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British Museum report into thefts recommends reforms – and deputy director Jonathan Williams is leaving

15 December 2023

It has been announced that Jonathan Williams is leaving his post as deputy director of the British Museum, in the same week that the recommendations of the review into thefts from the museum were published. Williams ‘stepped back’ from his duties in August after claims made by the Danish dealer Ittai Gradal that management had ignored warnings over the thefts. Led by the former museum trustee and lawyer Nigel Boardman, the chief constable of the British Transport Police Lucy D’Orsi, and deputy high court judge Ian Karet, the report calls for the museum to make significant reforms to its governance and its policies for collection security. Only the report’s recommendations have been published. George Osborne, chair of the British Museum’s board of trustees suggested on the BBC that the full report could not be made public owing to the ongoing police investigation. Osborne also said that the staff member accused of the thefts – widely believed to be former curator Peter Higgs – ‘has not been talking or co-operating’ with the investigation. In a statement accompanying the report’s recommendations, the museum confirmed that it believes around 1,500 items to be missing or stolen, while a further 350 objects have had portions removed (‘e.g. gold mounts for gems’) and around 140 have been ‘damaged by tool marks’. A spokesperson for the museum confirmed to Apollo that ‘Jonathan Williams will be leaving the Museum’, but could not provide any further information regarding the circumstances or timing of his departure.

Javier Milei, the newly elected president of Argentina, has announced swingeing cuts to public spending in which half the existing government ministries will be dissolved. Among them are the ministry of culture, which will be amalgamated with the ministries for health, labour, social development and education into a new Ministry of Health and Human Capital. Milei, of the far-right Libertarian Party, said in his inaugural address that the country should prepare for a ‘shock adjustment’. Other right-wing presidents of South American countries that have abolished the ministries of culture after assuming office include Jeanne Áñez of Bolivia (2020) and Jai Bolsonaro of Brazil (2019); in both countries the culture ministries have been restored by subsequent governments.

The French president Emmanuel Macron has announced that Notre-Dame will reopen to the public on 8 December 2024, five years and eight months after the cathedral was devastated by fire. Visiting the cathedral last week, Macron also announced the creation of a Notre-Dame museum, documenting the history of the cathedral from its construction in the 13th century to the ongoing restoration efforts, which are expected to cost a total of €846m and continue until 2028. The famous spire, designed by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc in the 19th century, has been rebuilt as an exact replica, which is now in its final stages of installation.

Holger Jacob-Friesen will be the next director of the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden from 1 March 2024. An expert in European painting from the 14th to the 18th centuries, Jacob-Friesen has served as head of collections and science at the Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe since 2011. He takes over from Stephan Koja, who oversaw the extensive renovation of the Gemäldegalerie and the Skulpturensammlung bis 1800, completed in 2020, before departing earlier this year to oversee the Princely Collections of Liechtenstein.