Featured image: National Museum of Qatar. Photo by Iwan Baan
What’s in a Name? Well, A Lot actually
London’s National Gallery is renaming a prized Edgar Degas pastel drawing in light of the war in Ukraine and calls for cultural reattribution. Formerly entitled “Russian Dancers” executed circa 1899, the dynamic pastel work will now be named “Ukrainian Dancers”. The work features women exuberantly dancing together in traditional folk dress and flower wreaths with flowing red, blue and yellow ribbons trailing down their backs. During the turn of the century, travelling dance troupes from across Eastern Europe travelled to Paris to famed cabaret clubs to showcase their talents, which no doubt inspired the French Impressionists to capture the movement and colour of the dancers in motion. The key clue to this piece lies in the coloured ribbons referencing the colours of the Ukrainian flag.
In the age of mass media, dissemination of information and increasing calls to hear the voices of long-oppressed cultures and Peoples, museums and institutions have had to take stock of their historical misattributions and rectify these misgivings. For this Degas, the history of Ukraine being lumped into a homogenized identity to Russia and ultimately flattening its cultural identity cannot be overlooked. The National Gallery’s decision to re-name the pastel makes a move towards righting history’s wrongs and returning cultural autonomy to Ukraine.
A Rare Phillip Guston Work is Speculated to Break the Artist’s Record this Spring
Estimated at a whopping $20-30 million USD, the rare post-war non-figurative work is slated for auction with Sotheby’s New York in their May evening sale dedicated to modern art. The estimate is the highest ever to be ascribed to a work by the artist and with a recent surge of interest in the artist’s early non-figurative work, “Nile” (1958) is speculated to break the artist’s record of $29.5 million (“To Fellini, 1913-1980”, Christie’s, 2013).
In the wake of recent censorship issues surrounding the artist’s use of Ku Klux Klan imagery in his later 1960s works, “Nile” has been causing a stir in the market. The sale will follow a few weeks after the opening of the 100-work exhibition “Phillip Guston Now,” which will debut at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and then travel to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, and Tate Modern in London. Importantly, this work is one of only three from a group of similar canvases of this period to remain in private hands (the others reside in MoMA and Whitney, New York) increasing the desire to own a rare piece. Moreover, Hauser and Wirth held an acclaimed survey of the artist’s non-figurative works in 2016 giving additional credence to this body of the artist’s work. Things are certainly heating up this spring in the auction world where fresh to market quality works are reigning supreme!
NFT’s Continue to be the Hero of our Times
Combining art and tweets to fund the Ukrainian army and civilians, the NFT drop comes from the Meta History Museum of War, the official collection of Ukraine’s Ministry of Digital Transformation. The works are comprised of wartime tweets and artist’s images in a collage-like image. Each work costs 0.15ETH (£390/$510 USD) and is being hailed as this generation’s war bond. “This collection is here to preserve the memory of the real events at given times during the war, to spread truthful information across the digital community in the world, and to collect donations in support of Ukraine,” a museum website statement states.
Behind the initiative is Alex Bornyakov, a 40-year-old marketing technology entrepreneur who is now the deputy minister for the Ministry of Digital Transformation. Bornyakov launched the museum with a tweet on 25 March and has already raised over $71 million in crypto out of a $200 million target in a campaign on its online portal.
Curiouser and Curiouser…Once Lost Notebooks of Charles Darwin Mysteriously Returned to Cambridge University, Packaged in Pink No Less
Two “Tree of Life” notebooks belonging to naturalist Charles Darwin have been returned to Cambridge University’s library. After two decades of being missing, the books were returned to the university anonymously, in good condition and in their original archive box. Of significance, one of the notebooks contains the scientist’s famous “Tree of Life” sketch, which revolutionized our understanding of evolutionary biology and planted the seeds of his ground-breaking “On the Origin of Species.”
The notebooks first went missing in 2001 after they were removed from Cambridge’s archive for photography and had assumed to be misplaced at the time. The decades-long search involved local police and Interpol to uncover the works valued in the millions of dollars. The notebooks were returned to the librarian’s office, interestingly not covered by CCTV, delivered in a pink gift bag, and containing a note wishing them a happy Easter. Cambridge’s Library staff extended their thanks to the public support and aid in the case and credits the appeal to the books return.
Cultural Capital in Qatar
Qatar has announced it will build the world’s largest museum of Orientalist art along with museums for modern and contemporary art and cars. Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, chairperson of Qatar Museums, announced the development of the three major new institutions at the 2022 Doha Forum in Qatar.
A central campus will offer exhibition and performance galleries for modern and contemporary art alongside spaces for education and residency programs, production facilities, a village for Qatari creative industries, the Dhow Centre, and gardens. Alejandro Aravena of Elemental, will design it. The Lusail Museum, which is being designed by architect Jacques Herzog of Herzog & de Meuron, will house the world’s most extensive collections of Orientalist paintings, drawings, photography, sculptures, rare texts, and applied arts. Lastly, the Qatar Auto Museum, to be designed by Rem Koolhaas of OMA, will feature the evolution of automobiles and their influence on Qatari culture.
In her introduction to the forum, Sheikha Al Mayassa said, “I am here today not only as a contributor to developing Qatar’s cultural institutions but as someone who is dedicated to helping my country realize its ambitious National Vision, so we can build the Qatar we want for our children and our citizens.”