Pioneering Chinese artist Geng Jianyi dies at the age of 55

In further news: Abu Dhabi authorities now say they acquired USD$450 million Leonardo; removal of artworks in Catalonia stokes separatist tensions

Geng Jianyi, The Second State, 1987, oil on canvas, 130 x 196 cm. Courtesy: ShangART, Beijing/Shanghai

Geng Jianyi, The Second State, 1987, oil on canvas, 130 x 196 cm. Courtesy: ShangART, Beijing/Shanghai  

Geng Jianyi, The Second State, 1987, oil on canvas, 130 x 196 cm. Courtesy: ShangART, Beijing/Shanghai  

The pioneering Chinese conceptual artist Geng Jianyi has died of cancer in Hangzhou, China, at the age of 55. Geng emerged as a key figure within the country's ‘85 New Wave movement, and his career has encompassed a rich array of techniques, from photography to textual work, returning repeatedly to questions of identity creation. He is most famous perhaps for his oil studies of faces, caught between states of laughter (including 1987’s The Second State), though in later years, the artist moved towards more conceptual installation works. Lorenz Helbling, founder of ShanghART gallery (which represented Geng), confirmed the news of the artist’s passing to frieze – he was an ‘inspiration for many’, Helbling commented, ‘his spirit will live on in his works and his friends. But he will be missed.' Geng was born in Zhengzhou in 1962 and began studies at the oil painting department of the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts. He was a founder along with Zhang Peili of the Pond Society artists group in 1986, initiating public artistic interventions in Hangzhou, including tai-chi movement paper cut-outs on a wall, in 1986's Work No.1, ‘Yang Style Tai Chi Series’. ‘They tried to experiment with daily life and the limits of what could be considered art’ wrote our Beijing contributing editor Carol Yinghua Lu in 2013. His work is included in in the Guggenheim New York’s current major survey show ‘Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World’. Carol Yinghua Lu pays tribute to Geng’s life and work in her ‘Looking Back 2017’ reflections from China: he ‘questioned the idea of projecting too much meaning onto the formal aspects of art and expressed his own relief at not being bound by such superficial concerns’.

There’s a new twist surrounding Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi (c.1500) which sold for USD$450.3 million to a mystery bidder at Christie’s in New York last month: Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism now says that it acquired the painting for the newly opened Louvre Abu Dhabi. The revelation was confirmed by Christie’s in New York. The news followed a week of shifting speculation when the New York Times first reported on 6 December 2017 that the work had been bought by a lesser known Saudi prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud. The next day, the Wall Street Journal produced a new version of events, citing US intelligence reports and anonymous sources to conclude that the actual buyer was the Saudi Crown Prince himself, Mohammed bin Salman, who had used Prince Bader to act as his proxy (news which sat rather awkwardly with the Kingdom's current anti-corruption drive pushed by Saudi authorities and led by the Crown Prince). But on Friday, Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism released a statement in which it claimed ownership of the work and confirmed the painting would go on view at the Louvre Abu Dhabi (a tweet from the museum earlier in the week had stated that it would be exhibiting the Leonardo at an unknown date). Manuel Rabaté, director of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, said in the statement: ‘Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece Salvator Mundi fits perfectly into the narrative of Louvre Abu Dhabi, the first universal museum to break down the barriers between civilisations’.

Separatist tensions have been thrust into the open again with the removal of artworks at the Museum of Lleida, in the northeastern Catalan city, a week before regional elections – it's the latest development in a longrunning ownership dispute. Early on Monday morning, the Guardia Civil and Catalan police force entered the museum to pack up the medieval artefacts. Struggles broke out between police and demonstrators after hundreds gathered outside the museum to protest the removal of the religious artworks, chanting ‘Hands up! This is a robbery!' The pieces were sold to the Catalan government by Sijena convent, Aragón, in 1983, but now the Aragonese authorities say the sale by the convent’s nuns was unlawful. With Catalonia currently under Spanish government control, Spain’s culture minister Íñigo Méndez de Vigo has ordered the return of the works to Aragón. Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont who has fled to Belgium criticized the removal on Twitter, saying that the Spanish authorities have taken 'advantage of a coup d’état to plunder Catalonia with absolute impunity’. Catalan journalist and novelist Albert Forns, who wrote last month for frieze on how Catalonia’s cultural scene iss being shaped by the repercussions of the offensive against the region’s independence push, told us that the artworks had been removed from their original site during the early days of the Spanish Civil War for protection from anarchists burning Catholic buildings across the country, and were then later sold to the Catalan government – that sale was cancelled by a Spanish court last year.

Artforum magazine has filed a motion in which it has asked for the dismissal of a lawsuit filed against it in October by its former staffer Amanda Schmitt. Schmitt alleges that Artforum’s former copublisher Knight Landesman sexually harassed her while she was a circulation assistant at the magazine back in 2009 and continued after she left the publication in 2012 – the lawsuit named both Artforum and Landesman as defendants, and the magazine has clarified that its response was only on behalf of the magazine, citing its separation from Landesman. Landesman is yet to respond to the suit. Schmitt claims that the magazine’s publishers excluded her from events and dinners after she approached them with her complaints in 2016, but the magazine denies these claims of retaliation. Knight Landesman resigned after 35 years at the magazine following allegations of sexual misconduct by Schmitt at the end of October (though he remains a co-owner of the magazine) – Artforum initially released a statement standing by Landesman, before changing tack a day later to say that ‘staff […] have told us that Knight Landesman engaged in unacceptable behavior and caused a hostile work environment’ – its editor Michelle Kuo later resigned. Schmitt was recently named by TIME magazine as one of its ‘People of the Year’ in a tribute to women across cultural industries speaking out against alleged sexual harassment.

Following the sexual harassment allegations against curator Jens Hoffmann regarding his time at the Jewish Museum, New York, three editors of the Exhibitionist journal which Hoffmann founded in 2009, have resigned. Managing editor Liz Rae Heise-Glass, editor-at-large Piper Marshall and senior editor Julian Myers-Szupinska have released a statement in which they write: ‘We wish to make clear that we do not condone sexual harassment, intimidation, or abuse in any context, and that we support those who are coming forward in this profound moment of reckoning.’ The Jewish Museum suspended Hoffmann last week and is investigating the allegations. A number of other institutions including MOCA Detroit and the Kadist Foundation have also suspended Hoffmann, while the Honolulu Biennial cut its ties altogether.

Tate Britain has announced Anthea Hamilton as the next artist for its 2018 commission: the London-born artist will produce an immersive six-month installation, weaving sculpture and performance, at the institution’s Duveen Galleries, to be unveiled on 21 March 2018. Alex Farquharson, director of Tate Britain, commented on Hamilton’s work: ‘She creates unforgettable experiences that both provoke and delight and I’m excited to see how she will transform this unique space next year’. Hamilton is the first black woman to be awarded the commission.

The University of Notre Dame, Indiana, US, has announced splans for a new Raclin Murphy Museun of Art, named after the philanthropists Ernestine Raclin, and daughter and son-in-law Carmen and Chris Murphy, who made a lead donation of an undisclosed amount to the project. The new USD$66 million art museum will be part of the university’s larger arts complex project, with construction beginning in 2020.

And finally, the organizing committee of the Busan Biennale is looking for an artistic director for the exhibition’s 2018 edition. The deadline for applications is 15 December 2017: the director will be selected through open recruitment rather than an internal recommendation committee – the committee’s executive director Choi Tae Man commented that the exhibition was ‘an open artistic institution’ and that open recruitment would be ‘a breakthrough in showcasing the biennale’s intention to proceed with a new vision.’ Application details can be found here.

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