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Sotheby’s to Cut Some 80 Positions; Charles Moffett, Its Former Executive VP, Dies

In an amendment filed today to its Nov. 13 8-K filing with the SEC, financially challenged Sotheby's revealed that its planned staff buyouts will result in a net headcount reduction of about 80 staffers. Because of the $40-million cost of the buyouts, which will be charged to the 4th quarter of 2015, it will take a year and a half for the expected savings to compensate for the $40-million hit. Here is an excerpt from today's amendment to the 8-K: Sotheby’s expects to recognize a charge of approximately $40 million in the fourth quarter … [Read more...]

Skorton Meets the Press: Outreach, Public Input, “Trade Secrets” UPDATED

In his cautious comments yesterday during an hour-long appearance at the National Press Club, Washington, David Skorton, the Smithsonian Institution's new secretary, seemed to be guided by his expressed belief that "the first thing in nonprofit leadership is to do no harm...Basically, my first duty is to listen to the people on the ground." He "did no harm" by uncontroversially endorsing the value of the arts and humanities, the Smithsonian's need for outreach and public input, and the importance of generous federal funding and … [Read more...]

BID’s Skid: Sotheby’s Poaches Christie’s Marc Porter, While Stock Hits a 52-Week Low

Could Marc Porter be the turnaround artist that Sotheby's urgently needs? If so, it may not be soon enough: "Because of a non-compete clause," writes Kelly Crow for the Wall Street Journal, Porter won't assume his new post until 2017. Porter's unexpected defection from Christie's, where he has been chairman since 2009, was reported today by Marion Maneker of Art Market Monitor. But his title and responsibilities at Sotheby's have not yet been publicly delineated. That Tad Smith, Sotheby's auction-neophyte CEO, could use more help at … [Read more...]

Picasso at MoMA, Stella at Whitney: One Grand Retrospective Informs Another

The long multifarious careers celebrated in the two felicitously concurrent monumental retrospectives that are now electrifying New York---Picasso Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art and Frank Stella at the Whitney Museum (both closing on Feb. 7)---invite critical comparison, which, to my knowledge, they have not yet received. Both shows cover a roughly 60-year span, but the story for Stella, a very active participant in his show's installation, continues full-force: The trajectory of Picasso's career and its critical reception may … [Read more...]

“Mission Accomplished”? Izabela Depczyk Out as Publisher of In-Flux ARTnews

Arriving last week, my December issue of ARTnews magazine included an inserted letter, signed by Izabela Depczyk, publisher and CEO of Artnews S.A., informing subscribers that "ARTnews will be a quarterly publication, publishing four issues a year," beginning this February: Today Artnews S.A. announced that Depczyk has resigned her positions for the usual cryptic reason---"her desire to pursue other career opportunities and projects." She is quoted as saying: "With the last month’s milestone merger with the art media assets acquired from … [Read more...]

Scrapping of Maurer Show Revealed As National Academy Finally Announces Director’s Resignation

The National Academy's very belated official statement announcing the resignation of director Carmine Branagan and the appointment of Maura Reilly has just hit my inbox, in the same form that I reported to you last Tuesday. Meanwhile, revelations sent to me by Brian Allen, who directed the Addison Gallery of American Art at Phillips Academy, Andover, MA, for nearly 10 years before his brief (health-curtailed) January-December 2014 tenure at the New-York Historical Society Museum, New York, support my suspicions that the Academy's financial … [Read more...]

Leaked Release: National Academy’s Feel-Good Statement on Carmine Branagan’s Departure

The chaotic, unprofessional rollout of the National Academy's leadership transition (which I chronicled in the above-linked posts) continues with today's anonymous leak to me of the very overdue, nearly finalized press release, to be issued on Monday (subject to approval by key board members). In it, the Academy's president, Bruce Fowle, expresses the institution's "accept[ance] with regret and appreciation" of Carmine Branagan's resignation from its directorship (a month-old story that I broke). Dewey Blanton, the Academy's director … [Read more...]

Sugarcoating Gonzalez-Torres’ Candy: Crystal Bridges Updates from NW Arkansas Business Journal & Me

What has Alice Walton's generously endowed startup, which just celebrated its fourth anniversary, been up to lately? In Richard Massey's lead article in today's Northwest Arkansas Business Journal, he reports on upcoming programs and exhibitions at Bentonville's Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and briefly touches upon future acquisitions, relying on a quote from me in an email that I sent in response to his query. Little did we know that the evening before our Nov. 11 email exchange, Crystal Bridges had acquired this green candy … [Read more...]

Carnage and Kentridge: Metropolitan Opera’s “Lulu,” Then and Now

Enriched by more than four decades of avid museum- and performance-going, I'm both blessed and cursed with having seen so many definitive exhibitions and performances that I'm hard to impress. I was knocked out and drained by the Metropolitan Opera's presentation of Alban Berg's savage "Lulu"---the one in 1980, with the emotionally intense Teresa Stratas in the title role and the masterful James Levine in the pit. Tomorrow you can view in local movie theaters a live performance of the Met's current "Lulu," with the title role embodied by … [Read more...]

Whitney Museum’s Adam Weinberg Movingly Mourns Paris Massacre’s Impact on Creative Community (with video)

Addressing the press on Tuesday, the Metropolitan Museum's director, Tom Campbell, had reacted to the Paris massacre forcefully but formally, detailing how his institution had mentored colleagues from countries in crisis. Yesterday, the Whitney Museum's director, Adam Weinberg, showed how to make it personal and heartfelt. At a press preview of an exhibition co-organized with Paris' Centre Pompidou of promised gifts from the extensive contemporary art collection (1980s to the present) of Thea Westreich Wagner and her husband, Ethan … [Read more...]

Another Rough Night: Sotheby’s Underperforming Sale of Alfred Taubman’s American Art

With a total of $13.04 million (including the buyer's premium), the auction at Sotheby's tonight of 31 works from A. Alfred Taubman's American art collection (eight of which failed to sell) will be of little help in reducing the formidable $95-million gap between the $420 million that two previous sales from his collection have brought and the $515 million that the auction house has promised to pay the Taubman heirs, regardless of the amount fetched at auction. The hammer total for tonight's Taubman sale was $10.85 million, far short of its … [Read more...]

Tom Campbell of Metropolitan Museum Responds to L’Horreur in Paris (with video)

It wasn't as scary as the sight of heavily armed police in a bullet-proof vests Saturday night at Lincoln Center (where I attended the hyperactive William Kentridge production of Alban Berg's "Lulu" at the Metropolitan Opera). But (without giving away the details) it was clear to me, when I entered the garage of the Metropolitan Museum to attend its press lunch today, that security measures there had been tightened. Fittingly, director Tom Campbell began his remarks to the scribe tribe by describing how the Met's professionals are … [Read more...]

Sotheby’s Buyout Bombshell: Turning Towards the “Less-Tenured”

Maybe the Sotheby's buyout bombshell (first reported Friday by Bloomberg's Katya Kazakina) shouldn't have come as a shock: This purge was foreshadowed by CEO Tad Smith's cryptic comments in last Monday's quarterly conference call with stock analysts: One of the most delightful surprises of the year has been how many excellent, less-tenured staff  appeared on our initial list of high potential talent within our organization. These people are bursting with energy to change the worlds of art, jewelry, cars or wine, and my more senior colleagues … [Read more...]

Taubman’s Revenge? Sotheby’s Gavel-Busting $515-Million Guarantee

My misgivings about how Sotheby's success in winning the A. Alfred Taubman consignment might backfire, which I voiced early last month in an interview with a British reporter, now appear to be on the money. At the end of his Oct. 10 London Times article---Sotheby's Gambles on $500m Art Sale (paywalled)---investigative reporter Alexi Mostrous gave me the last word: The art journalist Lee Rosenbaum said Taubman had always thought it unfair that he was “the only one who went to jail in the [Sotheby's/Christie's price-fixing] scandal....So if … [Read more...]

Camp GoPro: Acoustics Theatrics from Dr. CultureDaughter (with video)

WARNING: PROUD MOM ALERT! Dr. CultureDaughter, an acoustic design engineer at GoPro, goes to camp, Silicon-Valley Style. You'll see her wielding the HERO4 Session video camera (which she worked on), released last July, and using a Slinky to illustrate sound waves to enthusiastic young attendees at Curiosity Camp. I became more interested in getting a GoPro for myself (even though my idea of extreme sports is going to three museums in one day) after seeing a photographer use one (and hearing him rave about it) at the Frank Stella press … [Read more...]

Twombly Blackboard Helps Sotheby’s Chalk Up a Solid Contemporary Sale

Christie's, the recent market leader in major contemporary art sales, has less to crow about this week: Its uneven sale last night (during which I was on flights back home from Hawaii) made Sotheby's contemporary sale tonight look good. (For my report on Christie's erratic "Artist's Muse" sale Monday, headlined by the immodest Modigliani, go here.) As you'll learn in my Twitter recap and analysis, below, Sotheby's sale, as compared to its counterpart at Christie's, had a lower total for fewer works, under the steady hand of auctioneer Oliver … [Read more...]

“The Artist’s Muse”: $170.4-Million Modigliani Doesn’t Float All Boats at Christie’s

While the rest of the scribe tribe has moved on to parsing tonight's contemporary auction at Christie's, here's my recap of the same auction house's attempt last night to repeat the breakout success of its similarly eclectic Looking Forward to the Past sale last season. No such luck. While the $170.4-million price for the star lot of "Muse"---Modigliani's 1917-18 "Reclining Nude"---was just as jaw-dropping as the $179.4 million for Picasso's 1955 "Les Femmes d'Alger" in "Looking Forward," the hammer total last night failed to reach the … [Read more...]

Taubman Was No Havemeyer: Sotheby’s Rough Night (My Storify)

A lot was riding on Sotheby's "Masterworks" sale from the Taubman Collection tonight, and it was a rough ride. Luckily, I'll be traveling starting tomorrow, which means that I'm unlikely to post on the other big auctions until after my return. As you'll see below, not only was the bidding erratic, but so was the sale's souped-up technology. And what was CEO Tad Smith thinking when he tried to warm up the crowd, like an emcee, before auctioneer Oliver Barker got down to business? For those who want the full illustrated price list from … [Read more...]

“Masterpiece” Theater: Sotheby’s & Christie’s Tout Megabucks Wares at Auction Previews (with video)

More on this here. Hyperbole is always the order of the day when the auction houses unveil their wares at their press previews for the big evening sales of Impressionist, modern and contemporary art. But the back-to-back presentations by the Big Two auction houses on Friday ("Taxi!") were even more boastful than usual. In my CultureGrrl Video, below, you'll hear the experts from Sotheby's and Christie's tout their offerings as "fresh to the market," " the best of the series," and that old standby, "masterpiece." Special mention for … [Read more...]

Auction High-Wire Act Without a Net: Sotheby’s Daredevil Taubman Guarantee

More on this here and  here. This is a watershed moment for Sotheby's and its new CEO, Tad Smith. When I heard the astonishing news in September that Sotheby's had provided the Taubman Collection's consignors with a guarantee of approximately $500 million for some 500 works, ancient-to-contemporary, I assumed that the auction house would make strenuous efforts to offload large portions of that hefty risk to third parties. But comments to me by several Sotheby's officials indicate that this risk-sharing hasn't happened. In its Form … [Read more...]

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