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The week in art news – National Trust considering up to 1,200 redundancies

Plus: House of Representatives votes to create a National Museum for the American Latino | Picasso murals removed from government building in Oslo | Two museums cancel shows by Jon Rafman | Senate report finds Russian businessman bypassed US sanctions by buying art

31 July 2020

Our regularly updated digest of the week’s top art news

The National Trust issued a statement about proposed spending cuts this week. As a result of expecting to lose nearly £200m in revenue this year, the charity is planning to cut more than £100m (nearly 20 per cent) of its annual expenditure, through greater efficiency savings – and making up to 1,200 members (some 13 per cent) of its staff redundant. The Trust has already announced a recruitment freeze and the deferral of projects amounting to £124m. The organisation’s director general, Hilary McGrady, said, ‘We are going through one of the biggest crises in living memory […] and like so many other organisations the National Trust has been hit very hard.’ The plan for budget cuts and proposed redundancies is now subject to a 45-day consultation period. The day before, York Museums Trust announced that it was consulting on redundancies with its staff, but it has not said how many jobs are at risk.

On Monday, the US House of Representatives passed a bill for the creation of a National Museum of the American Latino, which will be part of the Smithsonian and located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. ‘The Latino story is an American story, and our history is a central thread in the history of our nation,’ the chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus told the Washington Post. The bill now goes to the Senate, where it has bipartisan support.

The removal of concrete murals by Picasso from the Y Block building in Oslo began on Tuesday. The two concrete murals, the only ones designed by Picasso and sandblasted on to the building by the Norwegian artist Carl Nesjar, have been the subject of a fierce conservation battle since the proposal to remove them was first made in 2014. The Fisherman was made for the outside of the building, which was designed by architect Erling Viksjø in 1969, while The Seagull could be found in the lobby. Both murals are to be incorporated into a new administrative complex, which has yet to be built.

Two museums have suspended or cancelled planned shows of work by the artist Jon Rafman after allegations of sexual misconduct were made on social media and subsequently reported by the Montreal Gazette. The Art Newspaper reports that the Hirshhorn Museum has cancelled its autumn exhibition, the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal has suspended a current show ‘until further notice’ and the Montreal gallery Bradley Ertaskiran has dropped the artist from its roster. The artist has denied the allegations and in an email to the Art Newspaper wrote, ‘I believe due process is incredibly important in these situations’. Sprüth Magers, which represents the artist in Berlin, London and Los Angeles, issued a statement saying, ‘we are investigating this matter internally with the utmost importance’.

A report published on Wednesday by the US Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations has found that two Russian businessmen bypassed US sanctions due to a lack of transparency in the art market. The New York Times reports that Arkady and Boris Rotenberg, businessmen with close ties to Vladimir Putin, were able to buy works at auction totalling $18.4m in value through an intermediary. While the auction houses, which included Christie’s and Sotheby’s, were unaware of the true identity of the buyers (as were the sellers), the chairman of the subcommittee, Senator Rob Portman of Ohio (R), called for a tightening of regulations: ‘It is shocking that U.S. banking regulations don’t currently apply to multimillion-dollar art transactions, and we cannot let that continue.’

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