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Midtown Manhattan during the holiday season has many attractions, not least among them the huge Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center and the animated storybook windows at neighboring department stores. But for art lovers seeking a respite from all the commercial hullabaloo, the Rock Center area also offers several tantalizing art exhibitions (all with free admission).
  • The Onassis Cultural Center (645 Fifth Avenue, below ground level, with entrance on 51st Street) offers "From Ishtar to Aphrodite: 3200 Years of Cypriot Hellenism: Treasures from the Museums of Cyprus." This show of pottery, metalwork and stone sculpture from about 1400 BC to the 1st century BC illustrates the sweeping changes that overtook Cyprus as various cultures sloshed around the shores of the Mediterranean. (A more detailed review of the show is forthcoming in Artnet Magazine). Note to parents: bare-breasted fertility figures and Classic Greek nudes are included!
  • The AXA Gallery (787 Seventh Avenue, at 51st Street), under its extremely capable director Pari Stave, specializes in top-quality shows that otherwise might not be seen in New York for lack of museum space. Currently, because of the Museum of Modern Art's reduced quarters in Queens, AXA is hosting "Artists and Prints: Masterpieces from the Museum of Modern Art." If you need a dose of Picasso or Munch or other 20th century masters, this is the place.
  • The UBS Art Gallery (formerly the PaineWebber Art Gallery, at 1285 Avenue of the Americas, between 51th and 52nd Sts.) is presenting the utterly charming "Toy Stories and Winter Scenes from the Collection of the Museum of the City of New York." The show includes dolls galore, from Barbie and Ken to an 1870s French doll in a ballgown that may have been designed by Worth, as well as teddy bears, cast-iron pull toys, wooden soldiers and games. Wonderful city photos are also included, like Washington Square at Midnight, a snowbound scene from around 1916 by Jessie Tarbox Beals, plus Currier and Ives prints, drawings and paintings.

Finally, if you are seeing the golden lights of the Lincoln Center tree or just shopping in the area, you might enjoy a show of Peruvian folk art, also free of charge, at the American Bible Society at 1865 Broadway at 61st Street.
-- N.F. Karlins
The Brooklyn Museum of Art plans to celebrate the April 2004 opening of its new parkway entrance pavilion and public plaza, designed by James Polshek Partnership architects, with the latest version of the museum's popular survey show of Brooklyn artists. Billed as the largest and most comprehensive survey of B-boro artists, "Open House: Working in Brooklyn," Apr. 16-Aug. 15, 2004, includes over 300 works by 200 artists curated by Charlotta Kotik and Tumelo Mosaka.

The lineup: Vito Acconci, Marty Ackley, Derrick Adams, Terry Adkins, Haluk Akake, Ricci Albenda, Joe Amrhein, Kenseth Armstead, L.C. Armstrong, Nicole Awai, Kristin Baker, Melanie Baker, Michael Ballou, Rina Banerjee, David Baskin, Louise Belcourt, Matthew Benedict, Jesse Bercowetz and Matt Bua, John Berens, Diane Bertolo, Xu Bing, Nayland Blake, Louise Bourgeois, Sebastiaan Bremer, Rick Briggs, David Brody, Phong Bui, Kathe Burkhart, Ken Butler, Louis Cameron, Beth Campbell, Aaron Cantor, Karlos Carcamo, Jackie Chang, Steven Charles, Vincent Cianni, Dawn Clements, Heidi Cody, Diana Cooper, Derek Cot, Bryan Crockett, Patricia Cronin, James Cullinane, Maureen Cummins, Amy Cutler, E.V. Day, Stephen Dean, Sue de Beer, Francks F. Deceus, Xiomara De Oliver, Dan Devine, Brian Dewan, Alejandro Diaz, Brady Dollarhide, Michael Dominick, Chris Doyle, Christoph Draeger, Leonardo Drew, Nancy Drew, Jenny Dubnau, James Esber, Alessandra Exposito, Delphine Fawundu-Buford, Jane Fine, Rob Fischer, Matt Freedman, Chitra Ganesh, Linda Ganjian, Rico Gatson, Mariam Ghani, Sharon Gilbert, Frantiska and Tim Gilman, Kate Gilmore, Luis Gispert, Anthony Goicolea, Maria Elena Gonzalez, Katy Grannan, Jonathan Grassi, Myrah Brown Green, Stacy Greene, Wenda Gu, Rachel Harrison, Kirsten Hassenfeld, James Hegge, Eric Heist, Oliver Herring, Elana Herzog, Christine Hill, Perry Hoberman, Sjoerd Hofstra, Satch Hoyt, Colin Hunt, James Hyde, Jean Patrick Icart-Pierre, Yoko Inoue, Mala Iqbal, Emily Jacir, Karl Jensen, Yun-Fei Ji, Amy Kao, Deborah Kass, Nina Katchadourian, Elise Kaufman, Lisa Kereszi, Byron Kim, George Kimmerling, John Klima, Christopher Knowles, Lynn Koble, K.K. Kozik, David Kramer, Emily K. Larned, Robert Lazzarini, Il Lee, Simon Lee, Marc Lepson, Nina Levy, Glenn Ligon, Lilla LoCurto and William Outcault, Luis Mallo, Carey Maxon, Matthew McCaslin, Jennifer and Kevin McCoy, Karl A. McIntosh, Dave McKenzie, Daniel Mirer, Vik Muniz, Wangechi Mutu, Otto Neals, Susan Newmark, Matthew Northridge, Kambui Olujimi, David Opdyke, Kristin Oppenheim, Jim Osman, Tom Otterness, Lorenzo Pace, Roxy Paine, Marcy Palmer, Eung Ho Park, Carolanna Parlato, Laura Parnes, Bruce Pearson, Danica Phelps, Thabiso Phokompe, John Powers, Susan Rabinowitz, Paul Henry Ramirez, Ray Rapp, Dr. Tracey Rico, Jack Risley, Marie Roberts, Nadine Robinson, Martha Rosler, Lynn Saville, SOL'SAX, Bill Scanga, Jovi Schnell, Collier Schorr, David Schulz, Dread Scott, Lizzie Scott, Peter Scott, Ezra Shales, David Shapiro, James Sheehan, Ward Shelley, Koji Shimizu, Jean Shin, Jill Shoffiett, Diana Shpungin and Nicole Engelmann, Lisa Sigal, Amy Sillman, Robbin Ami Silverberg, Danny Simmons, Lorna Simpson, Stephen Sollins, Doug and Mike Starn, Mark Stilwell, Jude Tallichet, Dannielle Tegeder, Marisa Telleria-Diez, Fred Tomaselli, Jim Torok, Amanda Trager, Fatimah Tuggar, Mark Dean Veca, William Villalongo, Micki Watanabe, Arlington Weithers, Su-En Wong, Moonching Wu, Angela Wyman, Andy Yoder, Charles Yuen, Kevin Zucker.

The Dia Art Foundation, which came into being three decades ago as the one of the art world's wealthier and more elite institutions, is now seeking money. Dia director Michael Govan has announced a $50-million capital campaign, including $20 million for the Dia:Beacon endowment and $30 million to renovate and endow the Dia Center for the Arts on West 22nd Street in Chelsea. The fundraising looks promising -- Dia has pledges of $10 million already. The renovations in Chelsea are to include air-conditioning, which would allow the celebrated art center to remain open in the summer. The Chelsea facility closes next month, and stays shuttered at least till 2006.

But Dia:Beacon remains open -- and a success story. Attendance has totaled over 100,000 since the museum premiered six months ago in May 2003, a number that includes lots of area schoolchildren participating in the museum's extensive educational program (the Chelsea facility averages about 60,000 visitors a year). The Metro North railroad has even noted a 20 percent increase in ridership on its Hudson River line since Dia:Beacon opened.

The foundation's administrative staff still has its hands full, despite the closed New York facility. Govan is working on a major Dan Flavin retrospective slated for 2004 at the National Gallery of Art, accompanied by a catalog raisonn-type publication. The current Robert Whitman survey is traveling to Porto, Portugal, and a major publication on Blinky Palermo is forthcoming. Dia hopes to continue the New York lecture series at various sites in the city, and an expanded readings series is planned for Dia:Beacon as well. "And in six months, we start planning for the reopening," said Dia spokesperson Laura Raicovich.

The "Playboy at 50: Selections from the Archives" sale at Christie's New York on Dec. 17, 2003, realized a total of $2,750,173, well over the presale high estimate of $1,500,000. LeRoy Neiman's abstract impressionist painting Le Mans (1969) sold for $107,550 (est. $20,000-$30,000), and Alberto Vargas' Vargas Girl -- "Trick or Treat?" (1967) sold for $71,700 (est. $25,000-$35,000), both new auction records for the artists. Hugh Hefner's customized 1988 Mercedes Benz limosine sold for $77,675 (est. $30,000-$50,000), and a typed manuscript by Jack Kerouac published in 1959 as Before the Road (a lot including black-and-white photos of Kerouac by Robert Frank and Jerry Yulsman) sold for $71,700 (est. $20,000-$30,000). A Shel Silverstein cartoon from 1968, dubbed Silverstein Among the Hippies, sold for $65,725 (est. $6,000-$8,000).

Pop Art superstar Robert Rauschenberg is still turning out great work, despite having suffered a stroke that affected his painting hand. Examples of his new photo-based "Scenarios" series, large-scale (7 x 10 ft.) panels depicting commonplace scenes and objects from Rauschenberg's image archive, have their debut on Feb. 7, 2004, in "Robert Rauschenberg: Current Scenarios" at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Conn. The show is the artist's first major exhibition at the Wadsworth in 40 years, and includes examples of early work, including Retroactive I (1963-64), his iconic silkscreen painting including an image of JFK.

"Joan Jonas: Five Works," the pioneering video artist's first major museum show in New York City, is on view at the Queens Museum, Dec. 14, 2003-Mar. 14, 2004. The five works in question are Organic Honey 's Visual Telepathy and Organic Honey's Vertical Roll (1971), The Juniper Tree (1977), Volcano Saga (1985-89), Revolted by the thought of known places. . . (1992) and Lines in the Sand (2002). Jonas performs Lines in the Sand, originally commissioned for Documenta XI, at the Kitchen on Feb 16-18 and Feb. 24-28. Call (212) 255-5793 for info.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has bought Mies van der Rohe's landmark Farnsworth House for $7,511,500, above a presale high estimate of $6 million, in an auction at Sotheby's New York on Dec. 12, 2003. The house, which was built for Edith Farnsworth in 1951, was sold by Lord Palumbo, the London-based art patron and board chairman of the Serpentine Gallery, who oversaw a painstaking restoration of the structure. The NTHP plans to keep the building open to the public while it launches an endowment campaign to raise funds to maintain and operate the house as a museum.

Senator Charles E. Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, sees plenty of room for reform in the current system of tax write-offs for charitable gifts, calling it a "rat's nest of problems," according to a report in the New York Times. But the senator likes the way the Internal Revenue Service Art Advisory Panel works and may use it as a model for reforms relating to gifts of automobiles, land and other in-kind donations. The Art Advisory Panel is a volunteer group of top art dealers and experts that reviews art appraisals of $20,000 or more in audited tax cases. The panel meets in Washington, D.C, once or twice a year and reviews approximately 250-300 items at each meeting in two areas, painting and sculpture, and antiques and decorative arts. In 2001 the panel reviewed 89 taxpayer cases with 687 items with a total valuation of almost $115 million, the IRS has reported. The panel accepted the valuations in just over half of the cases, but found that the rest were off by a total of more than $73 million. The 2001 panel included art dealers Warren Adelson and William Beadleston, PaceWildenstein president Douglas Baxter, Los Angeles County Museum of Art senior curator Stephanie Barron and Art Institute of Chicago deputy director Neal Benezra.

The Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts, the organization established by superstar painter Jasper Johns (and now celebrating its 40th anniversary), has announced its grants for 2003. Seven artists won $20,000 grants: dancers John Jasperse and Susan Rethorst, musician Elliott Sharp, theater artists Kate Valk and Mac Wellman, poet Rosemarie Waldrop and visual artist Bill Morrison. And 25 arts organizations received grants ranging for $1,000 to $4,000, for a total of $180,000, including Art in General, Bomb Magazine, Creative Time, Dixon Place, Harvestworks, the Kitchen and White Columns.

Terrie Sultan, director of the Blaffer Gallery at the University of Houston, has received the title of Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters from the French government.

File this one under "No bad deed goes unrewarded." Andy Behrman, the self-described manic-depressive art forger who spent time in jail for ripping off Artnet Magazine columnist Mark Kostabi while he was the prolific artist's studio manager, was previously able to parlay his misdeeds into a Random House book, Electroboy, that was excerpted in New York magazine and has even become something of a signature memoir of bipolar disorder. Now, Electroboy seems headed for the silver screen -- according to Variety, Spiderman star Tobey Maguire has optioned the book and is slated to produce the film and perhaps play the title role. Production of the $25 million-plus picture could start this summer.