Just the 5 art world updates you should know this week.
In short: Art Basel Develops Urban Art Initiative, Demand for Chinese Art Remains Strong & Syrian Artifacts Survive ISIS Occupation
1. Palmyra’s Antiquities Survive ISIS Occupation Better Than Expected
After holding the city of Palmyra for 1o moths, ISIS has been forced from the city by Syrian governmental forces, allowing the first images of the ancient city post-terrorist occupation to come to light.
It was already known that ISIS wreaked destruction on the city — a UNESCO world heritage site known as the “Pearl of the Desert,” with artifacts dating back to the Roman Empire. However, new images prove that much more of the city remains intact than experts feared. Maamoun Abdelkarim, Syria’s antiquities chief, remarked that “the landscape, in general, is in good shape,” and vowed that Syria would restore and rebuild the destroyed monuments, including the Temple of Bel and the Arch of Triumph: “We will rebuild the two temples under supervision from UNESCO and other international organizations. The message of the Syrian people is that we cannot leave the two temples in ruins. We are determined to bring Palmyra back to life.”
2. Art Basel Looks to Stimulate Growth in Urban Economics, Art Scenes
Art Basel is hoping to share the wealth of its artistic influence with a new initiative entitled “Art Basel Cities,” through which the fair will aim to have a positive economic impact in the cities around the world.
Looking to partner with cities that have either emerging or established art scenes, Art Basel Cities will search out local creative collaborators to create “tailored arts programming” in the city, with the assistance of advisory firm Creative Glass Group. Art Basel will also feature work from its partner cities at its annual fairs. The program is motivated by the indisputably significant growth Art Basel has caused through its satellite fairs; according to Miami Mayor Philip Levine, in the 14 years since Art Basel began its Miami Beach edition, “Miami Beach and its neighboring cities have seen the number of galleries grow from six to over 130.” Art Basel hopes that it can have such expansionary, positive effects on city economies and art markets elsewhere as well.
3. Demand for Chinese Art Remains Strong
This week, The New York Times ran an article on the increasingly pricey Chinese art market, finding that amid turmoil in international financial sectors, it is Chinese art (and historical art, in particular) that continues to set records on the secondary market.
Indeed, according to the Fine Art Foundation’s annual report, Chinese decorative art and antiques was one of the few auction sectors that grew in 2015. This consistent demand for Chinese art comes, in large part, from Chinese collectors; while demand for art in Western countries approaches acquisitions from an investment frame of mind, Chinese collectors are incredibly historically and patriotically conscious, looking to interact with their country’s political and cultural history. In interviewing auctioneers, the article also found that authenticity and confidence in artwork are very important to Chinese collectors. Therefore, a Chinese may also be drawn to historical pieces or work associated with their country’s culture due to greater trust in the piece or due to the work’s verifiable history.
4. Art Censorship Showed Troubling Trends in 2015
A new report issued by Freemuse, a Danish free speech advocacy group, found that censorship on and threats to artistic freedom increased significantly in 2015.
The group recorded 469 attacks and cases of censorship last year, the worst year in the agency’s records and up substantially from 2014, with only 237. China and Russia led the countries with the most incidents (20 and 15, respectively), however democratic governments appeared on the list as well, with the United States at 8 and the United Kingdom at 6. Musicians were the most targeted, followed by filmmakers and writers. Freemsue recognized that this year’s jump in cases can partially be attributed to the increased reporting that violations of artistic freedoms are receiving. However, Ole Reitov, Freemuse’s executive director, maintained that the count reflects a troubling trend worldwide: “Art continues to address important, controversial issues. In a way censorship of the arts is a barometer of political, cultural and religious and social conflicts within societies and many societies are going through value based identity crisis at the moment.”
5. Stolen, Ancient Italian Artwork Recovered
$10 million worth of Italian antiquities have been recovered in Switzerland, where they were being stored by disgraced British art dealer, Robin Symes.
Authorities were directed to the Swiss storage unit after uncovering incriminating papers from an art smuggler that indicated the artifacts’ location. Once at the unit, they uncovered what Italian culture minister, Dario Franceschini, described as “forty-five crates containing tens of thousands of archaeological relics of extraordinary quality.” The pieces — which include Etruscan and Roman sarcophagi, marble statues and mosaic works — date from between the seventh century BC and the second century AD. Franceschini called the operation “one of the most important recoveries of the last few decades,” and indicated that the works had initially been stolen in the 1970s and 80s. The works have now been shipped to Rome and will soon return to the regions from which they were originally taken.