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Halloween came and went this week, and the scariest thing in the art world may have been the pop-out prosthetic tongue in Urs Fischer's New Museum show--unless, that is, the politicization of art and cultural heritage gives you the heebie-jeebies. Read on for ArtWeLove’s news digest, now also available in email form—bringing a comprehensive roundup of the week’s art developments to your digital doorstep. If you aren’t signed up, click here. As always, we welcome your feedback at email@example.com.
It’s been nearly four years since Greece and Italy won landmark victories in their campaign to retrieve looted antiquities from U.S. museums, winning back dozens of objects from the Met, the Getty, and other institutions. Now that the restitution issue has fired up again—thanks mainly to the hyper-politicized efforts of Egyptian archeological chief Zahi Hawass, who’s been pursuing objects in France and Germany in the name of national pride—officials in the U.S. have been scrambling to ward off another showdown. In an attempt to curry favor with Egypt, the Met purchased a piece of a pharoanic monument from a collector for the express purpose of returning it to the country, which it did last week. The gesture, which Hawass called a “great deed,” could be read as a move by Met director Thomas Campbell to distinguish himself from his predecessor, Philippe de Montebello, who was outspokenly ambivalent about restitution. Meanwhile, U.S. customs seized two ancient vases that were looted from Italy, returning them to the county.
In another instance of the geopolitical uses of art, Singapore has pumped more than a billion dollars into new museums and other art infrastructure in a drive to displace Hong Kong as Asia’s cultural capital—drawing skepticism from arts advocates who wish the island city-state would relax its rigid limits on free speech as well. And at the same time that countries are aggressively ramping up their arts, notably in the United Arab Emirates and France, the recession has created a complementary phenomenon: collectors around the world have increasingly been buying art by local artists rather than looking to what’s hot on the international market. (One telling sign of this development is that there will be no Chinese contemporary art in the Sotheby’s or Christie’s evening auctions in New York this month.)
In New York, MoMA won city approval for its controversial expansion, an 82-story skyscraper designed by Jean Nouvel that will include more exhibition space along with deluxe apartments and a hotel. Originally planned to be as tall as the Empire State Building, the tower lost 225 feet in city negotiations but still angers opponents in midtown, who find the building hubristic and too dwarfing. They might sue to stop it. Another construction project, the arts center proposed for ground zero, is faring less well, with city funds not forthcoming and prospects of it ever getting built diminishing fast. And as part of an intervention at building sites, a band of artists whitewashed illegal advertisements plastered up on scaffolding and construction barriers, replacing the posters with their own work. Several got arrested in the process. But in some bright news, the House and Senate approved a $12.5 million dollar increase for arts funding next year, bringing the budget to more than $161 million.
A string of gala events in New York last week pumped some excitement into the art world, combining with artist-thrown Halloween parties—like Kenny Scharf’s day-glow affair in Brooklyn—to make for an unusually full week. Performa kicked off its 2009 performance-art biennial with a high-concept banquet at X Initiative, filling three floors of the space with a do-it-yourself cocktail bar, a heaping pile of ribs coated in honey that dripped from the ceiling, and a dessert room containing entire chopped-down apple trees and chocolate Jeff Koons bunnies that guests—including Maurizio Cattelan, Cindy Sherman, Klaus Biesenbach, Mario Batali, and collector Don Rubell—were encouraged to smash with a hammer. Then Urs Fischer’s impressive (and surprisingly restrained) show opened at the New Museum, concluding months of expectation and bringing together much of the city’s art world to take in the Swiss maverick’s vision. Finally the Guggenheim held its seriocomic first annual Art Awards, hosted by artist Rob Pruitt. Performance art pioneer Joan Jonas and curator Kasper Konig received lifetime achievement awards, Ryan Trecartin won best new artist, Mary Heilmann best artist, and Connie Butler best curator. For the rest of the winners, click here.
Miami Art Museum director Terry Riley, a former MoMA architecture curator, abruptly stepped down from his post last week—just days after designs for the Miami museum’s long-in-the-works new building were unveiled. The circumstances of his departure are still hazy, but Riley’s difficulty winning over the city’s deep-pocketed art patrons may have played a part. In New York, Knoedler & Co. gallery on the Upper East Side has a new director, Frank Del Deo, who replaces the resigning Ann Freedman. In other gallery news, the New York Times caught up with art dealer Becky Smith, whose Bellwether gallery closed in June.
Lastly, as a belated Halloween surprise, here’s advice from artist Nayland Blake on how to make a costume for your art.