Art Industry News: KAWS Has Created a Free Augmented Reality ‘Companion’ to Entertain Those Stuck at Home + Other Stories

Plus, the thieves behind an Oxford gallery heist may have escaped by boat, and the opening of François Pinault's Paris museum is postponed.

KAWS, COMPANION (EXPANDED), 2020, augmented reality. Courtesy: KAWS and Acute Art.

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, March 18.


Van Dyck Thieves May Have Escaped by Boat – In a scenario fit for a heist movie, police in Oxford have said that the thieves who made off with three masterpieces from Christ Church Picture Gallery may have escaped on a boat. Authorities are asking anyone who saw anything suspicious on the river or has come across an abandoned boat to come forward. But don’t get too carried away: The detective in charge of the case has stressed that the boat theory “is just a hypothesis at this time.” (BBC)

Are Hourly Museum Workers Getting Paid? – Part-time and hourly employees working at museums across the US are largely still being paid through the end of March, according to a survey by the Los Angeles Times. But the institutions surveyed nearly all said that the coronavirus situation was “moving too fast” for them to speak for their policies after April 1, which is causing concern for precarious workers in the museum industry. The Getty Museum, however, is setting an example, stating that it will pay all of its part-time and hourly workers “as long as this goes on,” and is giving these workers an additional three weeks of paid sick leave. (Los Angeles Times)

KAWS Offers a Free AR Companion for Those in Quarantine – Last week, KAWS launched a new initiative with Acute Art that brought AR versions of his floating sculptures to landmarks in 12 cities around the world. But he developed a late-stage addition when it became clear that much of the audience would be staying home to prevent the spread of coronavirus. So the artist has updated the app with a new sculpture can be unleashed in any environment. “Given the current situation with COVID-19 we do not encourage the gathering of people, but instead, propose that you enjoy this small version of COMPANION (EXPANDED) for free in the comfort of your own space,” said KAWS in a statement. (Instagram)

When Your Big Break Gets Interrupted by a Pandemic – As the coronavirus continues to shutter museums, galleries, and other art organizations, young and emerging artists are coming to terms with the fact that their shining debuts have been interrupted. “It’s been a combination of mourning the culmination of months of work and also reeling over the scope and unknowability of this problem,” says artist Mamie Tinkler, whose first solo show in New York is among those that have been canceled. (NYT)


The Art Market Begins to Feel Coronavirus’s Impact  The Telegraph concisely recaps the toll that coronavirus outbreak measures have taken on the art market, including fair and auction cancellations and postponements. The trouble for the industry kicked into high gear one week ago, when the TEFAF fair ended early after a staff member of Italy’s Tornabuoni Gallery tested positive for the virus. At least four other exhibitors also reported symptoms. (Telegraph

Sotheby’s Sales Carry On – The auction house held two solidly performing sales despite the fact that much of the world is on lockdown. Sotheby’s bi-annual “Made in Britain” auction on Tuesday brought in an total of $2.6 million, exceeding its high estimate of $2.3 million, while its contemporary South Asian art auction totaled $4.8 million, just inching past its $4.7 million high estimate. (Press release)


SCAD Hong Kong to Close – The Savannah College of Art and Design’s Hong Kong outpost will close indefinitely in June. The school has been holding classes online since February due to the coronavirus, but gave no explanation for the closure beyond “student safety and academic quality.” More than 2,600 students and alumni have signed an online petition decrying the move. (Artforum)

The Opening of Pinault’s Paris Art Museum Is Postponed – The opening of François Pinault’s highly anticipated new Paris art museum in the former Bourse de Commerce has been postponed from mid-June until September. A precise new opening date has yet to be announced. (Press release)

Stonehenge Will Shut Down – English Heritage and the National Trust have decided to close Stonehenge in light of the coronavirus outbreak. Old Sarum and Old Wardour Castle are also closed indefinitely. (SpireFM)


Why This Nazi Loot Researcher Quit – Veteran provenance researcher Sibylle Ehringhaus worked with the Georg Schäfer Museum in Germany to research the history of its collection. But before long, she began to wonder why the city of Schweinfurt, which manages the museum, had hired her at all. Several works she identified were not returned; the Schäfer family maintains that restitution claims should be handled by the government, not by individual collectors. (New York Times)

How Great Artists Tackled Plagues – Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones believes that much of Europe’s greatest art emerged during times of plague. Jones assembled a list of masterworks, from Dürer’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1498) through treasures by Titian, Rembrandt, and Caravaggio, in the hope that they might “console us” or guide us in the trying time of coronavirus. (Guardian)

An Art Critic Organizes His Books in Quarantine – Meanwhile, Los Angeles Times art critic Christopher Knight is spending his time in quarantine sorting through his shelves of 2,000 books. “Rummaging through bookshelves is a different experience from searching online,” he writes. “Both court serendipity. But the accident of a book, perhaps because it is a physical object rather than the glowing ephemera of digital pixels, is of another order. It has a singular density and weight.” (Los Angeles Times)

Ai Weiwei Encourages People to “Stay Home… And Stay Together” – The Chinese artist has shared a video on the Palazzo Strozzi’s new online platform, In Contact, encouraging people to stay home. “There is no border, no nationality, or different class or religion that can really escape from this almost very democratic virus,” Ai says. “We have to struggle, it requires solidarity, understanding, scientific research, but more it requires a perspective on life itself.” (Palazzo Strozzi)

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