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Whitney Museum curator Lisa Phillips has been appointed director of the New Museum in SoHo. Phillips held the Whitney power post for an incredible 23 years, despite the lack of a higher degree, exercising a notable control over the museum's trademark Biennial exhibitions as well as organizing monographic shows of work by Richard Prince (1992), Terry Winters (1992) and Cindy Sherman (1987). The Whitney now finds itself in the curious position of having a massive 1,400-work show, "The American Century," on its schedule but none of the four curators who conceived the exhibition -- Phillips along with Thelma Golden, Elisabeth Sussman and Constance Wolf -- still on the staff. (Actually, Phillips doesn't officially take her new job till next spring.) At the New Museum, she succeeds founding director Marcia Tucker, who is organizing an exhibition about aging for the museum titled "The Time of our Lives," opening July 15, 1999. Tucker is also reported to be considering a second career as a stand-up comic, and has been spotted honing her act on open-mike night at various downtown bôites. The transition at the New Museum is expected to be relatively smooth -- Phillips and curator Dan Cameron, who has organized several important shows of cutting-edge art at the New Museum in the last year, are said to be drinking buddies.

The Dallas Museum of Art has named John R. "Jack" Lane as its new director, succeeding Jay Gates, who became director of the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., six months ago. Lane, 54, headed the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1987-97) and was director of the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh before that. He's a member of the "Williams College mafia," the group of leading museum directors who are alumni of Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., which includes Guggenheim director Thomas Krens, National Gallery of Art head Earl Powell and Art Institute of Chicago chief James N. Woods.

The first major museum show of mail artist Ray Johnson (1927-95) opens at the Whitney Museum, Jan. 14-Mar. 21, 1999. "Ray Johnson: Correspondences" features over 130 works dating from 1949. The exhibition is organized by Wexner Center curator Donna De Salvo and appears at the Wexner, Jan. 28-Apr. 14, 2000. A 224-page mongraph with texts by De Salvo, Mason Klein, Lucy Lippard, Jonathan Weinberg and others accompanies the show. It is mounted in conjunction with the Ray Johnson estate, which is represented by Richard L. Feigen & Co.

Corporate support of the arts reached an all-time high of $1.16 billion last year, according to a report by the Business Committee for the Arts in New York. Nearly one-fourth of business donations to charity in 1997 went to the arts. About 11 percent of the total was earmarked for museums. The median annual contribution of corporations grew from $2,000 in 1994 to $3,000 in 1997. The BCA study is based on a survey of 938 companies, half of which with annual revenues of at least $1 million and half with revenues over $50 million.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, received more foundation money than any other art group in 1996, according to a recent report by the New York-based Foundation Center. The Houston MFA took home 26 grants worth nearly $13.4 million, including $10 million from the Brown Foundation for a new building designed by Spanish architect Rafael Moneo. Overall, the Foundation Center survey found that foundations gave $1.7 billion to art organizations in 1996, a $330-million jump from 1992. Art museums received almost $126 million of the total and another $27 million was earmarked for "the visual arts." The most generous foundations in terms of arts grants were the Pew Charitable Trusts ($26,530,000), the Houston Endowment ($23,712,000), the Lily Endowment ($23,635,028), the Knight Foundation ($23,541,271), the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation ($20,200,000), the Annenberg Foundation ($19,956,392), the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund ($19,658,826), the Ford Foundation ($19,409,300) and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation ($19,315,000).

Stuck in New York on Wednesday, Dec. 23? Go to the Museum of Modern Art for free. "The people of New York have been extraordinarily supportive of the Museum of Modern Art in 1998, and, during this holiday season, we want to give something back," remarked MoMA director Glenn D. Lowry. The museum is ordinarily closed on Wednesdays; for the holiday season, it remains open on the free day as well as on Dec. 30.

Poet and Jackson Pollock expert Francis V. O'Connor has established his own website, dubbed O'Connor's Page and billed as "a new voice for serious art criticism and art commentary on the Internet." Current features include an extensive discussion of the Pollock retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art and a list of the 100 most significant 20th-century American paintings as well as reviews of major museum shows.

Barnes & Noble chairman Leonard Riggio has been appointed chairman of the board of trustees at the Dia Center for the Arts. Riggio gave Dia the massive Richard Serra sculptures Torqued Ellipses that were on view there last fall. Riggio succeeds Charles Wright, who has been chair for the last three years.

The U.S. Postal Service has issued its annual holiday stamp bearing the image of a work from the collection of the National Gallery of Art. The stamp features a 15th-century Florentine terra-cotta relief of the Madonna and Child, which is on view in the NGA's West Building.

Ready for another television channel dedicated to museums? Watch out for Museum World, a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week channel promised for mid- or late 1999. To be delivered via satellite, the Museum World will be "hosted throughout the day by charismatic video curators" and feature news and talk shows, documentaries, children's shows and live events. Art world legend Henry Hopkins, former director of the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, has signed on as co-chairman of the enterprise, which is the brainchild of UCLA visual communication design professor Mits Kataoka and Olivier de Courson, former vice president of the Disney Channel.

The Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts in New York, founded in 1963 by John Cage and Jasper Johns, has announced 13 awards of $25,000 for 1998. Winners are Maryanne Amacher (Kingston, N.Y.), Ann Carlson (NYC), Chamecki/Lerner (NYC), Arnold Dreyblatt (Berlin and NYC), David Dupus (NYC), Peter Gizzi (Santa Cruz, Ca.), David Henderson (NYC), Krzysztof Knittel (Warsaw), Jennifer Monson (Brooklyn), Roger Newton (NYC), Maureen Owen (Guilford, Conn.), Riverbed Media (NYC) and Sinan Savaskan (London). Winner of the $50,000 John Cage Award for Music is composer Earle Brown of Rye, N.Y.

A five-page letter written by the 16-year-old Norma Jean Baker, who later became Marilyn Monroe, sold for $43,125 (est. $20,000-$30,000) at Sotheby's New York on Dec. 15, 1998. Dated Feb. 16, 1943, the letter is addressed to Norma Jean's legal guardian and friend, Grace McKeen Goddard, and talks of the teen's excitement at the chance of meeting her father for the first time. Other top lots at the auction included a set of eight telegrams describing the Titanic disaster from the nearby Carpathia, which sold for $68,500, and the original typescript of How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss, which sold for $17,250. The seven-page manuscript, decorated with drawings of the Grinch, went to New York book dealer James Cummins.

"Tensegrity" sculptor Kenneth Snelson has joined Marlborough Gallery and will have his first exhibition at Marlborough Chelsea, Jan. 21-Feb. 28, 1999.