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Artnet News
July 6, 2011 

Qatar, population 1.4 million -- about an eighth the size of New York City -- is now considered the biggest buyer of modern and contemporary art in the world. The oil emirate is home to Sheikh Saud Bin Muhammad Bin Ali Al-Thani, whose enormous collection of photography, Islamic art and jewelry landed him the number one spot on ARTnews’ annual top-ten collectors list last month. His royal-family relative, the emir’s daughter, Mayassa Bint Hamad al-Thani, is another big collector; she chairs the nation’s cultural initiatives and the Qatar Museums Authority. The 27-year-old has appointed Christie’s chairman Edward Dolman as director of her office and trustee of the authority. (Artnet Magazine recently reported that Sheikh al-Thani may have his eyes on Christie’s itself -- last year he was quoted expressing interest in paying the hefty $2 billion-plus price tag to buy the auction house.)

According to Georgina Adam and Charlotte Burns writing in the Art Newspaper, the country is fast ramping up its cultural efforts. So far, it has major exhibitions by Jeff Koons, Richard Serra and Takashi Murakami in the works. And its rumored art acquisitions are definitely major league: Bernie Madoff conspirator J. Ezra Merkin’s $310 million collection of Mark Rothkos; all or some of the works from the $400 million Sonnabend estate, which included important works by Roy Lichtenstein and Koons; French film director Claude Berri’s collection of works by Robert Ryman, Ad Reinhardt, Giorgio Morandi, Richard Serra and Lucio Fontana, which was reportedly diverted from the Pompidou Centre and sold by Berri’s heirs to Qatar for €50 million; and Andy Warhol’s painting of Elizabeth Taylor The Men in Her Life, 1962, worth $63.4 million as of a November 2010 auction at Phillips.

Sometimes it seems like Old Master masterpieces turn up every couple of months. The latest hot ticket is an oil-on-wood painting of the Salvator Mundi that some experts are convinced is by Leonardo da Vinci -- and therefore worth a tidy $200 million. The image of Jesus Christ raising one hand in benediction and holding a globe with his other had been thought to be by Leonardo's pupil, Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio, and has sold in the past for just £45.

Now in the hands of an enterprising group of U.S. art dealers -- whose identity is undisclosed -- the painting has been cleaned, and voila, its style is said to resemble that of Leonardo's Virgin of the Rocks, which exists in two copies, at the Louvre and the National Gallery, London. Who knows, with the crimson and blue of Christ's robe, it may even recall The Last Supper, at least according to the account in the Telegraph.

According to insiders, the picture has recently been offered around for $150 million, presumably with no takers. The painting was owned by King Charles I (1600-1649) and his son, King Charles II (1630-1685), but it disappeared until the 1950s, when it was sold at Sotheby’s as a Boltraffio. Now all the major news outlets are reporting that the picture is to be included in "Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan," Nov. 9, 2011-Feb. 5, 2012, at the National Gallery, London.

Ai Weiwei has been freed from detention, and hit with a tax bill approaching $2 million, but the protests in his support continue. The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis is inviting guests to bring a chair to its lawn on July 12, 2011, as part of its opening installation of Ai Weiwei’s traditional Chinese Marble Chair, 2008, at the entrance to its Asian Art Galleries, and to commemorate what would have been Ai’s 100th day of imprisonment had he not been released in Beijing on June 22, 2011.

The event, which aims to collect 1,001 chairs by 6 p.m., is an homage to the artist’s 2007 work Fairytale, which brought 1,001 Chinese workers, along with traditional Chinese Qing and Ming dynasty chairs, to Documenta 12 in Kassel, Germany. Minneapolis’s sit-in is the next in what’s been a long string of chair protests against Ai’s persecution by the Chinese government, including demonstrations in San Diego, Toronto, Manhattan and Hong Kong.

The upcoming Kal Spelletich opening at Jack Hanley Gallery, “Where’s My Jetpack!?”, July 9-Aug. 10, 2011, comes with a disclaimer: “Neither Kal Spelletich, Jack Hanley Gallery nor anyone shall be held responsible or liable for any LOSS, DAMAGE, INJURY or DEATH arising from any activity organized, sponsored or promoted by Kal or Jack the presenting organization anywhere in the universe, forever. EVIGILO FABRICA LABORIS EXERCITUS SODALITAS.”

San Francisco-based Spelletich is the artistic director of robot and machine enthusiast collective SEEMEN, which has staged participatory, technology-fueled exhibitions at sites ranging from the late Deitch Projects to Burning Man. At his last exhibition at Hanley, Spelletich made an installation of mechanized trees surrounded by sepia-toned photos of giant Sequoias, Redwoods and palm trees that was an “allegory for pitiful human attempts to live in harmony with nature,” as Elisabeth Kley put it in her Artnet Magazine review.

This time around, Spelletich wonders just what happened to that Jetson-era  promise of an airborne future: “Where are the jetpacks? The flying cars, escape pods, gravity boots, moon colonies? This is supposed to be the future.” The artist has himself devised a jetpack of a sort, using a ship's propeller, a small motor and a backpack that he used during his first trip to Europe, which he calls "real dangerous."

Gallery-goers are invited to give the Jetpack #1 a try, after signing a waiver. Motorized jetpacks hang from the gallery ceiling while photographs, videos and robot sculptures chart humans’ ongoing “struggle with gravity.” Just don’t blame the artist if, at the opening, gravity wins.

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