International News Digest

JANUARY 13

After facing crippling financial woes four years ago, the city of Hamburg’s museums have pulled off an impressive turnaround over the past four years, according to a city government’s publication mentioned in Norddeutscher Rundfunk. The institutions—the Hamburger Kunsthalle, the Museum of Arts and Crafts, and several historical museums—reached rock bottom around the end of 2009, when they collectively required an emergency loan of nearly eleven million dollars from the city, which was approved only if the museums agreed to operational overhauls. After painful cuts, special exhibitions at the Kunsthalle, and a renovation at the Museum of Arts and Crafts, the city’s museums recorded no losses from 2010 through 2013, and were praised by the senate publication for their “significant contribution to the stabilization of their finances.”

In Businessweek, Christina Larson took a look at problems faced by Chinese artists, who often work out leases for their studios on city outskirts with local governments and village committees. Now, reported Larson, the central government is beginning to find these agreements invalid. “In the past two months,” she wrote, “several newly built studios in Songzhuang have been demolished before their artist-owners were even able to move in.” Painter Gong Hao, who moved into Songzhuang artist village in 2005, wondered: “If it was really illegal, then why should we have been allowed to build in the first place? The real problem is discrepancy in the government’s plans.” Another artist, Tang Jianying, was more optimistic: “I don’t think the whole artist zone will be destroyed, because the local government still wants the zone. But they also need to show their commitment to the new [central government] policy, so they had to destroy some studios.”

Two recent reports on the current state of workers’ conditions over at the United Arab Emirate’s Saadiyat Island have reached very different conclusions, noted Julia Halperin in the Art Newspaper. Saadiyat Island, where the Louvre and the Guggenheim have been constructing outposts, came under international scrutiny in 2009 after Human Rights Watch accused contractors of systematically violating workers’ rights. Now, citing improvements in living conditions and new educational programs for workers created over the course of 2013, PricewaterhouseCoopers asserted that 100 percent of workers had access to their passports by the end of the year.

But a report released by The Guardian was much less laudatory: In an article published at the end of last month, the paper’s David Batty reported that companies were still withholding the passports of migrant workers, trapping them in the UAE. He wrote, “Mobile-phone video footage of a riot at the [Saadiyat accommodation village] in August shows dozens of men roaming the camp armed with metal spears and planks spiked with nails. Men are seen jumping out of windows to avoid the conflict.” At a European council meeting on December 4, Barbara Lochbihler, the chair of the European parliament's subcommittee on human rights, said, “There are systematic complaints about poor accommodation and sanitation, salaries and medical services are withheld, and both experts and the migrants themselves report excessive police force and situations of forced labor. This is unacceptable.”

According to FranceTVInfo and the AMA, the 2013–14 Lyon Biennale, which began on September 12 and ended last week, saw a record number of visitors—though technically the 204,669 visitors to this most recent edition only exceeded the previous one by around two thousand attendees. Chrystel Chabert noted in FranceTVInfo that the biennial’s recent reach is impressive when contrasted with its first edition in 1997, which attracted 70,000 people; Chabert also credited this edition’s success to “its thematic focus on narration.” Artforum.com’s recap of this year’s Lyon Biennale can be found here.