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While the May 26 sale at Sotheby's New York of financier Saul Steinberg's household goods made a respectable $12.5 million total (just over its low estimate of $12 million), there were disappointments. For one thing, a mere 50 people showed up for the six-hour auction -- perhaps because of the Memorial Day weekend -- and in the end, telephone bidding took the day.

The star lot, a mahogany dressing table and commode attributed to London cabinetmaker John Channon, went for $2,205,750 against a highblown estimate of $3 million-$4 million. The brass-encrusted and ormolu-mounted piece was heavily restored, according to reports from dealers in the room. And Steinberg's prize Chinese Export porcelain, a pair of armorial basins (est. $100,000-$150,000 a piece), passed at a lowly $65,000 bid each.

But George III giltwood furniture appears to be in demand. The Steinberg set of two armchairs and six side chairs vaulted over its presale estimate of $300,000-$500,000 and made a hefty $654,750. The suite had been made for the Lord Clive, the richest man in Britain. A pair of George II giltwood alcove stools, which Gayfryd Steinberg plucked from obscurity for a trifling $48,400 at Sotheby's New York in January 1985, sold for a surprising $401,750.

On the same day, Steinberg sold Reliance Group Holdings, the insurance enterprise he owned for some 30 years, at the bargain basement price of $2.55 a share. Only two years ago, the stock was priced at $20. Clearly, Georgian giltwood furniture is the far more lucrative investment property.
-- Brook S. Mason

The Whitney Museum of American Art has purchased works by 20 artists in the Whitney Biennial 2000 exhibition, which has been up since March and starting this week begins closing gradually, one floor at a time, through June 18. The lucky artists are Doug Aitken, Dawoud Bey, Ingrid Calame, John Coplans, John Currin, E. V. Day, James Drake, Vernon Fisher, Dara Friedman, Robert Gober, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Joseph Havel, Silvia Kolbowski, Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, Vik Muniz, Shirin Neshat, Paul Pfeiffer, Michal Rovner, Al Souza and Chris Verene. No details were given as to financial terms.

Next up at the Whitney: "Carnival Strippers: Photographs by Susan Meiselas" (May 27-Sept. 10); a retrospective of Alice Neel (June 29-Sept. 17); a two-part screening of avant-garde films by women, including Maya Deren, Helen Levitt, Yvonne Rainer and Yoko Ono (June 29-Oct. 2); the Barbara Kruger retrospective that originally debuted last fall at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, July 13-Oct. 22; and the "premiere of a work that introduces a whole new technology for art-making" by video artist Tony Oursler, July 13-Oct. 31.

New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has filed a civil suit accusing the Antiques & Design Center, an art gallery and auction house in New Windsor, N.Y., of selling forgeries on eBay. Members of the Art Dealers Association of America identified for Spitzer's office 23 works with the forged signatures of Charles Burchfield, Henri Harpignies, George Luks, Rafael Soyer and Robert Vonnoh, which the gallery, using the name "sambuca 914," sold for prices ranging from $700 to $10,000. The suit seeks civil penalties, a permanent injunction against the gallery and restitution to its duped clients. In the meantime, eBay has suspended the gallery's account pending the outcome of the case.

And speaking of eBay, leading Richard Diebenkorn expert Gerald Nordland is set to take a look at the unattributed abstract painting which reached a whopping $135,805 at auction in the hopes that it might be a 1952 work by the California artist, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. "It's very unlikely it's a Diebenkorn, but it's possible," Norldland said of the work offered by lawyer Kenneth Walton. According to Sacramento art appraiser Rudolph Curiel, two unnamed experts agree that the painting is old enough, that the signature looks like Diebenkorn's and that it was not added afterwards; a chemical analysis is in the plans to see if the paint matches the kind used by the artist in that period.

But Kevin Moran, a Va. computer programmer who bought an "Abstract Expressionist" painting from Walton last Dec. for $30,000, says not to get your hopes up about the maybe-Diebenkorn. Moran's purchase bore the signature "C. Still," but experts from Christie's auction house told him it was not the work of Clyfford Still as he had hoped. "What are the odds that he had a Still and a Richard Diebenkorn in his garage?" Moran asks.

The installation of Tony Smith's Stinger (1967) at the University of Massachusetts has been postponed after vandals sledgehammered two of the work's five support piers, reports the Boston Globe. Officials are seeking ways of raising $5,000-$10,000 to repair the damage and continue the project. Residents of Savin Hill Cove, the neighborhood across from the university's campus, had held protests for two months against the placement of the 33-foot-long black steel sculpture, saying it was being forced upon them.

The Peter Norton Family Foundation has announced the winners of its 12th annual set of grants for innovative contemporary art curators. Beneficiaries are Karin Higa, director of the curatorial and exhibitions department and senior curator of art at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, and Brian Wallis, new director of exhibitions and chief curator of the International Center of Photography in New York. The Norton's $50,000 grants are to be applied toward acquiring contemporary art at their institutions. Grantees meet periodically at the Peter Norton Family Foundation Curators' Workshop, the only nationwide professional event for contemporary art curators. First convened in 1995 in Santa Monica, where the foundation is based, the workshop was most recently held in 1999 at the Center for Curatorial Studies of Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y.

The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art presents "Unnatural Science," an exhibition of works that turn science into fantasias, June 3, 2000-March 15, 2001. The 14 pieces in the show include rarely seen monumental works by Catherine Chalmers, Matthew Ritchie, Kiki Smith and Young Sun Lim. Überorgan, a major new work the size of a football field by Tim Hawkinson, will also be unveiled in conjunction with the show. Überorgan, commissioned by MASS MOCA, is made up of 13 inflated bladders as big as buses that play layered musical sounds on a 12-tone scale.

The National Association of Artists' Organizations is holding "Open Source: Networking Artists and Artists' Organization," its 12th national conference, June 22-25 at GAle GAtes in DUMBO, Brooklyn. Keynote speakers include BAM Local Development Corporation president Harvey Lichtenstein, Creative Capital executive director Ruby Lerner and National Endowment for the Arts chairman Bill Ivey. Highlights include "Cultural Policy: Debates, Implications, Limits, Possibilities," moderated by Josephine Ramirez of the Getty Grant Program; "Curating the 21st Century," featuring Renaissance Society curator Hamza Walker and other leading curators; and "Activating Radicalism: In the Street/In the Mix/In the System/Into Strategies," conceived by Artists' Space director Barbara Hunt and Los Angeles scholar Mario Ontiveros with Gregory Sholette of REPOhistory.

Early registration for all sessions and special events is $150 for NAAO members and $200 for non-members until June 8; after that, fees go up to $275. Discounts of 20 percent are available to groups of five or more; call (202) 347-6350 or check out the NAAO website for more info.

"Ilya Kabakov: 1968-1998," has been rescheduled to open June 25 at the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College; the exhibition had been originally planned to open June 18. The show is the largest presentation of works by the Russian dissident in the U.S. and it runs through Sep. 3, 2000. Admission is free; call (914) 758-7598 for more information.
-- compiled by Giovanni Garcia-Fenech
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