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An Extensive Roundup of Haitian Art in Jeopardy, London ICA’s Budget Crisis

by Hrag Vartanian on January 25, 2010

As Haiti recovers from the horrific earthquake that has officially killed 150,000 — though some fear the number may be closer to 300,000 — we are only starting to recognize the event’s tragic impact on the country’s cultural riches.

The remains of Mr. Nader's Galerie, where countless artworks perished. (Pooja Bhatia/WSJ)

The Wall Street Journal reports that the private mansion of George Nader, Sr., the world’s biggest Haitian art collector, had been destroyed by the quake. The vast majority of Nadar’s 12,000 work art collection was housed in the home, which was decimated by the natural disaster. One of maids working in the Nader home was killed in the disaster. The Nader Collection was believed to be the largest Haitian art collection in the world. WSJ’s Pooja Bhatia writes:

Mr. Nader, 78 years old, began buying Haitian paintings in the late 1950s, sold works to jet-setters who made the Caribbean country a chic destination through the ’60s and ’70s and helped build an international market for island works. It took 30 seconds to wipe out his collection, which Mr. Nader’s son, Georges Nader Jr., estimates was worth $30 million to $100 million. Only about 50 pieces from his mansion survived, according to the family.

More about the recently destroyed Galerie Nader can be found on their website. I do have some questions about the destruction, but those are question for another time, we are all saddened at Haiti’s cultural loss.

The family posted a heartfelt letter on the gallery website:

Unfortunately, I’m sad to report that the Galerie/Museum in Desprez suffered severe damage and is barely standing on it’s own. Galerie Nader in Petion-ville, miraculously suffered no damages. While, we are trying our best to recover as many paintings as we can, many that have been found are partly damage. Although the physical building of Museum Nader may not exist anymore, our love for Haitian art will never die. Haitian Art is a significant piece of our culture, and we will do whatever we can to save an important part of our history.

Hector Hyppolite, "Henri Christophe" (ca. 1947) is among those works that may have been lost from the collection of George Nader Sr. and Jr. (via ArtInfo)

The International Council of Museums has issued a report on the status of Haiti’s museums. The skinny: most of them seem fine. Though the report also warns: “Given the unstable local situation, the initial information given in this report should be considered cautiously.”

The Miami Herald reports, “Haiti has lost huge chunks of its artistic culture, with the destruction and damage of historic paintings and murals, along with the deaths of art collectors.”

The New York Times reports, “Now many of the symbols of that proud [cultural] side of Haiti lie in ruins. The National Palace, the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Supreme Court, all are in various states of collapse. Also devastated is the Episcopal Church’s Holy Trinity Cathedral, known for its murals of Bible stories with all black figures.”

The LA Times has also published a piece about how the recent earthquake rattled Haiti’s artists and art institutions. They write, “Since the quake, gallery owners have been trying to pull together a list of artists killed, injured or missing. They’d accounted for about half of those they represented.”

A view of London's troubled ICA.

Across the Atlantic in London, the Guardian reports that the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) has warned staff that it could close by May:

The meeting saw ICA director Ekow Eshun explain that a staff bill of £2.5m will have to be reduced by £1m for the organisation to survive. Without a wholesale restructuring, he argued, the ICA could be the first major British cultural organisation to fall victim to the recession.

The St. Petersburg Times (of Florida) reports that their local Salvador Dali Museum is making a pitch to the Pinellas County Tourist Development Council for a $5 million grant that will allow the institution to finish its new $36 million building that is scheduled to open in January 2011.

According to the museum board president, if the grant doesn’t come through, “The museum will be forced to take out loans using art from the Dali collection as collateral if the tax dollars or new contributions don’t come through soon…” Not a good idea.

An interesting fact about the new Dali Museum: the 18-inch-thick concrete walls are designed to withstand a Category 5 hurricane.

Pablo Picasso, “The Actor" (1904-5), was accidentally damaged on Friday. (click to enlarge)

Last Friday, a woman fell into a rare Rose Period Picasso painting, “The Actors” (1904-5), at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The incident caused a six-inch tear on the bottom right of the painting, according to the New York Times’ ArtsBeat blog.

In a statement released by the Met on Sunday, they said:

“The damage did not occur in the focal point of the composition and the curatorial
and conservation staffs fully expect that the repair —which will take place in the coming weeks — will be unobtrusive.”

Today, Carol Vogel probed the fall out from the incident and spoke to Picasso biographer John Richardson about some problems that conservators will face:

“The Actor” was painted when Picasso was only 23. “He was very poor, and these canvases were expensive,” said John Richardson, the Picasso biographer. He explained that if Picasso made a mistake, he couldn’t afford to throw out the canvas, but rather painted over it. “Nearly all these early canvases have something painted underneath,” Mr. Richardson said.

If you get a chance, please read all the comments to the original blog post at the Times site, which was also written by Vogel. They are very witty. Here are some of my favorites:

  • … waiting to see if she goes home and issues a victorious anti-picasso manifesto on her blog (like the Canadian art student who deliberately puked on the Mondrian at MoMA a few years ago) … #
  • She really fell for that Picasso. #
  • Someone should send this woman a bottle of wine and tickets to the next Damien Hirst exhibition. #
  • It’a about time a woman got the better of Picasso. #
  • Braque did it. #
  • Breaking News; It turns out it was Mrs. Salahi who crashed into it. #
  • And why is this not classified as “Performance Art?” Hypocrites! #
  • “The damage did not occur in the focal point of the composition” – I am sorry to flatly say this to all of you Picasso lovers but that painting totally lacks a focal point! #

And some from fellow blog nerds:

  • I love these comments. “The Actor” suffered in a good cause. #
  • This is the most wonderful riff. You’d think all these people, the comment-writers, were in the same room as one another. This is, as the Irish say, great craic. I’ve never seen such a series of comments: it’s the domino theory in comic mode. Thank you, Picasso’s “Actor,” and thank you, anonymous woman, for colliding. #
Gary Hill, “Inasmuch As It Is Always Already Taking Place” (1990) is among the works donated to the Art Gallery of Ontario by Ydessa Hendeles (via CBC.ca)

In good museum news, the Art Gallery of Ontario  has received its biggest donation of contemporary art ever. Major art collector Ydessa Hendeles has donated 32 works, including pieces by Gary Hill, Thomas Schutte, Bill Viola, Krzysztof Wodiczko, Giulio Paolini, Ian Carr-Harris, Ron Martin and Ian Wallace.

And for those of you that can’t wait for another year of biennials, check out the Universes in Universe list of what to expect in 2010 (via @artnetdotcom)

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  • http://downbythewaterfront.typepad.com wendy han

    On the ICA London report

    Ekow Eshun Director of ICA, London felt prompted to reply (with tweets) to the news reports in the Guardian and the Times last week;

    “Reports of ICA’s imminent demise exaggerated. Times are hard. But v confident about future and much encouraged by messages of support”

    “Snarky piece about ICA in Times tomorrow. Sigh…once again, ICA is not about to close. We’re busy building strong programme for 2010.”

    I really wish them well, and hope they get their focus

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