Art Industry News: Did Robert Indiana Lose Control of His Final Works via Text Message? + Other Stories

Plus, artists urge the New Museum to let staff unionize and Raymond Pettibon's surreal Mona Lisa struts her stuff on the Paris Fashion Week catwalk.

Robert Indiana's The Great American Love (Love Wall). Photo: Timothy A. Clary/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 Monday, January 21.


Artists Urge the New Museum to Let Staff Unionize – Leading artists including The Guerrilla Girls, Andrea Fraser, and R.H. Quaytman have signed an open letter urging the museum’s leadership to “do the right thing and allow their employees to form a union without interference.” The letter also criticizes the New Museum for hiring an anti-union law firm. Signatories include Chris E. Vargas, who is part of the collective MOTHA that has work currently on show in the New York museum. The New Museum responded in a statement saying it respects employees’ right to self-organize and pledges to respect whatever decision they make. (ARTnews)

Messages Call Into Question Robert Indiana’s Role in His Final Works – BEER, BREW, and VINO were a few of the variations of Robert Indiana’s famous LOVE sculpture that his assistant and publisher discussed via private text messages. The brainstorming by Jamie L. Thomas and Michael McKenzie has emerged in the court case over the artist’s control of his final works. The company Morgan Art Foundation, which has the rights to create and sell works based off the LOVE design, is suing both men, alleging they were acting without the aging artist’s approval. McKenzie says he believes the artist signed off on all the ideas and, anyway, Thomas had power of attorney for Indiana in his dying days. (New York Times)

Zimbabwe Biennial Postponed Amid Unrest – The planned Bulawayo Biennial will be postponed from October 2019 to October 2020 amid escalating protests and economic chaos in the African nation. Called “I see you” in Zulu, the show is due to feature around 60 artists’s works across several pavilions and public spaces, and cover performing arts, architecture, and design as well as environmental projects. The government imposed a “total internet shutdown” on Friday, January 18, amid major protests against fuel price increases. Critics believe the shutdown is part of a news black-out about the violent suppression of the protests. (The Art Newspaper)


Schiele Painting Heads to Auction – Egon Schiele’s 1912 painting Trieste Fishing Boat heads to auction at Sotheby’s London on February 26. The artist painted it shortly after he was released from prison after being cleared of sexual indecency with a girl. The work, which has been in a private collection since 1962, is the highlight of the company’s Impressionist and Modern evening sale, and has an estimate of between $7.5 million and $10.2 million. (Art Daily)

Catherine Deneuve Sells Her YSL Gowns – The French star, who was a friend and muse of the late Yves Saint Laurent, is selling 130 of the gowns he designed for her. The sale at Christie’s France on January 26 includes an Oscar ceremony gown, which has an upper estimate of $3,400. Deneuve’s YSL accessories go on sale in an online auction. (Reuters)


Activists Call on Harvard Museum to Drop Sackler Name – Harvard is facing calls to ditch the “Arthur M. Sackler” in the title of the museum of Asian, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean art. The renewed focus comes after a new court filings were made public, alleging members of the Sackler family on the directors’ board “controlled Purdue’s misconduct” while seeing billions of dollars in profits from opioid sales. (Harvard Crimson)

The CIA Agent and Artist Who Inspired the Film Argo Has Died Tony Mendez, who inspired the Oscar-winning film Argo, has died at the age of 78. He joined the CIA after answering a blind advertisement for a graphic designer. Mendez worked with Hollywood make-up artists and magicians to perfect agents’ disguises and fake identities, culminating in operation “Canadian Caper.” The daring rescue of US embassy staff from Tehran inspired the award-winning movie directed by and starring Ben Affleck. Mendez once told the Washington Post: “I’ve always considered myself to be an artist first and for 25 years I was a pretty good spy.” (BBC)


After the Museum of Ice Cream, What’s Next? – We thought we had seen everything, but then a museum dedicated to avocados popped up in California. The New Yorker riffs on the idea and wonders what kind of “future museums” may be in store for us. What about the collection of non-returnable online orders or a center for the translation of vague social media posts? (New Yorker)

Raymond Pettibon’s Art Graces the Dior Runway – After working with artists such as KAWS and the Japanese illustrator Hajime Soriyama on previous collections, Dior’s newest collection features imagery by Pettibon. The punky artist collaborated with Dior Men designer Kim Jones to unveil a surreal take on Mona Lisa during Paris Fashion Week. (Paper Magazine)

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.