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Christie's and Sothebys have both issued their annual sales numbers for 2003, with Christies once again claiming the title of worlds leading auction house." Christies announced total sales of $2 billion for 2003 ($1.8 billion at auction and $150 million in private sales), an increase from the preceding years total of $1.9 billion (contrary to a report in the New York Post, which had the total falling seven percent from 2002). Christies sold 136 works for more than $1 million, with the top price of $26.9 million coming for Amedeo Modiglianis Nu couche in New York last November.

Christies also noted that since inaugurating sales in France only two years ago, Christie's France has become the countrys leading auction house, holding 65 percent market share against Sothebys with total sales of $92.1 million in 2003. Christies claims that the art market remains strong and says that the firm is exploring new markets -- for the first time, Christies is exhibiting highlights from its New York Impressionist and modern art sale in Shanghai.

Highlights for Christie's in 2004 include the sale of more than 1,000 objects from the holdings of Belgian antique dealer Axel Vervoordt at Castle vans-Gravenwezel near Antwerp in May; the sale of a selection of nine works from the Museum of Modern Art in its May sales in New York; and the auction of the Doris Duke Collection of jewelry, rare wines and decorative and fine arts in New York in June.

As for Sothebys, it announced total sales for 2003 of $1.69 billion, a five percent decline from the previous years total. Sothebys announced a decrease in its net loss, from $59.5 million in 2002 to $26.5 million in 2003, presumably indicating a continuing recovery from the firms disastrous anti-trust fiasco of the past several years. (Christies is privately held and does not release profit or loss figures). Sothebys continued focus is on profitability and not sales or any market share level, particularly at the low end, sniffed Sothebys president and CEO William F. Ruprecht.

For 2004, Sothebys noted its "exceptional" private sale of the Forbes Collection of Fabergé in February for an undisclosed amount (the estimate was $90 million) and the forthcoming May sale of 44 modernist paintings from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. John Hay Whitney, including Pablo Picassos Boy with a Pipe, which market observers think may be the first $100-million picture.

The U.S. state department has been tightening the screws on "person-to-person" diplomacy involving Cuba, and the latest victim is Cuban artist Sandra Ramos, who has been denied a visa to visit the U.S. for a forthcoming show of her work at the Fraser Gallery in Georgetown in Washington, D.C.. Ramos' work often comments on taboo issues in Cuban society, and she had previously been granted visas to attend exhibitions and conferences in the U.S. But not this time. Ramos had her first solo show in the U.S. in Miami last year; the exhibition in Washington is her second. D.C., Gallery director Catriona Fraser said the news came as a shock. Artists of Ramos caliber and reputation are not only good for our gallery but for the Washington art scene in general. The show goes on view all the same, May 21-June 16, 2004; for more info, visit

The celebrated actress Katharine Hepburn (1907-2003) made paintings, though her work has been little seen. Now, with the forthcoming auction of her estate at Sotheby's New York, a selection of some 100 paintings, sculptures, drawings and sketchbooks by Hepburn go on exhibition at the auction house June 3-10 and hit the auction block June 10-11, 2004. Hepburn is said to have made her first painting on Howard Hughes' yacht in 1938, and over the years completed more than 50 works, many of which depict scenes from her travels as well as views of the Los Angeles house she shared with Spencer Tracy. One lot in the sale includes her painting table, easel, palettes, paint boxes and brushes (est. $1,500-$2,000), while another lot is a small bronze bust Hepburn made of Tracy that was included as a prop in their Oscar-winning film Guess Whos Coming to Dinner (est. $3,000-$5,000). The total sale, which also includes works by George Bellows, Robert Henri and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec from Hepburns collection, is expected to fetch approximately $1 million.

Philadelphias Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) is taking the Conceptual Art bull by the horns with a new show planned for next May. The Big Nothing, May 1-Aug. 1, 2004, features works by over 60 artists exploring themes of nothing and nothingness in contemporary art. . . . the void, the ineffable, the sublime, refusal, nihilism, zero." Among the varieties of the big easy are the empty gallery space (Yves Klein, Robert Barry, Michael Asher), the Zen nothing (Yayoi Kusama), the vacuity of consumer culture (Roe Ethridge, Andy Warhol) and the big negation (Louise Lawler, Jutta Koether). Among others in the show are Bas Jan Ader, Richard Artschwager, Michel Auder, Larry Bell, James Lee Byars, Maurizio Cattelan, Jessica Diamond, Allan McCollum, John Miller, Matt Mullican, Gabriel Orozco, William Pope.L, Santiago Serra, Robert Smithson and James Welling.

Whats more, "The Big Nothing" is spreading its nothingness throughout Philadelphia all summer long. Among the attractions are a nonperformance of Rene Clairs cinematic Entracte (the music played through speakers on a stage) and the Nothing Cabaret, an evening of performances in the spirit of Cabaret Voltaire. For more info about nothing in particular, see

The Herb Ritts Foundation, formed by the late glamour photographer who died of AIDS at age 50 in 2002, is gearing up to begin operations. Plans call for support to AIDS research and health organizations as well as aid for museum exhibitions of photography and scholarships for study of the field. Chairman of the board and president of the foundation is Mark McKenna, Ritts' former business manager. The foundation has lots of artwork -- over 500 editioned photos by Ritts -- and plans to issue no posthumous prints. For more info, see the website of the Los Angeles photo gallery Fahey/Klein, which mounted a memorial exhibition of Ritts work late last year, or the website of the foundation itself,

Flash Art magazines Milan Flash Art Fair, Mar. 26-28, 2004, promises a hip art weekend at the chic UNA Hotel Tocq, featuring approximately 60 Italian and European galleries and 10 curatorial projects by young Italian and artists. A few days later, the 22nd annual Art Brussels art fair debuts at the Brussels Expo, Apr. 1-5, 2004, with 145 galleries, about half hailing from outside Belgium. The Brussels fair includes a "Young Galleries section, 28 One-man-shows and a new 10,000 euro prize given to the best solo show by a committee of collectors. U.S. galleries include Barbara Gladstone, Maccarone, Slingshot Project and DAmelio Terras. For more info, see

The Dia Art Foundations latest internet project is The New Five Foot Shelf by Allen Ruppersberg, a compilation of 50 volumes of texts and several hundred images that represent the perimeter of his jam-packed New York studio. Ruppersbergs project is inspired by Dr. Charles William Elliot's 1910 Five Foot Shelf of Books, an extended reading list that Elliot optimistically considered equal to a Harvard education. The work goes online on Mar. 30, 2004, at

Supercollector Dakis Joannou is having his own art olympics during this summer's official Olympic games, assembling a blockbuster of contemporary art from his own collection. "Monument to Now," as the exhibition has modestly been titled, goes on view at Joannou's Deste Foundation in Athens, June 22-Dec. 31, 2004. Joannou has enlisted several globe-trotting art apparatchiks to curate the selection, including New Museum curator Dan Cameron, Centre Pompidou curator Alison M. Gingeras, freelance curator Massimilian Gioni, Guggenheim curator Nancy Spector and New York dealer Jeffrey Deitch.

The artists are Franz Ackermann, Amy Adler, Ghada Amer, Laurie Anderson, Janine Antoni, Kutlug Ataman, Matthew Barney, Vanessa Beecroft, Michael Bevilacqua, Ashley Bickerton, Cai Guo-Qiang, Maurizio Cattelan, Nigel Cooke, Verne Dawson, Rineke Dijkstra, John Dogg, Marcel Duchamp, Olafur Eliasson, Urs Fischer, David Fischli & Peter Weiss, Anna Gaskell, Gilbert & George, Robert Gober, Douglas Gordon, Johan Grimonprez, Peter Halley, Damien Hirst, Brad Kahlhamer, Kurt Kauper, Mike Kelley, William Kentridge, Martin Kippenberger, Jeff Koons, George, Lappas, Liza Lou, Paul McCarthy, Barry McGee & Margaret Kilgallen, Mariko Mori, Takashi Murakami, Nikos Navridis, Shirin Neshat, Tim Noble & Sue Webster, Cady Noland, Chris Ofili, Gabriel Orozco, Charles Ray, Pipilotti Rist, Matthew Ritchie, Tom Sachs, Gregor Schneider, Andreas Slominski, Haim Steinbach, Lina Theodorou, Wolfgang Tillmans, Fred Tomaselli, Kara Walker, Nari Ward, Andy Warhol, Gillian Wearing, Christopher Wool and Chen Zhen.

Since last month, the L.A. Galerie - Lothar Albrecht in Frankfurt has also operated a branch in Beijing called L.A. Gallery - Beijing and overseen by architect and developer Pan Xiulong and businessman Wei Wei, with whom Lothar Albrecht operated a gallery in Shanghai in 2001-02. The joint venture began in February with a face-off between German artists Lukas Einsele, Susa Templin and Johnny Pack and Beijing artists Ren Xiaolin, Lu Hao and Shen Liang. The second exhibition features work by Chen Wenbo and Liu Ding. For more info, see

Add a new stop to your art-gallery rounds in the Fuller Building at 41 East 57th Street -- William Lipton Ltd, which premiered with "Treasures of the Middle Kingdom and Beyond," Mar. 20-Apr. 17, 2004, a selection of Buddhist sculpture, Asian art and Chinese furniture, including a rare 14th century Lan Na-style bronze Buddha. Lipton first opened a gallery on East 61st Street in 1989 in partnership with Robert Homma and later continued there on his own. For info, see

After a hiatus, the John Davis Gallery, founded in 1985 in Akron, Ohio, and relocated to Prince Street in SoHo in 1991, reopens at 338 West 38th Street, suite 511, on Apr. 1. The inaugural exhibition showcases gallery artists John Cross, Linda Cross, Lois Dickson, Priscilla Derven, Jon Isherwood, Grace Knowlton, Lucy Reitzfeld, John Ruppert, Fran Shalom and La Wilson. For more info, see