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  • ARTISTIC FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION UNDER THREAT

    An interior shot of Palazzo Volpi in Venice with contents to be sold by Sotheby’s in Paris.

    Art mirrors life and the life it is currently mirroring is one of censorship and intolerable attacks on freedom of expression.  The art world has not been immune as  the Israeli-Hamas war has spawned a new wave of hidden and not so hidden persuaders who move to stifle anything other than total support for hardliners against humanity. Against this background of global uncertainty there is a pipeline of interesting international sales coming up in 2024.  On offer already are a variety of covetable lots as diverse as the contents of a sumptuous Venetian palace on the Grand Canal to Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Archive to a Royal portrait by Velazquez and property from the life and career of Marilyn Monroe.  We must assume that all this will be okay once there is nothing in these auctions – such as seeking a ceasefire in Gaza – that can be construed as anti-semitic.

    A pair of stools or tabourets delivered to the Empress Josephine at Christie’s in New York

    Sotheby’s will offer 200 lots from Palazzo Volpi in Venice at an auction in Paris on February 28. The collection will include palatial Roman tables, ballroom banquettes, art panels in the style of Jacopo Sansovino, Wagner sofas and Venetian mirrors. Julien’s will offer contents from the Playboy archives and from Marilyn Monroe at a three day sale in Los Angeles on March 28, 29 and 30.  Highlights will include a Playboy Bunny silkscreen by Andy Warhol and a black and cellophane effect evening gown worn by Monroe in The Seven Year Itch.  The Velazquez portrait of Isabel de Borbon is at Sotheby’s in New York on February 1.

    A black and cellophane effect evening gown worn by Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch at Julien’s

    Elvis Presley’s Gretsch guitar from his Las Vegas residency is among the lots at Christie’s Exceptional Sale in New York on the same day along with a pair of c1800 tabourets or stools delivered to the Empress Josephine at Chateau de St. Cloud.

    It has the potential to be an exciting year with many records being broken at home and abroad.  Yet in 2024 there are well founded accusations of censorship in an art world that has never been noted for its lack of freedom of expression.  In New York board members and many art writers withdrew in protest after the editor of the prestigious Artforum magazine, David Valasco, was abruptly fired when a letter supporting Palestinian liberation was published which omitted to mention the victims of the Hamas attack on October 7.  Advertisers like gallerist David Zwirner and the Chanel culture fund threatened to withdraw.The Saarland Museum in Germany cancelled an exhibition by Candice Breitz, who is Jewish and has condemned Hamas, saying they would not show works by anyone who does not recognise Hamas terror as a rupture of civilisation.  The entire selection panel for the next curator of Documenta, a global art exhibition in 2027, resigned after disputes with administrators about the war. This mirrors the wider environment.  Think of resignations like that of Harvard President Claudine Gay in a campaign led by the Wall Street Jewish financier Bill Ackman whose wife is a former member of the IDF. You do not need to be a soothsayer to know there will be more resignations. UPDATE: The first American retrospective of Samia Halaby (87), regarded as one of the most important living Palestinian artists, has been cancelled by officials at Indiana University.

    Andy Warhol’s original Playboy Bunny at Julien’s.

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