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Florida State University is taking charge of the chronically budget-challenged Ringling Museum effective July 1, reports Michael Pollick in the Sarasota Herald Tribune. The result of a legislative amendment initiated by Republican Senator John McKay, the arrangement creates a university center for the arts by combining the Ringling property with the adjacent FSU Center for the Performing Arts into a new entity called the Florida State University Ringling Center for Cultural Arts. Under the new arrangement, the museum's board of trustees will be dissolved and museum director David Ebitz will report to FSU management. For more on the Ringling's recent turmoil see Thomas Hoving's April 28th My Eye column.

It's been an expensive two weeks for dealer Gerald Peters, who has had to make refunds worth millions for works of art of questionable attributions, according to the Wall Street Journal. The Santa Fe dealer has pledged a Georgia O'Keeffe painting valued between $1 million and $1.5 million to the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas as part of a settlement for the "Canyon Suite" watercolors, wrongly identified as the work of O'Keeffe, which he sold to the museum for $5 million in 1993. And if that weren't enough, Peters and Chicago dealer Rudy Wunderlich have refunded over $1 million to David Rockefeller for a painting they sold to him as by American landscape painter Albert Bierstadt. The painting was pulled from an auction at Christie's when specialists noticed that beneath Bierstadt's signature was that of the lesser-known German-American Hermann Herzog.

After being used as collateral in a drug deal, two stolen paintings by J.M.W. Turner are now in the hands of Serbian gangsters, according to a report in the Observer newspaper of London. The paintings -- Shade and Darkness: Evening of the Deluge and Light and Color: Morning after the Deluge -- were stolen in 1994 while on loan from the Tate Gallery in London to the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt. The two paintings are worth £12 million each, according to Mark Dalrymple, a fine art loss adjuster with Tyler & Co., who has been on the trail of the missing works.

Egyptian police used tear gas to break up a demonstration in Cairo calling for the resignation of Egyptian culture minister Farouk Hosni. On Sunday, May 7, about 5,000 students from Azhar University clashed with police in a protest over Banquet for Seaweed by the Syrian novelist Haider Haider. The students blame Hosni for allowing publication of the book, which they say contains insults to Islam. Hosni exhibited his own paintings at the Metropolitan Museum in New York last year.

Is it or isn't it? An unattributed abstract painting fetched a whopping $135,805 at auction on eBay in the hopes that it might be a 1952 work by California artist Richard Diebenkorn, reports the New York Times. The work was bought yesterday by Dutch collector Rob Keereweer from a Californian seller identified only as golfpoorly, who says he got it at a garage sale in Berkeley, Ca., "a looong time ago." Keereweer has yet to see the painting in person.

The maybe-Diebenkorn is believed to be one of a series of abstract works from the early 1950s, an example of which sold for $1.8 million a couple of years ago at auction. The seller never mentions Diebenkorn in the description of the work -- the clue was a picture of a small hole on the canvas that also shows Diebenkorn's "RD" signature. At press time not a single dealer has vouched for the Diebenkorn attribution.

Time magazine art critic Robert Hughes' trial in Australia has just become more complicated, according to reports from Melbourne's Age. Two men have been charged after trying to extort Hughes, who is facing two counts of "driving in a manner causing grievous bodily harm." The men, witnesses to the accident that almost cost the cantankerous critic his right leg and injured three people, allegedly demanded $30,000 (Aust.) in exchange for giving false evidence. Hughes claims these developments sully his case, and wants to cross-examine the accused, but prosecution lawyers say that possibility depends on whether they call on the witnesses, a decision they have not made yet. Hughes faces up to 18 months in jail if convicted.

American combine painter Robert Rauschenberg receives the eighth $50,000 Wexner Prize at the Wexner Center in Columbus, Oh., on May 22. In addition to the private award ceremonies, the Wexner Center will hold a number of public events, beginning with a symposium on May 19 featuring architect Frank Gehry, Rauschenberg biographer Calvin Tomkins, choreographer/filmmaker Yvonne Rainer and artist Jessica Stockholder; Rauschenberg will hold a conversation with choreographer Trisha Brown May 22; and Robert Hughes will deliver a lecture, "A Completely Biased Homage to Robert Rauschenberg," on May 31. Call (614) 292-3535 for more info.

The Ford Foundation has announced a new program, New Directions/New Donors for the Arts, an initiative that provides $40 million in one-time challenge grants to 28 nonprofit arts organizations. The grants, ranging from $1 million to $2.5 million, will be used to generate donations from individuals over the next three to five years, raising a projected additional $73 million in endowed funds for artistic and operating expenses. Among the grantees: the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, the Mint Museum of Art in Charlotte, N.C., the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. and SITE Santa Fe in New Mexico. The foundation will also give a $2.5 million grant to the Nonprofit Finance Fund to document the grantees' lessons in building support among individual donors and use this information to develop publications, web-based resources and training opportunities for the broader arts field.

Donald Trump is slamming Frank Gehry's design for the proposed new Guggenheim branch in the Financial District, comparing it to a "junkyard" and saying it could destroy the lower Manhattan skyline, reports the New York Post. "It is wonderful to be far-out, but this design may be a little too far-out. It's quite scary," says the Donald, who owns several buildings in the area.

A painting by Francis Bacon not seen in public since 1962 is going on the block at Christie's in London. Rediscovered in a private collection, Study for Portrait (Man Screaming) (1952) was only known to collectors from a black and white photograph published in the artist's catalogue raisonné. It is expected to fetch £1.4-£1.8 million in the auction house's 20th Century Art sale June 28.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art presents "Color and Fire: Defining Moments in Studio Ceramics, 1950-2000," the first comprehensive survey exhibition from its permanent collection of contemporary ceramics, June 4-Sep. 17. Curated by LACMA assistant curator of decorative arts Jo Lauria, the show features more than 275 objects spanning the classical to the cutting edge and is organized into three sections: "the Studio Pottery Movement," "the Primal Vessel of Forms of Teapots and Cups" and "Sculpture as Aesthetic Premise."

-- compiled by Giovanni Garcia-Fenech

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