The new normal in the art world


The art market is reacting to the global pandemic

“May You Live in Interesting Times” was the title of the art world’s 58th Venice Biennale 2019, a reference to an old curse and a commentary on the complexity of modern political and social life. The year 2020 has now taken this complexity to a whole new level, with the novel coronavirus having devastating effects on artists, companies and art organizations.

Large auction houses are putting workers on leave and cutting managerial costs and salaries as their salesrooms are closed and auctions are postponed or conducted entirely online. Following the closure of public venues around the world, the museum sector is faced with financial losses, layoffs, and vacations as it grapples with the question of how to continue engaging with audiences and providing visitors with personal experiences in a virtual world. And yet, as medical professionals highlight the psychological toll that quarantine and self-isolation are likely to place on the population, museums and art can be part of the mechanism to support social cohesion and public engagement.

In the near future, government and philanthropic funding will be critical to helping museums and artists weather the crisis. Germany has launched a € 50 billion (US $ 54 billion) stimulus package to support its creative and cultural centers, while the UK Arts Council has launched an emergency aid package of £ 160 million (US $ 190 million) for artists and announced arts organizations affected by the ongoing public health situation. The United Arab Emirates bought more than AED 1.5 million in works by local artists to aid the artists and galleries in the area following the outbreak. The National Endowment for the Arts will distribute $ 75 million in funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Artists, dealers and art fairs are working to create and improve online and virtual reality exhibitions, signaling the possible beginning of a new online era. The Biennale of Sydney is the first major biennale to run virtually on the Google Arts & Culture platform. Content includes filmed walk-throughs, podcasts, curated tours and artist takeovers, and question and answer sessions. Since online use of artwork is considered derivative work, art market professionals must comply with intellectual property laws, personal rights and publication rights and ensure that they secure appropriate licenses.


SCOTUS is of the opinion that states cannot be sued for copyright infringements

The US Supreme Court ruled that the state of North Carolina cannot be sued for copyright infringement based on the principle of sovereign immunity. The case concerned the videographer Frederick Allen, who documented the rescue efforts of a famous shipwreck, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, the flagship of the legendary pirate Blackbeard. North Carolina posted some of his photos on its website without permission and eventually agreed to pay everyone $ 15,000 in compensation. But then North Carolina published his work online a second time without permission, and Allen sued.

Alleged Emmy, Grammy and Oscar winner pleads guilty of forging certificates of authenticity, postal fraud and identity theft

Los Angeles-born Philip Bennet Righter has pleaded guilty in California and Florida to various charges of attempting to sell more than $ 6 million in counterfeit artwork, using counterfeit artwork as collateral for loans, and improper tax write-offs. Righter bought works of art supposedly by renowned artists such as Warhol, Basquiat, Haring, and Lichtenstein and attempted to resell them as real after forging certificates of authenticity for each piece. In a further effort to present the works of art as authentic, Righter used individual stamps for the artists with the insignia of artists’ estates and cited former dealers in provenance documents. Righter’s victims bought more than $ 758,000 worth of counterfeit art from him. He used some of the counterfeit works of art as collateral for loans that he later defaulted. Righter also donated some of the counterfeit pieces to charity, which enabled him to receive tax refunds. Although Righter’s Instagram account indicates he won an Emmy, a Grammy, and an Oscar, there is no record of him receiving any such recognition.

Exempted artist who vandalized Cattelan’s viral banana artwork

Rod Webber, a performance artist and activist, was acquitted of a criminal complaint in connection with alleged vandalism he committed at Art Basel in December 2019. The exhibition featured Maurizio Cattelan’s work of art, entitled “Comedian,” which consisted of a yellow banana tied to the gallery wall. The work went viral as its retail price was exorbitant and reminded it of Andy Warhol’s soup cans and Marcel Duchamp’s ready-made urinal. After artist David Datuna took the banana off the wall without permission and eaten it in a performance work of art, Webber wrote, “EPSTIEN [sic] DIDNT KILL HIMSELF “with red lipstick on the empty wall. The charges against Webber were dropped after Art Basel refused to participate in the criminal proceedings.

Armory show shifts the date and place

The Armory Show, New York’s most important art fair, is postponing the date and location for 2021 for logistical reasons. After taking place at Manhattan’s West Side Piers for nearly two decades in March, the event will now take place at the Javits Center in September 2021.


Investigations against four guards in connection with the robbery on the Green Vault
After priceless art and artifacts worth up to one billion US dollars were stolen from the Green Vault in Dresden, authorities suspect that several museum guards may have been involved. While two of the guards reportedly failed to “respond appropriately” to prevent the theft, one of the guards is suspected of providing information about the security and facilities of the museum to the thieves and another of tampering with the alarm system. The authorities continue to search for the perpetrators and offer substantial rewards for clues leading to an arrest or return of the property.


Yoruba sculpture returned to Nigeria may be counterfeit

In late February, the Mexican government repatriated to Nigeria a bronze sculpture believed to be a 1500 year old Yoruba relic. The sculpture was confiscated by customs in Mexico City while it was allegedly being smuggled into the country. While Mexico’s and Nigeria’s experts and agencies initially authenticated the sculpture, other experts have now got in touch and stated that they consider the sculpture to be a fake.


China closes UNESCO World Heritage sites after initially easing social distancing measures
Thousands of visitors flocked to the Huangshan Mountains in Anhui Province, attracted by the offer of free entry to the three-day Ching Ming Festival offered by the government to stimulate tourism. The site closed immediately after it reached its 20,000-person capacity, amid fears that another wave of the coronavirus could find its way into such massive gatherings.

Museums in Singapore will be closed again

Following the example of Hong Kong, Singapore’s museums and commercial galleries will close for at least four weeks under the mandate given by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to protect against a new wave of COVID-19 infections.

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