Art Industry News: Shuttered Museums Must Now Contend With Thousands of Unwelcome Visitors: Bugs! + Other Stories

Plus, Portland Museum of Art workers vote to unionize and Christie's Old Master sale fails to meet expectations.

Restoration underway at a Greek Orthodox church on December 4, 2020 in Istanbul, Turkey. (Photo by Chris McGrath/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 Friday, April 23.


The Penn Museum Has Another Controversial Collection – The Penn Museum, which just last week pledged to return stolen skulls of enslaved people in its Morton Collection, is under fire for another holding: the remains of Black Philadelphians killed in the 1985 MOVE bombing, a police airstrike taken out against members of the Black liberation movement. (Eleven people, including five children, died while a fire spread to 60 more homes in the predominantly Black neighborhood.) The remains of one of the victims ended up at the museum after an anthropology professor was tasked with trying to identify them; last week, following renewed complaints, the museum returned the remains to the professor. (Hyperallergic)

The Story Behind That Caravaggio Sleeper at Auction – A painting headed for auction for a mere €1,500 turned out to be The Crowning With Thorns, painted by Caravaggio for a competition in 1605. As soon as some experts saw it, they immediately knew. “Damn! This is a Caravaggio! Where the hell did you find it?” wrote one historian in a message that would echo around the world. There was a race to get to the owners first: the two stunned heirs to the small painting were approached after the auction with offers for up to €3 million. The painting has been banned for export and is currently under examination in Spain. (Guardian)

Locked-Down Museums Battle Bug Infestations – Adding insult to injury, locked-down museums were faced not only with plummeting revenue, but also with a new foe to battle: pests. It turns out empty museums offer “peak conditions” for insects and rodents, which are drawn to dark, quiet places, notes conservator Helena Jaeschke. The Getty undertook a moth remediation program that involved nearly every department and took a whopping 6,000 hours. It involved disassembling furniture and freezing rugs to kill moths. (Los Angeles Times)

Portland Museum Workers Unionize – Employees at the West Coast museum voted 16–10 in favor of unionizing, making them the latest in a long line of museum workers to organize. They will join United Auto Workers Local 2110, which represents technical, professional and office workers (including a number of museum staffs). The decision comes after a dispute between employees and museum management over whether gallery ambassadors would be eligible to join the unit; the National Labor Relations Board ruled that they qualified as security guards, and therefore were not eligible. (Portland Press Herald)


Sotheby’s to Sell Restituted Porcelain Collection – Around 100 pieces from the collection of late Jewish businessman Franz Oppenheimer are headed to Sotheby’s New York in September. The 18th-century Meissen porcelain collection was on view at Dutch museums until 2019, when it was restituted by the Netherlands. It is valued at more than $2 million. (ARTnews)

Christie’s Old Master Sale Underperforms – Christie’s Old Masters sale in New York brought in $14.6 million hammer, coming in under the presale estimate range of $15.6 million to $24.4 million. The 64-lot sale found buyers for 33 works, including a $2.2 million painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder from 1530, which more than doubled its $800,000 estimate. (ARTnews)


Peabody Essex Museum Names a New-ish Director – The Salem, Massachusetts museum’s former deputy director will return to assume the top post. Lynda Roscoe Hartigan had been at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada for a year. She will be the first female director in the Peabody Essex’s 221-year history. (The Art Newspaper)

Almost $300,000 Worth of Art Stolen From Toronto Gallery – Galerie de Bellefeuille in Toronto, Canada, was the victim of a heist that saw four pieces of art worth a combined $300,000 stolen. Sophie Ryder’s Lovers on Horseback and an androgynous bronze by Hanneke Beaumont were among the works taken. (Hypebeast)


This Bored Lady Started Making Art on Banana Peels – While quarantining in her London apartment last year, Anna Chojnicka began absentmindedly running her fork along the outside of a banana. She discovered the process created dark lines that eventually became her artistic medium of choice. Now, her banana art is an internet sensation. (Washington Post)

Kiss Frontman Encourages Student After Art Teacher Says Something Mean – A six-year-old has become an internet-famous artist after her teacher made a disparaging comment about her landscape painting. Droves of Twitter users—including the frontman from Kiss and artist Grayson Perry—emerged to bear-hug Edie and tell her her work is beautiful. (CNET)

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.