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The week in art news – George Osborne to chair the board of the British Museum

25 June 2021

George Osborne has been appointed the next chair of trustees of the British Museum. The former Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer was elected by an unanimous vote of the appointments committee comprising existing trustees. He joins the board as a trustee on 1 September and takes over from Sir Richard Lambert as chair on 4 October. Osborne said, ‘All my life I have loved the British Museum. To my mind, it is quite simply the greatest museum in the world.’ Hartwig Fischer, director of the British Museum said, ‘I am very happy to welcome George Osborne as our Chair. George Osborne knows the Museum well and values the trust the Museum enjoys around the world.’ Since leaving Parliament in 2017, Osborne’s jobs have included editing the Evening Standard and advising an investment fund, and this year he became a full-time banker at an investment firm in London.

The Kanal-Centre Pompidou – the Pompidou’s planned outpost in Brussels has rapidly changed its mind about appointing not one but two artistic directors when it opens in 2024. Earlier this week it announced that Bernard Blistène, head of the Pompidou in Paris, would join Kasia Redzisz, currently a senior curator at Tate Liverpool, as co-director of the centre. More than 400 people signed an open letter decrying this as ‘an offensive act of sexism’, pointing out that Redzisz had been selected by an international jury to be sole director of the museum – a decision that was overridden by the board of the Fondation Kanal. In the statement declaring its change of heart, the museum has said that a board meeting will be held next month to work out a ‘collaboration [that] fully integrates Kasia Redzisz as Artistic Director, while allowing the Foundation to benefit from Bernard Blistène’s expertise’. Meanwhile, in Paris, the new director of Pompidou HQ has been announced: Laurent Le Bon, who is currently head of the Musée National Picasso-Paris.

On Monday, the New York City Public Design Commission voted to remove the statue of Theodore Roosevelt that stands outside the American Museum of Natural History and send it to an-as-yet-to-be-decided institution on long-term loan. The statue designed by the artist James Earle Fraser has, in recent years, has been criticised for its depiction of Roosevelt sitting on horseback, with a Native American and an African figure below him on either side. In January 2018, a special commission set up by the mayor of New York to report on monuments in the city was unable to reach a conclusion about the statue’s removal. This week’s vote of the Public Design Commission was unanimous.

The Royal Academy of Arts in London was criticised this week after announcing that it would no longer stock gift-shop merchandise made by an artist accused of expressing transphobic views. The embroidery artist Jess de Wahls rejects the allegations, while also reiterating her belief that ‘humans can not change sex’. On Wednesday the Royal Academy issued a public apology to De Wahls (who had said she was considering legal action against the institution) for ‘judg[ing] her views’ and has said it is reopening discussions over the stocking of her products.