This isn’t (entirely) the cancellation news roundup that you might think it is.
At the outset, let’s acknowledge the obvious: it’s no surprise to learn that the Coronavirus pandemic is having a major impact on the art world. The new normal in the art news media is swiftly becoming reporting on shows and events shutting down early, or never opening in the first place. There are now dozens of shuttered museums and exhibitions in Paris, Rome, and Vienna, among other places. Outside of art institutions, the art business world is starting to feel the pinch as well.
The Spring edition of the European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) in Maastricht, which as I mentioned in last week’s Art News Roundup is one of the major art trade events of the calendar year, was shut down yesterday, four days earlier than scheduled. That decision was not necessarily an impractical one, given that health authorities worldwide are warning the public to be careful about attending large group gatherings. What probably made some of the fair’s organizers privately rather nervous however, was the fact that one of the Modern Art dealers selling at TEFAF returned home to Italy this past weekend, where he was subsequently diagnosed with the Coronavirus. There’s no indication that he was carrying the virus during his time in Maastricht, but I suspect that the Fair was right to err on the side of caution.
There are other consequences that reach well beyond the countries where these closed institutions and cancelled events are located. Just this week for example, the National Gallery of Art here in Washington was forced to announce the postponement of its upcoming show, “A Superb Baroque: Art in Genoa, 1600–1750”. The exhibition, which was scheduled to open on May 3rd, may now be put off up to a year because, at present, Italian museums are unable to ship the paintings over. I was particularly looking forward to reviewing this, as it’s a fairly unexplored area of art for me, so hopefully the show will go on at a future date.
Yet amidst all of these closures and cancellations due to the Coronavirus, cancel culture has also been having a major impact on the art news media of late – so lest these stories slip under the radar, let’s take a look at some of them.
Now that the somewhat badly-reported and misunderstood outrage machine outputs surrounding Yale’s decision earlier this year to cancel its current introductory course on art history have died down, art historian Bendor Grosvenor has weighed in with an interesting take on the whole business. In this opinion piece for The Art Newspaper, he asks the same question that I’ve asked myself, which is whether Yale could simply have added additional courses, to reflect the more global background of their students and faculty, rather than trying to march Western art history naked through the streets ringing a “Shame!” bell. He also tosses something of a grenade into the controversy: “Is art history really guilty of colonialism, and even racism? If so, then by extension studying it, and deriving pleasure from doing so, makes us complicit in the original act of colonial oppression.” I’ve not wrapped my head round that one yet, but it’s certainly a provocative assertion, and Mr. Grosvenor is always worth reading, whether you agree with him or not.
A major traveling exhibition of the collection of the Princes of Liechtenstein, scheduled to visit the U.S. and Canada for the next two years, has been cancelled at the last minute. As ArtNet reports, the show, which featured Old Master paintings, decorative objects, some of the crown jewels, and so on, was supposed to open at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa this June, then travel to the Seattle Art Museum, The Kimbell in Fort Worth, and finally the National Gallery here in DC. The Canadians cancelled theirs first, citing in a statement to ArtNet a fifteen-year-old public report commissioned by Liechtenstein itself about the use of forced labor on royal lands during World War II – and having nothing whatsoever to do with art. I’m hoping at some point that someone can provide a rational basis for this cancellation, because if there is one I fail to perceive it.
The “climate crisis” has claimed another corporate victim in the art world. Royal Dutch Shell has decided to stop funding two major cultural institutions in London: the British Film Institute, and one of the ugliest arts complexes on the planet – which is saying something – London’s Southbank Centre, which contains performing arts space as well as the Hayward Gallery. A group headed by this fellow claimed victory, while Shell attempted to save face by declaring that it simply chose not to renew its relationships with these institutions. Once British and European pressure groups run out of fuel companies, whom will they go after next? My bet is on banks and insurance companies, but we’ll just have to wait and see.