Art Industry News: Superstar Curator Hans-Ulrich Obrist Calls for a Massive Public Art Initiative to Put British Artists to Work + Other Stories

Plus, the British Museum defies Downing Street and appoints Mary Beard as a trustee, and Christie's upgrades its digital private sales platform.

Hans Ulrich Obrist. Image courtesy de la Cruz Collection.

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, March 30.


The British Museum Defies the UK Government – The British Museum has defied Downing Street by appointing renowned classicist Mary Beard as a trustee. The nomination of the Cambridge academic, broadcaster, and occasional curator was blocked by unnamed politicians last year because of her pro-European, anti-Brexit views. But the political interference was roundly criticized when it became public earlier this month, and the British Museum added Beard to its 25-person board anyway. Now, it seems the UK government has made a U-turn. “The current administration is delighted,” an unnamed source in Downing Street told the Press Association, distancing Boris Johnson from the decision made when Theresa May was prime minister. (Observer)

Despite Everything, LACMA Demolition Continues – The public health crisis has left many capital projects at a standstill: the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures and the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in Los Angeles have both paused construction. But the Los Angeles County Museum of Art intends to continue tearing down four of its buildings as part of its controversial renovation. In defending the decision, the museum’s director Michael Govan said that the $750 million campus revamp would be an “engine of job creation and economic recovery.” Construction workers are wearing protective gear, keeping six feet apart, and frequently washing their hands at portable sinks, according to a museum spokeswoman. Rob Hollman, an opponent of the expansion and a campaigner for the group Save LACMA, slammed the move: “It’s wrong, ethically and morally,” he said. (Los Angeles Times)

Hans-Ulrich Obrist Issues a Call for Pandemic Public Art – The superstar curator Hans-Ulrich Obrist has called on the UK government to create a version of the New Deal for British artists in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The artistic director of the Serpentine Galleries notes how, during the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration gave many artists their first commissions, which kickstarted the careers of Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, among others. Last week, the government funded Arts Council England launched a $190 million emergency response package, which includes grants of up to £3,000 for individual artists. But Obrist and other leading art professionals are looking for something more dramatic. (Guardian)

Behind the Battle Over Derek Fordjour’s Success – A New York court will decide who wins the bitter battle between the artist Derek Fordjour and his former dealer Robert Blumenthal. The case hinges on 20 works by the now in-demand artist, which Fordjour claims he consigned to the New York gallerist for $20,000. The gallery now says Fordjour still owes seven of those works, and it will accept no less than $1.45 million in lieu of the art. Since the pair first made the original deal six years ago, Fordjour’s prices have skyrocketed—his collectors now include Beyoncé. The artist declined to speak to the Times, but the paper concludes that the legal fight goes beyond money, revealing the “undercurrents of pride, friendship, and hurt feelings that can arise over the question of who deserves to take credit for and profit from an artist’s success.” (New York Times)


Christie’s Upgrades Its Private Sales Platform – While many of its sales have been rescheduled or converted to virtual events, the auction house is shifting its narrative to promote private sales online, ramping up what it calls “collector engagement.” Last year, 64 percent of Christie’s clients bought or bid online, and 41 percent of new buyers arrived via its digital platforms. (Art Market Monitor)

Goodman Gallery Sells Artist-Designed Blankets for COVID Relief – The Johannesburg gallery is selling artist-designed blankets to raise funds for a health clinic in the South African capital. The textile works by Broomberg & Chanarin, Nolan Oswald Dennis, Reza Farkhondeh & Ghada Amer, and Samson Kambalu are priced $620 each and produced in editions of 50. (The Art Newspaper)

New York Landlords Are Trying to Boot Out Small Galleries – As April 1 approaches, small New York galleries are fretting about paying their rent after an enforced lockdown put their businesses on ice. They say landlords have ignored requests for a rent freeze and that they don’t qualify for the loans or other support offered by New York City. Last week, the New Art Dealers Alliance released a petition supporting a 90-day rent suspension to help ailing businesses, but it remains to be seen whether that will be put into place. (Hyperallergic)


2020 Rabkin Prize Winners Announced – The 2020 Rabkin Prize, which honors writers and critics who inform the public through their writing on contemporary art, has been awarded to nine recipients: Mary Abbe, Jerry Cullum, Neil Fauerso, Amanda Fortini, Sam Lefebvre, Steve Litt, Erin Nelson, Seph Rodney, and Elisa Turner. Each will receive $50,000. (Artforum)

UK Arts Administrator Dies of the Coronavirus – The first female chair of Arts Council Wales, Sybil Crouch, has died from complications from COVID-19 at age 66. She was an advisor to the Welsh government on arts and cultural policy and a Labour party member. Until last year, she served as director of the Taliesin Arts Centre and head of cultural services at Swansea University. (Guardian)


Last Year Was the Busiest This Century for London Museums – Some 27 million people visited London’s seven major art museums in 2019, according to The Art Newspaper‘s annual attendance figures report. That’s the highest total for London since the turn of the century (as in, the year 2000). Attendance was boosted by two blockbusters: Tate Britain’s “Van Gogh and Britain” show and Antony Gormley’s survey at the Royal Academy of Arts. (The Art Newspaper)

How Coronavirus Could Change Art History – “Society will change with this pandemic, and art will too—in ways we can only begin to guess,” writes art critic Christopher Knight. For precedent, he looks back at the Black Plague, when artistic transformations that were going on at the time disappeared, came to a halt, or “skipped a bunch of generations.” He cites the pioneering Florentine painter Giotto di Bondone, who died of the plague just as he was helming an artistic revolution. “A renaissance didn’t erupt in Florence for another hundred years,” Knight notes. (Los Angeles Times)

The Getty Launches Create-Your-Own Old Master – The Getty is offering a new way to interact with its art collection while in quarantine. It’s simple: choose your favorite artwork and find three things lying around your house that can help you recreate it. Then click send! The Getty is sharing the inventive images on social media. (Guardian)

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