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The week in art news – Unesco voices concern for Ukrainian heritage sites

6 March 2022

Unesco has said that it is ‘gravely concerned’ about the security of Ukrainian heritage sites from damage caused during the Russian invasion. Audrey Azoulay, director general of the UN’s agency for culture, said that the organisation has approached the Ukrainian government ‘with a view to organising a meeting with museum directors across the country to help them respond to urgent needs for safeguarding museum collections and cultural property’; Unesco is also working to mark historic sites across Ukraine with the emblem of the 1954 Hague Convention, an internationally recognised sign for the protection of cultural heritage in the event of armed conflict. On Monday, it was reported that the Museum of Local History in Ivankiv, near Kyiv, has been burned down by Russian forces, while the Holocaust Memorial at Babyn Yar and the Assumption Cathedral in Kharkiv have suffered bomb damage. Ukraine is home to seven UN World Heritage sites, including the Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv.

In Amsterdam, the Hermitage Museum has announced that is officially ending its relationship with its parent museum, the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg, after 30 years; a spokesperson has said that ‘a line was crossed’ with the invasion of Ukraine. This week has also seen the cancellation of Russia’s participation at the Venice Biennale, while in Moscow the Garage Museum is halting its exhibitions programme until further notice. Meanwhile, ties between museums and Russian billionaires are coming under scrutiny; Vladimir Potanin has quit as a trustee of the Guggenheim Museum in New York after 20 years, while the Royal Academy in London has returned a donation towards its ongoing Francis Bacon show to Petr Aven, who is resigning as a trustee. On Tuesday, Labour MP Chris Bryant called for the Tate to cut its ties with Viktor Vekselberg over his links to the Kremlin.

The children’s author and illustrator Shirley Hughes has died at the age of 94. Creator of Dogger (1977), perhaps her best known book, and the Alfie series, Hughes was renowned for taking a child’s-eye-view of the world. After studying costume design at Liverpool Art School and drawing at the Ruskin School of Art in Oxford, Hughes began by producing drawings for books by Noel Streatfeild and Dorothy Edwards’s My Naughty Little Sister series before writing and illustrating her own. In the course of her career, Hughes wrote and illustrated some 70 books, including two for young adults, and her achievements were widely recognised. In 1984 she received the Eleanor Farjeon award for services to children’s literature and in 2015 she was the first winner of the BookTrust lifetime achievement award, in 2015. You can read Will Wiles’s obituary for Apollo is here.

On Wednesday, the International Committee for Museums and Collections of Art (CIMAM), issued a statement expressing concern about reports that Alistair Hudson, director of the Whitworth Art Gallery  and Manchester Art Gallery, is in the process of being asked to leave his post by the University of Manchester. CIMAM’s Museum Watch Committee has asked for ‘greater clarity as to the reasons for Hudson’s removal and reconsideration of the University’s decision’.