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Sotheby's has announced that it is laying off approximately 8 percent of its workforce -- mostly from its online staff -- and raising its buyer's premium for its online auctions as part of a $14 million restructuring charge in the company's fourth quarter. The buyer's fee for is being raised from its current flat 10 percent rate to 15 percent for the first $15,000 and 10 percent thereafter, effective March 5, and about 165 employees are losing their jobs. The cost savings are expected to be fully realized in 2002.

Over 30 angry neighbors showed up at a hearing before the Board of Zoning Adjustment in Washington D.C. earlier this week to protest the Phillips Collection's plans to buy and gut the apartment building north of its Goh Annex, reports the Washington Post. The neighbors say the organization would be evicting 15 renters from moderate-income housing to accommodate up to 500 people at catered dinners and cocktail receptions, exacerbating problems including traffic jams, a parking shortage, idling tour buses and noisy catering trucks. According to the museum, the central purpose of the $15.5 million project is an educational Center for the Understanding and Appreciation of Modern Art to be used primarily by scholars, teachers and visiting children during the day. But neighbor Richard Suisman points to the Phillips' website that list the benefits of corporate membership, including "unlimited use of both buildings of the museum for private events" for contributions of $15,000 ($14,250 of which is tax deductible). The museum claims it has no plans to increase the number of catered events, but Councilman Jack Evans has expressed opposition to the project and the Advisory Neighborhood Council and the Dupont Citizens' Association have voted unanimously against the granting of special exceptions and variances. The D.C. Office of Planning, which advises the zoning board, has drafted a proposal supporting the museum's requests provided the Phillips agrees to 43 conditions, including limiting the number of events each year and the number of guests at seated dinners. The hearing continues until late March.

British Royal Academy painter John Craxton is challenging the authenticity of a $3 million Cycladic stone figure of a harp player dated ca. 2800-2700 B.C. at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, reports London's Sunday Times. Craxton, an honorary British consul in Crete, claims Greek shepherd Angelos Koutsoupis told him he carved the figure in the 1940s and submerged it in a river for six months to age it. Koutsoupis allegedly said the figurine had been commissioned by an antiquities dealer named Zoumboulaki, who sent him photographs of a carved harp player from the National Museum in Athens. According to the newspaper, the museum confirms that the piece was acquired from the dealer in 1947 but adds that it has "sound technical evidence for believing the harpist to be genuine." Doubts to the piece's authenticity were originally raised last December in Lie Became Great: The Forgery of Ancient Near Eastern Cultures (Styx Publications, 2000) by Oscar White Muscarella, an archeologist on the Metropolitan's staff. The book identifies 1,250 forgeries in museums around the world, including at least 45 in the Met.

Tormented Spanish painter Francisco Goya might be getting the Hollywood treatment again, this time from director Milos Forman and producer Saul Zaents, reports Variety. The story, penned by Michael Weller of Hair and Ragtime fame, is to center on the artist’s life as a painter, political figure and lover, and to take in the whole era, including the Spanish Inquisition, with which Goya had a number of run-ins. Plans call for the film, tentatively budgeted at $40 million, to be shot in spring and summer 2002. Movies about the painter include Henry Koster's The Naked Maja (1959) starring Ava Gardner and Anthony Franciosa, Bigas Lunas' Volaverunt (1999) and Carlos Saura's Goya in Bordeaux (2000).

"Vincent van Gogh and the Painters of the Petit Boulevard," the latest installment of the museum-world's infatuation with the "mad genius of Arles" goes on view Feb. 17-May 13 at the Saint Louis Art Museum. But the Dutch painter presented by curator Connie Homburg is far from mad, focusing instead on the van Gogh who worked side by side with colleagues such as Gauguin, Seurat, Signac and Toulouse-Lautrec to formulate the ideas behind neo-Impressionism. The show is named after the witty tag the painter gave to the eclectic group to distinguish it from the Impressionists, the painters of the "grand boulevard."

Meanwhile, the Museum of Modern Art is featuring "Van Gogh's Postman: The Portraits of Joseph Roulin," Feb. 1-May 15, featuring works culled from the Exhibition "Van Gogh: Face to Face" -- currently at the Philadelphia Museum of Art -- portraying the postman who helped and supported the artist during some of his darkest days.

Look up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Vik Muniz's first public art project! All eyes will be pointing upwards for six days starting Feb. 20 for the appropriately-named Clouds, a series of clouds drawn by a skywriter over the Manhattan skyline using a design by the conceptual photographer and sponsored by public arts organization Creative Time. The event is timed to coincide with the Whitney Museum's "The Things Themselves: Pictures of Dust by Vik Muniz," Jan 27-May 20, and with the Feb. 20 release of Worst Possible Illusion: The Curiosity Cabinet of Vik Muniz, a documentary produced by Mixed Greens/Sibling Entertainment. The exact schedule for Clouds is dependent on the weather -- check the Creative Time website or call the Clouds hotline at (212) 206-6674, ext. 254 that week to find out the exact days.

Barely one year after construction began in Mizner Park, the new Boca Raton Museum of Art is opening its doors on Jan. 24. The 44,000-square-foot museum opens with "Picasso: Passion and Creation -- The Last Thirty Years," featuring more than 100 of the modern master's works dating from the mid 1940s to the early 1970s, which runs through April 15. Meanwhile, the museum's old digs on Palmetto Park Road are scheduled to be renovated to house an expanded art school.

-- compiled by Giovanni Garcia-Fenech
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