Art Industry News: One of America’s Youngest Museum Directors Is Accused of Sexual Misconduct + Other Stories

Plus, Andrew Cuomo designs a poster depicting his vision of New York and Maine's Attorney General investigates Robert Indiana's estate.

Joshua Helmer, the director of the Erie Art Museum, on the TV show Articulate with Jim Cotter.

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, January 10.


Maine Attorney General Investigates Robert Indiana’s Estate – The office of Maine’s Attorney General is concerned about the $4 million in legal bills charged to the estate of the late Pop artist. In a motion filed this week, the Attorney General states: “Fees of this order of magnitude should not be simply paid from estate assets… without appropriate review.” Robert Indiana’s estate has been embroiled in multiple legal battles since the artist’s death in 2018. The estate, which is valued at around $100 million, is the largest ever handled by the Knox County Probate Court. In addition to legal fees, the Pinkerton security firm has been paid around $211,000 to keep Indiana’s art and properties safe. (Knox Village Soup)

Governor Cuomo Visualizes New York in 2020 – New York Governor Andrew Cuomo loves 19th-century political cartoons so much, he designed one to boost his own profile. The state governor art-directed a poster, which a graphic artist created, depicting New York State as a sailing ship in a stormy sea. While the sails of the ship include the words “tolerance,” “leadership,” and “accomplishment,” it is battling waves of “intolerance” and avoiding “the reefs of greed” as well as the “squalls of hate.” Cuomo’s portrait appears under a rainbow symbolizing “progressive government with results.” It is the politician’s latest piece of retro political art: he commissioned a poster for his 2010 election campaign and an even more elaborate one in 2012. (NY State of Politics)

America’s Youngest Museum Director Accused of Misconduct – Nine women say Joshua Helmer, the 31-year-old who was appointed director of the Erie Art Museum in 2018, made advances toward them in the workplace. Before his arrival at the Erie Art Museum, he worked at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where he dated two women he managed, an apparent violation of museum policy. “He made clear to me from the beginning he thought it was his job to break me and then train me,” one PMA employee, Rachel Nicholson, said. “He would say, ‘I should fire you, but I love you.’” After he left the PMA for reasons that remain undisclosed—the museum recently issued an internal notice denying him access to the building—he was hired at Erie, where he was the subject of a complaint from a college student who claimed he retaliated against her after she declined his advances. The museum says it investigated the complaint and found no reason to discipline Helmer, who remains in his role and declines having behaved inappropriately. (New York Times)

French Museum Director Slammed for His Resistance to Restitution – Stéphane Martin doubled down on his resistance to the restitution of looted African art as he stepped down as president of the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris. Martin prefers the idea of lending art and artifacts to African countries, he recently told Le Monde. But lending works was rejected as a colonialist compromise in the high-profile Savoy-Sarr report commissioned by the French government. Kwame Opoku, a longstanding critic of Western museums, also takes issue with Martin’s admission that the Paris museum’s staff is “too white.” “Even if the museum employed many Africans and persons of African descent, we would still put in claims for restitution,” Opuku writes. (Modern Ghana)


A Collector Explains His Quest for Rare Chinese Art – The Taiwanese art collector Leo Shih has dedicated himself to reconstructing what he considers to be a “missing link” in China’s art history: the work of early 20th-century Chinese artists, many of whom studied in Paris and were influenced by modern Western art. “At the beginning there were no books, and I had to find paintings piece by piece, mainly through families or at auction,” he says. (Financial Times)

A Stolen Chagall Heads to Auction – Marc Chagall’s Jacob’s Ladder (around 1973) heads to auction at Tiroche in Tel Aviv on January 25. The painting comes with a colorful provenance: It was stolen in 1996 from Gordon Auction House in Tel Aviv, only resurfacing two decades later. “After a legal process,” it became the property of the insurance company that had secured it, Tiroche auction house says in a statement. (Press release)


France Will Build a Center for Satirical Cartoons – Five years after the murder of a group of staff members of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris, France has revealed plans to create a center for press cartoons. The project realizes a dream originally conceived by Georges Wolinski, one of the five artists who died in the 2015 terrorist attack that killed 12 people. Proposals for the venue will be presented at the end of May. (The Art Newspaper)

Indian Modernist Akbar Padamsee Dies – The celebrated artist, a pioneer of modern Indian painting, has died at the age of 91. He was associated with the Progressive Artists’ Group, formed in 1947 by Francis Newton Souza, S. H. Raza, and M. F. Husain. As a young artist, his painting Lovers, which showed a man’s hand touching a breast, led to his arrest by the Mumbai Police. (Times of India)

Smithsonian American Art Museum Appoints a New Curator of Craft – The institution has named Mary Savig as its new curator of craft. Since 2013, Savig has worked at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art as its curator of manuscripts. (Artforum)

Art Gallery of Ontario Names Winner of the Gershon Iskowitz Prize – Conceptual artist Ken Lum has won the 2019 edition of the art prize, awarded annually to an artist for his or her outstanding contribution to art in Canada. The award comes with a cash prize of $38,000 and a solo exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto. (Artforum)


Chandelier Sculpture Stirs Debate in Vancouver – People are divided over Rodney Graham’s new public sculpture, Spinning Chandelier, which is installed under a bridge in Vancouver that used to be a space for the Canadian coastal city’s homeless. The massive hanging work drops down twice a day and spins and flashes its lights before going still again. Some think it is wry commentary on the city’s rapid gentrification; others maintain that it is simply embellishing the nearby luxury real estate developments. (TAN)

Treasures Abound Inside a Vienna Cathedral – The 500-year-old remains of one of the most important Holy Roman Emperors can finally be seen. Photographs have been taken inside of the adorned resting place of Frederick (Friedrich) III, who presided over the empire from 1452 until he died in 1493. A tiny hole was drilled into the tomb at St. Stephen’s Cathedral, allowing visitors to see inside. The eight-ton lid cannot safely be opened. (TAN)

Thousands of Images of France’s Art Collections Go Online – Digital downloads of famous works by Victor Hugo, Rembrandt, Courbet, and Delacroix are now available after the Paris Musées uploaded 100,000 images of its vast collection of art online for scholars and art enthusiasts. Happy browsing! (Hyperallergic)

Paul Cézanne's <i>Ambroise Vollard</i> (1899). Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris, Petit Palais.

Paul Cézanne’s Ambroise Vollard (1899). Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris, Petit Palais.

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.