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On Mar. 31, 1998, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the long-running lawsuit by four performance artists -- Karen Finley, et al. -- against the National Endowment for the Arts, challenging the arts agency's application of so-called "decency standards" in its grant awards as an infringement of free speech. The Associated Press captured the general prurience that has attended the censorship efforts, with a lead that read, "Prompted by a naked artist dipped in chocolate...." Finley, who has been known to pour chocolate on herself in performance but never actually masqueraded as a chocolate-covered cherry, was at the hearing -- though she was not allowed to speak, of course. "It's quite a good installation piece," said Finley of the court setting, "with the columns and all the red velvet. It's done up just like Mount Olympus, and when the judges come in they're like gods." Her lawyer, David Cole, told the justices that the NEA decency rules unconstitutionally favored art that is "respectful of American beliefs" and suppressed points of view that challenge public sensibilities. The government position, as advocated by Solicitor General Seth P. Waxman, seemed to be that the standards were only general guidelines and a compromise with Congress, and were not actually meant to be restrictive. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy chided Waxman for arguing that the statute was essentially a meaningless, "wink, wink, nudge, nudge approach" to curtailing grant money, according to the Washington Post. A decision is expected in late June.

DAVID BOURDON, 1935-1998
David Bourdon
, 63, one of the great art critics, died of esophageal cancer on Mar. 27. He was staff critic for the Village Voice, Vogue and Life, and wrote for many more publications, including Art in America. His books include monographs on Christo and Calder and the leading biography of Andy Warhol.

An unknown Andy Warhol painting of Marilyn Monroe sporting a milk mustache was found in a Pittsburgh basement, according to an April 1 article in USA Today. In truth, the report was "an April Fool's joke to keep milk on people's minds," said Kurt Graetzer, executive director of something called (honest!) the National Fluid Milk Processor Promotion Board.

British culture czar Chris Smith is about to announce a special contest to create an artwork to celebrate the coming millennium. One catch -- only abstractionists need apply!

On Apr. 4, the Whitney Museum opens its new fifth-floor permanent collection galleries, designed by Gluckman Mayner Architects and named after Whitney board chairman Leonard Lauder and his wife Evelyn. The 8,000-square-foot space, complete with the museum's first skylights ever, includes galleries devoted to photographs, Edward Hopper, Georgia O'Keeffe and a special mezzanine gallery devoted to Alexander Calder (reachable by a special dedicated elevator that only travels the half-floor distance). On view in a small corner gallery are recently acquired works by Elie Nadelman, including a wall of 50, very contemporary-looking late plaster figurines.

The Art Institute of Chicago is seeking city approval to build two $13.5 million gardens and a museum expansion at its lakefront site, eventually increasing floor space from 950,000 square feet to 1.7 million square feet. That's a lot of really great museum! There's no detailed plan or funding yet, cautions A.I.C. spokeswoman Eileen Harakal.

The Cleveland Museum and the Nara National Museum in Nara, Japan, have arranged an unusually large pair of international exchange exhibitions. "Highlights of Asian Painting from the Cleveland Museum of Art" opened Feb. 21 at the Nara Museum, and travels this month to the Suntory Art Museum in Tokyo. With over 100 works of Chinese, Japanese, Indian and Korean art, the show is one of the largest traveling exhibitions from the Cleveland collection. In return Cleveland gets "Buddhist Treasures from Nara," Aug. 9-Sept. 27, 1998, called "the most significant loan of Japanese Buddhist art ever viewed outside Japan."

After quietly collaborating with Robert Miller Gallery, Monterrey bigfoot Ramis Barquet opens his own New York space in New York's Fuller Building (41 East 57th Street), on April 2, joining Emmerich and Schmidt Bingham on the fifth floor. First show is Madrid photomontagist Jorge Galindo (to May 2); future entries include Phillip Smith.

U.S. entry for the seventh International Cairo Biennial, opening in December 1998, is an exhibition by Nancy Spero, who plans a site-specific installation involving imagery from Egyptian history. The show is organized by Marilu Knode, senior curator of the Institute of Visual Arts -- acronymed inova -- at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Taco Bell Corporation is selling its corporate collection of contemporary art, which includes some 200 works by artists ranging from Berenice Abbott and Larry Bell to Elizabeth Murray and Joel Shapiro. The collection, housed in Taco Bell's headquarters in Irvine, Calif., will be replaced by a "restaurant support center" that will document company history and products, according to the Los Angeles Times.

As of June, look for TZ'Art & Co. on the second floor of 600 Broome Street. What's happening to the corner space at Wooster and Grand? A clothing store. Say good-bye to the Grand Street art corridor...Sideshow Gallery opens at 195 Bedford Ave. in Brooklyn on Apr. 4, 5-8 p.m., with "Regatta '98," an exhibition including works by Buster Cleveland, Larry Poons, Dan Christensen, Meyer Shapiro and others....

The New York Post reports in Page Six that the Pomerantz Group has bought up two adjoining garages on Thompson Street and want to develop a 37,000-square-foot hotel on the site. SoHo is presently home to the SoHo Grand (at West Broadway and Grand Street) and the yet-to-open Mercer (at Mercer and Prince).

Get your plane tickets and hotel reservations early! Donald Judd's Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Tx., is hosting an art and architecture symposium, Apr. 25-26, 1998. Speakers include architects Frank Gehry, Jacques Herzog & Pierre de Meuron, artists Roni Horn, Robert Irwin, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, and professors James Ackerman (Harvard, emeritus) and Michael Benedikt (U. of Tex. at Austin). Registration is $80; $40 for Chinati members and students. For more info contact the Chinati Foundation (915) 729-4362.

Chicago's International Exposition of Sculpture, Objects and Functional Art rolls into New York City for the first time Apr. 9-12, 1998, at the Seventh Regiment Armory at Park Avenue and 67th Street. The Apr. 8th gala opening benefits the American Craft Museum (tickets $150 and up); for more info call (212) 621-9703. About 50 galleries are represented. General admission is $10; a four-day pass is $16.