Art Industry News: Are Nude Sculptures Just Soft Porn for the Elite? One Eminent Critic Thinks So + Other Stories

Plus, legendary collector Donald Marron's art could be heading to auction and an art-historical treasure is found hanging in a French town hall.

Professor Mary Beard talks about Subodh Gupta's Potato Eaters (2007). Photo: Gordon Beswick, courtesy of Hauser & Wirth.

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 Wednesday, January 29.


Portrait in French Town Hall Long Thought to Be a Copy Is Actually a Lost Treasure – For the past 200 years, a painting of King Louis XV was thought to be a simple copy. It hung in the town hall of the French city of Tarn-et-Garonne for centuries, deemed unremarkable, until an expert reassessed the work and discovered that it is in fact an original replica of a piece by Louis-Michel Van Loo, an official painter of the court of Spain and a portrait painter the King himself. Jean-Martial Frédou de la Bretonnière, alias Frédou, has been identified as the true author of the painting; the original by Van Loo has long been missing and, until now, only two copies existed of his famous painting: one in Versailles, the other in Beaune. (Le Figaro)

UK Museums Are Increasingly Relying on Gallery Funding – UK museums are facing growing public scrutiny over corporate donations from the fossil fuel, Big Pharma, and arms industries, while at the same time, government spending on culture is in decline. That’s why commercial galleries and auction houses are stepping in to bridge the gap—but that approach, which has historically been more common in the US than the UK, presents its own ethical landmines. A Sotheby’s auctioneer announced its sponsorship of Albert Oehlen’s Serpentine exhibition from the rostrum last June, moments after securing a record for Oehlen’s Self-Portrait with Empty Hands (1998), which sold for £6.2 million to Skarstedt Gallery (another funder of the show). Corporate sponsorship packages usually start at around £100,000, while mid-tier supporters might contribute £50,000 to £100,000—or even as little as £5,000 for smaller regional museums. (The Art Newspaper)

Are Nudes Just Soft Porn for the Elite? – The author, professor, and Classics expert Mary Beard is ruffling some feathers with her new TV program, The Shock of the Nude, which premieres on the BBC on February 3. She wants her audience to question the abundance of female nudes in museums and ask themselves what, exactly, is behind the high volume of undressed women in painting. “I think Western art has centered on a sexualized version of the female body more than other cultures,” she says. “And I think it’s about opening our eyes to it and saying, ‘What is this? Is this really soft porn for the elite, dressed up in a classical guise?’” (Telegraph)

Mother Cabrini Sculpture Inflames Controversy Over Public Art – A months-long debate over New York’s public sculptures is heating up yet again as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo pushes forward with his plan to erect a $750,000 statue of Mother Cabrini, the patron saint of immigrants who helped poor Italians in the early days of American colonization, in Battery Park. Some opponents are concerned the project does not consider the surrounding community, nor the fact that the park is already stacked with monuments needing repair. Battery Park is one of the few places in New York City that the governor can erect a statue without having to negotiate with City Hall. (ARTnews)


Donald Marron’s Collection Could Head to the Auction Block – The family of the late financier is asking top auction houses to submit proposals for the handling of his collection of modern and contemporary art, which is valued at around $450 million. Marron, who died in December, assembled treasures including a Picasso portrait of Dora Maar and a 1957 Rothko. (Bloomberg)

A Stolen Chagall Painting Sells for $130,000 – A painting by Jewish modernist Marc Chagall has sold at Tiroche Auction House in Tel Aviv for $130,000, its low estimate. The work, Jacob’s Ladder, was due to head to a sale back in 1996, but was stolen days before the auction. In 2015, the work resurfaced in Jerusalem in the estate of an elderly woman. (Jewish Telegraphic Agency)


Opening of Munch Museum Delayed – The opening of Oslo’s anticipated new Munch Museum has been postponed until the fall following delays in the delivery of security doors and problems with the indoor climate system. The inaugural exhibition, which will juxtapose works by Munch with those of Tracey Emin, will debut on the new opening date. It is unclear whether the show’s second stop, at the Royal Academy in November, will also be delayed. (The Art Newspaper)

Helen Frankenthaler Foundation Awards $2.5 Million to Art History Programs – The late artist’s foundation is making onetime endowment gifts of $500,000 to doctoral art history programs at five American universities: the City University of New York; Harvard University; New York University; Stanford University; and the University of Chicago. The announcement marks a new phase of the Frankenthaler Scholarships program, which has already given more than $4 million to fund the study of art and art history in the US. (Artforum)

Nasher Sculpture Center Makes New Acquisitions – The Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas has added three works by female artists to its collection. Works by Magdalena Abakanowicz, Judy Chicago, and Beverly Semmes have been acquired thanks to the museum’s Kaleta A. Doolin Acquisitions Fund for Women Artists. (Artforum)

Ferdinand Neess, German Collector, Is Dead at 90 – The German art dealer and Art Nouveau collector, Ferdinand Wolfgang Neess, has died. In spring 2017, Neess bequeathed his $46 million collection, which includes more than 500 works by German, French, and Austrian Art Nouveau artists, to the state, and it has been on view in the Museum Wiesbaden since June 2019. (ARTnews)


First Cat in Space Gets a Sculpture – A bronze statue of the Astrocat Félicette, a cat who was launched into space for 15 minutes in 1963, has been unveiled at the International Space University in Strasbourg, France. Félicette is the only cat to have survived a space journey, and $57,000 was raised on Kickstarter to fund her memorial statue, which depicts her sitting atop the Earth. (Smithsonian)

Asheville Museum Gets a Grant to Digitize Black Mountain College Collection – The Council on Library and Information Resources has granted the Asheville Art Museum $163,000 to digitize the Black Mountain College Collection, an archive of the legendary art school that boasts Merce Cunningham, Ruth Asawa, and Cy Twombly among its alumni and former faculty. The 24-month project will make the trove of materials publicly accessible. (MountainX)

National Portrait Gallery Honoring Kobe Bryant With Display – The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, is hanging a portrait of the late NBA legend Kobe Bryant as part of a special “In Memoriam” display to honor the basketball star, who died in a helicopter crash on Sunday with his 13-year-old daughter and seven other passengers. The 2007 black-and-white photograph by Rick Chapman was donated to the museum by Bryant and ESPN and will be on view “until further notice.” (NBC)

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