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BY Andrew Goldstein on December 14, 2009
Artist Richard Wright won this year's Turner Prize for his hypnotic gold-leaf painting, applied directly upon a wall in Tate Britain. ; Courtesy of Tate Britain

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The Turner Prize, the Whitney Biennial list, and the saga of how a missing Caravaggio became pancetta were among the top stories in the art press this week. 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


The end of the year is fast approaching, which means laurel season has hit the art world with its usual bounty of prizes, best-of lists, and other honors. In Britain, Tate Britain awarded its oft-controversial Turner Prize to Richard Wright, a Glasgow-based painter who eschewed canvases years ago in favor of making his ornate, Renaissance-indebted abstractions directly on gallery walls—a process that lends them a wisplike impermanence, since he requires that the frescos be painted over after a period of time. (Watch him discuss his work here.) Most critics praised the choice of the Gagosian-represented artist, who edged out nominees Roger Hiorns, Lucy Skaer, and Enrico David for the $36,400 prize with a gold-leaf design on the museum’s wall, though the Guardian’s Adrian Searle noted it was strange that only one female artist, Tomma Abts, has won the award this decade.

In Russia, meanwhile, the country’s leading contemporary art award, the Kandinsky Prize, was bestowed upon sculptor Vadim Zakharov for an installation piece involving oatmeal and contorted furniture. The $59,000 was overshadowed in Eastern Europe, however, by Ukrainian industrialist and megacollector Victor Pinchuk’s announcement that he’s creating a new $100,000 award for artists under 35 years old that will be given out every two years. Called the Future Generation Art Prize, it will be decided by a celebrity panel including Miuccia Prada and Elton John, and entail an exhibition of the top-20 finalists at Pinchuk’s Kiev art center; famous artists collected by Pinchuk, like Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons, will be on hand to mentor the nominees. Bling-bling, baby? So much for a new sobriety in the art world.


Meanwhile, back in London, both Raphael and Rembrandt received posthumous appreciations of a sort when a Christie’s auction sold a drawing by the Renaissance artist for $47.9 million, the most ever for a drawing and second highest price for an Old Master painting or drawing period, and a painting by the Dutch artist sold for $33.2 million, his best price on record. Another Old Master didn’t have such a good week—in Italy an informant in a Mafia trial revealed that a Caravaggio painting, Nativity with Saints Francis and Lawrence, that was stolen from a Palermo oratory in 1969 was burned after the thieves discovered that pigs in the shed where it was stashed had eaten parts of it. A more recent theft occurred at a show in South London when someone replaced a sculpted brick in a Gavin Turk piece with an ordinary brick that said, “Thank You Have a Nice Day, Next”; in consummate contemporary art-ese—though not Hirst-ese—the artist declared he was “upset, but flattered.”


On the more political European front, curators at the Pompidou wrote a letter to the French culture ministry siding with the museum’s striking lay workers, expanding a protest that is well analyzed here. And as demonstrations mount in Copenhagen urging world leaders to take stronger measures against climate change, architects and artists have been contributing works to advance the cause.


In the United States, talk in the art world gravitated to this week’s release of the 2010 Whitney Biennial artist list, which at 55 names is 32 percent smaller than the 2008 iteration. Compiled by the admired but divisive curator Francesco Bonami and the 29-year-old junior Whitney curator Gary Carrion-Murayari, the roster includes an interesting mix of American artists, from old to young and trendy to underappreciated. (See the list here.) In a transatlantic counter to the Turner Prize's gender imbalance, 52 percent of the artists are women—a surprise shift much praised by Jerry Saltz, who also used his critical pulpit this week to dub Jeff Koons’ Puppy sculpture the artwork of the decade.


In other institutional news, a pair of surveys came out last week painting divergent pictures of the way the economy has affected museum attendance. The National Endowment for the Arts released a study based on 2008 data that suggested only 22.7 percent of Americans visited art venues during that year, a drop from 26.5 percent in 2002. However, an Art Newspaper survey of institutions across the country (full disclosure: compiled by yours truly) found evidence that attendance at the majority of contemporary-art-promoting venues has grown over the last three years, often dramatically, with museums from MoMA and the Guggenheim to MASS MoCA and MoCA Chicago declaring either their best yearly or best single-show viewership to date. Perhaps the discrepancy has something to do with Financial Times writer Peter Aspden’s theory that “contemporary art has replaced music as the art form that most energises young people.” In any case, one clear admissions misconception of the past decade is that high-profile expansions will always bring lasting dividends, as the New York Times’ Robin Pogrebin exhaustively points out.


Finally, Thomas Hoving, the seismically influential and eccentric former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, passed away this week at 78. The youngest director in the institution’s history when he ascended to the post in 1967, at 35, Hoving ushered in the era of the blockbuster show with the famed 1978 exhibition of Tutankhamun’s treasures; created the Met’s too-little-esteemed contemporary art department under pioneering curator Henry Geldzahler; and brought the institution numerous world-class artworks from Velazquez’s Portrait of Juan de Pareja to the famed Euphronios krater, often through unabashedly rapacious methods. (The krater, acquired through a shadowy network of Italian tomb raiders and their representatives, had to be returned to Rome in 2006.) An outsize personality who left the museum after a single turbulent decade at the helm, Hoving—a passionate, almost libidinal connoisseur of art—was best known in later years as an author and serial leaker who seeded many in the press with self-justifying, often unreliable tidbits of museological intrigue.

Related Articles:

"‘I’d like him to do my living room.’ Wall artist Richard Wright wins the Turner Prize" [via the Times of London]

"All that glitters is not gold" [via the Guardian]

"Oatmeal Mess Wins Russian Artist Zakharov 40,000-Euro Prize" [via Bloomberg

"New Prize to Honor Artists Under 35" [via the New York Times]

"Rembrandt Portrait, Raphael Drawing Set Sale Records" [via Bloomberg]

"Lost Caravaggio painting 'was burnt by Mafia'" [via the Telegraph]

"Gavin Turk brick worth £3,000 is stolen and replaced by 40 pence equivalent" [via the Telegraph]

"Pompidou Curators Support Striking Workers" [via]

"The Pompidou Center Versus 'La Culture des Riches'" [via the Faster Times]

"Climate activists condemn Copenhagen police tactics" [via the BBC]

"L.A. architect Christophe Cornubert's carbon-dioxide cube debuts in Copenhagen" [via the Los Angeles Times]

'Copenhagen' Ice Sculpture Melts Hearts in Central London" [via Voice of America]

"Reality Leaves a Fingerprint on the Biennial" [via the New York Times]

"Whitney Releases 2010 Biennial Picks" [via]

"Saltz on Art’s Triumph: Women Win Slim Majority in Next Whitney Biennial" [via]

"When the Low Went Very High" [via New York magazine]


"Arts survey finds drop in movie, museum attendance" [via the Associated Press]

"Museum attendance rises as the economy tumbles" [via the Art Newspaper]

"In the Arts, Bigger Buildings May Not Be Better" [via the New York Times]

"Thomas Hoving, Remaker of the Met, Dies at 78" [via the New York Times]

From the Article: Artists

Raphael Sanzio
Jeff Koons
Damien Hirst

From the Article: Venues