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The French investor Francois Pinault has purchased 29.1 percent of Christie's auction house from the Abel Inc. trust of Bahama-based British financier Joe Lewis. Pinault, 62, is an art collector and "a tough, hands-on businessman," according to the New York Times, who specializes in buying undervalued companies and turning them around. His holding company, Artemis, owns the French department store Au Printemps and Converse Sneakers, as well as a ski resort in Vail and a French book and record chain. Pinault also owns Chateau Latour, the vineyard that produces the classic Bordeaux wine.

According to Adrian Darmon at Holbein & Hilliard in Paris, Pinault has collected art for the past 20 years, notably works by Mondrian, Barnett Newman, Pollock and Rauschenberg. He recently bought a monumental sculpture by Richard Serra for his estate outside Paris. He is expected to help Christie's establish itself in France, which is reforming its auction rules to allow foreign auctioneers to set up shop.

On the London stock market, Christie's share price rose 13.5 pence, to £2.96, or about $4.92; at this rate, the total value of Pinault's stake is $243.2 million. Earlier this year, Swiss Bank made an offer to buy Christie's for $815.3 million, or about $4.79 a share. The offer was considered too low and was rejected. Christie's stock was selling for about $5.31 a share this time last year. Christie's current chief executive, Christopher Davidge, has been credited with expanding Christie's sales, which grew from $1.6 billion in 1966 to $2 billion last year; Christie's profits have grown at a slower rate, however, from $54 million to $66.7 million.

Art collector Natasha Gelman has left her $300-million collection of 85 classic modernist works to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The collection includes Matisse's Fauve painting Young Sailor II (1906) and Picasso's Self-Portrait (1906); in all, the Gelman bequest includes 14 Picassos, nine Matisses, nine Miros, five Bonnards, four Braques, three Legers, three Grises, three Tanguys, two Balthuses, two Vlamincks and works by Dali, Ernst, Giacometti, Mondrian, Renoir and Vuillard. "It's the most important gift ever to the 20th-century department," said Met director Philippe de Montebello. Natasha Gelman died on May 2 at age 86 in Cuernavaca, Mexico; her husband, Jacques Gelman, who died in 1986, made his fortune producing the films of the Mexican comedian Cantinflas.

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates has bought $30 million for Winslow Homer's Lost on the Grand Banks (1885), according to the New York Times. The painting was owned by California businessman John Spoor Broome, 80, who acquired it from his grandmother in the 1940s. A Gates spokesperson would not comment on the report.

Are you ready for online art auctions? The first professional attempt is now underway, a collaboration between Howard Schickler Fine Art in New York, photo experts Beth Gates Warren and Dale W. Stulz and the Photoarts website. After registering, prospective bidders receive a paddle number, which appears on the online bid board with a red dot if you are the current high bidder. The bid board is refreshed every 20 seconds. Bidding began May 6 and ends May 16. Among the lots are a 1922 vintage print of Edward Weston's Steel (presale est. $125,000-$150,000), a 1920-24 photograph by El Lissitzky of his photomontage of the Lenin Podium (est. $30,000-$50,000), a Paul Outerbridge nude from ca. 1938 (est. $60,000-$80,000), and a selection of prints by the usual suspects. The auctioneers are charging the same premium as real-world auction houses (15 percent of the first $50,000 and 10 percent of the remainder), and online condition reports are also available.

The city of Paris has approved Italian architect Gaetano Pesche's design for a monument to Princess Diana. The scheme calls for a 12-foot-tall monolith, half concrete and half translucent resin, that would be sited directly above the pillar that Diana's car crashed into last August. The resin part of the column would be nearly invisible in the day, said Pesche, and lit from within at night. The British government is now considering the project, whose $500,000 cost would be raised from private sources.

The government of Armenia has handed back to Germany a collection of over 500 rare books that were seized by Soviet forces after World War II. The collection includes musical manuscripts by Johann Christian Bach and rare works on theology. It had been kept in an academic library in Yerevan.

Hindu right-wingers in India have stepped up their campaign of intimidation against irreverent artists, musicians and writers, according to Reuters. On May 1, members of the militant Bajrang Dal organization ransacked the home of painter Maqbool Fida Husain to protest his depiction of a Hindu goddess in the nude. "In art, nude figures mean purity, you see them in our temples," Husain protested.

Time magazine has dubbed Pablo Picasso as "artist of the century" as part of its scheme to name the 100 most influential people of the last 100 years. The big P beat out Bob Dylan and Duke Ellington. The choice was made after a roundtable discussion at the Getty Center in Los Angeles -- to be broadcast later this month on the PBS Charlie Rose Show -- between Time editor-in-chief Norman Pearlstine, Time art critic Robert Hughes, filmmaker Rob Reiner, playwright Anna Deavere Smith and pop star Sheryl Crow.

Britain's biggest international exhibition of contemporary art, Artranspennine '98, opens May 23-Aug. 16 in England's Pennine region around Manchester. Over 50 artists from 15 countries are participating, including Ulrich Ruckriem, James Turrell and Anya Gallaccio. The show is funded by a British Arts Council lottery grant of some $2.8 million.

London's Victoria and Albert Museum opens its new Canon Photography Gallery on May 21 with "Photography: An Independent Art" (to Nov. 8, 1998). The show features selections from the V&A's collection of more than 300,000 photos.

Architect Frank O. Gehry, designer of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao as well as the now-defunct American Center in Paris, has won the new Friedrich Kiesler Prize from the Kiesler Foundation in Vienna. The $60,000 award is named after the Austro-American architect who died in 1965.

The Jewish Museum, San Francisco, has selected architect Daniel Libeskind to design the museum's new $30-million, 70,000-square-foot facility in the city's Yerba Buena district. Libeskind is architect of the new Jewish Museum in Berlin and the addition to the Victoria and Albert in London. He replaces Peter Eisenman on the San Francisco museum, which is slated to open in 2001.

The Gramercy Art Fair, opening May 8-11, 1998 at the Gramercy Park Hotel in New York, boasts two special events. An opening night performance called "Kicks" by Alex Bag, Tom Borgese and Fancypantz is scheduled for the Friday night opening, between 8:30 and 11:30 p.m. in the Wedgewood Room. "Fin de Siecle," a panel on the state of contemporary art today, moderated by Colin DeLand with Walter Keller, Marta Cevera and Adriaan van der Have is scheduled for Saturday, May 9, at 10:30 a.m.