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In a backroom transaction that has caused an uproar in the ordinarily amoral art world, the New York Public Library has sold Asher B. Durand's masterpiece, Kindred Spirits (1849), a vaunted painting of artist Thomas Cole and poet and journalist William Cullen Bryant on a ledge in the Catskill Mountains, to Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton, who says she plans to install it in the absurdly named Crystal Bridges, an as-yet-unbuilt Walton Family Foundation museum in Bentonville, Ark. The price was a king's ransom -- $35 million, paid in a hush-hush "sealed bid" auction that "minimized the likelihood of a public brouhaha," according to New York Times chief art critic Michael Kimmelmann, who wrote back-to-back articles criticizing the deal. The sale was conducted by Sotheby's, which may well have made at least 10 percent, or $3.5 million, on the transaction, according to insiders.

The library's disgraceful sell-off of New York's cultural legacy is led by NYPL president Paul LeClerc, an academic who has headed the library since 1993 and who before that was president of Hunter College and dean of CUNY. The NYPL profit-taking is not limited solely to the Durand painting, unfortunately; the library is also hawking two Gilbert Stuart portraits of George Washington as well as a collection of 16 other works. Though the NYPL claims it needs the money for acquisitions, it is a wealthy institution with an endowment of more than $400 million. The NYPL has "squandered the public's good will, a priceless commodity," wrote Kimmelmann. "Who knows how much the sale may have cost the library," he said, in future gifts from now wary prospective donors?

The Metropolitan Museum's French-born director, Philippe de Montebello, whose disinterest in American art is widely known, shares the blame for the scandalous loss of Durand's painting, insiders say. Despite making public protestations that it tried to win the work by teaming up with the National Gallery of Art, the Met is the logical home for the work, and could have muscled the NYPL into some kind of deal had it truly wanted to. But under de Montebello, insiders say, the museum would clearly prefer to spend $45 million on a tiny Duccio painting of largely art-historical interest, rather than going all out for an icon of the Hudson River School.

The Durand sale is especially distasteful in light of Wal-Mart's baleful influence on contemporary American life. New York State attorney general Eliot Spitzer is charged with protecting the interests of the New York public in regard to the operations of tax-free organizations like the library and the Met. Whether or not he can be prompted to take action in this case remains to be seen. Stay tuned.

How to explain the absurd rise in art-auction prices for a few dozen contemporary artists? Obscenely rich hedge-fund millionaires in search of top-level trophies for the walls of their mansions, according to a front-page story in the Wall Street Journal. Many of these traders buy in quantity and build up a "position," according to the story, which was written by staff reporter Robert Frank. Daniel Loeb, a 43-year-old partner in Third Point LLC, for instance, has purchased more than 30 works by Martin Kippenberger; earlier this year, he sold a 1984 Kippenberger painting to Charles Saatchi for $1,500,000, a 500 percent markup from the $300,000 he paid for it 2003. Loeb told the paper that it was his only sale, however.

Other Wall Street art buyers include David Ganek, manager of Level Global Investors, who buys Diane Arbus and Richard Prince, and Glenn Fuhrman, co-manager of MSD Capital (the investment firm for computer billionaire Michael Dell), who collects works by Chuck Close, Jim Hodges and Brice Marden. Another high-level collector mentioned in the story is Kenneth Griffin, founder of Citadel Investment Group in Chicago, who is said to have paid more than $60 million for Paul Czanne's Curtain, Jug and Fruit Bowl in 1999. And finally, SAC Capital Management founder Steven Cohen, who earned more than $350 million in 2003, is reported to have spent more than $100 million on art purchases.

The lovely Czech capital of Prague is hosting not one but two biennials this summer, and they're battling it out behind the scenes. Flash Art Magazine founders Giancarlo Politi and Helena Kontova are back for a second go at a post-Iron-Curtain art exhibition, with the Prague Biennale 2, May 26-Sept. 15, 2005, featuring "Expanded Painting," a vast show of new work by more than 70 artists from Europe, including Michal Borremans, Nina Bovasso, Maurizio Cattelan, Torben Giehler, Hans Hemmert, Damien Hirst, Hobbypop, Graham Little, Miltos Manetas, Ugo Rondinone and Wilhelm Sasnal. The biennale also features no less that 10 other exhibitions, focusing on "New German Painting from Leipzig and Dresden," the Normal Group, "New Perspectives in Chinese Painting," Kinetic Art, "Accion Directa, Latin American Social Sphere," "Czech Slovak New Scene," "Definition of Everyday," an overview of Polish art and a show of Outsider Art.

The relative newcomer -- and legally forbidden to use the term "Prague Biennial" by the Flash Art crew -- is the International Biennale of Contemporary Art 2005, June 14-Sept. 11, 2005, presented by the National Gallery in Prague at the Trade Fair Palace. Titled "A Second Sight," the biennale boasts 31 curators and 400 participating artists in a series of about 25 shows. Curator Michael J. Wewerka, for instance, has organized "Art and Society," a show of 10 artists from Germany, including Cornelia Schleime, Gerwald Rockenschaub, Hannah Dougherty, Henrieke Ribbe, Joachim Grommek, Norbert Bisky, Rebecca Raue, Seo, Stefan Inauen and Susanne Khn. Other exhibitions range from "nEUclear reactions" (organized by Paco Barragn) and "Manipulation: On Economies of Deceit (curated by Adam Budak) to "The Picture as an Appealing Tradition" and "Chilean Art Crossing Borders."

A major book and traveling exhibition of artworks by the late Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia is slated for release this coming fall. Jerry Garcia: The Collected Artwork, a lavish 208-page book featuring 140 color reproductions of paintings by the legendary musician, is being published by Thunder's Mouth Press. Garcia worked in both figurative and abstract styles; his subjects included city views, portraits of musicians and shamanistic landscapes. Edited by the official archivist of the Garcia estate, April Higashi, the book includes a foreword by Dead percussionist Mickey Hart as well as texts by Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Carlos Santana and Grace Slick. The exhibition opens in San Francisco and subsequently appears in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta.

The Museum of Modern Art has announced several new acquisitions, including the cathedral-like Robert Gober installation that was on view at Matthew Marks Gallery last month [see "Time and Change," Apr. 4, 2005]. The installation was donated to the museum by Maja Oeri and Hans Bodenmann. No price was given, but Gober's auction record -- paid last week for a single wax sculpture of a man's leg -- is $912,000. MoMA's new Gober installation includes 10 sculptures and several more works on paper. The site where the work is to be installed -- it requires a hole to be cut into the floor, plus plumbing for the Christ-figure fountain -- remains to be announced.

Other MoMA acquisitions include two plaster sculptures by Alberto Giacometti, Gazing Head (Tte qui regarde) (1928-29) and Head-Skull (Tte-crane) (1933-34), donated by Marie-Jose and Henry Kravis; Joan Mir's Solar Bird (1966), a gift of CIGNA and an important sculpture that is a companion piece to Moonbird (1966), also in MoMA's collection; Eva Hesse's Ringaround Rosie (1965) wall sculpture, a fractional and promised gift of Kathy Fuld; Bridget Riley's Untitled vertical stripe painting from her so-called "Egyptian Series," begun in the early 1980s and finished in the last several years, donated by Sid and Mercedes Bass; and Julian Stanczak's The Duel (1963), a gift of Agnes Gund and the first work by the Op artist to enter the MoMA collection.

Other acquisitions were on view in recent MoMA exhibitions: Lee Bontecous Untitled (ca. 1980-98) was on view in "Lee Bontecou: A Retrospective" in 2004; and Mark Dion's Cabinet, containing artifacts from the excavated Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden, was featured in the exhibition lineup when the museum reopened its Manhattan headquarters building. Dion's work is a gift of the Freedman family in memory of Doris C. and Alan J. Freedman. A third work, Dana Schutz's large painting Presentation (2005) is included in the current "Greater New York 2005" show at P.S.1. Still other acquisitions are works by Sarah Lucas and Eberhard Havekost, both fractional and promised gifts of Michael and Judy Ovitz.

Spirits were good at the China International Gallery Exposition, overseen by CIGE director Dong Meng Yang and held at the China World Trade Center in Beijing, May 2-5, 2005, reports Artnet's Asia representative, Miya Hideshima. Now in its second year, the fair was better organized, and attracted a wider range of participating galleries. Among the 80-plus exhibitors were Artcore/Fabrice Marcolini (Toronto), Chambers Fine Art (New York), Chinese Contemporary Art (London & Beijing), CourtYard Gallery (Beijing), Gagosian Gallery, Galerie BHAK (Seoul), Galerie Christian Nagel (Cologne), Galerie Krinzinger (Vienna), Jack Tilton Gallery (New York), Marella Arte Contemporanea (Milan), Taka Ishii Gallery (Tokyo) and Tomio Koyama Gallery (Tokyo).

Sales varied from gallery to gallery -- but even those exhibitors who did little business seemed willing to come back next year because they don't want to miss out on the ongoing art boom in China. Robert & Lee Art Gallery (Taiwan) reported strong demand for large paintings by better-known Chinese contemporary artists such as Zhang Xiogang, Wang Guangyi and Yue Minjun. Creation Art Gallery (Beijing), which was founded in 1996 by artist Li Xiaoke, also reported good sales. On the other hand, Hino Gallery (Tokyo), which brought to the fair young Japanese artists like Fumio Takamizawa and Ryoichi Kobayashi, said that abstraction was a hard sell to a Chinese audience. 798 Photo Gallery (Beijing) sold a number of photo editions by Xiao Zhuang depicting China's Communist era.

Adding to the excitement of the fair is the growth of a new art neighborhood in northeastern Beijing called Dashanzi, a factory district from the Mao era. Beijing Tokyo Art Project of Tokyo Gallery opened in Dashanzi in 2002 in a former munitions building; more recently, the CourtYard Gallery opened its second space in the area. The neighborhood is home to many artists as well, and hosted the 2nd Dashanzi International Art Festival, Apr. 30-May 22, 2005.

CRG Gallery
in Chelsea is opening "Greater Brooklyn," May 19-July 22, 2005, a group exhibition of unrepresented artists from the borough across the bridge, selected entirely from digital images by curators Alex Dodge and Glen Baldridge. The artists in the show are George Boorujy, Josh Brand, Joy Curtis, Eric Doeringer, Marta Edmisten, Joel Edwards, Elise Ferguson, Bella Foster, Anthony Fuller, Allison Gildersleeve, Jerry Gunn, Joseph Hart, Jacob Hartman, Alex Hubbard, Butt Johnson, Theodore Kersten, Andrew Kuo, Jim Lee, Eddie Martinez, Brian Montuori, Keiko Narahashi, Ian Pedigo, Zak Prekop, Noam Rappaport, Gretchen Scherer, William Touchet, Michael Vahrenwald, Mandolyn Wilson Rosen, Sam Wilson and Erik Wysocan.

P.S.1 Art Center
director Alanna Heiss has ousted Linda Yablonsky as program manager of the online WPS1 art radio station. In little more than a year and on a shoestring budget, the respected critic and writer built WPS1 into a wide-ranging and freewheeling online art resource. Yablonsky's final three programs -- her self-admitted "swan songs" -- are posted online now at

They include a final installment of the "Yay/Nay Show," Yablonsky's own talk show, co-hosted with critic Carey Lovelace and welcoming guests Cindy Sherman and Arne Svenson; "Writer's Choice," featuring readings by and interviews with Francine Prose and Amy Hempel; and the "Lonely Bitter Hour," a "suitably abject musical episode" with Sean Landers, Zak Smith and Jeronimo Elespe.

The future programming direction of WPS1 remains unclear, though Heiss has announced plans to broadcast from a barge in Venice during the Venice Biennale. As for Yablonsky, she writes in an email that "one day, I believe, we will have a high-quality, all-arts radio channel, which I think this country sorely needs, on a fully accessible network, and I am hoping to make that happen."

The American Academy of Arts and Letters has honored critic Joan Didion and painter Jane Freilicher with gold medals, the institution's highest honor. The ceremony also saw AAAL Secretary Robert Pinsky induct eight new members into the 250-person organization: Maya Lin, James Stewart Polshek, Laurie Olin, Cindy Sherman, Kiki Smith, Tony Kushner, Rosanna Warren and T.J. Anderson. English architect Norman Foster and Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk were honored by academy president Philip Pearlstein as "foreign honorary members."

There's more reason than just the pleasant weather to head out to Long Island City's Socrates Sculpture Park. Curated by Alyson Baker and Robyn Donohue, "Sport," May 15-Aug. 7, 2005, rounds up a team of artists who use the outdoor venue as a platform for meditations on athleticism, competition and game playing. Artists who made the cut include Nicholas Arbatsky, Ron Baron, Tory Fair, Satch Hoyt, Alix Lambert, Tim Laun, Collier Schorr, Peter Simensky, Anne Thulin, Type A, Lee Walton and Allison Wiese.

The Joan Mitchell Foundation in New York has awarded $10,000 MFA Grants for 2005 to 11 recently graduated artists. Winners are Charlotte Becket (Hunter College), Eileen David (San Jose State University), Earl Fyffe (Queens College, CUNY), Gandalf Gavn (Columbia University), Jim Gaylord (University of California, Berkeley), M. Elisabeth Higgins O'Connor (University of California, Davis), Chris Knight (University of Wisconsin, Madison), Amer Kobaslija (Montclair State University), Shervone Neckles (Queens College, CUNY), Michael Oglivie (University of Nevada, Las Vegas) and Lynn Richardson (University of Texas, Austin).

The latest travel guide from Sidra Stitch's "Art-Sites Series" comes just in time for this year's Venice Biennale -- it's art-SITES Northern Italy, a user-friendly, time-saving handbook for art tourists in search of contemporary art, architecture and design, featuring 145 illustrations, eight maps and city tour routes. The guide costs $19.95; for more info, see

The California Institute of Arts (CalArts) and the Herb Alpert Foundation have announced the five winners of the $50,000 annual Alpert Award Fellowships. The fellows are filmmaker Jem Cohen, composer David Dunn, artist Harrell Fletcher, playwright Naomi Iizuka and choreographer Donna Uchizono. For more info, see

New York art dealer Elizabeth Dee and David Quadrini of Angstrom Gallery in Dallas have teamed up to launch Q.E.D., a new space in Los Angeles at 2622 South La Cienega Boulevard in Culver City, next door to Blum & Poe. The debut exhibition features works by Erick Swenson, May 28-July 2, 2005. For more details, contact Q.E.D. at (310) 204-3334.

Who are the ten most faked artists in history? It has been said that Corot painted 800 pictures, of which 4,000 are in America. Now, ARTnews magazine has surveyed dealers, auction houses, curators and art experts from the FBI and Scotland Yard to compile its list. The ten, in alphabetical order, are Giorgio de Chirico, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Salvador Dal, Honor Daumier, Vincent van Gogh, Kasimir Malevich, Amedeo Modigliani, Frederic Remington, Auguste Rodin and Maurice Utrillo.

Superstar artist Jeff Koons has won the annual Creative Patronage Award from the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. Established in 1999, the award typically honors patrons like Museum of Modern Art trustee Agnes Gund. This year it goes to "an artist whose contribution of cultural products offers another model of philanthropy" -- a "generosity of spirit" manifest in Koons' artworks.

John Wilson, 49, has been appointed director of curatorial affairs and curator of European art at the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha; he has been consultative curator at the Taft Museum of Art in Cincinnati (200-2005) and curator at the Cincinnati Art Museum (1990-99).

Manic press agent and one-time Artnet Magazine "Celebrity Art" columnist Baird Jones unveils an exhibition of "Star Art" in the project room at the Chelsea Art Museum, May 28-June 14, 2005. Among the celebrity art-makers in the show are Herb Alpert, David Bowie, David Byrne, Richard Chamberlain, Miles Davis, James Dean, Grace Kelly, Jack Lemmon, Kim Novak, Dee Dee Ramone, Red Skelton and Donna Summer.

Texas artist Chris Sauter (b. 1971), who has exhibited with Elizabeth Dee Gallery in New York and with Finesilver Gallery at Art Basel Miami Beach, has his debut exhibition in Paris at Galerie Valérie Cueto, June 4-July 23, 2005. Sauter is known for inventive mixed-media sculptures that juxtapose nature and culture, such as his Factory: Mauna Loa Loveseat (2001), for which an upholstered couch was remade into an impressive 3D contour map of a Hawaian volcano. The inspiration for his Paris show, Sauter has said, is the search for parallels between domestic human space and macrocosmic events like the Big Bang. For more info, email

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