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The New York museum world is getting a shot of color in the dog days of August. "Ellsworth Kelly: Red Green Blue," a touring exhibition that opened at the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art in January 2003, looks great at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Aug. 14-Nov. 2, 2003. Who said that the Brutalist architecture of Whitney designer Marcel Breuer was hopeless? The high-ceilinged galleries of the museum's third level, with its slate floors buffed to a high sheen, are the perfect crucible for a very focused show of 19 large-scale paintings and 62 related studies and works on paper -- almost all from Kelly's "Op Art period" (though the artist doesn't call it that) of 1958-65 when he painted a series of works using red, green and blue. Several galleries hold the big geometric abstractions, done with Kelly's trademark simplicity and clear bright hues, while a long wall of studies gives a sense of lively, tactile experimentation in the studio. San Diego curator Toby Camps is slated to give a presentation on the show next month, Sept. 24, at 7 pm; call 1 (877) Whitney.

Despite a tax cut that even the Wall Street Journal admits will channel millions to corporate bigwigs, the international art-auction market seems to be off this year so far, even though a slew of auction records were set last May [see "Art Market Watch," May 8 and 16, 2003]. Auction totals are down at both Sotheby's and Christie's for the first half of 2003 -- a period that included the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which admittedly made art buyers and sellers more cautious.

Sotheby's net income for the second quarter of this year (the one containing the profitable auctions of modern and contemporary art) totaled $14.2 million, down from $17.9 million during the comparable period in 2002. Overall auction sales during the quarter totaled $580 million, down $103.9 million, or 15 percent, from the 2002 level. According to Sotheby's, the weakening dollar actually benefited the company, resulting in a decrease in the company's operating loss of $1.1 million. But Sotheby's sale and lease-back of its headquarters building on York Avenue cost the company $2.9 million in what it calls depreciation and interest expense (though it sounds like rent to us).

Sotheby's also spent $2.9 million during to quarter to retain top employees, who presumably might flee the beleaguered auction house for the art-gallery world. One senior expert not included here is contemporary art specialist Laura Paulson, who resigned from the firm last month (to spend more time with her daughter, according to the New York Times, though auction insiders note that the total for Sotheby's contemporary sales this spring was less than half of that of arch-rival Christie's).

Sotheby's stock recently traded below $8 a share, close to the company's 52-week low of $6.30. It is rated a "buy" by the one analyst that covers the stock, Craig-Hallum Capital.

Christie's, which is privately owned, makes a more limited disclosure of its financial situation. The firm did announce that its worldwide auction sales for the first six months of 2003 were $947 million, down $42 million, or a little more than four percent, from a total of $989 million in the first half of 2002. The SARS outbreak in the Far East prompted Christie's to postpone its Hong Kong sales of Asian art from April to July (the sales eventually totaled $52 million, but the sum is not included in the half-year sales results). Despite these problems, Christie's does claim the title of "the world's leading auction house," presumably because its $947 million auction total compares favorably to Sotheby's total of approximately $781 million.

California gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarznegger likes Andy Warhol, or so it seems from the revealing photograph by Michael Grecco in this week's Time Magazine. The casually dressed Hollywood muscle-man sits behind a huge desk in front of a credenza lined with framed family pictures -- and topped by a huge Warhol portrait from 1976 of the Native American activist Russell Means. With the American Indian Movement, which he headed, Means occupied Wounded Knee in 1973 and subsequently spent over a year in prison. (Since 1990, Means has worked as an actor in movies and television as well as continuing his activism with the Colorado chapter of AIM).

The Russell Means paintings were originally shown by Doug Chrismas at Ace Gallery in Venice, Ca., and have never been an easy sell, according to Richard Polsky, Artnet Magazine columnist and author of I Bought Andy Warhol (Abrams). "Unlike most other Warhols, they were only done in one size," Polsky adds, noting that the painting is probably worth about $350,000 today. "It's the best one that I've seen," he said. So, when it comes to the "governator," you can probably add support for Indian rights and a certain interest in contemporary art to his well-known positions favoring abortion rights, gay rights and gun control.

Why mess with art magazines when you can have Kate Moss as your muse? For its fall fashion issue, the oversized glamour glossy W commissioned 17 artists or artist-teams to produce a portfolio of images of the alluring waif supermodel. And as can be expected, many of the most interesting works depict Moss fashion-free, that is, in the buff. Lucian Freud, Alex Katz and Takashi Murakami all paint her in the nude, while six daguerreotype images by Chuck Close show a nude Moss in dramatic detail, including two shots of her celebrated face sans makeup as well. Even when clothes are involved, the artistic approach to dress seems to be about -- undressing. Lisa Yuskavage puts Moss in naught but beaded panties, striped socks and one of the artist's trademark blonde wigs, while Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin have her wearing only a tiara and a tulle veil. And Richard Prince, well, he puts her in a vinyl nurse outfit.

The Milwaukee Art Museum puts its collection of 22 works by Georgia O'Keeffe on permanent view beginning Sept. 4. Many of the paintings come from the collection of Mrs. Harry Lynde Bradley, while others came from her daughter Jane Bradley Pettit and the O'Keeffe Foundation. The collection includes Grey and Brown Leaves (1929), Pelvis with Blue (1944) and Poppies (1950).

The peripatetic art-guidebook author Sidra Stich has come out with a new mini-tome dedicated to San Francisco -- her home town. Art-Sites San Francisco features commentary on over 300 museums, galleries, alternative spaces, architectural projects, public artworks, design showrooms and other hot art-world, including nine maps and walking tours. The price is $19.95; for ordering info, go to

Stuck in New York City with time on your hands? Then go to Molly Barnes' "Brown Bag Lunch" at the Roger Smith Hotel. On Friday, Aug. 22 -- tomorrow -- Joe Lewis, dean of art and design at the Fashion Institute of Technology, holds forth. The event begins at 12 noon and admission is free. Call (212) 755-1400 for more info.

KIRK VARNEDOE, 1946-2003
Kirk Varnedoe, 57, highly respected chief curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art for over a dozen years, died of cancer in New York on Aug. 14. He co-organized "Primitivism in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern" (1984, with William Rubin) and "High and Low" (1990, with Adam Gopnik), as well as retrospectives of Jasper Johns, Jackson Pollock and Cy Twombly, and co-curated the recent "Matisse Picasso" exhibition. He taught at NYU's Institute of Fine Arts, Columbia, Stanford and Oxford, and last year joined the faculty of the Institute for Advance Study in Princeton, N.J. Among his books are A Fine Disregard: What Makes Modern Art Modern (1990). A memorial is planned for the fall.