Art Industry News: A Greeting Card Company Escalates Its Feud With Bansky, Accusing Him of ‘Tricking Fans’ + Other Stories

Plus, UK museums double down on oil sponsorship and the New York Times looks at why Russian oligarch are funding US museums.

Members of the public queue to look at the new Gross Domestic Product installation by elusive artist Banksy on October 1, 2019 in Croydon, England, which the artist has said was created to thwart greeting-card company Full Colour Black from stealing his work. (Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/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 Monday, October 7.


UK Museums Double Down on Oil Sponsorship – The British Museum and London’s National Portrait Gallery are standing by the energy company BP, even while the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre are cutting ties with their own oil sponsors (BP and Shell, respectively). Asked about the decision, a British Museum spokesperson said that “support from the corporate sector is essential for museums and arts organizations in times of reduced funding.” The statement will likely do little to prevent climate activists from continuing to apply pressure: The group BP or Not BP? is currently crowdfunding to build a literal Trojan Horse to unveil during the British Museum’s exhibition “Troy: Myth and Reality” in November. The group is urging demonstrators via social media to “join us as we lay theatrical siege to the [exhibition].” (Energy Voice, Press release)

How Oligarchs Use Arts Patronage to Boost Russia’s Image – The New York Times takes a deep dive into the increasingly controversial soft power flexed by Russia in the United States via arts patronage from leading oligarchs. (See artnet News’s full list of notable Russian arts patrons here.) New York’s Kennedy Center used part of a $6.45 million gift from Vladimir O. Potanin, who is also on the Guggenheim’s board, to create a meeting space called the “Russian Lounge.” Meanwhile, Viktor Vekselberg’s company, the Renova Group, has donated $13.5 million to the arts over the past decade. His is one of a number of companies that has been slapped with sanctions by the US government for its role in or support of the Putin regime. Now, US cultural institutions are stuck between a rock and a hard place in deciding whether to accept these gifts. The Kennedy Center confirmed that it recently rejected a gift from the Russian bank VTB after the bank’s president, Andrey Kostin, was placed under full (as opposed to partial) US sanctions last year. (New York Times)

Greeting Card Company Accuses Banksy of “Tricking Fans” – The company Full Colour Black is defending itself against the world-famous street artist, who claimed the firm was wrongly trying to take control of Banksy’s trademark by offering unapproved objects under the artist’s name. In an angry Facebook post, the greeting-card and street-art licensing company—whose websites were both down as of Monday morning—insisted that its products do not “infringe his rights in any way.” They say the artist is “tricking fans” by painting “our tiny little business as a ‘big corporate’ and paint[ing] himself as the poor artist.” The statement comes after Banksy and his lawyers stepped up their battle against the firm by launching a competing e-commerce business and a storefront exhibition in Croydon, South London, last week. (Independent)

Robert Indiana’s Hometown Wrestles With His Legacy – The residents of Vinalhaven, Robert Indiana’s longtime island home off the coast of Maine, are concerned about plans to turn the artist’s former studio into a museum. Around 70 residents gathered at a meeting convened by the late artist’s nonprofit, the Star of Hope Foundation, to express their concerns about how the museum might transform the character of the island. “There’s a lot of emotion,” admits Kris Davidson, one of two locals who sit on the foundation’s board. There is also a legal battle raging over the the artist’s estate and the role of Indiana’s former caretaker, Jamie L. Thomas. He attended the recent community meeting but did not speak. (NYT)


Sotheby’s Photo Auctions Total $4.3 Million – Sotheby’s annual fall photography sales in New York generated a total of $4.3 million. The top lot was the late American photographer Francesca Woodman’s Polka Dots from 1976, which sold for $200,000, a new auction record for the artist and more than double the work’s $70,000 high estimate. (Press release)

Ben Enwonwu’s Portrait Sells for $700,000 – A portrait by Nigeria’s most famous artist, Ben Enwonwu, sold for £555,063 ($700,000) at Bonhams in London on October 3. The painting outperformed expectations, selling for more than twice its £200,000 high estimate. The Modern and contemporary African art auction also saw a new record achieved for the artist South African artist Zanele Muholi, whose photograph sold for $7,400 with premium. (Press release) 


M Woods Names New Chief Curator – The independent curator Victor Wang has been appointed artistic director and chief curator of the M Woods Museum in Beijing. He will oversee the institution’s original location in the 798 Art District as well as its new space in the city’s Dongcheng District, which opened in August. The news comes one week after M Woods co-founder Michael Xufu Huang announced his departure from the institution in order to open a new home for his collection in the city. (Artforum)

Photographer Sally Soames Dies – The acclaimed newspaper photographer has died at the age of 82 after a long illness. Over the course of her lengthy career, she photographed Andy Warhol, Margaret Thatcher, and Hilary Mantel. Some 17 of her images are in the National Portrait Gallery’s collection in London. (Guardian)


Antony Gormley Plants Brexit Giants on France’s Coast – The British sculptor wants to erect seven large bronze sculptures on the coast of France that will look out at the forlorn United Kingdom, post-Brexit. The project has yet to receive official approval, but Gormley says French President Emmanuel Macron is supportive. Gormley has called Brexit “a stupid moment of collective fibrillation.” (Guardian)

Why Eike Schmidt Stayed at the Uffizi – After news broke last week that director Eike Schmidt would cancel his planned move to the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna at the eleventh hour to stay in Florence, the curator offered some insight into his decision. Schmidt says that it became clear to him that the current Vienna director did not want to leave her post—but he noted that it is “not at all certain whether” he can remain director of the Uffizi. (Der Spiegel)

Epstein Accuser Holds Art Patron Les Wexner Accountable – Artist Maria Farmer, who has accused the deceased financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein of sexual assaulting her when she was an art student, has now turned her focus to his alleged enablers. Elaborating on her account to artnet News earlier this summer, she says she was held against her will at an Ohio property that Epstein shared with the billionaire CEO and arts patron Leslie Wexner, now 82. Wexner, whom Farmer says she has never met, denies any knowledge of Epstein’s alleged misconduct. (Washington Post)

Extinction Rebellion Shines a Light on London’s Tate – Factions of the Projection Rebellion group, a subsidiary of Extinction Rebellion (the climate activists who were present at the opening of Frieze last week), worked with the comic artist and founder of the band Gorillaz, Jamie Hewlett, on a project that took over the chimney of Tate Modern on Friday night. The rotating projection quipped “Time’s up, act now,” “Tell the truth,” and “Rebel for Life.” (TAN)

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