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A composite image of two Benin

Smithsonian Closes Four Museums Due to Covid, Robert E. Lee Time Capsule Opened, and More: Morning Links for December

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The Headlines

COVID CLOSURES CONTINUE. The Smithsonian said that it will shutter four of its museums through January 2—the National Museum of African Art, the National Museum of Asian Art, the National Postal Museum, and the Anacostia Community Museum, all in Washington, D.C.—because staffers are quarantining with the coronavirus, the Washington Post reports. The move is aimed at allowing it to continue to operate its other institutions. The news comes amid shutdowns of some museums in Europe, and the Cincinnati Art Museum’s announcement that it will close for more than a week in early January to allow staffers to have a break so that they can pursue “healing and service.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has also reduced its visitor capacity amid the heightened case numbers.

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A composite image of two Benin

LET’S HEAR FROM THE ARTISTS. Tony Oursler, the master of the uncanny video sculpture, answered questions from Frieze. His biggest mistake? “Losing track of friends. They vanish, sometimes permanently.” Shane MacGowan (the onetime Pogues frontman) talked to the New York Times about a luxe new book of his art and writing. And the fearless painter of (sometimes nude) self-portraits Joan Semmel, 90 next year, chatted with art historian Marta Gnyp, in an interview excerpted by Artnet News. Discussing the attitude toward women artists early in her career, she said, “You were not expected to be certain things. You were not expected to be ambitious. You were not expected to be called a genius. You were not expected to even be confident.”

The Digest

Harry M. Reid, the Senate Majority Leader who shepherded major legislation during the Obama presidency, and who was involved in the creation of the Basin and Range National Monument, protecting some 704,000 acres of Nevada land that includes Michael Heizer’s fabled earthwork City, has died at 82. [The New York Times]

A time capsule found in the pedestal of the now-removed statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Virginia, was opened by conservators. Its contents included an 1865 Harper’s Weekly and Confederate currency—but not a photograph of President Lincoln in his coffin, which some had hoped to find. [The Guardian]

The Mackenzie Art Gallery in Regina, Saskatchewan, was fined CAD$19,600 (about USD$15,300) after admitting to failing to provide a safeguard for a worker who was injured while working with a table saw in 2020. [Global News]

American University in Washington, D.C., will display a major Elyn Zimmerman sculptural installation that has graced the National Geographic Society’s D.C. headquarters since 1984. Nat Geo’s leadership sparked an uproar in 2019 when it said it would remove the site-specific work as part of a construction project. [The New York Times]

Dealer Zoe Fisher, who was just tapped to be director of Salon 94 Design in New York, responded to New York’s “21 Questions” column. What artwork is she “most surprised” to own? A 1937 painting by Jean Xceron, she said, “a Greece-born American abstract painter and art critic” who worked as a Guggenheim Museum security guard. [Curbed]

Unsure about what exactly an NFT is? Shanti Escalante-De Mattei has a primer for the suddenly omnipresent digital form. [ARTnews]

The Kicker

A RERUN TO RELISH. For this in-limbo week before the arrival of 2022, the New Yorker Radio Hour re-upped its 2019 episode about Vjeran Tomic, the famed Spider-Man burglar who made off with five paintings worth some $70 million from the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris in 2011. Tomic almost took a sixth, a Modigliani portrait of a woman, but he said, “when I went to get it off the wall, it told me, ‘If you take me, you will regret it the rest of your life.’ ” Tomic is a voluble character, and there is a lot to enjoy here. [The New Yorker and The New Yorker Radio Hour]

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