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ACT UP Protest Whitney Museum’s Wojnarowicz Retrospective; Says ‘AIDS Is Not History’

In further news: Angela Gulbenkian sued over Kusama pumpkin; and Pussy Riot re-arrested immediately after release from Russian detention 

ACT UP protest at New York’s Whitney Museum, 2018. Courtesy: ACT UP

ACT UP protest at New York’s Whitney Museum, 2018. Courtesy: ACT UP

ACT UP protest at New York’s Whitney Museum, 2018. Courtesy: ACT UP

Members of the New York chapter of ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, have staged a protest at the Whitney Museum of American Art over its retrospective of the late artist David Wojnarowicz. Activists say the exhibition, titled ‘History Keeps Me Awake at Night’, fails to properly link the legacy of Wojnarowicz’s AIDS activism to contemporary struggles. The artist was not only a prominent campaigner on AIDS issues, but also used his artworks to explore social stigma around those infected with HIV. Protesters held up posters and flyers in the gallery, one of which read: ‘AIDS is not history. The AIDS crisis did not die with David Wojnarowicz … We are here tonight to honour David’s art and activism by explicitly connecting them to the present day.’ The Whitney commented: ‘We completely agree that the AIDS crisis is not history. Part of our mission in mounting this exhibition is to make sure the history of the AIDS crisis figures centrally in American (and international) history so that it might inform present and future action.’

A Hong Kong art advisor is suing Angela Gulbenkian for failing to deliver a Yayoi Kusama pumpkin she had taken payment for. Married to the oil tycoon and collector Calouste Gulbenkian’s great-grandnephew, Angela Gulbenkian is at the centre of a lawsuit in which art advisor Mathieu Ticolat claims his firm paid USD$1.3 million for a Kusama sculpture that never materialized, Bloomberg reports. A motion to freeze Gulbenkian’s assets has been granted. ‘I got fooled by the name,’ Ticolat said. Angela Gulbenkian reportedly claimed that she was an agent of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and Calouste Gulbenkian Museum – the Foundation denied any connection.

A Robert Indiana legal dispute rolls on, triggered by a case against publishing firm American Image Art filed the day before the pop artist’s death in May. The case was originally filed by the Morgan Art Foundation and accuses the publishing firm and its founder Michael McKenzie of exploiting Indiana’s work by flooding the market with at least USD$30 million worth of forgeries, which are said to have damaged the artist’s reputation. However, the defendant has alleged that it is Morgan who exploited Indiana, claiming the foundation never paid the artist in full and wanted to keep him in ‘economic servitude.’ Morgan Art Foundation had a contract with Indiana which gave them copyright and trademark rights on all work produced by Indiana between 1960 and 2004 and the exclusive rights to reproduce and sell the images for 50 percent net income. Indiana worked with American Image Art on works not covered by Morgan’s contracts – they are seeking a declaration that they did not violate copyright and damages for defamation.

Members of Pussy Riot have been arrested immediately after being released from detention following their much-publicized on-pitch World Cup Final protest. According to Pussy Riot’s Twitter account, the four members were brought to the police station again and charged with ‘the organization and holding of public events without prior written notice’. The four members could face a further 10 days of jail time or a fine of up to 30,000 rubles (USD$480). Performance artist Marina Abramović recently donned a red balaclava and condemned the group’s imprisonment. ‘I am for free Pussy Riot,’ she said in a film posted by the punk-feminist collective on Twitter.

The legal battle over Picasso’s The Actor (1904-05) held at the Met has reopened as an appeal is brought in federal court in New York by the estate of Alice Leffmann. The appeal has challenged a lower court’s dismissal of claims that the piece of art was sold under duress during the Nazi era. The German Jewish collector Paul Leffmann originally sold the work in Italy in 1938 for USD$13,200, as he fled the country alongside his wife Alice. The work ended up in the Met’s collection in 1952 after passing through several collectors. Now the estate of Alice Leffmann says that the Leffmanns faced significant duress in 1938: ‘You either sell or face an unspeakable fate,’ their filing states. An attorney for the Met said: ‘The Museum respectfully stands by its conclusion that it is the rightful owner of this painting, which was never in the hands of the Nazis and never sold or transferred in any unlawful way.’

In gallery news: New York’s Peter Freeman, Inc. now represents Brazilian artist Fernanda Gomes; Los Angeles gallery Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, which has operated for 37 years, has announced that it may temporarily have to close while it searches for a new home in the city following its building coming under new management; Hollis Taggart gallery in New York is moving from the seventh floor of its current 521 West 26th address to the first floor this September; and artist-run gallery Hello Studio in San Antonio, Texas, is permanently closing after seven years in operation.

And finally, Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum is teaming up with Vans for a new collection. The collaboration will see the artist’s work printed on various garments including hats, bomber jackets and shoes – with proceeds dedicated to ‘the preservation of Vincent van Gogh’s legacy and collection of art; keeping it accessible for future generations’, the skate shoe brand said.

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