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MGM Grand is selling off most of the Bellagio Gallery of Art's collection, according to a story in today's Wall Street Journal. Many of the works are reportedly being sold back to ex-chairman Steve Wynn, some to other buyers, and a few, like the extensive collection of works by Pablo Picasso that anchors the Picasso restaurant, are being kept in house. The sales cannot be completed until Mirage Resorts officially changes hands in June, and there may be some complications before that. According to the Las Vegas Sun, New York investment firm Crandon Capital Partners, which represents Mirage shareholders, asked a Nevada court to place the Bellagio collection into a legal trust. At issue is a clause in Wynn's outgoing contract that gives him first dibs on works from the $200 million collection, for which he will only have to pay book value. Shareholders are concerned that Wynn may be able to purchase the art under market value and immediately sell it at a profit, therefore making money at their expense. They hope to freeze the collection in a trust until a legal decision is made concerning the fairness of the arrangement. The court will issue a decision on the trust on May 22; Mirage has called the suit "without merit."

The online auction giant eBay has cancelled the $135,805 sale of a purported Richard Diebenkorn abstract painting after the seller's story started to develop some holes. According to ace New York Times culture reporter Judith Dobrzynski, a Sacramento lawyer named Kenneth Walton originally offered the unattributed abstraction for sale, claiming he had bought it at a Berkeley garage sale. He ingenuously apologized for a small hole in the canvas, saying it had been made by his child and could easily be fixed with "gaffer's tape." The digital close-up of the hole also happened to show the initials "RD" -- Diebenkorn's trademark signature.

Now, under the light of national press scrutiny, the seller has admitted that he doesn't have a child -- though he insists that he bought the painting at a garage sale and that he did not add the signature to it. Walton also admitted that he has sold other works under similar circumstances online. As for eBay, it has suspended Walton's three different accounts, accusing him of inflating his prices by entering bids on his own sales.

Charges of reckless driving against art critic Robert Hughes have been dropped in an Australian court after two of the occupants in the other vehicle were charged with attempting to extort money from the Time magazine critic, reports the Sydney Morning Herald. Hughes, who was in Australia working on a documentary for the BBC, had been accused of causing a crash last May by driving onto the path of an oncoming car, injuring three people in the other vehicle. He faced up to 18 months in jail, but the prosecution's case was severely hampered when two of its three witnesses were arrested after allegedly demanding $30,000 (Aust.) in exchange for giving false evidence.

The bellicose critic didn't win many friends during the trial -- West Australia's talk radio was deluged with angry callers criticizing Hughes as arrogant and egotistical after he accused the firemen who saved his life of stealing a tuna from the trunk of his car, called his court opponents "low-life scum" and referred to the prosecutor as "curry munching" in reference to his Indian background. The critic is reportedly writing a book about his ordeal.

Phillips continues to steal the spotlight this auction season with the announcement that three percent of the hammer price of all proceeds from the much-anticipated Impressionist and Modern art sale on May 11 will go to the AIDS research organization, amfAR. Both amfAR chairperson Sharon Stone and Bernard Arnault, chairman of LVMH, which bought Phillips last year for $121.5 million, were on hand at Phillips gala preview at the American Craft Museum on May 10. Toting a Christian Dior handbag (Dior is also owned by LVMH), Stone graciously thanked Phillips, Arnault and his wife, and suggested that other auction houses should be so generous. Phillips' pledge promises amfAR at least $1 million in donations, and insiders speculate that Phillips spent over $1.3 million to renovate the American Craft Museum for the sale.

Phillips is also said to have offered considerable price guarantees on all 31 works in the Impressionist and modern art sale, including the star lot, Kazimir Malevich's Suprematist Composition, for which Phillips is rumored to have promised Malevich's heirs $15 million. When asked if he planned on buying anything in the sale, Arnault told that "it was not possible."

After some rocky setbacks, the story of the steamy relationship between painter Georgia O'Keeffe and photographer Alfred Stieglitz is set to begin filming, reports Variety magazine. The movie was shopped around for eight years by Munich-based producer Karel Dirka, and after a number of financial reversals Germany's Das Werk and Cinemedia are finally going to back it. Till the End of Time stars Linda Fiorentino as O'Keeffe and Ben Kingsley as Stieglitz and is directed by Marek Kanievska. Production begins June 12 in Santa Fe, N.M.

British sculptor Sir Anthony Caro is one of four recipients awarded the Order of Merit on May 9, reports the London Telegraph. Others joining the order, the highest personal award conferred by Britain's Queen on individuals of exceptional distinction, are playwright Tom Stoppard, chemist Sir James Black and mathematician Sir Robert Penrose. Membership is limited to 24 people at any one time; other members include actor Sir John Gielgud and painter Lucian Freud.

Edgar Munhall, the first curator of the Frick Collection and the only person to hold that title in 35 years, has announced his retirement. The last show he has organized, "Greuze the Draftsman," a touring exhibition of drawings by Jean-Baptiste Greuze, will be on view at the Frick from May 14 to Aug. 4, 2002.

A number of changes have been announced at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art: Sam Quigley has been appointed to the new position of collection director, Ruth Berson joins as exhibitions director, John Brennan joins as director of facilities and Janet Bishop has been promoted to curator of painting and sculpture. The new appointments come as a result of the museum's exhibition program and permanent collection's unprecedented growth in the five years since it relocated to its 225,000-square-foot South-of-Market facility.

The Whitney Museum presents "Carnival Strippers: Photographs by Susan Meiselas," May 27-Sep. 10, 2000. Curated by Sylvia Wolf, the series, considered a pioneering work of explicit subject matter, depicts strippers at rural fairs in New England in the 1970s; it is accompanied by original interviews that the photographer conducted with her subjects. The exhibition marks the first time the work is shown in a New York museum and the first time in over 20 years that vintage prints of the photographs are being shown.

The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, has announced Website Insights and Virtual Encounters, two new projects designed exclusively for the Internet. Website Insights, a searchable database of highlights from the museum's collection, currently features 110 works by 88 artists and will be continuously expanded. Virtual Encounters, an online forum, is scheduled for fall 2000 and is to feature artists such as Thomas Demand, Keith Edmier, Katharina Fritsch, Glen Ligon, Helen Mirra and Yinka Shonibare and curators and critics including Francesco Bonami, Staci Boris, Valerie Cassel, Dominic Molon, Elizabeth Smith, Hamza Walker and Lynne Warren.

-- compiled by Giovanni Garcia-Fenech

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