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The week in art news – Kariye Museum in Istanbul to be turned into a mosque

Plus: the National Trust plans to abolish specialist curators and may close properties | Luchita Hurtado (1928–2020) | Magnum photo agency is reviewing its archive after concerns about child exploitation | US court rules Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum can keep Nazi-looted Pissarro | and Bill Arnett (1939–2020)

21 August 2020

President Erdogan of Turkey today issued a decree to allow the Kariye (Chora) Museum to be used as a mosque. The structure, originally the Church of Christ in the Chora Monastery, is decorated with frescoes that are considered masterpieces of Byzantine art. After the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, the church was converted into a mosque; in 1945, it was declared a national monument. The move follows the ruling in November 2019 by the country’s top administrative court that the use of the building as a museum was unlawful on the grounds that it violates the Ottoman decree dedicating it to Muslim worship. The latest decree in turn follows one issued last month transferring the Hagia Sophia to the Religious Affairs Directorate and allowing it to be used as a mosque.

The Times reports that it has seen an internal document prepared by ‘a senior director’ at the National Trust, outlining a plan to ‘dial down’ the organisation as a cultural institution and focus on becoming ‘a gateway to the outdoors and nature for everyone’. The report suggests that the Trust may keep as few as 20 trust properties open to the public all year round. The trust, which is currently consulting over making up to 1,200 members of staff redundant, says that the ten-year plan is only a ‘discussion document’. As part of the Trust’s Reset Programme, national specialist curators for decorative arts, furniture, libraries, pictures & sculpture and textiles, as well the Trust’s gardens and parks historian, were informed at the end of July of the proposed closure of their posts; the Trust plans to create new roles for senior national curators who will be assigned to specific time periods.

The artist Luchita Hurtado has died at the age of 99. Born in the Venezuelan city of Maiquetía, Hurtado moved to the US in 1928 – initially to New York, where she worked in the 1940s as an illustrator for Condé Nast and window designer for Lord & Taylor department store. Today she is best known for her Surrealist-inflected paintings and drawings touching on feminism, environmentalism and desire, which came to international attention as recently as 2019, when her first solo museum show was held at the Serpentine Galleries in London. Hurtado died at her home in Santa Monica on 13 August 2020.

The photo agency Magnum is reviewing its photo archive of more than a million images after concerns were raised about issues of potential child trafficking and exploitation. The review is a response to concerns raised in an article on the website Fstoppers that the archive may contain historical images of child sex workers who were photographed without consent, with particular reference to a series taken in Thailand by David Alan Harvey in 1989. The archive is offline while the review is being conducted. In a statement, the agency’s newly elected president Olivia Arthur said, ‘We have begun a process of in-depth internal review – with outside guidance – to make sure that we fully understand the implications of the work in the archive, both in terms of imagery and context. In a separate development, Magnum has suspended David Alan Harvey after an allegation of sexual harassment was made by a female colleague.

On Monday an appeals court in California ruled that the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation is the rightful owner of a painting by Camille Pissarro. The painting, Rue Saint-Honoré, Après-midi, Effet de Pluie (1897), formerly belonged to a Jewish family forced to flee Germany in 1939, and was subsequently acquired by a Nazi official. This week’s decision upholds the federal ruling from 2019, which found that the Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, who bought the painting from a dealer in New York in 1976 and sold it to the Spanish government in 1993, was not aware of its looted provenance.

It has been reported that the American collector and patron William (‘Bill’) Arnett died on 12 August at the age of 81. Beginning in the 1980s, Arnett focused his collecting energies on the work of self-taught African American artists from the Southern United States. In 2010, he founded the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to documenting, preserving and promoting this work. The foundation has holdings of some 1,000 pieces by more than 160 artists, including Thornton Dial, Lonnie Holley, and the quilt-makers of Gee’s Bend.

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