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ABKHAZIA ABLAZE: Thousands of artworks in the Abkhazia National Art Gallery were destroyed in a fire on January 21. Footage of people rescuing large canvases from the charred museum gives a sense of the extensive damage to the institution located in Sukhumi, the capital of the Republic of Abkhazia in Russian-controlled Georgia. It is believed the fire started from an electrical short circuit on the second floor of the museum around 3:38 a.m. local time, and was contained by 7 a.m. Officials reported only about 200 paintings out of some 4000 survived, by artists such as Viktor Sheglov, Khuta Avidzba, Sergey Sangalov, and others. Over 300 works by a single local artist, Alexander Chachba-Shervashidze, who lived during the Russian Empire and was a descendent of an Abkhazia former ruler, were lost. “We have been gathering this collection since 1963 and it went up in flames in seconds. Such a tragedy for us here in Abhkazia,” said museum director Suram Sakany to the BBC.
FRAUD WATCH. The Art Geneva fair preview opens tomorrow, following the sudden departure last summer of its former director, Thomas Hug, whom it was recently revealed was fired over accusations of fraud and theft by fair organizers, Fondation Pour les Arts Visuels, owned by the group Palexpo. Hug, who ran the fair for 11 years alongside Laura Meillet, also dismissed, has maintained his innocence. In fact, he launched his own salon, Gstaad Art, to debut from Feb. 16 to 18, before news of the criminal case against him began to spread late last week. Charlotte Diwan was named the new Art Geneva director in August.
Elke Solomon, an artist, curator, and author, has died at age 80. The interdisciplinary artist, known for her performances, abstract paintings and cutouts passed away on January 9 of cancer. [Artforum]
Paris prosecutors dismissed a sexual assault accusation by a French actress Hélène Darras against Gérard Depardieu, because it passed the statute of limitations. Depardieu, 75, is also facing rape charges in another case, and several accusations of sexual harassment, all of which he denies. In December French president Emmanuel Macron defended Depardieu’s right to the presumption of innocence and said he “hated manhunts.” [Le Monde]
A new museum for the culture and identity of Lithuanian Jews in Vilnius has opened in a former Jewish high school, in a building that is a branch of the existing Vilna Gaon Museum of Jewish History. Among other famous personalities of Litvak origin featured in the debut exhibition, is a presentation about the poet and singer Leonard Cohen (1934- 2016), and a section dedicated to the life and work of the painter Rafael Chwoles (1913-2002). [Monopol]
In time for its 90th anniversary, the world’s oldest Holocaust museum has added to its collection a November-vandalized, large sign on its building, which was tagged with the word “Gaza” in red paint. The Wiener Holocaust Library in London, whose forerunner, the Jewish Central Information Office (JCIO) was founded in 1934 in Amsterdam, is marking its anniversary with an exhibition from Jan. 22 to Feb. 15. The JCIO notably provided key intelligence to allies about the identity and actions of Nazi officials. [The Guardian]
In the high-profile trial of Accent Delight International v. Sotheby’s, more details are emerging about opaque art auction practices. ARTnews Senior reporter Daniel Cassady outlines the latest revelations in the critical importance of auction catalog marketing techniques, and how the true identities of sellers are masked in an absurdist array of creative, alternative naming techniques, intended to spoof competition (and perhaps journalists), while in reality, they mean little to nothing at all. [ARTnews]