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The week in art news – Mark Hallett named director of the Courtauld

Plus: museum directors denounce Just Stop Oil protests | Paul Allen collection sells for more than $1.5bn | Brian O’Doherty (1928–2022) | World’s oldest Canaanite sentence discovered on head-lice comb

11 November 2022

The Courtauld Institute of Art in London has named Mark Hallett as its new director, to take over from Deborah Swallow who is stepping down after 19 years in the role. Hallett is currently the director of the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, a post he has held since 2012; during this time he has overseen theexpansion of the centre’s premises and spearheaded new initiatives to broaden access to the study of British art history. He has published monographs on Hogarth and Joshua Reynolds, curated or co-curated major exhibitions at the Royal Academy, the Yale Center for British Art, the Wallace Collection and Tate Britain, and is currently at work on a film devoted to Hew Locke’s recent work The Procession. At the Courtauld, he will lead the next phase of the institution’s development programme, Courtauld Connects, while also overseeing its exhibition programme and teaching activities. Hallett will become director-designate in April 2023 before taking on the role of director in August. Meanwhile, in Birmingham, Jennifer Powell has been named the new director of the Barber Institute of Fine Arts. Currently curator of painting and sculpture at the Royal Academy in London, Powell takes up the post at the Barber in January 2023, following the retirement of Nicola Kalinsky.

The National Committee in Germany of the International Council of Museums (ICOM) has released a statement signed by 92 directors of museums worldwide, condemning the actions of climate activists in targeting works of art for protest. The signatories, who include the directors of the Louvre, the Prado, the British Museum, the Met and the Mauritshuis, say that the protestors ‘severely underestimate the fragility’ of ‘irreplaceable’ artworks; recent months have seen numerous actions by protestors associated with Just Stop Oil in the UK, Germany, Italy, Spain and Australia that include gluing themselves to the frames of major works, or throwing foodstuffs over them.

On Wednesday evening, the sale of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s collection at Christie’s New York achieved more than $1.5bn – the first auction ever to take in more than $1bn, smashing the previous record set at $922m for the Macklowe collection at Sotheby’s earlier this year. Works by Georges Seurat, Paul Cézanne, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin and Gustav Klimt each sold for more than $100m and broke individual records for those artists; the top lot was Seurat’s Les Poseus, Ensemble (Petite version), which sold for €149.2m.

The artist and writer Brian O’Doherty has died at the age of 94. As a critic, his defining text was Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space (1986), a pioneering series of essays that coined the term ‘white cube’ in describing how contemporary galleries work. As an artist, his work was slyly conceptual, indebted to Duchamp as well as contemporaries like Sol LeWitt, and sometimes made under the soubriquet of Patrick Ireland. In 1967, as the editor of a special issue of Aspen magazine, he was the first to publish Roland Barthes’s essay on ‘The Death of the Author’.

The earliest known sentence in the world’s oldest alphabet, Canaanite, has been discovered on a head-lice comb in Israel. ‘May this tusk root out the lice of the hair and beard’, reads the inscription on the double-edged ivory comb, which was unearthed by researchers in Lachish and is believed to date to around 1700 BC.

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