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The week in art news – National Portrait Gallery and Getty agree to buy Reynolds’ Portrait of Mai

31 March 2023

The National Portrait Gallery in London and the J. Paul Getty Museum have agreed a plan for the joint acquisition of Joshua Reynolds’ Portrait of Mai (Omai). The painting from c. 1776 of a Tahitian man who arrived in Britain with Captain Cook was placed under export bar by the UK government in March 2022. Since then, the ban has been extended three times to allow the NPG to raise the £50m at which the painting is valued. Each institution will contribute £25m, with the NPG still to raise just under £1m after significant donations from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF), the Art Fund and private donors. This is the first time a UK institution has acquired a work of art with an overseas partner; if the acquisition is completed in time, it will first be shown at the NPG when the museum reopens after renovations in June, before travelling periodically between the two institutions.

The Belgian art collector Myriam Ullens was killed outside her home in Ohain, south of Brussels, on Wednesday (29 March). Reports in the Belgian press suggest that she was shot at around 10 am by her stepson, Nicolas Ullens, who is now in police custody. With her husband, Guy Ullens, Myriam – known as Mimi – established the Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art in Beijing in 2007, considered the first contemporary art museum in China, which displayed works from the couple’s collection of Chinese art.

The south wing of the Pergamon Museum in Berlin will close in October, with the museum set to close completely for three and a half years. Extensive repairs began in the museum began in 2013, since when the Pergamon Altar has been off view to the public; it is expected to return to display when the north and central parts of the museum reopen in 2027, while the south wing is now expected to be closed until 2037. RBB, the German national broadcaster for Berlin and Brandenburg, reports that the total renovation costs are expected to run up to €1.2bn; Hermann Parzinger, president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, suggested that the museum is ‘in a terribly dilapidated state’.

The New York governor Kathy Hochul has proposed an executive budget for 2024 that, if passed, would cut funding for the New York State Council on the Arts from $109.7m to $48m – a fall of 56 per cent. A statement from the governor’s office attributes the cut to ‘the expiration of non-recurring appropriations for pandemic recovery assistance’ – including the Recovery Grant Program, worth $50m. The proposed state budget for $227bn in total requires approval by 1 April.

Dominique White has won the Max Mara Art Prize for Women (2022–24). Known for sculptures and installations that take on themes of Afro-pessimism and Black subjectivity, often incorporating nautical materials such as sails, masts and maps, White will receive a six-month residency in Italy ahead of a solo show next year at the Whitechapel Gallery. Meanwhile, the Venice Biennale of Architecture has announced that the Nigerian architect and artist Demas Nwoko is to receive the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement. Nwoko – a founding member of the Zaria Art Society in 1958, who reacted against Western-style arts education to usher in the era of Nigerian modernism – has drawn on vernacular architecture from across Africa for buildings such as the Oba Akenzua Cultural Centre in Benin City and the Dominican Institute in Ibadan.