Art Industry News: Four Unidentified (But Non-Alien) Figures Were Observed Destroying Utah’s Mystery Monolith + Other Stories

Plus, the Smithsonian is preparing an oral history of 2020 through the eyes of artists and a stolen horse head is returned to Beijing.

The steel monolith discovered in southern Utah. Courtesy of the Utah Department of Public Safety.

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 Tuesday, December 1.


The Smithsonian Is Preparing an Oral History of 2020 – Curators and oral historians at the Smithsonian Archives of American Art conducted online interviews with 85 artists beginning this spring to capture the events of 2020 for posterity. The first round of interviews includes artists Ed Bereal and Sheila Hicks, among others. In his interview, artist Mark Bradford described this year as “a big deluge of rain… and you know you’re running down the street, and you’re getting wet and then every once in a while you run into an underhanging or something, and you stay there for a minute?” (New York Times)

Museum Director Faces Backlash for Comparing Soros to Hitler – One of the top cultural figures in Hungary, Szilard Demeter, is in hot water for calling George Soros, the Hungarian-born Jewish billionaire, Holocaust survivor, and pro-democracy philanthropist, a “liberal Führer” and saying that Europe is his “gas chamber.” Though he retracted the statement online, some are calling for the director of the Petofi Literary Museum to be removed from his post. (The Art Newspaper)

Humans Were Seen Removing the Utah Monolith – An adventure photographer who drove six hours to take some pictures of the mysterious monolith that appeared in Utah says he spotted four men dismantling the sculpture on Friday night. Ross Bernards has shared some pictures of the scene and says he overheard one of the (decisively human) men saying, “This is why you don’t leave trash in the desert” as they worked to topple the sculpture and break it apart, before carting it off in a wheelbarrow. Along the way, they quoted a motto of conscientious outdoorsmen: “Leave no trace.” (NYT)

Delaware Senator Sarah McBride on Being a Patron of the Arts – Transgender activist Sarah McBride, who will be sworn into the Delaware State Senate in January, says her experience in the arts helped her become who she is today: the highest ranking openly transgender elected official in the US government. “The arts help you step out of your own experience and into someone else’s shoes,” says McBride, who is also a trustee at the Delaware Art Museum and studied performing arts at Cab Calloway School of the Arts in Wilmington, Delaware. (TAN)


A Department Store Design by Rauschenberg and Johns Heads to Auction – A rare commercial artwork by Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg will hit the auction block at Christie’s 20th century art sale in New York on December 2. The work, which dates to the 1950s and was part of a department store window commission, is offered under the duo’s collaborative name, Matson Jones. It could fetch between $600,000 and $800,000. (Art Market Monitor)

Phillips Names New Communications Chief – The art public relations expert Magda Grigorian will be the auction house’s chief communications officer, based in New York. Grigorian helped shape the communications for TEFAF Maastricht in the US and has held positions at Haughton International Fairs and Sotheby’s. (Press release)


Museum Leader James T. Demetrion Has Died at 90 – The former director of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden has died at 90. During this tenure, between 1984 and 2001, the influential director expanded on the founding collection, telling the Washington Post in 1985: “A museum that begins with a private collection and doesn’t continue to collect becomes a tombstone.” (ARTnews)

Painter Peter Joseph Has Died at 91 – The London-born artist started out as a figurative painter, but became known for Minimalist compositions of geometric shapes after encountering the art of Donald Judd and Mark Rothko. He died of complications related to a broken hip, according to Lisson Gallery, which represented the artist for much of his career. (ARTnews)


Stolen Horse Head Returned to Beijing’s Summer Palace – A bronze horse head that was stolen along with other sculptures from a fountain depicting the 12 zodiac animals at Beijing’s Old Summer Palace in the 1860s has been returned to the museum. Over the past two decades, collectors have been discovering the looted animal heads at auction and buying them up. This horse head was donated by the late casino magnate Stanley Ho Hung-sun, who bought it at Sotheby’s for $8.9 million in 2007. (SCMP)

Kamala Harris Phoned the Artist Who Painted Her Portrait – The incoming US vice president Kamala Harris took some time out of a busy transition to call up the 14-year-old artist Tyler Gordon, who painted a portrait of her that he shared on social media. The vice president-elect thanked the boy from her home state of California and encouraged him to continue to pursue his art. (Popsugar)

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