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Artnet News
Mar. 30, 2007 

My Sweet Lord, artist Cosimo Cavallaro's 6-foot-tall statue of a nude Christ made from milk chocolate, scheduled to debut tomorrow at the Lab Gallery in midtown Manhattan, will not open following a campaign of intimidation by religious conservatives. The decision was made by James Knowles, president of the Roger Smith Hotel, which houses the Lab space, who said in a statement addressed to the public, "We have caused the cancellation of the exhibition and wish to affirm the dignity and responsibility of the Hotel in all its affairs."

However, Lab artistic director Matt Semler said that the cancellation was less about dignity than it was about simple intimidation, stating that the tidal wave of emails and phone calls, which included death threats, forced their hand: "In this situation, the hotel couldn't continue to be supportive because of a fear for their own safety." In protest over the censorship, Semler submitted his resignation.

The attacks on My Sweet Lord were spearheaded by well-known conservative spokesman William Donahue, head of the Catholic League, who decried the artwork as "one of the worst assaults on Christian sensibilities ever" – putting it in the company of singer Joan Osborne, CSI, Martin Scorsese, South Park and Chris Ofili's Virgin Mary, all previous targets of his ire. (More recently, Donahue made headlines for attacking, and forcing the resignation, of bloggers working for Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards for their criticisms of religious fundamentalism.)

A new project by the always controversial Spanish artist Santiago Sierra has been censored before it began. As part of an ambitious "Proyecto Juárez" in Ciudad Juarez, the sprawling border community between Mexico, New Mexico and Texas -- home to a thriving sweatshop industry -- Sierra proposed making a work titled Palabra de Fuego ("Word of Fire"), which would consist of the word "sumisión" ("submission") carved in 15-meter letters into a field at the western end of the city, only a few meters from the U.S. border. The location is symbolically potent, both as a proposed site for a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and as an area with high levels of environmental toxicity due to lead smelting by U.S. companies.

Sierra's earthwork was somehow to be lit on fire on Mar. 24, 2007, and webcast live on The performance was cancelled, however, after local authorities claimed that fumes from the work would be hazardous to the environment. The claim was disputed by the project's sponsors, who said it would produce pollution equivalent to the emissions of two buses on a 20-kilometer ride. Sierra's work was the first in a series of 17 public art works sponsored by El Palacio Negro, a local nonprofit organization headed by Mariana David, with help from the Spanish Embassy and other groups (other artists involved in the project include Miguel Calderón, Yoshua Okón, Javier Tellez and Artur Zmijewski).

Sierra's most recent provocations include setting up a kind of "homemade gas chamber" in a Cologne synagogue in 2006 as a protest against "the banalization of the Holocaust" and, more recently, buying Regina Galindo's Golden Lion from the 2005 Venice Biennale "in order to resell it for a higher price," a project that opened at the Prometeogallery di Ida Pisani in Milan in January 2007. 

Two years ago, an impatient François Pinault, the French businessman and mega-collector who owns Christie's auction house, abandoned plans to build his own art museum on an island in the Seine in Boulogne-Billancourt, just southwest of Paris, saying that the city fathers were moving too slowly. (Instead, Pinault installed his collection in the Palazzo Grassi in Venice.)

Now, however, the town fathers -- led by mayor Jean-Pierre Fourcade -- are having the last laugh. New plans call for a massive development encompassing both the northern bank of the Seine and L'île Seguin, the banana-shaped island that formerly was the site of a Renault plant. Among the new construction planned for the island is a €100-million, 25,000-square-meter Centre européen de Création contemporaine, slated to open in 2010, and a residency hall for artists, slated to be completed in 2009. The development also calls for the overhaul of an existing Museum of the Thirties in Boulogne-Billancourt. For details, see

The Metropolitan Museum of Art unveils its new Greek and Roman galleries on Apr. 20, 2007. The new Leon Levy and Shelby White Court, named after the collectors whose acquisitions of antiquities on the international art market have long been considered controversial -- and who donated $20 million towards the construction costs -- is a monumental, peristyle court for the display of Hellenistic and Roman art, with a two-story atrium.

The nearly 20 Roman sculptures to be installed in the center court include a life-sized bronze Portrait Statue of a Boy (Rome, Augustan period), a marble Old Market Woman (Roman, first century A.D.) dressed for a festival and shown carrying offerings for Dionysus, a marble statue of Dionysus (Roman, first century A.D.), and two larger-than-life-sized sculptures of Hercules. Some 6,000 works, many previously in storage, go on view in the new space.

New York City has the neon spectacle of Times Square, and now Dallas has something called Victory Media Network, a set of custom-made outdoor screens covering some 4,600 square feet on two building facades and supposedly costing a total of $30 million. Located across from the American Airlines Center sports arena, the supersized digital billboard is the centerpiece of the 75-acre Victory Park urban development. The whole megillah was launched on Mar. 23, 2007, with a specially commissioned digital artwork by Jennifer Steinkamp titled Ring of Fire, as well as a selection of works by other artists (Gary Breslin, Zach Parrish, Sean Capone, Bill Domonkos and Till Nowak). The project is sponsored by Bank of America, Target and Lexus

The New Museum plans to award four $25,000 "Altoids Awards" to emerging artists, beginning in 2008. The new prizes are to be given out every two years, and selected by artists in an elaborate process: A group of ten artists known for a "proven commitment to publicly supporting the artistic community through writing, teaching, organizing exhibitions and running alternative spaces" (Edgar Arceneaux, Allora and Calzadilla, Mitch Cope, Trisha Donnelly, Harrell Fletcher, Jay Heikes, Matt Keegan, Rick Lowe, Frances Stark and Michelle Grabner) are to nominate candidates for the awards, with the four winners selected by three "established artists known for their ground-breaking work" (Paul McCarthy, Cindy Sherman and Rirkrit Tiravanija).The grant winners receive an exhibition at the museum organized by curator Massimiliano Gioni.

Richard Rogers has taken the 2007 Pritzker Architecture Prize, worth $100,000. Among other projects, the 73-year-old Rogers -- whose firm, Richard Rogers Partnership, is based in London -- is known for the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, co-designed with Renzo Piano.

Mark your calendars for the Photography Show '07, Apr. 12-15, 2007, sponsored by the Association of International Photography Dealers, and featuring 90 AIPAD member galleries at the Park Avenue Armory. Meriting special attention on the schedule are the gala preview on Apr. 11, to benefit A.C.E., a nonprofit which provides job training and other services to the homeless (tickets to the event are $75), as well as a special dialogue at the Guggenheim between philanthropist and photo collector Henry Buhl and Gugg photo curator Jennifer Blessing, Apr. 14 at 10 am.

Denise Markonish, director and curator of Artspace in New Haven since 2002, has been appointed curator of MASS MoCA, a.k.a. the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, Mass. A graduate of the Bard College Center for Curatorial Studies, she organized "Jean Shin: Ensemble" and "Brandon Ballengee: Love Motels for Insects," among other shows.

MASS MoCA is also having a little trouble with Swiss "hyper-realist" installation artist Christoph Büchel, according to a report by Geoff Edgers in the Boston Globe. The artist's "Training Ground for Democracy," a sprawling environment including a cinema, deactivated bombs, a mobile home, nine shipping containers, an oil tanker, a playing field, a police car and the suspended fuselage of a 727, among other things, was originally scheduled to open in MASS MoCA's football-field-sized Building 5 on Dec. 16, 2006. The show was meant to present an "imagined community," and was inspired by the compound where Yasser Arafat was confined in Ramallah as well as other politically charged locales. (The project sounds eerily similar to Thierry Ehrmann's "Abode of Chaos" project, which residents of Saint-Romain-au-Mont-d'Or in France attempted to have halted by legal means last year [see Artnet News, Sept. 19, 2007].)

Having exhausted the project's $250,000 budget in December -- including about $100,000 spent acquiring and transporting a two-story house into the space -- the artist quit the project in dispute with MASS MoCA curators over how to complete the work. Now, according to the Globe report, Büchel refuses to return unless his demands are met. The artist refused to comment to the Globe, but his New York dealer, Michele Maccarone, did send the newspaper a seven-page document detailing his complaints and conditions, parts of which are reproduced on Edgers' blog. These include:

* That the institution replace its own crew with a new crew hired by the artist, which would work in addition to Büchel's three Swiss assistants, and that this team will have 24-hour access to work facilities to complete the project.

* That MASS MoCA initiate fundraising to complete the project to specifications (Büchel describes "Training Ground" as 50 percent complete in its current state). As one item in his list of demands states, "The additional monies raised must cover the costs for ALL elements and ALL structural elements, which are clearly defined and which were much discussed. This money would have to cover the cost of the salaries, flights, per diem and housing for the 1st and 2nd round for assistants and the replacement crew and equipment to be hired."

* That a project manager, Dante Birch, who Büchel claims was assigned on Dec. 15, 2006 (the original scheduled opening date of the show) serve as mediator in dealings between MASS MoCA and the artist.

* That the exhibition will not be shown as a "work in process" to any outsiders (the Globe article notes that MASS MoCA has already taken visiting curators and other notables on tours of the work). Büchel also demands that a final opening date not be set until he and his crew have returned to North Adams -- Büchel is currently in Europe working on other projects -- and that "Training Ground for Democracy" not open until a minimum of two months have passed after they return to the job.

According to Edgers, the public may never see the work -- though North Adams mayor John Barrett predicted the show would open in time for summer. At present, the exhibition is set to close on Oct. 31, 2007. MASS MoCA director Joseph C. Thompson said that he was doing all he could to lure Büchel back to the project, but also noted that he institution also had responsibilities "to the next 70 artists coming down the pike."

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