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Artists Blast Campaign to Preserve ‘White Supremacist' Border Wall Prototypes

In further news: We Are Not Surprised collective calls for boycott of Artforum, accuses it of 'empty politics'; Frida Escobedo named for 2018 Serpentine Pavilion

Border wall prototypes. Courtesy of US Customs and Border Protection; photograph: Yesica Uvina

Border wall prototypes. Courtesy of US Customs and Border Protection; photograph: Yesica Uvina

Border wall prototypes. Courtesy of US Customs and Border Protection; photograph: Yesica Uvina

More than 450 curators, artists and academics have condemned Swiss-Icelandic artist Christoph Büchel’s controversial ‘Prototypes’ project in an open letter. The artist's campaign seeks to preserve US-Mexico border wall prototypes, commissioned by US President Donald Trump last year, as national monuments. Büchel’s MAGA nonprofit (named in reference to Trump’s 'Make America Great Again’ campaign slogan) invokes the 1906 Antiquities Act – the artist claims that the structures have ‘significant cultural value’ and constitute ‘historical land art’. The prototypes situated on the border between San Diego, California and Tijuana, Mexico, were contracted to six companies to build out of concrete, designed to withstand impact as well as be ‘aesthetically pleasing’. Büchel has also arranged USD$25 tours of the structures. As well as criticizing Büchel's project, the open letter also singles out the artist’s gallery Hauser & Wirth for promoting the project, stating: 'Nothing about a xenophobic and white supremacist project, artifact, wall or building should ever be spectacularized and promoted by artists or arts institutions.’ The letter can be read here. In an email sent to frieze, Hauser & Wirth clarified that the artist’s campaign is for the border wall prototypes to 'stand as evidence of bigotry and fear in American culture, and serve as catalysts for transforming political discourse. With its vast population of immigrants, undocumented workers, and people of Mexican and Latin American descent, Southern California is particularly sensitive to issues of xenophobia and border violence.’ The gallery said that it encouraged debate 'as an essential component not only of the PROTOTYPES project but of art's crucial role in effecting societal change’.

A new open letter from the We Are Not Surprised group – the collective which draws attention to sexual harassment in the art world – calls for a boycott of Artforum magazine. Three months after the original letter from the Not Surprised group – written in response to then fresh allegations of harassment made against Artforum’s former publisher (and still co-owner) Knight Landesman (which gathered 9,500 signatories including Cindy Sherman, Coco Fusco and Sadie Coles) – a new letter accuses Artforum of ‘sweet talk and empty politics’. It claims that while Artforum’s editorial team are crafting ‘intersectional feminist’ content, its lawyers have filed motions to dismiss a lawsuit brought by former employee Amanda Schmitt, who alleges that Landesman subjected her to harassment both during and after her time at the magazine. The letter calls for a full boycott of the magazine by the signatories of last October’s Not Surprised letter. You can read the new letter in full here. In an email sent to frieze, Schmitt’s attorney Emily Reisbaum said: 'At the beginning, Amanda Schmitt stood alone and demanded change from Artforum. We look forward to the day when Artforum finally makes good on its promise to act fairly, and we greatly appreciate that We Are Not Surprised continues to support Amanda in that fight.’ Artforum is yet to respond to our request for comment.

Mexican architect Frida Escobedo has been chosen for this year’s Serpentine Pavilion commission in London. Escobedo – the 18th architect chosen for the annual project – will be both its youngest designer, at 38-years-old, and the first solo woman since Zaha Hadid’s inaugural pavilion in 2000. Escobedo’s plans constitute a courtyard of lattice walls, drawing inspiration from the celosia, a traditional Mexican architectural feature that filters a breeze through a building. A polished canopy will face out onto a reflecting pool, with light and air shifting through the structure. ‘For the Serpentine Pavilion, we have added the materials of light and shadow, reflection and refraction, turning the building into a timepiece that charts the passage of the day’, Escobedo commented. Escobedo’s project follows on from last year’s acclaimed pavilion by Diébédo Francis Kéré and will open on 15 June. The Serpentine Galleries recently announced that Beijing would host a Serpentine Pavilion later this year, designed by Sichuan-based Jiakun architects.

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Medievalists and art historians are the latest to add to the criticisms of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art’s recently announced compulsory admission charge for non-New Yorkers. In an open letter, scholars asked the museum to reconsider its policy, arguing that the institution is 'part of the larger public commons. It is a public good in which every American has a stake, and in which every visitor to the city should feel welcome.’ The letter is addressed to the Met’s president and CEO Daniel Weiss, hailing him as ‘a fellow medievalist’, with signatories including the College Art Association and The Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship. The Met’s 50-year-old ‘pay-as-you-wish’ policy will now only be available to New Yorkers effective 1 March. Don’t miss Cody Delistraty on how the introduction of an admission charge at the storied museum shows us the problem with donor dependence and a hands-off government.

The BBC has released details for a new art history television series Civilisations, which will be presented by Simon Schama, Mary Beard and David Olusoga. It is an updating of Kenneth Clark’s 1969 BBC series Civilisation (Nathaniel Budzinski explains what made Civilisation such a watershed moment in British television history and arts broadcasting here). Schama commented: 'We live in a time of raw power, the swagger of money, brutal poverty and hard reckonings; precisely the moment when it can't be bad to contemplate again the most enthralling things that human creativity can achieve, because, for the most part, they are our common possession.' The nine-part series, tracing the history of human creativity from the first cave wall marks to contemporary artworks, will be broadcast on BBC Two in the spring, and will be accompanied by a Civilisations Festival involving UK museums and cultural institutions.

Aaron Bondaroff, cofounder and partner of Los Angeles's Moran Bondaroff gallery (formerly OHWOW) has resigned following allegations from three women accusing him of sexual misconduct. Al and Mills Moran, partners in Moran Bondaroff gallery, released a statement following Bondaroff’s resignation: 'We are deeply troubled by the accusations levied against Aaron Bondaroff and appreciate his immediate resignation from the gallery’, they wrote, 'To the women who have come forward, and to any who might have similar stories, please know we hear you and we take your claims very seriously.’

In further gallery news: Amsterdam’s Galerie Fons Welters now represents Bob Eikelboom; New York’s Lehmann Maupin now represents Cecilia Vicuña (her solo show at the gallery opens 19 May); in Los Angeles, nonprofit gallery JOAN is moving from West Adams to a new Downtown site with a solo show by Sam Anderson opening on 17 February.

In awards and grants news: Japanese architect Itsuko Hasegawa has won the inaugural Royal Academy Architecture Prize; painter Amy Sherald has been named as this year’s winner of the David C. Driskell Prize awarded by the High Museum of Art in Atlanta (the award comes with a cash prize of USD$25,000); and the Tate has been given a USD$1.5 million research grant by the Mellon Foundation for conservation of contemporary art, including digital and performance works – it’s the largest research grant the Tate has ever received.

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