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Blogger’s Bounty: CultureGrrl Receives Arts Writers Grant


I had planned a more buoyant announcement of my "exciting personal news," as I called it in a draft written this afternoon. But it's hard to be self-congratulatory about relatively trivial matters when many of us in the NYC area tonight are mourning a "grotesque and outrageous" miscarriage of justice. So here, without embellishment, is my bit of news: I've been awarded the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant for bloggers. Over the coming year, I'll be generously compensated for my online reports and reviews. The … [Read more...]

No Gehry Guggenheim: Six Outliers Are Finalists for Helsinki Outpost

Most photogenic rendering of six finalists' designs for Guggenheim Helsinki

The architects on the Guggenheim's six-firm shortlist for its proposed (but not yet government-approved) Helsinki facility are neither starchitects nor Scandinavians. The names and designs of the six finalists were released today at 4:14 a.m., NYC time (a more civilized hour in Helsinki). As I mentioned in yesterday's post, the architectural firms have now been publicly identified, but their names are not connected to their designs. Even the jurors still haven't been told which project belongs to which architect. Below is definitely the … [Read more...]

Good Morning, Helsinki: Guggenheim Poised to Announce Six Shortlisted Architects

Nancy Spector, Guggenheim's deputy director and chief curator

More on this here. When we awake in the U.S. tomorrow (unless you're an insomniac or even more of a night owl than I am), the Guggenheim will have announced the six finalists chosen from the 1,717 anonymous submissions in the architectural competition for its proposed Helsinki satellite facility (which has not yet received government approval). The decision of the 11 jurors is to be revealed at 11:15 a.m., Helsinki time (4:15 a.m. in New York). You can check this website to scoop me. I'll be in conference with my pillow. In accordance … [Read more...]

“Willful Provincialism”: More From Williams Curator Kevin Murphy on Crystal Bridges

Kevin Murphy

Kevin Murphy, curator of American art at the Williams College Museum of Art (and previously at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art), elaborates on Flight from Bentonville: Ex-Crystal Bridges Curator Kevin Murphy on Why He Left: I worried slightly when I read your initial blog post, because I do tend to err on the side of candor. The Afghanistan comment riled some Arkansan feathers, but colleagues from across the museum world were overwhelmingly positive [in reaction to Murphy's comments that were quoted in my above-linked Nov. 19 … [Read more...]

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...]

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