MUSEUM BOOM IN QATAR?
The affluent Gulf citystate of Qatar, already receiving rave reviews for its recently opened Museum of Islamic Art designed by I.M. Pei, now plans no less than three more new museums. These include an institution devoted to exploring the concept of "Orientalism," to be designed by Herzog and de Meuron, as well as separate museums for both photography and "modern and contemporary Arab art." The three new museums are in addition to Qatar’s planned National Museum, designed by starchitect Jean Nouvel and scheduled for a 2012 debut.
The news of the three planned museums was reported by ace art journalist Carol Kino in a story on the Museum of Islamic Art for the National, a new English-language paper based in nearby Abu Dhabi. The museum building boom comes under the aegis of Sheikha Mayassa Bint Hamad Al Thani, who heads the board of the Qatar Museums Authority (QMA) and is daughter of the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. The QMA is directed by former RISD president Roger Mandle.
The Qatari royal family is a major force in the high-end art market. The Art Newspaper reported that in May 2008 the emir’s cousin, Sheikh Saud Al-Thani, purchased 90 percent of the lots in a Sotheby’s sale of early Chinese gold and silver. The Al-Thani family also buys contemporary art, though no plans for a "museum of western art" have been announced. Still, according to press reports, they are behind two record-setting purchases, Damien Hirst’s Lullaby Spring for £9.7 million at Sotheby’s London in 2007, and the Mark Rothko painting sold for $72.8 million at Sotheby’s New York, also in 2007.
ART FAIRS GREET THE NEW YEAR
What better way to whistle in the dark of our current economic troubles than by visiting an art fair? Despite all the bad news, business still has to be done -- and at most shows, the number of participating galleries has remained steady, or even increased. Herewith, several notable fairs opening this week and during the rest of the month.
* The 17th annual Outsider Art Fair, Jan. 9-11, 2009, moves this year from the Puck Building in SoHo to a new location at 7 West 34th Street in midtown -- the building owned by Merchandise Mart Properties that last year housed the Volta art fair. The benefit preview on Jan. 8 benefits the American Folk Art Museum. More than 30 dealers are taking part -- about the same as last year -- including Galerie Bourbon-Lally (Haiti), Carl Hammer (Chicago), Dean Jensen (Milwaukee), Henry Boxer (England) and Cavin-Morris, Edlin, Galerie St. Etienne, Phyllis Kind, Ricco / Maresca, Luise Ross, Safian and Gary Snyder (New York).
* Photo LA, a.k.a. the 18th Annual International Los Angeles Photographic Art Exposition, Jan. 9-11, 2009, moves to Barker Hangar at the Santa Monica Airport. The benefit reception on Jan. 8 benefits the photo department at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Among the almost 70 participants are Ace (Los Angeles), Robert Berman (Santa Monica), Bernarducci Meisel (New York), Charles Cowles (New York), Foley Gallery (New York), M+B (Los Angeles), Sandroni Rey (Los Angeles) and Witzenhausen (Amsterdam / New York).
* The London Art Fair, Jan. 14-18, 2009, now in its 21st year, presents over 100 UK galleries at the Business Design Centre in London. Special events include "Art Projects" and "Photo 50." Participating dealers include Alan Cristea (London), Alexander and Bonin (New York), Connaught Brown (London), Flowers (London), Lelong (New York), Sfeir-Semler (Hamburg, Beirut), James Hyman (London), Julie Saul (New York), Magnus Muller (Berlin), Redfern (New York) and Richard Green (London).
* palmbeach³ contemporary art fair, Jan. 15-18, 2009, directed by Fran Kaufman, brings more than 70 exhibitors to the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Fla. Participating dealers include Andrea Meislin (New York), Barry Friedman (New York), Caprice Horn (Berlin), David Findlay Jr. (New York), Flowers (London), Gerald Peters (New York), Goedhuis (New York), James Goodman (New York), John Szoke (New York), Mark Borghi (New York), Marion Meyer (Paris), Marx-Saunders (Chicago), Michael Steinberg (New York), Schuebbe Projects (Dusseldorf) and Scott Richards (San Francisco).
* The LA Art Show, Jan. 21-25, 2009, now in its 14th year, moves from Barker Hanger to larger quarters at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Approximately 175 galleries -- almost double the number from 2008 -- are taking part in the show, which also boasts a series of documentary art films, lectures and a "young collectors" party. Also included is the mini-fair of print dealers from the International Fine Print Dealers Association, and "Supersonic," a special exhibition of art by MFA students at L.A.’s eight art schools. Fine art exhibitors range from Abby M. Taylor (Greenwich, Conn.), Adler & Co. (San Francisco) and Alpha (Boston) to Van Eyck (Buenos Aires), Venice Projects (Sarnen, Switzerland) and Wooster Projects (New York).
* The American Antiques Show, Jan. 22-25, 2009, sponsored by the American Folk Art Museum, takes place during Americana Week in New York City at the Metropolitan Pavilion at 125 East 18th Street in Chelsea. The opening night gala on Jan. 21 is the major winter fundraising event for the AFAM. Almost 50 dealers are taking part in the show, with ten new dealers on the list, including Dalton’s (Syracuse, N.Y.), Finnegan (Chicago), Otto and Susan Hart (Arlington, Vt.), Jeff and Holly Noordsy (Cornwall, Vt.), Spencer Marks (Southampton, Mass) and Gary R. Sullivan (Sharon, Mass).
* The Winter Antiques Show, Jan. 23-Feb. 1, 2009, founded in 1954, presents 75 exhibitors, about the same as last year, setting up at the Park Avenue Armory in Manhattan. Among the special events is a series of six lectures on glass, with subjects ranging from medieval goblet-making techniques to White House table settings. The opening gala to benefit the East Side House Settlement is on Jan. 22.
* Arte Fiera Art First, Jan. 23-26, 2009, the 33rd Edition of the International Exhibition of Contemporary Art in Bologna, Italy, presents over 200 galleries in one of Italy’s best-liked fairs of contemporary art. The show features a special section of 28 "young" galleries, in business five years or less. New York participants in Arte Fiera include Massimo Cirulli, James Cohan, Esso, Sperone Westwater and Sara Tecchia.
FAIREY’S OBAMA POSTER AT PORTRAIT GALLERY
The National Portrait Gallery announced that it will show the original Barack Obama "Hope" poster created by street artist Shepard Fairey -- a guerilla image that became an integral part of the president-elect’s campaign -- starting Jan. 20, 2008. The poster was donated to the museum by D.C. couple Heather and Tony Podesta, lobbyists and art collectors.
Fairey has also created a new version of the image that is being hawked in a limited edition, to benefit Obama’s inauguration committee. Some 9,000 of the new posters are being sold for $100 each, with an additional 1,000 signed by the artist going for $500. Meanwhile, Fairey has also designed striking new Constructivist-style graphics for Saks Fifth Avenue’s shopping bags.
EZRA MERKIN’S ROTHKOS IN PLAY?
Nothing like bankruptcy to make for a "motivated seller." Financier J. Ezra Merkin, whose Ascot Partners reportedly lost $1.8 billion in the Bernard Madoff scam, is also one of the world’s largest collectors of paintings by Mark Rothko. According to a report by Lindsay Pollock in Bloomberg News, the art world is keeping a close eye on Merkin’s trove in case he is forced to sell his art holdings to raise cash. Merkin reportedly bought many of the paintings directly from Kate Rothko and the Rothko estate, which is handled by PaceWildenstein Gallery. The total value of the collection, which includes Rothko’s studies for his famous Rothko Chapel murals as well as the paintings originally made for the Seagram Building, is estimated at $150 million-$200 million.
The source of much of this information is the celebrated Ben Heller, 83, Merkin’s art advisor (and the man who famously sold Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles to the National Gallery of Australia in 1973). Heller told Bloomberg that he himself had lost more than $10 million investing with Madoff, and another $3.4 million in a charitable trust. (His step-daughter and son-in-law, actress Kyra Sedgwick and actor Kevin Bacon, were also said to have lost big.) Though so far Merkin has not bitten at any of the offers for his Rothkos, Heller did state that "everything has a price."
SCHADENFREUD IN SEATTLE
The Seattle art world was hit by a little critical downsizing when Sheila Farr, longtime critic for the Seattle Times, signed off in December, accepting a buyout from the paper as it eliminated her position. The loss prompted an elegiac essay by Emily White, the editor of the area’s City Arts magazine, titled "The Dumbing Down of the Dailies," calling Farr a "poet" and lamenting her loss. In a sharp counterpoint, however, Jen Graves, formidable art critic for local alt-weekly The Stranger, penned an essay, Jan. 7, 2009, headlined "What It Really Means That Sheila Farr Left the Seattle Times," arguing (convincingly) that "Farr is known by the majority of artists, dealers, and curators in the city as the critic who never showed up." Ouch.
Even less charitable was Regina Hackett, art critic for the Times’ rival, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, who penned a blistering blog post after Farr’s final piece in December with the delightful title, "Seattle Times art critic signs off. When was she on?" "What did she accomplish?" Hackett argued, "By doing so little, she tanked her job. . . Now there's an official hole where her unofficial hole used to be." According to Tech Flash, a Seattle technology journal, the post was almost immediately taken down, with Hackett explaining, "I took it down because I thought it was, upon reflection, a little mean, and I don't want to be mean." She did say, however, that she planned to post a revised version.
IMA DELAYS PARK, SLASHES BUDGET
The hotly anticipated $25-million sculpture park project at the Indianapolis Museum of Art -- one of the largest such parks in the country, notable for avant-garde attractions including skeleton-shaped benches by Atelier Van Lieshout and an island by Andrea Zittel -- has been delayed by a year as a result of the economic crisis. Originally set to debut in 2009, the postponement of the park until 2010 is part of a broad packet of cost-cutting measures designed to save $1.7 million for the IMA. The museum reports that its endowment has plunged by 24 percent, and revenues from donations, merchandise and membership have fallen as well (unlike some institutions, the IMA is notably open about such things, operating a website where figures of all kinds about the institution are easily available -- dashboard.imamuseum.org).
Other cost-cutting measures at the IMA include reducing or eliminating various publishing projects, and using the internet to disseminate program information; going from three to two "special exhibitions" a year; and a salary freeze and virtual hiring freeze (or "hiring frost," as the institution prefers to call it). The IMA says that it is evaluating the possibility of cutting hours as well. One revenue-raising scheme is not under consideration, however -- charging admission. "IMA is committed to maintaining free admission," the institution declares.
ENDOWMENTS FALL, MUSEUMS SLASH BUDGETS
The Art Newspaper speculates that Metropolitan Museum of Art’s endowment may have lost as much as a quarter of a billion dollars in value in the recent market turmoil. The Met’s endowment was $2.9 billion in June 2008, before the worst of the financial turbulence struck. (It might also be noted that the Picower Foundation, which gave $15,000 to the Met in 2007, has been wiped out in the Madoff affair.) So how does the U.S.’s premiere institution for fine art respond? Nothing specific has yet been announced, though an article on new Met director Thomas Campbell in the Economist gives at least one concrete change: "fewer expensive loan shows will free up financial and creative resources for innovative displays of works from the permanent collection."
A sampling of U.S. institutions by the Art Newspaper found that most had lost at least 20 percent of the value of their endowments. Though such losses are felt only incrementally, most are bracing for the worst. Some of the more concrete steps that have been announced to plug the holes so far: New York’s Guggenheim Museum has slashed 10 percent of its operating budget (in addition to a plunging endowment, the Gugg also has been the beneficiary of the Frank Lautenberg Foundation, also slammed by Madoff); the Denver Art Museum plans a a 15 percent budget trim; the Detroit Institute of Arts is cutting its budget by a punishing 20 percent; MassMoCA in North Adams, Mass. is cutting by 8 percent, with some staff firings in the pipeline; and finally, the Las Vegas Art Museum is cutting its budget by a staggering 50 percent, with the museum board demanding wide-ranging layoffs -- a move which caused director Libby Lumpkin to resign at the end of 2008.
INDEX MAGAZINE RETURNS
Index, the hipster arts and culture mag that made the rounds in ‘90s New York, edited by painter and Yale painting dean Peter Halley, has been resurrected as a web project. The site currently features a curated online gallery of YouTube videos, interviews with musicians, photos of airports by Daniel Everett and a timely documentary of a Palestinian refugee camp by Katayoun Vaziri. Also on tap is a comedy series, "Delusional Downtown Divas," which bows tomorrow, Jan. 9, 2009.
ADOLF MERCKLE, ART RESTORER?
The world was shocked and perplexed this week by the suicide of billionaire Adolf Merckle, the world’s 94th richest person, according to Forbes, who threw himself in front of a train in Germany, apparently in despair after losing close to a billion dollars in the stock market. Among the many mysteries of this "deeply private" man is his interest in art. Forbes’ 2007 entry lists as one of his achievements the following: "Supports foundation that restores, maintains artworks." Little information, however, is available on such a foundation, though there are references on the web to a Ruth und Adolf Merckle Stiftung für Urgeschichte (Ruth and Adolf Merckle Foundation for Prehistory). This foundation does not appear to have a website, and its name does not appear on the net in association with any large German museum.
DIDIER AARON, 1926-2009
Didier Aaron, 85, the dean of Paris antiques dealers, died in Paris on Jan. 3. Specializing in fine French furniture, Aaron went into business after World War II, setting up branches in New York, Los Angeles and London in the 1970s and ‘80s. The business is now owned by his son, Hervé Aaron.