Phillips Restructures; Musée de L'Homme Packs Up, and More

PHILLIPS STEPS OUT OF THE RING: Once again, Sotheby's and Christie's can look forward to the lion's share of the auction market. Their rival Phillips, de Pury & Luxembourg—also known simply as Phillips—has announced plans to drastically restructure and effectively reduce its activities to privately negotiated sales.

Despite some spectacular sales (most notably from Heinz Berggruen's collection), Phillips suffered two major financial setbacks last year, according to Le Monde. Bernard Arnault, the head of the luxury-goods group LVMH (Louis Vuitton–Moët–Hennessy), reduced his share in Phillips from 75 percent to 27.5 percent. An auction of Impressionist and modern art organized in New York last November dealt another blow: Only nineteen works out of a total of forty-four on offer found buyers, raising seven million dollars—a far cry from the fifty million expected from the sale.

Phillips will close its New York headquarters on Fifty-seventh Street but continue to operate out of the smaller “Milk Studios” on Fifteenth Street in Chelsea. Just how many of the 110 employees will lose their jobs through the restructuring is still unclear.

Moving the headquarters to Chelsea seems to be an indication of Phillips's new direction. According to a report in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the house will now focus on contemporary art.

“More and more young collectors are interested in young art,” Michaela Neumeister, Phillips's head of German operations, told the Süddeutsche Zeitung. “Therefore we have made the strategic decision to concentrate above all on contemporary art, design and photography.”

MUSÉE DE L’HOMME CLOSES—TEMPORARILY? Over the next two months, the Musée de l'Homme in Paris will close its exhibition spaces. According a report in Libération, the museum's holdings are gradually being packed up, with items to be transferred permanently to the new Musée des Arts Premiers at Quai Branly.

Now situated at the Trocadéro, the Musée de l'Homme–which is part of the vast Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle—will eventually open its doors in another form, although it is unclear what form and when.

“I was not appointed to liquidate the Musée de l'Homme but to renovate it,” explained Bertrand-Pierre Galey, the general director of the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, to Libération. Galey needs two hundred million euros over the next four years to renovate the buildings of the Muséum, which include not only the Musée de l'Homme, but the zoos at Vincennes and the Jardin des Plantes, which itself includes several galleries.

Libération also suggests that the prehistorian Jean-Pierre Mohen will be the new director. During the period of closure, there are plans for temporary exhibitions, including a show on the desert.

In the meantime, those who hope to see the Musée de l'Homme in its current state should make haste, as the renowned galleries for Africa, America, Asia, the Arctic; the music salon; and the Arts et Techniques hall will close between March and April.

According to Libération, March 2 will be the last day to visit the Africa galleries. The display—which includes objects Marcel Griaule collected during his 1931–32 Dakar-Djibouti mission—has remained essentially the same since it opened in 1938.

It's too late for the Musée des Arts d'Afrique et d'Océanie (MAAO), which closed last Friday. The new Musée des Arts Premiers will also receive the MAAO's entire holdings but on a permanent basis. Located at Porte Dorée, the museum was built in 1931 as an exhibition palace for the French colonies and became the MAAO only in 1960, when André Malraux rebaptized the impressive art deco building. Lamenting the closure, Neue Zürcher Zeitung's Samuel Herzog argues that the Musée des Arts Premiers—a pet project of President Chirac—has effectively destroyed an important museal document of French colonization.

AS THE CROW FLIES: When is the sale of an artwork final? In France, where complex laws on exports and the quality of works can bring a sale to court even retroactively, the answer could be Never. Le Monde's Harry Bellet and François Duret-Robert trace the complicated fate of Picasso's La Femme au Corbeau, a 1904 watercolor-pastel.

In the 1970s, Nicole Deon-Sainsère, granddaughter of the original owner, Olivier Sainsère (1852–1923), tried to sell the work but failed to obtain permission for it to leave the country. In 1979, she settled for 2.3 million francs from the Parisian representative of the Basel-based Galerie Beyeler—much less than she would have obtained had she sold it abroad.

As Bellet and Duret-Robert report, Beyeler eventually found a French buyer in the film producer Claude Berri, and also settled for a low price. In 1988, Berri obtained permission from then–minister of culture François Léotard to export the work, on the grounds that he was shifting the focus of his collection to contemporary art.

Thirteen years later, Deon-Sainsère discovered that Le Femme au corbeau was hanging in Ronald Lauder's collection in New York City. After learning of the state's change of heart, she attempted to annul the original sale to Galerie Beyeler.

Bellet and Duret-Robert explain that French law allows for the sale of an artwork to be annulled, even fourteen years—and two owners—later. The seller or buyer can question the “substantive qualities” of the work, including authenticity as well as “circumstances exterior to the object,” which, Deon-Sainsère argued, included exportability.

On January 23, Deon-Sainsère lost her case. While the court agreed that exportability indeed belongs to the substantive qualities of an artwork, they ruled that Deon-Sainsère could have taken into account that the judicial status of the work could change in the eyes of the French state.

While Deon-Sainsère's lawyer plans to appeal the judgment, Duret-Robert reviews the complex history of French exportation and heritage laws for artworks—recommended reading for collectors passing through France.