India’s Art World Hit by Sexual Assault Claims; Kochi Biennale’s Riyas Komu Steps Down

In further news: world’s biggest arts venue lands in Taiwan; Brooklyn’s Signal gallery to close

Riyas Komu. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Riyas Komu. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

The co-founder and secretary of India’s Kochi-Muziris Biennale Riyas Komu is stepping away from his role due to sexual misconduct allegations. The Kochi Biennale Foundation’s committee issued a statement saying that Komu would depart from his duties ‘till the matter is resolved’, as reported by ArtAsiaPacific. The 47-year old artist has been accused of sexual misconduct, detailed in an Instagram post published anonymously by the account Scene and Herd (@herdsceneand), which describes itself as ‘cutting through BS in the Indian art world, one predator and power play, at a time.’ The victim discusses an incident with Komu in 2015 where he violated her while offering her professional advice. The victim says that Komu ‘began kissing me and feeling me up while I struggled to even process what the hell was going on […] It stopped just as abruptly as it had started.’ Komu has said in a statement that he is ‘deeply upset’ by the presentation of the claim, adding: ‘However, as the person has expressed hurt, I would like here to offer my apologies and I am opening myself to the possibility of a conversation.’ Accusations have also been made against 76-year-old artist Jatin Das on the same Instagram account. A post details an incident where the artist sexually propositioned a woman who was to be his assistant. Das has rejected the claims, describing them as ‘vulgar’. On the same account, the founding organizer of the Kolkata International Performance Art Festival and curator Rahul Bhattacharya has also been accused, anonymously, ‘of gaslighting, financial exploitation and psychological abuse’ reports ArtAsiaPacific. The Kochi-Muziris Biennale’s fourth edition – organized by artist Anita Dube – is due to run 12 December 2018 – 29 March 2019.

The world’s biggest arts venue has opened in Taiwan after 15 years in development. The 141,000-square-metre National Kaohsiung Centre for the Arts, designed by Dutch architects Mecanoo boasts four indoor performance spaces: a 2,236-seat opera house, a 1,981-seat concert hall, a playhouse seating up to 1,210, and a 434-seat recital hall. The USD$346 million venue opened to the public on 13 October and is set across a subtropical park in the southern Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung, occupying a former military training base. Dubbed ‘Weiwuying’, the building’s curvature was inspired by the banyan trees growing nearby – it also contains the largest organ in Asia, and an outdoor theatre formed by a dip in the building’s roof.

Nigeria is planning a new Benin Royal Museum to showcase artefacts from the historic kingdom, including artefacts looted by the British during a ‘punitive expedition’ in 1897. Museums from across Europe have agreed to loan Benin bronzes from their collections on a rotating basis, the Art Newspaper reports. The agreement has not considered restitution or repatriation of the pieces on a permanent basis – a statement from the Benin Dialogue Group said: ‘Questions of return are bilateral issues and are best addressed with individual museums within their national systems of governance.’

Federal prosecutors have alleged that a name was falsely used to place winning bids on two paintings sold at Sotheby’s. Joakim von Ditmar and Antonio DiMarco reportedly used a fake identity when buying Mark Rothko’s Untitled for USD$6.4 million and Ad Reinhardt’s No. 12 for USD$1.12 million in 2017, as reported by the Associated Press. In a statement, the auction house said: ‘Following the November auction, our discussions with the purchasers raised significant suspicion and concern for the elderly client they purported to represent, and we felt it was necessary to contact the FBI.’ Ditmar and DiMarco allegedly duped an 80-year-old into signing paperwork that granted them permission to bid on blue-chip paintings on her behalf. Both have since been charged with wire fraud conspiracy and aggravated identity theft.

Signal gallery in Brooklyn is to close after six years in operation. Announcing the news on their website, the Bushwick-based gallery’s next and final show opens on 2 November. Alexander Johns, Kyle Clairmont Jacques and McKenzie Ursch opened the gallery in 2012 in an industrial building and staged shows with artists such as Sable Elyse Smith, Sophie Hirsch, and Rachel Rossin, in addition to lectures and hosting the Bushwick Art Book and Zine Fair. Signal is one of many of New York’s galleries to close in recent years due to financial pressures. ‘We realized that, when faced with the opportunity to ‘scale up’ and professionalize, that actually had very little to do with why we started in the first place,’ Clairmont Jacques told ArtNews. Farewell celebration ‘NO SIGNAL’ will be held at the gallery on 2 November.

The prized skull of ‘Luzia’ has been retrieved from Brazil’s National Museum, devastated by fire last month. The 12,000-year-old remains of a woman – the oldest human skeleton found in the Americas – have been recovered from the wreckage of the blaze. The museum director announced that 80 percent of the skull had been identified. It had been reportedly stored in a ‘strategic place’ in a metal box inside a cabinet in order to resist fire. The devastating blaze gutted the 200-year-old museum’s collection of 20 million artefacts. The cause of the fire is still under investigation – the Rio museum had suffered from serious neglect in recent years.

And finally, Jac Leirner has scooped the 25th Wolfgang Hahn Prize. The Museum Ludwig in Cologne announced the Brazilian artist as the latest recipient of the award, which celebrates artists who are under-recognized in Germany. Leirner will receive a maximum award of USD$115,000 and a show at the museum. ‘Leirner is one of the most important exponents of conceptual art today as well as of so-called institutional critique,’ juror Jochen Volz commented. ‘Since the 1980s her sculptures, paintings, and installlations have questioned the notion of the original and the value of artworks.’ Leirner’s win is the first time the prize has recognized a South American artist.

Erratum: this article was amended 24 Oct 2018 to correct the statement that curator Rahul Bhattacharya worked previous at Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB). KMB deny any formal relationship with Bhattacharya.

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