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As Trump baselessly cries voter fraud, one artist surveys the rise of conspiracy theories in US politics

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Still from Media Warfare.
Screenshot via Vimeo

The promulgation of conspiracy theories has reached a fever pitch in the US as Trump rattles off misinformation on his power platform, Twitter, about alleged voter fraud in a bid to hold onto the White House following the election of Joe Biden by the American people. This dangerous conspiratorial political climate provides an apt cultural backdrop for Cassandra Zampini’s latest work addressing the spread of fake news on social media and how it can influence our worldview, relationships and opinions.

The New York-based artist downloaded and compiled hours of conspiracy theory videos from fringe corners of the internet for the work Media Warfare (2020), resulting in a short film that, like the news it draws from, is overstimulating and anxiety inducing. The mosaic of clips that fill the frame are sourced from several disconcerting hashtags including #SecondCivilWar and #GreatAwakening.

“I had to watch some disturbing things—things like #PizzaGate and all the child pedophilia conspiracy theories were definitely the most upsetting—but these clips feel like a moment in time,” Zampini says, referencing a debunked theory that went viral during the 2016 US presidential election cycle that targeted Democrats and was fuelled by the then little-known far-right QAnon group. “Most would be quickly censored but then pop up somewhere else.”

As one clip disappears from the screen, it is replaced by another often similar video, with their original audio weaved in throughout the harrowing 25-minute the work that reflects an exhausting and fractured American psyche.

“Showing these clips as an aggregate was important,” the artist says. “People might see a video or two here and there but seeing them together shows how dark they can be and how numerous they are as well", spreading far beyond the US.

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Indeed, even as many made-in-the-USA conspiracy theories are struggling amid election fallout post-election, they are finding roots with alt-right groups globally. This week the Washington Post reported that QAnon followers in Australia and New Zealand shared a fabricated a story on Telegram about Democrats deliberately infecting tens of thousands of senior citizens with Covid-19 while, in Canada, false claims abound that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau plans “immediate military intervention on American soil” if Trump does not concede the election.

As dark as some conspiracy theories surrounding the election are, Zampini also includes some “less disturbing and more comical” conspiracies like #FlatEarthers, and some of the “cursed images” often recycled online, like unflattering images of celebrities, emphasising the “bombardment of information repeated on social media”, she says.

Media Warfare is, appropriately, available to watch for free on Vimeo just like the many of the videos it draws from. The work follows a project titled Data Replay (2016) in which Zampini explored the relentless outpour of information online and how images can influence us. For the work, the artist downloaded more than 10 million selfies and video clips and aggregated them into a large-scale piece.

“I started that work during the 2016 election and then went down a road of discovery—I think conspiracy theories were a natural progression,” Zampini says. “I felt compelled to finish my most recent piece before the election because to highlight this growing and disturbing issue.”

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Somerset House to dig into its colonial past

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Somerset House, London
© Robert Bye

Officials at Somerset House in central London want to rewrite the history of the centuries-old property because historical information currently available on the modern-day arts venue "largely represents white historical perspectives”.

In October, the institution launched an open call to find an independent historian willing “to interrogate the history of Somerset House and its role in Britain’s colonial past”, says its director Jonathan Reekie. The initiative is part of a plan “to actively combat racism at Somerset House” following the global Black Lives Matter protests, he adds.

According to the application brief, the review should cover both the initial Tudor palace built by the Duke of Somerset around 1547 and the current government on-site buildings initiated by King George III around 1776, with a particular focus on the impact of the building on “the lives of people of colour”.

The brief adds: “This should include research into why and how the buildings were originally built, the institutions and organisations who have been based at Somerset House—including the British navy—and the wider historical context within which it has operated.” The complex also houses the Courtauld Institute of Art and Courtauld Gallery.

Asked if this is virtue signalling, Reekie says: “We believe it is vital work that we haven’t done enough to address. Although we are being completely transparent so we can be held to account, a lot of the work on our Anti-Racism Pledge is quietly diligent.”

The first draft of the report must be ready by January; the in-house marketing department will interpret these facts for a variety of audiences online and in the building, across signage for instance. The document produced will also inform future programming.

The move follows the publication of a controversial report in September by the UK heritage body, the National Trust, highlighting the connections between 93 of its historic palaces and historic slavery. The findings provide the basis for a broader approach to help contextualise the history of National Trust places, trust officials say. It reveals, for instance, that John Blagrove the Younger, who purchased the trust’s Ankerwycke Estate in Surrey in the early 19th century, was the owner of 1,500 enslaved men and women in Jamaica.

Earlier this week, the report sparked further controversy when the Daily Telegraph reported that some of the trust’s members had accused the organisation board of a “woke agenda” during a general meeting, pointing to the inclusion of Winston’s Churchill’s family home, Chartwell in Kent, in the dossier of contentious sites.

“It is unfair to suggest that a factual entry in a survey report negates our work to keep Churchill’s extraordinary legacy alive, now and for future generations,” wrote Celia Richardson’s, the trust’s director of communications, earlier this year.

“It’s good to see that the National Trust has started a process of reviewing, despite some criticism; they need to do so in order to remain relevant. Trust visitors need to know that the sweet taste of the cream teas in the cafe comes with a brutal history, maybe [linked to] the very building in which they sit,” says UK artist Hew Locke who has focused on re-imagining Victorian statues as part of his practice.

Reviews can be a way forward but it depends on who is employed to do the reviewing, he adds. “Community representation is needed too,” he adds, saying: “I was surprised to see how little money Somerset House were offering [£2,000]. We won’t know if it is tokenism or box-ticking until we see the action that is taken.”

Dan Hicks, a curator at the Pitt Rivers Museum and professor of contemporary archaeology at the University of Oxford, says that the challenge for Somerset House and the National Trust, and the wider culture sector, is to also take action against institutional racism and structural discrimination. “Not least on the systemic underrepresentation in arts and heritage organisations' workforces, trustee bodies and leadership teams of the communities they claim to serve,” says Hicks, the author of The Brutish Museums.

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Three online shows to see this weekend

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David Wojarowicz Fuck you Faggot Fucker
Courtesy the estate of David Wojnarowicz and PPOW Gallery

WOJNAROWICZ: F**K YOU F*GGOT F**KER, DOCNYC, until 18 November

“I’m not gay as in 'I love you', I’m queer as in 'fuck off',” David Wojnarowicz says around halfway through this unflinching survey of his life and career, which premieres as part of the 11th edition of the documentary film festival DOCNYC. Sentiments like this reflect much of what we already know (and love) about Wojnarowicz—his radical politics, his wry humour, his potent anger. But this film, directed by former Ru Paul's Drag Race showrunner Chris McKim, also manages to uncovers softer sides of one of the 20th century's most enigmatic artists.

Wojnarowizc's life is charted from a childhood spent in an abusive home to his arrival in Manhattan's East Village in the 1980s. The subsequent body of work he made until his death from Aids, aged 37, is presented largely through self-shot footage in the form of photographs and Super 8 videos and details his pioneering experimentalism and activism. But it is the audio tapes of interviews with his friends and collaborators, including the photographer Peter Hujar and writer Fran Lebowitz, which gives us the greatest insight into who he really was. Wojnarowicz, we learn, was not merely an artist enraged with the US government's ambivalence towards a virus that was destroying his community. He was also a man who shared jokes, felt great joy and possessed a deep capacity for love. Provocative and poignant, it provides a touching portrait of a staggeringly influential artist who taught a whole generation how to turn rage into beauty and art into action. (Tickets $12.)

Untitled (Skate), 2017, site-specific installation at Coleman Skatepark in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, commissioned for Performa 17.
Courtesy Performa

Barbara Kruger: Questions, Sprüth Magers, until 15 January 2021

Barbara Kruger is no stranger to asking tough questions, having spent the past 30-odd years erecting billboards and plastering walls with her trademark text-based installations, each of which invites passersby to pause, think and reevaluate the world around them. Exploring these works, Questions features Kruger's most recent installation Untitled (Who?) (2020), which poses questions such as "WHO DO YOU HATE?" and "¿QUIÉN ES EL QUE AMAS?" on the facade of Sprüth Mager's Los Angeles space until 21 January 2021. Crucially written in both Spanish as well as English , it makes reference both to the divisive presidential election and the waning Anglo-centric nature of the US empire. Early works include a 1987 pro-choice poster which reads "your body is a battleground," a message that continues to bear great relevance today. “I wish that the issues I’m dealing with weren’t pertinent," Kruger says. "But unfortunately, these issues of power and control and disaster are ongoing.”

Judy Chicago Rainbow AR, LAS

Judy Chicago began experimenting with pyrotechnics in the late 1960s with her Atmosphere series—a range of sculptures that billowed coloured smoke around the broad expanses of California. Now taking her work virtual, Chicago has launched an app which allows viewers to engage with these works in their immediate environment via AR. The experience is accompanied by a polyphonic soundtrack, which uses soundscapes made from recordings from her work with the pyrotechnician Chris Souza. Chicago says that her Atmosphere series was borne from "a long-standing effort to soften and feminise the often-harsh, patriarchal world around us". Gifted to a wintry world in lockdown, these mesmerising plumes of colour provide a welcome jolt of beauty to our surroundings at a time when life seems most bleak.

Judy Chicago Rainbow AR can be downloaded from Google Play or the App Store.

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A breath of fresh air: The Clark Institute opens its first outdoor exhibition

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After several years of development and a months-long postponement due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, has opened its first-ever outdoor exhibition.

The show Ground/Work comprises several poetic site-responsive commissions imbued by the picturesque backdrop of the Berkshires by six contemporary women artists, including Kelly Akashi, Nairy Baghramian, Jennie C. Jones, Eva LeWitt, Analia Saban and Haegue Yang.

The show is scheduled to be on view until October 2021 or later, and is perhaps serendipitously timely as lockdown restrictions begin to tighten with Covid-19 cases spiking in Massachusetts and other parts of the East Coast again, making outdoor art activities more valuable than ever even as winter rolls in.

The Clark, formally known as the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, opened in 1955 as a museum of European and American artworks from the collection of the American philanthropists Sterling and Francine Clark, who amassed a significant collection in their lifetime, including extensive holdings of works by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, JMW Turner and Winslow Homer, among others.

The institute expanded to become a research and academic centre, and gradually blossomed to its current state to include a 140-acre outdoor campus as part of a $145m renovation by the New York-based architect Annabelle Seldorf that was completed in 2016.

While museum attendance remains capped at 25% capacity due to state-wide mandates amid the global health crisis, the outdoor campus will be open year-round at all hours, and offers ample room for social distancing.

The inaugural plein air exhibition has been organised by the guest curators Molly Epstein and Abigail Ross Goodman, in collaboration with Robert Wiesenberger, the associate curator of contemporary projects, who joined the museum in 2018 and is a graduate professor at Williams College, which The Clark co-sponsors.

Below, Wiesenberger tells The Art Newspaper about the dynamic works that now dot the surrounding landscape:

Courtesy of the artist and Patron Gallery, Chicago. and Alexander Gray Associates, New York. Photo: Thomas Clark

The Brooklyn-based artist Jennie C. Jones has produced a sonic wind-activated sculptural work of monumental scale that evokes an Aeolian harp. The work is in direct dialogue with two turbulent seascapes of the Atlantic Ocean by Winslow Homer in the institution’s permanent collection—titled Eastern Point and West Point, Prout’s Neck (both 1900)—which the artist, who is “deeply steeped in the history of African American culture”, related to the “the transatlantic slave trade and the Middle Passage”, Wiesenberger says. “The sound is very subtle—it’s a call and response with these pieces inside and explores the vernacular language of minimalism as it relates to sound art”.

Courtesy of the artist, François Ghebaly Gallery, Los Angeles, and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York. Photo: Thomas Clark

The Los Angeles-based artist Kelly Akashi, who is trained as an analogue photographer, has produced the sculpture A Device to See the World Twice with a double-concave lens mounted on cast bronze branches. Akashi chose the site because of a remarkable ash tree that was toppled during a storm a few weeks before the installation. “She was given the choice to change sites but decided to keep the work here,” Wiesenberger says. “The result was a clearer focal point, and a meditation on a ruin.”

Courtesy of the artist and kurimanzutto, Mexico City / New York. Photo: Thomas Clark.

The South Korean artist Haegue Yang, who is based between Berlin and Seoul, has produced the three-part project Migratory DMZ Birds on Asymmetric Lens. The sculptures are installed throughout trails on the campus and reference the 2018 Inter-Korean Summit, where South Korean media attempting to record information from the meeting with sophisticated microphones were only successful in capturing birdsong. “By virtue of not having people, the demilitarised zone is one of the most biodiverse parts of the Earth, rich with flora and fauna”, Wiesenberger says. The spherical work, a “conceptual bird bath”, acts as a meditation on peace and humanity, and contains various meta data, including the coordinates of the Korean demilitarised zone and The Clark.

Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery. Photo: Thomas Clark

The Iranian-Armenian artist Nairy Baghramian has created an abstracted portrait of the body using marble and steel. “It’s the first time she’s worked in marble, which, for someone who considers herself a sculptor, was a momentous move, and likely related to her encounter with works at the Clark,” Wiesenberger says. “Marble has a neoclassical aspect—as does the Clark’s collection—and is loaded with pedigreed ideology.” The pockmarked, chiseled surface of the work references “the pain she sensed in the material”, and its fluidity “suggests a freeing of the material—a moment of pause, or reflection”, he adds.

Courtesy of the artist and VI, VII, Oslo. Photo: Thomas Clark

With her first outdoor sculpture, the New York-based artist Eva Lewitt, the daughter of the late conceptual pioneer Sol Lewitt, contrasts the natural landscape with bright geometric towers in the work Resin Towers A, B, and C. The nearly 11 ft-tall works were created from hand-cut pieces of colourful plastic and transparent resin, which creates a rapturous, vibrant intervention on the campus. “The way it responses to sunlight—it just glows”, Wiesenberger says.

Courtesy of the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles. Photo: Thomas Clark

Analia Saban’s cedar wood sculpture Teaching a Cow How to Draw modifies a fence on the campus and “invites the cows that roam around here to consider the rules of composition and perspective”, Wiesenberger says. The work references art historical theories like the Rule of Thirds and the Golden Ratio, transforming this functional boundary line into a sculpture and drawing. Saban was a student of the late conceptual artist John Baldassari, and this work pays homage to his absurdist 1972 video Teaching a Plant the Alphabet, in which the artist gave an alphabet lesson to a potted banana plant in an attempt to confront notions of what art can or should be.

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Letting it all burn: David Wojnarowicz documentary presents the artist through his words and works

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Self-portrait by David Wojnarowicz
© Estate of David Wojnarowicz. Courtesy of the Estate and P.P.O.W.

The artist David Wojnarowicz died of Aids related causes in 1992 at the age of 37. He made and preserved paintings, collages, photographs, videos, audio tapes, phone messages—an entire archive of material—that also had a role in his performances and could have filled a dozen documentaries. “All the paintings are diaries, that I always thought of as proof of my own existence,” the artist says in director Chris McKim’s new documentary Wojnarowicz: F**k You F*ggot F**ker, now streaming online as part of the DOC NYC festival.

Wojnarowicz was called a multi-media artist, but his real medium was his voice and body. The film’s subtitle gives more than a hint of his personality: he was political, stubborn, obscene, impatient, provocative and angry. He was also fearless, all the more so after testing positive for HIV at a time and place in which Aids was a near-certain death sentence.

Using his work, McKim has assembled a curated autobiography of Wojnarowicz, with recordings in the artist’s own voice at its core. It is a bumpy ride that presents his art as a rapid-fire moving target with an explosive soundtrack. And its view to the past is dramatic, but not nostalgic. The archival film footage used functions as a form of urban archaeology, a necessary task because so much of the fertile ground in the East Village of pre-1990 New York has been bulldozed and is now reconstructed with new apartment buildings that artists cannot afford.

Wojnarowicz’s merchant seaman father was a violent “horrific” alcoholic, according to the film. As a boy, Wojnarowicz ran away from home, hustled sex on the streets, discovered the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud and Jean Genet. He started drawing pictures, formed a band, befriended the portrait photographer Peter Hujar, who died of Aids before him. Wojnarowicz’s signature symbol, stenciled all over the East Village, was a house on fire. He tested positive for HIV in 1990, just as his work was caught up by the bullish the art market circus, and thefgilm looks back wryly at minions of the dealer Robert Mnuchin (former Goldman Sachs trader, father of the current US Treasury Secretary), grabbing whatever they could by the once-penniless artist.

Another memorable event gets a too-brief mention. In 1990, the artist sued the evangelical pastor and anti-gay activist Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association, who objected that the National Endowment for the Arts gave a university in Illinois $15,000 for a Wojnarowicz exhibition. Wildmon mailed a denunciation to members of the US Congress that reproduced images like Wojnarowicz’s comics-style Jesus Christ with a needle in his arm. A judge ruled that Wildmon’s use of Wojnarowicz’s art “could be construed by reasonable persons as misrepresenting the work of the artist, with likely damage to the artist's reputation and to the value of his works”. Wojnarowicz got a mere $1 in damages, but the ruling recognised the rights and the reputation of a homosexual artist with extreme political views who had HIV.

David Wojnarowicz, Untitled (Face in Dirt), (1991)
© Estate of David Wojnarowicz. Courtesy of the Estate and P.P.O.W

Given the collisions with the political, cultural and medical zeitgeist, Wojnarowicz’s life and work are too much for 90 minutes, and an ending with friends tearing up at his 2018 Whitney retrospective gets syrupy.

The real Wojnarowicz still emerges. His late black-and-white self-portrait photograph, head buried in sand and rocks, eyes open and mouth agape, is a staggering image of an artist who knew what he was up against. As he might have put it, healing can wait.

• Wojnarowicz: F**k You F*ggot F**ker, directed by Chris McKim, 105 min, on docnyc.net, until 19 November

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Francis Bacon’s legacy continued by new unconventional publishing company

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Francis Bacon in his studio
© Prudence Cumming

Cheerio! was Francis Bacon’s favourite drinking toast. During his lifetime the salutation triggered the clinking of innumerable glasses between the bibulous artist and his friends, and now fittingly it is also the name of a new publishing and film production company which aims to continue his legacy. The brainchild of the literary editor Clare Conville and the writer Harriet Vyner, Cheerio has been launched in partnership with the estate of Francis Bacon and is devoted to projects that, whether directly or obliquely, resonate with his life and work.

“We want to encourage and support projects, writers, filmmakers and artists that might not necessarily get mainstream funding or be commissioned by a more conventional publishing house or production company,” says Conville, who has been a literary agent for Bacon's estate for more than twenty years. “There’s a very broad remit but the work has to connect with the universal themes found in Francis’ work: it’s got to have a dark glittering heart.” Fittingly then, Cheerio's company logo is a bare hanging lightbulb—a repeated motif in some of Bacon’s bleakest paintings.

Already commissioned are An Enquiry into Gambling and Life by the Booker prize winner and inveterate gambler DBC Pierre; an account of Bacon in Moscow by the dealer James Birch and writer Barry Miles, which chronicles how an audacious youthful Birch organised a groundbreaking exhibition of Bacon’s paintings in Moscow’s House of Artists in 1988; Ian Sinclair's book inspired by the works of the works of Francis Bacon and the photographs of John Deakin; and a written collection of influences both personal and influential compiled by the artist Jeremy Deller who met Bacon when he was seventeen.

Cheerio’s aim to foster the unconventional has also allowed a number of other art worlders to pursue some of their rather more surprising alternative interests. The veteran dealer Anthony Reynolds reveals his thespian side as he takes the role of the tyrannical anti-hero Pere Ubu, in Ubulogue, a filmed performance piece written and produced in collaboration with the director Neil Bartlett, which will be released at the end of next year. Then Ingrid Swenson, best known as the director of PEER gallery in East London, is publishing a book devoted to the shopping lists discarded by customers at her local Waitrose store, which for the past few years she has been gathering whilst doing her own weekly shop. “I like to forage. I find it a very reassuring thing to do,” she says.

Francis Bacon once declared that the greatest art “always returns you to the vulnerability of the human situation” and in its first roster of projects this intrepid new venture is finding new ways to do just that, while also acknowledging Bacon’s belief that “the job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery.” Cheerio, indeed.

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Photographer Julien Boudet Is Bringing Back the Best of Vintage Lacoste

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Street style photographer Julien Boudet has unbelievable swag. Or maybe it is allure. Whatever it is, it is hard not to be enamored with the Parisian. Part of Boudet’s draw is his sense of style, which is anchored in an artful mélange of vintage sportswear. Fellow photographers have taken note and captured Boudet at Fashion Week dressed in a barrage of vintage Lacoste. That particular look led him to curate a reedition of the French brand’s most iconic tracksuits and sweaters, which launches on June 25 on the label’s website. Boudet chose a delicious offering of personal favorites from the late ’90s, including head-turning tracksuits in blues and greens with retro striping and chic pale zaddy-style sweaters.

Researchers Find DNA, Bacteria on Leonardo da Vinci’s Drawings

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The 1512 self portrait of Leonardo da Vinci is scanned with smart phones during a visit of foreign correspondents in Italy to the exhibition 'Leonardo da Vinci l'autoritratto' at the Capitoline Museums in Rome, Friday, July 3, 2015. Leonardo used red chalk to paint this 13 1/8 by 8 3/8 inches self portrait belonging to the Turin's Royal Library and shown in Rome until Aug. 3, 2015 where it underwent restoration at the Central Institute for the Restoration and Conservation of Books. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis)

New research has identified fungi, bacteria, and human DNA on some of Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous drawings, including Autoritratto and Uomo della Bitta. According to a report by the Spanish newspaper El País, it’s possible that some of the particles have been on the artworks since their creation in the Renaissance.

A team of historians, microbiologists, art restorers, and others have been at work identifying the materials present on da Vinci’s drawings. Guadalupe Piñar, a microbiologist at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences of Vienna, told El País that the drawings “housed a large amount of genetic material, what we call a bio-archive.”

“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,” Piñar told the publication.

The researchers have uncovered on the artworks bacteria that lives on human skin, traces of a virus that is linked to pneumonia, and a microorganism that lives in intestines. The full analyses of these findings have been published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology, which states that “results showed a relatively high contamination with human DNA and a surprising dominance of bacteria over fungi.”

This study is not the only story related to da Vinci’s drawings to surface in recent days. Last week, the scholar Annalisa Di Maria asserted that a newly discovered red chalk drawing of Jesus Christ can be attributed to Leonardo.

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Fatos Üstek Out at Liverpool Biennial Amid Organizational Turmoil

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Usually the departure of an internationally renowned director from a major international art festival is big news. But when Fatos Üstek left the Liverpool Biennial in October, there was no public announcement. The reasons behind the departure, which has led to the departure of board members, suggest internal strife at the 22-year-old organization prompted by the pandemic.

Despite not being in a major capital city, the Liverpool Biennial is one of the world’s most closely watched exhibitions of its kind. Its 11th edition, originally set for July 2020, was poised to be one of its most high-profile ones to date. At the beginning of 2019, the biennial brought on Üstek, a Turkish-born curator whose reputation had been growing as a result of her work on the curatorial team of the lauded 2014 Gwangju Biennale in South Korea. Üstek, who started in May of that year, would fill the position of director, which had been left vacant after the former one, Sally Tallant, left to lead the Queens Museum in New York. The biennial unveiled its artist list in November 2019, and it included a host of stars—among them Judy Chicago, Rashid Johnson, and Camille Henrot—alongside rising figures like Larry Achiampong, Ebony G. Patterson, Sonia Gomes, Pedro Neves Marques, and Ligia Lewis.

Anticipation was running high in advance of the opening, which had been expected for July 2020. Then the coronavirus struck, and in April, the opening date was pushed to March 2021. It was around then that the problems allegedly began.

The Liverpool Biennial is not alone in having to dramatically alter its operations in response to the pandemic. Biennials around the world, from the Venice Biennale to the Gwangju Biennale, have been forced to shift the dates of their next editions amid uncertainty about when it will be safe to hold large-scale exhibitions as planned. But few biennials have experienced internal tumult of the kind that Liverpool has over the past six months.

Üstek told ARTnews that her departure came amid disagreements over the purview of her role. In protest of her departure and the way it was handled internally, two board members at the biennial also resigned last month.

“Governance issues with a lack of clarity on roles and responsibilities, and processes not being followed, taken together made my role untenable,” Üstek said in a statement to ARTnews. “I am sad that I cannot continue to lead the amazing Biennial team in delivering the coming and future editions. Liverpool is an exciting and dynamic city and I am immensely grateful for the support of a strong network of colleagues who are making incredible advancements in the arts and culture.”

Samantha Lackey, the head of collections and exhibitions of the Whitworth museum in Manchester, is now listed as interim director on the biennial’s website. A Liverpool Biennial spokesperson said a search would be undertaken for a new director next year.

The two board members who left—Jonathan Sharples, an art and intellectual property lawyer, and Fiona Banner, an artist based in London with an international following—both confirmed only that they had departed in October and declined to comment further. They had each sat on the board for less than a year.

A Liverpool Biennial spokesperson initially declined to make high-ranking officials available for interview when requested by ARTnews and said that the biennial could not comment on a list of fact-checking queries.

After this article was initially published, a Liverpool Biennial spokesperson sent ARTnews an extended statement in which the biennial said that the board had been made aware of employees’ concerns over “her management of governance, finances and staffing.”

“Fatoş Üstek was given the opportunity to address the concerns, which she did not accept,” the biennial said in its statement. “The Liverpool Biennial Board, represented by a total of 13 Trustees, made two offers of a settlement agreement, which she declined before submitting her resignation.”

Üstek’s departure is significant, since the director position is a high-ranking one that, in the case of the Liverpool Biennial, has not had frequent turnover. At biennials such as the Venice Biennale and the Berlin Biennale, the artistic director typically oversees the main exhibition, its curatorial framework, and the surrounding proceedings, and that person works with a curatorial team on just one edition. At the Liverpool Biennial, however, the curator historically has changed with each edition, but the director has stayed the same.

The Liverpool Biennial board headhunted Üstek for the director position, a role that has only ever been held by two other people since the biennial’s founding in 1998. Üstek was thought of as someone who would shake up the festival, according to sources. A rising star in the U.K. with a reputation for pinpointing emerging talents, Üstek became the director of the David Roberts Art Foundation in London after working on the Gwangju Biennale. When her appointment to Liverpool, was announced in February 2019, board chair Kathleen Soriano praised Üstek for her “international connections” and her “rich experience.”

But relations between Üstek and the board began to sour around the time of the first lockdown, sources said. Before Üstek had been named director, Manuela Moscoso, senior curator at the Museo Tamayo in Mexico City, had already been announced as the curator of the 2020 biennial. In July, sources said, Moscoso relocated to Berlin. Later on, when Moscoso asked to remain in the German capital and stay on at the biennial, Üstek requested that she return to Liverpool. Moscoso complained about this to board chair Soriano, who authorized a renegotiation of the terms of Moscoso’s contract that would allow her to stay in Berlin.

Üstek declined to comment on the immediate factors that incited her departure. A Liverpool Biennial spokesperson denied that Moscoso had moved to Berlin. The biennial also denied that her contract had been renegotiated.

The Liverpool Biennial spokesperson sent a statement from Soriano that reads, “We are all deeply grateful for Fatos’ contributions to the Biennial. We would like to thank her for her work during these last difficult months, facing all the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic with energy and fortitude.”

Üstek said that when she left, the biennial was about 80 percent complete. In the months leading up to her resignation, she had been working to make the event Covid-friendly, rejiggering projects to conform to newly instituted safety protocols and working with artists who wanted to make alterations to the artwork they were to exhibit. (Many of the works in the forthcoming edition are commissions.) In June, Üstek told Artnet News, “It is not easy to pull off a biennial right now.”

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Isamu Noguchi’s American Story: How a Small Sculpture Made a Big Impact at the White House

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Japanese American sculptor Isamu Noguchi's piece, titled "Floor Frame," is displayed in the White House Rose Garden on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in Washington. Noguchi is the first Asian American artist to be featured in the White House collection, according to the first lady and the White House Historical Association. He died in 1988. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

A historic moment occurred this past Friday when a bronze sculpture titled Floor Frame by renowned Japanese American artist Isamu Noguchi was unveiled in the White House Rose Garden. It’s a worthy honor for an artist of profound influence, as well as a symbol of the enduring relationship between the United States and Japan. As the first work of art by an Asian American artist in the White House Collection, it is also a milestone for the Asian American community.

Noguchi’s sculpture represents the beautiful multiplicity of cultures that make up the United States of America and is an example of how the White House art collection has expanded over the years to ensure inclusion of pieces by diverse artists. It also signifies the ongoing efforts we must make to affirmatively lift up American artists of all backgrounds and experiences.

Born to Yone Noguchi, a Japanese poet, and Léonie Gilmour, an American writer, Isamu Noguchi spent his life straddling cultural divides, spending a portion of his childhood in Japan while later attending school in the United States. His story of dedication and self-sacrifice in the face of obstacles is one that is familiar to many children of immigrants. Though pressured to enroll as a premedical student by his mentors, he spent nights studying art and pursuing his dream.

Noguchi’s identity was constantly questioned—both as an American in Japan and as a person of Japanese heritage living in the United States—and became a brutal reality for the young artist as the two nations entered the second World War. In spite of coming of age in a country that doubted his loyalties, he was a staunch defender of the multitudes of cultures that come together in America.

As Japanese Americans were shamefully forced into internment camps by the American government, Noguchi voluntarily sacrificed his freedom and signed up to enter an encampment so that he could use his gifts as a landscape architect to improve the squalid and degrading conditions. Like many other artists before and since, he was compelled to use his platform and abilities to draw attention to injustices. When it became clear that he would not be permitted to leave the camps, he penned an essay defending the character and integrity of those confined, writing “tell us what jobs there are, give us the training, permit us your confidence as Americans, and you will find an eager army for democracy.”

His life’s work is a testament to how the immigrant experience is part and parcel of what it means to be an American, and his work’s selection is a fitting tribute to the Asian American community and those in the United States who have been marginalized.

Many artists of diverse backgrounds have pieces that are part of the invaluable collection found in the Executive Mansion. These are showcased in the White House Historical Association’s “Diversity in White House Art” series that honors the significant contributions of women and people of color to the cultural legacy of “The People’s House.” Simmie Knox broke ground as the first Black artist to paint an official White House portrait for President Clinton, at the recommendation of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg—a monumental achievement for a man raised by sharecroppers. When Michelle Obama sought to update the collection, she personally selected the vibrant abstract art of Alma Thomas, making her the first Black woman artist to have her work featured in the White House. Many know Georgia O’Keeffe for her evocative paintings of the American Southwest, but she was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Ford in 1977 and later had paintings hung in the White House at the request of First Lady Laura Bush.

When one reads these artists’ stories and learns about their journeys to prominence, one cannot help but marvel at their perseverance and creative vision in the face of such imposing obstacles. We firmly believe that their stories are a fundamental part of our national history, which is why the WHHA has launched a new collection of educational resources for students to learn about their inspiring careers.

The official inclusion of Noguchi’s work in the White House Collection and its display in the Rose Garden—among the most prominent and famous of White House venues—is an opportunity to reflect on the many voices that make up the chorus of our national culture. As the child of a Japanese father and an American mother, Noguchi crafted an artistic vision that melded disparate influences to create something wholly unique. It is a story that has been told many times by the countless Americans whose ancestors are immigrants. His work joins that of other artists who have similarly grappled with systemic barriers, but who nonetheless left an indelible mark on our shared artistic heritage. During his life, Noguchi spoke on behalf of his immigrant brethren and implored the government of the United States to “permit us your confidence as Americans.”

Let Noguchi’s work and that of all the other artists featured in the White House Collection be a vote of confidence in the diverse cultures that make up the United States.

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