International News Digest

APRIL 3

Austria has decided not to buy the Essl art collection, after a proposal by the ministry of culture sparked a heated national debate. According to Die Presse, The collection was put up for sale by collector Karlheinz Essl in an effort save 4,000 jobs at bauMax, Essl’s chain of home-improvement stores. The radio station Deutschlandfunk’s Christoph Schmitz interviewed Thomas Trenkler, editor of Vienna’s Standard, about the decision. Trenkler summed up the concerns of many museum directors about the potential sale, noting that the collection, while full of big-name artists, didn’t necessarily include their highest quality or most significant works. Meanwhile, Julia Michalska reported in the Art Newspaper that Essl withdrew his offer and says he has reached an agreement with his creditors that will protect his collection in case of insolvency.

Turkish artists spoke out about growing fears of censorship to the Art Newspaper’s Gareth Harris. Their concern follows prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s recent election victory; in his campaign, Erdogan blasted social media and vowed to “wipe out Twitter,” even banning it on March 21, after users tweeted about government corruption. According to other reports, the government also blocked YouTube, after a tape surfaced on the site in which security officials considered deploying the military in Syria. “For artists, and for freedom of speech, it’s all over here, this is the finish line,” lamented the artist Taner Ceylan. Said the artist Ali Taptik, “Censorship is a universal dilemma but it is much more acute in Turkey. It is also important to remember that there are more journalists in prison in Turkey than anywhere else: We are in a race with Iran and China.”

Belgium’s Council of Ministers has given the go-ahead for plans to renovate the Vanderborght stores, right off of Brussels’s central plaza. La Capitale reported that, after their renovation, the buildings will house the modern and contemporary collections of the Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts. The city will contribute over two million dollars to the external work on the building, and will lease the buildings to the museum for thirty years. “A modern and contemporary art is essential to the cultural influence of Brussels and is also the economy and tourism,” said the city’s alderman of culture, Karine Lalieux.

L’Express reporter Annick Colonna-Cesari sat down with Catherine Millet, founder of the magazine Art Press (and author of The Sexual Life of Catherine M.). Millet talked about the changes she’s seen in the art world, noting her magazine’s fortieth birthday last year. “The artistic field has expanded and opened in all sorts of directions.” Asked about whether contemporary art could encompass an infinitely expanding field of sources, media, and references, she said, “Art, today, cannot sustain itself alone; it draws from the epoque, from cinema, as we have seen, but also comics, TV, even video games or Google Earth, [but] I do not think the field of art is infinitely expandable. There will come a time, past the excitement of discovery, when art will be more selective.”

And in April Fool’s news, the activist political group GULF took the Guggenheim to task last week. In an action designed to foreground the issue of human-rights abuses that have accompanied the construction of Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, the pranksters spread around a press release and website purporting to represent the Guggenheim, in which the “museum” announced that it had “decided to rethink the design for its new branch in Abu Dhabi” in response to “overwhelming international concern about human and labor rights violations in the construction of the new cultural district of Saadiyat Island.” The press release announced an open design competition, seeking projects that address “areas where the first design fell short, such as fair labor.” Then, this past Saturday, the group invaded the Guggenheim’s main Manhattan site, and showered visitors with fake bills printed with imagery protesting the Abu Dhabi construction.