Art Industry News: Why Venice Biennale Curator Ralph Rugoff ‘Can’t Win, Really’ + Other Stories

Plus, Sotheby's helps recover hundreds of missing books and Phillips's CEO identifies who has made the biggest killing on art investment.

Ralph Rugoff, curator of the 58th Venice Biennale Art. Photo by Simone Padovani/Awakening/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 this Friday, April 12.


High School Debates Erasing George Washington Murals – George Washington High School in San Francisco is deciding the fate of 13 ideologically loaded murals. Painted in the 1930s, they portray the life of the first US President, including the subjugation of Native Americans and African Americans. The left-wing artist, Victor Arnautoff, upset people at the time with his critical portrayal of Washington—and they continue to arouse strong feelings for and against. The school board is now deciding whether to remove the New Deal-era works as recommended by a committee in February. (New York Times)

Meet the Woman Behind the First Black Hole Image – Katie Bouman, a 29-year-old computer scientist at MIT, helped develop the algorithm that created the first image of a black hole. She has become a social media sensation after posting an image showing the moment it uploaded on her laptop. Bauman started working on the project when still a graduate student. She now leads the team that produced the rendering of the black hole capture by the Event Horizon Telescope(BBC)

Ralph Rugoff Puts the Venice Biennale in Perspective – The artistic director of the 58th Venice Biennale says of sprawling exhibitions like the one he is preparing“Bigger isn’t always better…. Do you want to see movies that are 20 hours long? Compared to a normal exhibition, that’s what a biennale is like.” That’s why he’s cut down the artist list to a comparatively slim 79. He also shrugs off the celebrity and commercial hoopla surrounding the show, saying, “Whether or not there’s 10 yachts or 20 yachts parked near the Biennale, it doesn’t really impede my experience.” Meanwhile, former Tate director Nicholas Serota says that, no matter what Rugoff does, his Biennial is bound to be polarizing. “He can’t win, really,” Serota says. (NYT)

German Library Recovers 600 Rare Books – A library in Bonn is celebrating the return of hundreds of rare books that had been missing since the end of World War II. Sotheby’s helped track the trove to a garage in Belgium. The auction house’s suspicions were raised when 150 books that showed evidence of having been looted—the bindings were removed, library stamps erased, and title pages destroyed—were consigned for sale. The Belgian woman who returned the books to Bonn’s University and Regional Library inherited them from her father, who was stationed in the city during the postwar occupation of Germany. (The Art Newspaper)


Frans Hals Fakes Case Draws to a Close – After a two-week-long trial, Justice Knowles is due to render a ruling later this summer on the painting at the center of an Old Master fakes scandal. Sotheby’s alleges the painting is a clever forgery of a Frans Hals portrait. Jamie Martin, the auction house’s head of scientific research, was grilled in the London court for more than a day about his technical analysis and independence as an expert. (TAN)

Ed Dolman on Who Made the Biggest Killing in the Art Boom – The CEO of Phillips says that collectors who invested “a few tens of millions of dollars in the art market in the 1990s and bought well” have enjoyed extraordinarily big returns on their money. At the same time, however, dealers’ and auction houses’ profit margins have declined during the global market expansion of the past 10 years, he says. (Forbes)

Dorotheum Sells Another Artemisia Gentileschi – After the auctioneer’s record sale of Artemisia Gentileschi’s Lucretia last year, Dorotheum is looking to cash in again on the female Renaissance artist. Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy, which has an upper estimate of €600,000 ($678,000), will be offered on April 30. (Art Market Monitor)


US Border Photo Wins World Press Photo Award – The deeply disturbing photograph of the little girl crying as she and her mother were taken into custody at the US-Mexican border has won the 2019 World Press Photo of the Year. The judges said that Getty photographer John Moore’s image of Honduran mother Sandra Sanchez and her daughter Yanela shows “a different kind of violence that is psychological.” (Art Daily)

Venice Biennale Names Golden Lion Jury – The members of the five-person jury who will elect the winners of the Golden Lion at this year’s Venice Biennale are: Stephanie Rosenthal, the director of the Gropius Bau in Berlin; Defne Ayas, curator-at-large at the V-A-C Foundation in Moscow; Cristiana Collu of the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea in Rome; Sunjung Kim, the president of the Gwangju Biennale Foundation; and Hamza Walker, the executive director of LAXART. The jury will name the best national pavilion and the best participant in the main exhibition “May You Live In Interesting Times.” (Press release)

Riga Biennial 2020 Announces Curator – Rebecca Lamarche-Vadel has been named the chief curator of the second edition of the Riga Biennial. The former curator of the Palais de Tokyo is due to announce the theme of the 2020 biennial next month. The exhibition is set to take place from May 16 to October 11, 2020 in Riga, Latvia. (Press release)


Miami Beach Convention Center Unveils $7 Million of Public Art  – The budget for the six works selected for permanent installation at the the newly renovated and expanded convention center has been revealed. The project, which includes an colorful installation by Franz Ackermann and a sculpture by Elmgreen & Dragset, was produced with municipal funding of $7 million. (Miami New Times)

Ancient Cave Paintings Discovered – Archaeologists have found wall paintings that date back to the Upper Paleolithic period, over 30,000 years ago, along the northern coast of Croatia. The reddish drawings depict bison and ibex, an alpine goat. It’s the first cave art to be discovered in the Balkans. (Live Science)

Tobias Rehberger Designs a Theatre – The German artist, who has previously designed a Paris Metro station and dazzled a warship, will soon unveil his next colorful outdoor installation: the walk-in Probegrunde in Stuttgart. The colorful amphitheater in the historic Stuttgart Theater’s garden is due to open on May 16. Sneak a preview below. (

Tobias Rehberger, Rendering of Probegrube for the Stuttgart Theater. Image copyright the artist.

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