Criminal Ring Convicted of Stealing Antiquities from UK Museums

The hole smashed in the wall at Durham Oriental Museum by burglars

A criminal ring comprising fourteen men have been convicted for targeting and stealing from museums and auction houses across the UK, including the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge and the Oriental Museum in Durham, according to a report by Martin Bailey in the Art Newspaper. The robberies mainly focused on Chinese antiquities with a total value of up to $80 million taken in objects. Four men hailing from Cambridgeshire, and all part of the same family, were found guilty of conspiracy to steal: Daniel “Turkey” O’Brien, John “Kerry” O’Brien, Richard “Kerry” O’Brien Jr. and Michael Hegarty. They are all part of a group called the Rathkeale Rovers or the Dead Zoo Gang from Rathkeale in County Limerick, Ireland. Richard “Kerry” O’Brien Jr. and Hegarty hold previous convictions in the US for trying to buy rhino horns with the intent to smuggle them into Ireland. The prosecution has described them and their other convicted family memebers as the “generals” who worked behind the scenes and organized the persons who stole the objects for a growing Chinese black market.

Eight other men have previously been found guilty of crimes towards these museums in three recent trials, while two others have pleaded guilty. Their sentencing is expected in early April. A figure named Chi Chong Donald Wong, from south London, was also among those convicted and named in court as the person who was to sell the looted pieces on the Chinese antiquities market.

The convictions come on the heels of a national investigation set up by Cambridgeshire and Durham police called Operation Griffin, which has worked to solve a series of theft crimes that occurred in 2011-12. In addition to the burglaries at the Fitzwilliam Museum and Durham’s Oriental Museum, other attempted thefts occurred at Norwich Castle Museum—where a rhino horn was seized but dropped after visitors alerted the police—and the Gorringes auction house in Lewes, East Sussex—where a libation cup was grabbed but visitors were again instrumental in heeding the criminals.


September 30, 2016

Shirley Jaffe (1923–2016)

Shirley Jaffe

Shirley Jaffe, a New Jersey–born abstract painter who lived and worked in France for more than sixty years, died on Thursday, September 29, in Louveciennes at the age of ninety-three.

Jaffe earned a bachelor’s degree from Cooper Union in New York and studied at the Phillips Art School in Washington DC before she moved to France in 1949. She created paintings that were often influenced by abstract expressionism, but she would later adopt a more geometric style. For Jaffe, the shift began after a trip to Berlin in the 1960s. She told BOMB magazine that she began to feel as if her paintings were being read as landscapes. “And that wasn’t my intention. I don’t think I was terribly clear about what my intention was, but I knew it wasn’t landscape. At any rate, I was reworking gestural painting and it seemed wrong.”

According to Nathalie Obadia Gallery, a French gallery who represented Jaffe since 1999, she was “considered one of the most influential painters in contemporary abstract art” and “caught the attention of artists from younger generations, such as Jessica Stockholder and Bernard Piffaretti.”

In a 1990 issue of Artforum, Donald Kuspit writes about Jaffe’s first US solo exhibition, which took place at Holly Solomon Gallery when she was sixty years old. He writes, “The brightness of color, the diversity of unresolved, quirky shapes on the canvas, and the tendency toward quick, succinct statement suggest a determination to remain innocent, perhaps to make a kind of sophistication or cult out of innocence.” Kuspit compares Jaffe’s works to Henri Matisse’s cutouts. “Her shapes are the product of a similar process of essentialization, and her colors seem derived directly from those of Matisse, even seem to be a play on them.”

Jaffe’s works are in the permanent collections of numerous institutions, including New York’s MoMA, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, and the Centre Georges-Pompidou.

September 30, 2016

Portuguese Government to Keep 85 State-Owned Works by Joan Miró

Maternité by Joan Miró

Portugal’s government has announced that it plans to keep a state-owned collection of Joan Miró works that caused a national controversy in 2014 when they were put up for auction at Christie’s London and withdrawn before the sale due to a public outcry, The Guardian reports.

The government had decided to sell the works in order to lessen the state’s debt. It hoped to make at least $50 million from the sale. The plan was fiercely criticized by politicians, museum directors, and other cultural figures who claimed that the collection was part of the nation’s heritage and should not leave the country. The government was forced to withdraw the works after a judge determined that the proper exportation documentation was not obtained in order to send the works to London.

At a press conference, Portugal’s prime minister António Costa said that the works will stay in the city of Porto. They will be on display at the city’s Serralves museum until January 28.

September 30, 2016

David Adjaye and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye Join Serpentine Gallery as Board Members

David Adjaye and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye

During their first joint press conference at Serpentine Gallery, CEO Yana Peel, who succeeded director Julia Peyton-Jones in April, and longtime artistic director Hans Ulrich Obrist have announced that architect David Adjaye, whose projects include the recently opened National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC, and artist Lynette Yiadom-Boakye have been elected board members.

Peel and Obrist said that the appointments as well as new programming being produced by the gallery are part of the organization’s new direction in which greater emphasis is placed on artists. The Serpentine Pavilion program will also reflect the gallery’s new focus. Adjaye along with Richard Rogers will assist Peel and Obrist with the selection of the architects for 2017 as the newly formed advisory committee.

September 30, 2016

Italian Authorities Recover Van Gogh Paintings Stolen 14 Years Ago

Vincent Van Gogh, Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen, 1884–85

Amsterdam’s van Gogh Museum has announced that the Italian police have recovered two Vincent Van Gogh paintings, which were stolen from the institution in 2002, in fairly good condition.

The Guardia di Finanza, an agency primarily responsible for suppressing the drug trade in Italy, seized the works while carrying out an operation in Naples earlier this week. The paintings, which have a combined worth of $100 million, were found wrapped in cloth.

According to the museum, Seascape at Scheveningen, 1882, is one of only two seascapes that Van Gogh painted while in the Netherlands. Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen, 1884–85, is a biographical work depicting the church where his father was a minister. After his father died, Van Gogh modified the work by adding churchgoers in the foreground, including women wearing shawls symbolizing mourning.

September 30, 2016

Centre Pompidou to Open New Museum in Brussels

The former Citroën building will house the new modern and contemporary art museum.

The Centre Pompidou has announced that it is partnering with Brussels to open a new modern and contemporary art museum in the Belgian city by 2020.

Serge Lasvignes, the president of the Parisian museum, and Rudi Vervoort, the minister-president of the government of the Brussels-Capital Region comprising nineteen municipalities, signed a memorandum outlining their plans to transform a former Citroën building into “a cultural hub” on September 29.

The Centre Pompidou has agreed to loan artworks from its 120,000-work collection, advise the new institution on acquisitions strategies, and collaborate on programming. The first exhibition will be presented in 2018.

According to the various scenarios projected by the Brussels-Capital Region, the Centre Pompidou satellite should attract between 500,000 and one million visitors annually. It is also expected to create roughly seventy-two direct jobs as well as between three hundred and six hundred indirect jobs.

An architectural design competition will be launched by the end of the year to “give a soul” to the building, Vervoot said. The name of the building has not been decided.

“This project provides a leverage to revitalize the whole area, by reconnecting both sides of the canal, but it is also destined to become the cultural flagship of the Brussels region,” Vervoort said. Located northwest of the city center, the museum will be situated across the canal from Molenbeek, a neighborhood which became known for having a high number of residents become jihadists.

The idea to create a new contemporary and modern art museum was originally proposed in 2013.The government bought the 172,000-square-foot, Art Deco, garage from the French carmaker for about $23 million in 2015.

September 29, 2016

The Armory Show Names Nicole Berry Deputy Director

Nicole Berry

The Armory Show announced today that curator Nicole Berry has been appointed deputy director. She will be responsible for overseeing VIP and visitor relations as well as new curatorial initiatives and will take up the post in October.

“We are thrilled to welcome Nicole to our expanding team,” executive director Benjamin Genocchio said. “She brings a wealth of talent and experience that will further develop The Armory Show as a powerful platform for leading international galleries and collectors alike, further cementing our place as America’s preeminent art fair.”

Berry served as deputy director of Expo Chicago since 2011. Previously, she founded Accessible Art, a company that provides advising and consulting services, in 2006. She is a former director of Nathan A. Bernstein Gallery and has worked at number of other galleries, including Vivian Horan Fine Art and James Goodman Gallery. Berry earned her Bachelor’s degree from Colgate University and received a Master’s degree in art history from the University of California at Davis.

September 29, 2016

Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco Votes to Change Diane Wilsey's Role from President to Board Chair

Diane Wilsey

The board members of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco have voted that Diane (Dede) Wilsey, the former CEO and president of the Fine Art Museums comprising the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum in Golden Gate Park and the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park, will continue to have a leadership role despite allegations that she ousted the former chief financial officer for investigating her alleged mismanagement of the museums’ funds. She will stay on as board chair.

Wilsey was stripped of her title of CEO shortly after the museums reached a $2 million settlement with Michele Gutierrez to prevent a wrongful-termination lawsuit. According to Gutierrez, Wilsey had paid a retired employee $457,000 without permission from the boards.

During a meeting that was held on September 27, the board members voted in favor of shifting Wilsey’s role at the museums from president to board chair and also elected Jack Calhoun and Carl Pascarella as vice chairs.

Max Hollein, who joined the museums as director in March, has taken over the responsibilities and title of CEO. He told the New York Times, “Now you have a clearer division between the operational side and the board side of the museums.” Yet, according to Wilsey, “absolutely nothing has changed.”

September 29, 2016

Nils Erik Gjerdevik (1962–2016)

Nils Erik Gjerdevik

Nils Erik Gjerdevik, a Danish painter, draftsmen, and ceramicist interested in color, architecture, and design, has died.

Born in Oslo, Norway in 1962, Gjerdevik studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague and taught at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen.

Gjerdevik had been commissioned to create public works by institutions such as the University of Copenhagen and the Opera House in Copenhagen. In 2001, he became a member of Den Frie Center for Contemporary Art, and in 2002, he was awarded the Eckersberg Medal.

During his three-decade career, Gjerdevik focused on creating nonfigurative and monochrome paintings often with grid-like compositions. His ceramic works referenced science fiction, and often appeared to depict space stations and futuristic spaces.

Gjerdevik’s works are in the permanent collections of the National Gallery of Denmark; Aros Aarhus Kunstmuseum, Denmark; Bergen Art Museum, Norway; National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo; Danish and Norwegian Arts Councils; Gothenburg Museum of Art, Sweden; and Malmö Art Museum, Sweden.

In a statement, Anne Mosseri-Marlio Galerie said, “Aside from his professional qualities, he had an insatiable curiosity for culture of all kinds that he shared with his fellow colleagues, friends and acquaintances. He was always ready with a big smile, good humor, a bear hug, enthusiasm, and contagious lust for life.”

September 29, 2016

Elizabeth LeCompte Awarded $300,000 Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize

Elizabeth LeCompte

The Gish Prize Trust announced today that Elizabeth LeCompte, experimental theater pioneer and founding member and director of The Wooster Group, will be awarded the twenty-third annual Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize. She will receive $300,000.

“I think of the Gish Prize as an affirmation of what The Wooster Group represents and the work we’ve created together over the past forty years,” LeCompte said. “There’s a tendency with theater to think of each show as its own beginning and end, but what’s important to me is the whole thread of the work—the way each piece has a relationship to our past, and to the way the group continues to change and evolve. I’m deeply grateful to the Gish Prize for recognizing that our company is still in it for the long haul—because this award is going to help us keep creating, as we have since the beginning.”

LeCompte, who was trained as a visual artist, founded The Wooster Group in 1975 with Spalding Gray. Under LeCompte’s leadership, the group created and performed more than thirty works, including theater, film, video, and dance, which often incorporate recorded sound and architectonic designs while revisiting classic texts by authors such as Shakespeare, Chekhov, and Arthur Miller.