Art Industry News: An Overloaded Air Conditioner Caused the Devastating Fire at Brazil’s National Museum + Other Stories

Plus, Cuban activists plan an alternative to the Havana Biennial and big changes are in store for Saatchi Gallery in London.

A worker in the ruined building of Brazil's National Museum in Rio de Janeiro, February 2019. Photo by Mauro Pimentel AFP/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 5.


Can Instagram Likes Lead to Real Art-World Cred? – The Instagram-savvy artist Cj Hendry now sells her photorealist drawings for up to $250,000. She achieved success without a gallery or art-world validation, posting images of her colorful hyperrealist works-in-progress online. For her latest solo show in Dumbo, Brooklyn, she has drawn blobs of paint based on the famous Rorschach test and installed them in a space evoking a psychiatric hospital. The artist, who cites Robert Longo as an influence, says Instagram is good to show “how you’re doing what you’re doing”—but museums still provide an enduring validation of an artist’s work. (New York Times)

Egyptian Sarcophagus Will Be Opened on Live TV – The Discovery Channel will air the opening of a 3,000-year-old limestone sarcophagus containing the remains of a mummy live on Sunday night during a special broadcast. The sarcophagus was discovered in February 2018, and now the on-air stunt has been set up in partnership with Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities as part of its effort to draw more tourists back to the country. Who do we expect to be inside the coffin? Geraldo Rivera! (AFP)

Air Conditioner Caused Rio Museum Fire – Experts have revealed the primary cause of the devastating fire that ripped through the country’s national museum last September: an air conditioning unit. The A/C unit was receiving a stronger electric current than it was made to handle. The national museum also lacked key fire protection equipment, such as enough hoses, water sprinklers, and fire doors, which put its 20 million artifacts at risk, according to a new report. Museum managers only spent around $4,000 on safety equipment between 2015 and 2017. (AP)

Activists Plan Alternative Havana Biennial – Cuban artists are inviting international artists to join them in staging a protest exhibition during the official Havana Biennial, which opens this month. “Bienal Sin 349/Biennial Without 349” takes aim at the recently passed law that requires artists to obtain government approval before showing their work. The alternative event is due to take place at the artist-run Museum of Politically Inconvenient Art as well as other locations in Havana. (The Art Newspaper)


Charles Saatchi’s Gallery Becomes a Nonprofit – The former advertising mogul who helped launch the YBAs has a reputation for buying works by emerging artists, showing them in his gallery, and then selling them for a big profit. But now, he has transformed his Saatchi Gallery in London, previously operated as a commercial enterprise, into a nonprofit (with trustees that include a Swedish billionaire). The move to charity status, with the tax breaks that brings, comes after a sharp downturn in income and a decline in attendance. Art fairs and commercial shows increasingly fill the gallery he leases in the former army barracks in London’s Chelsea neighborhood. (NYT)

Phillips Notches a Record Record Helmut Newton Sale – The auction house sold Helmut Newton’s Sie Kommen, Paris (Dressed and Naked) (1981) for $1.8 million, a record for the German photographer at auction. The sale of North Face co-founder Susie Tompkins Buell’s blue-chip photography collection helped Phillips New York achieve a total of $10.5 million at its April 4 photography sale. (Press release)


Brooklyn Museum Announces a New $25,000 Prize – The museum is launching new prize for an emerging artist who lives and works in Brooklyn. The winner of the UOVO Prize—named for its sponsor, the fine-art storage company—will receive a solo show at the institution, a $25,000 cash prize, and a public installation on the façade of UOVO’s forthcoming facility in Bushwick. (Wall Street Journal)

EYE Art & Film Prize Winner Named – The New York-based, Moroccan-born artist Meriem Bennani is the winner of the 2019 EYE Art & Film Prize, which is awarded by the the Eye Filmmuseum in Amsterdam. She will receive $32,900. Past winners have included Hito Steyerl and Francis Alÿs. (ARTnews)

Op Artist Antonio Asis Has Died – Born in Buenos Aires in 1932, the artist moved to Paris in 1956, where he became a pioneer of Op Art with his geometric compositions. His works are held in the collections of the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation in Miami and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, among others. (ARTnews)

Kunstverein Munich Names a New Director – Maurin Dietrich will succeed Chris Fitzpatrick at the helm of the prestigious exhibition hall in Munich this July. A former curator at KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin, Dietrich will shape the institution’s program in the lead-up to its 200th anniversary in 2023. (Press release)


Doug Aitken’s Balloon Sculpture Is Ready for Liftoff The artist, who has created underwater sculpture and organized a transcontinental train happening, is launching another high-impact artwork this summer: a hot air art balloon. Called New Horizon, the 100 foot-tall silver balloon is due to take off in Martha’s Vineyard for a nine-stop tour of the state of Massachusetts this summer. The floating sculpture has been commissioned by the nonprofit the Trustees. (TAN)

See Ibrahim Mahama’s Monumental Wrap – The Fondazione Nicola Trussardi in Milan has opened a monumental installation by the Ghanaian artist Ibrahim Mahama. The foundation commissioned Mahama to wrap the city’s two neoclassical tollgates at the Porta Venezia crossroads in the artist’s signature jute sacks. The Massimiliano Gioni-curated installation, titled A Friend, is on view through Sunday, April 14.




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