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“Meaningfully Profitable”: Sotheby’s Bill Ruprecht on the Performance of Auction Guarantees

William Ruprecht, Sotheby's CEO

During today's quarterly conference call for stock analysts, Bill Ruprecht, Sotheby's chairman, president and CEO, gave the following explanation for the increased risk Sotheby's has assumed through guarantees granted to certain consignors, which totaled $392.6 million as of Oct. 16. (Remarks below in brackets are mine, not his.): Competition for the best works remains robust in this strong market. We’re certainly winning our share of these and, of course, this keeps commission margins [commission revenue divided by hammer price] under … [Read more...]

Sotheby’s Guarantees to Consignors Total a Whopping $392.6 million as of Oct. 16


After I wrote about Sotheby's guarantee, which may have gone sour, for its big-ticket Giacometti, I checked the auction house's SEC filings. The most recent Form 8-K reveals that the total amount of that Sotheby's guarantees to consignors as of Oct. 16 was a whopping $392.6 million. Some of this amount was concentrated "among a small number of high-value items" (presumably including Giacometti's "Chariot," whose $90-million hammer price fell short of its “in excess of $100 million” estimate). Each Sotheby's guarantee falls within the presale … [Read more...]

“Invaluable Beacon”: What Judge Rhodes Said About Detroit Institute of Arts

Detroit Institute of Arts

The excerpts from Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes' opinion, issued yesterday, regarding the rescue of the Detroit Institute of Arts' (DIA's) collection via the Grand Bargain are worth reading in full, especially for these sentences that explicitly back the professional standards promulgated by art museums regarding deaccessions and that underscore the importance of the museum and its art to the city's recovery: Nationally accepted standards for museums prohibit the de-acquisition of art to pay debt.... To sell the DIA art would only deepen … [Read more...]

Grand News for Grand Bargain: Judge Rhodes Approves Detroit Bankruptcy Plan UPDATED

At this writing, Judge Rhodes is still presenting the details of his decision to approve Detroit's bankruptcy plan. But the bottom line for the Detroit Institute of Arts is this, as described in an initial Detroit Free Press report, already online: The DIA, which waged a fierce fight against any potential sale, will not have to sell a single piece of art to pay off the city's debts or reinvest in services. A press conference by the Governor, Emergency Manager and Mediator is expected after the ruling. Stay tuned to the Free Press's live blog … [Read more...]

Guarantee Gambits: Underachieving Léger at Christie’s and Giacometti at Sotheby’s


Christie's wasn't alone in guaranteeing a big-ticket modern work that underperformed this week and may have cost it money: It's been widely reported that the only bid for Sotheby's $101-million Giacometti came from the auction house's co-chairman for Impressionist/Modern art, David Norman, who offered $90 million (to which the buyers premium was added) on behalf of an anonymous purchaser. The presale estimate of the hammer price for this nearly 5-foot, gold-painted bronze was "in excess of $100 million." The amount that Sotheby's had guaranteed … [Read more...]

Rumbler Bumble: Christie’s $15.5-Million Léger “Sells” (but doesn’t)

Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

In one of the biggest auction gaffes I've ever seen, Andreas Rumbler, who last night conducted Christie's modestly successful Impressionist/Modern sale (enlivened by the record-breaking price for its stellar Manet), astonishingly declared that the second-highest estimated work, Léger's "Construction Workers with Tree" had sold when it hadn't---an error that was perpetuated in the live online feed for the sale that I was following from home, which listed as "passed" three works that failed to sell, but not the Manet. It wasn't until I read … [Read more...]

Falling for “Spring”: Getty Buys $65.125-Million Manet at Christie’s UPDATED

Andreas Rumbler at tonight's auction
Screenshot from the sale's live feed

At the end of this CultureGrrl Video, you heard Brooke Lampley, Christie’s Impressionist/Modern head, express her hope that Manet’s “Spring,” in a private collection since 1909, might “go to an institution.” It had been on loan to the National Gallery of Art for almost 21 years, until last May. Brooke wasn't just babbling. But it wasn't the National Gallery that hooked this looker. It was the Getty: Although a Christie's spokesperson told me tonight that she couldn't confirm this, Kelly Scott, arts and culture editor of the LA … [Read more...]

Spinning the Big Fall Auctions: How Fresh is “Fresh to the Market”? (with video)

van Gogh, "Vase aux Marguerites et Coquelicots, 1890
Presale estimate: $30-50 million
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

The silly season of major evening sales of Impressionist/Modern and Contemporary art is again upon us, when we turn back the clock and ramp up the hype. Euphemistically called "auctions," these tightly choreographed spectacles of conspicuous consumption, which reconvene this evening at Sotheby's and tomorrow night at Christie's, are increasingly pre-engineered, with much of the bidding predetermined by guarantees, irrevocable bids and other contrivances, calculated to minimize both the risk and the spontaneity. It looks like this go-round … [Read more...]

Bad News: NY Times as Insert for Christie’s Advertising Section (plus: me at NYU)

Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

I read a lot of the NY Times on my tablet these days, but I still subscribe to the print edition and somewhat sleepily pulled it out of its plastic bag late this morning---off to a slow start after having spent yesterday evening in an energetic give-and-take with a lively New York University class of aspiring visual arts administrators (almost all young women). Startled, I rubbed my bleary eyes when I saw this: Why was a gun-toting (below the fold) Elvis holding the Gray Lady hostage? It wasn't until I fully opened the eight-page … [Read more...]

Jail Break: My Video Report on “Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz”

Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

In my previous post about the extraordinary show organized by the San Francisco-based FOR-SITE Foundation---@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz---I wrote about the powerful, provocative and (to my mind) somewhat problematic aspects of this sprawling, seven-part installation. Taking the boat to The Rock, as hardcore criminals once did, visitors to Ai's temporary exhibition (to Apr. 26) can explore some areas---the site's monumental New Industries Building and its Hospital---that are customarily off-limits to today's audioguided tourists who throng the … [Read more...]

Detroit Detritus: Institute of Arts Responds to Cheap Shots Against Graham Beal’s Compensation

Graham Beal, director, Detroit Institute of Arts
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

As reported this week by the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press, politicians are again seeking to score cheap points by positioning themselves as defenders taxpayers' interests in questioning the entirely reasonable compensation of Graham Beal, the Detroit Institute of Arts' esteemed long-time director. While this is not the first time this has happened (see here and here), it could be the last. Beal had told me last April that he felt an obligation to stick with the Detroit Institute through the resolution of serious threats to his … [Read more...]

“Don’t Retreat. Retweet”: My Twitter Tour of Ai Weiwei’s Installation at Alcatraz


With @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz, the dissident Chinese artist's installation (to Apr. 26) at the former high-security prison in San Francisco, Ai Weiwei has expanded his political activism to embrace dissidents throughout the world, including the U.S., whose National Parks Service is hosting the exhibition in partnership with the Golden Gates National Parks Conservancy. Given the extraordinary demonstrations in Hong Kong, which began shortly after I attended the press preview, his piece has a greater timeliness than he could have known … [Read more...]

Photo Essay for My WSJ Article on MoMA’s Restoration of Matisse’s Glorious “Swimming Pool” UPDATED


              A story about the conservation and installation of such a celebrated landmark in the history of modern and contemporary art as Matisse's "The Swimming Pool," 1952, needs to be a "show-and-tell." My article in today's Wall Street Journal---Trying to Turn Back Time---is the "tell" part, in which I describe what has been accomplished by Jodi Hauptman (above left) and Karl Buchberg (above right), the co-curators of the Museum of Modern Art's glorious Henri Matisse: The … [Read more...]

Poking Koch: Meet the Metropolitan Museum’s Vibrant New Plaza & Its Detractors (with videos)

Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

There's been a persistent Twitter backlash over the last week against the Metropolitan Museum's latest capital project, featuring (among many others) two prominent NY Times critics expressing displeasure over the lively, engaging new urban space created by OLIN's just concluded redesign of the museum's entrance plaza and fountains. (As far as I can see, the Times has published a photo but no review of this significant upgrade to NYC's cultural cityscape.) I can only think that the critics' view of the plaza may have been clouded by the … [Read more...]

Guggenheim Helsinki Gets 1,715 Architectural Submissions (with no assurance it can proceed)

Photo of submissions that accompanied Guggenheim's announcement of 1,715 submissions

The Guggenheim's open architectural competition for its proposed Helsinki facility has attracted "the largest number of entries recorded for a competition of this kind," according to today's press release by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. Some 1,715 anonymous submissions from 77 countries were received, "according to voluntary data provided by 70 percent of competitors," the Guggenheim reports. Whether this astonishing quantity will result in quality remains to be seen. Some, if not most, seasoned practitioners may well have … [Read more...]

Meet the Smithsonian’s Incoming Secretary: Jazz Flutist David Skorton (with video)

David Skorton, Smithsonian's Secretary-elect
Photo by Lee Rosebaum

Near the end of Cornell University's Sesquicentennial Celebration this Saturday at New York's Jazz at Lincoln Center, my jaw dropped at the unexpected entrance of the host venue's celebrated artistic director, Wynton Marsalis (who had attended Juilliard, not Cornell). Taking the stage with his combo, he launched into a lively set. "David Skorton (Cornell's president and the soon-to-be Smithsonian secretary) is going to play with them," I predicted to my husband, whom I met when we attended Cornell. I had previously seen the prez jam with a … [Read more...]

Art of 9/11: Remnants, Models, Memorial Tributes UPDATED

Detail from Spencer Finch installation
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Every visitor to the 9/11 Memorial Museum brings his personal remembrances and unique sensibility to its viscerally powerful displays. While art is a peripheral player in that solemn space, the remnants of sculptures found at the site and the new works created in commemoration of the horrific event beckoned to me from the agonizing agglomeration of mangled metal and memento mori. (The museum was closed today to the general public, because of the by-invitation 9/11 anniversary ceremony at the site. But the Memorial Plaza opened to the public at … [Read more...]

Capital Choice: Jessica Morgan Named to Direct Dia Art Foundation


In naming as its next director Jessica Morgan, now curator of international art (which includes U.S. art) at London's Tate Modern, the Dia Art Foundation picked a deeply experienced contemporary art curator to succeed Philippe Vergne (named last January to direct LA MOCA). Assuming her new post this January, Morgan is also artistic director of the current Gwangju Biennale in Korea and was previously chief curator at the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art and curator at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art. She curated LA MOCA's Urs Fischer … [Read more...]

Brooklyn Museum in Transition: The Arnold Lehman Years

The museum world and the Borough of Brooklyn have caught up with Arnold Lehman. The 17-year, 70-year-old director of the Brooklyn Museum, who has just announced he would retire in mid-2015, was a populist before it became fashionable, an early proponent of community engagement and crowdsourcing, an advocate of youth-attracting museum parties and, above all, a native Brooklyn booster. Even his museum's latest digital initiative has a human touch---a planned new app that will "enabl[e] visitors to utilize their mobile devices to interact in … [Read more...]

“Bridgegate” Anniversary (with video): Fort Lee Mayor’s Candid Account of What Happened (plus latest on LG flap) UPDATED

View from my terrace: Fort Lee side of George Washington Bridge
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

With today's press conference in my hometown, marking the first anniversary of the infamous (still inadequately explained) George Washington Bridge lane closures, I thought I'd share my own video of a candid address delivered last May to borough residents by our mayor, a Fort Lee native, who was improbably thrust onto the national stage last September. Although he had indicated, early in this unfolding saga, that he had no idea whether or why he was being targeted, Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat who had declined to endorse Republican Gov. … [Read more...]

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