March 14, 2008

Nasher Foundation to Build Endowment by Selling Collection at Sotheby's

The New York Times’ Carol Vogel reports that Raymond Nasher, the Dallas collector and real estate developer who died last year, spent a lifetime buying art. He and his wife, Patsy, who died in 1988, amassed more than one thousand works, by artists including Picasso, Dubuffet, Jasper Johns, and Roy Lichtenstein. Now, about two hundred works of Impressionist, modern, and contemporary art from the Nasher Collection will be auctioned at Sotheby’s to build an endowment for the Nasher Sculpture Center, a 550,000-square-foot museum and sculpture garden in downtown Dallas. As Artforum.com reported, the museum, owned by the Nasher Foundation, opened in 2003 adjacent to the Dallas Museum of Art. The largest group of works being sold, including works by Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, Franz Kline, and Larry Rivers, will make up a single-owner auction on May 9. Sotheby’s estimates that the sales will raise thirty million dollars for the museum.

March 14, 2008

Architect Richard Johnson Wins Top Prize; Zeng Fanzhi Joins Acquavella Galleries

Architect Richard Johnson was last night awarded the Royal Australian Institute of Architects' highest honor, the Gold Medal, reports the Sydney Morning Herald. The jury citation praised Johnson's architecture as selfless, connecting elements of the urban fabric and giving a sense of dignity to the people using them. The former lord mayor of Sydney, Lucy Turnbull, said in a testimonial that it was hard to imagine Sydney without the contribution he had made to its skyline and public spaces. “Richard has given us, in his public and private architectural commission, a particularly Australian sense of space,” she said. Johnson designed the New Asian gallery at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Museum of Sydney, though the public may find his work with Joern Utzon on the remodeling of the Opera Theatre most interesting. Accepting the prize, Johnson said that “selfless” architecture is needed to “stitch” Sydney back together. “The public needs to keep yelling. Enough's not enough,” said Johnson, who became the first Sydney architect since 2001 to take the honor. “We have been complacent, and we haven't invested in public infrastructure at a time we were wealthy, at a time when the money was there. That's scandalous. Let's keep yelling, but at the same time let's not devalue what we've got—by God, it's bloody good.”

In other news, New York's Acquavella Galleries is planning to add Chinese painter Zeng Fanzhi, whose stock is soaring among collectors, to its blue-chip stable, reports Bloomberg’s Katya Kazakina. “Everybody has agreed so far,” said owner William Acquavella in a telephone interview Wednesday. “We are just talking about some details.” Zeng works in a variety of styles, creating abstract and figurative canvases. He's best known for his expressive portraits depicting masked figures with small bodies and large heads. Auction prices fetched by Zeng's paintings have skyrocketed from just over $12,000 at Christie's Hong Kong in 2004 to $5.6 million for a 1992 hospital-scene triptych at Phillips de Pury in London last October. Until now, Acquavella, which specializes in the so-called secondary, or resale, market of twentieth-century masters like Pablo Picasso and Mark Rothko, has represented only three living artists: Lucian Freud, James Rosenquist, and Damian Loeb. Zeng met Acquavella through New York private dealers Jose Mugrabi and his son, Alberto, who have some of the world's largest holdings of works by Andy Warhol. “He makes maybe fifteen paintings a year,'' Alberto Mugrabi said of Zeng. “It's the opposite of the Warhol market. It's more like the Bacon market where there's very little, and he's very limited in what he does.” Acquavella plans to have Zeng's solo show at its Upper East Side gallery next year.

March 14, 2008

Met Buys Delacroix in Honor of Montebello; Drawing Center Plans Fall Through

Carol Vogel reports in the New York Times that the Metropolitan Museum has acquired an 1862 painting by Delacroix, Ovid Among the Scythians, with funds from Jayne Wrightsman, a trustee. The purchase was in honor of the museum’s director, Philippe de Montebello, who announced his plans for retirement in January, as Artforum.com noted. The painting depicts an episode from Ovid’s exile in Tomis (a remote town on the Black Sea), a subject Delacroix, who died in 1863, had painted several times earlier in his career. “It is our only late painting by Delacroix,” said Gary Tinterow, the Met’s curator in charge of nineteenth-century, modern, and contemporary art. “This is his late, final statement on a theme that interested him his whole life.”

In other news, Vogel reports that the Drawing Center has walked away from a plan to relocate from SoHo to the South Street Seaport in New York—the third time that an effort to find a new home for this art institution has fallen through. The site is owned by the city and currently being leased to the South Street Seaport Museum, which had once planned to build there. Negotiations to transfer the lease back to the city and then to the Drawing Center began in earnest in February 2007. “In July, we were on the verge of moving forward,” said Brett Littman, the Drawing Center’s director. But the talks stalled, and the project’s estimated cost rose to sixty-one million dollars from the initial fifty million. The center’s board had second thoughts. “With a downturn in the economy, we didn’t feel this was a prudent time to embark on such an ambitious project,” said Littman, who noted that a 12 percent increase in construction costs in the city was a factor. Kate D. Levin, the city’s commissioner of cultural affairs, said: “It is a case of an organization getting real estate fatigue. It’s been a long process, and they have made a responsible, thoughtful decision.”

March 12, 2008

Ned Rifkin Resigns from Smithsonian

Ned Rifkin, the undersecretary for art at the Smithsonian Institution, announced today he will resign his position, effective April 11. Rifkin has served as the undersecretary since 2004, overseeing the Smithsonian's art museums and organizations—Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; National Museum of African Art; National Portrait Gallery; the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Renwick Gallery; Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum; Archives of American Art; and Smithsonian Photography Initiative. Prior to becoming undersecretary, Rifkin served as director of the Hirshhorn from December 2001 to August 2005.

During Rifkin's four-year tenure, he oversaw the completion of several major projects, including the reopening of the Patent Office Building (2006)—home of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery—following a six-year renovation and the opening of the Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard (2007) in the same building. The acting secretary, Cristián Samper, has announced that he will not replace Rifkin. Instead, the art museums and organizations that Rifkin oversaw will now report to the Smithsonian's acting undersecretary for history and culture, Richard Kurin. For more information, see the Smithsonian press release.

March 12, 2008

LACMA Purchases Land on Wilshire Boulevard for Reported $12 Million

Further expanding its twenty-acre campus, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art has purchased a sizable parcel of land across the street from its ambitious new showcase, the Broad Contemporary Art Museum, for what sources involved with the deal said was close to twelve million dollars. The Los Angeles Times reports that city councilman Tom LaBonge said the parcel would not only expand the Miracle Mile museum district but also possibly serve as a stop on a future subway to the sea. “This is a victory. Urban lights is what this is all about,” LaBonge said, alluding to the Chris Burden sculpture of streetlights newly installed along Wilshire Boulevard at LACMA. “This is part of the big plan,” LaBonge said. “It's all going to be complementary, and one day there's going to be a subway stop there, and everybody in the county can ride transit to that wonderful complex of art museums. LACMA spokeswoman Barbara Pflaumer said she was ”delighted“ by the acquisition but could offer few details, such as the size of the lot. ”We saw this as an opportunity to develop key parts of the campus,“ Pflaumer said. ”We don't have specific plans for the property. It was an opportunity to buy something, and we bought it. . . . We'd love a subway stop."

March 12, 2008

Sotheby's Auctioneer New Grand Master of the Knights of Malta

Sotheby's auctioneer Matthew Festing has his work cut out as the seventh-ninth grand master of the Knights of Malta, reports the Daily Mail (via Art History Newsletter). In accepting the role, the new grand master swore his oath before the patronus of the order, Cardinal Pio Laghi, and the electoral body. He succeeds Fra Andrew Bertie, seventy-eighth grand master (1988–2008), who died on February 7. Ampleforth- and Cambridge-educated Festing, fifty-nine, finds himself thrust into the limelight as the new leader of the secretive Catholic organization after a ballot in which the election papers were later burned. Like the pope, the grand master is elected for life. Festing, whose portraitist brother Andrew is a Royal Family favorite, is tasked with combating the clandestine image of the Knights of Malta, which has been accused of using its humanitarian missions in Iraq as a cover for mercenaries.

March 12, 2008

International News Digest

This week's International News Digest, compiled by Jennifer Allen, is now online. Click to read news from the Netherlands, Germany, Liechtenstein, and elsewhere.

March 12, 2008

Chicago Curator Jay Xu to Run Asian Art Museum

The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco has hired Jay Xu, an expert in Chinese antiquities who heads the department of Asian and ancient art at the Art Institute of Chicago, as its new director, reports Jesse Hamlin in the San Francisco Chronicle. He takes over the museum's stewardship from Emily Sano, who retired in January after a momentous and sometimes controversial fifteen-year tenure highlighted by the opening of the museum's $170 million home at Civic Center in 2003. A native of Shanghai, Xu became curator of Asian Art in Chicago in 2003 after heading the Seattle Museum's department of Asian art and serving as its curator of Chinese art for seven years. He began his curatorial career at the Shanghai Museum in the late 1980s before coming to the United States, where he received a master's degree in art history from Princeton and worked as a fellow in Asian art at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. “In a way, I feel I have prepared my whole career for this job,” said Xu. “There were two attractions: the great collections at the Asian Art Museum, which I know well, and the city of San Francisco, which is such an appealing place.”

March 12, 2008

Liechtenstein Cancels Art Loan to Germany Over Tax Row

Liechtenstein's royal household said Tuesday it will suspend loans of art works from its collection to Germany, marking a new low in ties between the two countries embroiled in a tax scandal, according to Agence France-Presse. The royal family was due to lend some examples of Biedermeier art from mid-nineteenth-century Vienna to an exhibition at a new art gallery in the German city of Munich from May to September, but this will now not go ahead. Liechtenstein has come under intense pressure in recent weeks after Germany began investigating six hundred of its citizens whose names were allegedly on a client list of a Liechtenstein bank—containing a total of fourteen hundred names—that it then made available to other nations. The German government last month admitted paying more than four million euros (six million dollars) to an informer for client data from Liechtenstein bank LGT that led to the biggest tax-fraud probe ever in Germany. “The prince's collection will refuse to lend paintings to Germany, as long as the respect of fundamental principles of the state of law by Germany, in relation to its relationship with Liechtenstein, continue to be questionable,” said a statement from the Liechtenstein prince's secretariat.