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The week in art news – German culture minister calls for national strategy on Benin Bronzes

Plus: M+ Museum promises to comply with Hong Kong national security law | Donald R. Sobey (1934–2021) | Serpentine Galleries remove Sackler name | and Nicolas Bourriaud ousted as director of Montpellier museum

26 March 2021

The German culture minister, Monika Grütters, has called a meeting next month of museums and states to form ‘a national strategy’ regarding the Benin Bronzes held by German museums. The announcement comes after a recent meeting between representatives of the German culture ministry and Nigerian officials in Benin City, which has raised hopes of the Bronzes being returned. Grütters, reports the Art Newspaper, has said that any such strategy ‘should of course include restitutions, in common dialogue with the communities of origin’. In developments in the UK, the University of Aberdeen has announced that it is restituting the Benin Bronze that has been in its possession since 1957.

The M+ Museum is unlikely to display Ai Weiwei’s photograph Study of Perspective – Tiananmen Square when the museum finally opens in Hong Kong later this year. The institution intends to comply, the chairman of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority told the South China Morning Post, with the national security law that mainland China imposed on Hong Kong last year. After a recent press preview of the museum, a complaint was filed to the police about works including those by Ai Weiwei; Carrie Lam, chief executive of Hong Kong, has said that the authorities will be on ‘full alert’ for any breaches of the security legislation, which outlaws acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign powers or external forces.

The Canadian philanthropist Donald R. Sobey has died at the age of 86. Sobey chaired the National Gallery of Canada’s board of trustees from 2002–08; he then became a founding member of the museum’s board of directors, on which he served until last year. During this time Sobey supported major acquisitions for the museum, including works by Peter Doig and Louise Bourgeois. Through the foundation, he also sponsored the Sobey Art Award for Canadian artists, which comes with one of the biggest cash prizes in the world.

The Serpentine Sackler Gallery in London has been renamed the Serpentine North, in a move which the institution describes as part of a ‘rebranding process’. A short statement provided by the Serpentine to Apollo makes no mention of dropping the Sackler name and refers only to ‘new wayfinding terminology’ to help visitors distinguish between its two galleries. The Serpentine’s second venue in Kensington Gardens opened in 2013, and was named in recognition of a £5.5m donation from the Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation.

Nicolas Bourriaud has been removed from his position as director of Montpellier Contemporain, the museum which opened in 2019 with Bourriaud at the helm. The recently elected mayor of Montpellier, Michaël Delafosse, has previously criticised the size of the museum’s annual budget (€6 million, allocated by the previous mayor Philippe Saurel) and the ‘elitism’ of its programme of exhibitions. The curator Numa Hambursin has been appointed as Bourriaud’s successor, despite falling short of the two-thirds majority vote required at a board meeting held earlier this week.

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