Briefing

Far-right politician attacks documenta work; US President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities resigns; Queens Museum backtracks over Israel

Olu Oguibe, Monument for Strangers and Refugees, 2017, documenta Kassel, installation view. Photograph: Michael Nast; Courtesy: documenta Kassel

Olu Oguibe, Monument for Strangers and Refugees, 2017, documenta Kassel, installation view. Photograph: Michael Nast; Courtesy: documenta Kassel

Olu Oguibe, Monument for Strangers and Refugees, 2017, installation view, documenta 14, Kassel. Courtesy: documenta, Kassel; photograph: Michael Nast 

Far-right politician Thomas Materner – a member of the xenophobic right-wing party Alternative für Deutschland and a Kassel city councillor – has threatened protests over a documenta 14 artwork by American-Nigerian artist Olu Oguibe, Monument for Strangers and Refugees, after the city discussed its acquisition at a recent council meeting. Materner described the monument as ‘ideologically polarizing, deformed art’. Documenta 14’s artistic director Adam Szymczyk said he was ‘horrified’ by Materner’s attack on Oguibe’s piece: a 16-metre-high obelisk which carries a verse from Matthew 25:35 – 'I was a stranger and you took me in’ – engraved in gold lettering in German, English, Arabic and Turkish and dedicated to refugees. Oguibe was awarded documenta 14’s Arnold-Bode Prize last month for the piece. The Kassel acquisition committee will decide whether to take the artwork as a permanent feature for Königsplatz on 5 September.

All remaining 17 members of the US President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities (PCAH) have resigned, including author Jhumpa Lahiri and artist Chuck Close. The council was created during the Reagan administration as an advisory body for the president on cultural matters. The resignation was a response to Donald Trump’s comments on the violent events in Charlottesville in which he chose not to condemn a white supremacist protest, claiming instead that ‘many sides’ were responsible for the deaths and injuries. PCAH committee member and actor Kal Penn tweeted the letter of resignation last Friday, which stated, ‘reproach and censure in the strongest possible terms are necessary following your support of the hate groups and terrorists who killed and injured fellow Americans in Charlottesville,' and called for the President's resignation. The letter also held a secret message, with the letters at the beginning of each paragraph coming together to spell ‘RESIST’. A White House statement on Friday afternoon claimed that Trump had meant to disband the council in any case.

Postwar modernist architect Gunnar Birkerts has died at the age of 92 in Needham, Massachusetts. The Latvian-born Birkerts studied in Germany after World War II, drawing influence from Scandinavian architects Eero Saarinen and Alvar Aalto, before emigrating to the US in 1949 where he worked with Saarinen and later Minoru Yamasaki. Birkerts’ many bold, light-filled buildings include the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston (1972) and the Corning Museum of Glass (1980). His last building was the Latvian National Library in Riga which incorporated a mountainous structure raising up a glass pyramid, inspired by Latvian folklore about a 'castle of light' and a 'glass mountain'.

A projection of local schoolchildren’s artworks onto the exterior of London's Grenfell Tower, the site of the tragic June fire in which 80 residents died, is currently under consideration. Among the victims of the blaze was artist Khadija Saye – nonprofit Creative Access and art space PEER are currently recruiting for a memorial internship set up in her name (Saye was an intern at PEER from 2015 to 2016).

The Queens Museum, New York, has cancelled and then reinstated an Israel-sponsored event after accusations of discrimination. The museum cancelled an event hosted by Israel’s ambassador to the UN to commemorate the nation’s 70th anniversary, but after accusations of antisemitism, the event is back in the calendar. The museum is historically significant as it is the site of the former home of the UN General Assembly, which held the UN vote in 1947 for a partition of Palestine to establish the State Israel. The museum informed the ambassador Danny Danon that they were cancelling the event after concerns from ‘Palestinian friends of the musem’ and the board’s desire not to hold a ‘political event’. Ambassador Danon called for the museum's director Laura Raicovich to be dismissed, drawing attention to a book she had edited recently, Assuming Boycott: Resistance, Agency and Cultural Production (OR Books, 2017) which includes discussion of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (among many other examples of cultural boycotts).

Celebrated Chinese documentarian Wang Bing has been awarded the Golden Leopard at the 70th Locarno Festival, which closed on 12 August. Wang Bing’s Mrs Fang is centred on the final days of an elderly woman afflicted by Alzheimer’s in a deprived village in southern China. You can read more about the relationship between reality and familiar fictions in the festival’s films over here.

The National Gallery in London has successfully raised the GBP£11.67 million needed to save Bernardo Bellotto's masterpiece The Fortress of Königstein from the North (c.1756-8) from being sold outside of the UK. The landscape painting, considered one of his best, goes on show in the Gallery today. Born in Venice in 1722, Bellotto trained with his uncle Canaletto and was accepted into the Fraglia dei Pittori (Venetian painters’ guild) aged just 16. Art Fund Director, Stephen Deuchar, called it ‘an important save for the nation’s collections.’

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