis is currently the CEO or ArtCenter/South Florida and Debra is the board chair of the nonprofit exhibition space Locust Projects. In 2012, the couple donated three hundred contemporary artworks to Miami’s Prez Museum. “It takes a good decade to become really engaged with a genre,” Dennis said. “Then we think to find a good institutional home for the work.”

October 23, 2017

Arrest of Cultural Figure at Turkish Airport Sparks Outcry

Osman Kavala.

Renowned Turkish peace activist Osman Kavala, was detained Wednesday by counter-terrorist police at Atatrk Airport in Istanbul. Kavala is the chairman of Anadolu Kltr (Anatolian Culture), a nonprofit that fights for artistic rights and cultural diversity. He was returning on a flight from Gaziantep in Turkey’s Anatolia region, where he was discussing a project at the Goethe Institut, when he was arrested for unknown reasons.

“Osman Kavala has worked tirelessly to build reconciliation, dialogue and support the rule of law in Turkey. Release him from detention,” pleaded Emma Sinclair-Webb, Turkish director of the Human Rights Watch, in a tweet on Thursday.

US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in an interview with Reuters that his arrest was an example of a “very alarming trend” in Turkey. Since last year’s failed military coup, more than 50,000 people, including academics, activists, civil society leaders, human rights defenders, and journalists have been arrested and tens of thousands have been removed from government jobs.

October 23, 2017

Family of Henri Matisse Wins Legal Battle over Artist’s Cutouts

Henri Matisse. Photo:

The Versailles Court of Appeals has ruled that a Parisian dealer must return two cutouts by Henri Matisse, worth $4.5 million, to the artist’s heirs, Vincent Noce of the Art Newspaper reports.

The family of Matisse’s youngest son, the NY gallerist Pierre Matisse, filed a lawsuit against an unnamed party for fraud and the detention of stolen goods in January 2009, after learning that the artist’s White Palm on Red and Green Snail on Blue were to be sold at an Impressionist and Modern sale at Sotheby’s in New York. The works are among hundreds that were allegedly taken from storage at the art-supply company Lefebvre-Foinet sometime after they were deposited there in 1972.

The auction house had attempted to uncover more detailed provenance information for both works. It consulted Matisse expert Wanda de Guebriant, who refused to authenticate the cutouts due to suspicions regarding Paris dealer Jrme Le Blay’s claim that they were acquired from a friend of Josette Lefebvre, the heiress of the Lefebvre fortune, in the 1960s. According to de Guebriant, the pieces were most likely still at Pierre’s Nice apartment during this time.

October 23, 2017

Former Sotheby’s Specialist Heads to Jail in New York

New York State Supreme Court.

After being charged on fifteen counts of fraud last June, a former director at Sotheby’s is now heading to jail, according to a report by Brian Boucher at artnet. Timothy Sammons–a solicitor who set up his own art dealing business in 1995 after serving as head of the auction house’s Chinese art department–is a British citizen but was arraigned in New York State Supreme Court last Friday, where prosecutors called for a sentence of five to fifteen years in prison. Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance said the following in a statement regarding the case: “As alleged in the indictment, the defendant used his industry experience to gain the trust of prospective art sellers, then betrayed that trust by pocketing the proceeds of those sales to fund his own lavish lifestyle…Not only did victims lose millions of dollars, but many lost valuable pieces of artwork that had been in their families for generations.”

The charges have been upped to multiple counts of grand larceny in the first and second degrees, as well as one count of scheming to defraud in the first degree, all related to Sammons selling works by Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Paul Gauguin, Amedeo Modigliani, and Ren Magritte on behalf of several clients and pocketing the proceeds. Several of his clients began to file lawsuits in 2015, claiming he failed to remit payments. In response, a UK high court froze all of his accounts—about $9 million in assets—confiscated his passport, and permitted him a $1,500 weekly allowance. The Manhattan DA maintains that between 2010 and 2015, Sammons, who had offices in New York and London, defrauded five victims in the US, the UK, and New Zealand. The accused also allegedly used proceeds from the sale of one victim’s art to pay other clients and used art that did not belong to him as collateral to obtain personal loans.

Glenn Hardy, Sammons’s attorney, asked the judge on Friday to allow Sammons to post bail, claiming it would be very complicated to compile the records necessary to mount his defense if he were sent to jail. The attorney also argued that Sammons—whose passport has been seized and who voluntarily turned himself in to US marshals—was not a flight risk, while pointing out that when his client was living in the UK after being released on bail there, Sammons had submitted willingly to restrictions on his travel imposed by the UK’s Insolvency Service and that those conditions had gradually been eased due to his compliance. The US judge declined to set bail though, and Sammons was taken into police custody after the arraignment. His next court date has been scheduled for November 6.

October 20, 2017

Hundreds of Cultural Figures Defend Right to Artistic Freedom in Brazil

Protesters demonstrating outside of the So Paulo Museum of Modern Art in Brazil.

Hundreds of arts professionals have signed an open letter published Thursday, October 19, in protest of the “wave of hate, intolerance, and violence against free expression” in Brazil. In recent months, conservatives have been waging a war against cultural institutions by trying to censor and close down exhibitions, attacking museum staff members and visitors, and using social media to promote fake news and harass people who disagree with them.

The letter condemns the actions of members of right-wing groups, religious sects, and several politicians and civil servants responsible for the onslaught. “These arrogant fundamentalists refuse to give artistic works a more attentive reading, and go witch-hunting for signs of indecency, pornography and heresy,” it reads. “There is no questioning or intellectual debate, only violence and intolerance.”

The document, which as of today had more than 1,000 signatures, was written in response to a series of events that occurred over the course of this year. It specifically cites the Santander Cultural Center’s decision to end its “Queermuseu” exhibition early following allegations of pedophilia; the outcry over a nude performance that led to a petition calling for the Museum of Modern Art in So Paulo to close; and a rally against the works of Pedro Moraleida at the Palace of Arts in Belo Horizonte.

However, it also claims that artistic creativity has been threatened since 2010, when opposition against the newly elected president Dilma Rousseff, who was ousted in 2016, and Brazil’s third edition of its National Plan for Human Rights, which includes extended protections for women and the LGBTQ community, began to build. According to the 342 Artes movement, another group fighting to preserve Brazilians’ right to freedom of expression, arts institutions are being targeted because they’ve been advocating for these groups.

In conclusion, the letter urges people to mobilize in order to “defend and deepen the rights to an environment of free circulation of ideas, and denounce those who work to destroy democracy in Brazil.”

The day the letter was published, it was read aloud to the National Congress by Workers’ Party member Paulo Teixeira as well as at the opening of the exhibition “Histories of Sexuality” at the Museu du Arte de So Paulo, which recently caved to pressure from conservatives and set an over-eighteen-only age limit for admission to the show. It was also sent to several politicans and circulated through email and the messaging service called What’s App. Artist Renata Lucas told Lauren Cavalli of that these attacks must end and called the attempts to censor the arts as “unacceptable and an imminent threat to democracy.”

Among the signatories of the letter are Clarissa Diniz, a curator at the Museu de Arte do Rio; Fernanda Brenner, curator and director of the nonprofit Piv; Lilian Tone, a curator at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Jorge Schwartz, professor and director of the Museu Lasar Segall; and Marcos Gallon, artistic director of the Verbo performance art festival, as well as countless artists, choreographers, professors, journalists, architects, and other cultural producers.

The letter in full is as follows:

October 20, 2017

Lawrence Argent (1957-2017)

Lawrence Argent, I See What You Mean, 2005.

Sculptor and educator Lawrence Argent, best known for his forty-foot blue bear whose two front paws rest on the glass walls of the Colorado Convention Center in Denver as it peers inside, died on October 4 at the age of sixty. Argent’s other playful, site-specific works include a colossal panda, a giant rabbit, and a stainless-steel Venus that is nearly as tall as the Statue of Liberty.

Born in Essex, England, in 1957, and raised in Melbourne, Australia, Argent graduated from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in 1983. In 1986, he graduated with a master’s degree in fine arts from the Rinehart School of Sculpture in Baltimore and continued to live in the United States. He eventually settled in Denver, Colorado, where he taught at the University of Denver for twenty-four years.

To create his large-scale works, Argent often starts using a 3D printer to produce a model of the work. He then builds a steel skeleton and uses polymer concrete, fiberglass, and other materials to cover the metal frame. According to Harrison Smith at the Washington Post, Argent was at the forefront of digital sculpture and sat on the board of the Digital Stone Project, which supports artists who want to use new technology in their practices such as robotic stone cutting.

“He really understood how combining traditional and advanced technologies could help create art that was truly moving,” Dan Jacob, the director of the Vicki Myhren Gallery at the University of Denver, said in a statement.

October 20, 2017

Lara Favaretto’s Skulptur Projekte Mnster Work Raises $31,400 for Refugees

Lara Favaretto, Momentary Monument – The Stone, 2017.

Artist Lara Favaretto used the sculpture she exhibited in this year’s Skulptur Projekte Mnster to raise $31,400 for refugees and those facing deportation in Germany. Contributions were revealed when the work was smashed open after the show ended on October 1.

Favaretto’s Momentary Monument – The Stone, is part of a series that comments on the impermanence of monuments. A small slot on the side of the monolithic work allowed it to work as a kind of piggy bank. According to Artnews, on Thursday, October 19, the money was donated to Hilfe fr Menschen in Abschiebehaft Bren e.V., a German organization that helps displaced people.

Favaretto has a second work in nearby Marl, Germany, the exhibition’s satellite location. Due to “organizational reasons” this stone will not be demolished until sometime next year.

October 20, 2017

Artists Grapple with Devastation Caused by California Wildfires

Firefighter Brandon Tolp working to prevent flames from crossing Highway 29 in Californian on October 12. Photo: Marcus Yam for the Los Angeles Times

As Northern California continues to battle wildfires, which have already blackened more than 240,000 acres, caused $1 billion in damages, and killed at least forty-two people, residents are trying to come to terms with the loss of life and property.

Glass sculptor Clifford Rainey, the chair of the Glass Program at the California College of the Arts in Oakland, lost the Mount George home and studio he shared with his partner floral designer Rachel Raiser in a Napa Valley fire. He told Charles Desmarais of the San Francisco Chronicle that he had about thirty-four large scale works he was currently work on as well as around thirty other glassworks on the premises. “Every single piece of artwork I own, I’ve had since college, was lost,” he said.

Photographer Norma I. Quintana, who was preparing to head to Puerto Rico to photograph the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, was at her Napa Valley home with her family when she was alerted to an approaching fire by a friend. Shortly after, police arrived to evacuate them. When she returned to the house everything was gone. “I just thought we would be back and never ever thought it would burn, she told the San Francisco Chronicle. “We had this house almost thirty years.” Among the possessions destroyed by the fire were Quintana’s collection of photographs, including works by Mary Ellen Mark, Sally Mann, and Graciela Iturbide.