Art Industry News: Inside the Top-Secret Rooms Where Art Basel’s Most Sensitive Sales Really Go Down + Other Stories

Plus, scientists accuse Mona Lisa of fake-smiling and David Zwirner's gallery empire will expand to Europe.

What one of Art Basel's secret rooms might look like (but probably not).(Photo by Neville Elder/Corbis via 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, June 7.


Artist Censored by Polish Museum Speaks Out – This spring, the National Museum of Poland in Warsaw controversially removed two artworks from an exhibition: Natalia LL’s Consumer Art, which features a topless woman eating a banana, and Appearance as Lou Salomé by fellow Polish artist Katarzyna Kozyra, a video depicting a woman walking two people dressed up as dogs. The museum claims provocative works were censored due to complaints from the public, but in an interview with the Financial Times Kozyra notes that all the art removed was by female artists. “Art really shows how much freedom there is in a country,” she says. “If you are not free to do things in art, it means that you are also not free in other fields.” (Financial Times)

A Retiree Gets Harvard’s Museum to Bring Rembrandt to Him – The Harvard Art Museum in Boston has a policy of allowing any admission-paying visitor to gain special access to selected works in its collection. The initiative has hosted 4,200 appointments since 2014, but none have been as proactive at utilizing this museum-goer perk as one Joseph Westlund. The retired English literature professor visits the museum weekly to request a close, one-on-one look at museum treasures that range from ancient Chinese vases to Picassos and Rembrandts. A museum staffer says they are all “wonderfully surprised by his enthusiasm. His exploration of the collection helps us look at it in a different way.” (Boston Globe)

Inside the Ali Baba’s Caves of Art Basel – Galleries at art fairs are known to keep special treasures sequestered in the “back rooms” of their booths, but Katya Kazakina reports that those glorified closets are kiddie stuff compared to the discreet offsite chambers—hidden away in the Messeplatz, or elsewhere around the city—where collectors art Art Basel can go to view “works by some of the most coveted artists” in absolute secrecy. The fair, which will contain $4 billion in art when it opens next week, is offering dealers 12 of these clandestine wunderkammers this year, “available on a first-come-first-served basis for as much as $3,000 for a two-hour slot”; others sites, Kazakina reveals, “are sequestered at high-security warehouses in an industrial area 15 minutes away by car.” (Bloomberg)

Study Says Mona Lisa’s Smile Was Fake – The world’s most famous and intriguing smile may not be a smile at all, according to new research by a team, including a neurologist, who believe it’s fake due to its asymmetry. They tested an image on 42 people, 92.8 percent of whom thought that the left half of the smile displayed happiness, while no one found that the right side indicated happiness. The authors of the study also point out that there is no upper face muscle activation in the Mona Lisa painting. A genuine smile causes the checks to raise and muscles around the eyes to contract, they point out. (EurekAlert)


Zwirner Looks to Expand to Europe – Due to Brexit concerns, the mega-gallerist tells Charlotte Burns that he is looking to open a new gallery in Europe: “I have a gallery in Europe as of this moment”—in London, that is— “but as of October, my gallery will no longer be in Europe.” He says a European presence is important to his business and the artists that he works with. He also admits that he hasn’t expanded to the West Coast since the artist Jason Rhoades died in 2006: “A lot of folks that work in the gallery would like us to open on the West Coast, but I’m not quite there yet conceptually.” (In Other Words)

How Do Art Fairs Contribute to the Climate Crisis? – Ahead of the elite art world flying in to Switzerland from around the world next week, Basel is trying to take its carbon footprint into consideration. Two talks will address the issue at Art Basel next week, “The Carbon Footprint of Contemporary Art” on June 12 and “Let’s Talk About the Weather,” on June 13, which looks at how artists are addressing climate issues, and fair director Marc Spiegler says the temporary structures and signage of the event is reused regularly. (Financial Times)

Formerly Disputed Picasso Painting Heads to Zürich – A painting by Pablo Picasso that has been at the heart of 15-year legal battle is set to go on view Hauser & Wirth in Zürich next week. Femme en Blanc (1922) is on loan for the gallery’s Picasso and Louise Bourgeois exhibition. (ARTnews)


Omar Kholeif Swaps Chicago for Sharjah – The former Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago senior curator Omar Kholeif has been named the director of collections and senior curator of the Sharjah Art Foundation. He will lead the program of its Jurainah Art Space. (Press release)

The New Rubell Collection Announces Opening Date – Miami collectors Don and Mera Rubell will open the doors of their new and expanded private museum in time for Art Basel Miami Beach on December 4. The 100,000-square-foot campus designed by Selldorf Architects is in Miami’s Allapattah District. (Miami New Times)

Susan Meiselas Wins Arles’s Inaugural Prize for Female Photographers – The French photography festival Rencontres d’Arles and François Pinault-owned luxury goods company Kering have named Susan Meiselas the winner of the inaugural Women in Motion Award. (ARTnews)


Critic Dings Banksy in Brutal RA Summer Show Takedown – The Guardian‘s art critic Jonathan Jones says that going to this year’s Royal Academy Summer Exhibition was like “being locked for days in a garden center,” complaining that many of the paintings are only fit for a restaurant wall. In his review, Jones deems the show a complete flop compared to Grayson Perry’s edition in 2018, which the critic gave a five-review. This year’s “moronic” show gets only one. “[It] makes a fainthearted attempt at anarchy, but in doing so it just underlines its profound establishment complacency. Banksy now seems to be a regular,” writes Jones. “Here he shows a rat smashing open the lock on a closed UK border barrier. But this work falls flat— Banksy’s strength is a sense of context.” (Guardian)

Boston Will Investigate Inclusion in the City’s Arts Institutions  – Boston City Council is holding hearings into promoting diversity and inclusion in the city’s arts institutions. The move follows a complaint that black students suffered racial discrimination on a class trip to the MFA Boston last month. The museum apologized and banned two patrons. (Boston Globe)

Hirshhorn’s Sculpture Garden Gets Expert Approval The museum’s controversial plan to redesign its sculpture garden has received the blessing of the National Capital Planning Commission in Washington, D.C. The Commission of Fine Arts unanimously approved the Japanese artist and architect Hiroshi Sugimoto’s vision last month. (Press release)

Artist Creates “Bonkers Brexit” Collages for Time Magazine – The British satirical artist Christopher Spencer, aka Cold War Steve, has created a series of collages for Time magazine’s latest issue, which is devoted to the “fiasco” of Brexit. “The sinking London bus is a fairly obvious metaphor,” he says. Contributors include former Vanity Fair editor Tina Brown, who writes that “Britain’s nervous breakdown has its own unique loony flavor.” (Instagram)



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