an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me

“Sotheby’s Drudgery”: My Storify on a Contemporary Art Sale Short on Excitement

Last night's Contemporary Art sale at Christie's, headlined by a certain very non-contemporary religious painting, was a hard act for Sotheby's to follow. It did interpose its own anomalous lot to jazz things up---a red Ferrari. For the most part, though, the offerings tonight were less than spectacular and the bidding was mostly slow. The action was more lively for the newer artists than for the same old auction stalwarts. Here's my Twitter account of the action (and inaction) at Sotheby's Contemporary sale: [View the story "Sotheby's … [Read more...]

Did Ken Griffin Buy the Leonardo (or provide $$$ for Art Institute of Chicago to acquire it)? UPDATED

While we're all still coming to terms with the fact that a damaged 26" x 18" oil-on-walnut painted panel has just sold for $450.3 million, here's a potential scoop that is based on some data, intuition, circumstantial evidence and my attempt to get confirmation: I have reason to believe that Kenneth Griffin, the Chicago hedge fund mogul, may have bankrolled yesterday's Leonardo purchase. Here's why: I noticed today that my blog post (linked at the top of this post) about last night's auction of Leonardo da Vinci's "Salvator Mundi" … [Read more...]

“Ballsy Bidding”: My Storify on Leonardo’s (& Christie’s) $450-Million Jesus Superstar

That surely wasn't the Getty or any other public (as opposed to single-collector) museum who plunked down a jaw-dropping $450-million after a dramatic 19-minute bidding war, the likes of which I've never seen, to acquire Leonardo da Vinci's damaged but still mesmerizing "Salvator Mundi." The bidding lurched from steady, small increments to vertiginous jumps, as the vying gazillionaires tried to pummel each other into submission. We still don't know (if we ever will) who won. The wild ride finally stopped at a satisfyingly round $400 … [Read more...]

Apparition’s Condition: Will a Museum Buy Leonardo da Vinci’s Unsettling “Salvator Mundi”?

"It belongs in a museum, with all the other Leonardos." So said conservator Dianne Dwyer Modestini at the end of a Wall Street Journal video posted early this morning, in connection with tonight's much-anticipated and highly hyped auction at Christie's of "Salvator Mundi." Here's Christ at Christie's, as seen by me at the Nov. 3 press preview: The WSJ's video of Modestini appeared the day after I chatted with Getty Museum director Timothy Potts at his institution's New York press lunch, also attended by Richard Rand, associate … [Read more...]

Strange Interlude: Al Jazeera Interviews Me About the Berkshire Museum (with video)

I was as surprised as you probably are that Al Jazeera, with its focus on international news (particularly as it relates to the Arab world), was interested in talking to me for a segment about the Berkshire Museum's deaccession controversy. But a camera crew journeyed to my New Jersey apartment to get my views for their broadcast that aired yesterday---"U.S. Judge Halts Berkshire Museum's Sale of Rockwell Art." Our conversation occurred last Thursday---after the Berkshire Superior Court ruled that the art sales could proceed but before the … [Read more...]

Berkshire Museum’s Deaccession Debacle: Reactions of the Protagonists & Antagonists

In their initial responses to last night's Massachusetts Appeals Court preliminary injunction, neither the Berkshire Museum nor Sotheby's has explicitly vowed to continue what could be a self-defeating legal fight in the museum's misguided attempt to sell works from its collection to bankroll purposes other than acquisitions and preservation of the collection. A wiser course of action for both parties might be to throw in the towel, recognizing that the cloud of controversy could dampen the sales prospects, even if the disposals were … [Read more...]

News Flash: Massachusetts Appeals Court Delays Berkshire Museum Sales

Score one for Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. The Massachusetts Appeals Court tonight granted the preliminary injunction that she had sought in order to delay the controversial sales at Sotheby's of works from the Berkshire Museum's collection. The series of auctions containing the deaccessioned works was to have begun Monday with an American art sale that was to offer seven works (photos here) from the Pittsfield, MA, museum, including its two prize Norman Rockwells. Here's the full text of Judge Joseph Trainor's … [Read more...]

News Flash: Massachusetts Attorney General Files Appeals Court Motion to Enjoin Monday’s Berkshire Museum Sales

Major update here. Now it gets really interesting. The Massachusetts Attorney General's Office has just filed a motion for an injunction pending its appeal of the Superior Court decision to allow Berkshire Museum's art sales this Monday at Sotheby's. You can read the full Appeals Court filing here. The AGO says its investigation "is not yet complete, but cites "the court's abuse of discretion through clear errors of law." The museum, the AGO says, would "breach the charitable trusts pursuant to which the museum holds the artwork" if … [Read more...]

Trusty Rusty: Powell to Retire from Longtime Gig at National Gallery

It's entirely in keeping with Rusty Powell's self-effacing nature that the National Gallery's homepage today is all about the art, with no hint of its big news: The museum's longest-serving director, who assumed that post in 1992, has announced his plans to retire in early 2019, when he'll be 75. As did Philippe de Montebello at the Metropolitan Museum, he's giving his institution a long lead time to search for his successor. With the Met's directorship again open, these two preeminent institutions could be going head-to-head for top … [Read more...]

Macron Magic: My Storify of Louvre Abu Dhabi’s Aborted Livestream of Opening Ceremonies

I wasn't invited to the Louvre Abu Dhabi's opening ceremonies today (no surprise), but I did get an emailed invitation to watch them livestreamed on the museum's Facebook page. Below is my tweeted account of that broadcast, which was abruptly interrupted without explanation, depriving us of what I assume were to have been speeches by the Louvre's director, Jean-Luc Martinez, and the dazzling museum's architect, Jean Nouvel. Was there a technical glitch (museum's website also seems very balky), or did something untoward occur? So far, I've … [Read more...]

“Tepid Investigation” by the AG: Judge Permits Berkshire Museum Sales

It seems that the Attorney General Office's intervention in the Berkshire Museum case was too little, too late in the view of Judge John Agostini of Berkshire County Superior Court. He ruled this afternoon (full text here) that the museum could proceed with its controversial planned art sales, notwithstanding the opposition of several plaintiffs and the Attorney General's Office (AGO), all of whom sought a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction to delay the sell-off. The judge also rejected the plaintiffs' argument that … [Read more...]

Berkshire Bombshells: Revelations in the Attorney General’s Berkshire Museum Brief

In consigning its collection's 40 highest-valued artworks to Sotheby's, the Berkshire Museum tried to pull a fast one. That's not gonna wash. In a nutshell, that's the position taken by the Massachusetts Attorney General in her brief filed Monday (full text here) and in arguments yesterday in Berkshire County Superior Court. She chided the museum for "notify[ing] the AGO of the intended sale and vote to deaccession and sell the items" only after the museum "was already committed to a contract [with Sotheby's] that carried with it the threat … [Read more...]

After Inconclusive Hearing, Attorney General Steps In as Possible Plaintiff in Berkshire Museum Case

After hearing more than two hours of arguments today (Wednesday) from two sets of lawyers for plaintiffs, as well as a response to the plaintiffs' motion by the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office, Judge John Agostini of Berkshire County Superior Court in Pittsfield reserved judgment on whether to grant requests for a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction that would pause the Berkshire Museum's controversial plans to sell works from its collection. As told to me this afternoon by art-law attorney Nicholas O'Donnell, who … [Read more...]

Deaccession Obsession: AG Enters the Fray; Compendium of My Berkshire Museum Commentary

As I reported Monday on my Twitter feed (while I was traveling and off-blog), the Massachusetts Attorney General has officially entered the fray in the legal battle over the Berkshire Museum's planned art sales. Now we're talking: @MassAGO seeks temp restraining order vs @BerkshireMuseum's planned art sales. Still reviewing https://t.co/UlOo3Ypy3E — Lee Rosenbaum (@CultureGrrl) October 30, 2017 As I've previously suggested, the AG is the only player in this case with the power to pry loose the background information necessary to … [Read more...]

Parsing the Arguments: Second Lawsuit and Reply Brief Filed Today on Berkshire Museum’s Art Sales

In the continuing saga of Berkshire Museum's planned art sales through Sotheby's, a second lawsuit and motion for an injunction (following close upon these) have today been filed by a new set of complainants in a different court. Both legal challenges, to my mind, fail a crucial test---the need to argue convincingly that the sales would violate explicitly stated donor intent. The museum this afternoon issued this press release regarding its reply to the first lawsuit, filed today. The press release essentially reiterates the museum's … [Read more...]

News Flash: Berkshire Museum’s Head on Medical Leave; 21 of 40 Consignments Pulled from Sotheby’s Auctions

There have been two major plot twists in the convoluted saga of the Berkshire Museum's highly controversial plans to sell 40 works from its collection at Sotheby's. This just in from the Berkshire Museum: The Berkshire Museum today announced that effective Oct. 31, 2017, museum operations will be led by Acting Co-Executive Directors Nina Garlington [the museum's chief engagement officer] and Craig Langlois [its chief engagement officer], as Executive Director Van Shields prepares to undergo major surgery and be out on medical leave. … [Read more...]

Berserk in the Berkshires: Lawsuit Filed Against Berkshire Museum Sales UPDATED TWICE

As I previously wrote, the only realistic hope to stop Berkshire Museum's misguided course would be legal action, either by the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office (which is reviewing the case but has not yet announced whether it will act) or by opponents to the sale. Now it's happened. This just in from Foley Hoag, the Boston law firm: Foley Hoag LLP filed a complaint and motion for a temporary restraining order in Massachusetts Superior Court on October 20, 2017 on behalf of several plaintiffs, including the three sons of renowned … [Read more...]

Dandy Danforth: Framingham Approves Win-Win University Partnership to Rescue Museum & Its Collection

I recently denounced as a bad role model for the Berkshire Museum the deplorable disposals by the New-York Historical Society 1995. Those selloffs were recently touted by Felix Salmon in a Berkshire Museum-related article as "relatively responsible deaccessioning." Now, here's some breaking news about a much better role model: Last night, another financially endangered Massachusetts institution---the Danforth Art Museum\School---got the required go-ahead at a Town Meeting to merge with Framingham State University---a win-win agreement … [Read more...]

Warhol Effect: Can Leonardo’s Strange Bedfellow Make Christie’s Bidders Salivate for “Salvator Mundi”?

It seems Christie's couldn't resist the chance to pair Leonardo da Vinci's Jesus with one (or, more accurately, 60) by art-market megastar Andy Warhol, whose 32-foot-long "Sixty Last Suppers" (riffing on the Italian Renaissance master's famous take on that subject) is being offered at the same Nov. 15 Contemporary auction as the incongruous interloper, "Salvator Mundi." The Warhol's presale estimate is half of Leonardo's: Not previously known for his old-masters expertise, Loic Gouzer, Christie's chairman for Post-War and Contemporary … [Read more...]

Salvaging “Salvator Mundi”: Inside Look at “Extensive Restoration” of Leonardo at Christie’s

"Without question," Christie's confidently declared last week, Leonardo da Vinci's "Salvator Mundi" (being auctioned on Nov. 15 in New York) is "the greatest artistic rediscovery of the 21st century." Really? With 83 years still remaining in this century, we're entitled to pose a few questions. First off: Might this century have other extraordinary rediscoveries that are yet to come? Even Leonardo seems to have new contenders for his canon emerging every few years, although they usually don't gain the overwhelming expert consensus of true … [Read more...]

an ArtsJournal blog