1.     Pussy Riot Member Helps Raise Millions for Ukraine
Nadya Tolokonnikova, a member of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot, has backed UkraineDAO to create an NFT of the Ukrainian flag in solidarity with Ukraine during the current ongoing conflict. A vocal opponent to the Russian government, the UkraineDAO sale garnered over 3,200 contributions in 72 hours for a share of the digital image. The sale resulted in $6.75 million donated to “Come Back Alive”, a campaign in support of Ukraine’s defence. The NFT was produced as a single edition on the Ethereum blockchain. After preliminary consideration of creating unique artwork, it was later felt that the strong direct imagery of the Ukrainian national flag kept a focus on the core ethos of the initiative.

In the digital age, cryptocurrency has found a revolutionary position in the financial support of political movements and has been particularly important for Ukraine’s government. Whereas traditional currency transactions may have been intercepted, halted, or otherwise controlled, the world of crypto and the emergence of NFTs break through these barriers and offer a unique opportunity to the current conflict in Ukraine. To date, more than $30 million of cryptocurrency donations have been raised in support of Ukraine.

Credit: UkraineDAO

2.     Benin Bronzes Coming Home
Following the agreement between Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments and the Smithsonian Institution, the museum has initiated plans to return many of Nigeria’s Benin Bronzes currently in its collection. This announcement from a Smithsonian spokeswoman, Linda St. Thomas, comes five months after Ngaire Blankenberg, head of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, confirmed that she has removed the Benin Bronzes from display after review of its collection practices and ethical concerns of former acquisitions. The full collection of 39 Benin Bronzes, formerly known as the Benin Kingdom Court Style artworks, encompass a variety of pieces ranging from brass plaques, ivory works, busts, and figures looted during the British Army’s 1897 raid on the ancient Kingdom of Benin, now Nigeria.

Though the institution holds legal title on the artworks, the issue of restitution is one more of relationship-mending, decolonization, and the moral obligations to return looted cultural pieces to their country of origin. The Smithsonian continues to work directly with the government of Nigeria to give up ownership of the works and send the pieces back to Nigeria, at the expense of the Smithsonian. This move is a positive step forward in the decades-long pursuit to have returned the stolen pieces scattered across the globe.

Brass plaque looted by Captain George Le Clerc Egerton from Benin City. Pitt Rivers Museum/Dumas-Egerton Trust (accession number 1991.13.8).

3.     Still Seeing Spots
Yayoi Kusama’s, ‘Pumpkin [TOWSSO]’ (2006), more than quadrupled pre-sale estimates at Christie’s March 2nd Postwar and Contemporary Art Day Sale. With pre-sale expectations of £200,000-400,000, the quintessential pop piece sold for a price realized of £831,600 in Christie’s London saleroom. With the artist’s recent massive retrospective touring the globe and museums clamouring to add the artist’s most celebrated mirror rooms to their permanent collections fueling the artist’s market, this small painting proves the fierce continued appetite for collectors seeking to add Kusama to their portfolios. The 93-year-old artist has experienced a staggering 80% growth in her market from 2018-2022 and continues to be a powerhouse on the exhibition and auction circuit.

YAYOI KUSAMA (B. 1929), Pumpkin [TOWSSO], signed, titled, and dated ‘YAYOI KUSAMA 2006 PUMPKIN TOWSSO’ (on the reverse), acrylic on canvas, 8 3⁄4 x 10 3⁄4in. (22.3 x 27.4cm), Painted in 2006, Image courtesy of Christie’s


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4.     Hear Them Roar
Katharina Fritsch and Cecilia Vicuña have been awarded the Venice Biennale’s prestigious Golden Lions for Lifetime Achievement award. The German and Chilean artists were chosen by Cecilia Alemani, the curator of the 59th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia (“The Milk of Dreams”, April 23rd – November 27th, 2022). The artist’s contributions to the field of contemporary art and championing of political movements, human rights and environmental issues have been credited in the announcement from the Biennale. The artists are set to receive their awards on the Biennale inauguration day, April 23rd, 2022.  Cecilia Alemani explains, “the exhibition focuses on three themes in particular: the representation of bodies and their metamorphoses; the relationship between individuals and technologies; the connection between bodies and the Earth.” Fritsch and Vicuña follow two other women artists —Maria Lassnig and Marisa Merz— who were also awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement under the Biennale curator Massimiliano Gioni in 2013. Both artists will feature in the main “The Milk of Dreams” exhibition.

Cecilia Vicuña in 2021. Photo: William Jess Laird. Courtesy Venice Biennale.

Katharina Fritsch. Photo: Janna Grak. Courtesy Venice Biennale.

5.     The One That Started Them All…
In an exciting revelation, the first iteration of Bacon’s iconic “screaming Pope” entitled ‘Landscape with Pope/ Dictator’ (around 1946) is on view at London’s Gagosian Gallery. The piece was reportedly acquired from Bacon’s London studio in 1951 and later was held in galleries in Milan and Turin before being purchased by a private Italian collector. The painting featuring a rather menacing figure, painted in Monaco around 1946, was discovered by Martin Harrison, an authority on Francis Bacon’s paintings, as he compiled the artist’s catalogue raisonné in 2016. Gagosian’s director Richard Calvocoressi says in a statement: “It is particularly exciting that this important early Bacon has re-emerged now, while three of the artist’s reinterpretations of the Pope theme—from 1949, 1951, and 1965—are on display in London, in the Royal Academy’s current exhibition, “Francis Bacon: Man and Beast.” Although the artwork is not for sale, the opportunity to experience a preliminary work of the artist’s iconic series opens a window into Bacon’s inspiration of Velázquez in his practice, combining religious elements and a fascination with power.

Francis Bacon’s Landscape with Pope/Dictator (around 1946) © The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. DACS 2022