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Artists Protest Jeff Koons’s Monument to Paris Terror Victims

In further news: Jack Whitten (1939-2018); Nan Goldin campaigns against Sackler Family’s OxyContin links; sexual misconduct in UK museums emerge

Rendering of Jeff Koons, Bouquet of Tulips (2016). Courtesy: © Jeff Koons and Noirmontartproduction

Rendering of Jeff Koons, Bouquet of Tulips (2016). Courtesy: © Jeff Koons and Noirmontartproduction

Rendering of Jeff Koons, Bouquet of Tulips (2016). Courtesy: © Jeff Koons and Noirmontartproduction

Artists and gallerists have written an open letter, published in the French newspaper Libération, calling for the city of Paris not to install Jeff Koons’s sculpture Bouquet of Tulips (2016) outside of the Museum of Modern Art. The artwork is intended as a monument to the 2015 terror attacks in the city, composed of bronze and aluminium, it appears as a giant hand clutching a bouquet of flowers, in a reference to the Statue of Liberty. The letter protests the work as inappropriate and financially reckless, and laments the absence of an open call for a proper monument. ‘We appreciate gifts, but free, unconditional, and without ulterior motives,’ they said. While Koons intended his sculpture as a gift, the production and installation costs were not included. Private donations have financed the sculpture’s EUR€3m million price tag, but the taxpayer will be forced to fund ground reinforcement requirements. Signatories to the letter include the artists Christian Boltanski and Jean-Luc Moulène as well as the former French culture minister Frédéric Mitterand. The project has been criticized for some time now, with Isabel Pasquier, an art critic at Radio France Inter, commenting last year: ‘Jeff Koons is a businessman, and we quickly understood that he was offering Paris to himself as a present.’

Several cases of alleged sexual misconduct by employees at major UK museums have emerged. The Observer newspaper reveals that at least 10 investigations have taken place over the past four years, with two inquiries alongside police investigations at the V&A which resulted in the dismissal of two staffers, following a verdict of sexual misconduct and ‘stalking and gender violence’. The newspaper also named the Science Museum and the National Gallery where staff have been dismissed or left as a result of investigations. Last week the Tate and National Galleries Scotland suspended their ties to the prominent art dealer, collector and benefactor Anthony d’Offay after historic claims of sexual harassment were made against him.

The US conceptual painter Jack Whitten has passed away at the age of 78, with the news confirmed by his gallery Hauser & Wirth. ‘He was a remarkable man – an artist of endless inventiveness, originality, and honesty, as well as a wonderful friend,’ Marc Payot, Hauser & Wirth’s partner and vice president said in a statement. Whitten was born in 1939 in Bessemer, in segregated Alabama – he became involved in the Civil Rights movement, and later graduated from New York’s Cooper Union art school in 1964. ‘The 1960s in America was a difficult time, the civil rights movement was raging, the Vietnam war, the identity issues of being black in America,' he told us when we visited his studio last year. 'What do you do with that? I felt I had a better chance to get across what I was feeling through abstraction’. His career has been one of ceaseless reinvention, from the gestural applications of acrylic on canvas using combs and rakes in his 'Slab' works begun in the 1970s, through to the mosaics of black artists and writers he began in the 1990s with his 'Black Monoliths' series. His work achieved mainstream recognition only relatively recently. This year will see a survey of Whitten’s work, ‘Odyssey: Jack Whitten Sculpture, 1963-2016’ open at the Baltimore Museum of Art in April, before heading to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The European Fine Art Foundation (Tefaf) has announced that it has discontinued its annual Tefaf Art Market Report. The old Masters art fair organizer began commmissioning reports on the art market in 2000, promoting it as ’the most comprehensive summary of its kind’. Controversy hit in 2016 when the economist Clare McAndrew, the reports's long-time author, left to work for a rival report by Art Basel. 2017 saw Maastricht University academic Rachel Pownall take over with significant differents in methodology and results to McAndrew, sparking debate over how to calculate the value of the international art market. Tefaf say they are turning their attention to more focused analytical reports on a range of subjects, authored by Anders Petterson of analytics firm ArtTactic.

The US photographer Nan Goldin is protesting against the Sackler family, who invented and profited from the prescription opioid OxyContin (which Goldin was addicted to for several years), drawing attention to the Sacklers’ recognized role in funding major cultural institutions. While the Sackler family name might be better known in the world of art philanthropy, their wealth is rooted in Purdue Pharma, which introduced OxyContin to the prescription painkiller market in 1995. Goldin told the Guardian that she was furious about the Sacklers becoming a philanthropic name, rather than being held to account for their role in the US's opioid crisis. From 1999 to 2016 the US saw around 200,000 opioid-related deaths. 'I’m not asking the museums to give the money back,' she told the newspaper, 'but I don’t want them to take any more from the Sacklers, and I want them to put out statements in solidarity with my campaign.’ Meanwhile the philanthropist Elizabeth A. Sackler, who funds a feminist art centre at the Brooklyn Museum, has thrown her support behind Goldin’s campaign, clarifying that her side of the family have not owned shares in Purdue stock or benefitted from the sale of the highly addictive drug. Goldin has launched a petition demanding that Purdue Pharma respond to the crisis by funding treatment models, educational programmes and properly advertising the risks of their products.

Activists have released emails which detail meetings between the British Museum’s director and chairman, Dr Hartwig Fischer, the Russian Ambassador to the UK and two members of BP – the documents were released by Culture Unstained, a group campaigning against the fossil fuel industry’s role in cultural funding. The Freedom of Information requests detail correspondence and meetings between Russian and UK officials, representatives from BP and the British Museum as well as the State Hermitage Museum. Meanwhile activists from the BP or Not BP? group have drawn attention to the documents by staging protests at the museum’s BP-sponsored exhibition ‘Scythians: Warriors of Ancient Siberia’. An activist from BP or Not BP told Hyperallergic that BP was using the museum as an intermediary ‘to cozy up to repressive regimes in countries where it wants to drill’. 

Swedish art space Magasin III has opened a satellite space in Jaffa, with an inaugural exhibition by Israeli-born American artist Haim Steinbach. Launched in 1987, the museum and foundation’s Stockholm location is currently closed to the public for a two-year hiatus. The renovation of the new 180-square-metre space opened in a residential district in Jaffa was carried out by Goldschmid Arditi Ben Naim Architects, and has been designed with the aim of being able to be viewed from outside at all times of the day.

Pioneering furniture artist Wendell Castle has passed away at the age of 85. The Rochester Institute of Technology, where he taught and was artist in residence, confirmed the designer’s death. 'Wendell gifted us with his enthusiasm, his eagerness to collaborate and share, and his generosity to deliver his intentions with tangible and always elegant results,’ said Josh Owen, a professor at RIT’s School of Design.

The Calder Foundation has announced that New York artist Jill Magid has won the 2017 Calder Prize, with comes with a USD$50,000 award and a residency at Calder’s former home and studio. The biannual prize recognizes a living artist who has ‘completed exemplary and innovative early work and who has demonstrated the potential to make a major contribution to the field.’ The foundation said in a statement: 'Magid pulls on loose ends both tangible and intangible – probing seemingly impenetrable systems – and finds unification in disparate elements. Her tenacity echoes Calder’s own in his radical transformation of sculpture.’

And finally, Sfeir-Semler Gallery, in Hamburg and Beirut, now represents Lawrence Abu Hamdan. The artist, who currently has work in the group show at Nottingham Contemporary ‘From Ear to Ear to Eye’ as well as a solo at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, wrote recently for us on the pivotal sounds and stories from last year, from historical fiction to Vince Staples’s representation of race.

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