Art Industry News: Artist Michael Rakowitz Speaks Out on His Decision to Boycott the Whitney Biennial + Other Stories

Plus, the Obama portraits created a windfall for the National Portrait Gallery in DC and archaeologists discover a sphinx workshop in Egypt.

Michael Rakowitz in front of "The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist" in Trafalgar Square. Photo by Caroline Teo.

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 Thursday, February 28.


Controversy Dogs the Dealer Who Rediscovers Rembrandts – The high-profile Dutch art dealer Jan Six, whose ancestor was painted by Rembrandt, made the headlines when he revealed a rediscovered portrait by the Dutch Old Master, bragging that Christie’s “screwed up” by not realizing Portrait of a Young Gentleman‘s true authorship. In the “media blitz” he organized with the publicist Ronit Palache to unveil the find, however, he failed to mention the role of another Dutch dealer, Sander Bijl. Bijl says he had an agreement with Six to jointly bid for the work but that Six, backed by an unnamed investor, went higher. While Six enjoys the limelight, claiming he has discovered a second Rembrandt (which, incidentally, was conserved by Bijl’s father), the controversy threatens to overshadow Six’s reputation in the Netherlands. (New York Times)

Presidential Portraits Create an Attendance Windfall for the Portrait Gallery – One million more visitors flocked to the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in 2018 than the previous year, a boost in attendance attributed to the unveiling of the official portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald respectively. The museum’s director, Kim Sajet, said the “Obama Effect” made the paintings a site of secular pilgrimage for visitors that was both personal and communal, drawing many newcomers to the institution. The gift shop now overflows with mugs, prints, magnets, scarves, umbrellas, and coasters featuring Wiley and Sherald’s famed paintings. (Washington Post)

Why Michael Rakowitz Turned Down the Whitney Biennial – Having memorably blamed “toxic philanthropy” at the top of the Whitney for his decision to turn down his spot in the biennial, the artist elaborated that he chose to stand in solidarity with protestors who object to the museum’s vice chairman, Warren Kanders, whose company, Safariland, makes tear gas canisters that have ben used against asylum seekers on the US-Mexico border. He also described his refusal to participate as an act of solidarity with concerned members of the Whitney staff. The activist group Decolonize This Place, meanwhile, has announced nine weeks of protest during the exhibition aimed at Kanders. (The Art Newspaper) (ARTnews)

The Hermitage Will Be the Star of Russia’s Venice Pavilion – Rembrandt and other Dutch Old Masters in the Hermitage will play a starring role in the Russian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, featuring in a work made by the award-winning filmmaker Alexander Sokurov. He is familiar with Tsar’s former Winter Palace, having created the movie Russian Ark, a tour of the Hermitage famously filmed in single shot. While it will be the Hermitage’s debut at the biennale, the museum already has a presence in Venice at the Hermitage-Italy Center. (Journal des Arts)


Inside the Market for Hitler’s Art – When Hitler came to power, his market was instantly flooded with fakes—which enraged the failed artist, although he couldn’t always spot them himself. Now, vintage knockoffs are joined by newer ones, according to a survey of the murderous dictator’s art market, which notes that while major auction houses shun works signed “A. Hitler,” others are happy to sell them. This year, German police have seized alleged fakes from Auktionshaus Weidler and Auktionshaus Kloss. (TAN)

The Family History of an Asian Collection Hits the Block – Sysco Corp. founder Herbert Irving and his wife, Florence, donated a trove a Asian art and artifacts to the Met along with $80 million over the years. But their children still inherited an unparalleled collection of Chinese, Japanese, Himalayan, and Korean objets, and now they are selling them across three auctions at Christie’s New York in March. (Bloomberg)

Art Dubai Announces Its Program – The 13th edition of Art Dubai, which runs from March 20 through March 23, will feature 90 galleries from 40 countries. Highlights include a performance piece by Samson Young that is described as a reimagining of the traditional Chinese lion dance to bring luck and fortune. A new section organized by the French-Cameroonian curator Élise Atangana will feature solo presentations by artists from the “Global South,” including Africa. (Press release)


MoMA Acquires Tarsila do Amaral Painting – The 1928 work The Moon (A Lua), a powerfully romantic landscape now destined to grace dorm rooms everywhere, is the first work by the early Modernist Brazilian artist to enter MoMA’s collection. It will be displayed in the museum’s fifth floor galleries beginning this March. (Press release)

San Antonio Gets a David Adjaye-Designed Arts Center – Before she died in 2007, the artist and collector Linda Pace sketched an idea for a “ruby city” that came to her in a dream. In October, that dream will become reality in the form of a new contemporary 14,000-square-foot art center called Ruby City, which David Adjaye designed after looking at the sketch. Located in Pace’s hometown of San Antonio, Texas, the center will showcase her extensive contemporary art collection. (Wall Street Journal)

ARCA Launches Kickstarter Scholarship Campaign – The art-crime research group led by The Museum of Lost Art author Noah Charney is fundraising to create scholarships for its Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection for professionals from at-risk countries. It has created a Kickstarter campaign so that scholars in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and other conflict zones can receive training in protecting art and monuments. (Kickstarter)

The Rothko Chapel Will Shut Down for Renovation – The nondenominational site for reflection and activism in Houston, Texas, will close on Monday, March 4, to undergo a $30 million restoration and expansion. Architecture Research Office will replace the building’s skylight and lighting system, as well as oversee the introduction of three new buildings to support the chapel’s social justice program, which are expected to be completed in 2022. (New York Times)


French Culture Minister Appeals to Italy to Lend Leonardos – Franck Riester will travel to Milan to ask his Italian counterpart, Alberto Bonisoli, to reconsider his backtrack on the plan to lend important works by Leonardo da Vinci for the blockbuster fall exhibition at the Louvre. With the exhibition at the Louvre, “Italy is also shining,” Riester tells France Info. The minister adds that the French museum scheduled its show for the end of the year so that Italy could celebrate 500 years since the death of the great master with its own exhibitions first, and that France is ready to loan paintings by Raphael in exchange. (France Info)

Thomas Krens’s Planned Mega Museum Grows – The former Guggenheim director has launched an ambitious and extensive plan to reinvent the Massachusetts town of North Adams, centering around his Extreme Model Railroad and Contemporary Architecture Museum. Krens hopes a boom of nine additional for-profit cultural spaces, for which he is seeking investors, will draw in tourism. (Hyperallergic)

Ancient Workshop Discovered in Egypt – Archeologists have discovered a 3,000-year-old carving workshop in Egypt containing a ram-headed sphinx, as well as hieroglyphs and other ancient texts. It is thought to date back to the 18th dynasty to the reign of King Tut’s grandfather, the pharaoh Amenhotep III. (Daily Mail)

See Olafur Eliasson’s New Installation at MIT – The environmentally conscious artist has mounted a 90-foot-long installation along the ceiling of an outdoor passageway at the university. Thirty polished stainless steel panels house seven LED rings each, which give the effect of circles of light. The work is designed to recall the thinning of the ice coverage of the Arctic Ocean that separates the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, a once impassable route across which vessels can now sail without an ice breaker. (Press release)

Olafur Eliasson, Northwest Passage (2018). Photo by Anton Grassi.

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