Art Industry News: Is Saudi Arabia’s International Arts Push Being Used as a Pawn in the Arms Race? + Other News

Plus, collector Donald Bryant offers a cautionary tale about art-backed loans and is it about time Gauguin got canceled?

French President Emmanuel Macron chats with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. (Photo by Bandar Algaloud / Saudi Kingdom Council / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
French President Emmanuel Macron chats with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. (Photo by Bandar Algaloud / Saudi Kingdom Council / Handout/Anadolu Agency/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, November 19.


Reckoning With Gaugin in Post #MeToo World – The New York Times asks: Is it time Gauguin got canceled? London’s National Gallery is among the museums contending with the legacy of the artist—a reliable bot-office hit who also had sex with teenage girls and called his Polynesian subjects “savages.” Although few scholars are willing to dismiss the artist entirely, most agree that it is incumbent upon museums to explore his complicated story in full. “What’s left to say about Gauguin,” said Danish curator Line Clausen Pedersen, “is for us to bring out all the dirty stuff.” (New York Times

Leading Collector Faces Growing Debt  Insurance executive Donald Bryant Jr.’s celebrated art collection was at one point valued at more than $300 million—but now, it is laden with more than $90 million in art-backed loans. And now that he is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, he is no longer able to weigh in on financial decisions. His wife, Bettina Bryant, is scrambling to make monthly interest payments of $300,000, most recently selling a California vacation home and offering select works for sale at galleries. The story is a cautionary tale for those who have taken out art-backed loans in boom times—and may not have anticipated the consequences. (Wall Street Journal

Art’s Role in the Arms Race – When we talk about art as a tool for soft power, we forget that sometimes harder power is not far behind. As Russia signed a five-year memorandum on cultural exchange with Saudi Arabia last month, discussions for new Russo-Saudi arms sales were also underway. The cultural agreement went down as Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz announced that his country had set aside $10 billion for joint projects with the Russian Direct Investment Fund and signed 42 agreements dealing with oil, agriculture, artificial intelligence, and railway construction. Meanwhile, the French government has embarked on a $50 billion to $100 billion cultural and tourism development in Al-Ula Province, just as defense contracts between the two countries were being inked. France is the world’s third-largest arms exporter, and sales to Saudi Arabia increased 50 percent last year. (The Art Newspaper)

Venice Mayor Asks for Help Amid Flood – Venice’s mayor Luigi Brugnaro has opened a bank account for donations to finance the badly needed repairs on the flood-drenched city. The damage so far is estimated to set the city back some €1 billion, although much of its prized artwork is safe. As volunteers rush in to help clean up the wreckage in local museums, churches, and libraries, preservationists who are familiar with the floating city are not worried. The director of the initiative Save Venice Incorporated, Melissa Conn, tells the Observer, “Venice has been doing this for 50 years,” adding that “the local government has art as their first priority.” (New York Observer)


Sanyu Painting Could Break Records at Sotheby’s – The Chinese-French painter Sanyu, known as the “Chinese Matisse,” is having a moment. Christie’s Hong Kong is preparing to sell the artist’s Five Nudes in its upcoming sale on Saturday, where it is expected to bring in some $32 million. The current auction record for his work is $25 million, achieved earlier this year at Sotheby’s. The newly private auction house is also preparing to sell another Sanyu, Four Nudes, in Hong Kong next spring, which could break the record again. (Art Market Monitor)

One of Princess Diana’s Most Iconic Dresses Is Hitting the Block – At the upcoming “Passion for Fashion” sale hosted by Kerry Taylor Auctions on December 9, Princess Diana’s off-the-shoulder midnight blue velvet gown is the star lot, with an estimate of $325,000 to $450,000. The late Princess wore the Victor Edelstein design on a visit to the White House in 1985, when she famously danced with John Travolta to songs from Saturday Night Fever. (WWD)


Stephanie Comilang Wins Sobey Art Award – The 39-year-old Filipina-Canadian video artist Stephanie Comilang has nabbed the 2019 Sobey Art Award, which recognizes Canadian artists who are 40 years old or younger. The $76,000 prize was awarded for her video works, which feature a Tagalog-speaking “drone” that documents the experiences of members of the Filipino diaspora. (Artforum)

Titian Paintings to Be Reunited – London’s National Gallery will show Titian’s six epic mythological works together for the first time since the late 16th century after the Wallace Collection agreed to loan Perseus and Andromeda to the museum for its “Titian: Love, Desire, Death” show opening March 16. The painting was previously barred from traveling under the conditions in Lady Wallace’s 1897 will—but the document has recently been “reinterpreted” to allow for the loan of works for the first time in the collection’s 119-year history. (TAN)

KAWS Buys Another Brooklyn Building  The art-market phenom KAWS is expanding his personal empire. The artist, whose real name is Brian Donnelly, has purchased a 10,000-square-foot building in Brooklyn for $17 million. The space is in the heart of Williamsburg and located down the street from the artist’s current studio. (Bloomberg


Syrian Artist Reem Alsayyah Speaks Out Against BP Sponsorship – The Syrian artist Reem Alsayyah come out against the oil giant’s sponsorship of the British Museum’s “Troy: Myth and Reality” exhibition, which includes one of her films. Alsayyah has written an open letter to the museum trustees and director Hartwig Fischer saying her work was being used to “art wash” BP’s reputation, and pointing out that the company, which backed the second Gulf War, had profited from the displacement of people like the 13 refugees who form the cast of her film. (Guardian)

Ai Weiwei on the Hong Kong Protests – In a new op-ed, Ai Weiwei has responded to the violent clashes in Hong Kong between pro-democracy protesters and the government by placing them in a broader context. “I have realized that Hong Kongers have been demonstrating for the last 30 years—ever since Tiananmen Square,” he writes. “Nobody in the world can break their record. When you understand that history, you understand their values.” The problem now, Ai says, is that Western governments refuse to intervene: “Western governments do not care about what is happening in the region.” (TAN)

Michelle Obama Visits Barack’s Portrait in DC – The former first lady was back in her old stomping grounds this weekend to present Broadway hitmaker Lin-Manuel Miranda with the Portrait of a Nation Prize at the National Portrait Gallery in DC. While she was there, Obama took a moment with her husband’s portrait, painted by Kehinde Wiley and unveiled in 2017. (Instagram)

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