What has become of the Fitzwilliam’s stolen treasures?

Plus: Geneva’s public reject plans for museum renovations by Jean Nouvel | Christie’s sues Jose Mugrabi over Basquiat painting | ‘Day of reckoning’ for Bradford NMM’s photographic treasures

2 March 2016

Our daily round-up of news from the art world

Fitzwilliam Museum ‘unlikely’ to recover stolen jade artefacts | Following the conviction of four of the so-called ‘Rathkeale Rovers’ gang, there has been much speculation as to the whereabouts of the priceless objects they are thought to have stolen. ‘Looking at what this gang targeted, which was rhinoceros horn, and small, portable but very valuable Chinese antiquities, they had a clear market for these items in China,’ Donna Yates, lecturer in looting and trafficking of antiquities and cultural property at the University of Glasgow, told BBC Radio 4. Of great concern are the objects looted in a £15 million heist from Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum in 2012, which was masterminded by the gang. According to Roger Keverne, a dealer who specialises in Chinese ceramics and helped value the missing items, it seems unlikely the stolen goods will be recovered: ‘If they’ve gone to mainland China – that’s possibly goodbye,’ he told the BBC.

Geneva’s public reject plans for museum renovations by Jean Nouvel | The people of Geneva have voted against a plan to renovate and extend the city’s Musée d’Art et d’Histoire under the direction of French ‘starchitect’ Jean Nouvel. In a public vote on 28 February, 54 per cent of respondents opposed the development proposal, which sparked controversy after its CHF131 million ($131.1 million) drew criticism from figures across the political spectrum. ‘They’re characterising me as Nosferatu the vampire!’ Nouvel complained of his opponents shortly before the plebiscite (French language article). Whatever you think of Nouvel’s buildings, those in favour of the renovation may have a point. In its current state, the 1910 museum building suffers many problems: the main galleries are draughty, and there have been complaints about public safety, the electricity supply and the heating system. ‘The museum building should have been restored a long time ago,’ the Art Tribune declared as far back as 2009.

Christie’s sues Jose Mugrabi over Basquiat painting | Christie’s has filed a lawsuit against art investor Jose Mugrabi for missed payments on a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting he bought for $37 million last spring, reports the New York Post. According to the Post’s Julia Marsh, Mugrabi has so far paid just $5 million for the artist’s 1981 acrylic The Field Next to the Other, having missed payments on 4 January and 15 February. Mugrabi – a major Christie’s client who owns some 800 works by Andy Warhol – has yet to comment on the situation. In the meantime, Christie’s has reportedly banned him from upcoming auctions.

‘Day of reckoning’ for Bradford NMM’s photographic treasures | The trustees of Bradford’s National Media Museum are set to come to a decision as to whether the Royal Photographic Society collection will be moved to London. As previously reported here, the plan to transfer the collection to the V&A in order to create an ‘international photography resource centre’ has sparked outrage, particularly in the north of England. Local MP Naz Shah has put forward two alternative proposals to the Science Museum Group (to which the NMM belongs) in the hope of keeping the collection in Bradford – see the Telegraph & Argus’s report for more.

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