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The art world is talking about the front-page overview of the auction price-fixing scandal written by Ralph Blumenthal and Carol Vogel in the New York Times on Sunday, Oct. 8. The story offers background information on the principals involved in the case and some tantalizing new details surrounding the situation. Among them:
  • Christie's and its ex-CEO Christopher Davidge would seem to be getting off scot-free for their part in the price-fixing scheme under a provision of U.S. anti-trust law that provides amnesty to the first conspirator to rat out the rest. But there's no amnesty for Christie's one-time chairman Sir Anthony Tennant, who left the auctioneers in 1996 and who has refused to cooperate with the investigation.
  • Former Sotheby's president and chief executive Diana D. Brooks received permission from the company to ask prosecutors for amnesty for herself when the investigation began to heat up last December, only to be told that Christie's had beaten her to it. She now faces three years in federal prison after pleading guilty last week to felony antitrust charges and pointing the finger at her former boss, the 75-year-old auction-house owner A. Alfred Taubman.
  • In addition to allegedly setting commissions, the two auction houses are said to have colluded on keeping employee salaries down and informing each other if senior staff from one house applied for a job at the other. Furthermore, both companies reportedly agreed to stop making charitable contributions to woo nonprofit sellers.
Meanwhile, Taubman has been named by the government as the focus of its investigation, but may be hard to catch, according to the Wall Street Journal. Citing unnamed sources (that sound suspiciously like the auction chief's spin doctors), the newspaper reports that prosecutors have little direct evidence linking Taubman to the conspiracy. Davidge never actually met with or talked to him, and as for Brooks' testimony, it's just "she said, he said." Taubman denies all charges, stating that "whatever Ms. Brooks chose to do, she did completely on her own without my knowledge or approval. If the need arises, I will vigorously defend myself against any charges."

The Senate last week cleared a $7 million spending increase for the National Endowment for the Arts, the first raise the agency has seen in eight years. The new $105-million budget for 2001-2002 was approved a week earlier by the House of Representatives and is now headed to President Bill Clinton for signature. The increase will fund Challenge America, a program that aims to connect arts organizations with previously underserved local communities.

While the American recording industry embroils itself in bitter lawsuits against online music distributer Napster, German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has announced a plan to tax hardware manufacturers to compensate artists, musicians and writers whose works are distributed online, reports ArtsWire. The levy would apply to items such as CD burners, modems and personal computers, and annual royalty payments would distributed to copyright holders through Verwertungsgesellschaft Wort (literally, "Word Exploitation Corporation"), a German fee-distribution clearinghouse. Music industry representatives are predictably upset by the proposal, which could go in effect as early as next year.

Leslie Cohan and Andrew Leslie, formerly of Matthew Marks Gallery, have teamed up with Martin Browne to open Cohan Leslie and Browne at 138 10th Ave., between 18th and 19th Streets in Chelsea. The new gallery kicks-off with works by deaf artist and critical theorist Joseph Grigely, Oct. 12-Nov. 9.

Legendary East Village art collector Gregg Smith has put his trove on view in a new space in St. Louis dubbed Alphaville, opening with "Like As Not," Sept. 14 through December, the first on a series of programs and exhibitions covering the famous 1980s scene. The exhibition features a selection of works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keiko Bonk, George Condo, Jimmy DeSana, Ann Messner, Ric Prol and Martin Wong, from a collection of more than 300 works by approximately 80 artists. According to Smith, the show has elicited a "sublime indifference" from the local critics, though it's proven a hit with younger artists and college students. Alphaville is located at 408 N. Euclid Ave.; call (314) 367-9555 for info.

Scandinavia House, a new cultural center linking the U.S. to Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, opens in New York with "Young Nordic Design: The Generation X," Oct. 17-Dec. 30. The 28,000-square-foot building, designed by James Stewart Polshek, is located at 58 Park Avenue between 37th and 38th Streets, and begins its regular public hours on Nov. 3; call (212) 779-3587 for more information.

L.A. dealer Tom Solomon, who closed his Garage gallery in 1996 before going to work as a curator at the Norton Family Foundation, is back with a new gallery named Solo. Solomon plans to showcase a single work per exhibition, featuring rarely seen pieces from established artists as well as site-specific art by emerging artists. Until the permanent gallery opens next fall, the shows go on at different temporary spaces. The inagural exhibition is Gordon Matta Clark's Bronx Floor (1972), never before shown on the West Coast, at the Avalon Hotel, a converted 1950s apartment building in Beverly Hills, Oct. 29-Nov. 4. For more information, call (310) 271-9912.

Kemper Museum of Contemporary Arts executive director Daniel T. Keegan has been named executive director of the San Jose Museum of Art. Keegan replaces Josi Callan, who left last year after holding the position of director for ten years.

SIDNEY R. YATES, 1907-2000
Sidney R. Yates, 91, a Chicago congressman known for his support of the arts, died Oct. 5 at a Washington hospital. Yates was celebrated in the art world for his instrumental role in establishing the National Endowment for the Arts in 1965 and his vigorous defense against attacks on the organization from the Reagan administration and Sen. Jesse Helms.

-- compiled by Giovanni Garcia-Fenech
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