Art World Roundup: response to global protests, Black Lives Matter murals, a found Banksy, and upcoming auction horrays and woes

Art World Roundup: response to global protests, Black Lives Matter murals, a found Banksy, and upcoming auction horrays and woes
Charlotte, North Carolina's Black Lives Matter street art. Courtesy Flickr Commons | Photo: Alex Orellana

This week’s Art World Roundup covers ongoing response to global protests, from Steve McQueen to Black Lives Matter artworks to a controversial ex-Whitney Museum trustee, and a couple of upcoming auctions at Sotheby’s and Christie’s that are making headlines for very different reasons. 


Artist Steve McQueen dedicates Cannes Film Festival films to George Floyd

Steve McQueen, award-winning artist and filmmaker, is dedicating a series of films, commissioned by the BBC, called “Small Axe” to George Floyd, a Black man killed by police in Minneapolis on May 25th. “I dedicate these films to George Floyd and all the other black people that have been murdered, seen or unseen, because of who they are, in the U.S., U.K., and elsewhere,” McQueen said in a statement to BBC News. Two of the five full-length films, Mangrove and Lovers Rock, were selected to be part of the Cannes Film Festival, until it was called off due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Each of the films tell a different story set in London’s West Indian community between the 1960s and 1980s.


Company headed by controversial ex-Whitney trustee divests in tear gas

In July of 2019, Warren B. Kanders, CEO and chairman of Safariland, stepped down from the Whitney Museum’s board of trustees after protesters criticised his part in the supply of tear gas canisters to US border patrol through his company that were used against migrants along the US-Mexico border. Now, Safariland is divesting in tear gas. On June 9th, Safariland announced that the portion of the company that “provide[s] various crowd control solutions including chemical agents, munitions, and batons, to law enforcement and military agencies” would be sold. The announcement comes at a time when tear gas has been used against protesters in many US cities, although current events were not mentioned by Safariland in the announcement.

Protesters outside the Whitney Museum in 2018.


Stolen Banksy recovered in Italy

A Banksy honouring victims of terrorist attacks on Paris in 2015 that was stolen last year has been recovered according to Italian authorities. The artwork was painted on the door to the Parisian music venue where a gunman killed 90 people and injured more than 400 people who were attending a concert. The door turned up in an abandoned farmhouse in the Abruzzo region of Italy when police raided the building. The Banksy is not the first work by the artist to fall victim to theft, but it is one of the rare moments when a work is recovered.


Who’s next?

As protests broke out around the world after the killing of George Floyd, statues paying homage to colonial and Confederate pasts in various countries have been defaced and toppled. In Bristol, a statue of 17th century slave trader Edward Colston, which was erected for his philanthropy and labeled as “one of the most virtuous and wise sons,” was felled and rolled into the city’s harbour. In the US, Virginian officials vowed to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee that stands at the center of the state’s capital as soon as it was safe to do so. Although, a Richmond circuit court judge announced plans to block the removal. In the meantime, another statue, this time memorialising Jefferson Davis, who was the president of the Confederacy, was toppled amid Richmond protests. Statues of other major players in colonialism, including Christopher Columbus and King Leopold II of Belgium, have also been defaced, decapitated, or torn down. Momentum gained by protesters around the globe has also resulted in petitions in various places, including the Bahamas, calling for the removal or statues memorialising oppressive persons and regimes. As statues fall, it raises questions of which statue will be next alongside those of what to do once monuments come down, a question that has long haunted many cities and even saw Banksy weigh in.


Rare Rembrandt to lead Sotheby’s July auction

For the first time since 1970, a rare self-portrait by Rembrandt will head to auction block. The small self-portrait, one of only two known by the artist, will be one of the leading lots for Sotheby’s first cross-category sale now set for July 28th. Painted in 1632, the work was either created as a sample for commissioned works or as a work to promote himself to the father of Saskia van Uylenburgh, who the artist would marry. While it has not often come to auction, the work has changed hands a number of times in previous decades, with the seller of the work, Dutch dealer Noortman Master Paintings, having acquired it in 2005. The self-portrait “is painted with the visceral energy and sureness of touch that we associate with the greatest artist of the Dutch Golden Age,” said Sotheby’s co-chairman of Old Master Paintings worldwide George Gordon. The Rembrandt is expected to bring in between £12 million and £16 million during the auction.

Rembrandt van Rijn’s “Self-portrait wearing a ruff and black hat” (1632) heads to auction in July. Courtesy Sotheby’s.


Art historian calls out Christie’s ahead of sale of African art

Christie’s is catching flack ahead of a sale of African artworks from art historian Chika Okeke-Agulu, Princeton University professor of indigenous, modern, and contemporary African and African Diaspora art history and theory. A pair of Igbo sculptures, known as alusi or “sacred sculptures,” are due to be part of a June 29th auction at Christie’s. The auction house labeled the works as having been “acquired in situ” by the late French collector Jacques Kerchache between 1968 and 1969. Okeke-Agulu raised the issue in an Instagram post calling into question the dubious circumstances around how the artworks have come to Christie’s. In his post, Okeke-Agulu states that the works were taken from Nri-Awka, an area of Nigeria near Okeke-Agulu’s hometown, during civil war. “[Christie’s] did its supposed due diligence by stating that Jacques Kerchache had acquired them in situ,” stated Okeke-Agulu in an interview with ARTnews. “As someone who survived the Nigerian-Biafran War as a baby, this is something that is so close to my heart. It was the most devastating war in post-colonial Africa at the time. A lot of my mates died because of the starvation used by the Nigerian government to bring the runaway republic to its knees.” Okeke-Agulu’s plea joins similar calls for the repatriation of works taken primarily from