Art Industry News: The Ghent Altarpiece Restorers Say the Internet’s Obsession With Their Work Is ‘Absolutely Stupid’ + Other Stories

Plus, Switzerland makes its choice for the Venice Biennale and the Smithsonian opts for a less permanent relationship with the V&A in London.

A conservator at work on the Ghent Altarpiece.

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, January 28.


The Smithsonian Adopts a Less Ambitious Collaboration With the V&A – The Washington, DC institution has rolled back plans to operate a permanent gallery space inside the V&A’s planned new museum in East London. Instead, the Smithsonian has announced it will co-curate a gallery within V&A East for two years after the museum opens in 2023. The gallery will draw on both institutions’ collections of art and design, science, and the humanities to “explore the impact of human life on the world around us.” (Press release, The Art Newspaper)

Philadelphia Museum Launches Hotline for Harassment Complaints – Facing blowback following a recent expose on the allegedly abusive behavior of a former staffer, the Philadelphia Museum of Art has set up an anonymous hotline for employees to report incidents of sexual harassment or discrimination. The initiative is part of a new system to improve workplace conditions after allegations surfaced about a former employee, Joshua Helmer, who went on to lead the Erie Art Museum. The museum is also offering staff members on-site counseling sessions and anti-harassment training. (Philadelphia Inquirer)

The Ghent Altarpiece Is More Than the Lamb – After the “alarmingly humanoid” face of Van Eyck’s mystic lamb was revealed by the restoration of the Ghent Altarpiece, it went viral online, and memes abounded comparing its visage to the pouty face of Derek Zoolander. Now that the interior panels of the altarpiece have finally gone on view at the city’s Bavo Cathedral, the restoration team is frustrated. After years spent painstakingly removing overpainting from 70 percent of the altarpiece, they have had their work endlessly mocked online, with people framing it as another “Beast Jesus.” But Van Eyck “is not the first one who painted the lamb in that way,” conservator Hélène Dubois says, adding that the wide frontal eyes are meant to identify it as the Lamb of God. “A lot of misunderstandings have been propagated by absolutely stupid tweets taken completely out of context.” (New York Times)

Switzerland Chooses Its Artist for the Venice Biennale – The Switzerland-based French-Moroccan artist Latifa Echakhch has been chosen to represent her home country at the 2021 Venice Biennale. The artist, who was selected unanimously by the jury, has recruited curator Francesco Stocchi and percussionist Alexandre Babel to join her in creating the exhibition. Together, “they intend to offer visitors of the Biennale a rhythm-based experience with visual, acoustic, and spatial effects,” a press statement explains. (Press release)


New Money-Laundering Regulations Spark Confusion – Dealers are scrambling after new anti-money laundering regulations sneaked into effect in the UK earlier this month, requiring galleries to conduct identity checks and report transactions over €10,000. Due to a lack of government guidance, some midsize dealers at the London Art Fair opted to drop the prices of certain works below the threshold to avoid the hassle of having to comply with the new regulations. (The Art Newspaper)

Peter Brant Is Going Big on Warhol – The Brant Foundation in New York’s East Village is gearing up for a major exhibition of work by Andy Warhol likely slated for next year. Peter Brant is one of the world’s leading Warhol collectors, and became friends with the artist after collecting his work for years. Brant went on to purchase Interview, the magazine the artist founded. (He eventually ceased operations and restarted the magazine after declaring bankruptcy). (Architectural Digest)

Monica King Contemporary Now Represents Jason Stopa – The Brooklyn-based writer and painter has joined the stable of Monica King’s eponymous gallery, following his curatorial turn for the exhibition “New Skin,” which closed at the gallery on January 25. Stopa’s own work combines thick layers of pastel overlaid with sharp architectural arrangements. (Press release)


The Venice Biennale Gets a New President – The Italian film producer Roberto Cicutto will become the new president of the Venice Biennale, the parent organization of events including the Venice Film Festival, the Venice Architecture Biennale, and, of course, the eponymous art exhibition. He succeeds Paolo Baratta, who has led the organization since 2008. (Monopol)

South African Photographer Santu Mofokeng Has Died – The celebrated anti-apartheid photographer has died after years of illness. Mofokeng captured the daily lives of black South Africans under the segregationist regime. (ARTnews)

Remembering Jason Polan, a Draughtsman of New York – The beloved and prolific artist, who drew every work of art in the Museum of Modern Art’s collection and sought to draw every person in New York, has died at 37 from cancer. He was also known for the Taco Bell Drawing Club, a loose group of artists who would meet at a New York Taco Bell to draw together. (NYT)


Marina Abramović Is Going on (Virtual) Tour – Abramović’s mixed-reality performance The Life is going on tour as part of a partnership between Microsoft and Christie’s auction house. The work, which debuted at London’s Serpentine Galleries last year, allows visitors wearing a Microsoft HoloLens 2 headset to share space with a virtual version of the artist for 19 minutes. It will be on view from February 10 to 15 in Los Angeles with limited appointments. In October 2020, one of three editions of The Life will be offered for sale at Christie’s. (Observer)

How the Zeitz Museum’s Director Is Shoring Up Africa’s Art Scene – Koyo Kouoh has some big challenges and opportunities ahead of her as the new executive director and chief curator of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in Cape Town. The institution houses the collection of former Puma CEO Jochen Zeitz and has organized impressive shows like a recent one dedicated to William Kentridge’s drawing practice. But some have complained that the staff lack experience and that the museum fostered minimal discussion and new scholarship. (ARTnews)

Duchess Kate Middleton Takes Portraits of Holocaust Survivors – The Royal Duchess of Cambridge worked with the Royal Photographic Society, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, and Jewish News on a poignant project that depicts two Holocaust survivors and their grandkids. The portraits, done in the style of Vermeer, will be featured in an exhibition that will open later this year. (Vogue)

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