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BY Andrew Goldstein on September 18, 2009
"greens crossing greens (to Piet Mondrian who lacked green)," a 1966 light-art installation by Dan Flavin, whose estate is now represented worldwide by David Zwirner Gallery. ; Courtesy of David Zwirner Gallery

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It was another busy September week in the art world, with news flashing around the globe--including some encouraging developments that suggest the recessionary cycle may finally be on the upswing. In his new book A Colossal Failure of Common Sense, former Lehman Brothers VP Lawrence McDonald hilariously posits that an obsession with art collecting played a role in keeping the firm's executives from "minding the store," leading to the collapse of Lehman--one year ago today--and the ensuing face-plant of the economy. But if art market exuberance had something marginal to do with bringing on the downturn, signs of health being restored to the market seem to presage that an overall (if top-down) recovery actually is in the works.


One promising sign is that prices for work by Damien Hirst, whose $200 million Sotheby's sale in fall 2008 marked the apex of the boom, have returned from a yearlong drop to regain their pre-bust levels. In Shanghai, meanwhile, the ShContemporary art fair did surprisingly well, making better-than-expected sales and bringing over eager U.S. dealers and critics (including Hal Foster) to survey the evolving Chinese contemporary art scene. Several architectural projects that were put on ice during the recession are also being revived. London's Tate Modern has announced that a planned expansion by Herzog & de Meuron will proceed after all, to open by the 2012 London Olympic Games. Yale University Art Gallery was also able to raise funds to complete an expansion that had been cancelled in January, and which is now planned to open in 2012 as well. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Museum of Art--currently home to a destination-worthy Marcel Duchamp exhibition--has debuted a new sculpture garden, and Alice Walton's Crystal Bridges museum in Bentonville, Arkansas, has given a glimpse of what the deluxe, Wal-Mart-funded institution will have in store when it opens by unveiling a bike trail dotted with works by artists like Mark di Suvero and James Turrell.


In an instance of an art space opening precisely because of the recession, a new outdoor exhibition and performance venue called LentSpace has opened in downtown Manhattan on Canal and Sullivan Streets. Elsewhere, of course, the economy is continuing to wreak its damage. Brandeis University is continuing in its efforts to close down the Rose Art Museum and sell off its collection to raise money, despite a lawsuit filed by museum board members, and Metropolitan Museum of Art director Thomas Campbell said that he's considering charging mandatory--as opposed to suggested--admission to special shows.


There were a number of eventful developments in Europe this week. The French government announced a raft of intriguing new cultural initiatives, including a project for next year that will allow artists under 30 to intervene at designated public areas--from castles to train stations to parks--in several cities, using their art to "rewrite history in their own manner"; a mobile version of the Pompidou (literally a museum on wheels) that will travel the country; an itinerant film school on a house boat that will help people make their first films; a program to screen operas in public theaters; and a new "arts hill" cultural development in Paris. Continuing the recent trend of museum shows drawing huge crowds, the Prado in Madrid reported a record attendance for its recent Joaquin Sorolla exhibition, drawing more than 450,000 visitors to see works by the Valencian painter.

In Florence history was made when an enormous 11-ton bronze by Greg Wyatt, an artist in residence at New York's St. John the Divine Cathedral, became the first artwork by an American to be displayed in the piazza outside the Palazzo Vecchio. Elsewhere in Italy, Iranian-American artist Shirin Neshat won the Venice Film Festival's Silver Lion for her first movie, "Zanan Bedoone Mardan" ("Women Without Men"); she and her cast wore green in accepting the award in solidarity with the Iranian political opposition. Another political statement was retracted, however, when video artist Bill Viola announced that he will be attending the Pope's November cultural conference at the Vatican after all despite initially declaring he would sit it out on principle. "The connection between contemporary art and contemporary spirituality is an urgent and extremely important one," Viola said in a statement.


In the annals of art crime, a mysterious heist took place in Los Angeles when a valuable set of 11 Warhol silkscreens of famous athletes was discovered missing from the dining room of wealthy collector Richard Weisman--with no signs of forced entry, and no other artworks stolen. Investigators wonder what the thieves plan to do with the works, since the iconic images--including famous portraits of Muhammad Ali and O.J. Simpson--would be immediately recognized if they were to re-enter the market. (Check out the million-dollar reward alert, which would make for a cool poster.) Perhaps the paintings will end up in a second-hand shop, as was the fate of a van Gogh sketch of The Night Cafe (valued at up to $1 million) that was discovered in a Raton, New Mexico, antiques store, priced at $250, after being stolen from a Santa Fe home in May.

Meanwhile the 17-year-old street artist Cartrain, who was arrested earlier this month for steeling a box of pencils from a Damien Hirst installation at the Tate as part of a running feud with the YBA, has become an overnight renegade hero to many corners of the art world--including sharp-witted Guardian critic Jonathan Jones. Calling Hirst's zero-tolerance approach to Cartrain's antics--which have included making collages from images of Hirst's diamond-encrusted skull--potentially "the most controversial story of Hirst's career," Jones lavished praise on one of the teenage artist's pieces in his possession: "this is an excellent dadaist collage that makes a lot of "official" contemporary art look pretentious.... I wonder if the real reason for Hirst's antagonism is that Cartrain has done the same as all great caricaturists down the ages: created a vicious but insidiously memorable image of his target."


In China, meanwhile, the continuing vigor of the art scene is remarkable in the face of the government's draconian curbs on free speech and political openness. Shockingly, Ai Weiwei, one of the country's most respected and prominent artists, was hospitalized last week for bleeding in his brain caused by an assault last month by the police, who punched him in the head, detained him in a hotel, and threatened to kill him when he attempted to testify on behalf of a Chinese dissident being tried by the government. To get out the word, the artist posted post-surgery photos of himself on his Twitter feed. A less brutal instance of government interference also took place in Glasgow, where local authorities removed artworks that had offended religious groups from "Sh(OUT)," an exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art that deals with issues in the lesbian, gay, and transgender communities. The fact that such uproars over contemporary artworks are so common--from Mapplethorpe's "X Portfolio" series to Kippenberger's crucified frog to Chris Ofili's Holy Virgin Mary--may be partially explained by a recent study that shows people are more prone to having an emotional rather than intellectual response to recent art, whereas ancient art elicits more cognitive viewing.

It would be difficult to categorize the response audience members had to a performance by controversial Cuban artist Tania Bruguera, who caused a stir at an art conference in Bogota when she had an assistant walk though the crowd with a tray piled with lines of cocaine during a performance that featured three militaristic characters representing Colombia's factionalized state speaking into a microphone at once. Bruguera--who may have had Rob Pruitt's 1998 "Cocaine Buffet" in mind--had also wanted to include a gun in the piece to round out the portrait of the country but in the end did not. In New York, meanwhile, the long-drawn-out saga of Annie Leibovitz's default on her $24 million debt to the Art Capital Group seems to have been resolved, with the terms of the loan restructured so as to allow the celebrity photographer to keep the rights to her artworks. However, she's now being sued by Italian photographer Paolo Pizzetti for allegedly stealing photographs he took and using them in an advertising campaign.


A number of moves were made in the museum and gallery sphere last week. Franklin Sirmans, til recently the curator of modern and contemporary art at Houston's Menil Collection and a former editor at Flash Art, has been named the head of contemporary art at LACMA. The New Mexico Museum of Art has tapped Mary Kershaw as its new director, recruiting her from Britain where she had spent two decades working with museum collections. Okwui Enwezor, an esteemed fixture of the international biennial circuit, is leaving his post at the San Francisco Art Institute to focus full-time on curating and writing. In Washington, President Obama has named Tisch School of the Arts dean Mary Schmidt Campbell as the vice chairman of his new Committee on the Arts and Humanities.

The week's big news in the gallery scene was David Zwirner's announcement that he is now representing the estate of Dan Flavin, who never had a single worldwide dealer before; to mark the occasion, Zwirner has created a new Web site for the light artist and will mount a wide-ranging show of his work in New York in November. The Art Dealers Association of America has named gallerist and former auction specialist Lucy Mitchell-Innes as its new president, taking over for Luhring Augustine impresario Roland Augustine. Meanwhile, the recessional art world reshuffle continues with the photography gallery Hasted Hunt becoming Hasted Hunt Kraeutler with the addition of specialist Joseph Kraeutle, and also moving to a new location in Charles Cowles Gallery's former 24th Street space. Finally, top-flight German contemporary art dealer Michael Werner is opening a new space in Berlin with his gallery director Gordon Veneklasen, to be called VW, or Veneklasen Werner.

Related Articles:


"Damien Hirst Values Recover a Year After Sale, Lehman Collapse" [via Bloomberg]

"ShContemporary on Solid Footing, Despite Setbacks" [via]

"Opening Salvo" [via]

"Tate Pursues 215 Million Pound Expansion, Seeks Funds" [via Bloomberg]

"ON AGAIN AT YALE" [via the New York Times]

"Philadelphia Museum Opens New Sculpture Garden to the Public" [via]


"An Art Park Sprouts (for Now) Where New Buildings Were to Grow" [via the New York Times]

"Brandeis seeks dismissal of Rose lawsuit" [Via the New England Journal of Aesthetic Research]

"Thomas Campbell: “I am who I am. I’m not going to adopt a grand-style persona”" [via the Art Newspaper]


"Museo del Prado Closes Sorolla Exhibition After Breaking a Ten Year Old Attendance Record" [via]

"Michelangelo’s Florence Is Abuzz Over 11-Ton American Statue" [via Bloomberg]



"Warhol Paintings Stolen in Los Angeles" [via the New York Times]

"Stolen van Gogh artwork turns up at Raton shop" [Via the Trinidad Times Independent]

"Damien Hirst loses face over Cartrain's portrait" [via the Guardian]

"Ai Weiwei publishes images of himself in hospital on Twitter" [via the Art Newspaper]

"No social justice for Glasgow's art?" [via the Guardian]

"Modern Art More Likely to Stir the Heart" [via Miller-McCune]


"Leibovitz Buys Back Control of Photos, Real Estate" [via Bloomberg]

"Art Capital vs. Annie Leibovitz: The Cease-fire" [via]

"LACMA has a new chief curator of contemporary art: Franklin Sirmans" [via the Los Angeles Times]

"Mary Kershaw Appointed Director of New Mexico Museum of Art" [via]

"SFAI Appoints Jeannene Przyblyski New Dean of Academic Affairs" [via]

"RECALLING FLAVIN" [via the New York Times]

"Obama Appoints Three to Arts and Humanities Committee" [via]

"Lucy Mitchell-Innes Elected ADAA President" [via]

"Hasted Hunt Snags Cowles Gallery, Edward Burtynsky" [via]


From the Article: Artists

Martin Kippenberger
Ai Weiwei
Dan Flavin
Damien Hirst
Chris Ofili
Marcel Duchamp
Bill Viola
Andy Warhol

From the Article: Venues