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The week in art news – National Trust cuts 1,300 jobs

9 October 2020

The National Trust has confirmed that it will be cutting nearly 1,300 jobs. There will be 514 compulsory and 782 voluntary redundancies, half the number of compulsory redundancies initially floated. In another change to the original proposals the Trust has stated that it will be ‘keeping curation specialists across England, Wales and Northern Ireland’, although the details are not yet public. The union Prospect described the ‘current plan, while devastating for those who are losing jobs they love, [as] a reasonable way to move forward, minimising job losses while hopefully safeguarding the National Trust’s future’. Meanwhile, other cultural organisations in the UK now entering redundancy consultations include the Museum of London, which this week announced restructuring plans affecting around 10 per cent of its workforce.

Nancy Spector, artistic director and chief curator of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation, is leaving her role at the institution. Other than a brief interlude as deputy director of the Brooklyn Museum in 2016–17, Spector has worked at the Guggenheim since 1989, making her one of its longest-serving employees. News of her departure coincides with the conclusion of an independently conducted investigation into the museum’s handling of a Basquiat exhibition in 2019, launched after the show’s guest curator Chaédria LaBouvier publicly criticised Spector and her team and a group of employees published a letter accusing executives of fostering ‘a culture of institutional racism’. The investigation found ‘no evidence that Ms. LaBouvier was subject to adverse treatment on the basis of her race’; LaBouvier did not participate in the investigation.

The French National Assembly has passed a bill to return 27 colonial-era artefacts to their countries of origin. The draft law will now head to the senate; if approved, it will require the return of 26 works that were looted from the palace of Abomey in present-day Benin, and a sword that belonged to the 19th-century leader Omar Saïdou Tall, who once ruled in what is now Senegal. The artefacts from Benin are currently held in the Musée du Quai-Branly in Paris, while the sword has since 2019 been on loan from the Musée des l’Armée to the Musée des Civilisations Noires in Dakar.

The Baltimore Museum of Art is putting up for sale three artworks in its collection, taking advantage of recently relaxed regulations on deaccessioning for museums in the United States. The institution hopes to raise $65m from the sales of the paintings by Andy Warhol, Clyfford Still and Brice Marden, which it has consigned to Sotheby’s and which will come to auction later this year. In a statement announcing its decision, the museum described its mission ‘to rebalance its collection with an eye toward artworks made by women and artists of color’; $10m of the funds generated by the sales will go towards its acquisitions budget, with the rest going to collection care, staff salaries, the elimination of special exhibition fees, and diversity and equity initiatives. Meanwhile, the Palms Spring Art Museum in California has also announced plans to sell off the work of a major post-war artist: Carousel (1979) by Helen Frankenthaler. The work, which is consigned to Sotheby’s, is estimated to be worth $2.5m–$3.5m.