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Artnet News
October 27, 2009 

The running battle between London’s Tory mayor Boris Johnson and the Arts Council London is really beginning to heat up. Earlier this month, the mayor was thwarted in his attempt to nominate a political supporter, Veronica Wadley, as head of the council. Critics including current Arts Council England head Liz Forgan said that Wadley had "almost no arts credibility," while culture secretary Ben Bradshaw blocked the nomination, saying it violated conventions against cronyism. Wadley’s main qualification is that she is the former editor of the Evening Standard, a Tory paper that supported Johnson in his 2008 mayoral campaign.

However, Johnson has refused to back down. After at first threatening to leave the post open, he has now started the search to fill the position from scratch, suggesting that he would pick Wadley if she applied again. According to the Guardian, this "decision to begin all over again is likely to infuriate the other three candidates in the final round of interviews for the prestigious London arts role." The move certainly looks bad. Guardian blogger Dave Hill said that the move represented "an obduracy bordering on suicidal megalomania" on the mayor’s part, while over at Wadley’s former paper, the Evening Standard, Louise Jury commented, "Rarely have I seen such immediate and palpable arts world fury."

Meanwhile, Johnson’s other arts initiatives are not exactly soothing nerves. After the recently ended One & Other, Antony Gormley’s wildly successful "living sculpture" project on Trafalgar Square’s "Fourth Plinth," the mayor is using the next spot to fulfill a campaign promise of honoring Battle of Britain hero Sir Keith Park. To this end, a scheduled project by Yinka Shonibare -- a scale replica of Admiral Nelson’s ship in a giant glass bottle -- has been delayed until spring, to be replaced by a life-size fiberglass sculpture of "Sir Keith" by the artist Les Johnson, starting Nov. 4 (a permanent bronze statue of Park is scheduled to be erected in Waterloo Place on Sept. 25 2010, in time for the anniversary of the Battle of Britain).

Julie Lomax, head of Arts Council England’s visual arts program and a member of the "Plinth Commissioning Group," told the Art Newspaper that there had been opposition to Johnson’s art initiative: "We wrote a strong letter opposing the statue but we were over-ruled."

Competition is intense in the cutting-edge subculture of high-design skateboards, with top artists more than happy to customize their work for use on limited-edition skateboard decks, which are quickly snapped up by skaters and the occasional savvy collector. One top art-world supplier is Fred Maechler’s Mekanism in Montreuil, France, and online at, which has commissioned decks from artists like Josh Smith, Dirk Skreber, Albert Ohlen and Katharina Grosse.

The new Mekanism commission from weather artist Olafur Eliasson, however, kicks the project up a notch. Eliasson’s skateboard, dubbed Your mercury ocean (2009), manages to turn the flat skateboard into a mirrored and rippled surface, similar to silvery water in motion. Eliasson took a 13-ply skateboard deck, thicker than the usual seven-ply board, and had it milled on the top and bottom in an irregular wave pattern, and then gave it a mirror coating. "I’m hooked on painting," Maechler said, "but this time we decided to give carte blanche to an artist who’s everything but a painter -- and the result is crazy."

Mechanism produced the work in an edition of 90 plus 10 artist’s proof and 10 exhibition copies. The price is €3,000. For details, contact

What can visitors expect at the New Museum’s blow-out Urs Fischer exhibition, "Urs Fischer: Marguerite de Ponty," Oct. 28, 2009-Jan. 31, 2010, which is to occupy three floors of the hip art center on the Bowery? According to the advance press materials, the fourth floor features five biomorphic blobs of aluminum, enlarged from hand-molded clay shapes made by the artist and resembling "monumental abstractions, strange cocoons for mutant creatures, or cartoonish interpretations of Stonehenge."

The description of Fischer’s plans for the museum’s third floor, "an installation that will turn the Museum's architecture into an image of itself, overlapping paintings and prints in a site-specific trompe l'oeil environment," sounds a little like a reprise of his successful 2008 show at Tony Shafrazi Gallery. The second floor, arguably the pièce de résistance, is designed as a "labyrinth of silkscreened chrome steel boxes that will turn an entire floor into a dazzling cityscape of mirrored images," using 12 tons of steel and 25,000 photographs.

The show also includes Noisette (2009), a realistic plastic tongue sticking out from a hole in the wall, plus many other individual pieces. Though curated by Massimiliano Gioni, the show is described as "choreographed entirely by the artist." The 480-page catalogue, Urs Fischer: Shovel in a Hole, is priced at $69.95.

Roselee Goldberg’s Performa 09 festival of performance art is upon us, Nov. 1-22, 2009, featuring more than 100 events at 40 different venues around New York City. Kicking everything off on Oct. 30 is a gala benefit at X Initiative in Chelsea, a "food adventure" conceived by hotelier and food writer Jennifer Rubell. The over-the-top event is billed as "Creation, a contemporary twist on the Garden of Eden," but to tell the truth, it sounds rather more like Sodom and Gomorrah just before the end.

The incredible journey begins on the fourth floor, which is devoted to "drink," via an installation featuring 1,000 glasses, 1,000 bottles of booze and one-ton piles of both ice cubes and roasted peanuts (from Bazzini), all so guests can make their own cocktails. On the third floor is a ton of ribs (from Daisy Mae’s BBQ) covered with honey, while the second floor boasts eight cut apple trees, still with their fruits, plus four-foot-tall chocolate facsimiles of Jeff Koons’ bunny sculpture, accompanied by mallets so that diners can take a crack at dessert.

Tickets are $300 -- a reasonable price for what promises to be one of the art-world’s most decadent evenings, all for the sake of a good cause. Contact

Hope springs eternal, and so do lawsuits involving expensive artworks, or so it can seem. According to Courthouse News, art dealer Jeffrey Hoffeld is claiming that the Proskauer Rose law firm and Connecticut collector Kerstin Lindholm owe him $72,000 for his services in litigation over the Andy Warhol painting Red Elvis.

In the case, Hoffeld served as both consulting and testifying expert, and apparently billed the law firm for hundreds of hours of professional services between 2002 and 2005, starting at $375 per hour and eventually reaching $450 per hour. Hoffeld has received almost $70,000 from the law firm, but says his efforts to obtain the rest of his fee has been unavailing, since his final invoice of June 2005.

In any case, despite Hoffeld’s testimony, Lindholm and Proskauer Rose lost the Red Elvis case [see Artnet News, Sept. 14, 2005], with ownership of the celebrated Warhol painting -- worth an estimated $6 million-$12 million -- going to art collector Peter M. Brant. According to the ruling, Lindholm’s longtime art advisor had misappropriated the Warhol and sold it without her permission to Brant, who had done his due diligence before buying the work. As a result, Lindholm had to bear the loss, since she had put her trust in her advisor.

In a second legal decision, reported in the New York Law Journal, a Beijing art collector purchased Julian Schnabel’s 1983 oil-on-velvet painting Chinkzee from art dealer Mary Dinaburg and her partnership, Fortune Cookie Projects, for $290,000. The collector, Najung Seung, said that in her decision to purchase the painting, she relied on Dinaburg’s representation that it was worth $500,000, when it had in fact been sold at auction for only $156,000 in May 2007 and had subsequently declined in value.  

Seung sued in New York Supreme Court for the return of her money plus punitive damages, but Judge Eileen Branstein dismissed the case, noting, in effect, that Seung was mistaken to depend solely on an art dealer’s sales pitch in deciding on an art investment. "In the context of an arms-length transaction, Seung's blind reliance on Dinaburg's alleged statements of the painting's value is not reasonable as a matter of law," the judge wrote. Seung’s attorney said that he plans to appeal.

Havana-based curator and critic Gerardo Mosquera has put together a book on contemporary art from Chile, and he’s coming to New York to celebrate it. Copiar el Edén, Arte reciente en Chile -- that’s "Copying Eden" to you, a phrase from the martial Chilean national anthem -- includes 650 pages of bilingual text and more than 500 color images of works by 74 artists, not to mention a cover illustration of a coiled rattlesnake that appears to be tattooed into someone’s ass. The event is tonight, Oct. 27, 2009, and features Mosquera, El Museo del Barrio curator Elvis Fuentes, and artists Iván Navarro and Jorge Tacla, all on a panel moderated by art-fair kingpin Christian Viveros-Faune. The panel takes place at 7:30 pm at King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center Auditorium at 53 Washington Square South. For more info on the book, see

Gerald Ferguson, 72, Cincinnati-born Canadian abstract painter who helped transform the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design into a global art center, died in Halifax on Nov. 8. An early proponent of what might be called structuralist painting, Ferguson was known for his "frottage" paintings, which involved running a roller with black paint over a canvas covering all manner of common items. He was included in "Information" at the Museum of Modern Art in 1970, and exhibited for many years with Wynick/Tuck Gallery in Toronto. A collector of Nova Scotian folk art, he donated his holdings to the Canadian Museum of Civilization in 1985. He won the $50,000 Molson Prize from the Canada Council in 1995.

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