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The week in art news – heritage sites destroyed by earthquakes in Turkey and Syria

10 February 2023

Earthquakes have devastated southern Turkey and northern Syria. At the time of writing, more than 21,000 people are known to have died and many thousands of survivors have been left without shelter, food, water and power. Heritage sites across the region have been severely damaged; an initial survey conducted by UNESCO expresses ‘particular concern’ for the old city of Aleppo, which has been on its World Heritage in Danger list since 2013, due to the Syrian Civil War. ‘Significant damage has been noted in the citadel. The western tower of the old city wall has collapsed and several buildings in the souks have been weakened’, the report identified. In Turkey, near the site of the earthquake on Monday (6 February), Gaziantep Castle, built by the Hittites and expanded by the Romans, has been destroyed; UNESCO has also announced ‘the collapse of several buildings’ at the World Heritage Site of Diyarbakir Fortress. Other major sites near the epicentre of the quake that could have been affected include Gobekli Tepe – the site of the earliest known temple on earth, built between 9500–8200 BC – and Nemrut Dag, home to the famous giant stone statues erected by the Roman-Persian king Antiochus I of Commagene in the first century BC.

Lucy Frazer has been appointed as the Secretary of State for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport – a department which no longer includes the word ‘digital’ in its title, with this remit transferred to the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT), newly created as part of a wider governmental restructuring that was announced by the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, on Tuesday (7 February). Michelle Donelan, who had served as culture secretary since October last year, has been named as the first Secretary of State for DSIT, a role which will involve devising the government’s policy pertaining to digital infrastructure. Frazer, formerly a barrister, has served as an MP since 2015; her most recent ministerial position was in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Planning.

According to sources cited by Bloomberg, the private equity firm Epiris is looking into the potential sale of the auction house Bonhams, working with advisors at JPMorgan Chase & Co and seeking an estimation of around $1bn. In 2022, Bonhams increased its global reach through the acquisition of a number of smaller regional auction houses around the world, included Bukowskis in Stockholm, Bruun Rasmussen in Copenhagen, Skinner in Boston and Cornette de Saint Cyr in Paris. The annual revenue of the auction house, which was founded in London in 1793, exceeded $1bn for the first time last year.

A new outpost of the Pompidou Centre in Saudi Arabia is expected to be confirmed in the coming weeks. According to Le Monde, the Pompidou will advise on conservation, scientific management, exhibitions strategy and strategic loans for a new museum, called Perspective Galleries, that is to be designed by Lebanese architect Lina Ghotmeh in the city of AlUla, in the north west of the country. Le Monde expects that an agreement, which has been in the works since 2021, will be ratified during the forthcoming visit of the French culture minister Rima Abdul Malak to Saudi Arabia. The new museum would spell both the latest addition to the Pompidou’s network of international satellites, which includes sites in Shanghai and Malaga, and the most recent development of a cultural partnership between France and Saudia Arabia that has been burgeoning since the establishment of Afalula, the French Agency for AlUla Development, founded in Paris in 2018 as the result of an agreement signed by the governments of France and Saudi Arabia.

Two of the co-founders of Masterpiece fair in London, which was cancelled last month by owners MCH Group on the grounds that it was no longer commercially viable, have announced the launch of a new London Summer Art Fair, to take place during the former summer slot of Masterpiece (22–26 June). Thomas Woodham-Smith, an antiques dealer, and Harry van der Hoorn, owner of the German manufacturing group Stabilo International which has built stands for art fairs around the world, came to a deal with the Royal Hospital Chelsea, where Masterpiece has traditionally been held, to host the new fair. Like its predecessor, the London Summer Art Fair will include exhibitors specialising in a range of fine and decorative arts, although it will be smaller, with around 60 exhibitors expected; 140 took part in Masterpiece last year.