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If Nick Hall has seemed even more self-satisfied than usual these days, he has good reason. As one of Christie's New York Old Master experts, he helped engineer the private sale of Duccio's Stoclet Madonna  to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for $45 million -- the highest price the Met has ever paid for a single object. What makes the sale even sweeter is that Hall & Co. plucked the deal away from Sotheby's, which had had the wealthy Belgian Stoclet family as longtime clients. Word inside the trade is that the picture had been provisionally estimated at $15 million by Sotheby's, but no contract to handle the sale had been signed. Seizing the chance, Christie's assured the Stoclets that they could do much better.

"It's really remarkable that Christie's pulled this off," said one American curator. "$45 million is a hell of a lot of money to pay for that picture. Yes, it's rare, but who else would buy it? There is not a huge market for 14th-century gold-ground pictures, and no single private buyer would pay that sum for it." The price is even considered high for the Getty Museum. By way of comparison, a few years ago the Met acquired a Calvary by Pietro Lorenzetti, a Sienese master of the following generation, for about $10 million from Wildenstein gallery. The picture is of comparable quality and greater beauty.

Though the Met is not known for superior negotiating skills, its hand was forced on the Duccio when the Louvre showed unexpected interest in picture. "You'd think that the Louvre has everything, but they don't have a Duccio," said the curator, "and when Philippe de Montebello heard from Christie's that they were after it, he went insane. Negotiations fly out the window when you have the Louvre breathing down your neck." And how very smart of Christie's to let Philippe know.

                                                                                                     -- Paul Jeromack

The shortlist for the Beck's Futures award, earmarked for a British artist whose work displays "eccentric independence" and "eclecticism," includes Lali Chetwynd (paintings and performance), Luke Fowler (semi-documentary films), Ryan Gander (installations, illustrated lectures, novels), Christina Mackie (sculptures that are both high-tech and handmade), Daria Martin ("lo-tech" films) and Donald Urquhart (ink drawings). An exhibition of works by the shortlisted artists goes on view at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, Mar.18-May 15, 2005. The panel of judges includes artists Wolfgang Tillmans and Cerith Wyn Evans, curators Jessica Morgan, Louise Neri and Beatrix Ruf, and was chaired by ICA exhibitions director Jens Hoffmann. The shortlisted artists split $40,000 in prize money and the winner, to be announced in late April, receives an additional $20,000.

The Israel Museum in Jerusalem is exhibiting for the first time a 2nd century CE Roman sculpture of Venus excavated in Beth Shean, Israel. The remarkably well-preserved artifact, which has accents of red, blue and yellow pigment still on its surface, is the centerpiece of the museum's 40th anniversary show, "Beauty and Sanctity: Masterworks from Every Age," Mar. 29-Oct. 29, 2005.

The exhibition "Paul Cezanne: The Dawn of Modern Art," scheduled to open at the Guggenheim Museum in New York on Feb. 10, 2005, has been canceled due to the museums' failure to secure the loans of several significant paintings in the show. No substitute exhibition has been announced. Next on the schedule at the Gugg is a show of works by 2004 Hugo Boss Prize recipient Rirkrit Tiravanija, opening on Mar. 11, 2005.

Los Angeles collector and MOCA boardmember Blake Byrne, former president of Argyle Television, has given 123 works of art by 78 artists to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles, the largest gift ever offered to the museum by a private collector. Highlights from the generous gift are John Baldessari's Mesa (1990), Robert Gober's Untitled (1998), Mike Kelley's Silver Ball (1994), Gordan Matta-Clark's Office Baroque (1977), Stephan Balkenhol's Vier Figurerengruppen (1999) and Steve McQueen's video Drumroll (1998). Other artists represented among the 123 works include Kai Althoff, Linda Benglis, Cosima von Bonin, Joseph Cornell, Tony Cragg, Thomas Eggerer, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Douglas Gordan, Thomas Hirschhorn, Joseph Kosuth, Yayoi Kusama, Rita McBride, Annette Messager, Albert Oehlen, Sigmar Polke, Gerhard Richter, Ed Ruscha, Jim Shaw, Beat Streuli, Richard Tuttle, Luc Tuymans, Andy Warhol and Paul Winstanley.

The International Fine Print Dealers Association has awarded its first IFPDA Book Award to Wendy Weitman, curator of prints and illustrated books at the Museum of Modern Art, for Kiki Smith Prints, Books &Things, her catalogue to the 2003 Museum of Modern Art exhibition of prints and multiples by Kiki Smith.

The High Museum of Art has announced a new national award to recognize and support exceptional African American artists. The $25,000 David C. Driskell Prize, named after the African American artist, is slated to be awarded on Mar. 7, 2005.

The Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts, founded by Jasper Johns in 1963, has awarded the $20,000 biennial John Cage Award for Music to New York artist David Behrman. Grants of $10,000 each went to ten artists, including Germaine Acogny (dance), Karole Armitage (dance), Marc Mellits (music), Yasunao Tone (music), Peggy Shaw (theatre), Carla Harryman (poetry), Harryette Mullen (poetry), Wade Guyton (visual arts), Stuart Hawkins (visual arts) and Arturo Herrera (visual arts). An additional sum of $41,000 was divided among 32 arts organizations, primarily in the New York area, including Artists Space, BOMB Magazine, The Drawing Center, Independent Curators International, and White Columns.

After five years on West 26th Street in Chelsea, the gallery Gorney Bravin + Lee is closing at the end of its current exhibition of works by Uwe Kowski. Co-founder Jay Gorney is heading to Mitchell-Innes & Nash, which is said to be eying a new space in Chelsea. Karen Bravin plans to work on public art projects, while husband John Lee promises to return to the gallery business at some future date. "The gallery was strong and successful," Lee told Artnet News, "but at the end of the year, our own compensation told a less glamorous story. It's a sign of the shrinking middle class in the art world." Among the artists in the GB+L stable are Justine Kurland, Fabian Marcaccio, Paul Noble, Catherine Opie, Alexis Rockman, Martha Rosler, Jessica Stockholder and James Welling.

Salander O'Reilly Galleries, currently located in a lovely townhouse on East 79th Street, has leased larger quarters at 22 E. 71st Street and expects to move in early 2005. The semi-gothic structure is being renovated to provide three public viewing spaces on two floors, as well as private showrooms, offices and storage. The new building is being leased from Aby Rosen, the real estate mogul and art collector whose properties include the Seagram Building and Sotheby's York Avenue headquarters.

Ella Cisneros Fontanals, founder of Miami Art Central in Coral Gables, has announced winners of the new MAC artist fellowship program, designed to support the artwork of Latin American artists. Winners are Tomas Saraceno (Argentina) and Jarbas Lopes (Brazil). The artists receive living and working studios close to MAC for six months. The works they create during their Miami sojourn are to debut in an exhibition at M.A.C.

Charles Desmarais, curator at large at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, has been named deputy director of art for the Brooklyn Museum. Desmarias had been director at Cincinnati for almost a decade before announcing that he was stepping down to go back to curating.

The Detroit Institute of the Arts has filled four key positions: Kenneth Myers has been named curator and department head of American art; Joseph Cunningham has become curator and department head of contemporary art; Pedro Moura Carvalho has been named curator and department head of Middle Eastern, Islamic and Asian art; and Glenn Gates has been appointed research scientist in the conservation services laboratory.

Tom Wesselmann, 73, Pop artist who made the erotic female nude his trademark image in both paintings on canvas and laser-cut steel, died from complications of heart surgery on Dec.17. Born in Cincinnati, Wesselman served time in the army during the Korean War and moved to New York in 1956. He studied art at Cooper Union and had his first show in 1961at Tanager Gallery, an artists' co-op then managed by Alex Katz. He subsequently exhibited at the Green Gallery in the ‘60s. His most recent solo show was in 2003 at the Robert Miller Gallery in Chelsea.

Gretchen Bender, 53, pioneering 1980s video artist who went on to collaborate extensively with the Bill T. Jones dance troupe, died of cancer on Dec.18. She grew up in North Carolina and worked with D.C. Space before coming to New York in 1980. One of her memorable video installations put clear acetates with the simple phrase, "People with AIDS," over groups of televisions playing ordinary programming. As an innovative video editor, Bender popularized the use of fast-cut editing in videos for Robert Longo as well as for the opening credits of the original America's Most Wanted television show. She made a film, Volatile Memory, in 1986-87 with Sandy Tait. She had a retrospective exhibition of her work at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse in 1991.

ANNE TRUITT, 1921-2004
Anne Truitt, 83, Washington Color School sculptor known for smooth Minimalist forms that carried intensely saturated color into three dimensions, died from complications following gall bladder surgery on Dec. 23 in Washington, D.C. A close friend of Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland, Truitt was discovered by Clement Greenberg, who first wrote about her work in 1962. She exhibited for 20 years with Andre Emmerich Gallery, and is currently represented by Danese Gallery in New York. Her 1962 sculpture, Catawba, is included in the inaugural installation at the new facility of the Museum of Modern Art. Recent museum surveys of her work have appeared at the Carlos Museum in Atlanta (2004), the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery in Lincoln, Neb. (2003), and the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe (2000). She taught for many years at the University of Maryland.

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