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As anticipation builds for this week's Art Basel Miami Beach--with Dubai's economic crisis putting a damper on the general sense of optimism about the fair--other stories in the press include a museum strike in France, Google partnering with Iraq's National Museum, and a spate of Warhol crimes. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
For the past couple of years, people have been touting globalization as the key dynamic in the art market—first as reason to believe in its continued growth, and more recently as a bulwark against the recession. Now, as the art world heads down to Art Basel Miami Beach, it will be interesting to see how the financial collapse in Dubai—the most overextended of the build-and-buy addicted Emirate states—affects sales, if it does at all. Last week’s Abu Dhabi art fair, envisioned as a way to connect blue chip Western dealers with the U.A.E.’s richest collectors, was a snooze. (Apparently many visitors to the inaugural fair didn’t realize the works at booths by dealers from Jay Jopling to Hauser & Wirth were for sale.) China, meanwhile, continues to spend enormous sums on art—as long as it’s Chinese art. Globalization may pay off for the Western art market in the long run, but aside from a few very wealthy, committed Russian and Ukrainian collectors, buyers in Miami will probably be speaking Romance languages.
Ever feel that contemporary art is godless and non-spiritual? So does the Pope. Last week His Holiness gathered over 250 of the world’s leading artists, architects, and assorted cultural figures in the Sistine Chapel to talk about beauty in art—a concept Peter Schjeldahl has called "the A-bomb of art criticism"—and advocate the “rediscovery of the transcendental.” Among those present were Zaha Hadid, Bill Viola, Anish Kapoor, and Ennio Morricone (who should totally write scores for Catholic liturgy). But while the Vatican is stepping up its engagement with the arts and will have a pavilion at the 2011 Venice Biennale, artists shouldn’t expect papal commissions. “We’re not in the Renaissance,” quipped one archbishop. Of course, that might not be such a bad thing—judging from the Vatican’s awful contemporary art collection (displayed on the way to the Sistine Chapel) and the church's recent consternation over artists like Kippenberger and Richter. Meanwhile, in England, the BBC broadcast another take on beauty that finds it to be abundant in contemporary art. Called “Ugly Beauty” and narrated by art critic Waldemar Januszczak, the program singled out works that deal with the secular realities of industrialization and entropy, like Jorge Otero-Pailos’ The Ethics of Dust.
In other international news, Google CEO Eric Schmidt traveled to Baghdad to announce that his company would create a virtual copy of the collection of Iraq’s disaster-beset National Museum, which still has yet to open to the public after being looted during the American invasion. An official from the U.S. State Department, which is overseeing the project, described it as “a really good example of what we’re calling 21st-century statecraft.” It’s also great 21st-century advertising for Google. Then, in France, museum workers have been striking over government plans to cut jobs at the country’s art institutions. The strike began at the Pompidou Center, and the union is now threatening a complete shutdown of Paris’ museums unless the culture ministry responds to their demands.
Andy Warhol is always a ubiquitous presence in the art world, but lately he seems even more ubiquitous than usual thanks to high-profile auction sales, new books that examine his legacy, and even a musical about his life. And then there are the art crimes. In the latest incident, the former chauffeur of art collector Kenward Elmslie was arrested by the FBI for selling a Heinz 57 box by Warhol that was stolen from Elmslie’s home two years ago. Then, in Utah, two people were taken into custody for trying to sell six purported Warhols for $100,000. Tip-offs that the pieces were less than genuine included that they were dated 1996, nine years after the artist’s death, and included a portrait of one Matthew Baldwin, a nonexistent Baldwin brother. Another piece in question was on a piece of newspaper. A more sophisticated case of forgery was uncovered at Stockholm’s Moderna Museet, where the museum acknowledged that at least six Brillo boxes in its collection were fakes that were shockingly made by the museum’s legendary founder, Pontus Hulten. Hulten, who died last year, is believed to have commissioned Swedish carpenters to make a total of 105 counterfeit Brillo boxes, selling several to private collectors.
In assorted news, it’s no surprise that artists are suffering in the recession, but now even Jeff Koons is feeling the pinch: LACMA has announced that construction of the enormous dangling Train sculpture that they commissioned from the artist at a reported cost of $25 million has been indefinitely postponed. In New York, meanwhile, the Christie’s-owned Haunch of Venison gallery won an American Architecture Award for its two-year-old space in Rockefeller Center, and the Museum at Eldridge Street has hired artist Kiki Smith and architect Deborah Gans to design a new window for the century-old synagogue that the museum oversees. Finally, Herzog & de Meuron unveiled their design for the Miami Art Museum's new building just in time for Art Basel Miami Beach, the tantalizing product of a $130 million project led by former director Terry Riley, a onetime MoMA architecture curator who abruptly resigned from his MAM post last month. In a review, the New York Times’ Nicolai Ouroussoff praised the design as “mesmerizing architecture that nonetheless will put curators and their audiences at ease.” See you in Miami! UPDATE: The museum just announced that John Wetenhall, the former curator of the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida, has been named MAM's interim director until Riley's permanent replacement can be found. Wetenhall, an esteemed administrator who oversaw a top-to-bottom renovation of the Ringling (which was founded by the brains behind the circus family's empire), left his post there suddenly this August amid reports of internal power struggles.