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The week in art news – Smithsonian Museum of African Art commits to restituting Benin Bronzes

6 November 2021

On Friday, The Art Newspaper reported that the director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art (NMAA) confirmed that the museum has removed Benin Bronzes from display and is planning to restitute them. ‘I can confirm that we have taken down the Benin bronzes we had on display and we are fully committed to repatriation,’ Ngaire Blankenberg said. ‘We cannot build for the future without making our best effort at healing the wounds of the past.’ Blankenberg told the New York Times that the NMAA has 16 objects that were looted in 1897 during the punitive British Expedition in Benin City, out of 38 objects from Benin in total, some of which require further research. A spokesperson for the Smithsonian also told the New York Times that the National Museum of African Art is committed to restitution but is ‘at the beginning of a process’ regarding the Bronzes.

The Humboldt Forum in Berlin will remove a medallion honouring the donor Ehrhardt Bödecker, at the request of his son and daughter-in-law, reports The Art Newspaper. The medallion hangs along with others acknowledging donors who contributed more than €1m to the reconstruction of the facade of the former Stadtschloss. In October, Philipp Oswalt, a professor of architectural theory, wrote about Bödecker’s far-right and antisemitic views in the Tagesspiegel newspaper. The Humboldt Forum has issued a statement saying that its board was not previously aware of Bödecker’s ‘militaristic, anti-democratic and in some respects, radically right-wing and antisemitic views’. The medallion will be removed ‘immediately’, a spokesman said.

On Friday, the Tate announced the death, earlier in the week of Achim Borchardt-Hume (1965–2021), director of exhibitions and programmes at Tate Modern. Borchardt-Hume had been director of exhibitions at Tate Modern since 2012. Born in Germany, Borchardt-Hume had been based in London since the 1990s. He became a curator of modern and contemporary art at Tate Modern in 2005, leaving in 2009 to be chief curator at the Whitechapel Gallery until he returned to Tate Modern. ‘Achim leaves behind an extraordinary legacy, not just at Tate Modern, but across the international art world,’ said the Tate in its statement.

Vancouver Art Gallery has announced a gift of $100m from the Audain Foundation for the creation of its new building, in what is the largest donation ever received by a museum in Canada. The building is being designed by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron with with Vancouver architects Perkins & Will, and in consultation with Indigenous artists; the site is on land once occupied by three First Nations peoples. The new museum is set to be will be more than twice the size of the current space and will also house the Institute for Asian Art and a multi-purpose Indigenous community house. CEO and director of the Vancouver Art Gallery Anthony Kiendl said on Thursday that the organisation is looking to raise $160 million more for the project.