Umberto Eco (1932–2016)

The Italian semiotician Umberto Eco died on Friday. Eco also became a best-selling novelist, according to Jonathan Kandell in the New York Times. Writes Kandell, “As a semiotician, Eco sought to interpret cultures through their signs and symbols—words, religious icons, banners, clothing, musical scores, even cartoons.” A professor at the University of Bologna, Eco wrote over twenty nonfiction books on his research. But he turned to writing fiction as well, publishing the book The Name of the Rose (1980), a murder mystery that also included passages of philosophy and Christian theology, which sold over ten million copies and was translated to around thirty languages.

Later books included Foucault’s Pendulum (1988), The Island of the Day Before (1994), and Baudolino (2000). Eco received Italy’s highest literary award, the Premio Strega. He was made a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, as well as a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur by France.

In publishing his seminal series of essays in the 1980s, “Travels in Hyperreality” (reviewed by Max Kozloff in Artforum), Eco turned his perspectives on iconism and simulation into trenchant musings on American culture, writing, “Holography could prosper only in America, a country obsessed with realism, where, if a reconstruction is to be credible, it must be absolutely iconic, a perfect likeness, a ‘real’ copy of the reality being represented.”

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July 25, 2016

Van Gogh and Monet Works Repossessed in Malaysian Wealth Fund Scandal

Vincent Van Gogh, La Maison de Vincent a Arles, 1888.

According to a report from Agence France-Presse in the Guardian, Switzerland has seized a painting by Vincent Van Gogh and two by Claude Monet as part of a global investigation into Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund. Swiss justice ministry spokeswoman Ingrid Reyser said the works in question were taken into legal custody following a request from the United States, which is one of several countries investigating a massive fraud scandal at the Malaysian state fund 1MDB. Reyser declined to comment on where the paintings had been taken from or the individuals involved.

The US justice department filed lawsuits earlier this week in an attempt to reclaim more than $1 billion in assets linked to stolen or laundered 1MDB funds. The Monet and Van Gogh artworks were among the assets listed in the lawsuit filed at a California federal court. The Van Gogh is the sketch La Maison de Vincent a Arles and the Monet works are Nympheas avec Reflets de Haute Herbe and Sainte-Georges Majeur.

July 25, 2016

Wanda Nanibush Named Art Gallery of Ontario’s First Curator of Indigenous Art

Wanda Nanibush

The Art Gallery of Ontario has announced that Wanda Nanibush, a Toronto-based curator and activist, will serve as the institution’s first curator of indigenous art, Murry Whyte of the Toronto Star reports. Nanibush is Anishinabe from the Beausoleil First Nation near Penetanguishene and has been a guest curator on various projects at the gallery since 2014. She started in the position of assistant curator of Canadian and indigenous art on July 18.

“It was important for us to create a position that was both clearly identified as being focused on indigenous art but was also engaged in the wider program,” Andrew Hunter, curator of Canadian art, said. “Wanda was someone I felt would come in and be themselves, and be confident and be critical.”

Nanibush is known for her advocacy for indigenous rights and has helped organize protests as part of the Idle No More movement, a nationwide campaign established in 2012 to protest legislation that threatened both the rights of the First Nations and environmental protections. Her numerous curatorial projects include “KWE: The work of Rebecca Belmore” (2014) at the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery in Toronto; “Sovereign Acts” (2012) at the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery; and “Mapping Resistances” (2010) a performance event in Peterborough. Nanibush has worked for various cultural organizations over the past twenty years, including ImagineNATIVE, LIFT, Optic Nerve Film Festival, Reframe Film Festival, as well as the Ontario Arts Council, Aboriginal Curatorial Collective, and ANDPVA in the roles of programmer, festival coordinator, aboriginal arts officer and executive director. She earned her master’s degree in visual studies from the University of Toronto.

July 25, 2016

Artists in India React To Government’s Proposed “Grading” System

Indian culture minister Mahesh Sharma

The Hindustan Times reports that the government’s move to grade the country’s artists and writers has provoked mixed reactions, with some calling for more clarity about the culture ministry’s decision. The proposed system of grading is part of a national cultural mapping project that the government is spearheading in an effort to create a national repository that could aid writers and artists. As part of a pilot project, artists are being graded in three categories—outstanding, promising, and waiting.

Some who participated in the project were against the grading. Anasuya Vaidya of the Delhi-based Akshara Theatre group, which was listed as “outstanding,” said, “There were artists from all over the country [during the project]…and a lot of them didn’t believe in the idea of grading of artists.” To participate, applicants responded to an advertisement by the culture ministry in November and December of last year. The dancer Geeta Chandran argued that, “Artists change; their abilities shift. We cannot give one grading and assume that that is for all time.”

On the other side, Kuchipudi dancer Shallu Jindal, who was graded in the “promising” category, said of the initiative “any recognition is motivating and inspiring for artistes. A lot of artistes living in different parts of the country will get acknowledged through this. So the initiative of cultural mapping is a wonderful initiative.” A senior official in the ministry said the project will enable the government to streamline financial schemes for artists and cultural organizations and ensure transparency. A web portal is also being developed through the National Informatics Center (NIC) for collection of data directly from the artists as part of the project.

July 25, 2016

Experts Look to Create Definitive Database of Modigliani Works

Amedeo Modigliani, Nu couché (Reclining Nude), 1917–1918.

According to Georgina Adam of Art Newspaper, Amedeo Modigliani scholar Kenneth Wayne has founded a nonprofit organization that will work to create a definitive database of the artist’s paintings amid a market that is saturated with forgeries and conflicting scholarship. The Modigliani Project’s mission is to research, document, and encourage appreciation of the artist and his works.

Modigliani’s paintings have been far surpassing their estimates at auction. At Christie’s in New York in November 2015, the artist’s Nu couché (Reclining Nude), 1917–1918, raised over $170 million, nearly $100 million over its estimate, which set the record for highest amount paid for a work by the artist at auction. Five specialists on the artist have authored catalogues raisonnés and the only one accepted by auction houses is the catalogue written by Ambrogio Ceroni, which hasn’t been updated since 1972.

Complicating matters is a well-known dispute among experts Christian Parisot and Marc Restellini. Parisot, who penned one catalog, was accused of knowingly authenticating fake works. The French scholar, Restellini, stepped away from compiling works for his own database on artist after he received death threats, but has decided to continue his work. The Paris-based Institut Restellini has announced that it will publish an online catalogue raisonné of paintings by the end of this year and will require payment in order to access it. Restellini is financing the project through consulting fees and issuing certificates of authenticity.

July 25, 2016

Sculpture Removed After 9/11 To Be Reinstalled At Former World Trade Center Site

Fritz Koenig’s Sphere for Plaza Fountain after 9/11

David W. Dunlap reports in the New York Times that Fritz Koenig’s sculpture Sphere for Plaza Fountain, which survived the destruction of the World Trade Center’s twin towers on 9/11, will be reinstalled in the new Liberty Park near the currently under construction St. Nicholas National Shrine after a resolution to move it was approved last Thursday by the board of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The bronze sculpture, which is twenty-seven feet high and weighs about twenty-five tons, has resided in Battery Park for the last fourteen years after it was removed from the wreckage at Ground Zero.

Koenig only learned last Tuesday that the vote on where to place his work was coming up. Stefanje Weinmayr, of the Fritz and Maria Koenig Foundation in Landshut, Germany, noted: “He is now 92 years old but still very interested in the fate of his ‘child’…He was not happy with the last placement in Battery Park. The possibility of a better situation electrified him.” Sphere will overlook the plaza of the National September 11 Memorial.

July 25, 2016

Shanghai Project’s Focus Shifts and Exhibition Opening Pushed Back to April 2017

Shanghai Himalayas Museum

The Shanghai Project, which was originally slated to be a biennial exhibition opening this September at the Shanghai Himalayas Museum and organized by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Yongwoo Lee, director of the Himalayas Museum, has changed its focus to a “a community-based event,” according to Lisa Movius in the Art Newspaper.

The launch that month of Shanghai Project will now instead feature interactive pavilions, pop-up libraries, and public forums, while the exhibition itself has been moved to April 2017. Lee has emphasized that, “Shanghai Project is not an art-dedicated project,” with only 30 percent of its researchers hailing from visual art, and noted that “We seek to diversity [sic] and differentiate the Shanghai Project from existing visual art events of a similar nature.” Lee also admitted that they had problems with funding. The Project’s theme this year is “Envision 2116,” both that and its “Envision Pavilion” are named after the lead sponsor Envision Energy.

The first events of Shanghai Project will start on September 3 with the 2016 International Biennale Association Conference, cohosted with Shanghai’s Power Station of Art, which hosts the Shanghai Biennale. The next day will feature a two-session forum and the launch of the Envision Pavilion designed by Sou Fujimoto—the Himalayas Center’s architect—including a neon sign panel by Douglas Coupland, an installation by Cildo Meriles, and a performance by Otonong Nkanga. Another pavilion, titled “Seed Planet” and designed by Liu Yi, is an “architectural and educational playground” that will be installed in the adjacent Century Park. As part of a community participation program, architects including Yu Ting and his Studio Wutopia will begin transforming abandoned spaces around the city starting as early as this month. Furthermore, a competition will select twelve young Chinese practitioners to join twelve of their international peers for an exhibition this autumn in Himalaya’s space in Zhujiajiao, a canal town outside of Shanghai. There will also be a pop-up bookstore, library, and event areas within Shanghai’s Jifeng Bookstore as well as six local university libraries. The Shanghai Project Academy, an international seminar about the intersection of art and technology, will be also be held in coordination with the Royal College of Art in London, the Tokyo University of Art, and Shanghai University.

July 25, 2016

SH Raza (1922–2016)

SH Raza

The Indian painter SH Raza has died, according to an announcement by Vadehra Art Gallery in New Delhi. Born in Madhya Pradesh, Raza studied at the Nagpur School of Art from 1939–43 and went on to the JJ School of Art in Mumbai from 1943–47. Raz founded—along with MF Husain, KH Ara, HA Gade, SK Bakre and Francis Newton Souza—the Progressive Artists Group in 1947.

A core of his work was the concept of “Bindu,” which he described as “the seed, the germ, the core, and it gives birth to the fecundity of the world.” The artist was associated with the Vadehra gallery for over two decades, though he lived in France for many years after moving to Paris in 1950 to study and marry the French artist and sculptor Janine Mongillat. In 1983 he was elected a fellow at the Lalit Kala Akademi, India’s national academy of fine art in New Delhi, and in 2015 was awarded the Legion of Honor by the French government. He was also awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2007 and the Padma Vibhushan in 2013.

July 22, 2016

Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts Adds Six New Board Members

The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts

The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts has announced that it has welcomed six new members to its board of trustees. Mark A. Douglas, president of FMC Agricultural Solutions; Robert E. Kohler, professor emeritus of the department of history and sociology of science at the University of Pennsylvania and longtime PAFA donor; Jannie K. Lau, executive vice president, general counsel, and secretary at InterDigital; Kelly Lee, chief cultural officer of Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture, and Creative Economy; Jay H. Shah, CEO of Hersha Hospitality Trust; and June Marshall Smith, a member of the academy’s Women’s Board since 2014, were elected in June.

“The expertise, enthusiasm, and leadership they bring to the table will be invaluable to PAFA’s continued success in fulfilling our mission of promoting the transformative power of art and art making,” board chair Kevin F. Donohoe said. Founded in 1805, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is America’s oldest school of fine arts and museum.

July 22, 2016

John Gruen (1926–2016)

John Gruen

John Gruen, a cultural critic who wrote for the New York Herald Tribune, New York Magazine, the New York Times, Vogue, Artnews, Architectural Digest, and Dance Magazine, died on Tuesday at the age of eighty-nine, Margalit Fox of the New York Times reports.

The composer, self-taught photographer, and author, wore many hats. In Gruen’s own words, from his 2008 autobiography, Callas Kissed Me…Lenny Too!: A Critic’s Memoir, he was a “writer, critic, journalist, bon vivant, gadfly, busybody, father, husband, queer, neurotic workaholic,” and a “handmaiden to the stars, reveler in reflected glory, and needy intimate of the super-famous.”

He authored several books including numerous biographies such as The Private World of Leonard Bernstein (1968) and Keith Haring (1992). His photographs are in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton. The Whitney owns hundreds of his images, which include portraits of Yoko Ono, Jasper Johns, Larry Rivers, and Willem de Kooning, among many others and presented the exhibition “Facing the Artist: Portraits by John Jonas Gruen” in 2010.