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France Blocks Export of Cimabue Found in Kitchen, Smithsonian Acquires Two Kusama Infinity Rooms

Also, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York acquired over 700 rare photographs from the William L. Schaeffer Collection, and the Baltimore Museum of Art announced its fall 2019 acquisitions.

Carrie Mae Weems, Untitled (detail), seven panels of framed chromogenic prints and sandblasted text on glass, 1996-97. Estimate $100,000 to $150,000. At auction January 30. (courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries)

Swann Auction Galleries in New York will hold a sale of artwork from the collection of the Johnson Publishing Company, the former publisher of Ebony and Jet magazines. The historic collection of African American art features works by 75 artists including Carrie Mae Weems and Kenneth Victor Young. When the Chicago-based publishing company declared bankruptcy in April 2019, its rich archives of Black culture were purchased for $30 million by a consortium formed by the J. Paul Getty Trust, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; the archives were subsequently donated to Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Getty Research Institute.

Phillips New York is mounting Ten Monkeys and a Dolphin: Banksy & KAWS, a selling exhibition of 20 works by the two artists. The market is surprisingly hot for Banksy and KAWS right now. They both smashed auction records this past year: Banksy’s “DEVOLVED PARLIAMENT” (2019), a painting of chimpanzees in Britain’s House of Commons, sold for $12 million at Sotheby’s London, while KAWS’s “The KAWS ALBUM” (2019), a painted parody of The Beatles’s 1967 Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover, sold for $14.8 million at Sotheby’s Hong Kong.

Two auction houses are facing sticky sales snafus due to export license blocks. This past July, Sotheby’s London sold “Going to Market, Early Morning” (1773), an important landscape painting by famed British artist Thomas Gainsborough, for $10.3 million. On the advice of the United Kingdom’s art export reviewing committee, the government banned the export of the prized painting in hopes of finding it a home in a UK public institution. The issue of the license will be revisited in March.

French Minister of Culture Franck Riester refused to grant an export license to Actéon Auction, a small auction house in Senlis, north of Paris. In late October, Actéon sold “The Mocking of Christ” (c. 1280), an 8 by 11-inch panel painting by Florentine artist Cimabue, to the US-based Alana Collection of Italian Renaissance paintings for $26.6 million. It is rumored that the French culture ministry attempted to buy the work at auction for the French state but had to drop out of bidding due to a budget of $16.6 million. Now, the government has 30 months to raise sufficient funds to purchase the painting, which they would like to see in the Louvre. “The Mocking of Christ” has been nicknamed “the kitchen painting”; it was discovered hanging above a hotplate in an elderly woman’s kitchen in Compiègne in northern France.

Yayoi Kusama, Installation view of Infinity Mirror Room — Phalli’s Field, 1965/2017, at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Stuffed cotton, board, and mirrors (Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts ©YAYOI KUSAMA, Photo by Cathy Carver)

Following the holiday lull, acquisition announcements have been fast and furious. The Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. acquired three works by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama including two Infinity Mirrored Rooms. The infinity rooms will be on view in the museum’s upcoming blockbuster show One with Eternity: Yayoi Kusama in the Hirshhorn Collection, which will open in April 2020 — cue the infamous Infinity Room lines. (“People Still Waiting in Kusama Infinity Room Lines” rank #8 on Hyperallergic’s 2019 20 Most Powerless People in the Art World list.)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York acquired over 700 rare photographs from the William L. Schaeffer Collection, a promised gift from museum trustee Philip Maritz and wife Jennifer in honor of the 150th anniversary of the Met’s founding. The significant donation includes daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, tintypes, and salt prints. A separate donation from museum trustee Joyce Frank Menschel funded the purchase of 70 additional photographs documenting the American Civil War.

Firelei Báez, “Convex (recalibrating a blind spot),” 2019 (© Firelei Báez.)

The Baltimore Museum of Art announced its fall 2019 acquisitions of nearly 100 artworks including pieces by Firelei Báez, Olafur Eliasson, Samuel Fosso, and Tomashi Jackson. Among the additions are works by 18 unidentified artists from Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Japan, Korea, and Nigeria. This acquisition is the last before the museum’s initiative to only acquire work by female-identifying artists in 2020.

Actor, author, and comedian Steve Martin, who also happens to be an avid art collector and formidable banjo player, donated two banjos along with photos and videos to the American Banjo Museum in Oklahoma City. One of the banjos is a 1927 Gibson Florentine banjo; the other is a unique, customized, gold-plated, pearl-inlaid banjo that Martin received from The Kennedy Center when he won the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in 2005. The donations will be featured in a forthcoming exhibition on Martin’s contributions to the banjo community. 

On the restitution front, the Netherlands returned 1,500 artifacts to Indonesia. The objects had resided in the Nusantara Museum in Delft, the only museum in the Netherlands wholly dedicated to Indonesian art and cultural objects. The museum, which had operated since 1911, closed its doors due to budget cuts in 2013 and has been in the process of rehousing its 18,000 objects for several years.

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