an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me

“Live” But Not Too Lively: Auction Torpor (not Fever) at Sotheby’s Evening Sales

As I had anticipated, government strictures prevented Sotheby's from realizing its tentatively announced plan to hold "live evening and day auctions of Contemporary and Impressionist & Modern New York the week of 29 June...pending the lifting of certain restrictions and confirmation from the relevant authorities that we can proceed." When it became apparent that this wasn't going to happen, Sotheby's snatched victory from the jaws of defeat by redefining a "LIVE GLOBAL AUCTION EVENT" (the headline of yesterday's post-sale press … [Read more...]

Instagram Slam: Don’t Cancel the Metropolitan Museum’s Embattled Keith Christiansen

The thought-police have come for Keith Christiansen, the Metropolitan Museum's chairman of European paintings. I'm posting (a blog entry, not bond) to bail him out. As reported in yesterday's paper by the NY Times' Robin Pogrebin, Keith's ill-advised (now removed) Juneteenth entry on his personal Instagram feed (also vanished) has ignited a firestorm of indignation for "making a dog whistle of an equation of #BLM [Black Lives Matter] activists with ‘revolutionary zealots,’" in the words of a tweet by Art & Museum Transparency---a group … [Read more...]

BlogBacks: John Ravenal & Alan Wallach (& me) on the Confederate Sculptures Fracas

I knew that my contrarian suggestions about what to do with the controversial sculptures of Confederate leaders on Richmond's Monument Avenue would provoke some pushback, but I hoped for the constructive critiques that I've come to expect from my knowledgeable, insightful readers. That's exactly what I got in two thoughtful responses to Monumental Misdirection: Topple Injustices, Not Lost-Cause Statues. As I wrote in that post, John Ravenal had given me my first look at Monument Avenue when I was on a 2010 Wall Street Journal assignment … [Read more...]

Monumental Misdirection: Topple Injustices, Not Lost-Cause Statues (Some Juneteenth Musings)

Those who prize equality and equity have been rightly horrified and mobilized by videos of the fatal encounters between police and George Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis and Rayshard Brooks last Friday in Atlanta. But the fierce energy behind violent, destructive expressions of rage that leave ruins in their wake should be applied to battling today's glaring injustices, not to toppling impotent statues from bygone eras. Much time, energy and commentary has been squandered on the defacement, removal and sometimes destruction of monuments that … [Read more...]

“Overhead Premium”: Sotheby’s Invents a New Fee for Buyers

Sotheby's has quietly upped its charges for purchasers of its offerings: An "Overhead Premium" of 1% of the auction hammer price will supplement its buyer's premium, effective Aug. 1. According to its announcement last month, little noticed by the public until Bloomberg's Katya Kazakina recently tweeted about it (more on that below), Sotheby's new charge will be "payable by all auction buyers in our global salesrooms and online sales." It will help to defray "the overhead costs relating to our facilities, property handling and other … [Read more...]

Back to the ’60s (again): Ex-Whitney Trustee Warren Kanders’ Dow Chemical Moment

During this tumultuous time, I keep flashing back to the turmoil of the late '60s---the era when I came of political age as a college student, participating in the landmark 1969 March on Washington against the Vietnam War and attending antiwar "teach-ins" conducted by professors and students at my university, Cornell, which had a strong, politically active Asian Studies department. That same year, Cornell became internationally famous for a march across campus by rifle-toting black students, which I witnessed from my usual studious perch … [Read more...]

The George Floyd Fallout: Art Museums Take a Knee

In a striking departure from their customary reluctance to take strong political stands that would alienate some visitors, art museums around the country, speaking separately but with one voice, responded to the asphyxiation of George Floyd. The Metropolitan Museum arguably had the most startling response, in the form of today's stark banner at the top of its homepage: Here's an excerpt from President Daniel Weiss's and Director Max Hollein's above-cited Letter from the Met's Leadership, addressed to the museum's staff, but made … [Read more...]

Great “Gates”: A Tribute to Christo, 84, Who Made Magic in NYC’s Central Park

Our loss yesterday of Christo, the canny conceptual artist with tangible appeal, is a poignant reminder of more innocent times---16 days in early 2005 when New Yorkers from all walks of life converged on Central Park for one peaceful purpose---to walk together basking in the luminosity of flowing canopies of saffron rip-stop nylon that were hung in a procession of some 7,500 frames. Some 25 years from conception to reality, that improbable project---The Gates---was jointly realized by Christo and his wife, Jeanne-Claude, with a crucial … [Read more...]

Reality Check: Sotheby’s Belatedly Drops Plans for Major Live Auctions in June, Adopts New Format

Facing reality, Sotheby's today officially abandoned what I had correctly characterized in a May 21 post as wishful thinking---its plans for live June auctions of contemporary and Impressionist & modern art. The firm unaccountably promoted that hope at a time when the Pandemic Effect had made the likelihood of actually being allowed to hold in-person sales seemed remote at best. Now, the auction itself will be "remote." As reported by Kelly Crow of the Wall Street Journal: The house said Friday [today] it has decided to transform this … [Read more...]

Going for the Archrival’s Jugular? Christie’s Assures Clients About Its “Continuity of Activity”

A Message from Christie's CEO Guillaume Cerutti, which hit my inbox late Friday, included a boldfaced passage that struck me (and probably some of his firm's clients) as an implied gibe at archrival Sotheby's. Here's a key excerpt: We [Christie's] have benefited from decades of stable, supportive shareholder ownership, and a financially robust balance sheet. This stability and strength allow us to reassure our clients about the continuity of our activity [their boldface, not mine]. Christie's CEO Guillaume Cerutti As I reported two … [Read more...]

Mark Rodrick Lauds the Late Tom Sokolowski’s Work to Save the Jersey City Museum’s Collection

My recent tributes to three artworld luminaries whom we recently lost---Alan Shestack, William Gerdts and Thomas Sokolowski---triggered many fond comments from CultureGrrl readers who knew these scholar/curators and valued their work. But the warmest expressions of gratitude were occasioned by my eulogy (linked above) for the youngest of the three, as I tweeted here: My tribute to the late Tom Sokolowski, 70, ex-director @TheWarholMuseum & 2 others, struck a chord, eliciting an appreciative outpouring of warm … [Read more...]

Thomas Sokolowski Dies at 70: Incorrigible Warholian, Thrice Museum Director

As I learned when I visited the Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, in 2010, the late Thomas Sokolowski, its then director, could do a dead-on impression of the spacey speaking style of his museum's eponymous artist, whom he had known personally and whose work he deeply appreciated. He had enlivened tours of the museum with his personal reminiscences of Warhol's era and its cast of characters. Sokolowski died Wednesday at the age of 70, after suffering an aneurysm (as reported in this obit by Marylynne Pitz in the Pittsburgh … [Read more...]

Sotheby’s Reports $71.2m Loss & “Substantial Doubt” About Continuing; Major June Sales Planned

Sotheby's new leaders, who took the publicly traded company private, are understandably eager to reopen their New York saleroom for post-pandemic business. Having disclosed a $71.2-million net loss in its 2019 Annual Report (compared to net income of $108.6 million the previous year), the company could use a life-sustaining income infusion. As revealed on p. 61 of its annual report, Sotheby's expenses related to its merger totaled $132.1 million in 2019. These losses and the one-off costs for the merger were incurred before the Covid-19 … [Read more...]

Covid Obit: William Gerdts, 91, Distinguished Scholar of American Art (& my tipster)

Because of my bent for investigative reporting, I've received some confidential leads over the years from major (and minor) figures seeking to expose artworld transgressions. William Gerdts, a consummate scholar of American art (who died on Apr. 14), was one of CultureGrrl's most illustrious tipsters. (Another was art historian Leo Steinberg, who died at 90 in 2011.) William GerdtsPhoto: Courtesy of Newark Museum of Art As also happened with another important recently deceased art scholar/curator---Alan Shestack---Gerdts' passing went … [Read more...]

View Metropolitan Opera’s “At-Home Gala” Online (plus: Met baritone’s performance in my parking lot)

Opera fans have a rare chance to visit renowned singers in their own homes, thanks to the Metropolitan Opera's At-Home Gala, streaming for the first time yesterday (Saturday) from 1-5 p.m. New York time, with repeat viewings today. Screenshot of Met General Manager Peter Gelb & Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, hosting the "At-Home Gala" from New York and Montreal, respectively A couple of weeks ago, my friend and neighbor enjoyed an earlier version of Met At Home in a chance encounter with Alexey Lavrov, a Metropolitan Opera … [Read more...]

Alan Shestack, 81, Old Master Prints Scholar, Generous Mentor, Thrice Museum Director

Considering his long, illustrious career as an art scholar and museum director, not to mention his generosity in sharing his deep insights with others (including me), I'm puzzled as to why there's been so little mention of the death last week of Alan Shestack, 81, who retired in 2008 as deputy director and chief curator of the National Gallery, Washington. His expertise was in 16th-century Netherlandish and German prints and drawings. So why was he gazing at two American modernist paintings in the image posted to accompany a tribute to him … [Read more...]

Deaccession Concession: AAMD Bends Its “Fundamental Principle” on Art-Sale Proceeds

Desperate times call for desperate measures? At a time when "cutbacks," "furloughs," "layoffs" & "cancellation" have become the baneful bywords of museum management, the Association of Art Museum Directors has capitulated to the exigencies of the moment by loosening its tight strictures against the use of proceeds from art sales for anything other than acquisitions. It has also weakened its guidelines for preserving endowment principal. According to Wednesday's AAMD announcement: The resolutions state that AAMD will refrain … [Read more...]

Pollock’s Guest Appearance in the Metropolitan Museum’s Subdued 150th-Birthday Video

What if you threw a birthday party and no one could come? That's what happened earlier this month to the most sociable member of my family---CultureGranddaughter, who just turned 4. And that's what happened today to the Metropolitan Museum, which turned 150 on a plague-day when no visitors could enter, let alone celebrate. My invitation to the press preview that never happened If you've already seen the Max-&-Dan video that the Met posted today to mark this unexpectedly somber occasion, you may have wondered about the identity of … [Read more...]

Small Consolation: Museums’ Hit-&-Miss Attempts to Engage Audiences Via “Virtual Exhibitions” UPDATED

When I returned home Mar. 12 from my proud-grandma visit to California (where I had what was probably my last chance for some time to cuddle my newborn granddaughter and her 3-year-old brother), I had to work my way through the announcements of museums' temporary closures that flooded my art-centric inbox. Eerily empty security lines for my half-empty Mar. 12 flight from San Francisco to NewarkPhoto by Lee Rosenbaum As it now stands (four weeks later), no art museum would be so foolhardy as to remain open in defiance of stringent … [Read more...]

Enlivening the Old Standards: When the Late Bucky Pizzarelli Played Fort Lee

Soon after I moved into our Fort Lee co-op building, almost 15 years ago, I struck up conversations with my neighbor---jazz bassist Jerry Bruno. The enormous instrument that this small, frail-looking man regularly lugged to his car in our building's basement garage, on his way to his jazz gigs, was a natural ice-breaker. I learned that Jerry had regularly accompanied legendary performers---among them, Frank Sinatra. But more recently, he was appearing at clubs with jazz guitarist (and fellow New Jersey resident) Bucky Pizzarelli, whose … [Read more...]

an ArtsJournal blog