Mysterious Jackson Pollock painting found in Bulgarian art smuggling raid, officials say

Mysterious Jackson Pollock painting found in Bulgarian art smuggling raid, officials say

A previously unknown painting by Abstract Expressionist painter Jackson Pollock was seized during an anti-organised crime raid in Sofia, Bulgaria, officials said this week. The painting dates from 1949 and could be worth up to €50m, according to experts cited by Bulgarian National Radio. Authorities have not released a description or photograph of the work.

The painting was discovered during a joint operation between Bulgarian and Greek anti-organised crime forces coordinated by Europol, according to BNR. Sister raids also took place in Athens and on the island of Crete. Three Greek citizens and one Bulgarian citizen have been detained over the operation. Five additional paintings by what the BNR describes as “prominent artists” were discovered during the stings.

The alleged Pollock painting has been handed over to specialists from the National Art Gallery in Bulgaria, according to Bulgarian news agency Novinite. On the back of the canvas is a dedication to the American actress Lauren Bacall that appears to have been written by Pollock himself, Sofia’s deputy city prosecutor Desislava Petrova said during a press conference Wednesday (22 March), according to the BTA, the national Bulgarian News Agency.

“Dedicated to my very talented and dear friend Lauren Bacall, Happy Birthday,” the inscription on the back of the painting reportedly reads. The message is dated 16 September 1949, which was Bacall’s 25th birthday, prosecutors said. Bacall was a noted art collector, and items from her collection of art and jewellery sold for a collective $3.6m at Bonhams New York in 2015 after her death the year before. No Pollock paintings were included in the sale.

The prosecutor’s office said the painting has ever been catalogued and has not been registered as missing, according to the BTA.

The most valuable Pollock painting to ever sell at auction, Number 17, 1951 (1951), fetched $53m ($61.2m with fees) during the first of two court-ordered auctions of Linda and Harry Macklowe’s art collection in November 2021. Last May, Pollock’s Number 31 (1949)—completed the same year as the alleged Pollock found in Bulgaria—sold at Christie’s New York for $47m ($54.2m with fees).

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Remembering Richard Verdi, art historian and long-time director of the Barber Institute, who has died, aged 81

Remembering Richard Verdi, art historian and long-time director of the Barber Institute, who has died, aged 81

In the week before Richard Verdi died, an advance copy of his latest publication—Velázquez (Thames & Hudson, 2023)—was delivered to his bedside. In life he was incapable of rest. Since his retirement as the Director of the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham, in 2007, he had also written books on Rembrandt and Poussin, and had revised an earlier volume on Cézanne. An incomplete manuscript on his beloved Rubens remains on his desk.

The publications of the last ten years reflect his teaching of the previous forty. Since joining the History of Art Department at the University of Manchester in 1968, through his 17 years at the University of York to a further 17 in Birmingham, Verdi had been holding students in his thrall. It was not without trepidation that you signed up to one of his courses. He had a reputation for being demanding, which I realise now he absolutely fostered. It was his way of sifting out whom he deemed the serious students—essentially those who wanted to study the old masters. He was unapologetic in proclaiming himself “a dinosaur”—in his expectations of students and in what he taught. Even if it were impossible to match his fervour, you had to try. Heaven help you if you turned up to a seminar unprepared. Verdi would have no compunction in calling everyone back in the following day for another two-hour session.

At the Barber Institute, where he initiated a series of public lectures, the lecture theatre would hum with the crowds piling in to hear him speak. Gasps, sighs, laughter, the audience hung on every word of this gifted orator

His teaching was rigorous, direct and notably impassioned. Despite years of familiarity with the works he would still be visibly moved by the subject matter—brought to tears by Rubens’s Garden of Love or cackling with laughter at an Adriaen Brouwer peasant scene. There was no place in his classes or his life for mild enthusiasm, only ardent admiration or disgust. Students were not the only beneficiaries of Verdi’s inspirational teaching or witnesses to his character. At the Barber Institute, where he initiated a series of public lectures, the lecture theatre would hum with the crowds piling in to hear him speak. Gasps, sighs, laughter, the audience hung on every word of this gifted orator. In a similar vein, staff at the institute would fall silent as Verdi strode quickly down the corridors or galleries, slightly leaning forward, arms straight by his sides, hands quivering in anticipation. To the last second we would be unsure if his reaction to the thing presented—a new hang, a poster for marketing or piece of writing—would be ecstasy or revulsion.

Passionate nature

Richard Verdi put his passionate nature down to his Italian ancestry. He was born in New York in 1941 to Italian-American parents but was later naturalised as a British citizen. His past seems to have been both a source of pride and discomfort. He referred often to his Sicilian roots but had an ambivalent relationship with the United States. Life as a gay man in post-war America had been difficult for him. Though more comfortable in Britain, he confided that he often felt an outsider. While his students, staff and public adored him, and his reputation for publications and exhibitions grew, he never felt entirely at ease among the art establishment nor did he court their attention.

It is all the more remarkable therefore that he curated so many exhibitions nationally and internationally. A number of these featured his favourite artist—Nicolas Poussin (the subject of his 1970 dissertation at the Courtauld Institute in London, supervised by Anthony Blunt). These included Cézanne and Poussin: The Classical Vision of Landscape (National Gallery of Scotland, 1990), for which he won a National Art Collections Fund Award for an Outstanding Contribution to the Visual Arts, Nicolas Poussin: “Tancred and Erminia” (BirminghamMuseum and Art Gallery, 1992), and the landmark Nicolas Poussin (Royal Academy, 1995). Indeed, he became so well-known in the museum world, and got to know the public collections of the UK in such depth, that in 1998, again for the Royal Academy, he co-curated Art Treasures of England: The Regional Collections alongside Giles Waterfield.

A perfectly formed sequence of exhibitions at the Barber Institute followed in which a single work from the collection became the focal point around which a thesis would be built. Notable among these shows was Matthias Stom: “Isaac blessing Jacob” (2000), featuring a painting which he had acquired for the collection in 1994, and Van Dyck: “Ecce Homo’” and “The Mocking of Christ” (2002), which toured to Princeton University Art Museum and the National Gallery of Ireland. In 2003, as his partner of thirty-five years, John Brooks, fell terminally ill with cancer, Verdi was again on the London stage as curator of the gargantuan exhibition, Saved!: 100 Years of the National Art Collections Fund, at the Hayward Gallery.

The loss of John in 2004 was deeply felt. He had been the perfect counterpoint. They had met at a Hugo Wolf concert in 1968 and shared a profound love of music and literature (and parrots). Bach, Mahler, Beethoven, Schumann, were held in particularly high esteem as indeed were German writers and artists. It is thanks to Verdi that the Barber Institute now boasts a notable collection of German Expressionist prints and drawings, acquired at a time when such works had yet to become fashionable (or even palatable) in the UK.

Evaristo Baschenis (1617-77), Still Life with Musical Instruments, around 1660. Verdi was immensely proud of acquiring this remarkable work for the Barber Institute © The Henry Barber Trust, The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham

Verdi had an extraordinary eye for quality and a confidence which enabled him to acquire works by lesser-known artists such as J.C. Dahl, Orazio Marinali, and Stom, often ahead of the national collections. One such purchase was Evaristo Baschenis’s incredible Still Life with Musical Instruments of about 1660, of which he was immensely proud. While Verdi’s acquisitions also included a Rubens portrait, the artist who most firmly glued us together, for me this painting more than any other represents him. Verdi had studied music for his first degree, becoming an accomplished clarinettist so the painting combines two of his great loves. Its rich, dark colours, sumptuous curtain and array of instruments— slightly torn and dusty and precariously balanced—together produce a virtuosic creative tension. This still life not only reminds us of the transience of worldly possessions and accomplishments but, brooding, baroque and clever in delivering its message, it is Richard Verdi to a T.  

Richard Frank Verdi; born New York City 7 November 1941; lecturer in art history, University of Manchester 1969-71; lecturer in art history, University of York 1971-81, senior lecturer 1981-89; professor of fine arts, University of Birmingham 1989-2007, director, Barber Institute of Fine Arts, 1990-2007; OBE 2007; died Birmingham 25 December 2022.

  • Hannah Higham is Senior Curator of Collections & Research at the Henry Moore Foundation and was a student and colleague of Richard Verdi’s at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts.

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Van Gogh Museum at 50: how galleries are challenging the ‘tortured genius’ narrative

Van Gogh Museum at 50: how galleries are challenging the ‘tortured genius’ narrative

At the time that Vincent van Gogh was creating his acclaimed work, The Starry Night, he was hospitalised at Saint-Paul de Mausole asylum. He painted the vivid night sky from his room without the bars of his window, editing out the institution. Yet, in the case of museums, it is often the institution who edits out the patient.

In collections, objects and stories relating to mental health have largely been presented through a medical model, viewing patients as subjects and silencing their voices.

Where mental health is part of an artist’s story, their creativity may be wrongly credited to their suffering. Often, these narratives sit uncomfortably close to spectacle, an echo of the Victorian freak show in the digital age.

This article is part of our Van Gogh Museum at 50 series. These articles mark the 50th anniversary of Amsterdam’s pioneering gallery and explore evolving cultural perceptions of one of the world’s most famous artists.

In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, museums are grappling with how best to expose and address biases and gaps in collections and programming.

The Van Gogh Museum first opened 50 years ago. A pioneer of the single artist approach, it formed a keystone of Amsterdam’s tourism strategy.

Self portrait by Van Gogh, holding his palette and sat at his easel.

Self Portrait as a Painter by Vincent Van Gogh (1888).
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam / Vincent van Gogh Foundation

Outside of the museum, approaches to mental health (although greatly advanced from van Gogh’s time) were still disempowering. Lobotomies – a Nobel Prize-winning invention in the 1940s – had experienced a post-war boom, but public opinion towards them had become distinctly unfavourable by 1973 after the high-profile death of a patient a few years before.

Throughout his life, van Gogh experienced poor mental health. His complex symptoms caused episodes of intense psychosis, hallucinations and cognitive dysfunction. During one such episode, he famously cut off part of his ear. He died in 1890, by probable suicide.

Van Gogh’s battle with mental health is well known but our perceptions of his story are often less critically evaluated. This highlights a long history of misconceptions around mental health. Since the time of Aristotle, illness and creativity have been thought to be connected. Van Gogh rejected this idea, considering “madness an illness like any other”.

The concept of the “tortured genius”, which sees suffering as a necessary part of creativity, is unhelpful yet deeply embedded. Think of the narratives we hold for Kurt Cobain, Sylvia Plath and Robin Williams.

A 2014 study even discovered that van Gogh’s work was perceived as higher quality by viewers exposed to his mental health story. In promoting suffering over seeking help and recovery, the topic of mental health becomes a spectacle rather than a vehicle for social change.

Everybody has their yellow paint” – a meme originally posted on social media site Tumblr – neatly illustrates this point by positioning van Gogh as a “beautiful tortured soul” who ate toxic yellow paint to coat his insides with sunshine.

His potential suicide attempt is reframed as a misunderstood quirk. Yet, as tragic stories of social media-inspired self harm demonstrate, the misinterpretation of mental health issues has real impact.

Rethinking mental health

Several institutions, including the Van Gogh Museum, are now working with audiences in order to reevaluate their perspectives on wellbeing.

Van Gogh Museum / Vincent van Gogh Foundation

A photograph of Vincent van Gogh.
Van Gogh Museum / Vincent van Gogh Foundation

Discussions between the Van Gogh Museum and young people experiencing mental health vulnerability highlighted the opportunity for the museum to normalise mental illness and to encourage people to seek support where needed.

The community of young people suggested progressive ways for the museum to become a safe space for engagement in which people could tell their own stories.

The resulting project, Open Up with Vincent, has created online and onsite activities such as meditation films, material for school pupils and collaborations with healthcare institutions.

A key part of the museum’s findings was that, in having an uncertain diagnosis, van Gogh’s story resonated with young people as it did not probe his struggles through a medical model. Narratives around his art and life could, instead, open dialogue on mental health and support audiences to consider their own relationships with mental health and wellness.

In the UK, the Tate galleries, working with the mental health charity, Mind, have challenged existing approaches in order to create a more useful dialogue. Finding that 50% of people experiencing mental health problems noted the shame and isolation as worse than the illness itself, they created a more factually accurate portrayal of van Gogh’s mental health through animation. His story becomes a powerful reminder that we should not be defined by our mental health.

The animation that resulted from Tate’s collaboration with the mental health charity, Mind.

As museums develop their institutional perspectives on healthcare from a medical model to a social model, they are evolving into agents of radical change. Co-production with communities has vast potential to develop healthier societies by exploring the intersections of creativity and wellbeing.

The Van Gogh Museum is celebrating its 50th year by “treating audiences” to a “splendid party” and “special activities”, in a nod to the Dutch tradition of being generous to others on your birthday. However, particularly in the context of continued funding crises, we need to be mindful that culture is more than just a “treat.” It is an essential tool in tackling the mental health crisis.

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More than 1,000 objects in the Met’s collection linked to alleged traffickers and looters, investigation finds

More than 1,000 objects in the Met’s collection linked to alleged traffickers and looters, investigation finds

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has more than 1,000 objects in its collection that have ties to people allegedly involved in crimes related to the antiquities trade, according to a new report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and other media outlets, sparking heightened scrutiny of the largest and most-visited museum in the US.

At least 1,109 pieces in the Met’s collection were previously owned by individuals who have been indicted or convicted of crimes including looting and trafficking, ICIJ and nonprofit Finance Uncovered found in a review of the Met’s antiquities collection. Of those objects, fewer than half have records available that detail how they left their countries of origin. And of the more than 250 antiquities at the Met with links to Nepal and Kashmir—two regions that have been especially badly impacted by looting—only three are listed with records that explain how the objects left the areas they originated in, according to ICIJ and Finance Uncovered.

Many objects in the Met collection also have clear links to individuals who have been implicated in the looting or trafficking of antiquities, according to ICIJ. The museum has almost two-dozen pieces that once belonged to American antiquities dealer Robert E. Hecht. The Met first started to acquire objects from Hecht in the 1950s, and continued to do so even after Hecht was charged by Italian prosecutors with smuggling in 1959 and 1961. The case against Hecht was later dismissed when the statute of limitations expired, and Hecht died in 2012 after consistently denying he played any role in illegally exporting art.

The Met also has more than 800 objects that once belonged to Jonathan P. Rosen, a business partner of Hecht’s who was charged alongside Hecht in Italy in 1997. The Cleveland Museum of Art agreed to return objects in its collections from Rosen in 2008 after learning they had allegedly been stolen, and in 2013, Cornell University agreed to return around 10,000 ancient Iraqi tablets donated by Rosen, according to The Los Angeles Times. Rosen’s lawyer denied the tablets had been illegally acquired. Another 85 pieces in the Met’s collection are connected to Subhash Kapoor, who last year was convicted in India of trafficking more than $100m worth of antiquities.

“The Met sets the tone for museums around the world,” Tess Davis, executive director of the anti-trafficking group Antiquities Coalition, told ICIJ. “If the Met is letting all of these things fall through the cracks, what hope do we have for the rest of the art market?”

The Met has been the subject of multiple high-profile seizures over the past few years. Last year, at least 29 items from the Met’s collection were seized by authorities in the US, including Egyptian bronzes, Greek busts and ancient plates, helmets and statues from all over the world, according to ICIJ.

In 2019, the museum agreed to return a 2,000-year-old gold coffin from Ancient Egypt that was thrust into the spotlight after reality television star Kim Kardashian posed alongside the artefact during the 2019 Met Gala. An investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office confirmed the coffin had been looted and that the Met had purchased the piece after a dealer showed them a “poorly forged” export licence, according to ICIJ.

“The Met is committed to the responsible collecting of art and goes to great lengths to ensure that all works entering the collection meet the laws and strict policies in place at the time of acquisition,” museum spokesperson Kenneth Weine told ICIJ. “Additionally, as laws and guidelines on collecting have changed over time, so have the Museum’s policies and procedures. The Met also continually researches the history of works in the collection—often in collaboration with colleagues in countries around the world—and has a long track record of acting on new information as appropriate.”

The Met did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Art Newspaper.

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The New Museum selects curators for its next triennial, the first following its $89m expansion

The New Museum selects curators for its next triennial, the first following its $89m expansion

New York City’s New Museum has picked two curators to organise the next edition of its closely-watched triennial, selecting both internally and, for the first time, internationally: New Museum curator Vivian Crockett and Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand (MASP) curator Isabella Rjeille. They will benefit from more space than their predecessors as theirs will be the first edition of the recurring exhibition following the completion of the institution’s $89m, Shohei Shigematsu and Rem Koolhaas-designed expansion. It will be the sixth edition of the museum’s triennial, opening five years after its most recent iteration, in 2026.

“Isabella is the first international curator to be part of the Triennial and brings a wealth of experience from MASP, one of the most exciting institutions for modern and contemporary art,” Massimiliano Gioni, the New Museum’s artistic director and co-curator of its inaugural triennial, said in a statement. “Vivian has just co-curated the New Museum’s critically acclaimed Wangechi Mutu survey and is part of a new generation of curators shaping the conversation about art and culture at large.”

Crockett joined the New Museum in 2022 following stints at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and SFMOMA. Rjeille has held various curatorial positions at MASP since 2016 and previously worked at the Fundação Bienal de São Paulo, during which time she served as a curatorial assistant on the 2016 Bienal de São Paulo.

The New Museum on the Bowery in New York with a rendering of its planned addition to the right OMA/

The New Museum triennial launched in 2009, one year after the institution opened in its new building on the Bowery, quickly becoming one of the three most closely-watched recurring exhibitions at New York museums, along with the Whitney Biennial and MoMA PS1’s quinquennial Greater New York shows.

The triennial’s inaugural edition, provocatively titled Younger Than Jesus and exclusively featuring artists under age 33, was co-curated by Gioni, Laura Hoptman and Lauren Cornell. The 2012 edition, The Ungovernables, was curated by Eungie Joo, who at the time was the director and curator of education and public programmes at the museum and is now the contemporary art curator at SFMOMA. Cornell returned to co-curate the triennial’s third edition, Surround Audience, with artist Ryan Trecartin. The 2018 edition, Songs for Sabotage, was co-curated by New Museum curator Gary Carrion-Murayari and Alex Gartenfeld of the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami. In 2021, New Museum curator Margot Norton and Jamillah James of the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles co-curated the triennial’s fifth edition, Soft Water Hard Stone.

The New Museum’s forthcoming expansion, which will rise adjacent to its Sanaa-designed building on the Bowery, was originally expected to open in 2022.

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Fulton Fish Market: A New York City maritime landmark

Fulton Fish Market: A New York City maritime landmark

From sweltering summers to freezing winters, the smell of fish never seems to fade, and the determination to sell the best fish never leaves a fishmonger’s heart. Long ago, for New Yorkers who fished to sell their catch, their next stop was where everyone knew one another and were eager to see each other’s bounty: the Fulton Fish Market. I have always loved attending farmers’ markets. From Yorktown to Blacksburg, Richmond to Williamsburg, farmers’ markets are a chance to meet local vendors and their families, purchase and support small businesses, and create lasting relationships by regularly attending. 

In New York City’s South Street Seaport, well before the Brooklyn Bridge was built,  

the Fulton Fish Market was a mainstay for fishermen and seafood lovers who wanted the best catch.

The Fulton Fish Market on a quiet afternoon, June 13, 1937.
The Fulton Fish Market on a quiet afternoon, June 13, 1937.
Elwin Eldredge, photographer. The Mariners’ Museum and Park MS0091-03.01-21-112

The market first opened in 1807, where it sold fish and goods other than seafood, but later moved to the location between Fulton and Beekman Streets, only a few blocks from Wall Street. Fulton soon became a mainstay for avid customers selecting fish, especially Brooklyn housekeepers and immigrant family members. It was not until after the mid-1850s that businesses and restaurants started becoming frequent buyers as Fulton was branching outward to national markets. In 1924 alone, the market sold 384 million pounds of fish and a variety of 200 kinds, no less!

Barrels line the boardwalk, the New York skyline towers in the background.
Barrels line the boardwalk, the New York skyline towers in the background. Percy Loomis Sperr, photographer. The Mariners’ Museum and Park P0002.001-02–153881

The market consisted of the “Tin Building” and the “New Building.” What happened to the old Tin Building, you might wonder? Well, in 1936, it sank into the bay after the pilings collapsed, and the structure slid into the water. One could imagine the fishermen unloaded so much of their catch that the weight caused it to collapse! As other ports developed in New Jersey and Philadelphia with national and regional buyers, the Fulton Fish Market started seeing a dip in sales in the 1930s. 

Boats tied to the dock near the Fulton Fish Market.
Boats tied to the dock near the Fulton Fish Market. Percy Loomis Sperr, photographer. The Mariners’ Museum and Park P0002.001-02–153663

Fishmongers at the Fulton Fish Market’s early days were different from our stores today. Because restaurants and chefs were the majority of the market’s customers by the turn of the century, fish were often sold whole  – scales, eyeballs,  and all! Chefs usually know how to descale and prep fish for service, so buyers at the Fulton Market knew how to make the most of every inch of a whole fish!

Freshly caught cod and waiting carts on the dock at Fulton Fish Market in 1931.
Freshly caught cod and waiting carts on the dock at Fulton Fish Market in 1931. Edwin Levick, photographer. The Mariners’ Museum and Park P0002.001-01-095-114453

While fish were usually brought in via boat, as the market began to expand, many sellers would drop their catch off at the docks and wheel them in by carts or trucks. 

Crates upon crates of fresh fish line the market as vendors make their way to their stations.
Crates upon crates of fresh fish line the market as vendors make their way to their stations. Photo: Atlas Photos. The Mariners’ Museum and Park P0002.001-05–154011

One of the most important aspects of the Fulton Fish Market was the history of generations of New Yorkers buying and selling the best catch. Many people learned the best days to purchase, what vendors were the best, and who offered the best prices so they’d get the most for their buck. Naturally, the Fulton Fish Market has had difficulties in its more than two hundred years of operation. In addition to the 1936 sinking of the old Tin Building, the market was set ablaze in 1995. Eventually, the Fulton Fish Market needed a complete reconstruction, and a remodel to satisfy its ever-growing clientele. This led to its move to the Bronx in 2005. Larger spaces and a new building allow Fulton Fish Market to continue its legacy, albeit as a shinier model.

Site of a Fulton Fish Market, currently used as a rental building.
Site of a Fulton Fish Market, currently used as a rental building. Jim Henderson, photographer, February 6, 2010. Courtesy of Wikipedia via CC0
The current Fulton Fish Market in the Bronx.
The current Fulton Fish Market in the Bronx. Doc Searls, photographer, February 2008. Courtesy of Wikipedia via CC BY-SA 2.0
Scales line the interior of the new fish market in the Bronx.
Scales line the interior of the new fish market in the Bronx. Usg19, photographer, November 2008. Courtesy of Wikipedia via CC BY-SA 4.0

The history of the Fulton Fish Market showcases how our shared maritime heritage can unite  and build communities. Generations of fishermen and fishmongers came together and formed  lasting connections with one another to create lasting memories, endearing friendships, and always encouraging the growth of local businesses.


“About Us.” Fulton Fish Market. Meade Digital Enterprises. 2023. 

Gill, John Freeman. “A Slice of the Fulton Fish Market Gets A New Life.” The New York 

Times. February 28, 2020. Updated April 27, 2021. 

Graddy, Kathryn. “Markets: The Fulton Fish Market.” The Journal of Economic Perspectives, 

vol. 20, no. 2. 2006. 207-220. 

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