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Syrian government forces advance on Palmyra

Plus: Are attacks on artistic freedom on the rise? | Italy’s culture reforms come under fire from archaeologists | £3.1 million grant for Old Royal Naval College’s Painted Hall | Martin Creed to get first US retrospective

24 March 2016

Our daily round-up of news from the art world

Syrian government forces attempt to recapture Palmyra from IS militants | According to state television reports in Syria, government troops have entered Palmyra as part of a sustained offensive to retake the city, backed by Russian airstrikes. According to a statement, the US-led coalition also conducted airstrikes against IS targets in the area on Wednesday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports that civilians began to flee the area after IS issued warnings over loudspeakers: over the course of the day, regime forces have made gains in the southwest and northern parts of the city. There have been unconfirmed reports of casualties on both sides. Whether the UNESCO world heritage site has been further damaged in the fighting remains to be seen.

Are attacks on artistic freedom on the rise? | Apparently so, according to Freemuse, an independent free speech advocacy organisation based in Copenhagen. According to a study conducted by the group, last year saw 469 instances that it recognises as ‘attacks on artistic freedom of expression’ – three of which led to the deaths of the artists involved. The nation with the highest number of ‘serious violations’ was China (20), followed by Iran (16) and Russia (15). In Turkey, where Freemuse counted 10 serious violations and five additional instances of censorship, artists are fighting back against signs of an authoritarian clampdown. According to The Art Newspaper, research platform Siyah Bant is to publish a guide for venues, arts organisations and individuals facing legal battles against censorship.

Italy’s culture reforms come under fire | Archaeologists, art historians, architects and academics in Italy have staged two days of protests (22–23 March) against culture minister Dario Franceschini’s ambitious cultural reforms. The point of contention is the minister’s plans to streamline the country’s sprawling cultural bureaucracy into a single department, a move that the disgruntled cultural elite predict will plunge Italy’s culture sector into chaos. ‘[The] measures…were forced upon [us] without any discussion or organic process,’ they claimed in a statement, warning that Franceschini’s plans would be to the detriment of an ‘already greatly weakened network of protection and research.’

£3.1 million grant for Old Royal Naval College’s Painted Hall | Major conservation work is set to begin on the Painted Hall of Greenwich’s Old Royal Naval College following a grant of £3.1 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Further contributions to the £8 million project have been made by various other funding bodies, including the Sackler Trust, the Garfield Weston Foundation and Sir Siegmund Warburg’s Voluntary Settlement. Additionally, the College is encouraging individuals to sponsor a square foot of the conservation work. The Painted Hall, colloquially referred to as ‘the UK’s Sistine Chapel’, was designed by Christopher Wren and completed in 1694. In the early 18th century, it was decorated by artist James Thornhill. The project encompasses comprehensive cleaning of Thornhill’s work, plus new lighting and environmental conditioning that the ORNC hopes will ensure no further conservation work is required for at least a century.

Martin Creed to get first US retrospective | In June, Turner Prize winning artist Martin Creed is to get his first full-scale US retrospective at New York’s Park Avenue Armory, which will be a ‘sensory experience’, according to the organisation. The exhibition, which will span the length of Creed’s 20-year career, will take up an entire floor of the building, with one of the historic rooms transformed into a vegan café and another into a bar. Visitors will also be serenaded by a troupe of musicians as they enter. Sounds exciting…

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