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Artnet News
In an effort to woo $150 million support from Congress, National Arts Endowment chairman Bill Ivey visited the House of Representatives on Mar. 23 and assured a panel of congressmen that the "NEA today is a vastly different agency than we were even a few years ago." Ivey noted that the kind of controversy that had haunted NEA in the past could not recur, since the agency no longer funds artists directly, and gives more money to smaller, regional organizations that are less likely to be hotbeds of big-city art decadence. Text of Ivy's full statement can be found at the NEA website.

The Brooklyn Museum has settled its seven-month-old legal wrangle with New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani -- and gotten $5.8 million in new capital funding out of the deal. As everyone must remember, Giuliani cut off city funding for the museum (over $500,000 per month) over the exhibition "Sensation: New Art from the Saatchi Collection," which featured a Madonna painted by Chris Ofili that some critics found offensive. Both sides drop their lawsuits in the settlement, which was filed with U.S. district court judge Nina Gershon on Mar. 27.

As for Giuliani, the feisty Republican politico is barred from attempting to evict the museum from its Neo-Classical digs on Eastern Parkway, take away its city funding or dismiss its board of trustees -- all actions he had vowed to pursue. As for the museum, it's looking forward to a $52-million renovation project over the next three years. "We don't have all the money yet," said board chief Robert Rubin, who declined to specify exactly what might be renovated. "It's premature," he demurred.

Does Charles Saatchi get back any of the $160,000 he invested in the show, a secret demand reported by the New York Times? "We don't figure that out till the end of the fiscal year," said beleaguered Brooklyn Museum director Arnold Lehman. The museum is also out-of-pocket $1 million in legal costs.

When it comes to the First Amendment, Rudy just doesn't get it. Or so two federal appeals court judges seem to say in a recent case involving another of the Mayor's bete noirs, nudie photog Spencer Tunick. Litigation over restrictions on political demonstrations and artistic events is placing the federal courts in the position of city licensing agencies, said Judge Guido Calabresi, citing 17 cases in the last four years involving free-speech issues. And Judge Robert D. Sack told the New York Times that efforts to block Tunick's art projects -- in which as many as 500 people briefly disrobe and pose in public -- in the absence of clear rules against the practice represented a "variation on the classic theme of censorship." Tunick is still fighting for the right to take his pictures under an exemption for artistic events in the state's anitnudity law.

A U.S. District Judge has ruled that the Seattle Art Museum can sue New York Gallery Knoedler & Co. for fraud in the case of a Henri Matisse painting that turned out to be Nazi loot and had to be returned to the heirs of the original owner. The gallery sold Matisse's Odalisque (1928) to collectors Prentice and Virginia Bloedel in 1954, and the couple gave it to the museum in 1991. In 1996 a grandson of the Bloedels spotted a reproduction of the painting in Hector Feliciano's The Lost Museum: The Nazi Conspiracy to Steal the World's Greatest Works of Art, and notified the heirs of Paul Rosenberg, a French Jewish art dealer from whom the painting had been stolen. The museum returned the painting to the Rosenberg family in 1998 and sued the gallery for fraud, claiming that Knoedler knew about the painting's dubious provenance. Judge Robert Lasnik originally ruled that the museum had presented enough evidence of fraud, but the case was thrown out because it failed to prove the museum was the party defrauded. Lasnik reversed his decision on Mar. 24 after the Seattle Art Museum showed the Bloedels had transferred their legal claims on the painting to the museum. Meanwhile, the painting has been sold to casino mogul Steve Wynn by the Rosenberg heirs for an undisclosed amount estimated to be approximately $2 million.

Former Sotheby's chairman Alfred Taubman's son Robert Taubman, the president and CEO of the family's $1-billion real estate investment trust, has been nominated by the auction house's board to fill his father's seat for a three-year term, the New York Post reports. The senior Taubman controls 63 percent of Sotheby's voting stock, enough to install Robert in his seat, a move that analysts fear could prove risky in light of the ongoing U.S. Justice Department antitrust probe. No word yet on a successor for ex-CEO Diana Brooks, who resigned along Taubman Feb. 21 of this year. Both Alfred Taubman and Brooks retained their board seats but have informed the Securities and Exchange Commission they won't seek re-election when their terms expire later this year.

The top three auction houses are offering major guarantees to ensure their May sales are a success, the Wall Street Journal reports. Christie's, Sotheby's and Phillips have all promised sellers large amounts whether the works on auction sell or not, taking on the risk of the market failing to live up to expectations. Furthermore, the auctioneers are giving the works unusually high price estimates to draw in timorous sellers, steps experts believe might be necessary due to the scarcity of high-quality works after the long art boom, regardless of the mistrust stirred by the current price-fixing investigation.

Both Christie's and Sotheby's tell the New York Times that Phillips has been making the biggest offers to sellers, offers they were not willing to match. Chief among these was the guarantee promised to the heirs of Kasimir Malevich for the artist's Suprematist Composition, which Sotheby's and Christie's estimate at a whopping $15 million. It's a very high guarantee considering the doubts about the painting's date, which Phillips claims is 1919 but the Museum of Modern Art, where it used to hang, says is more likely to be from 1923 to 1925. Phillips refused to discuss the estimates or guarantees, saying only that "it will all become clear when the catalogue comes out."

The prestigious German-language photo magazine Camera Austria has protested the rise of the radical right in Austria by printing the cover and every page of the most recent issue in solid black. The only type on issue 69 are the words "Österreich 2000" (Austria 2000), written at the top left of the cover. The protest was conceived by Austrian artist Jörg Schlick in response to the inclusion in Austria's governing coalition of Jorg Haider's so-called Freedom Party, which has campaigned under the slogan of "50 years of complexity are enough."

One result of the 1999 acquisition of West Coast auction house Butterfield & Butterfield by online e-commerce giant eBay is an overhaul of the auctioneer's staid image. Redubbed "Butterfields, an eBay company," the auction company is also getting a new logo, redesigned facilities and a new business plan. Butterfields broke the $100 million mark for the first time last year.

New members in the American Academy of Arts and Letters are Pop artist Red Grooms, architect Steven Holl and writer James Salter. Formal induction is slated for May, at which time winners of more than $850,000 in awards and prizes will also be announced.

New Hampshire's Hood Museum of Art presents "Completing the Picture: Hats, Fashion and Fine Art," Mar. 28-Sep. 24, an exhibition exploring the history, etiquette and evolution of women's hats in America from 1820 to 1930. Organized by Williams Costume Collection adjunct curator Margaret Spicer, the exhibition features paintings, photographs and full-size mannequins showcasing related American clothing, hats and other accessories from the museum's Henry B. Williams Costume Collection. Admission is free; call (603) 646-2808 for more info.

-- compiled by Giovanni Garcia-Fenech