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Artnet News
Oct. 14, 2005 

In an article in this week's New Yorker magazine, titled Salesman, staffer Nick Paumgarten reports on the rise of the iconoclastic Chelsea art dealer Leo Koenig. After spending a year in Koenig's company, Paumgartnen devotes 15 pages of text and three pages of color illustrations to Leo's often quirky approach to the art business. When not portrayed as drunk or hanging out at strip clubs, Koenig and his posse of eight testosterone-charged white male artists are shown selling their often inferior work to a number of high-rolling yet gullible collectors.

In the most stunning deal of all, Koenig takes longtime Mary Boone collector Andy Hall to visit Neo-Expressionist artist Georg Baselitz at Baselitz's castle in Germany, where they negotiate Hall's purchase of Baselitz's collection of 120 contemporary German artworks. Paumgarten makes sure to tell us that neither Larry Gagosian, Baselitz' dealer, nor Anton Kern, the artist's son, were privy to the $7-million deal, out of which Koenig took 10 percent. So hyped is Koenig by the Baselitz connection that he tells Paumgarten, "Eventually I will represent George Baselitz and Anselm Kiefer. It may take 30 years, but I'll do it."

Paumgarten, a writer not familiar with the ways of the art world, sees miracles in the most pedestrian of Koenig's actions. For example, he finds it remarkable that Koenig makes studio visits to artists in Williamsburg. In a moment of perhaps mistaken self-revelation, Koenig reveals that at one point, he met surreptitiously with two potential backers in Paris in order to set up an offshore art-buying deal. Let's hope he has a good accountant.

The overall effect of the article is to portray Koenig as a young man known throughout the art world as a nice guy, a bit too full of himself and perhaps ready for a fall. But then again, perhaps any publicity is good publicity.

-- Charlie Finch

Art lovers ordinarily unimpressed by the Museum of Modern Art's paperclips and post-it notes division -- that is, the design part of MoMA's Department of Architecture and Design -- should nevertheless hasten to the museum for its newest blockbuster, "Safe: Design Takes on Risk," Oct. 16, 2005-Jan. 2, 2006. While contemporary art seems immune to the threats and catastrophes of the real world, as Charlie Finch recently pointed out [see "Toys in the Attic," Oct. 11, 2005], the designers and artists in "Safe" give us an all-too-complete catalogue of more than 300 objects that "address the spectrum of human fears and worries."

Among the fretful items on display are a Muslim hijab headscarf of knitted stainless steel devised by Israeli designer Gayla Rosenfeld and a bright red, padded PVC "civil-disobedience suit," complete with built-in video camera, crafted by the South African-born Ralph Borland. Other items include Stop Thief! Smart Antitheft Furniture (chairs with built-in hooks to secure handbags), the Guardian Angel Handbag (a purse that gives the illusion that a knife is inside), the Philips HeartStart Onsite Defibrillator (weighs 3.3 pounds), the Neptunic C Sharksuit (all steel mesh), the Bulletproof Quilted Duvet, the PowerPizza (a case for a laptop computer disguised as a pizza box), Clean Call disposable telephone covers (made of paper), the Blizzard Survival Bag, Safety Gear for Small Animals (doll-size protective suits and the like) and the Safe Bedside Table (a piece of furniture whose top converts to a shield while its single leg doubles as a baton).

An online version of the exhibition, which is organized by curators Paola Antonelli and Patricia Juncosa Vecchierini, can be accessed as of Oct. 16, 2005, at

Six weeks after Hurricane Katrina hit the gulf coast, the New Orleans art world is taking stock just like the rest of the city. Word is that the New Orleans Museum of Art has dramatically trimmed its staff from 115 to 15 people, cuts that include several top curators. When the museum might resume normal operations -- or how that could be done with no staff -- remains unclear.

The website of Arthur Roger Gallery carries a long report that paints a bleak picture of the situation for the area's artists. Flooding hit the studios of artists Gene Koss, John Scott, Jim Richard, Lin Emery and Dawn Dedeaux, while artists Jackie Bishop, Mitchell Gaudet, Mary Jane Parker and Stephen Paul Day had damage to the buildings where they live and work.

"Not all of the news is grim," writes Arthur Roger, noting that the storm spared the studios of artists Willie Birch, Luis Cruz Azaceta and Nicole Charbonnet, and that the work from the Robert Gordy, Ida Kohlmeyer and Clyde Connell estates is safe. At present, according to the website, the gallery is planning to reopen in November with shows of work by John Scott and a "Comeback" group exhibition.

"What one must understand about Al Bean is that he is the only artist to have ever walked on the moon," actor Tom Hanks emphasizes in the literature accompanying the show of space-themed painting by Apollo 12 astronaut Alan Bean, the fourth man to walk on the moon, on view at the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio, Oct. 14-Dec. 31, 2005. Bean depicts his lunar adventures in a style reminiscent of N.C. Wyeth's and, with titles like We Came in Peace for All Mankind, Tiptoeing on the Oceans of Storms and That's How it Felt to Walk on the Moon, with an admirable and not unsurprising cosmic optimism. What's more, Bean adds textures to his surfaces using real NASA moon boots and scientific tools, and also implants moondust-caked pieces of the American flag, scraps of his own spacesuit and fragments of the heat shield of the Apollo command module into the works.

Here in the U.S., every major institution is pining to grab some attention with an expansion. But it's all chump change compared to cultural expansion going on in China, according to Bloomberg News, which reports in an Oct. 13, 2005, story that the People's Liberation Army is determined to build 1,000 new museums in the next 10 years, with 32 opening in Beijing for the 2008 Olympics and another 100 set to open in Shanghai for the World's Fair in 2010.

The initiative could be big news for the world art market. The massive "art-recovery operation" is directed by officers of the global intelligence arm of the PLA, the Zong Chan Second Division, and is set to use the country's $711 billion foreign currency reserves to target Western masterpieces at above auction-house prices. The PLA is already pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into repatriating Chinese treasures, setting their eyes on works in the collections of Estee Lauder chairman Ronald Lauder, CNT group's Tsui Tsin-tong, Morgan Stanley's Jack Wadsworth and Apollo Advisers' Leon Black, among others.

Bloomberg quotes Albert Louie, representative of a Beijing-based risk-management firm, on the PLA's step into art-buying: "Art collectors worldwide should be concerned about the PLA's acquisition strategy," Louie opines. "The PLA's ambition is to control culture as it does the military, and it doesn't do things according to accepted rules. Acquiring art is not a money issue for the PLA."

Hot on the heels of the opening of the Tate Modern's crowd-pleasing entry hall installation by Rachel Whiteread [see "Artnet News," Oct. 11, 2005], the London museum unveils two additional blockbusters devoted to cutting-edge photographer Jeff Wall and the early modernist eccentric Henri Rousseau.

First up is "Jeff Wall: Photographs 1978-2004," Oct. 21, 2005-Jan. 8, 2006, a retrospective of 50 light-box works by the Canadian photographer known for carefully constructed works that often refer to the history of painting. The exhibition debuted last summer at the Schaulager Basel; a live webcast of a talk by the artist is scheduled for Oct. 25. Only a few days later, the Tate opens "Henri Rousseau: Jungles in Paris, " Nov. 3, 2005-Feb. 5, 2006, the first exhibition of the artist's work to be held in the U.K. for 80 years. The show is organized by Christopher Green and Frances Morris, and includes about 50 works.

Last month, when California real estate mogul and supercollector Edward Broida announced plans to sell 14 modern artworks worth $40 million at Christie's New York in November [see "Art Market Watch," Sept. 23, 2005], it was said that he had no plans for the rest of his extensive holdings and that he would continue to collect. That was pure spin, as it turns out, since Broida has now announced plans to donate 174 works worth about $50 million to the Museum of Modern Art. The trove includes 12 paintings and 16 drawings by Phillip Guston (MoMA already has 12 paintings by the artist) and 18 works by Vija Celmins. Broida, 71, suffers from cancer and is planning his estate, according to the New York Times, and the combination auction and charitable gift is straight out of estate planning 101.. Unreported is the fact that the taxpayer picks up the tab -- generally speaking, the write-off from such a donation would eliminate capital gains on the auction proceeds.

Cornelia H. Butler
, curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, has been named Robert Lehman Foundation chief curator of drawings at the Museum of Modern Art. At MOCA But organized exhibitions of Robert Smithson, Rodney Graham and Willem de Kooning, and is currently at work on "Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution," which opens at MOCA in spring 2007.

New York's School of Visual Arts is hosting "First Light: Teaching Photography in Kabul," Oct. 21-Nov. 12, 2005, an exhibition of photographs by 15 artists who were trained in darkroom techniques after the Taliban-lead government was toppled in October 2001. The course at Kabul University was headed by Afghan-American SVA alumnus Masood Kamandy, who went to Afghanistan in 2002 under the sponsorship of the SVA photo department, which is chaired by Stephen Frailey. The program was funded in large part by a 2003 benefit auction of works by Tina Barney, Larry Clark, Annie Leibovitz, David Levinthal and Stephen Shore. An additional fundraiser is slated for Nov. 9, 2005; for details contact

Minimalist Jene Highstein is slated to install 11 works in wood, stone and metal at Madison Square Park in Manhattan, opening Oct. 21-Dec. 31, 2005. The installation is part of the Madison Square Park Conservancy's ongoing program to make the park a beacon for outdoor public sculpture; the park already holds two works by Sol LeWitt, Curved Wall with Towers and Circle with Towers, on view until Dec. 31, 2005.

Scholar and popular author (Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded) Simon Winchester has taken over as publisher of the 12-year-old Art AsiaPacific magazine, purchasing it in partnership with editor Elaine W. Ng. Now based in New York's Chelsea district, the quarterly plans to be the place to go to for info on the exploding Asian art market. The first issue under the new management, which hit stands in June, focuses on Asian artists in the Venice Biennale.

One of our favorite galleries remaining in SoHo, the Luise Ross Gallery, has taken the plunge and moved to Chelsea. Ross opens on the third floor of at 511 West 25th Street, Oct. 15-Nov. 12, 2005, with a group exhibition including works by China Marks, Guğrun Kristjánsdóttir, Thomas Lyon Mills, Willie Birch, John Dilg, Judith Page, T.L. Solien and many others.

-- contact wrobinson @