What Does Prime Minister Boris Johnson Mean for the UK Art World?

In further news: Marisa Merz (1926-2019); and artists withdraw from Whitney Biennial

Boris Johnson. Courtesy: Flickr, Creative Commons; Photograph: Think London

Boris Johnson. Courtesy: Flickr, Creative Commons; Photograph: Think London

Boris Johnson is set to become Britain’s next prime minister, following his election as leader of the Conservative party. According to a report in The Art Newspaper, leading artists have voiced concern over Johnson’s fitness for office. Michael Elmgreen of the Scandinavian artist duo Elmgreen & Dragset said that Johnson, while acting as Mayor of London, was ‘utterly unprepared for any of the press events, when we were announced as winners of the Fourth Plinth project for 2012.’ Artist Jeremy Deller said that the only one to benefit under Johnson’s tenure in office would be ‘[the man] himself.’ Don’t miss Darran Anderson writing for frieze on Douglas Murphy’s excoriating account of Boris Johnson’s botched architectural legacy across London: ‘architectural follies may be absurd but they are rarely meaningless.’

Marisa Merz, an icon of Italy’s Arte Povera movement, has passed away at the age of 93. Merz was born in Turin in 1926, and became the ‘sole female protagonist’ of the Arte Povera artists – so named by Germano Celant in 1967 after their use of ‘poor’ materials, such as rock, wood and burlap. Writing on a retrospective of the artist’s work in 2017 at Los Angeles’s Hammer Museum, Olivian Cha observed: ‘What can be said is that her objects and images are stunning aesthetic forms that conjure the body and bodily. Not merely figurative or abstract representations of bodies, the works seem to invoke the somatic conditions of being a body.’

Eight artists have withdrawn from the Whitney Biennial. On Saturday, artists Eddie Arroyo, Agustina Woodgate, Christine Sun Kim and collective Forensic Architecture pulled out – following the previous day’s departure of Korakrit Arunanondchai, Meriem Bennani, Nicole Eisenman and Nicholas Galanin. The withdrawal from the biennial is in response to calls for the museum to remove its board of trustees’ vice chairman Warren B. Kanders, who owns the miliary equipment manufacturer Safariland. Read Cody Delistraty on the Whitney’s choice: can a museum for ‘progressive artists’ also have an arms-manufacturer vice-chairman?

In further news: Emma Lavigne has been selected to head up Paris’s Palais de Tokyo, the institution’s first female president; Storm Janse van Rensburg has been appointed senior curator at Cape Town’s Zeitz MOCAA; and M Woods Art Museum is to open a second location in Beijing next month, with a David Hockney show co-organized with Tate.

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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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