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The week in art news – UK museums and galleries to reopen from 4 July

Plus: American Museum of Natural History to remove statue of Theodore Roosevelt | Guggenheim curatorial staff demand end of ‘discriminatory practices’ | Former Louvre curator arrested over sale of looted antiquities | Philadelphia Museum of Art to cut staff by more than 20 per cent | The Met announces plan to reopen at end of August

26 June 2020

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

Museums and galleries in the UK will be able to open after 4 July in the latest easing of lockdown measures. The directors of six national museums, including the Tate and the National Gallery, issued a statement on Tuesday saying that they welcomed the announcement by the government, although the only national museum to have set a date is currently the Wallace Collection (15 July). Other museums and galleries that have announced when they plan to reopen include the Whitechapel Gallery (mid July), the Serpentine Galleries (a phased reopening from 4 August) and Hepworth Wakefield (1 August).

On Sunday, the American Museum of Natural History announced that it will remove the equestrian statue of Theodore Roosevelt that stands at its entrance. The statue, which depicts a Native American and African man standing on either side of Roosevelt, has been in place since 1940. In recent years, groups such as Decolonize This Place have campaigned for the statue to be removed. The museum’s statement acknowledged that the statue ‘communicates a racial hierarchy that the Museum and members of the public have long found disturbing’. The office of the mayor of New York told CNN that it supports the museum’s request to remove ‘this problematic statue’.

On Monday, curators at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum sent a letter to the museum’s management team criticising racial inequalities at the museum and demanding reform. The New York Times reports that the letter, signed by ‘The Curatorial Department’, describes the institution as ‘an inequitable work environment that enables racism, white supremacy, and other discriminatory practices’. The letter singled out the treatment of Chaédria La Bouvier, the guest curator of the Basquiat exhibition in 2019 for particular criticism. Richard Armstrong, the museum’s director, issued a statement saying, ‘Our curatorial staff is essential to the Guggenheim and we are listening.’

A retired curator from the Louvre is among five people arrested this week as part of an investigation into the sale of looted antiquities. The Art Newspaper quotes a legal source stating that an employee of Pierre Bergé & Associés is also one of the arrestees. The investigation is said to concern items looted from Egypt, Syria and Yemen as well as parts of Libya under the control of Islamic State.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is cutting its staff by more than 20 per cent, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. On Wednesday the museum informed its employees that it will be losing 100 members of staff through furloughs and voluntary redundancies. The furloughs will begin on 6 July and a hiring freeze takes immediate effect. Layoffs may be necessary in September if sufficient cuts are not achieved through voluntary agreements. Last month two thirds of staff voted to form a union, a move which is not being recognised by the management of the museum.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art plans to open on 29 August. If the phased easing of lockdown in New York proceeds smoothly, the museum could open even earlier, on 20 July. Daniel H. Weiss, president of the Met, said ‘The safety of our staff and visitors remains our greatest concern’. The Met Cloisters will open shortly after the main museum, the New York Times reports, but the Met Breuer site will not reopen before the building passes to the Frick Collection in August.

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