Art World Roundup: Pokémon cards set auction record, man arrested for break-in at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and more

Art World Roundup: Pokémon cards set auction record, man arrested for break-in at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and more
The courtyard of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

This week’s Art World Roundup looks at a record-setting series of Pokémon cards, a City of London decision to remove statues of two men tied to the transatlantic slave trade, and a Kara Walker sculpture that plays a major role in FKA twigs video. Also, the USPS is honouring Emilio Sánchez with a stamp series, Basel art spaces call on government to ease up on lockdown restrictions, an online auction of things you just won’t believe, and Boston police arrest man related to odd break in at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.


Gotta catch ’em all?

Were you among the millions of kids (and a lot of adults, too) who latched onto Pokémon? If so, you might be kicking yourself for having opened every pack, used the cards until they were bent, and eventually thrown away or sold them off after a set of unopened first-edition cards sold for $408,000. In total the record-setting set includes 396 original cards which are split into 36 booster packs containing 11 cards each. Released in 1999 by game publisher Wizards of the Coast, the cards set a world record when they sold at Heritage Auctions in Dallas as part of their “Comics & Comic Art Signature Auction” that included 16 lots of Pokémon memorabilia. In total, the Pokémon collectibles brought in a total of $1.3 million. The cards were in “gem mint” condition, the highest level of classification. “Due to their low print run, these box sets have become extremely scarce, especially those still in the original sealed state,” wrote the auction house. “It is considered the pinnacle of Pokémon box collecting.” During the bidding battle, the auctioneer, Brian Wiedman, stated that the “Pokémon craze” was “alive and well,” which for Pokémon lovers around the world, won’t come as a surprise.

Pokemon cards sold at auction Art World Roundup
This Pokémon First Edition Base Set Sealed Booster Box (Wizards of the Coast, 1999) sold for $408,000 at Heritage Auctions in Dallas setting a world record. Photo courtesy of Heritage Auctions.


City of London votes to remove two statues

Hardly after the ink has dried on new UK legislation that would make it more difficult to remove or relocate statues of problematic historical figures, the City of London motioned to remove two statues of British politicians with ties to the transatlantic slave trade. A task force brought together by the City of London Corporation, which oversees London’s historic city centre, was asked to assess the history and legacies of William Beckford and Sir John Cass. Both Beckford and Cass have statues at the Guildhall building and the Corporation has now voted to remove them. Beckford served as mayor of London twice, but heavily profited off of the plantations he owned in Jamaica. Cass was a member of Parliament in the 17th century who also profited off of the transatlantic slave trade, particularly through ties to the Royal African Company. The City of London Corporation has voted to relocate the Beckford statue and replace it with a new work while the Cass statue would be returned to the Sir John Cass Foundation. The decision, though, could be slowed or halted altogether due to new UK laws that were recently introduced following the toppling of a statue of Edward Colston in the summer.


Kara Walker sculpture features in new music video

Artist Kara Walker’s Fons Americanus first debuted in 2019 as part of Tate Modern’s coveted Turbine Hall commission. Now, the large-scale artwork is featured front and centre in the music video for FKA twigs’ new song “Don’t Judge Me” made with Fred Again.. and Headie One. Fons Americanus is a towering memorial to the British slave trade and draws off of inspiration Walker gathered from the Victoria Memorial fountain in front of Buckingham Palace. The artwork, which is a working fountain, is created with a similar “evocative and unsettling power” that runs through Walker’s silhouette and film works. It references JMS Turner’s Slave Ship and Winslow Homer’s Gulf Stream while some have made connections between Walker’s depictions of sharks to those in works by Damien Hirst. The video features well-known Black British individuals, like footballer Mahlon Romeo, writer Reni Eddo-Lodge (who was the first Black author to top the UK bestseller list), and writer Benjamin Zephaniah. On including Walker’s work in the video, FKA twigs said in a tweet: “it was an honour to shoot with kara walkers fountain exploring the interconnection of black history between africa, america and europe.” For its prominent location in the Turbine Hall, it is estimated that millions of people have seen Walkers work, which will now be further seen through the music video. Fons Americanus will be on view through February 7th, although Tate Modern is currently shuttered due to COVID-19 restrictions across London. After the fountain is removed, its materials will be recycled.


First Cuban American featured on USPS stamp series

The United States Postal Service has announced a new postage stamp series that will feature the work of painter Emilio Sánchez, making his artworks the first by a Cuban American to be featured on a US Forever stamp. Four works, Los Toldos (1973), Ty’s Place (1976), En el Souk (1972) and Untitled (Ventanita entreabierta) (1981), will each be included in the stamp series that commemorates the centennial of the artist’s birth. Born in 1921 in the city of Camagüey, Sánchez eventually moved to New York City, which would become his base, to begin studying art at the Art Students League. Sánchez is best known, although he remains largely under recognised, for his abstract and geometric takes on architecture having obviously found inspiration in the buildings that made up his environment in NYC. His palette often paid homage to his childhood in Cuba. His interest in color and fascination with light continued to grow as he traveled throughout the 1970s and 1980s, which comes across in the artworks included in the stamp series. Today, works by Sánchez are included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Antonio Alcalá was the art director heading the series of stamps that will be released in panes of 20 stamps.


Art spaces call for an easing of lockdown

Basel arts venues are calling on the Swiss government to allow museums and other cultural venues to reopen citing their important role in the “mental well-being of all.” Signed by 18 museum directors, including Elena Filipovic of the Kunsthalle Basel, Roland Wetzel of the Basel Museum Tinguely, Josef Helfenstein of the Kunstmuseum Basel, Sam Keller of the Riehen Fondation Beyeler, and Heidi Naef of the Münchenstein Schaulager, the letter states that when properly managed, arts venues do not significantly threaten the health of its visitors. “The protection and hygiene concepts, which have been implemented since May 2020 and have been adapted to fit the latest requirements, have since been bolstered by experience,” reads the letter in part, according to ARTnews. Continuing: “Individual exhibition and museum visits do not generate an accumulation of visitors. […] Especially for the local population, the encounter with cultural creation is an important means of contact in anxiety-provoking times, without causing much social movement. […] Museums and exhibitions engage with natural and cultural history, with art and its reflection on the present, which make them a critical counterpart and partner to reflect on new situations and crises. If physical access is limited or blocked, education and culture become fundamentally stunted.” The museums calling for the end of lockdown are supported by the Basel Conference of Museum Directors. Switzerland is one of many European countries that have recently imposed more stringent lockdown measures as COVID-19 numbers have risen. This month, bars, museums, and other such public spaces were required to close once again, but it is hoped by the letter signees that museums and arts spaces will be included in the first phase of reopening.


Buy a little slice of odd in this online auction

From the strange to the downright uncomfortable, an auction of items from the Niagara Falls, Canada Guinness World Records Museum has it all. The online auction headed by Ripley’s Auctions in Indianapolis will run through February 12th after the closure of the Niagara Falls branch of the franchise in September of last year. As you might expect, there’s a little bit of everything at the museum dedicated to record-setting events, people, and things and you could even bring them home just in time for Valentine’s Day. Included in the auction is a life-sized electric chair model that will even mock-electrocute a replica death row inmate for just a few tokens as well as models of the world’s “oldest man,” the “hungriest sword swallower,” and the “record firewalker.” Other lots include a world population counter, the world’s largest word search puzzle, a seven-foot chair, and the world’s tiniest Qur’an. The museum is closing its doors after 42 years of operation. The Niagara Falls museum was opened with a ceremony attended by Sandy Allen, the world’s tallest woman, and a performance by Henry LaMothe who dived from a height of 40 feet into only 15 inches of water. During its time, a number of people performed their skills and others attempted to get their name on a Guinness World Record certificate.


Arrest made after odd break-in attempt at Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

A 48-year-old man has been arrested in connection to an unusual attempted break-in at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum last weekend. Robert Viens has reportedly been arrested and charged for having smashed a glass door at the museum at around 4:30am on Saturday morning. What made the breach unusual is that Viens made no attempt to enter the museum, a spokesperson for the museum said. Instead, they smashed the window with a “hard object” then threw something into the museum before fleeing on a bicycle. Due to the nature of the break-in, the bomb squad responded to the scene but the thrown object, thought to be a potential explosive, ended up being a painting wrapped up in a blanket. The blanket-wrapped painting had been stolen from a Boston art gallery, Arden Gallery, just over a week before it was abandoned at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Viens was charged at a Roxbury District Court with breaking and entering with intent to commit a felony, wanton destruction of property, and possession, transportation or use of a hoax device or substance. The museum is no stranger to notorious heists and in the 1990s, the biggest art heist in US history took place there when thieves made off with around $500 million in paintings.

Courtyard of Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Art World Roundup
The courtyard of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.