Art Industry News: The Real Reason Why People Can’t Stop Touching Statues’ Butts in Museums + Other Stories

Plus, a new wave of speculators is bidding on art they don't want and Nan Goldin makes a feminist statement at Versailles.

Lely's Venus (Aphrodite) in the British Museum, London. Here, the Godess Venus is surprised as she bathes, her water jar resting on her thigh. She crouches naked and attempts to cover herself with arms and hands. Naked Aphrodite was a popular subject with ancient Greek sculptors as she was with the Romans who called her Venus. This statue is a Roman copy of the Greek original, probably made in the 1st or 2nd century. (Photo by In Pictures Ltd./Corbis 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 this Tuesday, May 14.


Why the New LACMA’s Concrete Walls Are a Bad Idea – To avoid acres of drywall inside the new LACMA, architect Peter Zumthor has designed galleries with cast concrete walls. But LA Times critic Christopher Knight, for one, thinks this is a very bad idea. He notes that every time paintings are moved, they will leave behind numerous in-filled holes as “visible scars.” The Minimalist design is supposed to eliminate out-of-date hierarchies. But Knight contends that the style “colonizes diverse global cultures as surely as the Greco-Roman temple designs of yesterday’s art museums did—only in a newer, shinier, more modern way.” The new LACMA “just makes an Instagrammable spectacle of the conspicuous consumption inside,” he harrumphs. (Los Angeles Times)

Christoph Büchel’s Migrant Boat Is Making People Angry – Whatever the artist’s intentions, his decision to install the wreck of a boat in which 700 African migrants drowned next to a cafe at the Venice Biennale with no signage or explanatory material “risks diminishing, if not exploiting, suffering,” writes the Italian journalist Lorenzo Tondo. The fishing boat, which has been lent to the Swiss artist for free, has also provoked the ire of conservative Italian politicians, who suggest it should be sent to the artist’s homeland instead. But curator Maria Chiara di Trapani, who worked on the project, says the discomfort is part of the point: “We are living in a tragic moment without memory. We all watch the news, and it seems so far away; someone is dead at sea and we change the channel.” (Guardian)

Finally, a Scientific Explanation for Why We Want to Touch the Art – You may not have needed an academic’s perspective to explain why you want to run your hands along smooth Greek sculptures or juicy abstract paintings (who doesn’t?). But we have one for you anyway. Fiona Candlin, a professor of museology at Birkbeck College in London, she says that museum-goers feel free to push boundaries, “patting lion heads or groping naked bottoms. They’re making visual jokes and performing for both themselves and the people they are with.” She says that a guard at the British Museum told her that trying to stop people was like “like trying to turn back the sea.” One particularly popular nude Roman statue, the Lely Venus, had her behind cupped so often that the museum has recently installed barriers. (CNN)

These Bidders Don’t Want to Win the Art – The Wall Street Journal dives deep into the wild world of guarantees, which have increasingly become a playground for investors from the real estate and international finance sectors looking for a quick payoff. While old-school collectors including Peter Brant and David Geffen roll the dice to guarantee works they wouldn’t mind owning in the end, this new class of investors “don’t know what they’re doing,” according to one backer. Today, guarantors can make 15 percent to 30 percent of the upside when they guarantee a work that sells for more than they offered to buy it for. The total value of guarantees is settling back down after a high last year: 39 percent of the May sales’ expected value is guaranteed, down from around 58 percent in 2018. But more people than ever are interested in becoming third-party backers, auction houses say. (Wall Street Journal)


Export Ban Placed on Judge’s Copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover A paperback copy of D.H. Lawrence’s notorious novel has been barred from export to give UK public collections a chance to raise the money to buy it. The edition is rare because it includes sexually explicit passages marked up by judge Laurence Byrne’s wife ahead of the famous obscenity trial of 1960. (BBC News)

Art Dealer Matthew Green Is Bankrupt – The former director of Mayfair Fine Art, Matthew Green, has filed for bankruptcy. The British art dealer faces charges in the US for his alleged involvement with money laundering through the sale of a painting by Picasso. (Times)

A Vivian Maier Collection Comes to London – Images printed from the trove of negatives discovered after the death of the street photographer and nanny Vivian Maier are now on sale in the UK for the first time. Dealer Howard Greenberg is bringing more than 100 prints to Photo London, which opens May 16. The presentation follows an out-of-court settlement with a distant relative of the Swiss born photographer, who claimed a share in the copyright of the images. (The Art Newspaper)

John Divola Is Now Represented by Office Baroque – The California-based fine-art photographer, best known for his photographs of abandoned houses, is now represented by Office Baroque in Brussels. His first solo show with the gallery will be on view from June 20 to July 27. (Press release)


MoMA Names Curator of Drawings and Prints – Lanka Tattersall, who was previously an associate curator at MOCA in Los Angeles, is moving to New York’s MoMA to become its curator of drawings and prints. Tattersall, who was a curatorial assistant in the museum’s department of painting and sculpture between 2010 and 2014, will return to MoMA in July. (Artforum)

Georgia O’Keeffe Museum Names New Director – The museum’s acting director Cody Hartley, who has been at the New Mexico institution since 2013, has taken on the role of director. Hartley succeeds Robert Kret, who left the post in January. (Press release)

New York’s Weeksville in Danger of Closure – A budget shortfall is threatening what remains of the village founded by free African Americans after the abolition of slavery in New York. The Weeksville Heritage Center in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, will close if it does not raise enough money to support its operations, programs, salaries, and annual insurance bill by the end of the month. (New York Times)

Jorge Pérez Launches a New Grant for Miami Art Organizations – The billionaire art collector and real estate mogul’s family foundation has established a program that will award $1 million in grants annually to Miami-based visual arts groups. In partnership with the Miami Foundation, the program, called CreARTE, will focus on artist fellowships and residencies, art education and access, and creative spaces. (Miami Herald)


What Happens to Site-Specific Art When the Site It’s Specific to Disappears? – If you’re an artist who developed a work of art for a particular spot, what happens when that spot no longer exists? Artists surveyed by T have a variety of reactions ranging from the flexible to the frantic. The artist Dorothea Rockburne fears that her site-specific mural in the lobby of Philip Johnson’s landmark AT&T skyscraper, which was recently purchased by a new owner who wants to remodel, is at risk. Other artists have a flexible approach, including the late Ellsworth Kelly, who reconfigured large-scale works for new settings. (T Magazine)

David Adjaye Will Design a Museum in India – The British-Ghanaian starchitect has been selected to design New Delhi’s planned Kiran Nadar Museum of Art. The private art space, which currently operates out of a temporary home in a shopping mall, will house a collection of more than 6,000 works. The building is Adjaye’s first commission in India; it is expected to become one of the most important contemporary art spaces in the country. (The Art Newspaper)

Artist Strips Bare for Dalí’s Birthday – Artist Adrián Pino, known for stripping down at European museums including the Prado, has brought his provocative performance to the Salvador Dalí Museum in Figueres, north of Barcelona. Pino got naked and cracked an egg over the Surrealist painter’s tomb to mark Dalí’s 115th birthday. (What, you don’t celebrate birthdays like this?) He managed to get dressed and escape the museum before the police arrived. (Vanguardia)

Nan Goldin Makes a Feminist Statement at Versailles – The American photographer and activist has installed images of the female statues in the palace accompanied by a soundscape featuring the voices of famous French actresses including Catherine Deneuve and Charlotte Gainsbourg reading words by the 18th-century revolutionary women’s rights activist and abolitionist Olympe de Gouges. Goldin’s work is part of a group photography show at Versailles, which includes contributions by Dove Allouche, Martin Parr, Eric Poitevin, and Viviane Sassen. (Le Parisien)



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