Art Industry News: MoMA Board Chair Leon Black Under Fire for Giving More Than $50 Million to Jeffrey Epstein + Other Stories

Plus, a group of Indigenous artists will represent Norway at the Venice Biennale and the UK's Museum of the Year award will be split among five institutions.

Leon Black speaks onstage at the Museum Of Modern Art Film Benefit on November 19, 2018, in New York City. Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Museum of Modern Art.

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, October 13.


Museum of the Year Award Is Split Between Five Institutions – The UK’s prestigious Museum of the Year award is being split five ways this year as an increasing number of institutions face financial pressures related to the coronavirus crisis. The accolade and prize fund, which has been increased by £60,000 ($78,089) this year, will be split evenly between South London Gallery, London’s Science Museum, Towner Art Gallery in England, Aberdeen Art Gallery, and the Gairloch Museum in Scotland. The Art Fund, which runs the prize, has said it changed tack due to the “unprecedented challenges” faced by museums this year and stressed the role museums can play in rebuilding communities and confidence in a post-COVID world. It is one of a number of recent prizes, including the Turner Prize, to be split among multiple recipients. (BBC)

What Are These African Artifacts Doing in a Politician’s Warehouse? – Hundreds of African artifacts have been found in a publicly funded warehouse in Houston at the direction of Harris County commissioner Rodney Ellis. The local district attorney is looking into the objects’ ownership, but it is unclear where they came from or why they are being stored at the cost of the taxpayer. A 2018 loan agreement between the county and a private company, African Art Global, explains the presence of 14 works that were due to go on view at the Tom Bass Community Center, but there are hundreds more in the warehouse. The politician has reportedly admitted that he needs to update the loan agreement and that he is committed to resolving the matter “transparently.” (TAN)

Leon Black Paid at Least $50 Million to Jeffrey Epstein – In the wake of the late Jeffrey Epstein’s arrest on sex trafficking charges, billionaire art collector Leon Black distanced himself from the man, whom he said he consulted “from time to time” on financial matters. But a new investigation reveals that Black, the chairman of the Museum of Modern Art, wired Epstein at least $50 million in the years after his 2008 conviction for soliciting prostitution from a minor. In 2014, Epstein received several million dollars in fees from the company Black used to purchase much of his billion-dollar art collection. (The services he performed in exchange for the money are unclear.) In August, Black was subpoenaed by the US Virgin Islands in connection with the Jeffrey Epstein case. A representative for Black says he regrets his involvement with Epstein. (New York Times

Meet the People Who Started Collecting During the Pandemic – As galleries and auction houses migrated online during the shutdown and many formerly very busy people suddenly found themselves with time on their hands, a new breed of art collector was born. Despite an overall dip in sales, millennial buyers flocked to online auctions; Sotheby’s saw its online revenue increase by $177 million year over year. Clients like 26-year-old fashion executive Rachel Floeder were drawn to art-themed Instagram content first, and then made the jump to buying original work. “I couldn’t tell you the last time I spent this much time with my things,” she said. (ARTnews)


Top Asian Exec to Leave Sotheby’s – Vinci Chang, head of the modern art department at Sotheby’s Asia, is leaving the auction house. She joined Sotheby’s in 2013 as a consultant responsible for business development in Asia and led the branch through a period of remarkable growth. She will be replaced by Felix Kwok, head of Modern Asia art sales at Sotheby’s Hong Kong. (Art Market Monitor)

Bonhams Names New Non-Executive Chairman – Bonhams has named Hans-Kristian Hoejsgaard, former CEO of Baselworld, as its new non-executive chairman. He joins the auction house amid a staff shuffle: Bruno Vinciguerra was named global CEO in February, replacing longtime Bonhams veteran Matthew Girling. (Art Market Monitor)


Indigenous Artists Tapped for Nordic Pavilion – Sámi artists Pauliina Feodoroff, Máret Ánne Sara and Anders Sunna have been tapped to represent their Indigenous homeland of Sápmi for the Nordic Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2022. The pavilion will become the Sámi Pavilion; the commissioner, the Office for Contemporary Art Norway, says that it aims to raise the profile of Sámi artistic practice as well as international awareness of their history. (Press release)

Queer|Art|Prize Awarded – Performance artist, dancer, activist, and radical caregiver Julie Tolentino has been named the 2020 winner of Queer|Art’s annual $10,000 award for sustained achievement. Tolentino founded the storied Clit Club, a queer, pro-sex nightclub that sprouted up in various Manhattan locations between 1990 and 2002. (Artforum)


Artists Amplify Call for Reform at New Orleans Museum – More than 150 artists, art workers, and organizers have signed a new letter to the New Orleans Museum of Art calling on the museum to implement a list of changes put forth by a group of current and former staff members under the heading #DismandleNOMA. The Guerrilla Girls, Ebony G. Patterson, Michael Rakowitz, and Xaviera Simmons are among the signatories. (Hyperallergic)

On the Crisis in American Museums – The Washington Post delves into the twin challenges museums are facing concurrently: the shutdown-induced financial crisis and the demand to confront the white supremacy embedded in the way they operate. “The tension is between the traditions that need to be maintained and the ones that get in the way of being a 21st-century institution,” said Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III. (Washington Post)

Planned Parenthood Teams Up With Artists for Abortion Fight Campaign – Planned Parenthood has launched a series of art commissions titled “All Rise for Justice” that aim to call attention to the impact of confirming Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the US Supreme Court. New works by Tiffany Alfonseca, Julian Alexander, Deva Pardue, and Shepard Fairey will debut on the organization’s social media this week. Quoting author Toni Cade Bambara, the president of Planned Parenthood, Alexis McGill Johnson, said, “The goal of the revolutionary artist is to make revolution irresistible.” (Instagram)

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