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Freelance European curator and critic Robert Fleck, who recently left his native Austria to become director of the Ecole Regionale des Beaux-Arts in Nantes, has called for an art boycott of Austrian museums and galleries as a response to the inclusion of Jörg Haider's far-right Freedom Party in Austria's new coalition government. Though Haider has recently issued a statement embracing "European" values, he first gained notoriety a decade ago by praising Nazi-era policies.

"I see but one possible response to this establishment of a fascist power in the very heart of central Europe," Fleck writes. "Refuse to exhibit in Austria." Fleck has cancelled his own participation as curator in a huge museum show of emerging Austrian art scheduled to open at the Vienna Kunsthalle in October 2000. Fleck has also vowed to undergo self-imposed exile from his native country while Haider's party is in power, and even to try to obtain another nationality. "I can no longer consider myself to be Austrian," he says.

A proposed installation by conceptual artist Hans Haacke for the Reichstag, home of the Bundestag, Germany's parliament, has elicited vigorous opposition, reports Germany's Die Welt. Critics have denounced Haacke's project as inappropriate despite approval by the Bundestag's art advisory board.

Haacke's proposal is a simple wooden trough filled with soil from every parliamentary constituency in Germany, a potential garden that Haacke hopes will sprout into an unpredictable bed of native central European flora. A neon sign reading "Der Bevölkerung" ("To the Population") hangs above it. The message challenges the inscription over the entrance to the Reichstag that reads "Dem Deutschen Volke" ("To the German People"). Haacke says that the decisions made by the Bundestag should not center on "some kind of mythical Volk" but on the entire population of Germany, a large portion of which the artist says does not carry a German passport.

Bundestag Vice President Antje Vollmer has called the project "organic kitsch," saying it reminds her of the same nationalistic ideology the work claims to refute. Freiburg law professor Dietrich Murswiek in a legal opinion delivered to Bundestag President Wolfgang Thierse says that the work is unconstitutional in its use of the term "population," as the constitution states that "the German people are the bearers of state power and the subject of politics," without referring to the population as a whole. No date has been set for the Bundestag's vote on the proposed installation.

Looks like Christie's is going after high-end customers, leaving the Internet market to Sotheby's and its two dot-com franchises, and Christie's has announced that it will give big buyers cheaper rates when they sell art. Previously, consignors paid the auction house anywhere between two and 20 percent of the sale price -- depending on the value of the consignment. Now, Christie's says it will lower or even drop those charges (a practice that especially good or coveted customers already receive, according to auction insiders).

On the other hand, buyers at Christie's auctions will be paying higher commissions, effective Mar. 31. The new rates are 17.5 percent on the first $80,000 and ten percent on the remainder. Christie's and Sotheby's currently charge 15 percent on the first $50,000 and ten percent on the remainder. The change is seen by many as a response to the ongoing investigation into possible price-fixing in the art auction business. No word yet from Sotheby's on whether it will match Christie's new fees.

Santa Fe dealer Gerald Peters can't catch a break. On the heels of the announcement that the celebrated Western art dealer is refunding $5 million to R. Crosby Kemper for a set of bogus Georgia O'Keeffe watercolors comes the announcement that Peters and Chicago dealer Rudy Wunderlich are refunding over $1 million to David Rockefeller for a painting that the dealers sold him as the work of famed American landscape painter Albert Bierstadt. The picture may actually be by the hand of the lesser-known German-American Hermann Herzog, reports Daniel Costello in the Wall Street Journal.

Apparently the two dealers bought the circa-1860 painting, Buffalo Hunt, as a Herzog, whose works usually don't sell for more than $100,000, at a Texas auction in 1993. Restorers found underneath Herzog's signature another signature by Bierstadt, so the dealers changed the attribution and sold it to Rockefeller. The picture was pulled from Christie's American paintings sale in November 1999 after an unidentified expert questioned its authenticity. Peters agreed to buy it back "to settle any questions surrounding it."

Brit auction house Phillips is borrowing the American Craft Museum in New York for sales of contemporary art, Impressionist and modern paintings and 20th century decorative arts, including Japanese ceramics and furniture, May 11-18, 2000. Phillips is shelling out $100,000 for the space rental, according to the New York Times. Part of the funds go towards printing costs for the catalogue of museum's forthcoming "Defining Craft" exhibition. Phillips, which is the third-largest auction house, has made no bones about taking advantage of the opportunity to raise its profile during the Justice Department's ongoing anti-trust investigation against top-two auction houses Sotheby's and Christie's.

Spink, a London-based subsidiary of Christie's located next door to its headquarters on King Street, is closing its department of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, South East Asian, Himalayan and Tibetan art on Feb. 29, 2000. Spink's coin and medal department and its Islamic and Indian art departments will be moving to other locations, allowing Christie's to have run of the entire block. Art-market observers speculate that Christie's has plans to turn the site into a retail and office complex and a hotel, though the auction house is noncommittal.

National Portrait Gallery director Alan Fern has announced his retirement, effective June 2000, Deputy director Carolyn K. Carr will serve as acting director of the museum until Fern's successor is named. The Portrait Gallery is closed for renovation and expansion until 2003.

The North Carolina Museum of Art has concluded that Madonna and Child in a Landscape, attributed to Lucas Cranach the Elder, was stolen by the Nazis during World War II, and it will be returning the painting to the heirs of Dr. Phillipp von Gomperz of Vienna. The painting was deeded to the museum in 1964 by Marianne Khunner in 1984, and the museum began to investigate its provenance after being contacted in spring 1999 by the Commission for Art Recovery.

Australian shore town Geelong is hoping to replace its depressed industrial economy by attracting New York's Guggenheim Foundation to establish a $300 (Aus) million museum on its bay, the Melbourne Age reports. The foundation has invited the city to make a formal application, raising the town's hopes as there are presently no other formal bids. Although it would be up to the foundation to choose an architect, city officials have invited Guggenheim Bilbao Museum architect Frank Gehry for a visit in hopes that its landscape would inspire him the way Bilbao's did. The state government has fully backed the Guggenheim project, but is waiting for further developments before it makes any funding commitments.

An undisclosed amount believed to be in the five figures has been offered for the return of 70 works, including five paintings by L.S. Lowry, stolen from a private collection earlier this month. The amount of the reward is unclear because the owner has asked the police for no publicity. Most of the works are by 18th-and 19th-century amateur English artists, with the Lowry works being the most valuable, priced at up to £250,000 each. Lowry has been in the news recently for setting a new price record for a 20th-century British painting, with a 1953 painting fetching £1,926,500 at auction, and for the upcoming Lowry Centre, a permanent gallery for his works slated to open Apr. 28, 2000, in Manchester.

Gary Simmons is launching Wake, the 12th in a series of artists' projects for the web at the Dia Center for the Arts site Feb. 16, 2000. The project features photographs of empty ballrooms and other dance spaces whose images will appear and fade as the viewer movers the mouse over the screen, making it impossible to view the scenes in their entirety and at one time. Projects by previous participants such as Francis Als, Kristin Lucas and Claude Closky are also still available for viewing.

Feeling like the artworld limits itself to London and New York? Not to worry, the Work Space presents "arch" Feb. 11-Apr. 8, 2000, an exhibition of drawings and sculptures exploring the physical and psychological character of Middle America through its architectural and environmental make-up. The show features works by Barbara Gallucci, Michelle Lopez, Corey McCorkle, Michael Phelan, Scott Reynolds and Oona Stern. The gallery is located in the offices of Dolgenos Newman & Cronin LLP, 96 Spring Street, 8th Floor. Call (212) 219-2790 for more info.

-- compiled by Giovanni Garcia-Fenech