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British Museum Defends Decision to Accept Rare Chinese Ivories Ahead of Government Ban on ‘Abhorrent’ Trade

In further news: Salvator Mundi on show at Louvre Abu Dhabi in September; German government approves 9% culture budget boost

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Chinese ivory figures donated to the British Museum from the collection of Sir Victor Sassoon. Courtesy: British Museum

The British Museum has accepted a donation of more than 550 Chinese ivories ahead of a government ban on the ‘abhorrent’ trade. Gifted by the Victor Sassoon Chinese Ivories Trust, museum director Hartwig Fischer said that the historical ivories were ‘documents of the highest cultural value’ and displaying the objects was not the same as condoning the contemporary ivory trade. The Sassoon collection comprises 556 pieces of ivory carvings, most of which were made between the 16th and early 20th centuries, and includes carved Buddhist and Daoist figures, as well as brush pots and vases. The ban on the ivory trade that is coming into effect later this year, exempts trade between museums. ‘We are not gaining anything by destroying these historic objects, they are part of that incredible diversity of human cultures that has evolved over millions of years,’ Fischer said.

The German government has approved a 9% culture budget increase, amounting to a total of EUR€1.8 billion. US$5 million of the federal fund will go toward the fine arts, literature, music and translation, US$7.5 million will be reserved for the purchase of artworks, US$1.5 million will help arts institutions improve their digital presence and another US$1.5 million will go towards the preservation of archival material. Additional funds will support the protection of heritage buildings. The German minister for culture Monika Grütters said in a statement: ‘Arts and culture are more important than ever before as bridge-builders; culture promotes shared values and identity.’

Leonardo da Vinci’s US$450m Salvator Mundi is to be exhibited at the Louvre Abu Dhabi in September. The world’s most expensive painting will be unveiled to the public on 18 September according to an announcement by the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism. The painting was sold for a record-breaking figure at Christie’s New York last November. ‘Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterpiece is now our gift to the world,’ Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, chairman of the culture department, said in the statement, also adding that the long-lost painting ‘belongs to all of us.’

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art are following the Guggenheim in withdrawing three controversial works featuring animals from a major survey of Chinese art, following animal rights protests. The travelling exhibition ‘Art and China after 1989: Theatre of the World’, which charts the Chinese art scene from 1989 to 2008 – originally presented at the Guggenheim last year, and opening at SFMOMA this November – will present empty containers or blank screens in place of the artworks, along with statements from the artists. Huang Yong Ping’s Theatre of the World (1993), in which a cage of insects, reptiles and snakes fight for survival, will now appear without any live animals. The other two works that will not be on view are A Case Study of Transference (1994), a film by Xu Bing of two tattooed pigs copulating, and Sun Yuan and Peng Yu’s Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other (2003), a video of two pit bulls tied to treadmills. Don’t miss Tausif Noor writing on how animal rights activists have become one of contemporary art’s most ‘engaged’ audiences.

The Frick Collection’s renovation and expansion plans have been approved by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. The museum was granted permission after a vote of six to one in favour of the project. Advocacy group Stop Irresponsible Frick Development attempted to halt the vote, filing for a temporary restraining order with the aim of applying for an interior landmark status for the John Russell Pope–designed music room, which will be converted into a special exhibitions gallery. Activists believe the project, which will mark the first major upgrade of the Frick’s building, creating 30% more exhibition space and costing US$160m, is part of the ‘erasure of New York City’s cultural and civic memory.’

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has requested that UK Prime Minister Theresa May return the Elgin Marbles. The tug-and-pull of the Greek stones continues as Tsipras, during his first official visit to London since being elected in 2015, asked that the UK return the marbles from the British Museum, originally taken from the Acropolis in the 19th century. Tsipras told reporters: ‘The Marbles belong to the world cultural heritage, but their natural place is the Parthenon.’ Should the British Museum finally give way?

Sections of Glasgow School of Art’s Mackintosh building will have to be dismantled following the recent destructive fire. A remote survey has revealed that there is more substantial damage than previously thought, meaning that the building is likely to collapse. In a statement, Glasgow City Council said: ‘There is now a requirement to at least partially dismantle sections of the building as a matter of urgency.’ The partial deconstruction will begin as soon as possible, with Glasgow City Council’s head of building adding that ‘We do not know what effect this will have on the rest of the building, so I have to be clear this site remains dangerous and is becoming more dangerous.’ This is the second fire the Category A-listed building has suffered in recent years, and the building was undergoing restoration when the latest fire broke out on 15 June. Can Glasgow School of Art rise from the ashes? Turner Prize winners and nominees tell us what made it so magical.

In awards news: Nominees for the GB£10,000 moving-image Jarman Award, now in its 11th year, have been announced. Shortlisted artists include Larry Achiampong & David Blandy, Jasmina Cibic, Lawrence Lek, Daria Martin, Hardeep Pandhal and Margaret Salmon; Two winners have been announced as the recipients of the biennial Jameel Prize. The joint winners are Iraqi artist Mehdi Moutashar and the Bangladeshi architect Marina Tabassum; the Mary S. Byrd Gallery of Art has been awarded the third annual Ellsworth Kelly Award; and the Royal Academy of Arts has named Mike Nelson winner of its Charles Wollaston Award.

Cheim and Read is to close its Chelsea space after 21 years, as they ‘transition to a private practice’. The gallery, which represents artists including Jenny Holzer, Sean Scully and Lynda Benglis, is relocating uptown, according to an email sent by the founders. ‘We have been charting the next chapter in the gallery’s history and are now pleased to announce our plans,’ the dealers wrote, also adding that the new space will focus ‘on the secondary market, sculpture commissions, and special projects.’ The Chelsea space will close at the end of 2018 after a final exhibition by Louise Bourgeois. The new uptown gallery will be directed by Maria Bueno.

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