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French tycoon Bernard Arnault has taken a bold new step in the auction house wars -- his luxury group LVMH has acquired Geneva-based art dealing and advisory firm de Pury & Luxembourg for an undisclosed sum to merge with Phillips Auctioneers, according to a company statement. Simon de Pury has been named chairman and Daniella Luxembourg president of the group, which is being renamed Phillips, de Pury & Luxembourg effective Jan. 2001. New appointments to key positions both on the management and the specialist side are scheduled to be announced in the next few months. The Swiss company will continue its activities in Geneva and Zurich, operating as a wholly owned subsidiary of Phillips. De Pury, once Sotheby's chief auctioneer, had recently taken up the hammer for Phillips at its autumn sales.

A long-inaccessible cache of over 300,000 pages of claims by Holocaust survivors and museums whose collections were pillaged during the Nazi occupation of Europe risks remaining that way due to lack of funding and bureaucratic mishaps, according to the Chicago Tribune. An investigation by reporter Ron Grossman exposes the United States' inability to sort out and make public the World War II records -- along with documents revealing how much looted art found its way into American museums and the government's failure to halt the illicit trade -- for over 50 years. Plans by the Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets in the U.S. to organize the papers into a searchable archive would require additional federal funding after its congressional mandate expires at the end of the year, when it is expected to file its report. Commission officials hope that a private organization can be persuaded to sponsor the project if Congress fails to provide backing.

Christie's New York has agreed to postpone the sale of Brancusi's Mademoiselle Pogany (1913) at the request of Romania's government until its export status is resolved, according to published reports. Romanian officials declare that the sculpture may be considered part of the national patrimony and cannot be exported without the state's written approval, which the owners failed to secure. The bronze, scheduled to be auctioned for an estimated $11 million in a sealed-bid auction this week, had been consigned by brothers Alexandru and Alvaro Botez, who deny any wrongdoing.

Approximately 15 works by Salvador Dalí have been damaged in a fire that swept through the French home of model-turned-singer Amanda Lear, reports the London Telegraph. The blaze destroyed two-thirds of the large farmhouse outside the southern village of Saint-Ettiene-du-Gres, killing the disco diva's husband Alain-Phillippe Malagnac d'Argens and family friend Didier Dieufis. Several of Lear's own canvasses which were about to go on display at a German gallery were also damaged. Lear, the Spanish Surrealist's model and close companion for 15 years in the late 60s and 70s, was in Italy at the time of the mishap. The fire is suspected to have been caused by an electrical fault or a chimney fire.

Spanish police have seized forgeries worth an estimated $6.7 million and arrested seven people in Barcelona and Bilbao involved in selling the works, reports the Agence France-Presse. The operation, started in 1998, yielded what authorities describe as well-forged copies of works by Chagall, Dalí, Lichtenstein, Miró, Picasso and Warhol, but failed to snare any forgers, who are allegedly based outside Spain. The artworks were smuggled into France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Scandinavian countries, Switzerland and the United States, sometimes with documents guaranteeing their authenticity. Police have yet to determine whether more galleries were involved in the matter.

The Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Conn. is the only venue for "Gaugin's Nirvana: Painters at Le Pouldu," Jan. 26-Apr. 29, 2001. Named after Nirvana (ca. 1889-1890), Paul Gauguin's portrait of his disciple and patron Meyer de Haan, the exhibition features more than 40 works by the two artists and Charles Filiger and Paul Sérusier, who followed the post-Impressionist to the rustic Brittany fishing village of Le Pouldu in search of an unspoiled location to pursue art.

Money for artists! The deadline for the Public Art Fund's "In the Public Realm" is Feb. 2, 2001. As many as seven artists will be given a fee of $1,000 each to develop formal proposals, from which three projects will be selected for realization and exhibited for up to one year. Winners receive $7,500 towards fabrication and installation of their works and an artist fee of $2,500. Visit or call (212) 980-3942 for more details.

Christopher Mason has signed a six-figure deal with G.P. Putnam to write a book about the Sotheby's and Christie's price-fixing scandal, according to the New York Post's Page Six. Mason has covered the still-developing story for the New York Times and New York Magazine... And speaking of Sotheby's, the company has announced a new 54,000 square-foot salesroom at the Olympia center in West London to specialize in lower-priced merchandise... After 20 years in SoHo, the Charles Cowles Gallery is making the inevitable trek to Chelsea into its new digs at 537 West 24th Street. The space, designed by Richard Gluckman, opens with a Vernon Fisher exhibition Jan. 6-Feb. 24, 2001.

LORIS LEDIS, 1960-2000
Loris Ledis, 40, co-founder in 1986 with husband Robert Flam of LedisFlam, the first commercial gallery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, died at home of a heart attack on December 16. She helped organize "Art From Brazil in New York," a collaborative exhibition by 10 galleries that introduced many Brazilian artists to a new audience.

-- compiled by Giovanni Garcia-Fenech
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