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

The week in art news – the Met hires its first head of provenance

22 March 2024

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has appointed Lucian Simmons as its first head of provenance. Simmons, a vice chairman and head of restitution at Sotheby’s, will take up his post this May. Interviewed by the New York Times, the Met’s director Max Hollein said that ‘He probably had to deal with more issues at Sotheby’s than have many other institutions. […] He’s someone who understands the theory but who also has a very practical attitude.’ The Met announced its intention to create a dedicated team of provenance researchers last May when it announced that it was conducting a review of its collection and collecting policies, with an emphasis on pieces acquired between 1970 and 1990. The move came after the seizure of antiquities by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office (27 in September 2022 alone) and revelations regarding the origins of objects that could be traced to figures such as the convicted antiquities-smuggler Subhash Kapoor. The museum has also announced new hires to research provenance in the American (with a focus on Native American art), Asian and Egyptian departments. The Met now has 11 members of staff dedicated to questions of provenance. In the Met’s own press release, Simmons says, ‘I look forward to collaborating with the exceptional staff already focused on this important work and to furthering the Museum’s mission.’

Three Damien Hirst’s sculptures dating from 1999 are alleged to have been made much more recently, reports the Guardian. The sculptures – a dove, a shark and two calves preserved in formaldehyde – appeared in an exhibition of works described as ‘from the early to mid-1990s’ at Gagosian in Hong Kong in 2017 and were subsequently sold. In response to the report, Hirst’s company Science Ltd. stated: ‘Formaldehyde works are conceptual artworks and the date Damien Hirst assigns to them is the date of the conception of the work.’ The artist’s lawyers later clarified that Hirst does sometimes use the date of fabrication, not conception. They deny claims that Science employees had been instructed to age the works.

The Denver Art Museum (DAM) has announced that it will return 11 artefacts to Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam, reports the Art Newspaper. All 11 were donated by the museum’s former trustee and consultant Emma C. Bunker, an associate of the indicted antiquities-trafficker Douglas Latchford. In a statement published on the museum’s website on 14 March and reported in the Denver Post on the 15th, the museum’s senior provenance researcher Lori Iliff explained that five of the items had passed through Latchford’s hands. Bunker loaned or gave the pieces, which include a 2,000-year-old bronze Vietnamese dagger and a 13th-century bronze Buddhist statue, to DAM between 2004 and 2016. The museum’s 7,000-strong Asian collection has been the subject of scrutiny for some time. In December 2022, Denver Post published a three-part investigation alleging that Bunker, who died in 2021, had falsified documents and authenticated Latchford’s finds. (Latchford died in 2020.) Also in December 2022, the Denver Art Museum removed Bunker’s name from its South East Asian galleries and returned a donation of $185,000 to her family. Earlier in the same year, the museum returned 22 objects that could be tied to the convicted art-trafficker Subhash Kapoor. And, in 2023, it voluntarily returned five antiquities linked to the gallerist Nancy Wiener who was convicted in 2021 for trafficking and faking provenances.

The UK’s Spoliation Advisory Panel has concluded that three paintings by Peter Paul Rubens should remain at the Courtauld Gallery in London, rejecting three separate claims to ownership of Saint Gregory the Great with Saints Maurus and Papianus and Saint Domitilla with Saints Nereus and Achilleus (1606–07), The Conversion of Saint Paul (1610–12) and The Bounty of James I Triumphing Over Avarice, for the ceiling in the Banqueting House, Whitehall (c. 1632). The claimants include Christine Koenigs, the granddaughter of the German banker and collector Franz Wilhelm Koenigs, who in 1935 used the paintings as security for a loan from a Jewish-owned Dutch bank. When the bank went into voluntary liquidation in April 1940, in anticipation of the Nazi invasion that would come one month later, it sold the works to Count Antoine Seilern, who bequeathed them to the Samuel Courtauld Trust. The report concludes that the claimants had ‘neither a legal nor a moral claim’ to the paintings. This is the fifth time that claims relating to the three paintings have been considered by restitution panels in the UK or in the Netherlands.

Patrick Moore, director of the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, will be stepping down at the end of May after seven years. Moore said in a statement that he has made this decision for personal reasons: ‘Having had a sabbatical in 2023 where my husband and I were able to spend three months at our home in Spain, I have decided our future is there, in his home country.’ Several of Moore’s initiatives as director have come in for criticism, including his decision to curate an Andy Warhol show last year in AlUla, Saudi Arabia, despite same-sex relationships being criminalised in the country. Moore was also a driving force behind the $80m Pop District project, which aims to turn the surrounding neighbourhood into a public arts hub over the next decade. Five senior members of staff, out of a workforce of fewer than 40 full-time employees, quit because of the project shortly before or after it was launched. Rachel Baron-Horn, currently deputy director at the museum, will be the interim director from June.

Anselm Kiefer is the winner of the 2024 Queen Sonja Print Lifetime Achievement Award for his woodcuts. The artist has been working with woodblocks since the early 1970s and some of his prints are as monumental as the paintings for which he is famous. Ways of World Wisdom: Hermann’s Battle (1978), for example, is a 10-foot collage of woodcut portraits of 18th- and 19th-century German artists and thinkers as well as Nazi leaders. The previous recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Award, which was established in 2018 and is given every other year, are David Hockney, Paula Rego and William Kentridge. Winners receive the award from Queen Sonja of Norway, who is a printmaker herself. In other awards-related news, Steve McQueen has been named the winner of the Rolf Schock Prize for Visual Arts, another biennial award. Previous winners of this award include Rem Koolhaas, Francis Alÿs, Mona Hatoum and Claes Oldenburg. It comes with a cash prize of 600,000 Swedish krona (approximately £45,000).