From the Mystery of Modigliani’s Lost Lover to the Triumph of Africa’s Mona Lisa: The Best & Worst of the Art World This Week

Catch up on last week's art news—fast.

Amedeo Modigliani's Portrait of a Girl (c.1917). Tate Image © Tate.


Emerging Regions Compete for Modernist Trophies – At the solid Impressionist & Modern sales in London, which took in $206 million at Christie’s and $189 million at Sotheby’s, Harry Smith of the Gurr Johns advisory firm snapped up over $150 million worth of Picassos (possibly for a Middle Easter client), while Asian bidding was particularly strong on Surrealist paintings, competing for works by the likes of Magritte and Dalî.

African Mona Lisa Makes History at Bonhams – Called “the most significant discovery in contemporary African art in over 50 years,” Nigerian artist Ben Enwonwu’s long-lost masterpiece Tutu—a 1974 portrait of princess Adetutu Ademiluyi—became the priciest artwork from Nigeria to ever sell at auction when it sold at Bonthams London’s “Africa Now” sale for $1.67 million.

Sotheby’s Has Reason to Celebrate – From a more bird’s-eye perspective, Sotheby’s—the only publicly traded major auction house, and therefore the only one that shares its financials—boasted a healthy uptick in revenue under still-newish CEO Tad Smith last year, with a 28 percent increase in private sales (to around $750 million) and a 23 percent spike in total revenues for 2017, to $989.4 million from $805 million in 2016.

The ADAA Art Fair Had Some Nice Stuff – Although it may have been a bit lonely, atypically coming a week before the Armory Week festivities (and seeing sparser out-of-town audiences as a result), the venerable ADAA Art Show had plenty of connoisseurial wares to delight its visitors, who included (to much debate in the aisles) the now-pariah film director Woody Allen.

Saudi Arabia’s Art Scene Is Suddenly Thriving – Under the sweeping authority of the reform-minded 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, the long-repressive country’s artistic landscape is being wholly transformed, with new art districts popping up, a fledgling art institution entering into a partnership with MoMA, and a surprising amount of grassroots enterprise joining together with the top-down support.

The Real Mona Lisa Is Packing Her Bags – Although she hasn’t been allowed to step foot outside the Louvre for 44 years, Leonardo’s mysterious lady may soon be drafted for a special mission by French culture minister Françoise Nyssen, who wants to send the painting outside the French capital to combat “cultural segregation.”



MoMA’s Miscalculation With a Brazilian Legend – Critic Sara Roffino says that MoMA’s survey of Tarsila do Amaral, the first-ever US exhibition to spotlight the groundbreaking Brazilian Modernist behind the Anthropofagia movement, is a “missed opportunity” given its glossily superficial treatment of the knotty substance within her lovely paintings, including one potent portrait of a former slave who worked on the artist’s coffee-plantation-owning family.

Did Modigliani Erase His Ex-Lover? – New X-ray studies conducted by Tate Modern on Amedeo Modigliani‘s 1917 masterpiece Portrait of a Girl show that it conceals another portrait of a different woman underneath, possibly his former lover and muse Beatrice Hastings, with whom he had tumultuously separated from the previous year—suggesting he may have painted over her portrait in an unsentimental moment.

Trump Ruined a Sophisticated Artwork – After taking over the Old Post Office Building in Washington, DC, and turning it into one of his brass-festooned hotels, Donald Trump shockingly did not treat the historic building’s elegant site-specific Robert Irwin installation, 48 Shadow Planes (1983), with graceful discretion and respect but instead gussied it up with gaudy crystal chandeliers and a gigantic American flag and stuck a bar under it.

“They’re So Much Younger Than Me and They’re Trying to Kill Me” – That’s why the great German painter Albert Oehlen refuses to give advice to younger artists, he explains in an energetic interview with artnet News’s Kate Brown, and he doesn’t want to communicate much with his viewers either, saying he doesn’t “believe in transporting a message through a painting.”

Sean Hannity Is Baiting the Art World—and Getting Bitten – Just a week after having to apologize for his team weirdly suggesting that Kehinde Wiley’s Obama portrait contains “secret sperm,” the notoriously hard-right Fox News host tried to get a rise out of the art world by posting a hilarious painting of Donald Trump (in which he looks like Matlock toweling off with an American flag) and asking what the “left” thought of it, receiving some very smart, piquant answers.

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