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David Ebitz, director of the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Fla., has resigned his post in the face of an impending takeover of the museum by Florida State University, reports Michael Pollick in the Sarasota Herald Tribune. Ebnitz had opposed the scheme to put the financially strapped museum under university management, which was hatched by Republican State Sen. John McKay, who wants to establish a university center for the arts by combining the Ringling property with FSU, dissolving the museum's board of trustees and placing the director under the. Ebitz, who held the job since 1992, has taken a teaching position at Pennsylvania State University.

Despite constant news of record-breaking prices, Sotheby's and Christie's are barely profitable, more often than not netting less than three percent on the sales, reveals Alexandra Peers in the Wall Street Journal. Despite commissions as high as 40 percent of the sale price (half from buyers' fees, half from sellers' fees), the total take for the auctioneers averages closer to 13.5 percent. Out of this sum comes administrative expenses, which can be high in the glossy world of high-end auctions. Sotheby's profits have dropped nearly 20 percent since 1996, despite a 40 percent growth in its volume of art sales, with losses swelling from $9.5 million last year to $29.1 million this first quarter. Christie's is privately held and does not open its books.

The strike by the Professional and Administrative Staff Association of the Museum of Modern Art (PASTA-MOMA) continues unabated since its beginning on Apr. 28. The latest casualty: a luncheon scheduled for May 18 in the Museum of Modern Art garden honoring the artists in P.S. 1's "Greater New York" show has been postponed due to the picketing, though union members have invited the artists to join them for a "picnic on the picket line" after a "group roar" in front of the museum that same day at 5:30 p.m. The first such roar on May 12, attended by 100 (according to management) to 300 (according to the union) strikers, forced the museum to close 45 minutes early at 7:30 p.m. A labor rally sponsored by the New York City Central Labor Council is scheduled at the MoMA on May 25, 4-6 p.m.

The picket line is also having a tangible effect on the museum's day-to-day operations -- 65 percent of all educational programs, including school groups, classes and lectures, have been cancelled, publications like the Village Voice have chosen not to run MoMA listings and union truckers have refused to pick up from and deliver to the museum. At issue in the strike are wages, medical benefits and possible staff layoffs when the museum closes next year for its $650 million expansion.

Artist groups will be able to apply for Miami-Dade County grants without having to sign a pledge stating they don't have dealings with Cuba, thanks to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. A federal judge has suspended the "Cuba Ordinance" until the resolution of the suit, which argues the regulation infringes on First Amendment rights. The ordinance requires all groups seeking cultural grants from the county or seeking to use county facilities for performances to swear they have not engaged directly or indirectly in transactions with a Cuban national or the government of Cuba.

The Royal Institute of British Architects has awarded the Royal Gold Medal for Architecture to Frank Gehry, architect of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. The medal, one of the most prestigious architectural prizes in the world, is bestowed by the Queen on the recommendation of the RIBA. Previous winners have included Alfred Waterhouse, Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, Mies Van der Rohe and Renzo Piano.

During May 24-June 10, the Santa Monica Museum of Art is presenting a re-creation of Robert Mapplethorpe's controversial "The Perfect Moment" exhibition, which was originally shown ten years ago at the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center. The exhibition features 150 photographs, and is partly funded by Showtime, which has produced Dirty Pictures, a movie documenting the criminal obscenity trial and subsequent acquittal of the center's director Dennis Barrie. The movie is written by Ilene Chaiken, directed by Frank Pierson and stars James Woods as Barrie and Craig T. Nelson as Sheriff Simon Leis, who instigated the museum director's prosecution on criminal charges; it premieres on the cable channel May 27.

The Vincent Van Gogh Museum has acquired a major collection of prints by the avant-garde group Les Nabis. The works, acquired from a private collector, include prints by Pierre Bonnard, Maurice Denis, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Félix Vallotton and Edouard Vuillard; a selection of 30 works are on view in the print room of the Rietveld building from May 3 to July 2.

In a program valued at over $4 million, New York's Public Art Fund has joined forces with the Hilton Hotel Corporation to commission major new artworks by contemporary artists for two hotels under construction. Guests to the Embassy Suites Hotel in Battery Park City and the Hilton Times Square will see new works by Kurt Kauper, Sol LeWitt, Tom Otterness and Pat Steir in the lobbies, restaurants and corridors, and commissioned prints by Mary Heilmann, Elizabeth Peyton and Sara Sosnowy in every guest room. The hotel's public areas will also include prints by Ellsworth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Mangold, Claes Oldenburg, Julian Schnabel and Frank Stella, and its meeting rooms will include works by Ross Bleckner and Jennifer Bartlett. The Public Art Fund will hold its spring benefit gala at the Embassy Suites on its grand opening on June 7, featuring a silent auction, dinner and dancing; call (212) 980-4575 for more info.

The Andrea Frank Foundation has announced its annual grant awards totaling $648,839. Three organizations received a total of $133,000 in challenge grants: the House of Toast Film and Video Collective in Windsor, Ontario; Project Row Houses in Houston; and Self-Help Graphics and Arts in Los Angeles. Seven organizations received a total $169,000 this year, with $234,000 to follow in the next two years as matching funds are raised: the Center for Communication Resources in Chicago; Cinematexas International Short Film and Video Festival in Austin, Texas; the Essex Art Center in Lawrence, Mass.; Light Work in Syracuse, N.Y.; 911 Media Arts Center in Santa Fe; and Tohono O'odham Community Action in Sells, Ariz. Seven artists were awarded a total $112,839: Dorothy Grandbois of New Mexico, Carlos Gustavo of New York, Harmony Hammond of New Mexico, James Luna of California, Clarissa T. Sligh of New York, Charlene Maxxine Stevens of Rhode Island and Bonnie Benally Yazzie of New Mexico. The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston received $90,000 in completion of a $100,000 grant awarded in 1998 for a retrospective and publication on the work of Louis Faurer. The foundation was founded in 1995 by filmmaker Robert Frank in memory of his daughter, who died in a plane accident in the 1970s.

Legendary East Village non-profit space PS 122 is offering four one-year project studio spaces to New York City-area artists from Oct. 1, 2000, to Sep. 30, 2001. Applications must be received before or on May 28; pick one up at the gallery at 150 First Ave. Thursday-Sunday 12-6 p.m.
-- compiled by Giovanni Garcia-Fenech
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