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Competition Lives! My Storify on Sotheby’s Creditable Contemporary Sale

After its rocky night Monday, it looked like Sotheby's could become a distant also-ran in the art-auction sweepstakes. But tonight, with a little help from some late-breaking irrevocable bids (likely accompanied by lowered reserves), it glided through a smooth Contemporary sale, with an impressive 95.4% sold by lot and 98.6% sold by value. The price levels, for the most part, were not as impressive: This is a time of lowered expectations. So it was with the top lot, a Twombly blackboard with blue (instead of the usual white) scribbles, … [Read more...]

“Contemporary Confidence” Game: Brett Gorvy Tells How Christie’s Got it Done

The headline for my last post was: Christie's Gets It Done. At the press preview for last night's confidence-restoring contemporary sale, Brett Gorvy, Christie's chairman of Post-War and Contemporary art, told me how he had worked to achieve that. With the benefit of hindsight, his strategy worked, but with some added help from the previous night's disappointing Sotheby's sale of Impressionist and modern works. As reported by Bloomberg's Katya Kazakina, "Christie’s staff members made phone calls" yesterday before the start of their … [Read more...]

Christie’s Gets It Done: My Storify on Tonight’s Solid Contemporary Sale

Christie's tonight pulled the art market out of its Sotheby's-induced funk with a Post-War/Contemporary sale that hummed along nicely from beginning to end, with one manic moment---a new auction record for this untitled 1982 Basquiat, which sold for $57.29 million with buyer's premium: Here's my running commentary on Christie's spirited sale (thanks to the lively performance of auctioneer Jussi Pylkkänen), which ups the ante for Sotheby's contemporary sale tomorrow night. It doesn't have to equal Christie's take. (Indeed, Sotheby's lower … [Read more...]

Sotheby’s Slump: My Storify from Tonight’s Painful Impressionist/Modern Sale

If Sotheby's is trying to restore buyer confidence, tonight's mediocre Impressionist/Modern sale wasn't the way to do it. Only 66.1% of the works sold, and the sold total by hammer price total was considerably below the presale estimate of hammer price. Here's my running Storify commentary on how it went down: [View the story "Sotheby's Impressionist/Modern Slump" on Storify] … [Read more...]

“Cautious Optimism,” Depressed Results: Sotheby’s Spins the Art-Market Slump for Analysts

How do you restore investor confidence in a company whose first-quarter results show a net loss of $25.9 million (compared to net income of $5.2 million for the same period the previous year), with a 35% decrease in net auction sales and 33% decrease in auction revenues in this year's first quarter compared to last years? You try to show that this was an anomaly (because the first quarter last year included "unusually strong sales") and you profess "cautious optimism" that better days are coming. That's what Sotheby's CEO Tad Smith gamely … [Read more...]

Contraction Action: Sotheby’s & Christie’s Confront New Market Reality (plus Koons “Deflatable”)

The operative words for the art market this season are "correction" and "contraction." So Sotheby's can be forgiven for seeking comfort in nostalgia, via this Monday tweet, recalling a past triumph: #OnThisDay in 2012, Sotheby's sold Edvard Munch's 1895 'The Scream' for a record $120 million #SothebysImpMod pic.twitter.com/VO0i1XxsPc — Sotheby's (@Sothebys) May 2, 2016 Those days (and that auctioneer, Tobias Meyer) are gone. There's nothing in this spring's evening sales at Sotheby's expected to reach the giddy heights of "The Scream." … [Read more...]

Bedford in Baltimore: Christopher is Third Contemporary Expert Recently Tapped to Lead a Major Art Museum

Are we seeing a trend here? Anne Pasternak at the Brooklyn Museum; James Rondeau at the Art Institute of Chicago; now Christopher Bedford at the Baltimore Museum of Art. In all three recent cases, a contemporary art specialist was chosen for the top spot at a museum with distinguished historic collections. (Notably bucking that trend were the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Wadsworth Atheneum.) The impetus for this predilection for the present is undoubtedly the same force driving the Metropolitan Museum (which tapped a tapestry … [Read more...]

Brothels & Landscapes: MoMA Mines Degas’ Monotype Monomania–Part II

Part I is here. While most of Degas: A Strange New Beauty at the Museum of Modern Art (to July 24) assembles the artist's usual cast of characters---dancers and singers, acquaintances and nudes (often in ungainly poses)---two sections at the end of this thoroughly engrossing show of the artist's monotypes reveal aspects of his work that are less familiar (as discussed by curator Jodi Hauptman in this CultureGrrl Video). The most baffling chapter in the exhibition (and in Degas' oeuvre) examines his brothel scenes, which were "unexhibited … [Read more...]

My Q&A with President Daniel Weiss–Part II: Financial Impact of Met Breuer & Planned New Wing

Part I is here. While implicitly faulting the Metropolitan Museum's administration for not having managed its operations "in a way that’s financially sustainable," Daniel Weiss, who has been the Met's president since July, diplomatically avoided direct criticism during most of our wide-ranging conversation last week. But in assessing the Met's plans for the new Southwest Wing for modern and contemporary art, he briefly became uncharacteristically blunt. In Part II of our Q&A, below, he asserted that the timeline previously being … [Read more...]

My Q&A with President Daniel Weiss–Part I: How Did Metropolitan Museum Fall into Financial Hole? How Will It Climb Out?

Part II is here. Last week's revelations about the Metropolitan Museum's disturbing financial reality check left a lot of unanswered questions, raising concerns about how prudently the museum has been managed under the seven-year leadership of its director and CEO, Tom Campbell. The museum's president, Daniel Weiss, who assumed his post last July, has dedicated himself to getting "a handle on how to control this behemoth of an institution in a way that’s financially sustainable," as he told me in a wide-ranging phone interview on … [Read more...]

Today in Museum Accounting: Financial Windfall at MoMA, Shortfall at the Met

The contrast in the financial news emanating today from New York's two premier art museums could not have been more dramatic. The Museum of Modern Art issued an exultant press release celebrating David Geffen's $100-million naming gift for its planned renovation and expansion. That equals his recent Lincoln Center benefaction for the NY Philharmonic's home. Meanwhile, about a mile up Fifth Avenue from MoMA, the Metropolitan Museum had deputized Robin Pogrebin of the NY Times to release some shocking financial news (not to be found … [Read more...]

Deaccessioning Its Home: National Academy’s Posh Digs on the Market for $120 Million

The National Academy's two interconnected townhouses and school building are now on the market for $120 million, according this listing by luxury real estate brokers Cushman & Wakefield. A museum spokesperson had previously told me that the property had been appraised at about $107 million in 2012. The realtors' sales pitch hawks the academy's property on Fifth Avenue, overlooking Central Park, as "one of the most remarkable conversion opportunities currently available in all of New York City." [It provides] "an exceptionally large blank … [Read more...]

Guggenheim Quicksand: Why Are We in Abu Dhabi?

The Guggenheim Foundation ought to cut its losses and pull out of its Abu Dhabi misadventure. There's no point in trying to analyze the salvos in the latest hostilities and breakdown of talks between the Guggenheim and the Gulf Labor Coalition (GLC). In a statement on its website yesterday, the foundation blasted GLC for "shift[ing] its demands on the Guggenheim beyond the reach of our influence as an arts institution, while spreading mistruths about the project and our role in it." GLC shot back that "the Guggenheim seems to be … [Read more...]

Degas Digs Deep: MoMA Mines His Monotype Monomania–Part I

Like the Frick Collection's Van Dyck show (discussed here), the Museum of Modern Art's Degas: A Strange New Beauty (to July 24) is informed by the discerning eye of a prints-and-drawings curator who provides new insights into a celebrated painter's sensibility and working methods through close examination of his more experimental works on paper. Both shows are visually exciting and, thanks to their curators' sharp interpretive skills, intellectually stimulating. At MoMA, Jodi Hauptman, senior curator of drawings and prints (with … [Read more...]

Smithsonian London? “Not So Fast!” Says Secretary Skorton

Notwithstanding the fact that its founding donor was British, the Smithsonian Institution's proposed London outpost, conceived before the institution's current head, David Skorton, came on board, is not necessarily a marriage made in museum heaven. During their meeting today, Skorton and the Smithsonian's Board of Regents, its governing body, again delayed greenlighting on the project, on which a decision had initially been expected to be made last year, according to a January 2015 NY Times report by Graham Bowley. Last month, Peggy … [Read more...]

Welcome CultureGranddaughter!

As you my have surmised from Sunday's tweet, this week I'm doting, not blogging! … [Read more...]

Perfect Pairings: Frick Draws on Van Dyck’s Drawings to Illuminate His Portrait Paintings

It takes not only brains but also curatorial brawn (which powerful institutions are in the best position to exert) to wrest seldom loaned choice works from discerning, possessive lenders. One of the many joys of two recently opened curatorial triumphs in New York---Van Dyck: The Anatomy of Portraiture (to June 5) at the Frick Collection and Degas: A Strange New Beauty (to July 24) at the Museum of Modern Art (more on that in a later post)---was a chance to see pairs of works that belong together and richly inform each other, but are usually … [Read more...]

Darts for Dartmouth: Hood Museum Has Less Moore in Tod Williams Billie Tsien’s Makeover (with video)

Win some, lose some: While adding five new galleries and increasing floor space by 50%, the much delayed $50-million expansion and renovation of Dartmouth College's Hood Museum will be less ambitious than originally planned in 2012. And for the next three years, students will be largely deprived of access to an important educational resource that may have attracted them to Hanover, NH, in the first place---the museum's eclectic 65,000-object collection. The Hood closed on Mar. 13. Construction is to start late this summer, with reopening … [Read more...]

Max Facts: How Hollein Straddles the Divides Between Contemporary/Historic, Tech/Traditional

When I interviewed him more than a year ago over lunch in New York, Frankfurt museum director Max Hollein and I were obsessed with technology. I was then working on this Wall Street Journal article about how museums use technology to improve the gallery experience (or not). He was promoting the new Digital Extension initiative at the Städel Museum, one of the three Frankfurt museums that he currently directs. Now poised to lead the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco in the Tech Capital of the World, after having helped celebrate the … [Read more...]

Nuzzling Brussels: The Musical Instruments Museum Tweets Through the Tears

Horrified, as we all were, by the news from Brussels, I surfed yesterday to the website of a museum there that I'd always wanted to visit---the Musical Instruments Museum. My jaw dropped when I saw this intro on MIM's visitor information page: Everything you need to know to avoid unpleasant surprises. Tuesday's supremely "unpleasant surprise," which forced the closure of all Brussels museums (including MIM), moved me to tweet this: Sadly ironic: "Everything you need to know to avoid unpleasant surprises"--from @MIMBrussels' visitor info … [Read more...]

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