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London's Victoria & Albert is supposed to be celebrating a new £31-million, two-floor makeover of its decorative arts galleries, which display for the first time the museum's complete collection of about 3,000 exquisite objects made in Britain between 1500 and 1900. Instead, the spinster aunt of British museums (as it has been called by others) finds itself caught up in a controversy over -- a contemporary sculpture commissioned to hang in the new space.

The problem is 1998 Turner Prize nominee Cornelia Parker's work Breathless, which features a hanging orchestra of trumpets, horns and other brass instruments crushed in the Victorian-era mechanism of Tower Bridge. According to a report in the Guardian, Churchill Society secretary Judith O'Hanlon has protested the destruction of so many good instruments and proclaimed the sculpture "an act of vandalism" in a letter to British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Meanwhile, the V&A is expecting a turn for the better with its new galleries, which opened last Thursday and once again inaugurated free admission at the museum. Showpieces range from a recreation of the 18th-century salon of Henrietta Street to Dickens' pen and manuscript for Oliver Twist, all arranged by curator Christopher Wilk in four themes: Style, Who Led Taste?, Fashionable Living, and What Was New? The historically appropriate installation was overseen by designers CassonMann and society decorator David Mlinaric.

The whole operation is supervised by former Scottish National Gallery head Mark Jones, who has had the V&A job for six months. But as Catherine Pepinster points out in the Independent, the V&A has been a graveyard for several promising careers. "Roy Strong's directorship was soured by the controversy over the cutting down of the courtyard's cherry trees and its sponsorship by Pirelli; Elizabeth Esteve-Coll caused uproar with her sacking of expert curators and her crass slogan 'an ace caff with quite a nice museum attached'; while Alan Borg, Jones's predecessor, brought in compulsory admission charges, oversaw a rapid decline in visitors and fell out with the chair of trustees."

The celebrated David Smith show that has been touring the country is finally coming to New York City. The National Academy of Design on Fifth Avenue opens "David Smith: Two into Three Dimensions," Nov. 28, 2001-Jan. 6, 2002. The exhibition of nearly 100 paintings, sculpture and works on paper dating from the 1930s to the '60s, organized by critic Karen Wilkin, investigates the dialogue between two- and three-dimensions in the artist's works, and places special emphasis on Smith's relief sculpture. The show's appearance at the National Academy is the final stop on a multi-city tour that began in April 2000 in Portland, Ore.

Left coasters have a new space for contemporary art: Julie Baker Fine Art, which opens today, Nov. 20, 2001, at 120 N. Auburn Street in Grass Valley, Ca. 95945. The first exhibition is "Baker's Dozen," featuring 13 paintings by 13 artists, including Alexandra Eldridge, Jason Middlebrook, Erin Noel and Nellie King Solomon. The new space is also being inaugurated by Bay Area conceptualist David Ireland, who will replace 13 ceiling tiles in the gallery in his signature palette to expose the building's vernacular architecture. Forthcoming exhibitions include a survey of photography and "The Cadillac: A History of an American Icon in Contemporary Art." For more info, contact Baker formerly headed Gerngross & Co., one of the oldest art marketing firms in the U.S. Frances Gerngross, former v.p. of Gerngross & Co., is a partner at the new gallery; Richard Baker, Julie's husband, is photo curator.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art -- -- has launched a digital archive of its collections, featuring images of an incredible 10,000 artworks and records for nearly 25,000 objects, plus 150,000 library records. In addition to simple and advanced searches, "Collections Online," as LACMA has dubbed it, includes a "random images" feature and one for "browse storeroom treasures." The archive was developed in part with a grant from the Getty Grant Program.

The catalogue of Distributed Art Publishers, Inc., better known in the art world by its D.A.P. acronym, can now be found online at D.A.P. carries over 2,500 books on contemporary art and culture published by over 200 international publishers, museums, alternative spaces and institutions. Popular titles include Gerhard Richter's Atlas (D.A.P.), Robert Frank's The Americans (Scalo), Dave Hickey's Air Guitar (Art Issues Press), Keith Haring: Prints (Cantz) and Nan Goldin: The Other Side (Scalo).

Following a much-praised installation of paintings by Mark Rothko earlier this year at the Fondation Beyeler in Basel, Switzerland, museum founder Ernst Beyeler and guest curator Oliver Wick have now assembled a group of 18 Rothko paintings from the 1950s and 1960s for a new installation. The paintings are to be installed in three galleries, creating a "European Rothko chapel," with the intention of honoring the artist's belief that his works exert their most powerful impact when seen alone or in small groups. The show opens on Nov. 23, 2001.

Hard times seem to have come to the Guggenheim Museum, long the marvel of the museum world for director Thomas Krens' ambitious global expansion. In today's New York Times, Celestine Bohlen reports that the museum is suffering a 60 percent drop in admissions, a 50 percent drop in revenues, and in the past two years has had to shift more than $23 million from its endowment to pay operating and other costs -- an alarming development for a nonprofit. As of Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, 80 employees -- 20 percent of the museum staff -- are being laid off, with the museum admitting that more staff cuts are to come.

Attendance at the museum's new branch in Las Vegas is put at 3,000 a month, about 40 percent less than projected. And the museum's new $20-million website,, designed by Hani Rashid, is highly unlikely to be a money-maker, if the experience of other dot-coms are any measure (indeed, the Baer Faxt art-world tip sheet reported last month that the site has already shut down, which the Gugg denies).

Krens told Bohlen the endowment now stands at $58 million, and the museum's outstanding debt is $42 million. Considering the circumstances, the museum's controversial exhibition of fashions by Giorgio Armani, which got the Gugg an "unrelated" $15-million gift from the designer, seems a stroke of genius. Now, does anyone remember back in the roaring 1980s, when one of Krens' first acts as the new Guggenheim Museum director was to sell at auction three paintings from the cherished collection for something like $40 million?