Art Industry News: For Decades, the Art Market Has Been the Wild West. Now, Congress May Be Sending in the Sheriffs + Other Stories

Plus, an early copy of the Mona Lisa sells for $3.4 million at auction, and Germany unveils a database for its Benin Bronzes.

The Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Photo Nicolas Raymond, via Flickr.

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 21.


Germany Unveils Benin Bronze Database – In a bid to offer more transparency about its holdings from the colonial era, the German government has unveiled a one-stop digital shop for information about the more than 1,110 Benin Bronzes in its holdings, including provenance and images. The database, called the German Contact Point for Collections From Colonial Contexts, will be updated regularly. (ARTnews)

Phyllida Barlow Brings a Sculpture to Highgate Cemetery – The British artist will install a monumental sculpture, Act, in Highgate Cemetery in north London this summer. The work, which the artist describes as a stage that includes a “tower of fabric-wrapped poles,” responds to the Victorian obsession with honoring the dead. The work was originally commission by Studio Voltaire in 2019 for the Nunhead Cemetery, but was moved after its original site was deemed structurally unsound. (Guardian)

More Regulation May Finally Be Coming to the Art Market – Regulators may be looking to crack down on the art market. In January, Congress extended federal anti-money laundering regulations to antiques dealers and mandated that federal agencies study whether these restrictions should be applied to the broader art market as well. But dealers fear the additional red tape required might put some of them out of business. Since 2019, Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and the Art Dealers Association of America have spent almost $1 million on lobbyists working to fight the expansion of the rules. (New York Times)

Examining the Legacy of Enslaved Artist David Drake – Writer Jori Finkel considers the work of David Drake, a potter whose very act of dating his works defied a law that was designed to prevent slaves from writing in the 1830s. “This jar points to the artistic achievements of enslaved African Americans and the persistent erasure of their work from America’s cultural institutions for nearly 300 years,” Finkel writes. Now, these vessels are selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars at auction and finding their ways into major museum collections. (New York Times


Mona Lisa Copy Sells for $3.4 Million – An early copy of the Mona Lisa sold at Christie’s Paris for a whopping €2.9 million ($3.4 million) with buyer’s fees, way above its estimate of €200,000 to €300,000. Its original owner, antiquarian Raymond Hekking, was utterly convinced it was the original painting and that the version hanging in the Louvre was a copy. (The Art Newspaper)

Esther Schipper Is Opening in Majorca and Taipei – The Berlin-based art dealer is getting on the pop-up train, with one planned for Taipei in August and another in Palma de Mallorca in July. Martin Boyce, Thomas Demand, and Simon Fujiwara will be among those shown in Taipei; the Palma de Mallorca location will feature work by Angela Bulloch, Liam Gillick, and Ryan Gander. (Press release)


The Winner of the Artes Mundi Prize Is… Everyone! – The Artes Mundi prize, the biannual award given out by the National Museum Cardiff, will be split among all nominated artists this year to acknowledge the difficulties of the pandemic. South African artist Dineo Seshee Bopape, Puerto Rico’s Beatriz Santiago Muñoz, and U.S. photographer Carrie Mae Weems are among those who will receive a £10,000 award. (Guardian)

Private German Collectors Return 34 Mexican Artifacts – Last week, the Mexican government announced that it had received 34 pre-Columbian artifacts restituted from two private German collections. The anonymous collectors are based in western Germany had inherited them from their families. (ARTnews)


This Bezos Mona Lisa Thing Is Really Taking Off – A satirical petition to convince Jeff Bezos to buy and eat the Mona Lisa has only picked up steam since it caught the attention of the internet last week, accruing almost 11,500 signatures and counting. As it turns out, it might be more difficult for Bezos to buy the painting under French law than to eat it. “You might get indigestion, but there is nothing stopping you under U.S. law from eating the Mona Lisa if you own it,” said lawyer Amy Adler. (NYT)

Tankers and Transit Vans Sculpted Into Steel Forests – Dan Rawlings has transformed petrol trucks into skeletons carved with trees for an installation at a former church in Scunthorpe, U.K. The work, which sees the steel trucks turned into three-dimensional steel landscapes, has an environmental message, according to the artist. (BBC)

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