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It was another busy week in the art world, with Dia announcing plans to return to New York City, the Impressionist and Modern auctions, and a plethora of other developments. 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.
In an addition to art history that is already being hailed as indispensable, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam has released a comprehensive new collection of Vincent van Gogh’s letters, allowing the artist to tell his story in his own vivid, direct terms. Fifteen years in the making, and filling five volumes, the retranslated collection is also available online here and as a free iPhone app. In Florence, a glimpse of another tormented artist was provided by scientists who used advanced reflectography technology to reveal a tiny self-portrait that Caravaggio concealed on a wine carafe in one of his best-known paintings, Bacchus (1597). Then, in Washington, D.C., a painting by the African-American artist Alma Thomas will no longer be installed as part of the Obamas’ White House art collection. The stated reason is that the piece doesn’t “fit the space,” but some wonder whether silly objections that the painting, Watusi (Hard Edge) (1963), was based on a Matisse--or "plagiarized"--played a role.
The most welcome news of the week came from the Dia Art Foundation, which revealed that it has finally found the site for a new Manhattan home after an obstacle-riddled search. The seminal contemporary-art organization, which has not had a presence of its own in the city since closing two spaces in 2000, plans to build a stripped-down exhibition space in a 50,000-square-foot former Chelsea garage on 22nd street. Meanwhile Spain’s Guggenheim Bilbao, the Frank Gehry-designed outpost that inspired a mania for destination museum architecture in recent years, has declared it is exploring the possibility of building a satellite of its own outside the Basque town of Guernica. In the Ukraine, billionaire collector Victor Pinchuk, an active and dramatic presence at auctions for the past decade, plans to build a contemporary art venue in Kiev that will be even bigger than the PinchukArtCentre he already runs in the city.
Meanwhile, Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology—the oldest public museum—reopened after a multimillion dollar renovation by Rick Mather Architects that added 39 sleek modern galleries. Then, in New York, the Met has accepted a $10 million gift from the Turkish Vehbi Koc Foundation to fund two new galleries for Ottoman art, scheduled to open in fall 2011. The New Museum, however, has come under fire for its plans to show privately-owned contemporary art collections, a scenario that benefits the collectors (whose work goes up in value as a result) and the museum (which cozies up to the deep-pocketed) more than the museum-going audience. Artist William Powhida provided the most eloquent, and cutting, critique of the practice.
The Modern and Impressionist auctions swept through New York last week in advance of the big contemporary art sales, and the art world has been scrutinizing the better-than-expected results--$181.7 million at Sotheby’s and $65.6 million at Christie’s--for signs of the market’s health. The New York Times’ Souren Melikian, an unabashed cheerleader for the still-uncertain recovery, saw heartening indicators everywhere; others, like the Wall Street Journal’s Kelly Crow, were more restrained in their analyses. Sotheby’s, which took in almost three times the proceeds of its Modern and Impressionist sale last May, also announced a 41 percent fall in overall revenue for its third quarter. And if anyone needed a reminder that the ghost of Lehman Brothers still looms over the art market, last week the former investment bank sold off $1.35 million in art that once decorated its offices in a Philadelphia auction. Meanwhile, hoping to pump some enthusiasm back into the market, 53 of New York’s most visible contemporary art dealers have banded together with several art nonprofits to create “New York Gallery Week,” a concerted slate of shows, talks, and parties scheduled to take place just before May’s contemporary art auctions.
In assorted news, the Barnes Foundation has announced the appointment of Judith F. Dolkart as chief curator—a fraught job considering the controversies around the foundation’s move to Philadelphia and Albert Barnes’ strict specifications of how his art should be displayed. In academia, CalArts has created a new masters degree program that will promote the study of the intersection between art and technology, and Peter Eisenman has been named Yale’s first Charles Gwathmey Professor of Architecture, honoring the late architect who died in August. The Donald Judd Foundation announced that a catalogue raisonné of the pivotal artist will be assembled, at last. In New York, Bill Brady’s ATM Gallery plans to shack up with Freight + Volume, moving out of its 27th street location to share the other gallery’s 24th street space. And in London, the talk of the gallery scene is not related to art, but to artist Sam Taylor-Wood’s declaration that she plans to marry a her 19-year-old boyfriend, actor Aaron Johnson. The 42-year-old artist, a YBA who was formerly married to White Cube dealer Jay Jopling (who recently dated 22-year-old singer Lily Allen), met Johnson while directing him as the lead in her new John Lennon biopic, “Nowhere Man.”
Finally, Claude Lévi-Strauss, the trailblazing anthropologist who revolutionized the way primitive cultures are understood in the West, has died at 100. An influential figure in the arts whose books, like Tristes Tropiques, approached anthropological study from an impressionistic, literary perspective, Lévi-Strauss was close to the Surrealist circle and other artists. Watch an interview (in French) between Lévi-Strauss and Pierre Bourdieu here.