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Artnet News
Sept. 28, 2010

An art show at the Musée du Louvre designed to build bridges between France and Russia as part of the "Year of Russia in France" looks now likely to highlight the ugly side of modern Russian politics, as it gets embroiled in charges of censorship. "The Counterpoint: Russian Modern Art," Oct. 14, 2010-Jan. 24, 2011, was meant to show off Russia’s contemporary art scene -- but then Russian officials prohibited the export of Avdei Ter-Oganyan’s 2004 "Radical Abstractionism" series, apparently deeming the conceptual-abstract works too provocative. The artist, who lives in exile in the Czech Republic, was given the opportunity to make reproductions for the show -- but declined, in order to draw attention to restrictions on speech faced by artists in Russia.

"Through my refusal, I want to attract attention to the relationship we have between culture and the authorities, or, more precisely, to cause this absurd conflict to escalate," he told the Moscow Times. "My artworks were actually created for this purpose, and they serve to vividly demonstrate the idiocy of idiots." Ter-Oganyan has also stated that he is acting in solidarity with a fellow dissident artist, Oleg Mavromatty, who lives in Bulgaria but recently had his external passport revoked by the Russian consulate. The gesture could force Mavromatty to return to Russia and face arrest for "inciting religious hatred and offending the feelings of religious believers," relating to a 2001 performance for which he crucified himself at a Moscow gallery.

Ter-Oganyan’s disputed works (some of which are viewable on the Guelman e-Gallery website) are fairly tame at first glance, consisting of playful geometric patterns accompanied by a Russian caption that cites an offense in the Russian criminal code, stating, for example "This work engages in prostitution." In 1998, Ter-Oganyan fled Russia over a controversy relating to another performance, for which he smashed Christian icons with an ax, prompting the authorities to accuse him of inciting religious hatred.

The Moscow Times reports that seven other artists featured in "The Counterpoint" plan to boycott the Louvre show if Ter-Oganyan’s works are not shown: Yuri Albert, Andrei Monastyrsky, Igor Makarevich, Vitaly Komar, Vadim Zakharov, Yuri Leiderman and Valery Koshlyakov. Russian speakers can follow the controversy as it develops, via Avedei Ter-Oganyan’s blog.

The timing could hardly have been less propitious. Last weekend, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art unveiled its brand new $53 million, 45,000-square-foot Resnick Exhibition Pavilion. Today, in Washington, D.C., the Federal Trade Commission charged the pavilion’s billionaire patrons, Lynda and Stewart Resnick -- who gave $45 million towards its construction -- with making false and unsubstantiated health claims about Pom Wonderful, their new-age pomegranate juice. Lynda Resnick is currently vice-chairman of LACMA’s board and oversees its acquisitions committee.

According to news reports, the FTC says the company ignored evidence contradicting its assertions that the juice could help fight heart disease, reduce the risk of prostate cancer and even overcome erectile dysfunction. The Resnicks remain unbowed, and the company has pledged to fight the complaint. The couple’s other businesses, according to the New York Times, include Telefora, Fiji Water, the Suterra brand of environmentally sensitive pest-control products, and Neptune Pacific Line, an Australian shipper. The Resnicks formerly owned the Franklin Mint.

Back in August, the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art got locals talking when it launched a campaign to get comedian Steve Martin to come out and support its upcoming 30th anniversary benefit art auction on Oct. 23, 2010. Why Steve Martin? Well, aside from the fact that Martin is known for his support of the visual arts, it so happens that the annual fundraiser has traditionally been hosted by a local art auctioneer also named Steve Martin. In the words of a letter to the actor from the SJICA, "this year we want to blow the roof off the joint.  So we figured, let’s just go for it. Let’s ask the other Steve Martin to join in the celebration too! What have we got to lose?" Since then, SJICA launched a Facebook campaign to push the cause, as well as sending Martin a personal appeal.

Well, all that work paid off last week. While the actor declined the invitation to serve as gala auctioneer -- the other Steve Martin gets to keep the job -- he has contributed what is being billed as a "mixed-media performance piece" to the event. On Thursday, a messenger delivered to the SJICA what appears to be a Chinese food container, signed by Martin and titled A Snowball’s Chance in Hell. Museum staff are mum about what, exactly, it contains -- if you want to know, you’ll just have to attend the gala! Tickets are available online at

A Manila lawyer has said that works by young Filipino artists are being used to circumvent the country’s currency-export regulations, a maneuver that allows "jueteng lords" -- gambling kingpins -- to launder their illegal profits. According to a story in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, paintings by young artists are rolled up and carried out of the country to be auctioned at Christie’s Singapore or another auction house, with the proceeds then deposited in local Filipino banks. According to the lawyer, Fernando Topacio, who is also an art collector, the scam has led to rising prices for contemporary Filipino artists -- such as Ronald Ventura (b. 1973), Mark Justiniani (b. 1966) and Elmer Borlongan (b. 1967).

A quick look at the Artnet auction database, however, doesn’t provide much evidence for this part of his claim. Justiniani has only two works in the database, with the highest selling for about $6,200 in 2005, and Borlogan is not listed at all. Ventura’s auction record of about $280,000 was set at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in 2008, with other works going for considerably less at more recent sales. The art scam is only one of several methods of money laundering in the Philippines, according to the newspaper.

Charlotte Rampling, Rutger Hauer and Michael York star in the new art-house feature film, The Mill & the Cross, inspired by Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s Way to Calvary (1564), a painting now at Vienna’s Kunsthistorsches Museum that immerses a scene from Christ’s passion in a teeming mob of 500 figures. Hauer plays Brueghel and Rampling is cast as the Virgin Mary in the film, which is directed by Lech Majewski and inspired by a study of the work by art historian Michael Gibson, who co-wrote the script.

In the film, Majewski makes the painting "come alive," digitally layering images of live actors with a reproduction of the painting and actual locations in Poland and the Czech Republic. The Mill & the Cross has its premiere at the Rotterdam International Film Festival, Jan. 26, 2010-Feb. 6, 2011, and is slated to be screened at the Musée du Louvre on Feb. 2, 2011.

Earthworks pioneer Nancy Holt is back in the art-world eye with "Nancy Holt: Sightlines," Sept. 22-Dec. 11, 2010, an exhibition of more than 40 works dating from 1966 to 1980 at the Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University. The show features films, videos and related works that document her "circumvention of modernist sculptural practice and institutional spaces," including Holt’s film Sun Tunnels (1978), which chronicles the construction of the eponymous site-specific work in the Utah desert, as well as Pine Barrens (1975), Swamp (1971, made in collaboration with Robert Smithson), Boomerang (1973, made with Richard Serra), and others. Curator of the show is Columbia art historian Alena J. Willams.

The exhibition coincides with the publication of Nancy Holt: Sightlines, the first account of the artist’s 45-year career, which is due from the University of California Press in January 2011. The book includes contributions from Julie Alderson, Matthew Coolidge, Pamela M. Lee, Lucy R. Lippard, James Meyer, Ines Schaber and Holt herself. An international tour of the show is also planned, and Anthology Film Archives has scheduled screenings of the artist’s films, Nov. 19-21, 2010.

Contemporary art curators are becoming an endangered species in Hartford, Conn., according to an article by Steven Holmes in the Hartford Courant. Three celebrated institutions in the area have fired their curators: Kristina Newman-Scott at the well-loved nonprofit Real Art Ways (RAW director Will K. Wilkins takes over curatorial duties, with a pay cut); Zina Davis at University of Hartford; and Nina Felshin at Wesleyan University. The moves were all prompted by belt-tightening for the respective institutions in the current economy. According to Holmes, the outflux leaves only Patricia Hickson at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art covering the territory.

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