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New York art dealer Jeffrey Loria is buying a controlling interest in the Montreal Expos baseball team with three other investors. Loria, whose offer was approved last month by Expos chairman Jacques Menard and his partners, is expected to purchase approximately 35 percent of the franchise in a deal worth about $75 million. A member of the Art Dealers Association of America, Loria, 58, handles works by Henry Moore, Picasso and other modernists from his by-appointment gallery at 19 East 72nd Street. A long-time sports fan, Loria tried to buy the Baltimore Orioles in 1991, and owned the Oklahoma City 89ers, a minor league club, from 1989 to 1993.

Once the deal is completed Loria will become the team's new president and managing partner, quelling fears that the franchise would be sold and moved to the United States. The Expos appeared vulnerable after attendance at Olympic Stadium in Montreal dropped to the lowest in the majors.

Loria will lead an ownership consortium that includes, among others, separatist labour leader Raymond Bachand, eccentric pharmaceutical millionaire Jean Coutu, Guess Jeans entrepreneur Mark Routtenberg, and Loria's son David Samson, who reportedly has led a stadium redesign project for Labatt Park that could improve revenues.

The august Museum of Modern Art is managing to cash in on the current art-market boom. MoMA sold Polo Crowd (1910) by American modernist George Bellows for an astounding $27.5 million at Sotheby's New York sale of American art on Dec. 1, 1999. The price is a record for any American painting at auction. MoMA received the work as part of the Betsey Cushing Roosevelt Whitney bequest.

Art world insiders are marveling at the deaccession. The Bellows is "a great treasure of American art," said one expert. "MoMA curators must have begged her for it. Otherwise she could have given it to the National Gallery of Art, where Polo Crowd would be a perfect match for the NGA's Tennis Match, donated to the museum by founder Paul Mellon." The source went on to say that "the price must be terribly embarrassing. Setting a world record with a deaccession is like putting your child up for adoption and having him elected president."

Despite claims in the press that the Bellows "doesn't fit" in MoMA's collection, it is in fact pivotal to the museum's view of art history. The very first work the museum bought -- Edward Hopper's House by the Railroad Tracks -- is directly dependent on Bellows' Polo Crowd. MoMA's $27.5 million windfall may have a downside, however. After this sale, what collector would ever give the museum another early-20th-century American masterpiece?

The Metropolitan Museum has installed its traditional Christmas tree and Neapolitan baroque crèche in its medieval sculpture hall for the holiday season, Nov. 27, 1999-Jan. 9, 2000. The brightly lit 20-foot blue spruce is decorated with 18th-century Neapolitan angels and cherubs. Recorded Christmas music plays in the background.

Several 14th Street galleries in the New York meatpacking district have been forced to close due to a fire that raged through the two-story wooden building at 429 West 14th Street on Nov. 24. AU Base, which represents artists from Australia, is extensively damaged. Rare, Patrick Callery and Clinica Aesthetica suffered smoke and water damage with minimal art losses. Clinica Aesthetica plans to open its next show as scheduled; Callery and Rare expect to remain closed for at least a month. Long Fine Art and Cynthia Broan were not seriously affected.

The toll was much heavier at several studios, where a number of artists lost years of work. Among the artists affected are Pat Steir, painter Margaret Lewczuk, painter Ann Craven and sculptor Joshua Smith.

Did the Vatican callously send a trove of ancient archeological artifacts to a dump outside Rome in order to speed the construction of a garage to hold buses that will bring visitors to St. Peter's Square for the 2000 Holy Year celebrations? Approximately 100 fragments of ancient statues, frescoes, mosaics and other archaeological relics were found in the dump and traced back to the garage site, where last August laborers had uncovered frescoed rooms of a villa believed to date back to the 1st century. Rome mayor Francesco Rutelli, who supports the Vatican project, said the relics were worthless, "less than what the average Roman would find in his basement." A coalition of Italian art lovers is demanding that the project be stopped.

Want more proof that the art market is on fire? Here's some: Sotheby's New York set a new record for American Indian art on Nov. 30 when an important Tsimshian wood face mask reached a high of $684,500. The next day, on Dec. 1, Christie's New York auction of sporting art totaled $11.9 million, a record for the category. And also on Dec. 1, Sotheby's in New York set a record for Winslow Homer when the artist's watercolor, The Red Canoe (1889), sold for $4,842,500, while Sotheby's in London set a new record for a 20th-century British painting, selling Going to the Match (1953) by Laurence Stephen Lowry to the Professional Footballer's Association for £1,926,500.

Thanks to a $2-million donation from IBM, the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg has launched an extensive new website featuring images of works in its collection. You can check it out at

A sign of things to come? Curator Rudy Speerschneider has organized "ART2-D2," a show of art made by robots, at the SoHo performance and exhibition space Here (145 Sixth Ave.), Dec. 4, 1999-Jan. 8, 2000. Featured works include Mark Pauline and Survival Research Lab's new Pitching Machine, which launches six-foot two-by-fours at 120 M.P.H.; paintings by the Robot Group's dexterous CtC; and Tom Lohre's Roberto Artisto I and II. Also slated, works by a human -- Jason Ditmar's "highly sensitized sculptures" in the gallery's bathroom, which include some Internet accessible things called Teledildonic I and II.

Dr. George Campbell, Jr., president and chief executive officer of NACME, Inc., a not-for-profit corporation that assists economically disadvantaged students in engineering and other sciences, has been appointed president of the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, effective July 2000. He succeeds John Jay Iselin, who will continue as an advisor to Cooper Union.

Helen Molesworth has been appointed curator of contemporary art at the Baltimore Museum of Art. Molesworth has been director and curator of the Amelie A. Wallace Gallery at SUNY, Old Westbury and teaches at SUNY, Bard College and Cooper Union. She was the founding editor of Documents, a magazine of contemporary visual culture.

The Kitchen has appointed Christina Yang to the newly created position of media director. Her responsibilities include oversight of the organization's video archives. She had previously been on the curatorial staff at the Queens Museum of Art and the Guggenheim Museum.