International News Digest

MARCH 25

Die Tageszeitung’s Carmela Thiele profiled Adam Szymczyk, director of Kunsthalle Basel, with the hopes of shedding light on how he’ll shape Documenta 14, which opens 2017. Noting the huge expectations faced by the forty-four-year-old curator, Thiele wrote that Szymczyk “wants to avoid hierarchies, and likes working with his team in an open-walled office.” “If I could only reach the goals I set out to reach, that would be deadly dull, and there would be no reason to curate exhibitions.”

Though Szymczyk’s remaining mum on the preliminary concepts underlying the upcoming Documenta, Thiele wondered whether the current exhibition at Kunsthalle Basel (which features Scottish artist Ross Birell and David Harding) indicates Szymczyk’s interest in keeping the boundaries between different media fluid—an interest that might also inform his approach in 2017. A piece by Birell, for instance, shows three musicians performing a piece composed by the artist. As Szymczyk told Die Tageszeitung, “I like to refer to the sgraffito by Arnold Böcklin on the facade of [the Kunsthalle], where all the liberal arts—sculpture, poetry, music, painting, architecture—are listed all together non-hierarchically. For me it’s always important to blur the formal distinction between the various arts—particularly in the ways they’re received.”

France comes to its own defense: In a recent article, Le Figaro’s Mathieu Rollinger took a swing at British critic A.A. Gill, who pulled no punches against contemporary French culture in a recent Vanity Fair article. “Could France be losing its panache, its je ne sais quoi?” wrote Gill. “Name a living French painter worth the wall space. Name a great French musician. A novelist, apart from Michel Houellebecq—and the French hate him.” In response, Le Figaro’s Rollinger wrote, “It’s difficult not to suspect this London-based commentator of bias,” reminding readers of Pierre Huyghe, as well as Daft Punk’s Grammy win, actors Jean Dujardin and Marion Cotillard Hollywood appearances.

Noting other similar articles that have appeared in British and American press, Rollinger added, “These charges are part of a convoluted reasoning that has more to do with wild ramblings than rational analysis.” Pointing out that Gill mostly focused on France’s reaction to Francois Holland’s suspected affair, Rollinger noted that Gill’s critique centered on the French way of living, which was then sloppily extended to French art and culture. “Even if … the state of France’s cultural industries are not beyond reproach, nothing justifies the ferocity [of these attacks].”Rollinger signed off with a classic French phrase, “De quoi je me mêle?” In English? Mind your own business.

The Norwegian museum cofounded by ice-skating champion Sonja Henie—the Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter—will be returning a major work from its collection to the heirs of French art dealer Paul Rosenberg, the Art Newspaper’s Hannah McGivern reported. The work, Henri Matisse’s Woman in Blue in front of a Fireplace, 1937, was looted by Nazis in 1941, a year after Rosenberg fled France. The museum reiterated that “both Niels Onstad, and subsequently HOK, acquired the painting in good faith” but announced that it “has chosen to adhere to international conventions” by unconditionally returning the work.”As the first instance of Nazi-looted art restitution in Norway, the case may set a precedent for other Norwegian institutions,” wrote McGivern.

An article in the DPA describes a stone barn in the mountains of Aley, Lebanon—a town outside Beirut—that’s recently become a residency for Syrian refugee artists. The building was renovated by a civil engineer and art lover named Raghad Mardini. As she began finishing her renovations, the Syrian uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began to grow, driving a number of her Syrian artist friends into exile. While hosting one of these friends, Mardini stumbled upon the idea of starting a residency for displaced Syrian artists. “To create art, you need an atmosphere in which you feel comfortable,” she says. “I thought I had the place. All I had to do was to give these young Syrian artists space to produce their art and to show their feelings—the suffering as well as the hope.” Participating artists stay for two weeks and leave behind at least one artwork; Mardini hopes to eventually build a museum of contemporary Syrian art to house the donated works.