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Thursday, 30 May 2013 18:18

Strike Sweeps UK Museums and Galleries

Unhappiness over jobs, pay, and pensions has led workers at numerous museums, galleries, and heritage sites across the UK to go on strike. The walkout has affected some of the country’s biggest art institutions including the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, and Tate Liverpool. The National Portrait Gallery released a statement apologizing to patrons and explaining that it was “necessary for some gallery rooms to be closed” due to the strike.

Walkouts are expected to continue through the weekend. Employees of the Natural History Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum are expected to participate in the strike but the institutions will remain open to the public. Workers at national heritage sites, including Stonehenge, are planning to take action on Sunday, June 2, 2013.

The nationwide strike is part of a three-month campaign over an ongoing dispute about workers’ rights. The PCS union, the largest civil service union in the UK, is planning a national strike to take place at the end of June.

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Glafira Rosales, a 56-year-old Long Island-based art dealer has been arrested in connection to the scandal surrounding the disgraced Manhattan gallery, Knoedler & Company. One of many suits stemming from the ongoing Knoedler drama, federal authorities charged Rosales with tax fraud following the discovery that a collection of Modernist masterpieces, which sold for millions of dollars were actually forgeries.

Prosecutors claim that Rosales never disclosed the $12.5 million she made off of the sale. It was also discovered that she maintained a bank account in Spain where she had stashed much of her earnings from the transaction. If convicted on all counts, Rosales faces as many as 34 years in prison but based on federal sentencing guidelines, will most likely receive much less.

Rosales began selling forged works through the offices of Knoedler & Company in the mid-1990s. The works were new to the market and they were said to have come from an unnamed collector based in Zurich and Mexico City. Knoedler accepted the works and proceeded to sell them, bringing millions of dollars in revenue. After multiple experts claimed that Knoedler was selling fakes, the F.B.I. launched an official investigation. Knoedler closed in 2011 after 165 years in business. The company, which had been New York’s oldest gallery, found itself at the center of 6 lawsuits filed by clients who had purchased Rosales’ works.

While tax evasion charges have been leveled against her, Rosales still has not been charged with knowingly selling counterfeit artworks.

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Exhibition areas in three Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C. will close on Wednesday, May 1, 2013 due to substantial budget cuts known as federal sequestration. Parts of the National Museum of African Art, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and the Smithsonian Castle will be closed through September 30, 2013.

The closures are part of a sweeping $42 million budget cut that began March 1, 2013 and will last through the end of the fiscal year. The diminished security budget is the main reason officials decided to shut down certain parts of the Smithsonian. Cuts to travel and building maintenance as well as a hiring freeze were announced when the sequestration first went into effect. Smithsonian officials claim that no major exhibition areas will be affected by the closures.

The Smithsonian Castle will close the Commons, a room that features objects from around the Smithsonian; the National Museum of African Art will shutter a section of its permanent exhibition, African Mosaic; and the Hirshhorn Museum will close various sections of its third floor galleries, which house its permanent collection.

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England’s British Empire and Commonwealth Museum, which closed in 2008, is in hot water after nearly 150 works that were lent to the museum while it was still open have been deemed missing. To make matters worse, a number of the pieces were sold at auction without their owners’ permission.

Most of the museum’s collection has been turned over to the Bristol city council, which is carrying out a full audit. In addition, trustees of the museum are in negotiations with the eight displeased owners to work out compensation agreements. While no arrests have been made, trustees of the museum have been involved in an ongoing dispute with the former director, Gareth Griffiths, over the missing works.

Among the 144 works that have disappeared is a nineteenth-century oil painting belonging to Lord Caldecote. Caldecote’s father, a well-known engineer and industrialist, lent the work by maritime master, Thomas Buttersworth, to the museum. After his father’s death, Caldecote asked for the painting to be returned. Sadly, the painting’s whereabouts are unknown as Christie’s sold it for almost $100,000 back in 2008.

There are no reports of personal profits from the sales and it is believed that the mix-up occurred because it was unclear whether objects had been given to the museum or were there on loan.

The British Empire and Commonwealth Museum opened in 2002 and aimed to tell the story of Britain’s colonial past through objects. While the institution was initially lauded, it was unable to attract enough visitors to keep it afloat. Plans to move the museum to London were scrapped after the country fell on tough economic times.

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