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Artnet News
Sept. 2, 2005 

As the disaster of Hurricane Katrina continues to unfold, members of the art community look for information on the fate of the region’s museums, art galleries and art neighborhoods. Communications are difficult throughout the area, and news reports are scarce, but the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that the New Orleans Museum of Art, located in the middle of the flood zone but nevertheless sited on a rise, has weathered the storm with only limited damage. NOMA director John Bullard says that security and maintenance employees remained on duty at the museum throughout the storm, anxious to continue to secure the artwork despite recommendations from FEMA that they evacuate. On the other hand, sculpture on the museum grounds has apparently suffered some damage. A "tensegrity" structure by Kenneth Snelson was "reduced to a twisted mess" by the ferocious winds, according to reports.

Other information is trickling in and being compiled on the American Association of Museums website at The staff of the Art Museum at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, for instance, is camping inside the museum and trying to regroup. Much art was apparently saved by prudent planning, with works being moved in advance to other sites out of the hurricane’s path.

As for New Orleans’ vibrant gallery scene, one can only hope that it benefited from its proximity to the French Quarter, which was spared the worst of the flooding. Word about the actual status of galleries like Arthur Roger Gallery, Kurt E. Schon, Ltd., Aldridge Leatherman and Tilden-Foley Gallery, however, remains scant. It seems likely as well that many artists, especially those who made their homes in the poorer, low-lying districts, face serious losses in the disaster.

One of the casualties of last year’s "Republican coup" at the New-York Historical Society was a planned show devoted to slavery in New York [see Artnet News, June 24, 2004], which was cancelled. But new N-YHS director Louise Mirrer promised a bigger, better version of the exhibition, and now it is upon us. "Slavery in New York," Oct. 7, 2005-Mar. 5, 2006, features original documents relating to the buying and selling of slaves, as well as a week-long display of the Abraham Lincoln’s hand-lettered draft for the Emancipation Proclamation (Oct. 7-15, 2005). The show also includes art objects, such as wire sculptures reflecting the emotional ravages of human bondage, and multimedia installations designed to evoke the reality of the Middle Passage and slave revolts. It is organized by Richard Rabinowitz of the American History Workshop in collaboration with James Horton, author of Slavery and the Making of America

The list of galleries has been announced for the 2006 Armory Show in New York, slated for Mar. 10-13, 2006. The very contemporary (and very successful) art fair has become more selective than ever, with the total number of galleries dropping to 148, down from 162 in 2005 and 189 in 2004 – largely because most of the dealers wanted larger booths. The list does include 15 new exhibitors, as well as the return after some absence of L.A. dealer Patrick Painter and Johnen/Schöttle from Cologne. The "guest artist" for 2006 is the estimable John Wesley, who has made 22 new works that are to be reproduced in the catalogue, and that include some new installments in the artist’s famous Pop-art "Bumstead" series. The complete list of dealers can be found at

Ali Aboutaam, owner of the Phoenix Ancient Art Gallery in Geneva, has been cleared of charges of antique trafficking by the Egyptian government, according to a report published last month in Le Matin [see Artnet News, Dec. 29, 2004]. Aboutaam was convicted in absentia (and sentenced to 15 years in jail) last year along with 31 others, including Tareq al-Soweissi, a leader in Egypt’s ruling National Democratic Party who was depicted as the leader of a smuggling ring. Aboutaam always maintained his innocence. Now, it seems that prosecutors failed to establish a link between Aboutaam and al-Soweissi, and went overboard in their effort to crack down on the illegal antiquities trade, long a heated issue in Egypt. The entire case has been voided, with the government admitting that the charges shouldn't have been brought in the first place.

Is the Museum of Fine Art, Boston lost at sea? It certainly looks that way – at least, it does judging by the two huge yachts currently mounted on the museum’s front lawn, towering over its main entrance. The boats are trophies of super-collector William I. Koch, who is both sponsor and subject of  ''Things I Love: The Many Collections of William I. Koch," Aug. 31-Nov. 13, 2005, a large survey of the holdings of the founder of the Oxbow Corporation, an energy conglomerate. The show has drawn unfavorable comment from both newspaper editorialists and the blogosphere, suggesting that MFA director Malcolm Rogers may be lowering the museum’s standards in his pursuit of a wealthy patron.

The centerpiece of the exhibition is Koch’s enviable collection of Impressionist and modern paintings, which includes works by Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Pablo Picasso and Jean Arp. But the opportunity to share this artistic legacy has come at a steep price, with the museum ceding space for Koch’s gun collection, displays of his rare wines and, of course, the yachts, which Koch admittedly had shipped to the museum at his own expense (or rather, at the expense of his America{+3} Foundation). Koch is also underwriting the publication of the 200-page hardcover catalogue for the show, a tome that includes, according to press reports, an interview with Koch, photographs of his wine cellars and praise for his art by MFA curators.

Rogers calls his critics "stuffy" and claims that their "minor ethical concerns" distract the museum from one of its primary missions – attracting new visitors. But as Bloomberg Muse art critic Tyler Green writes on his blog Modern Art Notes, revenues from museum attendance make up less than four percent of the museum’s overall budget. In the meantime, whether the public will flock to a giant-sized show of all things Koch remains to be seen.

It had to happen. YBA superstar Damien Hirst has purchased the 124-acre Toddington Manor in Gloucestershire for £3 million, according to British press reports. But lest there be any confusion that the king of shock has gone all Martha Stewart on us, the "gothic style" property is said to be filled with "red-tinged blooms of dry rot" with "rows of haunting, crumbling statues of long-dead kings." Built in the early 1800s by the first Lord Sudeley, Charles Hanbury-Tracy, the mansion has since housed millionaires, World War II soldiers and even a school. Hirst announced plans to transform the grounds (at an estimated cost of £10 million) into an art museum.

-- contact wrobinson @