Art Industry News: Putin Expert Is Not Amused by New York’s Kitschy New KGB Spy Museum + Other Stories

Plus, the buyer of all those Supreme skateboard decks is revealed and Elmgreen & Dragset's World War II memorial is vandalized.

An installation at the KGB Spy Museum. Image courtesy of the KGB Spy Museum.

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 Wednesday, January 30.


Smithsonian Staffers Make Up for Lost Time – The temporary end of the government shutdown has allowed the 19 federally-run Smithsonian museums to reopen, and workers are scrambling to catch up on a month’s worth of missed work. Officials are still assessing the damage caused by the shutdown, but it is clear that research and exhibitions will be delayed and the institution will take a financial hit from missing out on nearly two million potential visitors. (Smithsonian)

Did a UK Politician Sell Looted Antiquities? – The Conservative Party politician Michael Ancram is embroiled in controversy due to his involvement in the questionable sale of two large Assyrian reliefs. Ancram removed the antiquities dating from 860 BC from the walls of his family’s mansion in Scotland, Newbattle Abbey College, and sold them for £8 million ($10.5 million) at a private sale at Sotheby’s last June. They were quietly exported in November. The reliefs depicting protective deities originated in the Palace of Ashurnasirpal II in Nimrud (now Iraq). But now, some are raising questions about the legitimacy of the reliefs’ supposed 19th-century excavation. (The Art Newspaper)

Why New York’s New KGB Museum Fails – Russian-American journalist and activist Masha Gessen was not impressed by New York’s new spy museum. She takes issue with its cavalier attitude towards the horrors perpetrated by the secret-police organization, criticizing the presentation as “blithely morally neutral.” Inside, she says, propaganda posters become kitsch souvenirs and visitors are invited to pose for selfies in a torture chair or dressed up in Soviet uniforms. “Imagine,” Gessen writes, “if the tyrant in question were not Joseph Stalin but Adolf Hitler.” (The New Yorker)

Elmgreen & Dragset’s Memorial to Gay Holocaust Victims Is Vandalized – Over the weekend, vandals attacked the artistic duo Elmgreen & Dragset’s memorial to gay people killed during the Holocaust in Berlin. The monument in the city’s Tiergarten was daubed in black paint, and police are investigating the incident due to the suspected political motive for the attack. The site has been repeatedly targeted by vandals since it was unveiled in 2008. (Monopol)


Tribal Art Market Unsettled by Restitution Fears – Europe’s new, more open attitude toward restitution of colonial-era art may have a ripple effect on private collectors, who could become less likely to buy, lend, and donate works from sub-Saharan Africa. Specialists in the trade—a market worth around $91 million per year—are alarmed by the shift in the zeitgeist. “Over the last 100 years, it’s been the work of Western scientists, collectors and dealers that has preserved these pieces,” one dealer said. “Now we are looking like crooks.” (New York Times)

Buyer of Supreme Skate Decks Revealed – The Canadian art collector Carson Guo has come forward as the buyer of the $800,000 collection of Supreme skate decks at Sotheby’s. Guo will display the 248 decks—the only known fully intact set—in his new shop opening in Vancouver in 2020. (Press release)


Macau and the UAE Pick Their Venice Biennale Artists – The influential Dubai-born poet, filmmaker, and artist Nujoom Alghanem will represent the United Arab Emirates in Venice this year. Macau has also chosen an all-female team to take over its pavilion: Heidi Lau, an Oakland, CA-born ceramic artist, will work with the New York-based curator Sio Man Lam. (Press releaseThe National)

Aspen Art Museum Names New Curator – Max Weintraub will join the Aspen Art Museum as senior curator. He previously served as director and chief curator of the art galleries at Indiana University’s Herron School of Art + Design, where he has organized 30 exhibitions since 2016 and helped increase gallery attendance each year. (Press release)

Artist Susan Hiller Dies at 78 – The esoteric artist who explored paranormal activity, the depths of human imagination, as well as fairies and aliens has died after a short illness. Hiller, who was born in Tallahassee and lived in London, had work in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Centre Pompidou, and Tate, among others. She had major solo shows in Canada and Italy last year. (Guardian)


MoMA Adds 800 Drawings to Its Collection – Preeminent conceptual art collectors Gilbert and Lila Silverman have donated their collection of instruction drawings to New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The major gift includes 800 works by more than 300 artists, 113 of which are entering the collection for the first time, like Rammellzee and Bill Bollinger. Each work is a proposal, brainstorm, or instruction for an artwork, allowing viewers a peek into the artist’s mind. (ARTnews)

How Do You Review an Exhibition That’s Closed? – Offering a peek into the review-writing process, Sky Goodden explores the high-wire act of writing about a flawed show of work by worthy artists at an institution the critic wants to like. But despite her high hopes, the inaugural exhibition at MOCA Toronto, “Believe,” tackles “hot-button political subjects—gentrification, the refugee crisis, cultism, Indigenous symbolism, colonialism, social engineering” with “little regard for how these subjects might coalesce.” (Momus)

See Miguel Chevalier’s Interactive Light Carpet in Bangkok – Ever wanted to walk on water? Now you can. Magic Carpets Bangkok is an interactive light installation on the river in the Thai capital. The nearly 200-foot-long walkway shows more than 60 graphic patterns referencing Thai fabrics and colors that react and change under visitors’ footsteps. It’s a little like Christo’s Floating Piers, but on mushrooms. (Dezeen)

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