Art Industry News: Biden Proposes a Historic Funding Boost to the National Endowment for the Arts + Other Stories

Plus, the U.S. has sent back stolen art back to Thailand, and how bugs helped clean prized marbles.

President Joe Biden meets in the Oval Office. (Photo by Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images)
President Joe Biden meets in the Oval Office. (Photo by Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images)

Art Industry News is a daily digest of the most consequential developments coming out of the art world and art market. Here’s what you need to know on this Monday, May 31.


How Bugs Helped Clean Prized Marbles – The tombstones and statues standing in the dynastic Medici mausoleum needed some upkeep after all these years. Microscopic bugs were “hired” to clean up the Michelangelo marble sculptures, which had some significant wear and tear. Bacteria known as SH7 were unleashed onto the surfaces at the Florentine Medici Chapels and were able to clean away centuries of stains, including glue, oil, and phosphates. (New York Times)

Antony Gormley Says Colston Statue Should Face the Wall – British sculptor Antony Gormley has an idea for what to do about the contested Cecil Rhodes statue at Oxford University College. He thinks that the 19th-century monument to the slaver should stay put, but that it should also be appropriately shamed. “Rhodes should remain in his niche,” Gormley said. “If we need to readdress our relationship to him, I would just simply turn him to face the wall rather than facing outwards.” (Financial Times)

Biden’s Proposed Budget Includes Historic Arts Funding – If Biden’s stimulus plan gets approved by Congress, the National Endowment for the Arts would enjoy its largest pot of government funding since it was founded in 1965. The Biden administration is proposing to make the 2022 budget $201 million, a $33.5 million increase from 2021. (The Art Newspaper)

U.S. Returns Stolen Lintels to Thailand – The U.S. government has returned two ancient sandstone lintels that were looted from northeastern Thailand. The pieces, which are from the ninth and 10th centuries, were within the collection of the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco until recently, and are thought to have been stolen in the 1960s. Now in Thailand again, the pair of lintels will soon go on display at the Bangkok National Museum. (TAN)


U.K. Places Export Ban on £17 Million Bronze – The U.K. has placed an export ban on a Renaissance-ear roundel until at least September while it hopes to find a U.K. buyer. The piece dates from the 15th century and was made in Mantua, Italy. The bronze roundel, which depicts Greek gods Venus, Mars, Vulcan, and Cupid, has a value of £17 million ($24 million). (Guardian)

Did Paying a Ransom for a Stolen Magritte Fund Terrorism? – A very personal painting that René Magritte made of his wife was stolen from the Magritte museum in 2009 by robbers with a gun. The work was retrieved in 2011 after a long hunt, but the story is still shrouded in tragedy. The prime suspect in the art theft was Khalid el-Bakraoui, a 20-year-old who would later be involved in the 2016 suicide bombing in Brussels that killed 32 people. (Vanity Fair)


Modernist Painter Arturo Luz Dies – Filipino neo-realist Arturo Luz died on May 26 at age 94. The Manila-based artist, curator, and museum director was a major cultural figure in the Philippines and Southeast Asia. (TAN)

Sunjung Kim Out at Gwangju Biennial – The Gwangju Biennale Foundation has not renewed the contract of its president Sunjung Kim. The news follows a labor dispute with the Gwangju Biennale Labor Union, which had released a statement in April accusing Kim of verbal abuse and an unfair dismissal. The case is still under review, but Kim’s contract will be up in June. (ArtAsiaPacific)


MFA Boston Lifts Mask Requirement – As of May 29, you don’t need a mask to go see art at the MFA Boston. The lifting of mask restrictions (face covers are still “encouraged”) is in line with state regulations. Mask-wearing continues to be enforced in most major museums around the U.S., even for those who are fully vaccinated. (Hyperallergic)

The Bavarian State Collection Restitutions Wopfner Painting – The 1884 painting Fishing Boats near Frauenchiemsee by Joseph Wopfner has been formally handed over to the heirs of the Jewish-German Alfred Isay. The painting was planned to be restituted last year, but the handover was delayed due to lockdown restrictions. Isay and his family had suffered persecution from the Nazis and fled from Cologne, Germany, to Amsterdam. When the Netherlands was occupied, evidence suggests that the Wopfner painting was sold under duress. (Press release)

Joseph Wopfner, <i>Fishing Boats near Frauenchiemsee</i> (1884). Courtesy Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen.

Joseph Wopfner, Fishing Boats near Frauenchiemsee (1884). Courtesy Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen.

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