Art Industry News: Scientists Conclude That the Cracks on the Mona Lisa’s Surface Actually Make Her Safer + Other Stories

Plus, the artist who ate Cattelan's banana opens a show of his own in New York and the Bronx Museum names a social justice curator.

Leonardo da Vinci, Mona Lisa (c. 1503–06). Courtesy of the Louvre, Paris.

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 Thursday, February 20.


This Celebrity Art Podcast Is All the Rage – The British actor and art collector Russell Tovey and gallerist Robert Diament have created a hit podcast: Talk Art. The hosts’ easy charm and homespun style has resulted in half a million downloads. Starry guests range from KAWS and Grayson Perry to Michael Stipe and Lena Dunham. In one remarkable episode, they spoke to a sprightly Joyce Pensato from her hospice shortly before she died. “All we wanted to do was make art accessible, nonacademic, non-elitist, gossipy, and fun,” Tovey says. (New York Times)

Graffiti Works Stolen From East Village Building – Police are hunting for a suspect who was captured on film stealing three paintings by the street-art pioneer Phase 2. The works, valued at $18,000, were stolen from 67 Avenue C in Manhattan last month. The artist, who was born Michael Lawrence Marrow, died at age 64 in December. He is credited with developing the influential bubble letter-style of graffiti in the early 1970s. (Gothamist)

Why Cracks on the Mona Lisa Are a Good Thing – Don’t fret next time you see a cracked surface on an Old Master painting: Experts have concluded that the cracked state of paintings done on wood, like the Mona Lisa, is actually a healthy sign. A team from the Polish Academy of Sciences, the University of Strasbourg, and Yale University investigated how the craquelure of the surface paint and gesso beneath responded to changes in relative humidity. They concluded that the number of cracks increases the stability of the work because it allows the layer of gesso to expand and contract. They hope their findings will encourage museums and historic buildings to develop “moderate-cost climate control strategies” for their wood panel paintings, which could have major implications for institutions’ energy bills. (Daily Mail)

Turkish Arts Philanthropist Is Detained (Again) – Imprisoned since 2017, the activist and philanthropist Osman Kavala was recently released after being acquitted for allegedly trying to overthrow the Turkish government—only to be detained again for a separate investigation. He could be held for up to two more years with being indicted. Kavala’s supporters say he is being targeted partly because of his support of Turkey’s Armenian and Kurdish populations through his arts nonprofit Anadolu Kültür. (Hyperallergic)


What Does Marron’s Will Say About His Art? – According to his will, the late collector Donald Marron sought to sell his holdings “at public or private sale” and, if sold publicly, “at either Sotheby’s Inc. or Christie’s as my executors shall in their absolute discretion determine.” It also requested that his executors consult with MoMA director Glenn Lowry about the disposition of the estimated $450 million art trove. (NYT)

Seattle Art Fair Names New Artistic Director – Deana Haggag, the president and CEO of the Chicago-based artist funding organization United States Artists, has been named artistic director of the 2020 Seattle Art Fair, taking the helm from Nato Thompson. She will be tasked with developing special programs at the fair, which runs from July 23 through July 26. (Artforum)

Africa’s Collectors Eye Contemporary Art – In a concerted effort to keep their future cultural heritage on the continent, a growing number of African collectors are focusing their energies on contemporary African art. These emerging collectors are active both in the local market and on international secondary market, competing against Europeans and North Americans for African Modernist works at auction. (TAN)

Art Jameel Acquires the Abraaj Collection – The Saudi Arabia-based art organization Art Jameel has acquired works from the Abraaj Art Prize collection. The 29 works, including pieces by Kader Attia, Wael Shawky, and Rana Begum, were commissioned as part of the now-defunct private equity group’s sponsorship of Art Dubai. The head of Art Jameel, Antonia Carver (who is also a former Art Dubai director), says that major international museums have expressed interest in taking the works on loan. (The National)


Bronx Museum Names a Social Justice Curator – Jasmine Wahi has been named the Holly Block Social Justice Curator at the Bronx Museum of the Arts. The co-director of the boundary-pushing New Jersey nonprofit Project for Empty Space, Wahi will organize exhibitions in 2021 that highlight the museum’s history of activism in honor of its late director Holly Block. (Artforum)

West Coast Arts Patron Virginia White Has Died – The Seattle-based art patron Virginia White has died at age 91. With her late husband, she helped the Seattle Art Museum raise its game from the 1970s onward, donating major works by Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, and Agnes Martin, among others. The daughter of a timber baron, Wright was interested in art from a young age: her first job after graduation was at Sidney Janis Gallery in New York. (KUOW)

Library of Congress Acquires Harlem Photographer’s Collection – The Library of Congress has purchased an archive of work by Shawn Walker, a founding member of the Harlem-based African American photography collective the Kamoinge Workshop. The nearly 100,000 photographs, negatives, and transparencies capture life in Harlem from the 1960s to the present. Walker also donated audio recordings, photographs, and other items from his time with the collective. (NYT)


The Artist Who Ate Cattelan’s Banana Opens a New York Show – The performance artist David Datuna, who ate one of Maurizio Cattelan’s $120,000 bananas at Art Basel Miami Beach, is debuting a show of his own at Ca’d’Oro Gallery in New York. Called, fittingly, “Hungry Artist,” the show features edible items from local bodegas that visitors can rip from the walls and consume. (TAN)

Art Professor Charged With Attack – Mount Holyoke College art professor and artist Rie Hachiyanagi has pleaded not guilty to armed assault on a female colleague at her home. A judge has ruled that she should be held without bail as she faces multiple charges, including intent to murder. (AP)

J.M.W. Turner Banknote Goes Into Circulation – The UK’s new £20 banknote, which features J.M.W. Turner’s self-portrait and a detail of his painting The Fighting Temerairegoes into circulation today. To mark its release, Tate Britain has acquired one of the first notes to be printed and plans to display it alongside the portrait. The museum also announced that it is borrowing The Fighting Temeraire from the National Gallery in London in the fall for a major Turner exhibition. (Press release)


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