Art World Roundup: a long-lost statue found in a river, resources for supporting Black-led galleries, the Van Gogh Foundation buys saucy letter, and more

Art World Roundup: a long-lost statue found in a river, resources for supporting Black-led galleries, the Van Gogh Foundation buys saucy letter, and more
Statue potentially dating back to the 14th century found in Spanish river. Photograph: Conchi Paz/Galician regional government
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This week’s Art World Roundup offers resources for supporting Black-owned and operated galleries in the US. We also look at how the Smithsonian and other museums are documenting history now, Ekene Ijeoma’s unique vision of a portrait of NYC, a forgotten statue found by a fisherman in Spain, and an open letter calling for diversity at the Jewish Museum in New York. Last but not least, we cover the Van Gogh Foundation’s recent purchase: a letter co-written by Van Gogh that discloses his vision for modern art and trips to the brothel. 


Supporting Black dealers, gallerists, and artists

In recent weeks, protests have called for representation, equality, and respect across the US and elsewhere in response to a Minneapolis police officer killing George Floyd. For many, this has been a turning point in recognising the issues that BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of colour) have been intimately familiar with and fighting against every day for decades. As more people intentionally seek out Black-own and run business to support, many will be reexamining the art world, looking for better ways to see art by artists who have largely and historically been ignored by mainstream institutions. Artsy has compiled a list of nearly 30 US galleries that were founded or are run (fully or in-part) by Black gallerist and dealers. The list will evolve as the publication receives submissions. So, if you’re looking to support Black creatives find Artsy’s list here. Additionally, this is another list of arts foundations working to highlight Black voices within the arts community.


ISO: signs of protest

Last year, the V&A in London put a call out for signs and items from Extinction Rebellion protests raising awareness for climate change. Just last month, museums and organisations began seeking out homemade signs and amateur photography of our collective experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, the Smithsonian, and others, are collecting signs from protests across the US to memorialise demonstrations in response to the killing of George Floyd. In the aftermath of several protests, nine curators from the Smithsonian set out across the city to collect evidence of history in the making. A fence that set a perimeter around the White House became a tapestry of sorts as protestors affixed their signs to it, making sure their call to action did not go unheard. “It is critical that we collect so this moment does not get lost,” said curator of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (branch of the Smithsonian), Aaron Bryant. “We talk to people so we don’t forget their stories. History is happening right before us.” This type of collecting is a relatively new museum practice. Many museums have been interested in collecting items from pivotal moments as they happen to better preserve them, allowing future generations a better understanding of the past.


Ekene Ijeoma’s unique portrait of New York City

More than 8.5 million people call New York City their home and artist Ekene Ijeoma wants to make a unique portrait of those people. Through a remotely accessible project called A Counting, Ijeoma is hoping to generate an audio portrait of the city’s people by using their own voices. The project launched Wednesday and asks local New Yorkers to submit their voices through the website or by calling (917) 905-6647. Those who add their voice are asked to simply count in their native language. By doing so, Ijeoma’s work will highlight the diversity amongst New York City’s people, particularly those who are marginalised and often underrepresented on the US census, which is being taken this year. “Against the backdrop of the 2020 US census, a global pandemic, and a nationwide uprising against racism, A Counting seeks to recognize the linguistic and ethnic diversity of this country,” said Ijeoma in a statement. “New York City is one of the most diverse yet segregated cities and, at a time of increasing division, A Counting meditates on how to heal those divides and speculates on what a unified city could sound like.” To find out more about A Counting, click here.


An unusual catch of the day

A fisherman in Spain, out looking to catch some trout in early June, caught a very different trophy: a statue of the Virgin Mary and child that might date back to the 14th century. Covered in moss, the fisherman originally thought the statue was just an oddly shaped rock in the Sar River on the outskirts of Santiago de Compostela. “I was out fishing when I tripped on a stone,” the fisherman, Fernando Brey, told the Voz de Galicia newspaper. “I noticed the stone was square – which is odd in a river – and then I looked at its lines, at the cape and at the shape of the head. And I said to myself: ‘There’s something here’.” The next day, Brey returned to the site to take photos of the moss-covered statue. He then sent them to someone within the Association for the Defense of the Galician Cultural Heritage who reported the sculpture to the Ministry of Culture. The sculpture was removed from the river earlier this week and initial research points to it having been created in Galician gothic style and could be more than 700 years old. The statue depicts the Virgin Mary and child, flanked by two angels, known as putti, who can just be made out after years of wear. The Virgin Mary and child’s face are gone, potentially as an attempt to desanctify the religious icon. Research is expected to continue in the hopes of dating the statue and putting together its history.

Courtesy of the Association for the Defense of Galician Cultural Heritage.


Employees call for diversity at New York’s Jewish Museum

In an open letter to Claudia Gould, director of the Jewish Museum in New York City, museum employees called for diversification within the museum. Signed by at least 28 members of staff, many of which remained anonymous, the letter stated that the museum’s lack of diversity among staff and upper management needed to be addressed. “We ask you to listen as we say that we are disappointed by the Museum’s internal and external statements, and frustrated by the opacity of the process, which did not reflect any opportunity for open dialogue with our Museum staff,” read a portion of the letter according to The Art Newspaper. Claiming that only one person of colour is employed by the museum, the letter asked that the Jewish Museum hire more people of colour as well as incorporate a plan for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. In response, the Jewish Museum has stated that 34.5 percent of its 110-person staff have not self-identified as white and that three people of colour are division or department directors in the museum. The Jewish Museum also stated that this week its board of trustees committed to participating in Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion (DEAI) training. Additionally, a selection of museum employees will make up an anti-racist working group which will eventually work in tandem with a DEAI taskforce that will be established by the board of trustees.


Van Gogh Foundation buys letter co-written by the artist that tells of his dreams of modern art and follies at brothels

This week, the Vincent van Gogh Foundation acquired a letter co-written by the Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin, a fellow artist and friend for €210,600 (£190,500). Dating to 1888, the letter was written while the pair were in Arles at the Yellow House, where Van Gogh dreamed of establishing an artists’ colony. Each artist wrote portions of the letter for friend and artist, Émile Bernard, over the course of November 1 and 2. One topic of conversation? The pair’s recent trips to local brothels. “Now something that will interest you—we’ve made some excursions in the brothels, and it’s likely that we’ll eventually go there often to work,” writes Van Gogh. “At the moment Gauguin has a canvas in progress of the same night cafe that I also painted, but with figures seen in the brothels. It promises to become a beautiful thing.” The letter was meant to entice Bernard in joining them at the Yellow House, an artists’ haven which never fully came to fruition as by December of 1888, Gauguin decided to leave Arles. It was around that time that Van Gogh cut off his own ear during a psychotic episode, potentially brought on by Gauguin’s decision to leave. In May of the next year Van gogh checked himself into an asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. The letter is of particularly interest to the Van Gogh Foundation as it’s the only co-written letter to which the artist is known to have contributed. Not only does it disclose the pair’s vision for the future of modern art, “the artist friends’ different tones of voice add a psychological depth to the letter, particularly considering the tragic end of the partnership.” The letter is expected to be included in a forthcoming exhibition of letters written by Van Gogh called “’Your Loving Vincent’: Van Gogh’s Greatest Letters” that will open in October 2020.