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Germany to return Benin Bronzes from 2022

Plus: Samsung heirs donate 23,000 artworks to South Korean state in tax settlement | Marie-Josée Kravis is MoMA’s new chairman | and Nathalie Bondil moves to the Institut du Monde Arabe

30 April 2021

On Thursday the German culture minister Monika Grütters announced that a ‘substantial’ part of the Benin Bronzes held in the country’s museums are to be returned. ‘We face up to our historic and moral responsibility to shine a light and work on Germany’s historic past,’ said Grütters after an online meeting of museum directors and politicians convened by the cultural ministry. Some 1,100 of the sculptures from Benin can be found in German museums, with a complete list to be published by 15 June, it has been agreed. Hermann Parzinger, President of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, has said that he hopes returns can begin as early as 2022.

On Wednesday, Samsung announced that the family of Lee Kun-hee, the founder of the company who died last October, will pay more than 12 trillion Korean won (nearly US$11 billion) in inheritance taxes on his estate. As part of the tax owing, 23,000 works from Lee Kun-hee’s art collection will be donated to museums in South Korea (the family will also donate one trillion won to medical causes). The vast majority of items, including objects marked as ‘National Treasures’, will go to the National Museum of Korea in Seoul, while some 1,200 pieces of modern and contemporary art, including works by Monet, Gauguin and 20th-century Korean painters, are destined for the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. In January this year, Lee Jae-yong, son of Lee Kun-hee and current chairman of Samsung, was sentenced to two years and six months in prison for bribery and embezzlement.

Marie-Josée Kravis is to be the new chair of the Museum of Modern Art in New York from 1 July. Kravis, who has been a member of MoMA’s board since 1994, served as its president from 2005 to 2018. She takes over from the controversial financier Leon Black, who did not seek re-election after protests about his ties to the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, to whom he had paid $158 million for tax and and other financial advice. Black will continue to be a trustee of the museum.

Nathalie Bondil, the former director of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA), has been appointed director of the museums and exhibition department of the Institut du Monde Arabe (IMA) in Paris. The French curator, who was sacked from the MMFA after allegations of creating a ‘toxic workplace environment’ at the museum, is suing her former employer for unfair dismissal and libel. Bondil has been appointed to her new post for a three-year term with a remit to rethink the display of the IMA’s art collection and to expand the institute’s international programming and partnerships.

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