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The gala opening of the 50th Venice Biennale, June 15-Nov. 2, 2003, is only two months away, and biennale curator Francesco Bonami, who also happens to be curator of the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art, blew into New York City the other day for a press conference on the really big show. Holding forth to a capacity crowd in the New Museum bookstore (a group that included art dealers Andrew Kreps and Marian Goodman along with the usual ink-stained suspects), Bonami acquitted himself well, outlining his curatorial program with enthusiasm and plenty of self-effacing humor. (Showing a slide of Benvenuto Cellini's Perseus, Bonami said it was emblematic of his position -- "not the guy with the sword and muscles but the one with the cut-off head").

Overall, the theme of the Biennale is "Dreams and Conflicts: The Dictatorship of the Viewer." "There is a dictator inside all of us," Bonami maintained, while admitting that his title courts controversy. Bonami himself is curating two of the 11 special exhibitions and co-curating a third, and has enlisted independent curators to organize the rest. One highlight is certain to be "Delays and Revolutions," an exhibition of work by 40 artists, ranging from Andy Warhol to David Hammons and including Matthew Barney's first post-Cremaster effort and a piece by Sam Durant commissioned for the faade of the Italian pavilion reading "Like, Man, I'm Tired of Waiting."

Noting that Italian artists have always had to cede most of the space in their large national pavilion to the curated international show, Bonami said he had commissioned a tent-like structure to be built outside the Italian pavilion by A12 architects to house works by five young Italian artists selected by the curator and critic Massimiliano Gioni. "Italy is finally a country again," he said. Bonami's well-known interest in painting is manifested in "Pittura/ Painting," a show at the Museo Correr of more than 40 works by artists who have previously been included in the Biennale.

Of the 64 nations taking part, 27 have work in the national pavilions in the Giardini while the other 37 are scattered throughout the city, "making Venice a map of the world for four months." Two black artists are taking center stage: Chris Ofili at the British pavilion and Fred Wilson at the U.S. pavilion. According to Kathleen Goncharov, curator at MIT List Visual Arts Center, which is coordinating the U.S. entry, Wilson's installation includes several Old Master paintings of black Africans from Venice collections, as well as contributions from the Venetian Senegalese community and local artisans and guilds (perhaps a chandelier made of black Venetian glass?).

The list of artists in the national pavilions includes Patricia Piccinini (Australia), Bruno Gironcoli (Austria), Silvie Eyberg and Valrie Mannaerts (Belgium), Beatriz Milhazes and Rosngela Renn (Brazil), Jana Sterbak (Canada), Liu Jianhua, Lu Shengzhong, Wang Shu, Yang Fudong and Zhan Wang (China), Olafur Eliasson (Denmark), Ahmed Nawar (Egypt), Jean-Marc Bustamante (France), Candida Hfer and Martin Kippenberger (Germany), Behrooz Daresh, Abbas Kiarostami, Hossein Khosrojerdi and Ahmad Nadalian (Iran), Katie Holten (Ireland), Michal Rovner (Israel), Motohiko Odani and Yutaka Sone (Japan), Carlos Amorales, Alicia Framis, Meschac Gaba, Jeanne van Heeswijk and Erik van Lieshout (the Netherlands), Michael Stevenson (New Zealand), Mamma Andersson, Kristina Braein and Liisa Lounila (the Nordic countries), Stanislaw Drzdz (Poland), Pedro Cabrita Reis (Portugal), Sergey Bratkov, Vladimir Dubossarsky & Alexander Vinogradov, Valery Koshliakov and Konstantin Zvezdochetov (Russia), Santiago Sierra (Spain), Emmanuelle Antille, Jorg Lenzlinger & Gerda Steiner (Switzerland), Pablo Atchugarry (Uruguay) and Pedro Morales (Argentina).

Two Leone d'oro medals for lifetime achievement have already been awarded to 85-year-old Italian painter Carol Rama and to Arte Povera stalwart Michelangelo Pistoletto.

Bonami put the cost of the Italian portion of the show at Euro 6,200,000. "The money is not enough," Bonami joked. "But we try to use it the best we can." Goncharov seemed confused when asked for a budget for the American pavilion, and declined to give a number.

Protesters set off stink bombs and threw fake 10 Euro bills at the opening auction of material from the Andre Breton estate in Paris on Apr. 7, 2003, according to a report by Reuters. The ten-day series of sales by the CalmelsCohen auction group, which stretches Apr. 7-17 at the Hotel Drouot, features 5,500 items that could fetch a total of more than $30 million. After waiting since Breton's death in 1966 for the French state to come through on its promise to buy the collection and establish a museum dedicated to the Surrealist leader, Breton's only child, Aube Breton Elleouet, who is now in her 60s, declared that she could no longer administer the estate and put it up for sale.

Though several other auction houses (including Sotheby's and Christie's) are bigger players on the local auction market, CalmelsCohen snagged the estate through Marcel Fleiss, who had showed Breton's work and who was friendly with Elleouet. CalmelsCohen has done a good job on the catalogues and the website and, with the exception of the stink bomb, is also managing the auction proper very competently. And while opponents of the massive dispersal argue that the collection should have been preserved for the nation, art dealers and collectors have flocked to the event, hoping to snag a bit of the Surrealist legacy for their own holdings.

A constant writer, editor and publisher, Breton ended up with an especially rich archive of printed material, and the auctions begin with five days of sales of books and manuscripts. Many of the books have dedications and special art additions that pay homage to the pope of Surrealism, and the historical import of the collection has helped jack up prices considerably.

The action in the visual arts comes next week, with Breton's art hitting the block on the evening of Apr. 14 and during the following day. This trove features Rene Magritte's emblematic La femme cache of 1929, the painting of a nude that was the centerpiece of a famous group picture of the Surrealists (est. Euro 500,000-800,000); a sexy painting by Clovis Trouille of a nun smoking a cigarette and showing her red-stockinged gams (est. Euro 60,000-80,000); a rare Surrealist gouache from 1938 by Diego Rivera (est. Euro 30,000-35,000); and a 1920 mechano-collage by Man Ray, complete with a Duchampian cracked-glass case (est. Euro 800,000-1,200,000). The 433-lot sale includes works by Breton himself, as well as pieces by Surrealists famous and obscure.

Photographs from Breton's archive go on the block on the evening of Apr. 15, continuing through Apr. 16-17. Surrealist expert Timothy Baum noted two prize sets of pictures to watch -- a group of 16 photographs from the 1930s by Manuel Alvarez Bravo that is "superior to most that have come up at auction before" and the 20 lots of photos by Raoul Ubac. "The hand-colored photographs by Hans Bellmer are also important," Baum said. The Breton event ends with an auction of primitive art on Apr. 17.

You might not be able to smoke in many places in New York City, but tobacco money seems to be everywhere. The poster child for this tendency is the Whitney Museum of American Art at Altria, formerly known as the Whitney Museum of American Art at Phillip Morris, located in the tobacco giant's midtown Manhattan headquarters building. Whitney branch curator Shamim Momin says that nothing has changed but the name. First up at the newly sanitized satellite space is a show of work by Dario Robleto, "Say Goodbye to Substance," opening Apr. 15, 2003.

As most art-world observers know, when it comes to currying public favor with contributions to arts organizations, Altria is nothing if not thorough. The company recently said that it had awarded $2.6 million in grants to 123 New York City arts organizations in the last year. In addition to the Whitney, recipients of 'bacco bucks range from the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum and the Metropolitan Museum to the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Drawing Center, Exit Art and more than 50 other visual arts organizations. Altria says that in the last 10 years, it has contributed more than $1 billion to philanthropies worldwide.

Despite the war in neighboring Iraq, the United Arab Emirates on the Persian Gulf is hosting the sixth Sharjah International Biennial, Apr. 8-May 8, 2003. Staged primarily at Sharjah's new Expo Centre and the Sharjah Art Museum, with projects also sited in the Heritage and Old Town areas, the show features 117 artists from 25 countries picked by curators Hoor Al Qasimi (UAE) and Peter Lewis (Goldsmiths College), The show has a strong selection of artists who hail from Arab states, but also includes Aleksandra Mir, Ann Lislegaard, Candida Höfer, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Diana Cooper, Jane Alexander, Liz-n-Val, William Kentridge, Wolfgang Staehle and Zwelethu Mthethwa. For more info, see the extensive website at

Spain has unveiled its new center for Asian art, the Casa Asia, in the Palacio Bar de Quadras in Barcelona, a highly decorated Art Nouveau-period structure built in 1904-06 by architect Puig I Cadafalch. The inaugural art exhibition is "Divine Presence: Arts of India and the Himalayas," Mar. 27-June 22, 2003, a show curated by Jane Casey and presenting 60 artworks ranging from Gandharan sculpture from the first century to 18th-century Mongolian bronzes. Casa Asia is admittedly a response to the new global economy, designed to pave the way for Spanish interests in Asia. A white paper on the project notes that while 56 percent of the world's population is concentrated in Asia, which produces approximately 25 percent of world GDP, only three percent of Spanish foreign trade comes from Asia and the Pacific.

The ten-year-old Australian contemporary art magazine Art Asia Pacific, which was close to closing last year, has been given new life. The Chinese-born, New York City-based artist Gang Zhao, a participant in China's 1970s Shing Shing (Star Star) art group and now head of the J.A.K. Publishing company, has taken over the magazine. New editor of the quarterly, which plans to reappear in October and hopes to go bimonthly within a year, is Franklin Sirmans; other dependable art-critical hands who have been enlisted in the re-energized enterprise are Eleanor Heartney (consulting editor), Hou Hanru (senior editor, Europe), Lily Wei (columnist), Eungie Joo (editor-at-large) and Benjamin Genocchio (associate publisher). Art Asia Pacific has a very contemporary profile, with jazzy cover designs; for a sample, see

The National Museum of the American Indian at the U.S. Customs House in Lower Manhattan has launched a new, 18-month series of shows of contemporary Native American artists. "Continuum: 12 Artists" is presenting the artists in pairs, beginning with work by Rick Burtow and Kay WalkingStick, opening Apr. 26 (and closing July 20 and Aug. 3, respectively). Other artists in the series are Joe Feddersen and Harry Fonseca, Hachivi Edgar Heap of Birds and Richard Ray Whitman, George Longfish and Nora Naranjo-Morse, Judith Lowry and Shelley Niro, and Jaune Quick-to-See-Smith and Marie Watt. The series has been organized by Truman Lowe and Anya Montiel.

First the Guggenheim Museum did "The Art of the Motorcycle," then the Museum of Modern Art inaugurated its Queens outpost with "Autobodies." Now, the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Va., debuts a show of 12 vintage Ferrari sports cars alongside 30 classic racing photographs by Louis Klemantaski. "La Bella Macchina: The Art of Ferrari" goes on view Apr. 13-July 20, 2003. A fundraising gala on Apr. 12 features an auction of a 1965 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud. For more info, go to

The Israel Museum in Jerusalem has received a gift of 17 Dada and Surrealist works from the collection of Arturo Schwarz. The gift includes works by Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia, Man Ray, Andr Breton, Jean Arp and Raoul Hausman. Schwarz had previously donated 750 works from his holdings to the museum in 1998.

Acclaimed fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto is the subject of an art show at the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art in Japan -- via pictures taken by eight photographers of his fashion shows. Dubbed "Yohji Yamamoto: May I Help You?," Apr. 26-July 21, 2003, the exhibition includes about 70 photographs by Max Vadukul, Inez Van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin, David Sims, Nick Knight, Craig Mc Dean, Sarah Moon, Peter Lindbergh and Paolo Roversi. The survey is curated by Carla Sozzani.

Red Grooms has received the lifetime achievement award for 2003 from the National Academy of Design. . . . Art historian Linda Nochlin has received the 2003 distinguished service to the visual arts award from ArtTable, a bronze multiple designed by Louise Bourgeois. . . Former SoHo art dealer and New School curator Stefano Basilico has been named adjunct curator of contemporary art at the Milwaukee Art Museum; he retains his post at the New School and remains based in New York. . . . Artist Rirkrit Tiravanija has won the third annual $25,000 Lucelia Artist Award from the Smithsonian American Art Museum; jurors for this year's prize were Richard Flood, Vicki Goldberg, Laura Hoptman, Cindy Sherman and Robert Storr. . . . Nicola Redway has been appointed head of the 20th-century decorative arts department at Christie's New York.