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The battle over the National Endowment for the Arts is heating up. On June 17, the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, chaired by Ralph Regula (R-Oh.), allocated $10 million to the arts agency -- to shut it down. The five Democrats on the committee, including former chair Sidney Yates (D-Ill.), voted against the measure, but were overruled by the six Republicans. Along with Regula, the philistines include Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.), Joe Skleen (R-NM), George Nethercutt (R-Wash.), Dan Miller (R-Fla.) and Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.). Arts advocates are urging that voters express their dismay via the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121.

A sculpture by FernŠndo Botero was used as part of a scheme to launder cash from the Cali drug cartel, say Federal prosecutors. The New York Times reports that two San Francisco-based interior decorators, Alexander Blarek and Frank V. Pellecchia, are accused of receiving large sums of money from the cartel for purchases of art, luxury building materials and furniture for cartel leader Josť Santacruz. Santacruz is said to have laundered over $30 million, partly in the construction of his Mansion Casa Blanca -- a replica of the White House.

Three artists featured in the 1997 Whitney Biennial -- Vija Clemins, Kerry James Marshall and Kara Elizabeth Walker -- have won so-called "genius awards" from Chicago's John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. They receive five-year grants of $190,000, $260,000, and $345,000, respectively. Additional winners of interest to the art world include Mabou Mines playwright Lee Breuer, San Francisco sound sculptor Trimpin, and acrobatic choreographer Elizabeth Streb.

The Guggenheim Museum has finally set a date --Oct. 3, 1997 -- for the opening of the long-awaited Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. The lavish $100-million, 257,000-square-foot project is designed by L.A. architect Frank O. Gehry as part of a $1.5-billion urban renewal project for Bilbao, the largest city in Spain's civil war-torn Basque region. On view will be "The Guggenheim Museums and the Art of this Century," a survey show drawn from the Goog's 6,000-item collection that will feature the first 25 acquisitions of the Bilbao museum. These include a concentration of works by Anselm Kiefer, a specially commissioned work by Richard Serra and a collection of works by Basque artists -- Eduardo Chillida, Francesc Torres, Txomin Badiola, Prudencio Irazabal, Juan Luis Moraza and Antoni Tŗpies among them. Other acquisitions, which focus on art since mid-century, are works by de Kooning, Rothko, Still, Polke, Clemente and Jenny Holzer.

Annette Schindler will replace Carin Kuoni as director of the Swiss Institute in New York. She begins on Sept. 1, ending her five-year stint as curator of the Kunsthaus Glarus in Glarus, Switzerland.