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The week in art news – the Whitney cancels ‘Collective Actions’ exhibition after criticism

Plus: Dallas Art Fair exhibitors demand refunds | Heinz Frank (1939–2020) | Man who attacked Picasso painting gets 18-month sentence

28 August 2020

On Tuesday, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York cancelled a planned exhibition of artworks created in recent months ‘in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement’, after objections from a number of the artists whose work was to have been included in the show. The exhibition, titled ‘Collective Actions: Artist Interventions in a Time of Change’, was to feature works, many of which were made by black artists, that had been sold as low-cost editions to raise funds for mutual aid or distributed freely to promote social justice causes. A number of the artists criticised the Whitney for neither seeking consent for the inclusion of their works nor offering compensation for their display, as well as for the manner in which the museum had made acquisitions. In a statement, curator Farris Wahbeh apologised for the ‘anger and frustration the exhibition has caused’, explaining that the works had been acquired for the museum’s special collections – an archive of artists’ books, editions and ephemera housed in its library – and pledging to ‘study and consider further how we can better collect and exhibit’ such material in the future.

Dozens of galleries have written to the organisers of Dallas Art Fair demanding that it refund a ‘substantial portion’ of the fees paid by exhibitors at this year’s edition of the fair, which was initially postponed from April to October, and was called off altogether earlier this month. The letter, Artnews reports, has 34 signatories including Galerie Lelong (New York), Richard Saltoun (London) and Barry Whistler Gallery (Dallas). The exhibitors criticised the fair organisers’ decision to offer credit against payment for participation in future editions, as opposed to the refunds offered for other cancelled fairs including Frieze and Art Basel. In a statement Dallas Art Fair described this comparison with the two much larger fairs as ‘misguided’ and said it is ‘not in the financial position to issue cash refunds to our dealers’.

The artist Heinz Frank has died at the age of 81. Frank studied architecture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna in the 1960s, taking classes with the celebrated modernist architect Ernst Plischke. From 1971 Frank exhibited his eclectic works in numerous exhibitions, particularly in Vienna; his oeuvre includes sculptures, drawings, paintings and occasional examples of furniture and interior design, often arranged in installations that also feature the artist’s poems. A selection of prints of his architectural drawings from the 1970s–90s is currently on view at the Riga Biennial.

A 20-year old man, Shakeel Massey, has been sentenced to 18 months in prison for criminal damage after pleading guilty to attacking a Picasso painting at Tate Modern. The painting from 1944, titled Bust of a Woman, sustained significant damage after being repeatedly punched, causing the canvas to rip. In a statement the Tate, which had since 2011 displayed the work on long-term loan from a private collection, said the canvas is currently undergoing ‘a period of conservation’.