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The week in art news – Whitechapel Gallery lays off senior curators

17 March 2023

The Whitechapel Gallery in London has made six members of staff redundant; they include three senior curators, among them Lydia Yee, who had served as chief curator since 2014. A spokesperson for the Whitechapel told the Art Newspaper that the gallery is running ‘a significant deficit’ in the 2022/23 financial year, the result of reduced funding in the most recent Arts Council England (ACE) portfolio as well as increased energy costs, inflation and other pressures. Former director Iwona Blazwick, however, has pointed out that the ‘ACE reduction was relatively modest’ – it dropped from £1.51m to £1.44m – ‘so it is alarming to learn that highly experienced curators and fundraisers are losing their jobs and that programmes are being axed’. The curatorial team will now be led by Gilane Tawadros, who replaced Blazwick as director in May last year; she will work on programming alongside the two remaining curators, a special projects curator and the head of exhibitions, a new role which has yet to be appointed.

Phyllida Barlow has died at the age of 78. The British artist is renowned for massive sculptures made from everyday materials – Barlow called them ‘crap materials’ – such as fabric, cardboard, polystyrene. She described the works as ‘nonmonumental’, revelling in their precariousness and impermanence. Barlow studied at the Chelsea College of Art and later the Slade School of Art in the 1960s; she was a much-loved teacher at the latter institution for more than four decades, with her students including Rachel Whiteread, Douglas Gordon and Tacita Dean. Barlow was nominated for the Turner Prize in 1998, but the exhibition that brought her work to widespread public attention came in 2004, at the BALTIC in Gateshead. In 2014, she produced Dock, vast assemblages of ship-making materials, for Tate Britain’s Duveen Galleries commission; in 2017, she was selected to represented Britain at the Venice Biennale. For more on Barlow’s life and legacy, read Jo Baring’s tribute to the artist here.

An investigation published on Wednesday by the Indian Express, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and the UK-based non-profit Finance Uncovered has linked 77 works of art in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the art dealer Subhash Kapoor, who was sentenced last autumn to 10 years in prison for trafficking antiquities out of India. According to the investigation’s review of the Met’s antiquities catalogue, the items in question were either acquired from or donated by Kapoor or his associates, including the late antiquities expert Doris Weiner and her daughter, Nancy Weiner. In a statement to the Indian Express, a museum spokesperson said: ‘The Met is committed to the responsible collecting of art and goes to great lengths to ensure that all works entering the collection meet the laws and strict policies in place at the time of acquisition.’

The Republic of Bénin is to present its first-ever national pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2024. The pavilion will be curated by Azu Nwagbogu, founder of the African Artists’ Foundation, former director of Zeitz MOCAA in Cape Town (2018–19) and curator of the widely acclaimed travelling exhibition ‘The Art of Benin of Yesterday to Today, from Restitution to Revelation’ (2022–23). José Pliya, a playwright and former director of the National Gallery of Bénin, curator Yassine Lassissi and architect Franck Houndégla are also included in the team behind the creation of the pavilion.

Greek archaeologists staged a five-hour strike on Tuesday (14 March), in protest at an assault on an archaeologist that took place in Athens last week. The archaeologist, an employee of the state archaeological service with oversight of the resort island of Mykonos, was brutally beaten and found lying in the street before being taken to hospital; reports have linked the attack to illegal tourist developments on the island. The archaeologists are calling for greater police protection.