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Artnet News
Dec. 10, 2008 

Look out below! Bankrupt investment banking giant Lehman Brothers, in flush times a notable patron of the contemporary art market [see Artnet News, Sept. 17, 2008], is preparing to unload much of its 3,500-work art collection as part of what is widely described as the largest and most complex bankruptcy in U.S. history. The firm’s art holdings, according to a report by Lindsay Pollock on Bloomberg, include works by Jasper Johns, Louise Nevelson, Frank Stella and Wayne Thiebaud, all acquired in the 1970s and ‘80s under the supervision of art advisor Janice Oresman, and more recently purchased works by Marlene Dumas, Andreas Gursky, Damien Hirst and Takashi Murakami.

On Nov. 10, 2008, Lehman asked Manhattan bankruptcy judge James M. Peck to approve a $20,000 payment to its art handlers, so it could begin showing its collection to buyers. Last week, Peck granted the request, and the art fire sale can now begin. According to the Guardian, the art at the two storage locations in New York and Paris is valued at $8 million -- a sum that makes Lehman’s art less important to its creditors than the $24.9 million corporate jet it sold last month, but more vital than the $6.25 million in real estate it is trying to unload in Hamilton Township, N.J.

Part of the art collection may have a bit of a reprieve, however. Barclays snapped up Lehman’s core brokerage business in September, in a deal which included the art on view at Lehman’s headquarters at 745 Seventh Avenue. The terms of that transaction, according to the Guardian, specify that Barclays has the right to keep the work on display for one year, during which time the UK bank can purchase all or part of the collection. After that time, Barclays must return the collection to Lehman, which would then be free to auction it off to the highest bidder.

Bain Capital, which purchased Lehman’s prized Neuberger Berman asset management unit -- and the 900 artworks in Neuberger’s "art in the workplace" program (which, according to insiders, contains notable holdings of Chinese contemporary, among other things) -- inked a similar deal, giving Bain a year to pick and choose from the collection.

The Wall Street Journal for Dec. 9, 2008, carried a front-page story detailing the near-bankruptcy of General Growth Properties, the huge Chicago-based mall developer and real estate investment trust founded in 1954 by brothers Martin and Matthew Bucksbaum. GGP’s stock price has plunged 97 percent in the last year, falling from a high of about $49 per share to $1.58. Why should this matter to the art world? Because the family includes Melva Bucksbaum, a top contemporary art patron and art collector, who is a board member of the Hirshhorn Museum, the Whitney Museum and the Drawing Center, and founder of the $100,000 Bucksbaum Award for an artist in the Whitney Biennial (she is wife to Raymond Learsy, an arts patron of some note himself). Will the GGP crash cause her to pull back on her arts support? That remains to be seen, though it seems unlikely; the Wall Street Journal reported that the family had collected $590 million in dividends from the company since 1997.

The recession has hit the major New York auction houses. In a recent SEC filing, Sotheby’s noted third-quarter losses of $46.2 million, and announced plans to trim personnel and cut salaries for its 605-person North American staff, with an eye towards reducing its annual budget by $7 million. Exactly how many people are being pink-slipped remains uncertain at this point. In an ominous note, the SEC filing also states that Sotheby’s "is developing additional global cost reduction proposals."

According to the Associated Press, Sotheby’s rival Christie’s said it expects substantial layoffs as well.

If the U.S. financial system goes south, at least we can turn to the burgeoning "local currency" movement. John Isaacs -- who shows with Kinz + Tillou Fine Art and also runs his own design studio, John Isaacs Design -- was commissioned to design a new currency for the Berkshires region in Western Massachusetts, an area that encompasses Great Barrington, North Adams, Pittsfield, Williamstown and 26 other towns. Dubbed "BerkShares," the money now has more than 2,000,000 units in circulation and is garnering major media coverage as the economic crisis highlights various schemes to prop up local economies.

Intended to encourage shoppers to spend in the Berkshires, BerkShares are published by the nonprofit organization BerkShares Inc., which sets the exchange rate for the new money at 90 shares to $100 -- essentially offering users a 10 percent discount at participating stores. Some 13 area banks offer the ability to trade money for BerkShares, and a host of shops in Great Barrington and surrounding areas accept them, ranging from A Touching Experience Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork to Zenn New Media, a software development firm.

As for the design of the money itself, Isaacs says that he took inspiration from the Euro, describing U.S. money as particularly ugly. He also adds that his experience designing art catalogues helped him configure the new currency, calling the task "an exercise in building resonance and elegance from furnished images and text, typography and color."

Each of the five notes features an image from an area artist: Sheffield-based painter Bart Elsbach did a black-and-white landscape for the single; Morgan Bulkeley Jr. offers a folk-art-style image of a skunk, fox, raccoon and cat on the five; Janet Rickus’ earthy image of a row of turnips adorns the ten; the twenty has Warner Friedman’s understatedly surrealist rendition of a white pavilion whose windows look in on a rolling green landscape; and Joan Griswold’s Hopper-esque image of a storefront at night graces the fifty (which also features the comforting visage of Norman Rockwell).

Photographer Sean Hemmerle, who has exhibited his works at the Front Room gallery in Brooklyn, is getting a boost from Time magazine for his recent portfolio "Remains of Detroit." Given that the current dire straits of Motor City are very much in the news, the magazine offers an online slideshow of Hemmerle’s images, which document the spookily decrepit interiors of various abandoned factories and public buildings, all of it charged with a rather grim postindustrial pathos.

Then again, one particularly enigmatic image from the series attests to continued activity in the spaces, albeit of an artistic rather than industrial variety. An interior of an abandoned Fisher Body Plant centers on a seemingly random ziggurat of bricks in the center. That structure, as it turns out, was constructed by Detroit artist Scott Hocking, who lives near the plant, and decided to repurpose the wooden brinks that make up the plant’s floor to create a kind of mocking monument. After staging the project earlier this year, Hocking left the pyramid where it was, at the mercy of both the elements and any other salvagers. The documentation of the site-specific work is currently on display at the Van Abbemuseum in the Netherlands, Apr. 10, 2008-Jan. 25, 2009, as part of a show called "Heartland," dedicated to artists from Middle America.

The art world’s own sturdy trade publication, the Art Newspaper, has launched an online TV channel. The feature presents a variety of content, hosted by the Newspaper’s founder Anna Somers Cocks, who can be seen interviewing the likes of Anthony Caro, Jeffrey Deitch, Simon de Pury, Adam Lindemann, Ellsworth Kelly, Patti Smith and John Richardson -- and the paper already has a snappy round-up of Art Basel Miami Beach online. At present, you can sign up for a month’s free access here.

Hiscox Insurers, the London-based specialty insurer that covers fine art as well as kidnappings and accidents, is taking an interesting approach towards death. As of Jan. 1, 2009, the firm is unveiling a new artwork on the facade of its headquarters in the City of London: Death Counter, a giant LED sign by artist Santiago Sierra designed to document the number of human deaths worldwide, from any cause. The death count is based on a projection from the U.S. census, which puts the number of annual deaths at just over 55,000,000, or nearly two per second.

The Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Mich., presents a show of sculpture by American artist Jonathan Borofsky, Jan. 30-May 10, 2009. The exhibition features a new work by the artist, Human Structures & the Light of Consciousness, which is composed of hundreds of male and female figures connected at their hands, feet and heads, all cast in brightly colored industrial plastic. Borofsky has recently installed major works at the Beijing Olympic Park, the Kiturami Building in Seoul, the Comcast Center in Philadelphia, the Tishman-Speyer building in San Francisco and the Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Super-developer Aby Rosen’s celebrated Lever House Art Collection, overseen by curator Richard Marshall, now has its own website. The deluxe, high-tech web portal boasts info on the current Lever House show -- Keith Sonnier’s "BA-O-BA Lever House," Dec. 11, 2008-Feb. 7, 2009 -- plus a wealth of images and data on other Lever House holdings, including works by John Chamberlain, E.V. Day, Richard Dupont, Tom Friedman, Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Jorge Pardo, Tom Sachs and others.

Starting next year, the Brooklyn Museum is offering a new kind of membership through Facebook, Flickr and Twitter. Dubbed 1stfans and priced at a mere $20 per year, the membership category "is a completely new way for visitors to connect not only with the museum but with each other." The program, which includes special Twitter "tweets" for 1stfan members, begins with a party on Jan. 3, 2009 -- a Target First Saturday -- featuring art and entertainment by artists from Swoon’s studio, who are making "prints on found paper." 

One of our favorite artists -- Walter Robinson -- is included in a new show titled "The Beast in Me," Dec. 11, 2008-Jan. 11, 2009, at Bowman / Bloom Gallery at 95 East 7th Street in the East Village. The show also includes works on the theme by Tom Burckhardt, Rich Colicchio, Brigitte Engler, Robert Hawkins, Richard Hell, Mette Madsen, David Sandlin, Sally Webster and many more.

Help keep needy New Yorkers warm this winter by participating in the 20th annual New York Cares Coat Drive. Drop off any unwanted coats at 303 Gallery, 547 West 21st Street, New York, N.Y., from 10 am to 6 pm, Tuesday through Saturday, till Dec. 20, 2008. Tax deductible donation receipts are available.

Stephanie French
, who oversaw the arts funding programs at Philip Morris for 20 years, has been named director and CEO of Robert Wilson’s Byrd Hoffman Watermill Foundation, operator of the Watermill Center in Watermill, Long Island.

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