Art News Headlines: April 30, 2011

An Austrian man recently turning dirt in his backyard stumbled onto something a little unexpected: buried treasure—hundreds of pieces of centuries-old jewelry and other precious objects that Austrian authorities described Friday as a fairy-tale find. Austria’s department in charge of national antiquities said the trove consists of more than 200 rings, brooches, ornate belt buckles, gold-plated silver plates and other pieces or fragments, many encrusted with pearls, fossilized coral and other ornaments. It says the objects are about 650 years old and are being evaluated for their provenance and worth. While not assigning a monetary value to the buried bling, the enthusiastic language from the normally staid Federal Office for Memorials reflected the significance it attached to the discovery. “Fairy tales still exist!” said its statement. “Private individual finds sensational treasure in garden.”

In other art news, previously unreleased portraits of singer Susan Boyle, former Prime Minister Tony Blair, and art historian and museum director Sir Roy Strong, form part of a new display at the National Portrait Gallery. The exhibit highlights 16 portraits recently acquired for the Gallery’s Collection by acclaimed photographer John Swannell. The portraits on display range from previously unseen photographs taken in the last year, to portraits taken at the start of his career in the early 1970s. The display, “Now and Then: Photographs by John Swannell,” runs through the end of the year. Swannell is particularly celebrated for his fashion photography, reflected in his portraits of Victoria Beckham, fashion designer Betty Jackson and actress Sienna Miller.

Over one thousand protesters in Hong Kong took to the streets to demand the release of detained Chinese artist and human rights activist Ai Weiwei on Saturday, scuffling briefly with police. The rally—the largest in a string of protests across the city in recent weeks—has underscored Hong Kong’s growing role as a hotbed of support for Ai with local pro-democracy activists and artists ratcheting up pressure on Beijing over its heavy crackdown on dissidents, human rights lawyers and protesters challenging Communist Party controls and censorship. Protesters held up banners with the words “Who’s afraid of Weiwei” and banged on drums as they snaked their way through busy districts to the harbor-front Cultural Center, where they sang, performed and chanted for Ai’s release.

Natalia Guicciardini Strozzi, a member of one of Florence’s oldest noble families, said that searching for and exhuming the remains of her ancestor Lisa Gherardini is “a sacrilegious act”. Gherardini was the wife of a rich Florentine silk merchant and is believed by many art historians to have been the model for Leonardo da Vinci’s best-known painting, which today hangs in the Louvre Museum in Paris. A team of Italian researchers began the hunt for Mona Lisa’s skeleton beneath a convent in Florence, using ground-penetrating radar to search for evidence of old tombs. “My ancestor’s remains should be left to rest in peace,” said the Italian princess, who is also an actress, winemaker and former ballerina. The team attempting to locate Gherardini’s tomb is led by Silvano Vinceti, a self-styled “Sherlock Holmes” of the art history world who claims to have detected secret codes in the eyes of the Mona Lisa and in the landscape which forms the backdrop to the portrait, although his theories have been dismissed by other scholars.

Lobbying for the youth vote, or ticket sale more like, MoMA announced on Friday that Kanye West will perform at its annual Party in the Garden benefit. On May 10, West will deliver some beautiful, dark, twisted tunes to a well-heeled crowd. The concert will take place in the museum’s Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden from 9:00pm to midnight as part of the gala’s after-party. West is no stranger to the art world. In a recent tweet, he confirmed to followers that the tableau-inspired video for “Power” is “a moving Painting!!!,” not a mere video. Artist and patron, he also commissioned George Condo to create the cover art for his most recent album.

Laura Lawson paints when writer’s block strikes and writes when painter’s block strikes. She has studied fine art at LCAD and is pursuing a degree in journalism. Recently diagnosed with the degenerative eye disease retinitis pigmentosa, she strives to bring hope to those without vision through her blog. She is currently working on her first book about coping with vision loss.

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