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Didactic Sobey Art Award finalists encourage agreement, but not contemplation

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Divya Mehra’s Afterlife of Colonialism, a reimagining of Power. The Winnipeg artist is one of the five finalists for this year’s Sobey Art Award, the $100,000 annual prize for an emerging artist that will be presented Nov. 16.BWALLACE/National Gallery of Canada

A sacred figure of the goddess Annapurna was welcomed home to India last year after Winnipeg artist Divya Mehra discovered records at Regina’s MacKenzie Art Gallery showing the small statue had been stolen from a shrine on the Ganges. Meanwhile Mehra, like Indiana Jones snatching the idol in Raiders of the Lost Ark, replaced the stolen sculpture with a bag of sand, now carefully tucked into the museum storage case where the figure once lay.

Mehra is one of the five finalists for this year’s Sobey Art Award, the $100,000 annual prize for an emerging artist that will be presented Nov. 16. (The finalists represent five regions, and the four runners-up receive $25,000 each.) The exhibition of their work now showing at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa includes a mural-sized photograph of Mehra’s little sandbag sitting in the MacKenzie’s storage.

Mehra also contributes a letter to the new King Charles III suggesting he return the Koh-i-Noor diamond to India – it was taken by the British from a 13-year-old maharajah in 1849 – and a sandbag that might replace the giant gem. That bit of repatriation may prove more complicated.

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You can see Mehra’s successful Annapurna project as an act of museology, of politics, or of art, but wherever you position it, it proved both practical and potent: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi may now take all the credit, but it was due to her intervention that something concrete happened.

Stanley Février’s Installation view.BWALLACE/National Gallery of Canada

That’s a rare event in an artistic career. We don’t demand that art change the world, only that it reflect it – or perhaps transcend it. Most of the work in this exhibition is a retort to colonialism and it may sway minds or provoke thoughts, but it is unlikely to result in tangible acts of decolonization. So why make it? These artists, so certain of their themes, seem uncertain of the answer.

Stanley Février is a Quebec artist and critic of the institutional racism of Canada’s museums and public galleries. His Sobey work includes photographs of a performance he organized in which figures shrouded in black body suits surrounded the Musée d’art contemporain in Montreal to protest against the lack of artists of colour in its collection, and then ran the museum’s annual reports through papers shredders. Here the paper shredders are lined up like a little graveyard, while votive candles bearing the logos of Canada’s museums sit in reverential rows. Apparently, we museum lovers are worshipping a dead thing.

Krystle Silverfox’s All That Glitters is Not Gold.BWALLACE/National Gallery of Canada

At least Février, like Mehra, has a wicked sense of humour. Krystle Silverfox is a Vancouver artist whose family comes from the Selkirk First Nation in the Yukon and whose largest installation for the Sobey show is a wall-hanging that features the unravelling of a Hudson Bay blanket, symbol of the historical exploitation of Indigenous people. If only this issue was as easy to untangle in the outside world as it is to depict on a gallery wall.

Silverfox also contributes a series of abstract photographs that feature unidentifiable black swooshes or valleys that she calls Landmarks. More mysterious, these are more engaging than her sculptural combinations of the blankets with copper pennies or copper wire, a reference to the mines that have scoured the Yukon. Perhaps the landmarks are also scars on the landscape; their obliqueness demands their slow consideration not as statement but as art.

Tyshan Wright’s Installation view.BWALLACE/National Gallery of Canada

Halifax artist Tyshan Wright is a descendant of the Jamaican Maroons, who escaped slavery and fought the British to live freely on that island. Coincidentally he wound up in the one place in Canada with a piece of that history: In the 18th century, 549 Maroons were transported to Halifax by the British, where they resisted assimilation before eventually settling in Sierra Leone. Wright faithfully recreates traditional Maroon drums, horns and stools, in another bid to rewind history.

Because these objects are so precisely detailed and set aside in their own room with a video of Wright drumming, his work offers one of the few occasions in this show where the viewer is encouraged to contemplate rather than merely agree. (To be fair, contemplation of any of this art is made particularly difficult by Mehra’s other contribution, a Taj Mahal bouncy castle that requires a loud blower to keep it inflated.)

Azza El Siddique’s Measure of One.BWALLACE/National Gallery of Canada

In this often didactic company, the odd one out is Toronto artist Azza El Siddique, represented by her large installation Measure of One, a metal scaffolding with troughs of water and a rack of grey clay pots. The piece suggests both antiquity and contemporaneity, creating an almost sacred enclosure that only hints at the presence of the steel maker and the potter. El Siddique researches ancient Nubian and Egyptian guides to the afterlife but whether you know that or not, there is a sense of uneasy quest in her work as the viewer tries to place themselves in this sparse architecture.

Despite the gaudy colours of Mehra’s bouncy castle or the painstaking craft of Wright’s Maroon reproductions, these artists and their research-driven approaches are typical of contemporary art where form seems subservient to content. Yet historically it’s the dynamic relationship between the two that makes art interesting: The vessel is as important as the elixir. It’s worth remembering that the Sobey Art Award is a prize for emerging artists. Finer form may yet blossom from a generation that has content all figured out.

The Sobey Art Award exhibition continues to March 12 at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.

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This artwork is going to be on the moon 'for eternity' – CNN

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Written by Nadia Leigh-Hewitson, CNN

In 1977, the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Their mission was to explore the solar system and beyond. Aboard each was a “golden record,” a copper phonograph disk containing images, sounds from nature, and music to provide a snapshot of life on Earth to any intelligent life the craft might encounter. These were the first images to be sent into outer space.
Now, as the Voyagers travel into interstellar space, artists are beginning to explore what they can do off Earth. In March a piece by Dubai-based artist and philanthropist Sacha Jafri is set to land on the moon.

Jafri’s work, “We Rise Together — By the Light of the Moon,” is scheduled to fly into space on a United Launch Alliance rocket powered by engines developed by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin. The launch is scheduled to take place at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, in the first week of March.

The work is an engraving depicting a male and a female figure surrounded by 88 hearts.

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“The original artwork was this beautiful heart motif. Two figures entwined, reconnecting and around them is blossoming flora, fauna,” explained Jafri. He says he wanted to capture “the unification of humanity through love and empathy” in his design.

"We Rise Together -- By the Light of the Moon," by Sacha Jafri.

“We Rise Together — By the Light of the Moon,” by Sacha Jafri. Credit: Selenian

For his canvas, a gold alloy was developed over two years to withstand the extreme environment on the lunar surface whilst keeping the artwork intact. But the piece isn’t intended only for extraterrestrial art lovers.

“When we land the physical work of art on the moon, a little beep sounds in the control room,” said Jafri. On that signal, 88 NFTs will be released for sale back on Earth.

Jafri plans to donate all proceeds to humanitarian charities. “I’m hoping to raise a huge amount of money for the four main charitable concerns of our world — health, education, sustainability, and equality,” he said.

The work was commissioned by Spacebit, a UK-based company that develops space robotics technology and data analytics tools, and will be sent to the moon by Spacebit and NASA Commercial Payload Services (CLPS). UAE-based company Selenian Network, which specializes in blockchain technologies, will facilitate the launch of the NFTs.

A lunar lander will place the work in a crater known as Lacus Mortis (the Lake of Death) where it will remain “for eternity.” According to Jafri, the mission will take between five days and two weeks to reach the moon, depending on conditions.

Art on the ISS

Jafri’s isn’t the only artwork to leave Earth in recent years. In 2017, a work by Israeli artist Eyal Gever was 3D printed on the International Space Station [ISS]. Gever crowdsourced recordings of laughter and used the sound wave signatures to create his sculpture.

In April last year, another Israeli artist, Liat Segal, and Yasmine Meroz, a physicist at Tel Aviv University, created an artwork that can only exist in space.

Making use of the lack of gravity in space, “Impossible Object” is a tiered structure of gold-colored metal tubes released water. On Earth the water would fall to the ground but in space it created floating elements around the sculpture.

It was activated as the ISS orbited at around 400 kilometers above the Earth. Meroz and Segal had predicted that the water might wrap around the structure, forming a liquid shell, but in practice it behaved quite differently, forming floating orbs.

"Impossible Object," by Liat Segal and Yasmine Meroz.

“Impossible Object,” by Liat Segal and Yasmine Meroz. Credit: Eytan Stibbe and Rakia Art Mission (Ramon Foundation)

“We didn’t know what the dynamics of water will be in microgravity — what does a piece of water look like?” said Segal. “We’re used to filling our hands with water, filling vessels. In this case the water isn’t held by any vessel. It’s only held by this skeleton structure.”

As artists get creative in space, Segal anticipates innovation.

“Many technologies were developed as a result of the space race, to accommodate for a new physical reality,” Segal added. “Now art and culture can enter this new physical reality. It will force the creation of things that we cannot expect, that could not happen otherwise.”

Jafri is also enthused about the creative possibilities and believes private space missions will open up new opportunities for artists. “I think people are tapping into people’s obsession with space,” he said. “It’s a new market for the art world to tap into.”

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Rich Russians’ Art Buying Is Target of US Crackdown on Trade-Sanction Cheats – BNN Bloomberg

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(Bloomberg) — The US crackdown on trade-sanction violators is turning to the art world as authorities track down works bought or sold by ultra-rich Russian tycoons.

Through a series of subpoenas, federal prosecutors in New York are demanding high-end auction houses in the US turn over years of records as they seek to determine if art was smuggled offshore or if proceeds from sales were transferred illegally, according to a person familiar with the investigation. 

Among those named in the subpoenas are sanctioned Russian tycoons Andrey Melnichenko, Viktor Vekselberg and Roman Abramovich, along with Ukrainian billionaire Ihor Kolomoisky, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the information isn’t yet public. The records requested of auction houses include any previous dealings with the men, according to the person, who didn’t disclose all the companies that were served subpoenas. 

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Of the major auction houses contacted by Bloomberg, Christie’s International Plc said it “cooperates and complies fully with law enforcement as and when we are required to do so.” Phillips Auction House said it has measures in place “to ensure that no individual or institution targeted by sanctions are able to do business directly or indirectly through our salerooms.” Sotheby’s and Bonhams & Butterfields Auctioneers Corp. didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the US has expanded sanctions targeting Russian businessmen and companies with ties to Vladamir Putin. That’s led to seizures of luxury assets, from a yacht in the South Pacific to art work in a French gallery. The US Justice Department also plans to seize a Greenwich Village townhouse linked to Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska.

Read more: Art Seized at US Homes Part of Crackdown on Wealthy Russians

With its search of auction houses, the department is looking to track down “professional sanctions evaders” — people who help the wealthy avoid restrictions and launder money. This month, prosecutors charged two men, including a former FBI special agent, with aiding Deripaska and violating sanctions.

According to Georges Lederman, an attorney who specializes art crime and asset forfeiture cases, the crackdown has been the result of greater coordination between the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which oversees the sanctions list, and prosecutors trying to stop money laundering. 

“In the past if you violated a sanction, you got a big fine and then you had to implement a more sophisticated anti-money laundering program,” Lederman said. “But now, because of Russia sanctions and heightened awareness, there is a greater referral of money laundering prosecutions.”

In recent months, prosecutors in Manhattan have narrowed the focus of their inquiries, asking about specific artworks bought years ago, as well as some real estate, according to the person familiar with the matter. The probe is being led by the US Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York and the federal KleptoCapture task force, which was set up to police Russian sanctions. A spokesman for KleptoCapture declined to comment. 

$50 Million Monet

Fertilizer tycoon Melnichenko, with a net worth estimated at $12.7 billion by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, is said to have purchased Monet’s “Le Bassin aux Nympheas” for 40.9 million pounds ($49.6 million) in 2009. Abramovich is Russia’s second-largest steelmaker and previously owned London’s Chelsea Football Club. His ex wife, Daria Zhukova, was a Russian art collector. 

KleptoCapture’s lead prosecutor Andrew Adams told the NYC Bar Association in November that his team was focused on taking “assets off the table” before they could be moved to other jurisdictions.

One such alleged facilitator was UK businessman Graham Bonham-Carter, who was indicted in October and accused of trying to transfer artwork owned by Deripaska, who is under US sanctions. Using a shell company, Deripaska purchased 18 pieces of art at a New York auction in 2008, a decade before he was sanctioned, according to an indictment. The art works were kept in a New York storage facility until Bonham-Carter allegedly try to ship them out of the country in 2021. 

Bonham-Carter is fighting extradition from the UK to the US to face charges. 

In the wake of a 2020 Senate report on sanctions evasion in the art world, major auction houses and private sellers started including as a standard condition in contracts that the buyer or seller not be sanctioned or engaged in criminal activity, said Thomas C. Danziger, a New York-based attorney specializing in art law.

The leading auction houses have implemented voluntary anti-money laundering programs, but that may not be enough to prevent the true owners of art works from shielding themselves themselves behind webs of corporate structures or relatives.

“Putin’s banker is unlikely to walk into a gallery on Madison Avenue and buy a Picasso,” Danziger said. 

©2023 Bloomberg L.P.

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St. John's International Airport Unveils New Art Installation – VOCM

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St. John’s International Airport has unveiled a brand new art installation to welcome arriving passengers.

The piece, Art Upon Arrival, includes 24 illustrations on eight structural columns in the arrivals area are adorned with brightly colored, graphic images that harken to all things St John’s such as food, plants, nature and music.

Artist Molly Margaret says after an extended period working on the project it’s fun to see public reaction to the piece.

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