Art Industry News: Police Arrest a Fake Rabbi for the Long-Con Theft of Art by Renoir and Rubens + Other Stories

Plus, Nan Goldin has taken her anti-Oxycontin protest to Harvard and David Hockney has some choice words for the FT.

Italian police have arrested an art thief who posed as a rabbi during a long con to steal art by Peter Paul Rubens and Pierre-August Renoir. Photo by VASILY MAXIMOV/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, July 23.


Remembering a Food Legend’s Brief Art Career – Jonathan Gold, the Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic who encouraged Angelenos to explore all the diversity the city has to offer, has died of cancer at age 57. Among the lesser-known elements of his biography is the fact that Gold, whose reviews lavished the same precise gusto on taco stands and fancy French restaurants (although he preferred the former), was a performance artist before he became a critic and also served as an assistant to artist Chris Burden. One of Gold’s early works involved “two bottles of Glade air freshener, a pile of supermarket broiler chickens, a live chicken at the end of a rope and a machete wielded by Mr. Gold, who wore only a blindfold.” (New York Times)

Nan Goldin Protest Heads to Harvard – Following demonstrations at the Smithsonian in DC and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the artist took her anti-opioid protest to Cambridge, Massachusetts. She and fellow activists were joined by medical students at the Harvard Art Museums, which houses the collection of the Arthur M. Sackler Museum, on Friday. Chanting slogans such as “Shame on Sackler,” they threw pill bottles across the floor of the museum’s atrium. Goldin, who grew up in Boston, has called on the university to refuse donations from the Sackler family, some of whom have profited from the sale of OxyContin. (ARTnews)

Police Recover Rubens and Renoir Stolen by Fake Rabbi – Italian police have located two paintings attributed to Peter Paul Rubens and Pierre-August Renoir that were stolen from two art dealers last year in an elaborate con in which one of the thieves posed as a rabbi. Police arrested six suspects, including Nenad Jovanovic, the Croatian national who allegedly told the dealers from Sardinia and London that he was a rabbi with diplomatic immunity who wanted to buy the works for around $30 million. (The Local)

Constable’s Gloomy Skies Just Due to Bad London Weather – Researchers now suspect that the great 19th-century British painter John Constable’s moody late watercolors were not the result of depression after his wife’s death, but merely accurate depictions of the weather at the time. Historians compared his paintings of London’s skies in the 1830s, on which Constable recorded the date and time of day, to meteorological data to support their theory. (Times)


Can Bitcoin Really Transform the Art Market? – Christie’s first Art + Tech Summit, held in London last week, focused on the power and potential of blockchain. Many remain skeptical of its value: Sébastien Genco of finance giant Deloitte said bluntly that the art world “wasn’t ready” for it. But John Zettler, the president of start up Rare Art Labs, claimed that it has already boosted the market for digital art. (NYT)

Collector Aims to Make a Killing with Star Wars Dolls – An anonymous collector from Dubai is selling his 33-piece collection of the rarest prototypes of action figures of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo in mint condition. He hopes to net around $360,000 when the collection, assembled at the start of Star Wars mania in the 1970s, is sold at Heritage Auctions next month. (Art Daily)

Buy the Waterboarding Kit Signed by Cheney – Ahead of former US Vice President Dick Cheney’s appearance on Sacha Baron Cohen’s Who Is America?, a “torture kit” made from empty milk cartons and autographed by Cheney has popped up on eBay for $1,700. It is being offered by Sacha Baron Cohen’s alter ego, Israeli Colonel Erran Morad. Proceeds will go to Amnesty International. (Vulture)

Musk and Farting Unicorn Potter Make Peace – The ceramicist who fell out with Elon Musk after the billionaire appropriated his image of a unicorn farting a rainbow has reached a confidential settlement with the Tesla carmaker. Tom Edwards wrote on his blog: “We have reached an agreement with Tesla that resolves our issues in a way that everyone feels good about,” while Musk tweeted a peace emoji. Musk previously stated on Twitter that any legal action would be “kinda lame.” (Business Insider)


Belgium Names Venice Artists With Sense of Humor – Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys will represent Belgium at the Venice Biennale in 2019 with a project titled “Mondo Cane.” Curated by Anne-Claire Schmitz, the founding director of Brussels nonprofit La Loge, the pavilion will focus on “the human figure within a national pavilion reminiscent of Europe,” which the artists promise will be “not without humor.” You can see all the artists who have been announced for the 2019 Venice Biennale here. (ARTnews)

Russian Gulag Museum Forced to Close – Local authorities shut down the museum in Moscow on Friday, marking the latest incident of government pressure on researchers who study the Soviet-era prison camps. The museum’s director says staff can no longer access the museum and that authorities have tried to confiscate the exhibits. A source within the culture ministry says the museum was closed because it was in a “state of disrepair.” (AFP)

Carnegie Museum Reopens Contemporary Galleries – The museum reopened its contemporary galleries after a major rehang on Friday with an exhibition titled “Crossroads: Carnegie Museum of Art’s Collection, 1945 to Now.” Highlights include a 2016 Kerry James Marshall painting never before shown at the museum and Alex Katz’s newly gifted Vivien Baseball Cap (2006). (Press release)

Mexican Museum Forced to Move in San Francisco – Amid declining attendance and mounting overdue rent payments, the Mexican Museum will cease operations at the city’s Fort Mason Center in November. The nonprofit is giving up the space it has occupied since 1982 in exchange for forgiveness on overdue rent worth $140,000. It might reopen in 2020 if it can raise $30 million to build a new space in a condo tower near the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. (San Francisco Chronicle)


Monet’s Sleeping Cat Returns Home to Giverny – Japanese art dealer Hideyuki Wada has donated Monet’s ceramic cat, which spent years curled up on a cushion in the artist’s dining room, back to the home and studio of the French artist at Giverny. The sleeping feline resurfaced in the collection of the artist’s granddaughter Rolande Verneiges, the illegitimate daughter of Monet’s son, Michel. Her heirs sold her collection at Christie’s Hong Kong last November, including the sleeping feline for $67,000. (The Art Newspaper)

David Hockney Says Smokers Are Living Longer – The artist took the time to respond to an FT article that attributed the recent improvement in public health to “anti-smoking messages, rather than to better drugs.” Hockney points out that smokers are also living longer. “I was told by a doctor many years ago that what was making people live longer was the washing of hands and the cleaning of teeth,” he writes in a letter to the editor. “I instinctively believed this. I am still a smoker at 81 but I wash my hands and clean my teeth regularly.” (Financial Times)

William Blake Will Get a New Headstone – The poet is getting a new headstone over the common grave his remains have occupied in central London’s Bunhill Fields cemetery since 1827. The Blake Society has chosen an inscription reading: “I give you the end of a golden string/ Only wind it into a ball/ It will lead you in at Heavens gate/ Built in Jerusalems wall.” The lines are an excerpt from the epic poem “Jerusalem,” which has since become a de facto anthem for England. (Times)

SFMOMA Celebrates Donald Judd, the Furniture Designer – The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is showcasing furniture made by Donald Judd in its latest exhibition, on view through November 4. Titled “Donald Judd: Specific Furniture” after a 1964 essay by the artist and critic, the show presents Judd’s own designs alongside furniture he collected by designers including Alvar Aalto, Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, and Gerrit Rietveld. (Designboom)

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