Art Industry News: Artist in Rockefeller Clan Is Linked to Accused Russian Spy Maria Butina + Other Stories

Plus, a distant Gulbenkian relation is accused of fraud and the Van Gogh Museum is partnering with Vans on a new range of sneakers.

NRA booster and Washington insider Maria Butina has been accused of spying for Russia. (Photo by STR / AFP) (Photo credit should read STR/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 Friday, July 27.


Distant Gulbenkian Relative Accused of Fraud Over Kusama Pumpkin – The assets of art broker Angela Gulbenkian, the wife of the great-grandnephew of art collector and businessman Calouste Gulbenkian, have been frozen after a Hong Kong buyer claims he paid her $1.4 million for a Yayoi Kusama pumpkin that never turned up. The broker has been accused of milking her marital surname to deliberately mislead clients into thinking she was associated with the mogul’s $3.6 billion private foundation and museum. (Bloomberg)

Greek Wildfire Destroys Cinema Archives – The private archives of the late Greek cinema director Theo Angelopoulos have been destroyed in the midst of the fires that are ravaging the country near Athens. Angelopoulos pioneered the country’s “new wave” cinema after the breakdown of Greece’s military dictatorship in 1974, and his archives included books, letters from celebrities, and texts and poems written by the Cannes-honored director. (Art Daily)

Sculptor and Rockefeller Heir Linked to Russians – Court documents reveal that a member of the Rockefeller clan, George D. O’Neill Jr., was involved in helping the alleged Russian spy Maria Butina develop a back channel between top Republicans and the Kremlin. O’Neill is accused of connecting Butina to high-profile conservatives since 2016. The sculptor reportedly hosted a private dinner for delegation of Russian dignitaries and conservative politicians shortly after Trump’s inauguration, which the visitors, one of whom is close to Putin, are accused of exploiting in order to advance Russian interests in the US. (Bloomberg)

Political Cartoonist Fired After Comparing Netanyahu to Animal Farm – Avi Katz has been fired from the English-language Israeli magazine Jerusalem Report after depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies as pigs in a cartoon inspired by George Orwell’s Animal Farm. The cartoon, captioned “All animals are equal. But some are more equal than others,” parodied a widely circulated image of the men taking a congratulatory selfie after passing a law that reportedly gives Jewish citizens greater rights than the country’s minority population. (Guardian)


Dealer Appeals Giotto Judgment – Kathleen Simonis, the owner of an embattled $13 million Giotto painting that she brought to the UK a decade ago, will appeal the high court ruling that the artwork left Italy unlawfully. Simonis plans to argue in court that the Italian law barring its export is incompatible with the law guaranteeing the free movement of goods within the European Union. (The Art Newspaper)

Chris Burden’s Solar System Heads to Seattle Art Fair – Gagosian will present Burden’s 1983 installation Scale Model of the Solar System at the fair next week. The first part of the work, the sun, will hang from the ceiling at the gallery’s booth and the rest of the planets will span outwards inside the fair and beyond in proportion to their actual distance from one another in space using the scale of 1 inch: 4.2 trillion inches, culminating a mile away with Pluto (still considered a planet in 1983) at the Seattle Art Museum. (Press Release)

Miles McEnery Gallery to Open Second Space in Chelsea – The New York art gallery is opening an additional location in the Chelsea neighborhood at 520 West 21st Street on September 6, a stone’s throw away from its flagship on West 22nd Street. The inaugural show at the new space will be dedicated to paintings by Michael Reafsnyder and Patrick Wilson, with solo shows of Beverly Fishman and Monique van Genderen slated for down the line. (ARTnews)

SS Porcelain Snapped up by Russians – Wealthy Russians make up over half the buyers of porcelain made by the SS-owned company Allach during the Nazi era. The company benefited from forced labor of prisoners held in concentration camps, and experts warn people away from driving up the prices of the high-quality porcelain because “it represented an inhumane ideology and people suffered for it.” (Times)


Philippine Artist for Venice Biennale Release – Mark Justiniani will focus on the symbolism of the island in fiction and reality for the Philippine Pavilion at the upcoming Venice Biennale. Tessa Maria Guazon will curate the exhibition, called “Island Weather.” See all of the artists announced for the Biennale so far here. (Art Asia Pacific)

Rubin Museum Appoints New Head of Exhibitions – Daneyal Mahmood is leaving the Watermill Center on Long Island to lead the exhibitions at New York’s Rubin Museum of Art. He has a doctorate in experimental psychology, and founded and directs Daneyal Mahmood Gallery in New York. (Artforum)

University of Michigan Museum Hires a Deputy Director – Vera Grant will start this fall as deputy director of curatorial affairs and curator of Modern and contemporary art at the University of Michigan Museum of Art in Ann Arbor. Grant leaves the Ethelbert Cooper Gallery of African & African American Art at the Hutchins Center at Harvard University, which she has led since 2012. (Click on Detroit)

Kent State Museum Names Its New Director – Sarah J. Rogers will succeed Jean Druesedow, the longstanding director of the university museum in Ohio. Rogers has been the deputy director of the Columbus Museum of Art since 2012. (Crain’s Cleveland Business)


Hans Ulrich Obrist Stages Chicago Interview Marathon – Theaster Gates and the director of the Obama Presidential Center are among Obrist’s 18-strong list of interviewees in a five-hour-long event due to take place in Chicago on September 29. The marathon talk will form part of the Chicago Humanities Festival in collaboration with the Terra Foundation and EXPO Chicago. (ARTnews)

Dubai Police Recover $20 Million Diamond – A diamond stolen from a vault by a guard who smuggled it to Sri Lanka in a shoebox has been found by Dubai police. The alleged thief’s relative helped take it out of the UAE hidden in a pair of boxed sneakers. (Courthouse News)

Textile Artist Unites Divided Koreans – Inspired by propaganda leaflets illicitly sent across the borders of the Koreas in both directions, the South Korean artist Kyungah Ham has been smuggling computer-printed designs through intermediaries into North Korea to be embroidered by artisans (at the risk of their execution) before being taken back over the border and exhibited and sold. (New York Times)

Vans Creates Van Gogh Museum Sneakers – In a bid to reach a new audience for the Dutch painter, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam has partnered with the skate shoe giant for a collection inspired by the artist’s famous works. Paintings including the artist’s self portrait, Sunflowers, and Almond Blossom have been printed onto a range of Vans classic footwear styles that will be available from August 3 on,, some retailers and at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. (Footware News)

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