Louvre’s Leonardo Exhibition Sparks Nationalist Dispute with Italy’s Populist Government

In further news: Beatrix Ruf and Stedelijk agree to ‘leave past behind’; Gaurav Bhatia departs Sotheby’s India after #MeToo allegations

Leonardo da Vinci, Madonna of the Carnation, c.1473. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Leonardo da Vinci, Madonna of the Carnation, c.1473. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

A special Leonardo da Vinci exhibition at the Louvre marking the 500th anniversary of his death has sparked a row with the Italian government. Far-right politician Lucia Borgonzoni, the undersecretary for culture in Italy’s populist coalition government has criticized France and the terms of agreement signed by Italy’s previous culture minister Dario Franceschini regarding the loan of da Vinci’s work from Italian museums to the Louvre. ‘To give the Louvre all these paintings would put Italy on the margins of a major cultural event,’ said Borgonzoni. The minister’s upset stems from a long-running belief of France’s ‘appropriation’ of Leonardo’s legacy. ‘Leonardo is Italian, it is only that he died in France,’ said Borgonzoni.

Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum has released a conciliatory statement regarding its former director Beatrix Ruf, who resigned over allegations of conflicts of interest. The Stedelijk said that the museum and Ruf had ‘agreed to leave the past behind’. While she would not be reinstated, ‘she may, however, be invited to be involved in a specific exhibition or in other museum projects, under the responsibility of a future, as yet unappointed, artistic director.’ Ruf also commented: ‘I am confident that the Stedelijk has a bright future ahead of it […] And, if asked to do so, as former director I would of course be more than happy to make a small contribution to that every now and then.’ Accusations of Ruf’s conflicts of interest first emerged in October 2017 in the Dutch media, focused around her external income and donations to the museum. An independent investigation commissioned by the Municipality of Amsterdam later found that Ruf had been ‘wrongly accused’.

The copyrights on various works of art from 1923 have now expired. On 1 January, artworks including those by M.C. Escher, Wassily Kandinsky, Man Ray, Pablo Picasso and Max Ernst entered the public domain with the expiry of copyright. Tens of thousands of works of art, design, film and literature published in 1923 are now available to be reproduced. The last time works entered the public domain was in 1998 when works from 1922 were made available. The recently liberated artworks include Constantin Brâncuși’s Bird in Space, Henri Matisse’s Odalisque With Raised Arms and Marcel Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass).

The feminist conceptual artist Nicola L has died at the age of 81. The news of her passing was announced on Instagram on 3 January by her son Christophe Lanzenberg. Born in Morocco in 1937, Nicola L studied at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. She became best known for her sculptures crafted out of furniture, taking the form of women’s bodies. Ruba Katrib who organised the artist’s 2017 retrospective at SculptureCenter in Long Island City told Artnet News: ‘She pushed social and political boundaries in her work at a time when it was very daring for a woman to take ownership over her own body.’

Gaurav Bhatia has stepped down from Sotheby’s India as managing director. Bhatia took an ‘indefinite leave’ after being accused of sexual harassment in November of last year. According to Artnews, Bhatia permanently stepped down from his post on 20 December. The auction house confirmed the news, saying in a statement: ‘We appreciate and thank him for his service’. The allegations first surfaced on the anonymous Instagram account Scene and Herd, dedicated to revealing instances of sexual harassment in India’s art world: the accusers claimed Bhatia had forcibly kissed and inappropriately touched victims without consent.

In appointments and movements: Sean Kelly Gallery has launched in Asia with an exhibition of work by Callum Innes at a new Taipei project space; Front International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art has appointed Prem Krishnamurthy and Tina Kukielski as artistic directors for its second edition, to open in Ohio in July 2021; Marc-Olivier Wahler has stepped down from his position as director at MSU Broad Art Museum; and the departing director of Kunsthalle Wien, Nicolaus Schafhausen, is to head up Munich’s Nazi Documentation Center – don’t miss our interview with the curator on his decision to leave the Viennese institution: ‘All of us in the cultural institutional context will have to be making these decisions in the coming time. I know where I stand and it’s not on the side of acquiescence and compromise.’

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