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Sotheby's epic-scaled salesroom on the seventh floor of its York Avenue headquarters was filled with dealers and art collectors for its Impressionist and modern art sale last night, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2001. If only more of them had bid!

Sotheby's sold 25 of the 38 works on the block, or 66 percent, for a total of $33,110,750 (with premium). Sotheby's sale was notably smaller than those of its two competitors, Phillips and Christie's, who totaled $86 million and $108 million in their evening sales on Nov. 5 and 6, respectively. Most of the buyers were Americans, the house said, and many made their purchases over the phone.

Despite its modest size, the auction featured many great works. Top lot was a bustling Paris streetscape, La Rue Saint-Lazare (1893), painted by Camille Pissarro when he was 63 years old. It sold for $6.6 million, above its $6-million high estimate, and set a new record for a work by the artist (the previous Pissarro record was $3,962,300). Another top lot was a radical Nice still life by Henri Matisse, Anemones au miroir noir (1918-19), which had been included in the Museum of Modern Art Matisse retrospective in 1992. It sold for $4,185,750, within its presale estimate, to London dealer David Juda.

A 41-inch tall bronze sculpture of a woman by Alberto Giacometti, Femme de Venise V (1956-57), sold to a telephone bidder for $2,875,750, just below its low estimate. A fabulous Fauve landscape of La Ciotat from 1907 by Georges Braque sold for $2,755,750, also below its low estimate, and a small 1923 cast of The Thinker (1886) by Auguste Rodin went for $2,425,750, rather above its high estimate of $1,800,000. A challenging Fauve nude by Kees van Dongen, Nu sur Fond Noir (1905), was knocked down for $1,545,750.

One interesting lot that went unsold was a fascinating black-and-white study for Nude Descending a Staircase No. 3 by Marcel Duchamp, from the collection of jailed art dealer Andrew Crispo. Though carrying a presale estimate of $400,000-$600,000 and a date of 1915, after auctioneer Tobias Meyer announced from the podium that Duchamp scholar Francis Naumann (who recently inaugurated his new gallery on East 80th Street with a Man Ray show) had dated the painted and drawn-on photograph to ca. 1936, the work was passed.

Another major work, a 1919 portrait of an unidentified young man with "capelli rossi" by Amedeo Modigliani, was withdrawn from the auction with no explanation.

The house put the best face it could on a sale that clearly shows the softness of the art market a year into a general economic recession. "We're very pleased," said Sotheby's specialist David C. Norman. "It was a good clean sale." "We sold all the big lots," said Meyer. "The market felt healthy, if selective." "People are looking carefully, they are targeting their purchases, it's a very focused market, people are going after what they love," added Sotheby's specialist Charles Moffett.

Needless to say, nobody wants the art economy to falter, not even the oft-suspicious art press. Still, jewel-like auction lots such as Paul Cezanne's Etude de pomme (ca. 1885), which measures 5 x 7 in., and Edgar Degas' Portrait of Giulia Bellelli (1858-59), which is about 9 x 8 in., can't help but give the impression that the market is running on bits and scraps. The works both sold at Sotheby's, incidentally, for $445,750 and $665,750.

Ned Rifkin has been appointed director of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., succeeding James Demetrion, who retired two months ago after 17 years in the post. Rifkin, 52, is one of the museum world's stars. He is currently director of the Menil Collection in Houston, and headed the High Museum of Art in Atlanta from 1991 to '99. Prior to that he was chief curator at the Hirshhorn (1986-91), curator of contemporary art at the Corcoran Gallery (1984-86) and curator at the New Museum (1980-84).

At Atlanta Rifkin oversaw "Five Rings: Passions in World Art," organized to coincide with the 1996 Olympics, and the Norman Rockwell retrospective currently at the Guggenheim Museum; at the Hirshhorn he organized the traveling retrospective of works by Robert Moskowitz, and at the Menil he put together the 90th-birthday exhibition of paintings by Agnes Martin. Rifkin told a Houston paper that he decided to make the move to Texas after a 50th-birthday skydiving adventure. "It's all about letting go," he said.

Maine artist Kara Walker has been selected as the U.S. representative at the 2002 São Paulo Bienal, Mar. 23-June 2, 2002. The exhibition is being curated by Virginia Commonwealth U. art historian Robbert Hobbs in conjunction with International Arts & Artists in Washington, D.C.

Art-world insiders were at Gagosian Gallery on Madison Avenue last week for the public unveiling of the design for a new, first-class postage stamp featuring a work by Pop artist Andy Warhol. Part of the Postal Service's fine arts series, the stamp features a 1964 self-portrait from a photo-booth photo now in the collection of the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. The stamp's selvage -- its non-stamp edge, of interest to collectors -- carries the Warhol quotation, "If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There is nothing behind it." The selection of Warhol portraits on view at the gallery during the event were on loan from leading Warhol collector Peter Brant. The stamp should be available at your local post office soon.

The exhibition all England loves to hate, the official show of the four candidates for this year's Turner Prize -- Richard Billingham, Martin Creed, Isaac Julien and Mike Nelson -- opens at Tate Britain, Nov. 7, 2001-Jan. 20, 2002. Perhaps the most attention in the popular press has been drawn by Creed's comic, conceptualist The Lights Going On and Off, an empty room in which the lights automatically turn on and off every five seconds, though observers have hastened to remark that Nelson's labyrinth of rooms, called The Cosmic Legend of the Uroboros Serpent, could be mistaken for the museum's own storage area.

Critic Adrian Searle complained in the Guardian that he had seen it all before -- Billingham's videos and photos were in the artist's show at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham in 2000, Julien's films have been touring for a year, and the Creed work -- it's the only one by him in the show -- was actually first presented at a London gallery in 1995. The £20,000 prize is to be presented live on British TV by Madonna on Dec. 9.

After being forced to cancel four book or antique fairs scheduled for Manhattan armories after the post-Sept. 11 military mobilization, Sanford L. Smith & Associates have found a new home for their Modernism: A Century of Art & Design fair. The 15-year-old show goes on this weekend in a lovely cast iron building at 32 West 23rd Street, Nov. 8-11, 2001, with 72 dealers from around the globe exhibiting art and artifacts dating from 1885 to 1985, from Weiner Werkstatte and Art Nouveau to styles of the '50s, '60s and '70s.

In conjunction with the fair, the Brooklyn Museum of Art/ Modernism lifetime achievement award is presented to Knoll, Inc., and the young designer award goes to Ayse Birsel. For a list of exhibitors, click here. General admission to the fair is $15.

Eighties art star Kenny Scharf, well known for wacky cartoon artworks inspired by Hanna Barbara, is showcasing a new body of work at Tony Shafrazi Gallery in SoHo, Nov. 10-Dec. 1, 2001 -- life-size portraits of beloved cultural personalities like Vincent Gallo, Stephanie Seymour, Ed Ruscha, Dennis Hopper and Rupaul. The paintings come with custom-made frames by the L.A. artist, who is also unveiling a 25-foot-long family portrait in the show.

London's own Asia week, dubbed "Asian Art in London" and now in its fourth consecutive year, is on view Nov. 8-16, 2001. Auctions are on tap in six locations and over 50 Asian art dealers are coordinating their exhibitions, as are museums ranging from the Victoria & Albert to the Percival David Collection of Chinese Art. Also scheduled is a gala dinner at Kensington Palace to raise funds to recreate the Oriental art collection belonging to Queen Mary II, the foremost 17th-century collector of Asian art; eventually her State Apartments are to be refurbished to hold the collection she assembled during her "China-Mania."

As part of the festivities, AXA Nordstern Art Insurance Ltd presented new AXA Art Awards to Berwald Oriental Art for a rare Chinese lacquer gin decorated with animal imagery (selected as a "most essentially Eastern representation") and Goedhuis Contemporary for an ink-on-paper work by the celebrated Chinese woman calligrapher Tong Yang-tze (b. 1942) (selected as the "most dynamic contemporary interpretation").

Jane Hart and Robert Grahmbeek have inaugurated their new gallery in Los Angeles, Lemon Sky Projects + Editions, at 5367 Wilshire Boulevard, with an exhibition of photographs by Jessica Bronson, Nov. 3-Dec. 22, 2001. In addition to Bronson, the gallery expects to be working with Steven Criqui, Kim Schoenstadt, Alyson Shotz, ChanSchatz and Michael O'Brien, and has published editions with Bruce Yonemoto. For more info, contact