<iframe src="//www.googletagmanager.com/ns.html?id=GTM-PWMWG4" height="0" width="0" style="display:none;visibility:hidden">

The week in art news – Met’s antiquities come under closer scrutiny

24 March 2023

More than 1,000 artefacts in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, have been linked to figures alleged to have been involved in crimes related to antiquities trafficking, according to a report published on Monday (20 March) by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). Reporters at ICIJ, in collaboration with the UK-based non-profit Finance Uncovered and other media partners, based their findings on the museum’s provenance records. In question are nearly two dozen artefacts that once belonged to the dealer Robert E. Hecht, who was charged by Italian prosecutors for smuggling on multiple occasions (though never convicted), and more than 800 connected to Hecht’s associate, Jonathan P. Rosen. At least 85 pieces are linked to Subhash Kapoor, currently serving a ten-year prison sentence in India, while the report also raised questions about the Met’s 250 antiquities from Nepal and Kashmir. A spokesperson for the Met told the Art Newspaper: ‘Clearly, collecting standards have changed in recent decades […] the field has evolved, and The Met has been a leader in this progress.’ On Wednesday, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office separately announced the return of 29 antiquities to Greece; these had been seized from the collection of Shelby White, a former trustee of the Met, in December.

The doors of the town hall of Bordeaux were set on fire on Thursday evening, at the end of a national day of strikes and protests across France. The fire was promptly put out and it is thought that the baroque structure – designed by Richard-François Bonfin and completed in 1784 – has sustained little damage, though the condition of the monumental wooden doors is not clear at time of writing. The protests have been staged in opposition to plans to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64, pushed through parliament by Emmanuel Macron’s government without a vote last week. Meanwhile, the state visit of King Charles III to Paris, scheduled for next week, has been cancelled; members of the CGT union working for the Mobilier National had previously said they would refuse to provide red carpets or flags for the visit. Strikes kept the Eiffel Tower and the Château de Versailles closed on Thursday.

Workers at the Hispanic Society of America in New York are to go on strike indefinitely, beginning on Monday 27 March, after 78 per cent of union members voted to reject the most recent contract offer. The museum has been largely closed for renovations since 2017, but had been slated to reopen in April – although the union has questioned the feasibility of this date, claiming in a letter to the trustees in February that ‘no realistic date exists for the reopening of the museum with its permanent collection fully installed’. Workers at the museum joined the UAW Local 2110 union in July 2021, after the administration removed long-standing pensions benefits, and they began negotiations three months later; pensions and healthcare are at the heart of the dispute.

Marina Loshak, director of the Pushkin State Museum of the Arts in Moscow, is stepping down from her role after ten years. Loshak, whose contract ends next month, has denied government pressure played a part in her decision. At a press conference on Monday, she called upon the new leadership to ‘continue what others started’.

The Centre Pompidou has confirmed that it is opening an outpost in Seoul. The new branch of the Parisian museum will be housed in Tower 63, headquarters of the Hanwha conglomerate; it will be designed by French architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte. According to Le Monde, Hanwha are paying around €20m for the Pompidou brand. The announcement comes after the signing of a deal for a Pompidou-sponsored gallery in Saudi Arabia on 12 March.

The UK government has extended its export bar on Joshua Reynolds Portrait of Omai (c. 1776), until 10 June. The painting, which depicts Mai, the first Polynesian person to visit the UK, is valued at £50m. The National Portrait Gallery has raised around half of the funds required to purchase the painting, and is said to be in talks with the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles about the possibility of a joint acquisition – although concerns about such a deal have been raised by the National Heritage Memorial Fund, which has provisionally allocated £10m and the Art Fund, which has pledged £2.5m.