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Sept. 21, 2010 

Is theft the new medium of choice for todayís artists? Earlier this year, Eva & Franco Mattes presented their "Stolen Pieces" at Postmasters gallery in New York, consisting of actual fragments of famous artworks that they had stolen over the years. Now London "guerrilla artist" Mike Ballard is set to present a more pedestrian -- petty? -- act of theft as art. His show "Whose Coat is that Jacket You're Wearing?" displays a collection of over 200 coats that he has stolen from innocent pub-goers in London over the last 10 years. If youíve found yourself in London, cold and cursing the cur who lifted your winter gear, Ballard might be the culprit.

The show debuts during Frieze Week, Oct. 8-23, 2010, at Walkerís Tailor, 157 Robert Street, and is pitched as an act of contrition by Ballard. A press release begins by explaining that "in the late 1990s, Ballard's favourite 55DSL coat was stolen from a crowded pub -- a loss he took quite hard," causing him to retaliate against humanity by going on an epic binge of petty theft, nicking unattended coasts and then meticulously preserving the contents of the pockets. "Iím not proud about what Iíve done," the artist now says, "and I realize that I need to make amends and return the coats to their rightful owners."

Thinking you might take the opportunity to do a little creative "appropriating" yourself? From the sound of it, Ballard has invented quite an elaborate protocol to guarantee that coats will be returned only to their rightful owners. The stolen coats will be hung chronologically, each paired with a diary entry by the artist relating the circumstances by which he lifted it. A visitor will only be returned their coat if their story and description of the contents of the coatís pockets matches the corresponding file relating to it. (Then again: For those looking to cheat, a slideshow featuring images of ephemera found in the coat pockets is online here.) †

Controversy struck last week Down Under as religious protestors condemned an opening of work by artist Rodney Pople at Australian Galleries in Sydney. According to reports, on Sept. 14, 2010, about two dozen protestors gathered outside the galleryís Paddington location, carrying placards and a statue of the Virgin Mary, to read Bible passages and voice their disapproval of a new avant-garde outrage against religious sensibilities.

At issue was Popleís exhibition, "Bellini 21c," Sept. 14-Oct. 2, 2010, which contains a triptych depicting a naked porn starlet spread-eagle in front of a Venetian religious altarpiece by Giovanni Bellini. Dealer Stuart Purves took the precaution of obtaining legal advice about the work beforehand, and posting signs warning visitors that the show might offend -- but still faced a tidal wave of objection, including 60 written complaints logged with the area city council, plus a visit from the local constabulary (who determined that the Popleís painting was "not a police matter").

The artist admits that the work is designed to shock, but insists that it is not about the Catholic Church in particular but about moral corruption in general, with the racy image representing the degradation of society. Pople describes his work as "hybrid," applying oil paint to photographic imagery. As for the back-story as to how he came to choose this particular racy image, according to the Daily Telegraph, Pople claims that the pornographic pic was "found" by his wife, the curator Felicity Fenner, according to the Daily Telegraph. Fenner, it so happens, organized "Once Removed," part of Australiaís official representation at the 2009 Venice Biennale, where Pople also took the pic of the famous Bellini piece used in the show.

Protests aside, "Bellini 21c" has been a success. The Australian says that some $100,000 in art had been sold from the show by the eve of its opening -- though as of this writing, the controversial Bellini Altarpiece (triptych) (2009) remains available. The price is reported to be $65,000. Any takers?

In what is likely its most ambitious initiative yet, New Yorkís Museum of Arts and Design is set to debut the "Global African Project," Nov. 17, 2010-May 15, 2011, highlighting the "the rich pool of new talent emerging from the African continent and around the world." Organized with the Center for Race and Culture at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), and curated by MADís Lowery Stokes Sims and MICAís Leslie King-Hammond, the show promises to showcase furniture, architecture, textiles, fashion, jewelry, ceramics and basketry -- as well as photography, painting, sculpture and installation work -- from artists working in African and the African diaspora. Those invited include famous artists like Yinka Shonibare, Kehinde Wiley and Fred Wilson, as well as the Gahaya Links Weaving Association, a "collaborative of Hutu and Tutsi women working in traditional basketry techniques in Rwanda."

The "Global African Project" is nothing if not ambitious. Still, there’ more. As part of the museum’s "MADProjects" exhibition series, it promises to present a special installation by the artist Stephen Burks titled "Are You a Hybrid?," Feb. 22-May 15, 2011, which will "examine the impact and influence of Africa on contemporary design." Meanwhile, for those who canít wait for the November opening, the MAD blog is already featuring regular updates on the initiative, while the museum will shortly launch a dedicated "microsite" to serve as a forum for discussion about the issues raised by the exhibition.

JOSE LUIS BREA, 1957-2010
Jose Luis Brea, 53, Spanish art critic and curator who contributed to Artforum, Frieze, Flash Art and other magazines, died on Sept. 2. At his death he was editor of the magazine Estudios Visuales, and director of two online projects, salonKritik and agencia critica. He served as dean of the Fine Arts Academy of Cuenca and director of exhibitions for the Spanish ministry of culture during the 1980s. He published several books, including Before and After the Enthusiasm, Spanish Art 1972-92 (1989), Las Auras FrŪas (1991), The Blind Point: Spanish Art of the 1990s (Salamanca, 1999). He was also professor of esthetics and contemporary art theory at the Carlos III University in Madrid.

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