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News from the US: Bush and Blair go under the (sledge) hammer, the Whitney suffers loan woes, and Rakowitz can't get a date

Tate’s US patrons applaud the destruction of cake effigies, while MoMA makes life difficult

Leaders face to face with the Grim Reaper

One of the grandest cultural fundraising machines is that much-revered cabal called the American Patrons of Tate, who annually raise whopping sums to buy Yankee works for the British gallery. At their yearly dinner at Sant Ambroseus on the Upper East Side, a nicer group of affluent people could not be found, from Chicago fashionista Sara Albrecht to Austin collector Deborah Green, art advisor B.J. Topol Blum and a smattering of the Cisneros clan. To top off the evening, Egyptian artist Ghada Amer revealed a specially made cake featuring very large, albeit not very lifelike edible effigies, of Bush and Blair, wheeled in to much fanfare. A cloaked, masked Grim Reaper soon entered and commanded Amer to take action, at which the artist stood up and, with a hefty sledgehammer, smashed the confectionery faces of the two politicians. This angry, guerrilla activity was only slightly compromised by the polite applause of the amused patrons and the figure of Death himself, who turned out to be the delightful artist Ahmed Akkad, part of the deposed Egyptian royal family.

Whitney draws stars but not MoMA’s paintings

Almost matching the Tate Patrons pulling power is the benefit committee for the Whitney Museum, which organised a blockbuster guest list for the gala party celebrating its “Picasso and American Art” show, including young starlets such as Scarlett Johansson, Lindsay Lohan and Chloe Sevigny—all Picasso devotees sans doute. And yet, the road to opening night was not without its obstacles: the exhibition took nearly a decade to organise and the Museum of Modern Art was reluctant to loan out important works from its impressive holdings, eventually granting one modest Cubist collage, four stencil prints (from an edition of 100) and one major painting, The Studio. No less than four missing Picassos from MoMA’s collection are mentioned at glowing length in the wall texts and are even illustrated in full-colour next to the American paintings they inspired. There is no Fruit Bowl of 1914, no Harlequin of 1915, and no Girl Before Mirror of 1932, “a crucial example for Jackson Pollock” as the Whitney laments. And of course, the most sorely missed work of all is Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, repeatedly cited in the Whitney exhibition as a “landmark painting [that] held tremendous importance for De Kooning, Pollock, Max Weber”. The work, which underwent a major conservation in 2003-04, rarely leaves MoMA.

...but Acquavella happily offers a $10m Picasso

The Whitney has clearly learned that if your museum colleagues are being difficult, commercial galleries will be only too happy to oblige, as the only Picasso in the Whitney show not in an institution or private collection is a beautiful Bathers of 1920. The gallery name attached is none other than Acquavella, where the owner, Big Bill himself, breezily answered Flotsam’s inquisitive call: “Yes, that means the painting is for sale. The price? Around $10m.”

Artistic business acumen

In the 1940s, artist Michael Rakowitz’s grandfather, a Jewish Iraqi, ran Davisons & Co in New York, a successful import-export company to the Middle East. Last month Rakowitz re-opened the business at 529 Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn as a store-front art work entitled Return (right). As the artist explains on his website, the project invites members of the Iraqi diaspora, families with military personnel stationed in Iraq, and interested citizens to send packages to Iraq, free of charge. Shipping costs are covered through funding from art institutions and donations. But it seems the young Rakowitz has inherited the entrepreneurial spirit, as the Brooklyn store-front now also offers hard-to-find Iraqi goods for sale, including the ever popular Khestawi date. The project’s weblog records the trials and tribulations of the date shipment which, as we went to press, was being held by officials in Iraq. Hopefully not for too long, as eager customers have been signing up by the boxload.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Bush and Blair go under the (sledge) hammer'