MAORI AUCTION RECORD AT SOTHEBY'S
A carved wood figure of a Maori chief from the 1840s sold for $1 million, a record price for Oceanic art, at Sotheby's New York on Nov. 22, 1998. Sotheby's African and Oceanic art auction sold 151 of 265 lots (about 57 percent) for a total of just over $6 million. Top lot was a Kongo figure that sold to a European dealer for $1.4 million (est. $800,000-$1,200,000). In addition, some 123 lots from the Foundation of Dr. Edmund Müller sold for a total of almost $1.6 million.
The nearly life-size Maori figure has glaring shell eyes and an elaborately tattooed face, and bears a high-gloss varnish finish that is atypical for primitive art. The sculpture originally served as part of a post in a meeting house on the New Zealand coast. The 19th-century British missionary Bishop William Williams, who translated the New Testament into Maori and wrote a Maori dictionary, obtained the figure, probably as a gift. It was eventually sold at Christie's London in 1978 for $110,000 to Philippe-Guy E. Woog, a Swiss inventor who was the current seller.
RESALE ROYALTIES IN EUROPE
As Europe stumbles towards economic unity under the European Union umbrella, artists from across the continent are lobbying for new "resale royalty" legislation in all 15 EU countries. The European Visual Artists and European Grouping of Authors' and Composers' Societies has targeted galleries as well as major auction houses like Christie's and Sotheby's, which are expected to increase their activities in Europe. Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands and Austria do not admit resale royalties for artists, while the 11 other EU states do. Legislation has been proposed that would give artists between one percent and four percent of resale proceeds, with heirs collecting for 70 years after their death. Art dealers have lobbied against the plan, arguing it would shift art sales outside the EU.
GUGGENHEIM ON THE HUDSON?
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum floated the possibility of building a $400-million Frank Gehry-designed museum on a pier in the Hudson River at Houston Street, a few blocks away from SoHo -- an idea that was quickly torpedoed by the office of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and other political leaders. The 15-acre pier is currently the site of Manhattan's largest parking garage.
The new museum, according to the Gugg, would generate $1 billion in tax revenues, tourist income and employment in its first two years of operation. Curiously, the plan was first revealed in the New York Times last week before local politicians and community leaders were informed -- and a substantial part of the Times story was spent chronicling the "I don't know" and "no comment" responses from interested parties. A Hudson River Gugg would also allow the closing of the SoHo Guggenheim, which is losing over $6 million a year, according to the Times.
STRIKE ENDS AT MUSEE D'ORSAY
Striking employees at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris have gone back to work after a 10-day job action, once again opening the popular "Van Gogh and Millet" exhibition to the public. Workers had been demanding bonus pay and extra days off in compensation for dealing with the large crowds of visitors, who sometimes vented their anger on museum staff in response to three-hour waits in line. The museum finally agreed to a one-time payout of $180 and three extra days off. The exhibition runs till Jan. 3, 1999.
MOMA RAISES $300 MILLION
The Museum of Modern Art has announced a $650-million capital campaign to help pay for its new expansion and increase MoMA's $300 million endowment. As is usual in such matters, the museum already has in hand a substantial amount -- $300 million, including 24 gifts of $5 million or more. The so-called "Founders of the Museum in the 21st Century" are the late Lily Auchincloss, Celeste Bartos, Mercedes T. and Sid R. Bass, Patti Cadby Birch, Leon and Debra Black, Mr. and Mrs. Gustavo Cisneros, Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman, Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat, the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, Agnes Gund and Daniel Shapiro, the International Council of the Museum of Modern Art, Mr. and Mrs. Henry R. Kravis, Estée Lauder, Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, Joyce and Robert Menschel Family Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. Minoru Mori, Mr. and Mrs. Akio Morita, the Stavros S. Niarchos Foundation, Edward John Noble Foundation, Michael and Judy Ovitz, Peggy and David Rockefeller, Jerry I. Speyer and Katherine G. Farley, and two anonymous donors.
JEWISH MUSEUM SHOWS STALINIST ART: KRAMER
"What is the art of Ben Shahn, a shameless apologist for the crimes of Stalinism, doing in the Jewish Museum?" This question is asked by art critic Hilton Kramer in a hard-hitting article in the Nov. 23 New York Observer. The American Social Realist painter Ben Shahn (1898-1969) is the subject of a 50-painting retrospective at the museum, Nov. 8, 1998-Mar. 7, 1999. Kramer accuses the museum of celebrating the work of a Jewish artist whose "progressive" politics led him to support the noxious Hitler-Stalin nonaggression pact during 1939-41, "the moment of greatest peril to the Jews." Shahn's touted devotion to the common man, Kramer writes "did not include the victims of the Soviet terror or the inhabitants of the Soviet gulag." Plus, Kramer says, Shahn was "a lousy painter."
CHRISTOS WRAP TREES
Christo and Jean-Claude have wrapped silver-gray polyester fabric around 163 trees on the grounds of the Beyeler Museum in Riehen, Switzerland. The project required 461,000 square feet of material and 14 miles of rope. The show opened Nov. 21, after the leaves fell, and closes in January so as not to interfere with budding.
LOWRY SAYS NO TO MORLEY
Museum of Modern Art director Glenn Lowry has rejected a request by 60 Minutes broadcaster Morley Safer to do a segment on MoMA's Jackson Pollock retrospective, according to the New York Times. Lowry called Safer "someone who does drive-by shootings" while Safer described MoMA as a "humorless Comintern of contemporary art." Safer has done several celebrated hatchet jobs on new art, which he once called "worthless junk."
NEW WADSWORTH CURATORS
Nicholas Baume has been appointed curator of contemporary art at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Conn. He was formerly curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, Australia, and a professor at the Sydney campus of Boston University. Thomas Denenberg, who has previously a research assistant at the National Museum of American Art, has been named curator of American decorative arts at the Atheneum.
LAURENCE MILLER ON THE MOVE
The Laurence Miller Gallery, which celebrates its 15th anniversary next year, is moving to 20 West 57th Street (in the space formerly occupied by Snyder Fine Art). The move is designed to make the gallery more accessible to clients, most of whom are uptown. In the meantime, Miller has a special holiday exhibition and sale in the gallery back room at 138 Spring Street in SoHo (to Dec. 23). Miller opens uptown on Feb. 3, 1999, with new work by Stephane Couturier.
THOMAS HEALY CLOSES GALLERY
After a four-year run, Chelsea dealer Thomas Healy is closing his gallery. The final show is "Hedge: Between Time and Intent," curated by Toland Grinnell, Dec. 3, 1998-Jan. 9, 1999. Among the artists in the show are Chris Burden, Joseph Cornell, Bruce Nauman, Luigi Ontani, Shahzia Sikander and Andy Warhol.
DICK HIGGINS MEMORIAL
A memorial for the Fluxus artist Dick Higgins is planned for Judson Church in Manhattan on Sunday, Dec. 27 at 3 p.m. There will be some words spoken and some performances.