Art Industry News: SFMOMA Apologizes for Censoring a Black Ex-Employee Who Called Out the Museum on Instagram + Other Stories

Plus, cultural institutions consider raiding their endowments and Paul Mpagi Sepuya offers a print in exchange for BLM donations.

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is seen in San Francisco, California on April 28, 2016. Photo by Josh Edelson/AFP via 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 on this Wednesday, June 3.


Arts Institutions Ponder the Unthinkable: Raiding the Endowment – Among cultural organizations, there has always been a common rule: don’t deplete your endowment. But amid the unprecedented shutdowns of museums and concert halls across the United States, that rule may be bent for the first time ever. The Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Lyric Opera of Chicago, among others, are dipping into their reserves beyond the standard five percent. While museums have been slower to make the move than performing arts organizations, the Association of Art Museum Directors has relaxed its advice on endowment spending and the New York state attorney general’s office, which recommends against endowment draws that exceed 7 percent, is also considering issuing new guidance. (New York Times)

London’s Tate Will Reopen in August – The Tate, like many London museums, is now looking toward reopening after months of lockdown. The institution’s director, Maria Balshaw, says London museums are working together to plan their reopening schedules, but each will make its own decision. Tate is planning to welcome 30 percent of its normal visitor numbers and will enforce two-meter social distancing in August. “Along with the whole of the cultural sector we will be facing a really significant financial challenge,” Balshaw said. “We won’t know the scale of that until we reopen, and the situation is changing on a weekly basis.” (The Art Newspaper)

SFMOMA Under Fire For Censoring a Former Employee – The debate over how museums should respond to the ongoing protests against police brutality—and whether they have done enough to translate their words into action—is playing out on the Instagram account of SFMOMA. A former employee, Taylor Brandon, has accused the museum of silencing her criticism in a comment on its image of a Glenn Ligon work SFMOMA posted over the weekend. The museum disabled comments on the post after Brandon called it a “cop out,” arguing the institution has not done enough to support black employees internally and naming some of its upper management. The museum has since reopened comments on the post and added its own statement apologizing, but maintains that Brandon’s post violated Instagram’s terms of service by naming individuals. Some artists were not convinced by SFMOMA’s response; the museum itself followed up its apology with a post from Heavy Breathing, an artist-run series of free workshops, criticizing its censorship of the original comments. (Hyperallergic)

Closed Museums Rethink Benefits – Arts organizations are thinking up creative alternatives to reward their members for contributing donations during lockdown. With the usual events such as benefits and exclusive private views off the table, some institutions, such as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, are offering “virtual gatherings,” live streaming lectures, and other digital content exclusively to regular donors. Others, such as the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, have been pairing musicians with supporters for one-off phone calls. (Economist)


Tunisia Mounts Opposition to Auction of Royal Artifacts – The director of Tunisia’s National Heritage Institute has called on officials to block the sale of royal artifacts at the French auction house Coutau-Bégarie on June 11. They say the more than 100 objects, including an ancient Quran and ceremonial garments, are private property that was illegally removed from Tunisia. (TRT)

Phillips Gets Its Highest Total for an Online Sale – Phillips Asia’s first cross-category online auction brought in $2.4 million, its highest total for an online sale yet. Some 628 people registered for the sale, 56 percent of whom were new to Phillips and 42 percent of whom were under the age of 40. The top lot was a KAWS companion, Four Foot Dissected Companion (Grey), which sold for HKD812,500 ($105,000). (Press release)


San José Institute of Contemporary Art Names Director – Alison Gass will lead the San José Institute of Contemporary Art, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this fall. Gass, an alumna of the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University and the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, most recently served as head of the University of Chicago’s Smart Museum of Art from 2017 to 2019. (Artforum)

A New Relief Fund for Art Critics of Color  Critical Minded, a grant-making and educational initiative that supports cultural critics of color in the United States, has set up a new relief fund that provides onetime grants of $500 to critics who have lost income due to the public health situation. Applications will be accepted until the end of the day on June 8. To learn more about applying, click here. (Artforum)


How Are Museums Responding to Civil Unrest? Not Very Well – Several American museums have come under fire for their lackluster or tone-deaf response to the historic protests this past week across the country. The Getty in LA and San Fransisco Museum of Art came under fire for not mentioning Black Lives Matter in their social media posts; both have apologized. More museums were marred by controversy after posting the black square of solidarity on social media, which inadvertently blocked information for protesters as well as resources for activists. (ARTnews)

Portraits of Humanity Shortlist Revealed – Some 36 countries participated in the annual Portrait of Humanity award. There are 200 shortlisted images that were taken before lockdown showing a united and connected world. In September, 100 winners will be chosen and one work will be projected 111,000 feet above Earth as part of a collaboration with the company Sent Into Space. Images include a portrait of Greta Thunberg speaking at a conference, a jockey in Belgrade, and a barbershop in Havana. (BBC, Guardian)

Paul Mpagi Sepuya Offers a Relief Print – The Los Angeles artist is offering an unlimited edition print in exchange for a minimum $250 donation to specific organizations, including Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, and Fair Fight, among others. With proof of donation, the Chicago-based gallery Document Space will ship out an unmounted work to donors. (Hyperallergic)

Paul Mpagi Sepuya Studio (0X5A4983), (2020). Unlimited Edition.

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