Smithsonian Repatriates Benin Bronzes, Damien Hirst Burns Art, and More: Morning Links for October 12, 2022

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The Headlines

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IT IS OFFICIAL. At the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art (NMAfA) in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, leaders of the National Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian returned 30 looted Benin Bronzes to Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments, the Washington Post reports. Earlier this year, the NMAfA took its Benin Bronzes off view and said that it was investigating their provenance as part of the process of repatriating them. The Smithsonian later voted to return 29; the NGA voted in 2020 to return the one it held. (ARTnews has a primer on the Benin Bronzes, which were taken by British troops from present-day Nigeria in the late 19th century.) The ceremony also included the transfer of one piece from the Rhode Island School of Design Museum in Providence, the Associated Press reports.

BURN, BABY, BURN. The big moment finally arrived on Tuesday: At his Newport Street Gallery in London, artist Damien Hirst burned 1,000 of his works in wood-fueled fires as part of his project The Currency. Some background, for the uninitiated: Hirst minted 10,000 NFTs, each tied to a small dot-covered painting on paper, and sold them for $2,000 a pop. He then gave their buyers a choice: Keep the NFT or the physical artwork; the other would be destroyed. A slim majority kept the physical piece. “To me there’s no gamble, there’s only ever art,” he said of that decision, per BBC News. Hirst expanded on his views on the matter to CNN. “A lot of people think I’m burning millions of dollars of art but I’m not,” he said. “I’m completing the transformation of these physical artworks into NFTs by burning the physical versions.”

The Digest

The Unboxed Festival (aka the “Festival of Brexit”), which opened in the United Kingdom in March, is being investigated by the country’s National Audit Office. The cost of the affair came to £120 million ($132 million today) and drew 238,000 people, a fraction of the projected number. [ArtReview]

A Ming Dynasty chair sold at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong this past weekend for some $16 million, well more than 10 times its $1.2 million low estimate. The piece was offered from the collection of the late businessman Joseph Hotung and is now the third-priciest chair ever sold at auction. [Artnet News]

Journalist Victoria Woodcock interviewed actor Brad Pitt, musician Nick Cave, and artist Thomas Houseago about their exhibition at the Sara Hildén Art Museum in Tampere, Finland. “We’re just three dudes, and we’re just making stuff,” Houseago said. [Financial Times]

Painter Mary Ryden has created a series of Barbie-themed artworks, as well as limited-edition Barbie dolls, in collaboration with toy giant Mattel. The works will go on view next month in a Los Angeles show organized by Mattel and Ryden’s dealer, Kasmin[Ocula]

Kukje Gallery in Seoul has transformed a traditional 1930s hanok home into a bookshop, office, and viewing room. Urban Ark handled the renovation, and designer Teo Yang (who lives in a hanok) contributed furnishings. [Architectural Digest]

Artist Cindy Sherman posted one of her radically reworked self-portraits to Instagram for the first time in over a year. “I’m back,” she wrote. [@cindysherman/Instagram]

The Kicker

FAMILY MEMORIES. Artist, musician, and activist Wolfgang Tillmans seems to be pretty busy, uncorking one project after another, but he also finds time to be a museum leader, serving as chair of the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London since 2019. He goes way back with the ICA, telling the Guardianthat, in 1994, he brought his parents to a Charles Ray show there. There “was a sculpture of a father, mother and baby girl all scaled to the same height, making these babies super-scary giants,” Tillmans said. “My mother was so upset by it, I guess because it shook her sense of the order of things. I’ll never forget it.” [The Guardian]


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