AFRICAN ART EMERGENCY
African artifacts account for 10 percent of the $4.5-billion black market in smuggled art worldwide, and the market is growing, say Aisha Labi and Simon Robinson in "Looting Africa," a feature article in Time magazine's issue of July 30, 2000. The mostly anecdotal report accuses Western collectors of creating a growing demand for African artifacts, a trade fueled by poverty and political unrest, "robbing the continent of its rich heritage."
The illegal loot includes plunder from Mali archeological sites, Coptic Christian artifacts from Ethiopia, Swahili grave markers from Kenya and Tanzania, and the contents of museums in war-torn countries like the Congo and Somalia and theft-plagued ones like Nigeria. One smuggler noted that art exports were overlooked in the search for illegal drugs, and could be gotten through customs by pretending they were destined for overseas exhibitions. The magazine story fingers the Chelsea Mini-Storage facility on West 28th Street in New York City as a kind of "African bazaar" of illicit imports, where dealers with crates full of dirt-encrusted objects offer bargains to the sharp collector. More mainstream African art dealers are fingered as contributing to the problem, too.
Many African countries try to regulate or ban the trade, with little success. Only Mali has a treaty with the U.S. restricting African art imports. On the other hand, African art collectors point out that their activities help preserve a culture that is otherwise in danger. Plus, it's caveat emptor. Connecticut College prof Christopher Steiner, author of African Art in Transit, guesses that as much as 90 percent of the material sold in America is fake -- replicas that are "being made to look old." Curiously, as if the legality of African art imports were beside the point, Time illustrated the article not with specific plundered artifacts but with images of works from the British Museum and other Western image banks.
WHO WILL DIRECT TATE MODERN?
London's most important contemporary art museum, Tate Modern, recently lost its founding director when Lars Nittve announced to head the Moderna Museet in his native Stockholm. Who might succeed him? London's Sunday Times posted a list of six contenders: Serpentine Gallery director Julia Peyton-Jones ("as interested in social climbing as picture-hanging"); Andrea Rose, British Council head of visual arts ("front runner"); Milton Keynes Art Gallery curator Stephen Snoddy, whose current "Look at Me" show of fashion photography had Times critic Waldemar Januszczak fuming, and who "had a heated row last year with Jake Chapman"; Tate director of national programs Sandy Nairne, who tried for the top job at the V&A last year and is thus "frustrated"; recently deposed director of the Irish Museum of Modern Art Declan McGonagle ("admired by Serota"); and Liz Ann McGregor of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney ("dark horse").
GRAHAM ART TO FREER, NGA
Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham left 15 Asian art objects to the Freer Gallery, a Diego Rivera Cubist still life to the National Gallery of Art and a 1908 Edward Steichen photograph of her mother and several caricatures by Marius de Zayas to the National Portrait Gallery, according to a report in the Post. The rest of her estate -- which is valued at more than $359 million -- is to be divided among her four children.
ASBESTOS SCARE FOR DUFY
One of the world's largest paintings, the 6,450-square-foot La Fee Electricite by Raoul Dufy, is being removed from its site in the Musee d'Art Modern de la Ville de Paris because it contains asbestos, according to museum officials. Dufy painted the commission in 1937 on a series of 250 wooden panels backed with a layer of asbestos felt. Though no asbestos was detected in the museum galleries, the material must be removed under French law, a task that is expected to take seven months.
WRIGHTS TAKE PHILLIPS AWARD
The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., is awarding the third annual Duncan Phillips Award to Seattle collectors Virginia and Bagley Wright. The Wrights, who are patrons of the Seattle Art Museum as well as the city's theater and symphony, have assembled a notable collection of contemporary American art since World War II.
-- compiled by Evonne Gambrell, Lily Kim and the Artnet Magazine staff.