in News | 08 DEC 17

Saudi Crown Prince the Buyer of USD$450 Million Leonardo

In further news: MOCA Detroit suspends Jens Hoffmann after harassment allegations; Met refuses to remove ‘suggestive’ Balthus painting

in News | 08 DEC 17

Mohammad bin Salman. Courtesy: Flickr, Creative Commons and Number 10, London

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known by his initials MBS, has been revealed by the Wall Street Journal as the mystery bidder who paid USD$450.3 million for Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi (c.1500) – the paper pointed to US intelligence reports as identifying the prince as the painting’s buyer, who used a proxy to purchase it. The New York Times had earlier identified a lesser known Saudi Arabian prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud as the buyer – according to the Times, Bader's representatives only announced him as a bidder the day before the sale. The series of revelations follow the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s announcement that Salvator Mundi is coming to the museum, as well as a crackdown by Saudi authorities, led by MBS, which has seen the detainment of several members of the royal family, ostensibly a purge against corruption. Read Cody Delistraty on how the staggering price reached by Salvator Mundi prompts us to reconsider the question: what are you really buying when you buy an artwork? 

New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art has decided that it will not be removing Balthus’s Thérèse Dreaming (1938) after it became the focus of an online petition, titled 'Metropolitan Museum of Art: Remove Balthus' Suggestive Painting of a Pubescent Girl, Thérèse Dreaming’, which at the time of writing has 10,856 supporters. The petition says that the painting of the young girl ‘romanticizes the sexualization of a child’. New Yorker Mia Merril, who started the petition, wrote: ‘It is disturbing that the Met would proudly display such an image’, and on Twitter, Merril connected support for her petition to the #metoo movement. Merril has since updated the petition to clarify that she is not seeking the censorship or destruction of the painting, but suggests removing it from its current gallery or providing more context in the painting’s description. In a statement sent to frieze, Ken Weine, Vice President, Chief Communications Officer at The Met, pointed to the museum’s mission to 'collect, study, conserve, and present significant works of art across all times and cultures in order to connect people to creativity, knowledge, and ideas.’ Weine stated: 'Moments such as this provide an opportunity for conversation, and visual art is one of the most significant means we have for reflecting on both the past and the present, and encouraging the continuing evolution of existing culture through informed discussion and respect for creative expression.'

The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit has suspended curator Jens Hoffmann, following allegations of sexual harassment relating to his time at New York’s Jewish Museum. Hoffmann was suspended by the Jewish Museum on Monday, as it began an investigation into the harassment claims. Meanwhile, the Honolulu Biennial whose 2019 edition he had been due to curate, has cut ties. The Kadist Foundation where he was senior adviser, Mousse magazine where he was editor at large, Fundacíon Arte in Buenos Aires where he was artistic director, and the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art – the venue for the forthcoming People's Biennial Hoffmann was directing – have all moved to suspend him. In a statement sent to frieze, MOCAD director Elysia Borowy-Reeder said: 'MOCAD is troubled to hear of the allegations of sexual harassment made against Jens Hoffmann our Curator at Large. MOCAD is committed to providing a safe and unthreatening work environment for all its employees, artists and visitors. We have not been aware of any similar accusations while employed at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit.’ Borowy-Reeder also said: 'As the exact nature of the claims have not been made public or disclosed to us, Jens has been placed on unpaid leave as of Dec 5, effective until this is settled to our satisfaction. We learned of the allegations only Dec 4 and the Board needed time to process and discuss.’ Lance Gotko, the lawyer representing Hoffmann, referred us to a statement earlier this week in which he said that his client had not subjected anyone at the Jewish Museum to sexual harassment.

Meanwhile, the editor of the prestigious literary journal, the Paris Review, Lorin Stein, has resigned over an investigation into his sexual misconduct towards female staff and freelancers. Stein has been with the journal since 2010. The report in the New York Times said that Stein had sexually pursued interns and writers. In a message to the board, he apologized for his behaviour: 'At times in the past, I blurred the personal and the professional in ways that were, I now recognize, disrespectful of my colleagues and our contributors, and that made them feel uncomfortable or demeaned.’

Lubaina Himid has been awarded this year’s Turner Prize. She is the first woman of colour to win in the history of the award, and at 63, the oldest winner (after the upper age limit of 50 was dropped earlier this year). Himid wrote movingly for frieze earlier this year about the people and landscapes that have influenced her work, from Preston and Zanzibar to Romare Bearden and Betye Saar. And writing for frieze this week, David Osbaldeston takes a look at how her tableaux of collage and cut-outs animate the consequences of our colonial history and the construction of identity politics: in a divided Britain, will we listen?

In other prizes and grants news: the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland has launched a new artist award, Toby’s Prize (named after the collector and board member Toby Devan Lewis), which comes with USD$50,000. Puerto Rico-based artists Luis Agosto-Leduc and Jesús ‘Bubu’ Negrón have won New York's Queens Museum’s USD$30,000 Visible Award for socially engaged arts projects. New York nonprofit Queer|Art has named Fair Brane as the winner of its inaugural Barbara Hammer Lesbian Experimental Filmmaking Grant. LA-based artist Lauren Halsey has won this year’s William H. Johnson Prize, an annual USD$25,000 award for emerging African American artists. The William MB Berger Prize for British Art History 2017 has gone to Sacha Llewellyn’s publication Winifred Knights (1899-1947). And Los Angeles’s Hammer Museum has received a USD$200,000 grant for public programming.

LA’s Getty Center is due to reopen today after shutting because of wildfires burning across Los Angeles and Ventura County. A spokesperson for the Getty told frieze that the museum remains safe: 'The Getty Center was designed to protect the collections in the event of brushfire, using air filtration systems, sprinklers, fire doors, landscaping, and building materials and design to keep the collections safe.’

The Blanton Museum of Art at The University of Texas at Austin has announced the completion of a USD$23 million campaign for the contruction of Ellsworth Kelly’s Austin, which will now open to the public on 18 February 2018. Ellsworth Kelly gifted the building design to the museum in 2015. Austin originally began in drawings and models in 1987 – Blanton Director Simone Wicha worked with the artist in the last year of his life over crucial decisions for realizing the white stone and stained-glass monument. ‘This is a very important moment for the Blanton, our community, and for the arts in Austin’, Wicha said in a statement. The building will open alongside the exhibition 'Form into Spirit: Ellsworth Kelly’s Austin’.

Finally, in gallery news: New York’s Peter Freeman now represents sculptor Charles LeDray, while Blum & Poe will represent designer turned artist Tomoo Gokita. And Páramo Gallery of Guadalajara, Mexico, is opening a new space in New York, on the Upper East Side.