Art World Roundup: Hockney portrait to remain at ROH, artist Divya Mehra sets repatriation in motion, human DNA found on da Vinci drawings, and more

Art World Roundup: Hockney portrait to remain at ROH, artist Divya Mehra sets repatriation in motion, human DNA found on da Vinci drawings, and more
Ross Ryan's "Sheltering fleet Milton Harbour Tiree" on view at the Scottish Gallery through December 23rd.

In this week’s Art World Roundup, a Hockney portrait will stay at the Royal Opera House after it was sold, the Scottish Gallery presents two concurrent exhibitions of works by Frances Macdonald, Ross Ryan, and Mark Hearld, and a discovery by artist Divya Mehra that has led to the repatriation of an Indian sculpture. Also, researchers find human DNA, among other microbes, on surface of da Vinci drawings, Manchester moves to tear down a work by architect Tadao Ando, shortlisted artists opt to split the 2020 Jarman Award, and Melania Trump unveils artwork by Isamu Noguchi at the White House.


New owner but same home for Hockney portrait

Co-founder of Carphone Warehouse and chairman of the Royal Opera House’s board of trustees David Ross was revealed as the buyer of a portrait by David Hockney that was sold at auction last month to help the Opera make ends meet. The portrait of Sir David Webster, once the head of the Royal Opera House, was purchased through a staff whip-round in 1971 and has since belonged to the Opera. However, pressure brought on by the pandemic meant the ROH had to sell the work. In the end, Ross made the winning bid acquiring the artwork for £11 million. It has also been revealed that the artwork will remain at the ROH after the sale in finalized, putting the minds of those worried it might disappear into a private collection to rest. “The arts have had an incredibly difficult year, with many institutions having to make extremely tough decisions in order to survive,” Ross told the Art Newspaper. “As the Chairman of the Royal Opera House and the National Portrait Gallery I care deeply about the arts being as accessible as possible and their educational value. I decided to participate in the auction to secure the painting for the British public.”


Three artists, two exhibitions, one gallery

The Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh will open two concurrent exhibitions tomorrow that will run through December 23rd. “A Family Affair” will feature works by mother and son artists, Frances Macdonald and Ross Ryan. Both Macdonald and Ryan draw inspiration from the west coast of Scotland and its surrounding islands for their artworks, through which they depict the drama of ever-changing weather patterns. While Macdonald tends to avoid commentary on her paintings, Ryan’s writings and notes offer a glimpse into the process of the artworks, which range in medium, he creates. Each work takes on its own journey and can be difficult to execute, particularly in the winter months, as they become “a manifestation and record of time and place.” In some contrast to “A Family Affair” is “Mark Hearld’s Menagerie,” an exhibition of works by artist Mark Hearld that are theatrical in feel and present a parade of animals through the galleries. While on walks with his dog, Blue, in Cornwall, where he spent lockdown, Hearld found much inspiration in the countryside. Foxes, cockerels, blackbirds, Jersey cows, and various other flora and fauna work their way into Hearld’s prints, woodcuts, and linocuts. Each artwork adds to his menagerie offering a different take on the countryside. As part of “Mark Hearld’s Menagerie,” there will be a treasure hunt and the winner will receive an original work by the artist while runners-up will also receive prizes.


Thanks to artist’s discovery, an Indian sculpture is repatriated from Canadian museum

In preparation for her exhibition at the MacKenzie Art Gallery in Canada, artist Divya Mehra discovered a sculpture amongst the museum’s collection that she suspected was looted from India. Labeled as a representation of Vishnu, a Hindu god, the sculpture was actually an 18th-century statue of the goddess Annapoorna. It was acquired by Norman MacKenzie, the lawyer whose collection became the base of the MacKenzie Art Gallery, in 1913 from India, which piqued Mehra’s interest leading to her investigation. MacKenzie’s relationship with Edgar James Banks, an American antiquarian who sold numerous looted items from Baghdad and is thought to be the inspiration for Indiana Jones, also drew Mehra’s eye. While at the museum, Mehra asked to view the sculpture and subsequently reached out for the opinions of some expert who were able to correctly identify the artwork. Mehra then asked John Hampton, interim CEO of the museum, to repatriate the statue, which the museum agreed to. Mehra’s discovery at the museum led to the name of her forthcoming exhibition: “From India to Canada and Back to India (There Is Nothing I Can Possess Which You Cannot Take Away).” The second half of the title is a direct nod to Belloq, one of Indiana Jones’ nemesis. Mehra has also proposed a Jones-inspired artwork she’s created replace the Indian sculpture. Mehra’s new sculpture consists of a bag filled with sand, weighing the exact same as the sculpture, playing on Jones’ famous move to replace an idol with a bag of sand. “As we’re having conversations about repatriation, it’s a good time for institutions to acquire new works to replace items that are leaving their collections,” said Mehra. “And, if you have gaps, why not commission BIPOC artists to fill them?”


Researchers find there’s more the da Vinci’s drawings than what meets the eye

Just after scholar Annalisa Di Maria attributed a recently resurfaced red chalk drawing to Italian Old Master Leonardo da Vinci, researchers released a report stating that fungi, bacteria, and human DNC were present on some of da Vinci’s drawings, including Autoritratto and Uomo della Bitta. Furthermore, it is possible that some of the particles have been on the artworks since their creation centuries ago. Historian, microbiologists, and art restorers are among those who have been scrutinizing the surface of the drawings and their findings have been published in the Frontiers in Microbiology journal. According to team microbiologist Guadalupe Piñar, the drawings “housed a large amount of genetic material, what we call a bio-archive.” Piñar continued in a comment to El País, “Until now, it had always been thought that fungi were dominant in microbial communities that colonized cultural heritage objects made on paper or with paper support.”

Red chalk drawing of a man's face with Leonardo da Vinci
“Portrait of a Man in Red Chalk” by Leonardo da Vinci which was part of a study that found fungi and human DNA on its surface. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.


Manchester moves ahead to remove Tadao Ando work

This week, Manchester got to work on removing a modernist concrete wall by Japanese architect Tadao Ando in the city’s Piccadilly Gardens. Since the wall was erected in 2002, it has been a source of contention amongst Manchester residents. It was originally installed as part of an effort to revamp Manchester after an IRA bomb attack in 1996. In 2014, city council announced that the wall, which is Ando’s only work in the UK, would be beautified with greenery after the Manchester Evening News lobbied to have the wall removed. However, the city has now opted to remove the free-standing portion of the wall that had become a backdrop for protests this year over the government’s handling of the pandemic. “This is the news that everybody in Manchester has been waiting for—part of the wall is coming down,” councilor Pat Karney and spokesperson for the city centre told The Guardian. “I’m going to mark it on my calendar. This is only the first part of what will be much bigger plans to make Piccadilly Gardens the vibrant and inviting space at the heart of the city which it should be.” Removing the wall will take several weeks as work can only be done between 1am and 5am, when the Metrolink isn’t in operation. The council has stated that new plans for Piccadilly Gardens will be released later this year, but not all are happy with the city’s decision. “There are fundamental problems with Piccadilly Gardens and they won’t be solved by knocking down the wall,” Modernist Society group member Eddy Rhead remarked to The Guardian. “Anybody who knows anything about modern architecture knows Tadao Ando is a world-class architect. Any other city in the world would give their right arm for a piece of Ando architecture.”

A woman stands in front of a tall concrete wall designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando in Manchester Art World Roundup
A woman stands against a portion of architect Tadao Ando’s wall in Manchester’s Piccadilly Gardens, now set to be torn down. Courtesy Flickr | Photo: David Ottewell.


2020 Jarman Awards shared amongst shortlisted artists

In a move reminiscent of the 2019 Turner Prize Award, the 2020 Film London Jarman Award has been split between the six shortlisted artists and collective. Launched in 2008, the award was inspired by visionary British filmmaker Derek Jarman (1942-1994) and is among the most prestigious prizes that recognises the work of innovative UK-based artists. Andrea Luka Zimmerman, Project Art Works, Larissa Sansour, Michelle Williams Gamaker, Hannah Quinlan and Rosie Hastings, and Jenn Nkiru are the joint winners of the 2020 edition of the Jarman Award. They, alongside the jury, decided to split this year’s prize as a reflection of the “solidarity of the artistic and creative community in the face of challenging economic conditions resulting from the global COVID-19 pandemic.” In a joint statement, the 2020 winners wrote: “In a year of global crisis that has affected so many personally, we share in the many challenges we all face and also acknowledge the long-term impact of COVID-19 on our creative practices. As artists working in moving image, we are no strangers to the limited funding on offer to make our work and given the increasing precarity for artistic production we anticipate funding to become more elusive.” They continued stating that “Art and artists have the power to make change and for this reason we choose to share the prize as a statement of equity for the works we are all invested in making and to those they give voice to.” Each shortlisted artist will receive an equal share of the award’s £12,000 prize. Recorded performances, as well as talks and films included in the 2020 Film London Jarman Award Whitechapel Weekend can be viewed on Whitechapel Gallery’s website.

Jarman Award 2020 trailer from Film London on Vimeo.


White House welcomes first artwork by Asian American artist

Artist Isamu Noguchi has become the first Asian American whose artwork has been acquired by the White House. Selected by First Lady Melania Trump, the artwork was purchased by the White House Historical Society in March for $125,000. Minimalist in feel, the artwork, titled Floor Frame (1962), consists of a dark form that protrudes from the ground. In a Tweet announcing the sculpture’s quiet unveiling, Trump said “The art piece is humble in scale, complements the authority of the Oval Office, & represents the important contributions of Asian American artists,” a sentiment echoed in an official statement on the artwork. “Noguchi’s inclusion in the White House Collection is a worthy testament to his incredible life’s work,” said president of the White House Historical Association, Stewart McLaurin. Floor Frame, McLaurin continued, “milestone in our efforts to ensure that Americans from all cultural backgrounds are represented.”