Art Industry News: Art-Loving Construction Worker Calls Heisting a Picasso the ‘Biggest Mistake of My Life’ + Other Stories

Plus, Berlin museums forge ahead with a plan to return their Benin Bronzes, and the V&A East acquires Beyoncé's pink dress.

Two paintings by Pablo Picasso and Piet Mondrian that were stolen from the National Gallery in Athens in 2012 were recovered by Greek police. (Photo by Xinhua via 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 Thursday, July 1.


Berlin Museums Approve Plan to Negotiate Return of Benin Bronzes – The board of the Prussian Cultural Foundation, which oversees Berlin’s museums, is moving forward with its plan to return artifacts looted from the Benin Royal Palace by British troops in 1897 to Nigeria. The goal, as stated in May, is to make first returns in 2022. Yesterday, Hermann Parzinger, the head of the foundation, was given the role of negotiating their return “regardless of the circumstances in which they were acquired,” which is a notable development. (The Art Newspaper) 

The House Passes a Bill to Remove Confederate Statues (Again) – Earlier this week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to remove Confederate statues from the Capitol complex with a 285-120 vote. The government body passed the same bill nearly one year ago, but it stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate. It is unclear whether it will have better luck this time around. (Courthouse News)

Man Says Stealing Picasso, Mondrian Was “Biggest Mistake of My Life” – George Sarmantzopoulos, a 49-year-old construction worker and self-proclaimed “art freak,” has confessed to the brazen 2012 heist at the National Gallery in Athens in which he stole a Picasso and Mondrian painting. The works were recovered earlier this week by Greek police after Sarmantzopoulous led them into a densely wooded ravine where the paintings were wrapped in plastic. According to the thief, he was compelled to steal the works because of his deep and abiding love of art, and he never intended nor tried to sell them. (TAN

Colombian Protestors Topple Monuments of European Colonizers – Protesters in Colombia vandalized and toppled monuments and memorials dedicated to leaders of European colonization amid broader calls for governmental reform. Indigenous activist groups including Misak, Nasa, and Pijao are leading the charge to remove statues to figures including Christopher Columbus and Isabella of Castile, who sponsored the explorer’s journey, saying that they represent oppression and glorify practices that led to genocide. (TAN)


Are Art Market Estimates Totally Inflated? – Georgina Adam says that many of the figures trotted out to estimate the colossal size of the art market are way off and somewhat unfounded. One new venture claims the market is worth around $1.7 trillion based on a 2017 estimate that six percent of the ultra-wealthy hold assets in art and collectibles. (TAN)

Famous Sitters Soar at Sotheby’s – Portraits of famous people are in vogue. A painting of Prince Harry by Elizabeth Peyton made the year his mother died sold at Sotheby’s this week for an above-estimate £886,200 ($1.2 million) with fees. A portrait by Lucien Freud of his friend David Hockney went for £14.9 million ($20.6 million). For more on these sales (and who was behind them), see our in-depth coverage on Artnet News Pro. (Financial Times)


PAFA Names First Female Chair – The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts has named Anne E. McCollum as its new board chair. McCollum, the first woman to hold the position in the institution’s 216-year history, succeeds Kevin Donohoe and begins her new role today. (Press release)

Philippines Names Venice Biennale Artists – The Philippines has announced that artist Gerardo Tan, musicologist Felicidad A. Prudente, and weaver Sammy Buhle will represent the nation at the 2022 Venice Biennale. The show will will examine how sound and textiles transmit cultural values. (ARTnews)


Gender Bias Remains in Street Names of Cultural Hubs – A group of researchers looked at 4,932 streets named after people in Vienna, Paris, London, and New York—and found a striking gender bias. Vienna had the highest percentage of female names, with 54 percent. London came in at 40 percent; New York, 26 percent; and Paris, just 4 (!) percent. (Courthouse News)

Delayed V&A East Acquires Pink Dress Worn by Beyoncé – A dress worn by the pop queen in 2020 and designed by London-based Molly Goddard has been acquired the V&A East. The opening of the new London museum, which is an outpost of the Victoria & Albert Museum, has been delayed to 2025 due to complications from the pandemic. (Evening Standard, TAN)

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