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Visitors to the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art in Las Vegas are now being treated to some Old Masters, courtesy of casino mogul Steve Wynn. On view are Portrait of a Man in a Red Doublet (1633) by Rembrandt van Rijn and The Head of John the Baptist Presented to Salome (ca. 1609) by Peter Paul Rubens. Both works were last sold publicly at Sotheby's Old Master auction in New York on Jan. 30, 1998 -- though not to Wynn. Backstage observers say that Otto Naumann snagged the paintings, and he is widely known to advise Milwaukee collector Alfred Bader. But the pictures ended up at the Bellagio Gallery, where attendance is about 1,800 people a day. "Moving deeply religious church art to a casino, some might think that rather odd," grumped one art historian. "It's not that religious," protested Bellagio curator Libby Lumpkin. "It's more about man's folly." At auction the Rembrandt went for over $9 million and the Rubens for $5.5 million.

Several notable developments resulted from the recent Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets at the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C., Nov. 30-Dec. 3, 1998. The delegates from 44 nations and 13 organizations seemed to agree that governments need to take special efforts to return Nazi-seized art to its original owners or their heirs -- in the past, many governments have obstructed such claims. Perhaps more surprising was the increasing interest in the proposal that if the rightful owners of Holocaust art loot still held in public collections can't be found, then the art should be auctioned off and the funds given to Holocaust survivor organizations. Germany, for one, pledged to take this course. Other developments:
* The conference urged new democracies in eastern Europe -- Poland in particular -- to return Jewish property.
* Russia agreed to cooperate and actually produced documents, including a 40-page list of art, coins and other items taken from Austrian Jews.
* Russia continues to insist on keeping "trophy art," considered reparation for Nazi destruction of Russian cultural property, as opposed to "victim art," which will be returned.
* The Vatican continues to refuse to open its files to researchers.
* Museum of Modern Art board chairman Ronald Lauder, who heads the World Jewish Congress art recovery commission, said that "110,000 pieces of art worth $10 billion to $30 billion are still missing," and that "every institution, art museum and private collection has some of these missing works."

The Pompidou Center in Paris has been sued for receiving stolen goods after refusing to return Georges Braque's Cubist painting, Man with a Guitar (1914), to the heirs of its pre-war owner, Alphonse Kann, who fled to London in 1940 to escape the Nazis. The museum says it bought the painting 17 years ago for over $2 million from Swiss dealer Heinz Berggruen, who had obtained it legally on the open market. The Kann heirs claimed the work only recently, and the museum maintains that French civil law gives good title after three years if the stolen property was bought in good faith.

The American chapter of the International Association of Art Critics gave its annual best-show awards at an art-star-studded event at the Whitney Museum on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 1998. Whitney director Maxwell Anderson hosted the event and presented the awards. Among the winners:

L.A. MoCA curator Paul Shimmel accepted the award for best exhibition organized by a museum outside New York, which went to "Out of Actions: Between Performance and the Object: 1949-1979" at the Geffen Contemporary.

C&M Arts director Robert Pincus-Witten accepted the prize for the best exhibition in a commercial gallery, awarded to his "Picasso's Dora Maar / DeKooning's Women." Virginia Zabriskie accepted second place for her "The Hansa Gallery (1952-1959) Revisited."

Dia Art Center director Michael Govan accepted the award for best show at an alternative space (an alternative space?) for "Richard Serra: Torqued Elipses," organized by Lynne Cooke. Second place went to "Shadows of a Hand: The Drawings of Victor Hugo" at the Drawing Center; it was accepted by Drawing Center curator Elizabeth Finch.

Jeffrey Deitch was on hand to receive the award for best show by an emerging artist, which honored Cornelia Parker's installation "Mass (Colder Darker Matter)" at Deitch Projects. Second place was taken by Tolland Grinnell at Stefano Basilico -- artist and dealer jointly accepted the award.

Honors were also won by "David Smith: Photographs 1931-1965" at Matthew Marks Gallery, "Self-Portrait Polaroids" by John Coplans at Andrea Rosen Gallery, "Weegee's World: Life, Death and the Human Drama" at the International Center for Photography, Midtown, "The Private Collection of Edgar Degas" and "Paul Strand: Circa 1916" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and "Aleksandr Rodchenko" at the Museum of Modern Art.

The sales total for the Dora Maar estate is a record 223.6 million francs ($39.9 million). The series of six auctions was held by the Piasa auction group in Paris between Oct. 31 and Dec. 9, 1998.

The United States Information Agency has launced a new web page dealing with issues surrounding what the bureaucrats call "international cultural property." The site provides a range of info on the international trade in stolen art, from U.S. import restrictions and international treaties to recent news stories.

Smart Art Press in Santa Monica has launched a new series of artists' books called Pinspot with publications by Marcel Dzama, Jody Zellen, Cameron Jamie and Rob Cragie. Forthcoming are books by Michael McMillen, Gary Panter and Laurie Steelink. The 32-page minitomes are 6 x 9 in. and cost $9 each. Contact Smart Art Press, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Building C1, Santa Monica, Ca. 90404.

Miguel Angel Corzo, director of the Getty Conservation Institute for the last eight years, has resigned. Among the projects instituted during his watch were the conservation of the tomb of Nefertari in Egypt, the Buddhist Grottoes in Mogao, China, the bas reliefs of the Royal Palaces in Abomey, West Africa and the rock art of Baja California.

Christie's New York has appointed Juan Varez to head its Latin American art department in New York. Varez had worked as an Old Master specialist at Christie's in London and Madrid. He succeeds Fernando Gutierrez.

Following the example of the New York Times, ArtNet happily notes the marriage of actor Noah Emmerich, co-star of The Truman Show, to fellow actor Melissa Fitzerald. The groom is son of art dealer Andre Emmerich.

CESAR, 1921-1998
Cesar Baldaccini, 77, Nouveau Realist sculptor known for sculptures made of crushed cars and, alternately, giant models of his own thumb, died of cancer at his home in Paris on Dec. 6, 1998.