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ISIS destroys Iraq’s oldest Christian monastery

20 January 2016

Our daily round-up of news from the art world

ISIS Destroy Ancient Monastery Near Mosul | After a period of respite for ancient monuments in ISIS controlled territory, early reports from Ninawa Governorate, Iraq, signal a fresh tragedy for the region’s heritage. Aerial footage of the 6th-century Christian monastery of Dair Mar Elia (St Elijah) recorded in the last few days suggests that the terrorist group have completely demolished the site – Iraq’s oldest such structure. Though the stone and mortar structure had been damaged many times in the 1,400 years since its construction, it had been partially restored by archaeologists in recent years. It had been in use as a place of worship as recently as a decade ago, serving American occupation forces based in the area (who inflicted their own, admittedly less tragic, damage to it). Stephen Wood, an imagery analyst, told Associated Press that ‘Bulldozers, heavy equipment, sledgehammers, possibly explosives turned those walls into a field of grey white dust’.

Sylvie Hubac Takes Over at Grand Palais | Sylvie Hubac, the former director of President François Hollande’s cabinet, has been appointed to head the state run Réunion des musées nationaux – Grand Palais (Rmn-GP). (French language article.) The job is one of France’s most important arts posts, covering not only the Grand Palais itself, but around 20 other institutions, multiple events and national monuments. The Rmn-GP was set up in 2011, and reports directly to the minister for culture. (In this instance, the embattled Fleur Pellerin.) Around 2.5 million visitors come through the doors of its museums per year – no small job for the new boss, then.

Tate Plans for Membership Criticised | It’s been an eventful week for the Tate and its galleries, but not all news has been received quite as well as Frances Morris’s appointment as the new director of Tate Modern. The museum’s plans to fold the charity that runs its membership scheme have fallen afoul of members themselves. The Tate’s plans to incorporate the membership scheme – which brings in around £10 million per annum – into its integral structure have been met with strong resistance. ‘At present, the £10 million annual income raised by Tate Members is the only independent leverage on this behemoth of a gallery,’ lecturer Michael Paraskos told the Times. ‘As the proposals stand, this sum will be lost into the general budget of the Tate, along with reserves of almost £5 million. To disband Tate Members after 60 years is undemocratic and unethical.’ It remains to be seen whether the initiative will result in cutting red tape or cutting value for money.

Italian Museums ‘Paralysed’: James Bradburne |  In today’s Daily Telegraph, recently appointed Pinacoteca di Brera director James Bradburne discusses the Italian museum sector in terms that are, to put it mildly, frank. ‘The system here is paralysed and doesn’t function,’ Bradburne tells Alice Phillipson, ‘The fact that Italian museums open their doors every day is a miracle.’ However, he is certain that things are improving. It can only be hoped that he’s right if the country’s institutions are to support the ever increasing number of visitors: as reported in Le Journal des Arts last week,  2015 saw records broken yet again. (French language article.)

Ciara Phillips to Dazzle Leith | Yet more arty WWI centenary commemorations have been unveiled, this time in Edinburgh. Turner Prize-nominated artist Ciara Phillips has been tasked with converting the Fingal – a 1960s lighthouse ship – into a work of art based on the wartime ‘Dazzle Ships’. As reported in Apollo nearly two years ago, the ‘Dazzle Ship’ programme has seen some intriguing efforts from artists including Tobias Rehberger and Peter Blake. For the most part, these commissions have been underwhelming, but Phillips, who often works with strong colours and repeating patterns, is a logical choice. Her ship will be on public display in Leith Docks from May.