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President Clinton has nominated William Ivey to head the National Endowment for the Arts. Ivey, 53, is director of the Country Music Foundation in Nashville.

After an $11-million, 10-month internal investigation, Sotheby's has announced steps to tighten up its compliance with international laws regarding the export and sale of smuggled artworks and national-heritage artifacts. The reform was sparked by Peter Watson's book, Sotheby's: The Inside Story, which caught on a Sotheby's Old Master expert in Milan arranging to smuggle an 18th-century portrait to London. Among the changes: the auction house will set up a special department to monitor its internal compliance with national heritage laws, and will stop sales of Greek and Roman antiquities or Indian and Himalayan artifacts in London altogether.

Bill Gates' other company, the Corbis Corporation in Bellevue, Wash., has added the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C., and the Bass Museum in Miami Beach to the list of museums that are licensing images from their collections to Corbis' vast digital image bank. Among the other museums are the National Gallery in London, the Philadelphia Museum, the Hermitage, the Kimbell Art Museum and the Barnes Foundation.

The new Getty Center is apparently contributing to alternative transport in Los Angeles. Of the 10,000 people who came to the center on its opening day, about one-fourth of them arrived by bus, bicycle, taxi or on foot. Getty officials say all parking is booked through Jan. 14, 1998. Meanwhile, the planting of some 500 varieties of grasses, shrubs and flowers continues in artist Robert Irwin's Central Garden, which occupies the ravine between the center's multi-pavilioned art museum and its 800,000-volume library and research institute. According to Los Angeles Times critic Christopher Knight, the garden is "wonderfully loony," with a zigzag path along a babbling stream opening up into a terraced circle with a floating azalea maze in its center.

Russia's new culture minister, former Russian Museum director Natalya Dementyeva, says privatization is the answer to the country's art-funding problems (i.e., the government budget is way below projections). Two major Russian banks have stepped in to help underwrite two museums: Inkombank will sponsor the Russian Museum and Uneximbank will sponsor the Hermitage.

The Guggenheim Bilbao, flush with a $50-million acquisitions fund courtesy of the Basque government, has made its first purchase: Robert Rauschenberg's Barge (1962-63), a giant 7 x 32 ft. painting that was lent to Bilbao for the premiere. The undisclosed price is about $6 million, according to the New York Times. Even though this vast sum -- extracted from Basque paychecks -- is paid to the artist, for once, it's a shame that the money couldn't go to younger artists who actually need it.

The 83-year-old poet Octavio Paz was honored at the inauguration of the Octavio Paz Foundation in Mexico City on Dec. 18. Paz thanked Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo for championing the new arts center, which is located in a converted government building.

The Yale Center for British Art closes to the public on Jan. 5, 1998, for one year to repair the roof -- 56 individual domes, now leaking after two decades of New England weather. In the meantime, the library and the departments of prints, drawings and rare books will remain open, and two shows from the collection will open elsewhere: "Canaletto to Constable" at the Wadsworth Atheneum next winter and "This Other Eden: British Paintings from the Mellon Collection" in Sydney, Australia.

The latest entry in the venerable tradition of diagnosing the health of various Old Masters from their self-portraits is from Mexican cardiologist Carlos Espinel writing in the Lancet. He says that Rembrandt's 1659 self-portrait shows the painter was suffering from high cholesterol, indicated by cream-colored lines around his left eye, a sign of xanthelasmata. He also could have had something called temporary arteritis, indicated by his furrowed brow, which would have caused chronic headaches. And, the redness of Rembrandt's cheeks and nose is an indication of rosacea, an inflammatory skin disease that can be caused by exposure to sunlight or excessive drinking.

Ralph Fasanella, 83, "primitive" painter whose elaborately detailed works depict New York city scenes and progressive social themes, died on Dec. 16 at a hospital in Yonkers, N.Y. A union organizer and machinist who was black-listed during the 1950s, he had his first exhibition at ACA in 1948 and a 1985 retrospective at the Johnson Museum in Ithaca, N.Y.