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Artnet News
Feb. 26, 2009 

New York-based Italian artist Federico Solmi is in trouble with the law after his work, The Evil Empire, was shown by Naples’ Not Gallery at the recent Arte Fiera Bologna art fair, Jan. 23-26, 2009. The project -- which was also seen at New York’s LMAK Projects, Mar. 20-Apr. 19, 2008, coinciding with the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the city -- consists of hand-drawn animation depicting the exploits of a fictional pope in "Vatic-Anal-City," in the year 2046, wrestling with a porn addiction. It is accompanied by related objects, including one -- a crucifix featuring a self-portrait of the artist as the Pope character, with a massive, crimson-headed erection -- that apparently got him in trouble.

According to reports, on the last day of the fair, a local judge named Bruno Giangiacomo got wind of the provocative art project, and ordered that it be confiscated. Catherine Thompson of LMAK reports that the artist was charged with religious offense and obscenity -- though the "religious offense" charge has since been dropped. Manuela Esposito, director of the Not Gallery, may also face charges.

"He found two great lawyers, who wanted to defend him because of the ridiculous nature of the accusation," Thompson wrote in an email. "As it stands now, the work is still in custody, at the carabinieri station." The disputed piece had been sold for $7,000 at the fair, she added; Solmi’s legal team is trying to get it returned.

For Solmi’s part, in a statement issued about the incident, he defends his work as product of his "ongoing desire to satirize tyrants," and a reflection on the culture of his adopted home of New York City, "where pornography, religion, violence, sex and blood baths coexist in perfect harmony." To his detractors, he adds that "what I express in my work is no different from what I experience in my everyday life."

A team of curators at the Centre Pompidou in Paris has found the ultimate way to marry avant-garde art with budgetary restraint. "Voids: A Retrospective," Feb. 25-Mar. 23, 2009, features one empty gallery after another, almost a dozen in all, in a history of "exhibitions that showed absolutely nothing." The works range from Yves Klein’s The Specialization of Sensibility in the Raw Material State of Stabilized Pictorial Sensibility (1958) to Roman Ondák’s More Silent than Ever (2006). Other artists in the show are Robert Barry, Art & Language, Stanley Brouwn, Robert Irwin, Maria Nordman, Laurie Parsons, Bethan Huws and Maria Eichhorn.

Don’t think that such an exhibition is easy to arrange, either. It takes a curatorial team of six, including Laurent Le Bon, Jon Armleder, Mathieu Copeland, Gustav Metzger, Mai-Thu Perret and Clive Phillpot. A 448-page, bilingual catalogue, with essays by the curators as well as Lucy Lippard and Jon Hendricks, has been published by JRP Ringier ($50).

Make no mistake, the museum world is feeling the effects of the economic recession in a big way, with three major museums announcing dramatic budget cuts this month. The High Museum of Art in Atlanta -- only recently flexing its newfound cultural clout with its partnership with the Louvre and its new Renzo Piano building -- plans to shave $1.4 million from its annual operating budget of $25.1 million. The High’s rather complex scheme cuts the pay of all staff by five percent through the end of May 2009, then reinstates previous pay levels, but requires employees to take 13 days of unpaid leave. The museum has also laid off seven percent of its staff, which amounts to five full-time positions and three temporary positions.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art, meanwhile, is in a similar predicament. Faced with a plunging endowment, and looming reductions in aid from the city, the PMA has cut seven percent of its staff, like the High -- but as a much larger institution, this amounts to a whopping 30 positions. Sixteen workers were laid off, and 14 currently vacant positions are not being filled; none of the cuts are to curatorial departments. Remaining staff members are taking wage cuts of five to ten percent, based on seniority, and all department heads are being asked to factor in ten percent cuts to their budgets. The museum also plans raising admission -- the exact amount is yet to be determined -- and is postponing its major touring show "The Crown of Aragón: The Art of Barcelona, Mallorca, Valencia and Zaragoza," previously scheduled for Feb. 2010.

The cuts resolve the immediate deficit, though if conditions continue to worsen, PMA board chairman H. F. "Gerry" Lenfest said that "we would anticipate further reductions in personnel and operating." If there is a bright spot in the news, it is Lenfest’s pledge to match donations to the PMA’s curatorial department, offering as much as $27 million from his personal coffers to see the PMA’s curators through troubled times. Five donors have so far taken up the challenge. The story was broken by the Philadelphia Enquirer, a publication which itself just filed for Chapter 11.

Finally, up in Michigan, the Detroit Institute of Arts plans to reduce its staff of 301 people by 20 percent, which comes to a wrenching 56 full-time and seven part time positions. These "restructuring moves," according to Crain’s Detroit Business, "affect every department in the museum, including curatorial, conservation, learning and interpretation, building operations, communications and marketing and accounting." The moves are designed to trim $6 million from the museum’s $36 million budget. Programming is also being impacted, with more shows being organized from the museum’s own collection.

Baroness Philippine de Rothschild has selected British realist painter Lucian Freud to design the label for the 2006 vintage of her Chateau Mouton Rothschild wine, and the 86-year-old artist has provided a surprisingly childlike image -- called "a joyously exotic transposition of the pleasure of drinking" -- in which wine and drinker are represented by a palm tree and a zebra. The new label, along with designs by several other artists, is currently on view at the Wolfsonian-FIU in Miami Beach, Feb. 19-Mar. 8, 2009. 

The Williamsburg Gallery Association is hosting a special open house on Mar. 7, 2009, to welcome the global art world in New York for the Armory Show, Mar. 5-8, 2009, and all the attendant other fairs. For "Williamsburg Armory Night," an impressive 25 Williamsburg galleries are remaining open till 11 pm, featuring a variety of special events, including street tours, performances and champagne tastings. Maps and shuttle buses are provided, and many local bars and restaurants are offering Armory Night specials. Highlights include an exhibition of new art from Dubai at Like the Spice Gallery (run by Marissa Sage, head of the Williamsburg Gallery Association) and a "Duchampian Dada meets Hybrid Hindu Hendrix" musical performance by artist Ken Butler at Sideshow Gallery. For more info, see

Condé Nast art critic Dodie Kazanjian has organized a show of works by Anselm Kiefer at Gallery Met at Lincoln Center, Feb. 17-May 9, 2009, to accompany the return engagement of Otto Schenk’s production of Richard Wagner’s epic Der Ring des Nibelungen, which opens at the Metropolitan Opera on Mar. 25, 2009. The exhibition, "From the Met to the Met: Anselm Kiefer and Wagner’s Ring," is the first collaboration between the Met Gallery and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which has lent several works to the exhibition, including The Rhine (1993), Siegfried’s Difficult Way to Brünnhilde (ca. 1980), Brünnhilde Sleeps (1980) and Brünnhilde’s Death (1976). Other lenders to the show include Edwin Cohen, the Hall Collection and Susan and Lew Manilow.

The latest public art exhibition to be mounted in Economist Plaza on Saint James’s Street in London -- the suite of modernist buildings designed by Alison and Peter Smithson in 1962-64 to serve as headquarters of the celebrated publishing company -- is a cast bronze sculpture of a chimpanzee by London-based artist Alistair Mackie. Mimetes Anon, as the sculpture is titled, is realistically perched on the plaza railing, "an awkward and unexpected standoff with our animal past. . . a reminder of what might have been if the great evolutionary leap forward had never happened." The installation remains on view Feb. 20-Apr. 17, 2009, courtesy of Joe La Placa’s All Visual Arts and the Contemporary Art Society. Mackie’s work is currently the subject of a solo exhibition at the David Roberts Art Foundation, Jan. 16-Mar. 28, 2009.

The 2009 Texas Biennial opens in Austin, Mar. 6-Apr. 11, 2009, organized by Los Angeles curator and art critic Michael Duncan and presenting 73 artists in six gallery venues and seven outdoor spaces. Most of the artists -- 61 -- are on view in two spaces, the Mexican American Cultural Center and Women & Their Work. Four artists have solo shows at four different spaces: Jayne Lawrence at Big Medium; Kelly Vance at MASS Gallery; William Cannings at Okay Mountain; and Lee Baxter Davis at Pump Project. And seven artists have works sited in city parks, overseen by Blanton Museum assistant curator Risa Puleo. For a complete list of participants, see

Takashi Murakami
’s Geisai #12 art fair takes place on Mar. 8, 2009, at Tokyo Big Sight convention hall, with the theme of "Rediscover Japan." More than 1,000 independent artists have signed up for the one-day event, which culminates with a performance by pop star Ayumi Nakamura. In keeping with the fair’s focus on Japanese contemporary art, the fair’s "super posh jury," which distributes a wide variety of prizes, is all-local, including painter Makoto Aida, lyricist Yasushi Akimoto, antique dealer Kazumi Sakata, animation producer Hiroshi Yamamoto and novelist, actor and illustrator Lily Franky. For more info, see

Baibakov Art Projects
, the new Moscow exhibition space launched a few months ago in the Red October Chocolate Factory by the 23-year-old art patron Maria Baibakova, is presenting a survey of new art from London as its second exhibition. "Natural Wonders," Feb. 20-Apr. 5, 2009, features works by 20 artists from London, and opened with a performance of Carrion by British artist Eloise Fornieles [see "London Dispatch," July 28, 2008].

The other artists in the show, which is organized by Baibakova, Kate Sutton and Nick Hackworth, are Diann Bauer, David Birkin, Tim Braden, Justin Coombes, CutUp, Shezad Dawood, Edward Fornieles, Ryan Gander, Margarita Gluzberg, James Hopkins, Mustafa Hulusi, John Isaacs, Idris Khan, Kirk Palmer, Nathaniel Rackowe, Barry Reigate, Conrad Shawcross, Gary Webb, Nicole Wermers, Douglas White and Toby Ziegler.

Russia’s primary contemporary art fair, Art Moscow, originally scheduled for May 13-17, 2009, has been postponed until September, according to a report in the Bloomberg News. The new dates coincide with the Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art, which opens on Sept. 24, 2009. For more info, see

Nine "mid-career" artists have received $10,000 City of Los Angeles (C.O.L.A.) awards for 2009 from the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs. The winners are Natalie Bookchin, Jane Castillo, Joe Davidson, David DiMichele, Bia Gayotto, Willie Robert Middlebrook, Jr., Maureen Selwood, Eloy Torrez, and Shirley Tse. An exhibition of works by the awardees opens at DCA’s Municipal Art Gallery at Barnsdall Park, May 14-July 12, 2009.

Northwestern University
professor Krista A. Thompson has received the 2009 David C. Driskell Prize, which includes a $25,000 cash purse, in recognition of her contribution to the field of African-American art history. Most recently, Thompson organized "Developing Blackness" at the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas in 2008, and an exhibition of works by Fred Wilson at the Institute of Jamaica in 2007.

Globetrotting curator Hou Hanru has stepped in as commissioner of the upcoming Biennale de Lyon, Sept. 16, 2009-Jan. 3, 2010, a job that came open two weeks ago with the sudden resignation of Catherine David [see "Artnet News," Feb. 12, 2009]. Hanru, who was born in China in 1963, is director of exhibitions at the San Francisco Art Institute.

Richard Koshalek, former director of the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and head of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles before that, has been named director of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden at the Smithsonian Institution. Koshalek, 67, succeeds Olga Viso, who left her post at the Hirshhorn more than a year ago to head up the Walker Art Center.

The Brooklyn Museum has announced two new curatorial appointments. Independent curator Catherine J. Morris has been named curator of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art. Sharon Matt Atkins, currently assistant curator at the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, New Hampshire, has been appointed associate curator of exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum.

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