Art Industry News: Why Conspiracy Theories That Van Gogh Was Murdered Are 100% Wrong + Other Stories

Plus, more fashion designers pull their shows from the Shed over a board member's ties to Trump and an artist's R-rated Virgin Mary causes a stir in Brisbane.

Portrait of Theo van Gogh, 1887. Found in the collection of Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam. (Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/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 Friday, September 6.


Wangechi Mutu Transforms the Met’s Entrance – The Kenya-born, Brooklyn- and Nairobi-based artist will install four bronze statues of women in the normally empty niches at the main entrance of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Mutu gave the Times a sneak peek of her monumental sculptures, explaining that she was inspired by Yoruba and Congolese art and classical Greek caryatids. Called “The NewOnes, will free Us,” the series of imposing female figures will, she hopes, convey “words that we haven’t heard, people we haven’t noticed” within the Met and beyond. The inaugural annual contemporary sculpture commission is due to be unveiled on September 9. (New York Times)

Drag Artists With Down Syndrome Defy Ban – Drag performers with Down Syndrome faced alleged discrimination after a Republican congressional candidate barred them from appearing at arts venue he owns. The London-based group, Drag Syndrome, has performed across Europe but ran into problems in Grand Rapids, Michigan, when Peter Meijer stopped them from appearing in his building at an event organized by the nonprofit DisArts. The American Civil Liberties Union has now filed a complaint with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights against Meijer, claiming that he discriminated against the performers because of their disability. Meijer, for his part, says he was concerned about the potential for exploitation. One of the artists replied: “We deserve the right to be ourselves and be in drag.” (NYT)

Calm Down, Conspiracy Theorists: Van Gogh Was Not Murdered – Van Gogh expert Martin Bailey breaks down 10 reasons why the theory that Van Gogh was murdered—rather than that he died by suicide—is a myth. He cites the fact that the artist’s doctor, brother Theo, and friends (including artist Paul Gauguin) all believed Van Gogh killed himself, as did police. He also notes that Vincent had tried to kill himself the year before, in 1889, and was suffering a depressive episode in the final months of his life. He also notes that the recent emergence of the gun Van Gogh purportedly used, which sold at auction in June, also supports his belief: it was discovered on the surface of a field, suggesting it was abandoned, not hidden. (The Art Newspaper)

Fashion Houses Pull Shows From the Shed – A growing number of fashion brands—including Michael Kors, Vera Wang, and Rag & Bone—appear to be shunning the Shed as criticism of the developer and board member Stephen Ross’s support of President Donald Trump grows. The Academy of Art University has also pulled its event at the venue during New York Fashion Week. Fern Mallis, Fashion Week’s creator, told the Post that the Shed is now “kind of over.” The Shed has not commented directly on the withdrawals, but said its aim “is to provide a powerful platform to realize the values we share of equity, diversity, and freedom.” The only remaining designer scheduled to show at the venue is Helmut Lang; but at least one fashion editor told the Post she would boycott the show. “I wouldn’t step foot within the Shed,” she said. (New York Post)


Sotheby’s Remains Upbeat About Its Prospects in Hong Kong – Kevin Ching, chief executive of Sotheby’s Asia, has downplayed the potential impact of the US-China trade war and ongoing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong on the region’s art market. He hopes it will be business as usual at the house’s forthcoming October sales—although the auction house has installed extra phone lines for remote bidders who might have otherwise attended in person. (South China Morning Post)

Japanese Museum Demands Compensation for a Stolen Reynolds – The Tokyo Fuji Art Museum is refusing to return a stolen painting by Joshua Reynolds to the heirs of its original owner unless it receives compensation. The £1 million ($1.2 million) portrait was stolen in 1984 from the home of the late collector Henry Price. The private Japanese museum bought it in good faith from an art dealer who acquired it at Sotheby’s in 1990. (Daily Telegraph)


Serpentine Curator Joins Lehmann Maupin – The London-based curator Amira Gad is the latest museum professional to make the move over to the commercial side. She will leave her post as curator of exhibitions and architecture at the Serpentine Galleries, where she has been since 2014, to become Lehmann Maupin gallery’s new artistic director. (Press release)

National Gallery Names First Artist in Residence – The filmmaker and painter Rosalind Nashashibi is the National Gallery’s first artist in residence. She will have access to an on-site studio, the museum’s collection, and its reams of research starting this month. The museum will present an exhibition emerging from the yearlong residency in summer 2020, before it travels to the gallery’s partner institution, the Pier Arts Centre, in the Orkney Islands. (Artforum)

The Huntington Library Changes Its Name – The Los Angeles institution known as Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens has announced that it is now the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens. The addition of the word “museum” is intended to telegraph the fact that its art collection is publicly accessible. The institution also announced that it will partner with the Hammer Museum on the next “Made in LA” biennial, which runs from June 7 to August 30, 2020. (Los Angeles Times)

Francisco Toledo Has Died – The Mexican contemporary art star Francesco Toledo has died. The 79-year-old expressionist painter and sculptor, who donated his private museum, the Oaxaca Institute of Graphic Arts, to the state of Mexico in 2015, died following an illness. (Monopol)


Two Aboriginal Art Museums Rise in Australia – Australian politicians have expressed support for two proposals for Aboriginal art museums in Adelaide and Alice Springs. But the country’s arts minister, Michael Lynch, has expressed fears that if both proposals are approved, the two institutions might compete for collections, audiences, and funding. (The Art Newspaper)

An Artist’s Penis Pietà Causes an Upset – Politicians and religious groups are criticizing the Griffith University Art Museum in Brisbane, South Australia, for exhibiting Chilean-Australian artist Juan Davila’s 1985 work Holy Family. The artwork based on Michelangelo’s Pietà depicts the Virgin Mary cradling a giant penis instead of the body of Jesus after his Crucifixion. (10 Daily)

Neïl Beloufa Opens His First Show with Kamel Mennour – The French actor and former professional soccer player Eric Cantona has lent his voice to the French-Algerian artist’s exhibition in Brussels. In “The Moral of the Story,” Cantona narrates a fable about a post-capitalist camel and a fox in the desert, which the artist has illustrated in an interactive exhibition. (Galleries Now)

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