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In further news: former Venice Biennale director calls biennial model ‘stale, if not dead’; photographer Shahidul Alam charged over ‘provocative comments’

IMAGE: MoMA Union members hold protest, 2018. Courtesy: Instagram and @momalocal2110

MoMA Union members hold protest, 2018. Courtesy: Instagram and @momalocal2110

Around 200 union members of MoMA Local 2110 downed tools yesterday to stage a protest in the lobby of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, ahead of expected contract negotiations. Chanting ‘Ancient Wages, Modern Art!’ and holding signs declaring ‘#WeAreMoMA’, employees called for salary step increases, improved healthcare plans and security for junior staffers. The union represents over 250 museum workers, who have been working without a contract since 20 May due to disputes over proposed contract provisions. In a statement, the museum said: ‘We continue to make progress with Local 2110 at the bargaining table. It’s been a productive process and we’re confident we’ll arrive at an amicable resolution.’ MoMA staff held a protest during the museum’s annual gala in May. ‘A wealthy institution like MoMA, long allied with the progressive values of modern and contemporary artists, should not be creating an underclass among its employees,’ the union said at the time.

Former Venice Biennale artistic director Francesco Bonami has described the biennial model as ‘stale, if not dead.’ Bonami, who directed the 2003 edition, said that the future was ‘unknown’, and that curators today were at risk of becoming compromised by commentary on social media and powerful artists. Next year’s edition of the Venice Biennale is to be directed by Hayward director Ralph Rugoff, titled ‘May You Live in Interesting Times.’

The incoming director of Los Angeles’s Museum of Contemporary Art, Klaus Biesenbach has revised his description of LA as ‘the new Berlin’ because so ‘many artists are moving there.’ Biesenbach’s comments were not welcomed by many of the city’s artists, who pointed to the LA art scene’s long history. Talking to the New York Times, Biesenbach admitted that the comparison had been misjudged: ‘What I wanted to say is that as a curator I follow the artists, and I have the impression that LA is the new centre for emerging artists because of affordable studios.’

Italy is scrapping its free museum Sundays. Culture minister Alberto Bonisoli announced that a country-wide free-entry scheme to various museums and cultural sites would come to an end. Since 2014, more than 480 state-run venues including the Uffizi and the Colosseum have offered free entry on the first Sunday of each month. The Domenica al museo (Sunday at the museum) policy was introduced by Bonisoli’s culture minister predecessor Dario Franceschini. Bonisoli claimed that museum directors were ‘unanimous’ in supporting his decision. But Franceschini criticized the move: ‘Don’t make culture and Italians pay for a political desire to break with the past.’

Prize-winning photographer Shahidul Alam has been arrested in Bangladesh over “provocative comments’ made in an Al Jazeera interview. Twenty plain-clothes officers removed the influential photographer from his home in the capital, Dhaka, on Sunday. The arrest came hours after the photographer posted a video to Facebook commenting on ongoing student protests over road safety, after two teenagers were killed by a speeding bus. Alam also criticized the government in comments to Al Jazeera, saying ‘the looting of the banks, the gagging of the media, mobile internet is currently switched off, the killings, the disappearances, the need to get protection on all levels, the bribery, and corruption. It’s a never ending list.’ The Dhaka protests have become increasingly violent as more than 100 people have been injured by police firing rubber bullets.

In gallery news: Edel Assanti in London now represents Oren Pinhassi – the artist’s solo exhibition at the gallery, ‘Second Nature’, is on view until 24 August; and artist Mary Webb is represented by London’s Hales Gallery, with a solo show at the gallery opening in September.

In awards: New York public art nonprofit has Creative Time has named Pedro Reyes as the honoree for its 2018 gala; artists Lindy Lee and Ramesh Mario Nithiyendrian, and curator Linda Michael have been named as recipients of the Melbourne Art Foundation’s biennial Visual Arts Awards; and the shortlist for the Nam June Paik Prize has been announced, with Andreas Angelidakis, Melanie Bonajo, Antoine Catala, Hanne Lippard and Sondra Perry in the running for the USD$29,000 biennial award.

In appointments: the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit has named Larry Ossei-Mensah as its new Susanne Feld Hilberry Senior Curator – he takes up the position in September; Gagosian have named Han-I Wang senior director in Hong Kong – Wang previously worked at Christie’s in Hong Kong and New York; Toby Kamps is leaving his directorship of the University of Houston’s Blaffer Art Museum to take up the role of director of external projects at White Cube, based in London; and David Zwirner has appointed social media ‘influencer’ Elena Soboleva in the newly created role of online sales director.