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More fallout from the price-fixing scandal has hit Sotheby's and Christie's, spawned by a U.S. Justice Department anti-trust probe that has led to resignations of top management at both houses. According to industry sources and published reports:
  • French luxury-goods tycoon François Pinault, who paid $1 billion for Christie's last year, plotted to "destroy" Sotheby's by "delivering them to the Feds on a silver platter" in return for immunity in the price-fixing probe, according to New York Post writer Jesse Angelo. Pinault risks big payouts of his own in the resulting civil lawsuits, but may hope that Sotheby's will suffer huge government penalties in addition.

  • Both New York houses face weak prospects for their big May sales of Impressionist and modern art, as consignors adopt a wait-and-see attitude. Collectors and dealers also now have the upper hand in negotiating lower fees from the auctioneers.

  • Phillips, run by Pinault arch-rival Bernard Arnault, lost no time in taking advantage of the situation, running an ad in the New York Times on Monday, Feb. 21, positioning itself as an alternative to the beleaguered big boys.

  • Sotheby's new board chairman Michael Sovern was brought in by leveraged-buyout king Henry Kravis and international publisher Conrad Black, both Sotheby's board members.

  • U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan said he would consolidate 40 antitrust suits alleging commission price-fixing by Sotheby's and Christie's, and set a tentative trial date of February 2001.

  • Sotheby's owner, shopping center magnate Alfred Taubman, 75, may want to cash out his $500 million stake. Taubman and Arnault discussed a deal in December 1999, sending Sotheby's stock up 15 percent to $31 on a single day as insiders traded on the secret talks, according to the New York Post.

  • Other possible buyers for Sotheby's are -- which denies any interest -- and Kravis' equity group KKR.
Has the New York Times developed a new animus against art museums? A recent story by Judith Dobrynski -- overshadowed by the auction hullabaloo -- revealed that leading art museums have charged a sales commission when works sold from their exhibitions. Among the guilty: the Brooklyn Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, the New Museum, the Seattle Art Museum, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the Walker Art Center and the Whitney Museum. All except the Walker claim to have given up the practice, which apparently was fairly common until at least the 1970s. A typical commission amount was 10 percent; no word on how much money actually changed hands, though reportedly it wasn't much.

What's the problem with museums charging commissions? "Requiring such a commission could create a conflict of interest, perhaps tempting curators to show work because it would sell rather than because of its artistic merits alone," wrote Dobrynski. Curiously, neither the Association of Art Museum Directors nor the Association of American Museums address the subject in their ethics codes. Historical footnote: Dobrynski's survey was kicked off by former Whitney curator Thelma Golden, who blew the whistle on her old employer in a casual remark at a Chicago symposium.

The College Art Association announced its annual awards at its meeting in New York on Feb. 23. The Frank Jewett Mather Award for Art Criticism was split by Moira Roth, author of books on Marcel Duchamp and performance art by women, and Catherine Lord, whose books include Pervert: The Art Gallery and The Theater of Refusal: Black Art and Mainstream Criticism, which she edited. Printmaker Robert Blackburn won the Distinguished Artist Award for Lifetime Achievement, and the CAA Award for Distinguished Body of Work, Exhibition, Presentation or Performance went to Chicago Imagist Ray Yoshida, the subject of a retrospective at the Contemporary Museum of Honolulu. The Alfred J. Barr, Jr., Award for Museum Scholarship went to Pepe Karmel and Kirk Varnedoe for the exhibition catalogue Jackson Pollock. The Charles Rufus Morey Award for a Distinguished Book in the History of Art went to Jeffrey F. Hamburger for The Visual and the Visionary: Art and Female Spirituality in Late Medieval Germany (Zone Books). The Arthur Kingsley Porter Prize for a Distinguished Article in the Art Bulletin by a Beginning Scholar in Art History went to Michael Cole for Cellini's Blood. The Distinguished Teaching of Art Award went to Tyler School of Art professor Winifred Lutz and the Distinguished Teaching of Art History Award went to Precolumbian and Colonial art scholar Cecelia F. Klein.

Believe it or not, forces in the U.S. art world are still scheming to find a way to allow artists to donate their own work to museums and receive a tax deduction for its fair-market value. At present, artists are given no deduction for gifts of their own art -- rather, they can write off the cost of materials when the art is made. Congressmen Amo Houghton (R-NY) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) have introduced a bill known as the "Artists' Contribution to American Heritage Act of 1999," which permits artists, writers and composers to take a fair-market deduction for self-generated works donated to museums, libraries or other nonprofit institutions. Whitney Museum director Max Anderson is among the art-world big foots urging the public to write the representatives and ask that they co-sponsor the bill.

The Tate Gallery in London says that as many as 100 works in its collection have questionable provenance and may be Nazi loot. Among the works at the Tate with dubious histories are Claude Monet's highly acclaimed Seine at Porte-Villez (1894), bought from Wildenstein in 1953; Edgar Degas' Woman in a Tub (ca. 1883), given to the Tate in 1983; and a seated nude by Pablo Picasso from (1909-1910), purchased in 1949 from Galerie Pierre in Paris. Hundreds of drawings and prints in the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum also suffer the same uncertainties.

NOTO LIVE FROM NEW YORK,, and the Guggenheim Museum are cybercasting Prototype 1, a live sound performance by Berlin artist Carsten Nicolai (a.k.a. noto) at the Guggenheim Museum on Feb. 25, 2000, at 8 p.m. on Expect new sounds, as Nicolai is known for using tone and sinewave generators and even sound drawn from contact miking of a magnetic tape head. The event will be available for the three weeks following the original performance.

Art in General presents Making Waves: Art, Cultural Context & the New Millennium, a two-day symposium examining the current state of new activism in the arts, Mar. 3-4, 2000, at the New School for Social Research. The first day's panel, "Tower of Babel: the Future of Culture and Identity in the Arts," begins at 7 p.m. and features moderator Thulani Davis and panelists such as C. Daniel Dawson, Luis Francia, Maria Elena Gonzales, Howardena Pindell and Steed Taylor. A screening of Sadie Benning's Flat is Beautiful follows at 9 p.m. The second panel, "Sambos, Jezebels, Fairies & In-Betweens: Film, Video, New Media & Cultural Context(s)," begins at 10:30 a.m. Leslie Camhi moderates the panelists James de la Vega, Miranda July, Pepón Osorio, Sabrina Margarita Alcantara-Tan and Jocelyn Taylor, followed by a performance by Caridad de la Luz, "La Bruja" at 1 p.m. All events will be broadcast live over the Internet at The New School is located at 66 West 12th Street. Call (212) 219-0473 for more information.

Heads-up, space-hungry artists, the deadline for the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council's World Views summer studio residency program at the World Trade Center is Mar. 20. The five-month residency, available to artists living within "reasonable" distance from the studios, begins the second week of May and includes a small stipend from the Jerome Foundation. Check out the council's website for all the details.

-- compiled by Giovanni Garcia-Fenech