Art Industry News: Report Claims Director Lisa Phillips Runs the New Museum Like a ‘Sweatshop’ and ‘Private Fiefdom’ + Other Stories

Plus, Kaywin Feldman gives her first interview on the Guston affair and the inside scoop on the Sacklers' negotiations to keep their wealth.

The New Museum. Image courtesy of Peter Guthrie via Flickr

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 Monday, October 5.


Companies Are Cashing in on Their Art Collections – With offices going out of fashion and companies strapped for cash, corporations have begun quietly selling off their art collections. The Italian bank UniCredit parted with a Jean Tinguely sculpture for $82,552 at Christie’s last week and the UK’s ailing Royal Opera House is selling off a David Hockney portrait of its former chief executive to raise as much at £18 million ($23 million). While no auction house has sold off a major corporate collection since British Airways’s holdings in June, the Big Three are conducting valuations privately. Meanwhile, companies afraid that a public sale would be a bad look are also exploring the idea of borrowing money against their collections. (GuardianForbes)

Kaywin Feldman on the Controversial Guston Show Delay – The director of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, has given her first interview about the controversial postponement of its Philip Guston exhibition. On Hyperallergic’s podcast, Feldman contends that it is a “tough time” in America to hold an exhibition that includes appropriated images of Black trauma and that a show making such a strong comment about race should not be organized by a group of all white curators. She hopes the extra time granted by the postponement—currently, four years, although that timing could be reduced—will allow organizers to bring curators of color onto the project and consult with community leaders about how best to contextualize Guston’s KKK paintings. (Hyperallergic)

Current and Former Employees of the New Museum Speak Out – The New Museum has always punched above its weight in terms of the caliber of exhibitions and programming it puts on as a small institution. But a New York Times investigation reveals that its success has come at a cost. Interviews with 30 former and current employees paint a picture of low pay for all but the top ranks, high turnover, and low morale. A former finance director accused the museum’s head, Lisa Phillips, of asking her to mislead the board about a cash crunch; art handlers say they were forced to work overnight and in dangerous conditions. One assistant said Phillips operated the institution as “her private fiefdom,” while former registrar Derya Kovey contended, “The best analogy I can come up with is a sweatshop.” The museum says the criticisms are unfounded and unfair, characterizing them as “falsehoods and hearsay from disgruntled former staffers.” (New York Times)

Inside the Sackler Family’s Secret Plan to Keep Their Wealth – A proposed settlement between the Trump Administration and the pharmaceutical company run by the Sackler family, Purdue Pharma, would allow its members to keep their enormous wealth as well as end the federal investigations into the company for aggressively marketing and allegedly underplaying the risks of Oxycontin. The settlement could involve a fine—as much as $3 billion—but no charges against individual executives. The New Yorker reports that Trump is trying to get the settlement completed before Election Day in order to present it as a win against Big Pharma. But if the current proposal is adopted, it would actually free the Sacklers, who have reinvested their wealth into cultural philanthropy for decades, from future liability. (New Yorker)


Auction Houses Are Banking on Chinese Buyers – Phillips hopes to set a new record for the company in Asia during its upcoming fall contemporary art auction, organized in partnership with the Chinese auction house Poly Auction. Phillips’s delayed spring sale, held in July, generated $35 million, a high for the company despite 60 percent fewer attendees than usual. (South China Morning Post)

The Olbricht Collection Gets a White-Glove Sale – Cologne’s Van Ham auction house successfully organized a white-glove sale of the collection of Thomas Olbricht, with all 500 lots attracting buyers. Works offered in the five-hour sale ranged in price from €50 ($59) for oddities drawn from his Wunderkammer to €340,000 ($400,000) for a Daniel Richter painting. (FAZ)


Nearly 3,000 UK Museum Workers Have Been Axed Since March – The Museums Association, which has been tracking redundancies across the UK since the lockdown first began, has concluded that 2,994 jobs in the cultural sector have been made redundant since March. The estimate is based on press releases, public announcements, and source information. (Press release)

Curator Awarded Order of Merit of Berlin – Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung has received the Order of Merit of Berlin, the city-state’s highest honor. Ndikung founded and runs Savvy Contemporary, an important art space in the city that engages postcolonial discourse. He is also director of the Sonsbeek Biennial in Amsterdam, which has been indefinitely postponed from its slot this spring. (ARTnews)


MOCAD Opens Show Delayed by Artists’ Demands – The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit last week opened “Crimes Against Reality,” the first solo museum exhibition by the collective New World Order. Originally scheduled to open on July 2, the show was delayed until the museum met the artists’ demands, including making changes to its staffing and board (its director was fired in July and former staff members have returned), as well as working with an Indigenous community council to develop an ongoing Land Acknowledgement practice. (Press release)

Paul Mpagi Sepuya Launches Another Solidarity Print – The American photographer has released another print for charity; this time, the proceeds will benefit Black organizations advocating for voting rights. A donation of at least $250 to the partner organization of the week, beginning with the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, is required. The sale is on until Election Day in the US, November 3. (Press release)

Exhibition Honors Murdered Indigenous Women – “Boontak! (Stop it!): Stolen Daughters of Turtle Island,” an exhibition of 94 low-light photographs of Indigenous women by the photographer Marcella Hadden, is on view online and at the Ziibiwing Centre of Anishinabe Culture and Lifeways in Michigan until next May. North America has been long experiencing a crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and the exhibition seeks to bring more attention to the issue. (The Art Newspaper)

Images of Jamal Khashoggi Projected Onto DC Buildings – Images of the late journalist, who was critical of the Saudi regime, were projected onto the Saudi Embassy, the Trump International Hotel, and the Washington Post headquarters in Washington, DC, to mark the second anniversary of his murder. The guerrilla action was organized by the human rights organizations Freedom First and Amnesty International USA. (Hyperallergic)

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