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The week in art news – UNESCO keeps Venice off the endangered list again

17 September 2023

A proposal to add Venice and its lagoon to UNESCO’s World Heritage in Danger list has been rejected by member states, despite expert findings that Venice is at risk from severe flooding and water damage, mass tourism and development. At a World Heritage Committee meeting in Riyadh on 14 September, representatives who voted against its inclusion praised safeguarding efforts including the ongoing erection of underwater barriers (at an estimated cost of €6bn) and the €5 city entry fee for tourists approved earlier this month. An attempt to add Venice to the list in 2018 also failed, with representatives citing a ban on large cruise ships past Saint Mark’s Square and through the Giudecca canal as evidence of the city’s commitment to conservation.

The Columbian painter and sculptor Fernando Botero has died at the age of 91. The artist’s depiction of rotund figures with exaggerated proportions came to be known as ‘Boterismo’. In 1958, Botero won the first prize at the Salón de Artistas Colombianos. He was soon also acclaimed internationally, although there were critics of his popular style and subject matter, which included scenes of everyday middle-class life – but also bullfighters, sex workers and human-rights abuses in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Botero’s sculptures, which he began to create in 1973, can be found in Park Avenue in New York, the Champs-Élysées in Paris, and Broadgate in London. Despite living mainly outside the country for decades, Botero described himself as ‘the most Colombian of Colombian artists’, because of his resistance to international trends. In 2000, he donated an art collection of some 200 works (both his own and those by the likes of Renoir, Picasso and Dalí), to the Banco de la República in Columbia; these now form the basis of the public Botero Museum in Bogotá.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s office has seized three artworks by Egon Schiele from three US institutions. On 13 September, the works were seized from the Art Institute of Chicago, the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh and the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College in Ohio. Russian War Prisoner (1916), Portrait of a Man (1917) and Girl With Black Hair (1911) were previously owned by Fritz Grünbaum, a cabaret performer who died in Dachau concentration camp in 1941.

A 6.8-magnitude earthquake in Morocco, which has claimed nearly 3,000 lives, has also damaged several UNESCO World Heritage sites across the country. The medieval medina in Marrakech, the Kutubiyya Mosque, the Old City walls and the Kharbouch Mosque have also been affected. The most damaged area is thought to be the Mellah, the Jewish quarter, where historic homes have been badly damaged. Outside the city, the 12th-century Tinmel mosque has suffered significant harm. UNESCO’s assessment of the impact of the quake, which took place late on 8 September, is ongoing.

US authorities have returned 33 looted antiquities to Cambodia. Items taken from the historic Khmer sites of Koh Ker and Angkor Wat, dating from the 10th to 12th centuries, were voluntarily given to the authorities by the family of the billionaire businessman and art collector George Lindemann, who died in 2018. The US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York and the Department of Homeland Security handed the items to Cambodian officials on 11 September.

A Van Gogh painting stolen in a smash-and-grab raid in 2020 has been recovered by art detective Arthur Brand. The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring (1884) was taken from the Singer Laren museum in the Netherlands (where it was on loan from the Groninger Museum) by thieves who smashed through the institution’s glass doors with a sledgehammer. Though Dutch police arrested a man in 2021, who was later found guilty of the crime, the painting had not been traced. The detective, who was working with Dutch police, negotiated its return from a contact who handed over the artwork inside an IKEA bag.