an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me

From Detroit to Delaware: Why We Need Government Deaccession Regulations

William Holman Hunt, "Isabella and the Pot of Basil" 
Sold at Christie's London for £2.88 million ($4.89 million)

In the Detroit Institute of Arts' recent ordeal, there's a sweeping, important takeaway for the entire museum field that went unmentioned in my Wall Street Journal article last week on the broader significance of that museum's expensive, protracted legal battle to protect the integrity of its collection. The legal proceedings (which, fortunately, went the DIA's way) reinforced my previous contention that legislation or government regulations to prevent monetization of collections to pay operating and capital costs or to defray debts are … [Read more...]

Flight From Bentonville, Part II: Chris Crosman, Crystal Bridges’ Founding Curator, on Its Brain Drain

Chris Crosman at Crystal Bridges in 2011
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Part I is here. Kevin Murphy's lament, posted last week on CultureGrrl, about his disheartening curatorial experience at Crystal Bridges Museum, Bentonville, AR, struck a responsive chord with the museum's founding curator, Chris Crosman. Titled "chief curator" for most of the six years that he worked on the museum's development, Crosman left Crystal Bridges less than two months after its November 2011 opening. Below is his own perspective, emailed to me this weekend, on the accomplishments and shortcomings of his former institution. " … [Read more...]

Bill Ruprecht’s Planned Departure from Sotheby’s: Changed Priorities, Competitive Pressures

Daniel Loeb

Sotheby's goals and strategies have changed under its newly constituted board, but Bill Ruprecht, the firm's savvy, steely CEO since 2000, may not have changed along with them. That's my speculative takeaway from yesterday evening's cryptic but not surprising announcement that Ruprecht and Sotheby's would be parting ways. In listening over the years to the quarterly conference calls with stock analysts presided over by Ruprecht, it seemed clear to me that the firm was veering away from strategies he had advocated before the ascension of … [Read more...]

What Happened in Detroit Stays in Detroit? My Wall Street Journal Takeaway on Detroit Institute’s Ordeal

Richard Levin at the NYU art-law conference
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

For the long beleaguered Detroit Institute of Arts, there's been a happy ending, fittingly celebrated at the museum's gala, which by happenstance occurred the day after Judge Steven Rhodes' favorable ruling. But unless they take preemptive action, other museums with city-owned collections might not be so lucky, as I discuss in After Detroit's Close Call, my article on the "Leisure & Arts" page of tomorrow's (Thursday's) Wall Street Journal (online now). What happened in Detroit---a once thriving city, fallen on hard times---could … [Read more...]

Flight from Bentonville, Part I: Ex-Crystal Bridges Curator Kevin Murphy on Why He Left

Kevin Murphy at Crystal Bridges
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Part II is here. With the planned departure of Crystal Bridges president (and former director) Don Bacigalupi, Crystal Bridges Museum will have lost the entire senior curatorial staff that opened it just three years ago. The others are curatorial director David Houston, deputy director Matt Dawson, American art curator Kevin Murphy... ...and founding curator Chris Crosman: Murphy was last to leave, taking a position in September 2013 as American art curator at the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA). As it happened, I … [Read more...]

Two Big Moves: Bacigalupi to Lucas Museum; Ravenal to deCordova Museum UPDATED

Don Bacigalupi taking reporters on a hardhat tour of the in-construction Crystal Bridges Museum, May 2011
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

More on the Crystal Bridges situation here and here. Crystal Bridges Museum has will suffer yet another major departure with today's announcement that its president (and, previously, founding director), Don Bacigalupi, will be heading to Chicago as the founding president of the planned Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, effective Jan. 15. He will remain on Crystal Bridges' board. According to Crystal Bridges' website, the Bentonville museum is still searching for people in "all levels of the Curatorial department including Curatorial … [Read more...]

Do I Hear $1 Billion? Christie’s Record-Smashing $852.89 Million Contemporary Sale

Ed Ruscha, "Smash," 1963
$30.4 million

It wasn't so much that big-money works soared over their estimates (although Warhol's "Triple Elvis" did hammer at $73 million against a presale estimate "in the region of $60 million). But quality, quantity and a bravura podium performance by auctioneer Jussi Pylkkänen gave Christie's a final Contemporary Art total (with buyers premium) of $852.89 million---the most for any art auction, ever. This Ruscha, Lot 30, says it all: The sale's $751.57 million hammer total far outstripped the presale estimate, which was pegged at "in the … [Read more...]

After the Mellon, a Lemon? Sotheby’s Bidders Salute the “Flag” in Slow-but-Steady Veteran’s Day Sale

Jasper Johns, "Flag," 1983
Sold for $36 million ($32 million hammer against presale estimate of $15-20 million)
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

After breezing through the buoyant Mellon sale last night, Sotheby's auctioneer, Oliver Barker, needed to swig two glasses of water (at least that's what I think it was) at the end of tonight's various-owners contemporary sale. It was slow-going and less than riveting. But he gamely extracted whatever bidding was to be had and efficiently got the job done. Fittingly for a Veterans Day sale, this work broke the auction record for Jasper Johns: For full sale results, go here. Below is my running Twitter commentary of tonight's … [Read more...]

Christie’s and Sotheby’s Tout Fresh-to-Market Contemporary Wares (video)


If you're planning to attend this week's big contemporary sales (tonight at Sotheby's; tomorrow night at Christie's), whether in person or online, here's my CultureGrrl Video with a few highlights to get you in the mood to spend your multi-millions (or maybe not): … [Read more...]

“White Glove” Sale: My Storify on Bunny Mellon Sale at Sotheby’s


Single-collection sales from illustrious owners often fetch prices beyond the importance of the works themselves, as bidders vie for souvenirs from lifestyles of the rich and famous. The Mellon pedigree undoubtedly helped tonight's buoyant blowout at Sotheby's, irrespective of the fact that the cream of the collection had already gone to museums that the philanthropic Mellons strongly supported, including the National Gallery of Art and Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Here's the scene at Sotheby's (a Diebenkorn flanked by two … [Read more...]

“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...]

an ArtsJournal blog