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The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has announced this year's winners of its so-called Genius Grants, five-year unrestricted fellowships that range from $200,000 to $375,000, depending on the age of the recipient. Among the art-world fellows are New York architects Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio ($375,000), New York painter Elizabeth Murray ($375,000) and installation artists Pepon Osorio ($315,000), Fred Wilson ($315,000) and Xu Bing ($315,000).

London art dealers are celebrating the indefinite delay of the imposition of the new five percent European tax on art imports, which the British Art Market Federation says would plunge the $3-billion-plus British market into crisis and drive the business to New York and other art centers. The increase in VAT on imported art was scheduled to climb from 2.5 percent to 5 percent at the end of the month, but British trade minister Lord Simon persuaded EU ministers at the recent Luxembourg meeting to postpone the tax for an undefined period. British dealers are also fighting the imposition of a second art tax, the so-called droit de suite, which would add between 4 percent and 0.5 percent to a work's resale price, depending on its value. The proceeds would be distributed to the artists or their descendants.

Art collector and computer magnate Peter Norton bought J.D. Salinger's love letters to Joyce Maynard for $156,000 at Sotheby's New York on June 22. The then-53-year-old celebrity author penned the missives to the 18-year-old college student in the early 1970s. Maynard says she's selling them to raise funds to send her kids to college. Norton says he plans to return the 14 letters to Salinger out of concern for his privacy.

The Corcoran Gallery of Art has selected Frank O. Gehry as architect of the $40-million, 140,000-square-foot new wing for its 102-year-old building in Washington, D.C. Gehry's initial design calls for sculptural strips of metal combined with marble, and would almost double the size of the museum and art school. Construction is slated to begin in spring 2001. Gehry beat out Daniel Libeskind and Santiago Calatrava for the job.

The Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University received a $20-million gift of 110 17th-century Dutch drawings from collectors Maida and George Abrams of Newton, Mass. According to the New York Times, the gift includes works by Rembrandt, Pieter Bruegel, Andriaen van Ostade and Jacques de Gheyn II. Many of the drawings were on view in a 1991-92 Fogg exhibition titled "17th-Century Dutch Drawings: A Selection from the Maida and George Abrams Collection," which traveled to the Rijksmuseum, Morgan Library and Albertina.

Setting a precedent for American museums, the Seattle Art Museum has agreed to return the Nazi-plundered Odalisque (ca. 1928) by Henri Matisse to the heirs of French-Jewish art dealer Paul Rosenberg, who fled to the U.S. during the Holocaust. The $2-million work now goes to the daughter and daughter-in-law of the famed dealer, who are in their 70s and 80s.

The museum decided to return the work after extensive research by the Holocaust Art Restitution Project (HARP) in Washington, D.C. HARP determined that the Seattle Matisse had originally been Rosenberg's property, though the research failed to determine what happened to the work between 1941 and 1954, when it was sold by Knoedler & Co. for $19,000 to Seattle timber baron Prentice Bloedel. He willed it to SAM in the 1990s.

SAM has sued Knoedler for fraud and breach of warranty of title, claiming that the gallery was knowingly dishonest about the work's provenance. The museum hopes to recover the value of the painting as well as the costs of the lawsuit. That case has not yet been settled.

Earlier this year, in a similar dispute, the French government returned to the Rosenberg heirs a 1904 Claude Monet painting of waterlilies that had been hanging in a Caen museum since 1975.

The Cleveland Museum of Art has announced plans for a $170-million renovation and expansion designed by architects Cooper, Robertson & Partners. The scheme calls for a refurbished 1916 façade, an increase in overall space from 389,000 to 491,000 square feet and construction of a new atrium and outdoor sculpture garden. The museum plans to double the space for contemporary art, add new galleries for the Asian collection, enlarge the Western art collection galleries, build a new underground parking garage, expand the café and restaurant, increase bathroom facilities and add a new family and media center. The project is scheduled to take five to six years.

Van Gogh's Van Goghs return to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, as it reopens after a 10-month renovation with a new wing designed by Kisho Kurokawa on June 24, 1999. The museum's latest acquisition, Arnold Bocklin's Sleeping Nymph Spied Upon by Two Fauns, will be on view, along with Edouard Manet's study for Bar at the Folies-Bergère and Paul Cézanne's Landscape with Poplars, which are on loan.

Museum of Modern Art contemporary curator Robert Storr has been promoted to senior curator at the museum. He will continue to report to Kirk Varnedoe, chief curator of the department of painting and sculpture.

Keep your ears sharp when you're touring "Impressionists in Winter" at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, May 28-Aug. 29, 1999. Actor Kevin Kline narrates the audio tour along with museum director Arnold L. Lehman and curator of European painting and sculpture Elizabeth Easton.

Lincoln Center in New York has installed 14 monumental sculptures on its North Plaza to celebrate its 40th anniversary. Works by Dimitri Hadzi, Herbert Ferber, Ellsworth Kelly, Seymour Lipton, Clement Meadmore, Isamu Noguchi, Claes Oldenburg and George Sugarman are on view till next May. The works are on loan from the Empire State Plaza Collection in Albany.

London's British Museum is opening a gallery sponsored by Chase Manhattan. The new Gallery of North America displays works from Chase's collection of Native North American art. The inaugural exhibition, "First Peoples, First Contacts" explores early European contact and colonization.

The Brooklyn Museum of Art/Modernism Lifetime Achievement Award in the decorative arts goes to French designer Andrée Putman. The young designer award goes to German industrial and interior designer Konstantin Grcic. The awards accompany the show, "Modernism: A Century of Art & Design," Nov. 11-14, 1999, at the Park Avenue Armory in New York.

Winners of the $121,000 Praemium Imperiale Awards from the Japan Art Association are Louise Bourgeois for sculpture, Anselm Kiefer for painting, Fumihiko Maki for architecture, Pina Bausch for theater and film and Oscar Peterson for music.

The 1999 CityArts "Making a Difference Through the Arts" awards go to artist Faith Ringgold, art collectors Susan and Michael Hort and NY1 News.

The Julie Cencebaugh Gallery has opened in the Chelsea art district of Manhattan at 601 W. 26th Street. The inaugural show, "The Rocket Four," features works of art in book form by William Burroughs, Yoko Ono, Ezra Pound, Kiki Smith, Not Vital and others.

Sotheby's sold a gold Patek Phillippe watch for $794,500 on June 15, a record price in America. The timepiece was one of three found in a closet by the family of the late Marilyn Preston Graves, daughter of banker Henry Graves, who had originally commissioned them. The three watches sold totaled $1.9 million.

David O. Maxwell has become a trustee of the National Gallery of Art. He is retired chairman and CEO of the Federal Mortgage Association, and with his wife Joan created the Joan and David Maxwell Fund at the NGA for the acquisition of American art. Maxwell succeeds Louise W. Mellon, who is retiring after serving six years.

The Whitney Museum has hired Mark Hough, currently director of development for the Manhattan Theater Club, as its chief development officer. Hough is an adjunct professor in arts management at the Yale Graduate School of Drama.

Mary Jaharis has been elected honorary trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Jaharis and her husband Michael have been longtime supporters of the museum, with a special interest in Greek and Roman Art.

Claudia Gould has been named director of the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. She has been the executive director of Artists Space since 1994.

Nancy McGary has been named associate director of the Dahesh Museum in New York. She had been director of collections management at the Whitney Museum for 26 years.

New acquisitions at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts include a wall drawing by Sol LeWitt, a silkscreen print by Chuck Close, a canvas work by Willie Cole and a painting by Elizabeth Murray.

Come July 1, 1999, PaceWildenstein Gallery in Los Angeles is closing its exhibition space at 9540 Wilshire Boulevard. The decision apparently resulted from lackluster press and the absence of foot traffic. Since Los Angeles is not a pedestrian city the gallery had too little of the kind of "off the street" sales that one finds in New York. Nevertheless, business at the L.A. branch was good, according to gallery spokesperson Andrea Bundonis.

PaceWildenstein is to maintain an L.A. office at the same space, overseen by PaceWildenstein associate director Fecia Mulry, but the entrance will be at 9536 Wilshire Boulevard. PaceWildensteinMacGill, the gallery's photography division, will no longer have a staff in Beverly Hills.

PaceWildenstein opened with much fanfare in September of 1995, and was widely viewed as the first blue-chip New York gallery to target wealthy Hollywood collectors in their home town. The inaugural reception made a big splash -- it was catered by Matsuhisa restaurant and reportedly cost in excess of $200,000. The entire block of Wilshire Blvd. was closed for the party, and the event resembled a movie premiere as much as a gallery opening.

Art-world insiders had gossiped about problems at the gallery's L.A. branch for some time. The luxurious gallery space, designed by Gwathmey Siegal, was widely considered problematic for showing art; the line of sight on the lower level is distracted by hallways and mezzanines, and the space on the upper level is so narrow that viewers can't stand back far enough to look at the art. Over a year ago, the gallery's Los Angeles director, Marc Selwyn, left to form Grant Selwyn Fine Art with Anthony Grant, a former sales associate at the New York gallery. Grant Selwyn now has exhibition spaces in Beverly Hills and on 57th Street in New York, and PaceWildenstein has still not hired a new director.                                                                           -- Irit Krygier