Art Industry News: Looters Are Selling Stolen Syrian Art on Facebook + Other Stories

Plus, Cattelan's gold toilet heads to Winston Churchill's birthplace and a Scientologist wins his court battle against the Haus der Kunst.

Artefacts looted from Baghdad museum after the US-led invasion of 2003. Photo by AWAD AWAD/AFP/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 Friday, May 2.


Can an Art Collective Become the Disney of Experiences? – Meow Wolf, the art group that had humble beginnings organizing parties in Santa Fe, is now a multimillion-dollar company that boosters are calling the Disney of the 21st century. in 2020, it plans to open a $60 million immersive art experience in Denver, and is the anchor tenant for Area15, an “experience” mall planned in Las Vegas. Meow Wolf’s chief executive, Vince Kadlubek, wants to build an entertainment empire tapping into the burgeoning experience economy. Unlike Disney, “Meow Wolf celebrates the flaw, celebrates the other,” he says. (New York Times Magazine)

Maurizio Cattelan’s Gold Toilet Heads to Churchill’s Birthplace – The Italian artist’s solid-gold toilet, America, will be installed at Blenheim, the stately England home where Winston Churchill was born. The notorious pooper, which the Guggenheim offered to lend to the White House instead of a Van Gogh, will be a highlight of Cattelan’s show at the palace this fall. (Last year, the historic house hosted a dinner for Donald Trump on his first Presidential visit to Britain.) Edward Spencer-Churchill, who runs the Blenheim Art Foundation, thinks that his illustrious ancestor would have found the toilet amusing. (Guardian)

Looted Syrian Antiquities Sold on Facebook – Forty-nine groups have been removed from Facebook after a BBC investigation exposed them as platforms for the illicit trade of looted artifacts from Syria and Iraq. Antiquities listed for sale from the war-torn countries included a statue from Palmyra and a Roman mosaic from Aleppo that was allegedly still in the ground and could be looted to order. Amr al-Azm, an archaeologist at Shawnee State University in Ohio, said Facebook was first alerted to the problem in 2014. He criticized the social media giant for its slow response, warning that its decision to delete information could hinder potential prosecutions. (Times)

The Hong Kong Collectors Behind the KAWS Boom – KAWS, aka Brian Donnelly, is likely the first contemporary artist from the West whose market has been largely made by collectors based in Hong Kong, according to the South China Morning Post. Some of these collectors, including Lam Shu-kam, better known as SK Lam, the founder of the production company AllRightsReserved, have a business stake in promoting the work (AllRightsReserved presented KAWS’s giant inflatable sculpture in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor during Art Basel). Fellow entrepreneur Kevin Poon Sai-heng, who sells the artist’s T-shirts and toys across Asia, says: “There is there is absolutely no reason KAWS shouldn’t be considered as great as Jeff Koons.” (South China Morning Post)


The Michael Scharf Family Collection Hits the Auction Block – Nearly 30 Classic works of American Modernism from the holdings of Michael Scharf head to auction at Christie’s New York on May 22. Top lots include Georgia O’Keeffe’s Inside Red Canna (1919), which has a $6 million upper estimate. Scharf was especially interested in American Modernism, which he began to collect in 1972. “The more I studied, the more I came to believe Arthur Dove, Georgia O’Keeffe, Max Weber, Marsden Hartley, and John Marin were important artists who were responsible for instigating a transformation in the development of Modern American art,” the collector said in a statement. (ARTnews)

Photo London Drops Tainted Partnership – Following criticism, the photography fair is taking “urgent steps” to end a partnership deal with the luxury London hotel owned by Hassanal Bolkiah, the Sultan of Brunei, who recently oversaw the installation of new laws that made gay and extramarital sex punishable by death by stoning. Photo London said it has relocated planned events, adding that it abhorred the country’s legislation. The fair’s VIPs where due to stay at the hotel. (The Art Newspaper)

Citi Bank Teams Up With Sotheby’s – The auction house is making a series of short educational videos about art for Citi Private Bank’s clients. The partnership, which includes Citi sponsorship of a series of global collector events ahead of Sotheby’s auctions, will provide the companies’ clients with primer on important art historical figures such as Paul Gauguin and Roy Lichtenstein. (Barrons)


Jean Cooney Leaves Creative Time for Times Square Arts – After seven years at Creative Time, where she notably worked on the presentation of Kara Walker’s monumental sugar sculpture in Brooklyn, Cooney is leaving the nonprofit to lead Times Square Arts. “I am thrilled to take on the unique opportunity of presenting public art in one of New York City’s most iconic, history-rich, kinetic, and complicated spaces,” Cooney said of her appointment. (ARTnews)

The American Academy of Arts and Letters Announces Its Latest Awards – This year’s prize recipients include the artist Lee Bontecou, who has been awarded a gold medal in sculpture, and Studio Museum director Thelma Golden, who is being honored for her distinguished services to the arts. All the awarded artists will show work in a group show at the Academy’s galleries in New York from May 23 through June 16. (ARTnews)

A Star Curator Will Lead a New French Museum of Private Collections – Nicolas Bourriaud, perhaps most famous for introducing the term “relational aesthetics” into art history, will manage the new MOCO – Hôtel des Collections, a new non-collecting art center that will present international public and private collections. The museum will open on June 29 in Montpellier, France. (Press release)


A Scientologist Fired by a German Museum Wins His Court Battle – In 2017, the personnel director at Munich’s Haus der Kunst was pushed out of his job after 22 years when a campaign led by a former member of the German parliament revealed the unnamed employee was a Scientologist. He filed a complaint with the city’s labor court, which was upheld on April 19 under Germany’s religious freedom laws, and the Haus der Kunst now has to pay out €110,000 in severance, as well as provide him with a full pension. (New Europe)

Castello di Rivoli Opens a New Art-Filled Villa – This Saturday, the Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art is opening a villa annex that was once the home of the Turin-based collector Francesco Federico Cerruti. The house and vast trove of art (worth an estimated $600 million) was donated to the museum by Cerruti’s heirs, and includes masterpieces from the Medieval and Baroque periods, as well as Modern paintings by Giorgio de Chirico, Francis Bacon, and Andy Warhol. (The Art Newspaper)

Vik Muniz Adds a Velázquez to His Collection—Sort Of – The Brazilian artist has completed a new “Verso” work, this time of the back of Velázquez’s masterpiece Las Meninas. Muniz has been painstakingly recreating the backside of famous paintings for years, including the Mona Lisa and Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Muniz’s next show opens at New York’s Sikkema Jenkins & Co. this fall. (Instagram)

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.