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It must be something in the Schuylkill River water, the way those Philadelphia museums have been acting up lately. First, the illustrious Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts consigns almost 50 European artworks from its collection to fall auctions at both Sotheby's and Christie's in New York. It turns out that the venerable museum has been "quietly" selling off its European holdings for years, purportedly because they're no longer needed, according to academy president Derek A. Gillman in a rather sanguine report on the matter by Carol Vogel in the New York Times.

Twenty PAFA works go on the block at Sotheby's on Oct. 29, and 20 more at Christie's on Oct. 30. Among the works to be sold at Christie's is Alexandre Cabanel's Birth of Venus (ca. 1865-69), one of three versions of the painting; the others are currently on view at the Metropolitan Museum and the Musée d'Orsay in Paris. The estimate: $400,000-$600,000. "Curators recognized its importance," admitted Gillman. "But . . . we finally had to say, 'The Cabanel, too.'"

Indeed, the notion that the PAFA should sell off its European works to focus entirely on American art is not only an art-historical absurdity, but also a step back towards parochialism in an increasingly global art world. The real motivation for the deaccessions, say cynics, could be the new facility across Broad Street, which requires an underground passage that would cut through the museum's already inadequate storage facilities.

Previous auction sales of works from the PAFA collection have been entre nous, as they are disguised in the sale catalogues with the all-too-common deception, "property of an East Coast institution." Among the flogged paintings have been several important works, including a much-reproduced painting of a lone heroic oak at Ornans by Gustave Courbet (The Oak at Flagey, 1864, sold at Sotheby's New York in 1987 for $462,000). And many of the sold works have historically relevant provenances, such as two other Courbets PAFA plans to sell (along with six more paintings) at Sotheby's in the spring, which were once owned by Mary Cassatt...

The other wacky Philadelphia museum story involves the long-mismanaged Barnes Collection in Merion, Pa., which the art world cherishes as a unique and eccentric treasure trove. The current Barnes administration, headed by board president Dr. Bernard C. Watson and director Kimberly Camp, went to court on Sept. 24 to seek approval to move the entire foundation, kit and caboodle, to an as-yet-unbuilt $100-million facility (with a $50-million endowment) somewhere downtown near the Philadelphia Museum. Gladly offering to help fund this folly are the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Lenfest Foundation.

"We're operating on fumes," Watson told the New York Times, threatening once again to be helpless to do anything other than ride the museum into bankruptcy, an all-to-familiar option these days. According to the Barnes' 2000 tax return, it costs about $3 million to run the place. Of that sum, about $1 million goes towards salaries and wages (the director earns about $175,000) and more than $250,000 for "legal fees." The deficit is about $800,000. Visitors to the Barnes website can see an especially low-rent approach to selling reproductions of works from its collection. Surely the Barnes can do better.

The Barnes scheme seems unlikely to get far with either the state attorney general's office or Lincoln University, the black college that is the governing authority of the Barnes. Stay tuned.

British fair organizers Brian and Anna Haughton bring their International Art + Design Fair 1900-2002 to the Seventh Regiment Armory in New York this weekend, Sept. 27-Oct. 2, 2002. The three-year-old fair features over 30 international dealers in 20th-century fine and decorative arts, largely from the U.S. and U.K., including Jane Corkin Gallery (Canada), Jacques de Vos (France), Jacksons (Sweden), Jane Kahan Gallery (US), Danny Lane (UK) and Adrian Sassoon (UK). The gala opening on Sept. 26 benefits the exhibition program in the architecture and design department at the Museum of Modern Art. For info, email

Has the malevolent "symbol of the Soviet Imperium" at last fallen within "the purview of pure painting, hence, of beauty -- all-time confounder of meaning"? To find out, go see the more than 30 "Hammer and Sickle" paintings, drawings and watercolors by Andy Warhol that go on view at C&M Arts in Manhattan, Oct. 3-Dec. 7, 2002, the first time in 25 years that so many of these works have been exhibited in New York City. The accompanying color catalogue includes several studio shots of Warhol at work on the series in 1977, a reproduction of a sheet of photo negatives used to make the images, a memoir of the studio practice by Warhol's then-assistant Ronnie Cutrone and an essay by critic-turned-dealer Robert Pincus-Witten (from which the quotes here were cavalierly lifted).

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has announced its latest $500,000 fellowship awards, the no-strings-attached grants designed to allow scholars, artists and others to focus on their work without financial worries. Three art-worlders are among the 24 winners of the wacky, highly arbitrary "genius awards": Liza Lou, 33, the Los Angeles artist known for elaborate sculptures and environments made with glass beads; Toba Khedoori, 37, another L.A. artist who makes huge mechanical drawings in wax, oil and pencil; and Camilo Jose Vergara, 58, a New York photographer who uses time-lapse images to chronicle the transformation of urban landscapes across America.

The Japan Art Association has announced winners of the 14th Praemium Imperiale awards for "outstanding achievement in the arts," prizes of 15 million yen (ca. $125,000). Recipients are Sigmar Polke, painting; Giuliano Vangi, sculpture, Norman Foster, architecture, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, music, and Jean-Luc Godard, theater and film. The awards are to be presented in Tokyo on Oct. 23.

Art Las Vegas, an art fair that was to gather 125 contemporary galleries in a 125,000-square-foot temporary structure next to the Palms Casino and Resort in Las Vegas, Oct. 11-14, 2002, has been cancelled by its organizer, Thomas Blackman Associates. Despite the obvious attractions of the gambling mecca in the desert, Blackman set booth prices too high, say insiders, and didn't account for competition from Art Cologne in late October and Art Basel Miami Beach in early December. Not enough galleries signed up. Blackman plans to try again next year -- but may face even more competition, as the London-based art journal Frieze plans an international fair for London in October 2003.

Julián Zugazagoitia has been appointed director of El Museo del Barrio. El Museum trustee chair Tony Bechara said Zugazagoitia "understands and is dedicated to our mission which serves the local Puerto Rican, Latino and Latin American community, while at the same time he has the vision to lead us forward as a world-class institution." Zugazagoitia is currently working as an assistant to Guggenheim Museum director Thomas Krens, and has also held posts at the Getty Conservation Institute and the Spoleto Festival in Italy, and has served as cultural attaché to the Mexican delegation to UNESCO. The five-month search for a new director was conducted by the Russell Reynolds Associates executive search firm. The appointment marks the first Mexican director of what began as a community-based Puerto Rican institution. According to insiders, the announcement will disappoint many museum supporters, who had hoped the job would go to the former NYC commissioner of cultural affairs and ex-Bronx Museum director Luis Cancel.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology launches ArchNet, a new online resource for the study of Islamic architecture, planning and landscape design sponsored by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture in a ceremony taking place (and presided over by the Aga Khan) at MIT on Sept. 27, 2002. The elaborate site, the largest of its type, offers free access to more than 600,000 images plus academic papers, articles and other documentation. ArchNet also allows the establishment of "workspaces" that allow collaborative research, and features job listings, a digital calendar of events and a directory of individual ArchNet members and participating institutions. The Aga Khan, 65, the hereditary spiritual leader of the Ismaili Muslims, is a Harvard grad in Islamic history.

The Museum of Modern Art, its Manhattan visibility somewhat diminished by the ongoing expansion project at its 53rd Street headquarters, has begun to commission artworks for billboards throughout the city. "Projects 77," on view Oct. 7-Dec. 1, 2002, presents 15 new images by three artists, Sarah Morris, Julian Opie and Lisa Ruyter. Three billboards are in Chelsea, but most are located in Queens, however, near MoMA-affiliate P.S.1 and by the Number 7 subway line out to MoMA QNS. The project is arranged by MoMA curator Judy Hecker.

The summer's most controversial exhibition, "Prelude to a Nightmare: Art, Politics and Hitler's Early Years in Vienna 1916-1913," July 13-Oct. 27, 2002, has now spawned a three-day conference of scholars and artists. "Staging the Third Reich: A Symposium on Art as Politics," a look at the central importance of stagecraft and the arts to Hitler and the Third Reich, opens at the Williams College Museum of Art in Williamstown, Mass., Oct. 3-5, 2002. Keynote speaker is author Brigitte Hamann, whose book Hitler's Vienna: A Dictator's Apprenticeship inspired the show. Other participants include McKenna College prof Jonathan Petropoulos, author and critic Manuela Hoelterhoff, U. Mass. prof James E. Young and the exhibition's curator, Deborah Rothschild. The symposium closes with a "Literary performance" by Peter Roos, author of Loving Hitler: A Novel of a Sickness, who performs "Eva Braun and Me." For more info, email