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Apr. 6, 2007 

A touch of bad luck with an art-investment fund isn't stopping Michael J. Plummer. A 15-year veteran of Sotheby's auction house, Plummer signed on in 2003 as CEO of Fernwood Art Investments, which boasted it would convert art into an investible for the world's super-rich [see Artnet News, July 22, 2004]. But Fernwood is now out of business, and its founder, former Merrill Lynch executive Bruce D. Taub, is being pursued through the courts by angry investors.

Taub was sued for $1 million last year by Shamrock Holdings Inc., whose chairman is Roy Disney, and again in February by six additional Fernwood investors, who collectively put up $1.63 million for the defunct fund. That complaint charges that Fernwood "was in fact little more than a vehicle for Taub to propel himself into the rarefied social circles of the art world by using other people's money." In all, Fernwood raised about $8 million (of a goal of $100 million-$150 million!), but failed to launch any art funds.

Fernwood's high-profile staff, which included former Metropolitan Museum counsel Ashton Hawkins and art dealers Lucy Mitchell-Innes, David Nash and James Lally as well as Plummer, all resigned last May. But while Fernwood and Taub have disappeared from the scene, Plummer is hard at work creating a new art-investment entity.

"I am raising a private fund and working with two dealers specializing in Impressionist, modern and contemporary art," says Plummer, who declined to reveal the dealers' names. He aims to raise $30 million for "a private investment partnership of ultimately 15 high-net-worth individuals," and expects to complete initial funding by June 1, 2007. Yesterday, Plummer left for China, where he will court investors.

-- Brook S. Mason

One story that probably deserved more play than it got was last month's report by Linda Sandler of Bloomberg News on hedge-funder Adam Sender and his much-admired contemporary art collection. According to the story, the finance kingpin's holdings of some 800 artworks, frontloaded with works by avant-gardists like Andreas Gursky, Mike Kelley and Richard Prince, has become his single biggest asset, worth "well in excess of $100 million." According to Sender, this marks a four-fold increase in value over its initial cost, which he was able to recoup by selling off just 40 works (some at auction at Phillips, de Pury & Co. last fall)

"Who makes that kind of money in the stock market?" Sender told Bloomberg. "In the hedge-fund business these days, you're having a great year if you make 20 percent."

According to Bloomberg, in his day job as manager of Exis Capital Management, Sender presided over losses in both 2004 and 2006. Despite this, the article lauds him for bringing the wisdom of Wall Street to his art collecting, claiming that his gains are not "dumb luck in a boom" but rather the result of applying the rules of investing to art acquisition.

While Sender said that he believed in the long-term value of his collection, he did admit that he was braced for art prices to correct by as much as 50 percent (in the finance world, Sender specializes in short-term trades, and is banking on increased volatility due to economic uncertainty to make him a winner again).

For those looking for art investment tips, the article notes that Sender is building positions in the Tobias Brothers, Banks Violette and Kehinde Wiley. The Sender Collection website can be found at

The 150 galleries at the Armory Show 2007, Feb. 23-26, 2007, sold an estimated $85 million worth of art, according to a post-fair report issued by the show. Total sales were an estimated $62 million in 2006, the show said. Attendance also rose, from 47,000 in 2006 to 52,000 this year. The gala preview raised $600,000 for the Museum of Modern Art exhibition fund.

The report includes other interesting anecdotal info. Chelsea dealer Zach Feuer still has buzz, selling out 90 percent of his stand in the first hour. Lehmann Maupin quickly sold out a new Tracey Emin edition. Fredericks & Freiser sold a work by Baker Overstreet to the Charles Saatchi Collection. And White Cube/Jay Jopling from London had strong sales of works by Christian Marclay, and sold a work by Damien Hirst, Extinct, for $800,000.

The Cleveland Museum of Art, long envied as one of the most deep-pocketed of art museums, has revealed that it was the buyer of the 1,000-year-old, carved stone sculpture of Shiva as Brahma that sold for $4,072,000 at the Sotheby's New York sale of Indian & Southeast Asian art on Mar. 23, 2007. Bidding for Cleveland was London dealer John Eskenazi. The winning price set an auction record for an Indian sculpture. The work was sold by Buffalo's Albright-Knox Art Gallery, which is raising funds to expand its holding of contemporary art.

The monumental Chola sculpture shows Lord Shiva seated on a double-lotus pedestal in the lalitasana posture -- one of "royal ease" -- with his four heads facing the four cardinal directions, and his hands in the blessing (abhaya) and teaching (varada) gestures. Shiva as Brahma joins the CMA's impressive collection of Indian sculpture, though it does not immediately go on view due to the institution's ongoing $258-million Rafael Viñoly expansion.

Both Christie's and Sotheby's have scheduled sales of Russian art for the middle of April 2007. Sotheby's third annual sale of Russian art goes off on Apr. 16-17, 2007, and features more than 400 lots estimated in the region of $40 million.

One top lot at Sotheby's is Mikhail Nesterov's Vision of St. Sergius When a Child (1922), a later version of a painting that is considered one of the inaugural works of the Russian Symbolist movement (and that now hangs in the State Tretyakov Gallery), which is estimated to go for $2,000,000-$3,000,000. Other works include a ca. 1900 Fabergé gold and enamel column-form clock (est. $1,500,000-$2,000,000), a 1920 costume design for Romeo by Alexandra Exter (est. $300,000-$400,000) and Komar and Melamid's Rauschenbergian vertical triptych from 1987-88, Goat ($60,000-$80,000).

Christie's spring sale of Russian art takes place on Apr. 18, presenting over 330 lots that could total as much as $19,000,000. The top lot is Vasilii Vereshchagin's Solomon's Wall (1884-85), estimated at $3,000,000-$5,000,000 [see Art Market Watch, Mar. 5, 2007]. The sale also includes a collection of 2,350 pieces of 19th- and early-20th-century Russian graphic design, collected in three volumes, estimated at $120,000-$180,000.

The Christie's New York sale of Old Master paintings on Apr. 19, 2007 -- the firms second to be held in April -- features 18th-century Venetian views by  Bernardo Bellotto and Canaletto, a version of El Greco's popular El Soplón (Boy Lighting a Candle), the Rice Portrait of Jane Austen and more than 40 paintings taken from the restituted collection of Jewish art dealer Jacques Goudstikker. The total value of the sale is estimated at $50 million.

Bellotto's Grand Canal at the Church of San Stae, Venice is estimated at $8,000,000-$12,000,000, while Canaletto's Piazza San Marco, Venice, Looking towards the Procuratie Nuove and the Church of San Geminiano from the Campo di San Basso carries a presale estimate of $4,000,000-$6,000,000. The El Greco, which was painted in Rome in the early 1570s and is another version of the picture at the Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte in Naples (copies are also held in the Uffizi in Florence and the Palazzo Reale in Genoa), is estimated to sell for $5,000,000-$7,000,000.

The sale also features an exquisite quattrocento Madonna and Child in a Landscape by the Venetian painter Giovanni Battista Cima, estimated at $2,000,000-$3,000,000, and a mythological oil on panel by J.M.W. Turner, Glaucus and Scylla (1841), estimated at $5,000,000-$7,000,000. The Turner was recently restituted to the heirs of John and Anna Jaffé by the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth.

But the heart of the sale is more than 40 works from Dutch museums, restituted after a long battle to Marei Von Saher, the Britain-based daughter-in-law of Jacques Goudstikker. (Goudstikker died in an accident while fleeing the Nazis in 1940, and his collection was seized by Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering; after the war, the works were added to the national collections by the Dutch government.) Christie's is selling 140 of the 200 Goudstikker pictures this month, with the remaining works going on the block in London and Amsterdam later this year.

Top lot among the Goudstikker works is Salamon van Ruysdael's The Ferry Boat with Cattle on the River Vecht near Nijenrode (1649), which is estimated at $3,000,000-$5,000,000. A selection of the Goudstikker works go on view at Christie's New York on Apr. 14, 2007.

All three New York houses -- Christies, Sotheby's and Phillips, de Pury & Co. -- are holding their spring photo sales in April.

Sotheby's three photo auctions begin with the Apr. 13 sale of 42 albumen and salt prints by the 19th-century photographer Eugène Cuvelier, known for his Barbizon School images of Fontainebleau forest, plus two more photos by his father, Adalbert Cuvelier. The sale carries a total presale estimate of $1,400,000-$2,100,000.

On Apr. 25-26, 2007, Sotheby's is auctioning some 140 photos from the private collection of Margaret W. Weston, the pioneering dealer who opened the Weston Gallery in Carmel, Ca., in 1975. (She was wife to photographer Cole Weston during 1964-74, but the family connection was of negligible help to her business.) Top lot here is Edward Weston's The Ascent of Attic Angles (1021), which carries a presale estimate of $700,000-$1,000,000. The collection as a whole could sell for as much as $8.4 million.

Christie's three sales, Apr. 23-24, 2007, offer more than 440 lots carrying a total estimate of over $8 million. First up is an evening auction of over 50 prints by photographs by Depression-era Condé Nast glamour photographer Horst P. Horst, carrying estimates ranging from $4,000 to $150,000. With Robert Mapplethorpe photos in such high demand, the house no doubt hopes Horst's market will blow up as well.

Also coming to the block at Christie's is a group of modernist photos from the collection of British writer and curator James Hyman. Top lots include a 1927 waxed platinum print of a Speckled Toadstool by Paul Strand (est. $200,000-$300,000) and a dynamic aerial photograph of a city street by László Moholy-Nagy, Rothenburg (1926-28) (est. $80,000-$120,000).

Phillips launches its April photo sales with an evening auction on Apr. 24, with a "connoisseurship" sale, featuring a select group of 27 photographs with a total value of $4 million. The lots include André Kertész' Surrealist icon from 1928, Meudon (est. $300,000-$400,000), Nadar's "scandalous" Hermaphrodite from 1860 (est. $25,000-$35,000), and the gridded photo used for Chuck Close's 1976-77 Self-Portrait (est. $180,000-$240,000).

The following day, Apr. 25, Phillips is selling photographs from the collection of Alain Dominique Perrin, president of Fondation Cartier pour L'Art Contemporain in Paris, plus 14 works of Chinese contemporary photography -- the first to appear in a photo auction -- and 11 photographs from the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.

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