Apollo Magazine

Mark Jones to be appointed interim director of crisis-hit British Museum

Plus: British Museum appoints new acting deputy director amid scandal; Christie's cancels further sales from the collection of Heidi Horten, and the rest of the week’s art news

Mark Jones was director of the Victoria and Albert Museum from 2001–11. Photo by Rachit Goswami/The India Today Group via Getty Images

Updated on 3 September: Mark Jones is to be appointed interim director of the British Museum. George Osborne, chair of the museum’s board of trustees, announced the news on Saturday (2 Sept). Jones, who was director of the Victoria and Albert Museum between 2001–11, had a long career at the British Museum in the coins and medals department, as assistant keeper and then keeper, from 1974–92, before running first National Museums Scotland then the V&A. Osborne described Jones as ‘one of the most experienced and respected museum leaders in the world’ and outlined the immediate challenges facing the British Museum after the revelation that 2,000 collection items are missing, thought to have been stolen: ‘We are both clear that his priorities are to accelerate the catalogue of the collection, improve security and reinforce pride in the curatorial mission of the museum.’ The appointment of the interim director is subject to prime ministerial approval, expected later this week.

In other developments at museum, Carl Heron has been appointed acting deputy director after the longstanding deputy director Jonathan Williams ‘stepped back’ last week amid claims that management had ignored warnings over alleged thefts. Heron, described by the museum’s chairman George Osborne as ‘a highly-respected authority within the museum’, is currently its director of scientific research.

Law officials have seized a life-sized Roman bronze statue of a headless man, thought to depict Marcus Aurelius, from the Cleveland Museum of Art. In recent months, the sculpture’s origins and provenance have come under scrutiny by law enforcement officials in both the United States and Turkey who have been researching artworks looted from the ancient site of Bubon. A number of bronze statues were discovered at the site in the 1960s, before being secretly sold to antiquities traffickers. The Cleveland Museum purchased its statue in 1986 from Charles Lipson, who sold three of the four Bubon bronzes that have recently been seized from public and private American collections, including the Met, and returned to Turkey. The statue has now been removed from public display, under a warrant issued by the Manhattan District Attorney as part of an ‘ongoing criminal investigation into a smuggling network involving antiquities looted from Turkey and trafficked through Manhattan’.

Christie’s sales of jewellery from the collection of Heidi Horten have been cancelled. The news comes after months of intense criticism over the source of Horten’s wealth, which she inherited from her late husband Helmut Horten: a member of the Nazi Party who built his fortune by acquiring Jewish businesses under duress. In May, a sale of Horten’s jewellery made $202m at Christie’s. The auction of 300 remaining pieces was scheduled for November. ‘The sale of the Heidi Horten jewelry collection has provoked intense scrutiny, and the reaction to it has deeply affected us and many others, and we will continue to reflect on it,’ Anthea Peers, president of Christie’s EMEA, said in a statement to Artnet News.

A climate activist has splashed pink paint on Northern River (1915) by Tom Thomson at the National Gallery of Canada. The attack by Kaleb Suedfeld was intended to raise awareness for the group On2Ottawa’s campaign for the creation of a national firefighting service to combat the rising incidence of forest fires. The National Gallery has confirmed that the artwork, which was displayed behind glass, is unharmed; Suedfeld was arrested shortly after the incident.

The Canadian government has imposed sanctions on Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. It is the first country other than Ukraine to sanction Piotrovsky for his prominent support of the Russian invasion. The director has previously described the museum’s international exhibitions as being ‘a powerful cultural offensive’.

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