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New Museum Staffers Prepare to Unionize; Management Hire Union-Busting Firm

In further news: painting stolen from New York’s Team Gallery; Harlem’s El Museo del Barrio pulls honour for right-wing socialite

New Museum of Contemporary Art. Courtesy: Getty; photograph: Atlantide Phototravel

New Museum of Contemporary Art. Courtesy: Getty; photograph: Atlantide Phototravel

New Museum staffers are taking steps to unionize. A group of around 74 employees of the New York institution sent a letter to the National Labor Relations board expressing their wish to affiliate with UAW Local 2110, the union responsible for the Museum of Modern Art and the Bronx Museum of the Arts, via a vote to be held on 17 January. More than 40 employees gathered on the morning of 11 January in the lobby of the museum wearing T-shirts that read ‘WE DESERVE A FAIR CONTRACT.’ The group are seeking a new contract and greater transparency at the museum. A statement posted online by members of staff says that forming a union will ‘enable us, as well as future New Museum employees, to effectively advocate for changes that will make the New Museum a more sustainable and equitable institution.’ However, museum management have not been supportive of the push to unionize and have reportedly enlisted the services of a Kentucky-based anti-union consulting firm Adams Nash Haskell & Sheridan who offer ‘union avoidance’ services. In a statement, the New Museum said: ‘A group of employees recently petitioned to form a bargaining unit. We want them to make a fully informed decision.’ Don’t miss Miya Tokumitsu writing on the need to democratize the art world’s workplaces: ‘For all the power that art has to enlighten, expose, unsettle, shock, and stir, art alone will not create for us the material conditions for living a free life, not for the vast majority of art workers anyway.’

A man and woman stole a painting worth USD$12,000 from New York’s Team gallery on Thursday afternoon. The blue painting on aluminium titled CBLT by artist Ann Pibal, worth USD$12,000, was reportedly hidden inside a large black Carhartt jacket – a couple were seen acting suspiciously by the gallery owner José Freire’s husband, who later chased the man and his accomplice for around half a mile. ‘No one should ever be running in an art gallery,’ Dan Barrett-Freire told the New York Daily News. According to Freire, since the gallery opened 23 years ago, this is only the second time a piece of art has been stolen. While there is no ‘resale market’ for this work due to its ‘uniqueness’ and the artist being easily identifiable, the gallery is worried that the thieves may scratch the fragile artwork.

A looted ‘cannibal bowl’ will no longer travel to Paris’s Quai Branly as part of the ‘Oceania’ exhibition. The intricately carved object, seized by Captain Edward Davis in a British naval force’s punitive raid in the Solomon Islands in 1891, will not be going to Paris due to conservation concerns and will stay at the British Museum. Davis later claimed that ‘cooked captives were eaten from this bowl by the captors’, though it is thought that the islanders, while headhunters, were not cannibals. The object was recently included in the Royal Academy of Art’s ‘Oceania’ show, which travels to the Musée du Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac in March. Recently, the Solomon Island demanded the return of the nearly 7-metre-long feasting trough, that takes the shape of a crocodile with a human head in its jaws. According to The Times, the director of the Solomon Islands National Museum, Tony Heorake, said that he wanted talks with the British Museum about the return of the artefact: ‘I think that if the item was taken by force and/or looted then they should take the appropriate action and have the item returned to its kastom owners.’

El Museo del Barrio will no longer honour Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis. The Harlem museum devoted to Latino art announced on Thursday that it would not be honouring the right-wing German socialite in its upcoming 50th anniversary celebrations. The museum had received criticism over its initial decision to honour the princess, who reportedly lives in a 500-room palace in Regensburg, and has links to various arch-conservatives including the chief executive of Donald Trump’s US presidential campaign, Stephen K. Bannon, known for his relationship with the far-right across Europe. As reported by The New York Times in 2008, the princess once said that ‘blacks like to copulate a lot,’ when discussing the AIDS crisis in Africa. The question of how the German socialite aligned with ‘the mission and purpose of a Latinx institution’ was put to the institution by former board director, Alex Gonzalez, with no direct response. ‘Her views on the African AIDS crisis were so lacking in humanity and expressed so publicly on live TV that it should have raised a red flag,’ Gonzalez said. The museum later sent a statement to the The New York Times, saying that they were founded on the principles of inclusion, civil rights and diversity and as a result ‘El Museo del Barrio has decided to part ways with H.S.H. Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis.’

The International Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern Art (CIMAM) have issued a statement protesting the ‘harassment’ of Turkish arts professional Osman Kavala. The organization have expressed solidarity with the cofounder and executive board chair of the country’s non-profit Anadol Kültür, which runs the Diyarbakır Arts Center. Kavala was arrested in 2017 after being accused of funding terrorist groups and running an organization that supported the failed military coup in 2016. The Turkish arts professional has been held in solitary confinement in the high-security Silivri Prison on the outskirts of Istanbul since being arrested. CIMAM’s published statement demands his release, alleging that ‘no evidence against him has been presented and at this point there is no indictment against him,’ adding that they are ‘deeply concerned by these events which it considers to be in violation of Turkey’s commitments to human rights’.

In galleries and awards news: Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac has appointed Kyu Jin Hwang as its associate director for Asia; the shortlist for the EUR€35,000 Prix Marcel Duchamp has been revealed – this year’s nominees are Eric Baudelaire, Katinka Bock, Marguerite Humeau and duo Ida Tursic & Wilfried Mille; Pace Gallery now represents the artist Lynda Benglis; and Artadia and the Marciano Art Foundation have established a USD$25,000 award supporting Los Angeles artists.

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Janiva Ellis, Catchphrase Coping Mechanism, 2019, oil on linen, 2.2 x 1.8 m. Courtesy: the artist and 47 Canal, New York; photograph: Joerg Lohse

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