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The week in art news – Switzerland sets up new committee on restitution

24 November 2023

The Federal Council of Switzerland is establishing a new committee to advise on the restitution of cultural objects. The Independent Commission for Historically Contaminated Cultural Heritage will consist of nine to 12 experts who will offer non-binding recommendations about art that may have been looted during the Nazi era or during the colonial period. Monopol reports the decision to set up the committee was prompted by recent events at the Kunsthaus Zürich. Last month, Art News reports, the museum issued a statement explaining that the committee advising it on a new exhibition about the Bührle Collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artworks had resigned after disagreements about how to discuss their former owners, some of whom had been forced to sell paintings under duress. Emil Georg Bührle, a former trustee of the museum, was an arms manufacturer who sold weapons to Germany during the Second World War.

The British Museum is lending a Greek vase known as the Meidias hydria to the Acropolis Museum next month. It will be the first time the Athenian red-figure water vessel has left London since the museum bought it from William Hamilton in 1772. The Art Newspaper links news of the loan to comments made last week by George Osborne, chair of the British Museum, expressing the hope that ‘we can reach an agreement with Greece’ over the Parthenon Marbles. A spokesman for the museum, however, pointed to the loan being part of an ongoing partnership. In Athens, the Meidias hydria will form part of the exhibition ‘Meanings: Personifications and Allegories from Antiquity to Today. It will then travel to the Louvre for ‘Olympism: A modern invention, an ancient legacy’. The decoration of the vase, which was dug up in southern Italy in the 1760s, was described by the German art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann as ‘the finest and most beautiful drawing in the world’.

The Biennale für aktuelle Fotografie has been cancelled after Facebook posts about the war in Gaza by the Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam, one of the event’s curators, were deemed to be anti-Semitic. The photography biennale was due to be held in Mannheim, Ludwigshafen and Heidelberg in March next year. The two other curators, Tanzim Wahab and Munem Wasif, refused to continue without Alam’s participation. The tenth edition of the event was to have been the first organised by non-European curators. The news comes a week after the mass resignation of Documenta’s selection committee, who cited an absence of ‘space in Germany for an open exchange of ideas’.  

Two scholars have claimed that Roman mosaics repatriated by the United States to Lebanon are forgeries. Djamila Fellague of the University of Grenoble and Christos Tsirogiannis, a guest lecturer at the University of Cambridge, have alleged that eight of the nine mosaic panels recently returned to Lebanon are copies of originals in archaeological sites or museum collections. A spokesman from the Manhattan District Attorney’s office has denied their claims.  

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation has appointed Mariët Westermann as its new director and chief executive. Westermann will replace Richard Armstrong, who retired last summer. She will be the first woman to head the museum group, which includes the flagship institution in New York and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice. Westermann will take up her new post on 1 June 2024; during the interim period, the group will be led by three deputy directors.

The New York gallery Cheim & Read is to close next month after 26 years. Its director and partner Maria Bueno is launching a new dealership, Bueno & Co., next year, which will represent many of the major artists and artists’s estates currently represented by Cheim & Read, including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Louise Bourgeois, Joan Mitchell and Alice Neel.  

A former payroll manager at the Art Institute of Chicago has been sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay damages after pleading guilty to embezzling more than $2m from the museum over 13 years. Prosecutors said that Michael Maurello used the money to fund his extravagant lifestyle with trips to Hawaii and Las Vegas.