Art Industry News: This Tech CEO Thinks France Should Sell the Mona Lisa to Pay for Coronavirus Relief + Other Stories

Plus, a lawyer wants to strip the Whitney of its tax-exempt status and Sotheby's online Impressionist and Modern day sale brings in $9.9 million.

Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. Photo by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images.
Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. Photo by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto 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 Tuesday, May 19.


A New Online Database Tracks Looted Beninese Art – A new project plans to virtually reunite the roughly 4,000 artifacts often referred to as the Benin Bronzes that were looted from the West African nation by the British. Hamburg’s Museum Am Rothenbaum (MARKK) is behind the database, called Digital Benin, which seeks to track how the corpus was divided up and spread around the globe. So far, 17 museums in Europe and Nigeria—including the British Museum and the Ethnological Museum of Berlin—have agreed to share data. (Wall Street Journal

Lawyer Accuses the Whitney of Smear Campaign Against Kanders – The lawyer Neal Sher is calling on US authorities to strip the Whitney Museum of American Art of its tax-exempt status due to its handling of protests that led to the resignation of Warren Kanders from its board last year. Sher, who was a war criminal prosecutor in the 1980s and ’90s, contends that the Whitney’s leadership “orchestrated and acquiesced in a concerted smear campaign” against Kanders and capitulated to unlawful conduct by pushing him to resign. Sher said he was writing to the IRS “on behalf of contributors to and former officials,” but is acting independently. Over the weekend, he issued another letter airing his grievances to seven of the museum’s trustees. (Financial Times)

Tech CEO Says France Should Sell the Mona Lisa – The founder of the tech company Fabernovel has a wild idea for how France can offset its losses from the shutdown: sell the Mona Lisa! “The price has to be insane for the operation to make sense,” Stephane Distinguin said in a recent interview. “I estimate that it would take no less than €50 billion to acquire the Mona Lisa.” Further promoting the idea that tech CEOs believe bitcoin can solve any problem, Distinguin added that if an outright sale was not possible, perhaps the painting could be “tokenized” through crypto-currency, allowing nations the world over to share the painting through “a big global subscription.” (Independent)

Artists Urge Governments to Impose an Arms Embargo on Israel – Shepard Fairey, Antony Gormley, Lawrence Abu Hamdan, and Tai Shani are among 350 arts figures who are calling on international governments to impose an arms embargo on Israel. The letter warns that COVID-19 could pose a fatal threat to Gaza and that pressure should be applied to the Israeli government to increase testing and offer improved medical care amid a shortage of proper equipment. “What happens in Gaza is a test for the conscience of humanity,” the open letter says. “We may be staying at home, but our ethical responsibility shouldn’t.” (Hyperallergic)


Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Day Sale Brings in $9.9 Million – On the heels of a record-setting online contemporary day sale that generated $13.7 million, the first edition of Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern online day sale achieved a total of $9.9 million. Highlights included Giorgio Morandi’s Natura Morta (1951), which sold for $1.58 million, and Edgar Degas’s small-scale 1876 portrait, Bust du jeune femme presque nue, which sold above estimate for $596,000. (Art Market Monitor)

French Auction Houses Authorized to Reopen – French auction houses are permitted to reopen—but they will not be as packed as before. Visitors will be required to keep four square meters apart on the premises. (Journal des Arts)


Italian Museums Resume Operations – Italian museums begin to reopen this week after the culture minister Dario Franceschini gave them the go-ahead on Saturday evening. Rome’s Capitoline Museums and the Castello di Rivoli are opening today, but Florence’s civic museums will have to wait for a more substantial bailout to make up for lost revenue, despite a €55 billion national spending package from the government to help relaunch the economy. (TAN)

Italian Designer Nanda Vigo Dies – The artist, designer, and architect, who became known in the 1960s for her artistic practice influenced by the Zero group, has died at age 83. Her glass and-aluminum sculptures called “Chronotops,” which were illuminated with neon light, sought to exact sensory experiences from the viewer. (Artforum)

Tate Announces New Appointments – Tate has appointed Neil McConnon as its new director of international partnerships and Katherine Montague as director of people. Previously, McConnon was head of international enterprises at the Barbican, and Montague has led HR at the Royal Academy of Arts. (Artforum)

Finnish National Gallery Gets a Reopening Date – The Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki will reopen to the public on June 2. The museum will debut a new exhibition, “Inspiration—Contemporary Art & Classics,” a group show of Finnish and international artists who respond to European Old Masters in their work. (Press release)


Sharjah Art Foundation Awards 10 Artist Grants – The Sharjah Art Foundation has awarded its “Production Programme” grants to 10 artists, who will receive a combined $200,000 to support the realization of proposed projects selected from an international open call. The 2020 grantees are: Jumana Emil Abboud, Mohamed Abdelkarim, Noor Abuarafeh, Basma al-Sharif, Abdessamad El Montassir, Köken Ergun, Pak Khawateen Painting Club, Moad Musbahi, Philip Rizk, and Subversive Film. (Press release)

Julia Stoschek Puts Her Video Art Collection Online – The billionaire art collector, who has recently threatened to pull her collection from its outpost in Berlin, is making sure her holdings will remain publicly accessible no matter what—virtually, at least. She has just made her video art collection, which includes works by Wolfgang Tillmans, Barbara Hammer, and Cao Fei, available for free online. (ARTnews)

Creatives Launch Prints for Ethiopia to Benefit Temsalet Kitchen – Ethiopian artists and photographers have launched a new initiative called Prints for Ethiopia to help raise funds for humanitarian and COVID-19 relief. The proceeds from the sale will go to an Addis Ababa-based social enterprise that feeds homeless kids and families, Temsalet Kitchen. (Hypebeast)

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Love, Art by Robel @artbyrobel @printsforethiopia

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Samson Sileshi @samson_sileshi @printsforethiopia

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Samira Messner @zelanwa @printsforethiopia

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