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Second Thoughts: Two High-Profile Hires Depart Sotheby’s Advisory Service

In rapid succession, two ballyhooed recruits to Sotheby's Fine Art Division (the firm's art advisory service) have left their posts: ---Eric Shiner, whose departure was reported today by Anny Shaw in The Art Newspaper, will be artistic director of the London-based White Cube gallery's new office in New York. He had come to Sotheby's from the directorship of the Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh. ---Christy MacLear, whose departure was reported by ARTnews last month, came to Sotheby's from the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, where she had … [Read more...]

Go with the Bowie Flow? Fans Usurp the Brooklyn Museum’s American Art Galleries (with video)

Ground Control to Major Anne (Pasternak): Why have you allowed the your museum's American art galleries to be commandeered by throngs of David Bowie fans? Just a month ago, I had taken the Metropolitan Museum to task for allowing its Medieval and Byzantine art galleries to be invaded and upstaged by the crowded "Heavenly Bodies" exhibition of contemporary fashions: That's nothing, though, compared to the Brooklyn Museum's mistreatment of its collection of American art. As you can see in my top photo, if you want to eyeball (let … [Read more...]

Wanna Direct the National Gallery of Art? (Job Description Below)

When Earl (Rusty) Powell III announced his intention to retire in early 2019 from the directorship of the National Gallery of Art (NGA) in Washington, I wrote that our country's "two preeminent [art] institutions could be going head-to-head for top candidates." With the vacant Metropolitan Museum directorship's chair soon to be occupied by Max Hollein (after what turned out to be his brief transitional gig at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco), the NGA's top spot stands alone as this country's biggest prize for a distinguished … [Read more...]

Trend Bender: Baltimore Museum’s “Canon Correction” Needs Correction

In the interests of "canon correction" (as he calls it), Christopher Bedford, the Baltimore Museum of Art's director, is doing the wrong things for the right reasons: He has acquired seven recent works (five of which were created within the last two years) with some of the proceeds of sales from the BMA's collection of seven older contemporary works by artists who have stood the test of time. To my mind, Bedford's admirable ends don't justify the means. He is intent on acquiring of-the-moment works by men and women of color, exemplified by … [Read more...]

What’d I Miss? News Flashes from the Berkshire Museum & Frick Collection

I leave town for a five-day vacation and news breaks out on several important art-museum stories that we've been following (not to mention on several much more important national news stories that we've been roiled by). Here's what my family (including my three little grandchildren) gazed upon while I took my eyes off the ball: And here's the first of my catch-up posts (with my commentary): ---The Berkshire Museum today announced that the embattled Van Shields is retiring from its directorship. An interim successor was named: Museum … [Read more...]

BlogBacks: Cultural Property Lawyer Rick St. Hilaire & Getty Spokesperson Ron Hartwig on the Getty Bronze

Cultural property lawyer (and blogger) Ricardo St. Hilaire responds to Antiquities Ambiguities: Parsing the Legal Arguments in the Battle of the Getty Bronze. I'm glad you are covering this case. Cases in Italy can be dragged out for years, as you know. But if the Italians ultimately win, there next big challenge will be to enforce the judgment in the U.S. It's one thing to win a court case overseas and get an award of cash and then have an American court enforce the money judgment. It's an entirely different scenario, however, when a … [Read more...]

Antiquities Ambiguities: Parsing the Legal Arguments in the Battle of the Getty Bronze

Italian Judge Giacomo Gasparini's June 8 decision giving the laurel wreath to Team Italy in the Olympian legal contest over the Getty Bronze seems to me persuasively well-reasoned (although awkwardly worded in the Getty's 46-page translation). Americans who (like me) have ogled the Getty Museum's celebrated nude would be loath to lose one of the world's few surviving life-size ancient Greek bronzes, let alone one of such outstanding quality. But the Getty has not, to my mind, made a convincing legal case that the statue's secret removal from … [Read more...]

Never-Ending Saga of “The Getty Bronze”: Italian Criminal Judge Rules It Belongs to Italy

In the latest development in a tangled legal dispute that will probably outlive us all, the J. Paul Getty Trust announced that it plans to file an appeal with Italy's Court of Cassation of a June 8 Italian criminal court decision calling for the California museum to relinquish its celebrated statue, "The Victorious Youth" (aka "the Getty Bronze"). For now, it's the centerpiece of the gallery devoted to "The Hellenistic World," which is a highlight of the sweeping reconception and reinstallation of the Getty Villa, which reopened on Apr. … [Read more...]

Infernal “Heavenly Bodies”: How the Directorless Metropolitan Museum Went Astray

Where's Max Hollein when we really need him? Several "what-were-they-thinking?" moments jolted me recently at the Metropolitan Museum, reaffirming my belief in a bedrock principle of museum management: An art museum, particularly a complicated operation like the Met, needs a director who has had substantial curatorial experience and also, preferably, has served elsewhere as a respected director. The Met's president, Daniel Weiss, lacks that background but has been running the operation as a CEO-in-search-of-a-director since last June, … [Read more...]

Deaccession Deception: Baltimore Museum’s Castoffs Leave Holes in Its Collection

Christopher Bedford, director of the Baltimore Museum of Art, said all the right things in explaining his decision to deaccession seven of the museum's works in order to purchase works "created from 1943 or later, allowing the museum to strengthen and fill gaps within its collection [emphasis added]." In the recent press release announcing the planned disposals, Bedford expressed the museum's desire to build "a collection that is more relevant to the community it serves" (i.e., women and artists of color). The problem is that in … [Read more...]

Berkshire Museum’s Murky “Transparency”: Parsing the Half-Truths in Its “Open Letter”

If this is transparency, we can only wonder what opacity looks like. The Berkshire Museum today posted an open letter to its community that is intended to show its "commitment to transparency, cooperation, outreach," according to an email from its spokesperson that hit my inbox late this afternoon. But the "open letter" was less than transparent in describing what happened to the priciest of the museum's deaccessions: "Shuffleton’s Barbershop" by Norman Rockwell is on its way back to the Berkshires, to the Norman Rockwell Museum, … [Read more...]

AAMD Sanctions Berkshire Museum and La Salle University Art Museum (& what it should do next)

We knew this was coming (for what it's worth). The Association of Art Museum Directors today issued this statement: The Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) announced today that its Board of Trustees has voted to impose sanctions on the Berkshire Museum and the La Salle University Art Museum. This follows the decision made by each institution to use the proceeds from recent art sales to support operating budgets or expansion initiatives, a decision that violates one of the core principles of art museums. These actions are in … [Read more...]

“Shaftsbury” Shafted; Church Besmirched: The Berkshire Museum’s Lose-Lose Auctions

The Berkshire Museum's deplorable disposals have not gone well. Even its board president, in a statement issued yesterday (see below), conceded that the museum was "disappointed" with the results for the 13 works offered at Sotheby's auctions this month. The museum's board and administrators should consider holding onto their remaining chips from this bad gamble, rather than doubling down on their folly by selling more works. I was in Sotheby's salesroom yesterday morning  when four of the 40 works that had been approved for sale by … [Read more...]

Gloom at the Top: Why Megabucks Auctions Are Broken (and how to fix them)

The thrill is gone. For several of the highest-estimated properties in the recent series of Impressionist, modern and contemporary sales at Sotheby's and Christie's, the "auction fever" of yesteryear has given way to single-bid transfers of artworks (after a few feigned "chandelier" bids, lobbed by the auctioneers). Bargains are struck in advance with third-party guarantors who ensure (for a fee and/or a share of the proceeds) that high-priced works will sell, either to them or to someone who steps in at a level where the guarantor can … [Read more...]

Picasso Fiasco: CultureGrrl Q&A with Mike Kosnitzky, Lawyer for Steve Wynn’s New Company UPDATED & CORRECTED

In my previous post about the astonishing news that unspecified damage was done at Christie's on Friday to Picasso's “Le Marin,” 1943 (which had been estimated to bring around $70 million in Tuesday's Impressionist/Modern Art auction), I had suggested that the auction house's reticence might have been related to the situation's being "in the hands of the lawyers (as happened with Steve Wynn's previous Picasso fiasco)." That apparently is the case. Although Christie's has failed to respond to my repeated requests for more detailed … [Read more...]

Barker Lark: Oliver Makes Auctions Fun Again at Sotheby’s Revival Meeting (aka Contemporary Sale)

At last, someone knows how to play this game: It's Oliver Barker, the Sotheby's auctioneer who succeeded in whipping up a spirited $284.54-million Contemporary Art sale tonight (preceded by the Mandel Collection's $107.8-million opening act), playing the crowd with cheery exhortations, while moving things briskly along. The hammer total for the Contemporary sale was $246.3 million, within the presale estimate of $207.7-285.6 million. The Mandel hammer total was $91.95 million, within the $72.9-105.3 million presale estimate. Here's my … [Read more...]

Ballyhooed Nude, Picasso Fiasco: Misadventures at Impressionist/Modern Sales at Sotheby’s & Christie’s

How did Sotheby's manage to be deprecated on Monday for achieving a price of $157.2-million for a Modigliani reclining nude---the highest amount ever paid at that firm for a single artwork? The auction house was seen as under-achieving, because this indolent lady's $139-million hammer price was on the backside of her presale estimate---"in excess of $150 million." As such, she had a "Me-Too" moment with another ballyhooed nude---Picasso's “Fillette à la Corbeille Fleurie” in last week's Rockefeller sale of Impressionist and modern works, … [Read more...]

American Success Story: Rockefeller’s & George Washington’s Conquest of Christie’s

For the second night in a row, bidding on the Rockefeller Collection at Christie's handily outstripped the low presale estimate. In a livelier session (thanks to the verve of auctioneer Tash Perrin, said to be taking her first evening sale), 41 lots of David Rockefeller's American art fetched a hammer total of $90.5m, doubling the low estimate of hammer total. Is there still time for me to buy these cufflinks in the online sale? The initial works for me! (Wait. I'd need to buy a shirt that requires cufflinks.) Enough of this idle … [Read more...]

“Are We All Done?” Christie’s Delivers a Dull (but effective) “Sale of the Century” Debut

Maybe I'm getting jaded, but tonight's first installment of the "Sale of the Century"---the David Rockefeller estate disposals at Christie's---seemed to me as exciting as a wet blanket. (I suppose that would be me.) I have to admit, though, that I was probably wrong in believing that the billion-dollar sales predictions for the entire Rockefeller series were merely wishful thinking. Tonight's sale has already rung up $648.38-million (including buyer's premium), and the $564.55-million hammer-price total handily beat the $490-million low … [Read more...]

Rocky Rockefeller Predictions: Estimated “in Excess of $500,000,” But Hyped as “a Billion-Dollar Sale”

With a lot riding on this week's results of the David Rockefeller estate's purported "Sale(s) of the Century," several news publications have upped the ante, impetuously recasting the series of auctions, estimated by Christie's to bring "in excess of $500,000," as potentially a "billion-dollar sale." That's a whole lot of "excess" over the $500,000, and a high hurdle to surmount. But it makes for a juicy headline (or subhead), as in today's Wall Street Journal: The first mention that I saw of a possible billion-dollar sale was Kelly … [Read more...]

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