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Sheena Wagstaff to leave Met’s modern and contemporary department

Plus: the Smithsonian adopts new policy on ethical returns | Mariupol city council  reports looting of thousands of artworks from the city’s museums | New York City eliminates auction house regulations | and largest cave drawings in North America found in Alabama  

7 May 2022

After 10 years as the chairman of the department of modern and contemporary art at the Met, Sheena Wagstaff has announced she is leaving her post. During her tenure, Wagstaff brought the museum’s department international acclaim with exhibitions by artists such as Kerry James Marshall, Gerhard Richter, Lygia Pape, Jack Whitten and Siah Armanjani. She was also responsible for leading new projects at the Met Breuer (the Breuer closed in 2020), expanding the museum’s collections and spearheading the Met’s popular annual rooftop art commissions. She plans to step down this summer, stating that a difficult recovery from coronavirus has made her reassess her priorities. ‘It’s a bittersweet moment,’ Wagstaff said.

On Tuesday, the Smithsonian Institution announced that it has adopted a new policy that will allow its museums to return items from their collections that were either looted or acquired unethically. The policy grew out of discussions between the institution’s curations and collections specialists and falls under broader collection-management rules that apply to all Smithsonian museums, officials said. Given the diversity of the institution’s collections, the policy will need to be specifically tailored to each museum. The Smithsonian said: ‘We affirm the Smithsonian’s commitment to implement policies that respond in a transparent and timely manner to requests for return or shared stewardship.’

It has been reported that Russian troops have looted more than 2,000 artworks from museums in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol. Mariupol City Council wrote in a Telegram message that Russian forces have raided three local museums, including the Kuindzhi Art Museum, since the start of the invasion. Among the works taken was a Gospel printed in 1811 in Venice, three works by the 19th-century artist Arkhip Kuindzhi and others by the Russian painter Ivan Aivazovsky.

New York City has done away with longstanding regulations that were designed to provide financial transparency in the art industry. The move, which follows a City Council vote last summer and comes into full effect on 15 June, eliminates the requirement for an auction house to have a licence from the city to operate. It also loosens or removes rules around the information auction houses must disclose to potential buyers such as whether a third party or the auction house itself has financial interest in a lot.

A study published in the journal Antiquities claims that the largest cave drawings in North America have been discovered in Alabama. The findings include three anthropomorphs, one enigmatic figure and a snake that stretches approximately ten feet in length. The drawings have been incised into the walls rather than made with pigment and were revealed using 3D photogrammetry that first captures the space through photographs before creating a 3D rendering. This is the first time such technology has been used to find drawings in this way.

 

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