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Arts Council England retreats after freedom of expression row

18 February 2024

Arts Council England (ACE) has been forced to defend its commitment to freedom of expression this week. On 13 February, Arts Professional reported that the Arts Council had updated its guidance to groups it is funding from 2023–26. In the Relationship Framework issued to National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs) on 25 January, ACE added a section about ‘reputational risk’, outlining activities that might breach their funding agreements. These include ‘artistic and creative output that might be deemed controversial, activity that might be considered to be overtly political or activist and goes beyond your company’s core purpose’ and a warning that ‘Reputational risk can be generated not just by the organisation and its decisions, but by staff and other individuals associated with the organisation acting in a personal capacity’. After criticism by writers and artists and the actors’ union Equity saying it was ‘deeply concerned’, the Arts Council sought to clarify its position on 14 February (‘We recognise the strong reaction’). The next day, after ‘listening closely to feedback, on social media and directly’ it withdrew the new guidance entirely. ACE explained that the changes had been intended to support organisations in identifying risks ‘and were in no way meant to limit artistic expression’. It will issue new guidelines soon.

Pro-Palestine protests have halted activity in museums around the world in the last week. On the afternoon of 10 February, demonstrators spread across several galleries at MoMA in New York and handed out bright yellow pamphlets that were designed to resemble museum brochures but contained the message ‘MoMA Trustees Fund Genocide, Apartheid, Settler Colonialism’. Some demonstrators projected Palestinian art on to the walls. Shortly after the protest began, MoMA closed for the rest of the day. Also on 10 February, protestors interrupted a performance by Cuban artist Tania Bruguera at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin, during a reading of Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951). In an Instagram post, the Bahnhof described the interruptions as ‘violent hate speech’, though rescinded the accusation of violence after Bruguera said of the protestors: ‘They came, they protested, they made their points, people listened, some reacted, some observed, and they departed peacefully.’ The following day, Energy Embargo for Palestine held a sit-in at the British Museum in London to protest against the institution’s recent £50 million sponsorship deal with BP because in October, BP was among the six companies to which Israel granted gas exploration licences.

The artist Mick Moon has died at the age of 86. The British painter and printmaker first entered the public eye in 1963 with a series of colour-modulated strips painted in acrylic on to plastic, but soon turned to making multi-layered works that combine painting with printmaking: painting straight on to his studio floor, he would then lay canvases down to imprint their marks. In 1976, only seven years after his first solo exhibition, Moon was the subject of a solo show at the Tate. He won the Gulbenkian Print Award in 1984, was elected a Royal Academician in 1994 and taught at the Slade School of Fine Art from 1973 to 1990. In later years, his focus shifted from brightly coloured and complex compositions featuring text and collage towards near-monochrome seascapes. Alan Cristea of Cristea Roberts Gallery, which represents Moon, described him as ‘a truly radical artist whose achievements were obscured by his own modesty’.

Michelle Kuo has been appointed chief curator at large and publisher at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (MoMA). A curator in MoMA’s painting and sculpture department since 2018 – and before that, editor of Artforum – Kuo has been responsible for organising high-profile exhibitions of work by contemporary artists such as Refik Anadol, Amanda Williams and Montien Boonma. She will take up the newly created role with immediate effect. In France, Christophe Leribault, the president of the Musée d’Orsay and the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, has been appointed president of the Palace of Versailles by the French Council of Ministers. Leribault will become the first president of Versailles with a background in heritage. The appointment marks the end of a long-running succession saga at Versailles. The former director, Catherine Pégard, two years ago passed the age of 67, the official retirement age for heads of public bodies in France, but has remained in place until now.