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The week in art news – Paula Rego (1935–2022)

8 June 2022

The Portuguese-British artist Paula Rego, whose paintings, prints and drawings have come to be recognised as among the most powerfully fantastical and unsettling of recent decades, has died at the age of 87. Born to a liberal family in Lisbon in 1935, Rego moved to England in 1951; she enrolled at the Slade School of Fine Art the following year, where she studied under Lucien Freud and met the artist Victor Willing, whom she married in 1959. In 1962 Rego began exhibiting with the London Group, alongside artists such as David Hockney and Frank Auerbach; her work at this time was largely abstract and Surrealist-influenced, containing veiled but strident criticisms of Salazar’s regime in Portugal. From the 1970s, Rego began to make art based on Portuguese folklore and fairy tales, which marked the beginning of the shift toward the vivid figurative works, frequently imagining scenes of violence and trauma meted out upon women, that would come to define her. She was appointed as the National Gallery’s first artist-in-residence in 1990; shortly after, she began to paint predominantly with pastels, which would form the basis of some her most celebrated series. Among them were the Dog Women – in which women squat and scratch themselves like beasts – and the Abortion Paintings, which were a response to the failed Portuguese referendum to legalise abortion in 1998, and were later credited as helping to sway public opinion ahead of second, successful vote in 2007. Rego’s work is held in public collections worldwide, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the National Gallery, London, and the Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon; in recent years there have been major career retrospectives at MK Gallery, Milton Keynes (2019) and Tate Britain, London (2021), while her work features prominently at this year’s Venice Biennale. Announcing the news of her death, Victoria Miro gallery said that Rego ‘died peacefully this morning, after a short illness, at home in North London, surrounded by her family. Our heartfelt thoughts are with them.’

The Tate announced on Wednesday (8 June) that it will deaccession around 1,000 sketches and documents said to have come from the studio of Francis Bacon by his friend and neighbour Barry Joule, who donated the archive to the Tate in 2004. At the time of the gift, the archive was valued at around £20m, but in a statement today, the institution revealed that art-historical research into Joule’s collection has ‘raised credible doubts about the nature and quality of the material’, which has now been offered back to the donor. Joule has defended the authenticity of the material, and in the past has voiced frustrations with the Tate for not making use of the material in exhibitions; in April, he announced that he had cancelled plans to donate further items associated with Bacon to the museum, intending to offer them to the Pompidou instead.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art has named Sasha Suda as its next director; she replaces Timothy Rub, who stepped down in January after 13 years in the post, the final two of which have been marked by controversies. Meanwhile, in Water Mill, Michigan, Mónica Ramírez-Montagut is the new director of the Parrish Art Museum, taking up the reins after the abrupt departure of Kelly Taxter after less than a year in the job.

The Ivory Act, banning the trade of ivory, came into effect in the United Kingdom on Tuesday (7 June). Under the terms of the act, which was passed into law in 2018, the sale of almost all objects made of elephant ivory – including most works of art – is now illegal, with a narrow set of exemptions. For more on what the ban means for the art trade, read Martin Levy’s piece for Apollo, published in January 2019, here.

A new, international contemporary art fair will take place in Tokyo next summer. Tokyo Gendai is scheduled from 7–9 July 2023 at the Pacifico Yokohama convention centre, with around 80–100 galleries due to take part. It is the latest fair in the Asia-Pacific region to be organised by Art Assembly, the joint initiative of art fair organisers Sandy Angus, Tim Etchells and Magnus Renfrew, whose portfolio also includes Taipei Dangdai and Art SG in Singapore.