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Political outrage over Fontainebleau church fire

14 January 2016

Our daily round-up of news from the art world

Suspected Arson Attack at Fontainebleau Church | Opposition politicians in France have denounced a suspected arson attack on a 17th-century church in Fontainebleau, outside Paris, as the harbinger of a ‘renewal of anti Christian acts’ (French language article). The fire broke out at the church of Saint-Louis on Sunday, causing significant damage, and some objects – including a 14th-century Virgin and Child in polychrome wood – are apparently missing, possibly stolen. ‘These attacks show a desire to attack our culture, but also [to damage] strong Christian symbols’, said the main opposition party, the Republicans. Perhaps so. But the statement casts strong assumptions as to the identity and beliefs of the attackers – and suggests a degree of political opportunism. On Tuesday, it was reported that a local man known to have psychiatric problems had been arrested in connection with the case (French language article).

Museums Association Report: ‘North-South Divide is Opening up’ | At the Guardian, Jonathan Jones has reacted to the disturbing findings of the Museums Association’s recent survey, expanding on the argument that institutions in the north of England have been disproportionately affected by significant cuts since 2010. ‘Our collective memory is being distorted’, says Jones, concluding that ‘England is becoming two nations and it is the rich southern nation that owns and shapes history’. While that may be a rather dramatic way of putting it, the disparity must be addressed before further cuts are wielded. Meanwhile, Chancellor George Osborne addressed the Creative Industries Federation on Tuesday, speaking of his belief in ‘art for art’s sake’. Somehow, the two arguments must be reconciled.

Aylan Kurdi Cartoon Sparks Accusations of Racism | A cartoon published in the latest edition of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has triggered fresh outrage. In reference to Aylan Kurdi, the drowned Syrian child whose corpse was pictured in a widely circulated photograph, the cartoon asks the question: ‘what would have become of little Aylan if he had grown up?’ and in reference to the Cologne assaults at New Year, goes on to suggest that he would have become an ‘ass groper in Germany’. ‘Satirical’ or not, it doesn’t seem terribly helpful.

Pritzker Prize goes to Alejandro Aravena | Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena has been awarded the 2016 Pritzker Prize for his work building social housing and exploring innovative new methods of reconstruction after natural disasters. Aravena’s pioneering work has not made him a household name – glossy showpieces are not really his style – but it has not gone unnoticed. Aravena, who is the director of this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale, is a worthy winner of the award. It goes without saying that the 48-year-old architect’s career is one to watch.

Harry Philbrick to Leave PAFA | The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts has announced that director Harry Philbrick is to step down after nearly five years at the head of the institution. Philbrick, who will leave on 11 February, has presided over significant community initiatives and outreach projects, and overseen shows by figures including Peter Blume, David Lynch and Norman Lewis. He is moving on to establish a new nonprofit in the city exploring relationships between contemporary art and performance.

Former Volunteer Leaves $1.71 million to Detroit Institute of Arts | Finally, some heartwarming news from the Motor City. The Detroit Institute of Arts has announced that former art teacher Elizabeth Verdow has bequeathed the institution nearly $2 million, stipulating that $1.26 million of the money be used for contemporary acquisitions, while the rest should go towards the museum’s endowment. Mrs Verdow, who died in 2014 aged 86, had volunteered at the Institute’s gift shop for 19 years. ‘Her legacy will live on for years to come’, said Salvador Salort-Pons, the museum’s new director.