Art Industry News: Addressing Protests, the Director of the Smithsonian Calls on America to ‘Confront Its Tortured Racial Past’ + Other Stories

Plus, the Leaning Tower of Pisa reopens with a socially distanced flash mob and three directors of the Guggenheim reflect on the future.

Lonnie Bunch, the secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. Photo by Michael Barnes, courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

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 Monday, June 1.


Three Guggenheim Directors on the Future – The three directors of the international museum network—Richard Armstrong of the Guggenheim in New York, Juan Ignacio Vidarte of the Guggenheim Bilbao, and Karole Vail of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice—sat down to discuss the challenges of reopening as Italy and Spain prepare to emerge from lockdown. One big takeaway, Armstrong says, is a shift away from seeing attendance as the main arbiter of success. “I think we might all have been in a bit of a competitive fantasy about ever-growing visitor numbers,” he noted. “And the momentum from that fantasy will certainly die off and we’ll see what kinds of alternatives there might be.” (The Art Newspaper)

Life Lessons From Artist Robert Gober – Deborah Solomon rang up the eminent sculptor, who is isolating in his house and garage-turned-studio on the North Fork of Long Island. Asked if he sees any parallels between the current pandemic and the AIDS era, when he first began exhibiting his now-famous sink sculptures, he said, “Nobody was banging on pots and pans at 7 o’clock during the AIDS crisis.” The differences between the two moments, he noted, “are more numerous than the similarities.” (New York Times)

The Smithsonian’s Director Makes a Rare Statement on Police Brutality – The federally funded Smithsonian Institution often remains quiet on matters of politics. (Part of the reason is because any statement must make its way through the institution’s labyrinthine bureaucracy before it sees the light of day.) That’s why it’s notable that—amid silence from many other museums, as some observers have noted—Lonnie Bunch, who took over as the Smithsonian’s secretary last year after serving as director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, released a statement over the weekend following the protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd. He said he hopes the pain and sorrow of the families of those lost to police violence “compel America to confront its tortured racial past, and that this moment becomes the impetus for our nation to address racism and social inequities in earnest.” He added: “History is a guide to a better future and demonstrates that we can become a better society—but only if we collectively demand it from each other and from the institutions responsible for administering justice.” (Smithsonian)

The American Art World’s Racism Problem – Margaret Carrigan points out that the much-shared footage of protesters looting KAWS works from 5Art Gallery in Los Angeles during Sunday’s demonstrations supports a misunderstanding shared by many in the art world that their own work and actions are distinct from a white supremacist system. After the gallery put out a call for security footage, noting that its employees and artists “had nothing to do with this,” Carrigan responded that such a statement “explicitly claims that the dealers, their staff and the artists whose work they sell are exempt from the perpetuation of systemic inequality. It also suggests that their sympathies for the theft of a black life at the hands of police could be causally curtailed by the looting of their property by a protester, meaning their support of anti-racism is changeable at best and self-serving at worst.” (The Art Newspaper)


Christie’s Offers a Pricey Sanyu in Hong Kong – The Chinese-French painter had a strong year at auction in 2019; now, the artist’s continued momentum will be tested this summer at Christie’s. The auction house is offering Sanyu’s White Chrysanthemum in a Blue and White Jardinière, completed between the 1940s and ‘50s, at its Hong Kong contemporary evening sale on July 10. The floral still-life carries an estimate of $7.8 million to $10 million. (Art Market Monitor)

Altice CEO and Sotheby’s Owner Patrick Drahi Speaks – The owner of Sotheby’s joined a press call on Friday, which would be unremarkable except for the fact that he acknowledged he had not spoken to the press for five years. After an ill-advised pun that likened his buying Sotheby’s to “Altice’s adventures in wonderland,” Drahi noted that the house had pivoted successfully to online sales and reinforced his commitment to the business. (Art Market Monitor)


Texas Philanthropist Alice Negley Dorn Dies – The arts patron, who was a longtime supporter of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Denver Art Museum, and others, has died at 69. The news was announced by Ballroom Marfa, the non-profit Texas institution co-founded by her daughter, Fairfax Dorn. The Dorn family also founded the Texas-based Brown Foundation, which has awarded more than $1.5 billion in grants for the arts, education, and community service. (The Art Newspaper

Portraitist Elsa Dorfman Dies at 83 – The American photographer died at age 83 from kidney failure on May 30 at her home in Cambridge. Dorfman’s large-format portraits, created with a hefty 200-plus-pound Polaroid camera, matched her outsize personality, which helped capture her subjects in unguarded, joyful moments. Her behemoth camera produced prints measuring almost two feet across; Dorfman’s style involved keeping the black roller lines and maintaining a white frame around each image, where she would caption the photograph herself. (Boston Globe)


An Underwater Art Museum Comes to the Great Barrier Reef – The world’s largest coral reef is now the site of an underwater museum, featuring works by the artist Jason Decaires Taylor. Situated off the coast of Townsville, the Museum of Underwater Art hopes to draw attention to the plight of the Great Barrier Reef, which is in danger of changing water temperatures and mass coral bleaching. (designboom)

Carmen Herrera Was “Annoyed” at Her 105th Birthday El Museo del Barrio held a Zoom birthday party for the 105-year-old painter—and she was “somewhat annoyed” by the celebration, according to the museum’s chair Tony Bechara. Still, she offered guests some good advice: “For the first 100 years, eat red meat and drink Scotch,” Bechara relayed on her behalf. “Then switch to Champagne and a vegetarian diet.” (Page Six)

Leaning Tower of Pisa Reopens – Some three months after closing to the public, cultural sites in Italy are beginning to reopen. The Leaning Tower of Pisa began welcoming visitors on Saturday, marking the occasion with a socially distanced flash mob. The site capped the number of people allowed in at 15, requiring them to wear face masks and electronic devices that track social distance while inside. The Colosseum and Vatican Museums are opening on June 1, and at Le Scuderie del Quirinale, the exhibition to mark 500 years since Raphael’s death, will resume. (Guardian)

Doctors and nurses from the hospital of Pisa wore face masks while keeping social distance during a flash mob to mark the newly reopened tower of Pisa on May 30, 2020. (Photo by Laura Lezza/Getty Images)

Mayor of Pisa Michele Conti joined in the flash mob near the tower of Pisa on May 30, 2020 in Pisa, Italy. (Photo by Laura Lezza/Getty Images)

Mayor of Pisa Michele Conti joined in the flash mob near the tower of Pisa on May 30, 2020 in Pisa, Italy. (Photo by Laura Lezza/Getty Images)

Tourists wearing face masks pose for a photograph near the tower of Pisa on May 30, 2020 in Pisa, Italy. (Photo by Laura Lezza/Getty Images)

Tourists wearing face masks pose for a photograph near the tower of Pisa on May 30, 2020 in Pisa, Italy. (Photo by Laura Lezza/Getty Images)

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