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Artnet News
Nov. 5, 2009 

LONDON FRACAS OVER "PIFFLE TOWER"
London mayor Boris Johnson loves a fight, especially one that involves the fine arts! After making headlines over a statue honoring a naval hero and a contested appointment to a local arts council [see Artnet News, Oct. 27, 2009], Johnson is now involved in another tussle, this one over his support for a proposal to build an Eiffel Tower-sized monument by British artist Paul Fryer to accompany the 2012 Olympic Games, which are to be held in London.

Fryer has designed a 400-foot-tall steel pylon, paneled with stained glass and powered by solar panels, that would provide viewing platforms in the day and be lit up at night. The £15-million cost of Transmission, as Fryer has dubbed his work, would be covered by steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal, said to be Britain’s richest man.

The wise-acre critics in London have already dubbed the structure the "Piffle Tower," a reference to a past scandal, in which Johnson denied allegations of an affair as "an inverted pyramid of piffle." Critic Brian Sewell is no fan of the plan, either. "Our country is littered with public art of absolutely no merit," he said. "We are entering a new period of fascist gigantism. These are monuments to egos and you couldn't find a more monumental ego than Boris."        

Fryer is hardly a shoo-in for the commission, as finalists are thought to include Antony Gormley, designer of his own art-landmark, Angel of the North, and Turner Prize-winner Anish Kapoor. At present, the selection committee is playing its cards close to the vest, and an announcement of final plans is to come at some uncertain time in the future. Meanwhile, Fryer’s work is currently featured in the popular exhibition, "The Age of the Marvelous," organized by All Visual Arts in Holy Trinity Church adjacent to Regent’s Park.

-- Simon Todd

PRINT WEEK IN MANHATTAN
The powers-that-be have christened the first week in November as New York Fine Print Week, Nov. 1-8, 2009, and coordinated a city-wide series of art fairs, auctions, gallery and museum exhibitions, talks and other events with a handy listing and even a map, here

One highlight to be sure is the IFPDA Print Fair 09, Nov. 5-8, 2009, presenting over 80 dealers from the U.S. and Europe at the Park Avenue Armory. General admission is $20, and includes a copy of the catalogue. A special presentation on "Insights on Collecting" is slated for Saturday.

Another fair, the Editions/Artists’ Book Fair, Nov. 6-8, 2009, brings over 50 contemporary dealers and publishers to X-Initiative in Chelsea. Among its special events is VendorBar by Robin Kahn and Kirby Gookin, in which multiples designed on-site are to be sold from rolling carts "dim sum style"; other participating artists are Mike Bidlo, Geoffrey Hendricks, Peter Nadin, Tom Otterness and Cary Leibowitz, among others. Admission is free.

SAN FRANCISCO SCENE RESHUFFLES
The San Francisco gallery scene is seeing a realignment, according to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle. The reasons, as the paper outlines them, are threefold: "slow sales, high rents and a yearning for experimentation." Some highlights:

* Anthony Meier Fine Art, which has worked with such stars as Barnaby Furnas, Jim Hodges, Gary Simmons and Richard Tuttle, has just won city permission to transform Meier's own home into an exhibition space. The recently landmarked 1911 mansion, located at 1969 California St., has iron gates and a dark, vaulted entrance. Meier gallery director Rebecca Camacho lauds the value of showing art in a home. "Here, our patrons realize that they can live with this art. It's an environment they can relate to."

* Don Soker Contemporary Art, formerly of the gallery cluster at 49 Geary Street, has moved to the less expensive Financial District, taking residence in a 10,300-square-foot suite on the 14th floor of 100 Montgomery Street. Soker clearly indicated to the Chronicle that he was sacrificing walk-in traffic with the move, about 20 percent of his business, but he said that September was his "best month in three years." See www.donsokergallery.com

* One new space is the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts, a nonprofit "dedicated to building social consciousness through digital culture," which has taken up residence in a former porno theater at 55 Taylor Street. The initiative is spearheaded by Josette Melchor’s Gray Area Gallery and Recombinant Media Labs, founded by Naut Humon, which formed the new foundation, in part to help revitalize what is described as a "dodgy" neighborhood. Info at www.gaffta.org

BEN VAUTIER RETROSPECTIVE
The Museum of Contemporary Art in Lyon presents a 50-year retrospective of the comically egocentric French artist Ben Vautier, who is now 74 years of age. The "Ben Retrospective," Mar. 3-July 11, 2010, begins with the artist’s early text paintings and Fluxus period works and ranges through his large-scale installations on the themes of truth, sex, money and bananas. The show is organized by Jon Hendricks, who is curator for Yoko Ono as well as consulting curator of the Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection at the Museum of Modern Art. The catalogue includes essays by Arthur Danto, Jean-Hubert Martin, Midori Matsui, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Susanne Rennert and Philippe Vergne.

ARMSTRONG, HIRST, SOTHEBY’S RAISE MONEY
Here’s a lesson: Nothing can stop Lance Armstrong! The super-biker’s LiveStrong cancer-fighting charity raised $1.3 million at Sotheby’s New York, Nov. 1, 2009, with "It’s About the Bike," an auction of artist-decorated bikes. The initiative, Armstrong said, combined his three passions: "art, cycling and philanthropy."

Another lesson from the sale: Nothing can stop Damien Hirst. The top lot was Hirst’s decorated bicycle, which drew a staggering $500,000. This came despite the atrocious reviews he has received for his recently opened show of paintings at London’s Wallace Collection [see "London Dispatch," Oct. 21, 2009] and the fact that the Hirst-bike itself had become the object of some controversy. The artist had chosen to adorn it with real butterfly wings, plucked by his assistants from the unfortunate insects as a good luck totem for Armstrong on the final leg of his Tour de France outing. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals called the gesture "barbaric and horrific."

Other artists represented in the charity bike sale were no slouches, either. Shepard Fairey’s bike went for $110,000 -- a sum that tops his current auction record, set for Peace Goddess (2007), which sold for $80,500 at Sotheby's earlier this year. KAWS, similarly, sold his charity bike for $160,000, beating his auction record, previously a mere $12,500 for a set of three screen-prints sold in a sale at Phillips de Pury & Company. Other bikes were by Yoshitomo Nara ($200,000), Marc Newson ($110,000) and Kenny Scharf ($45,000).

The hefty sum of $130,000 was also paid for an undecorated "stolen bike," a custom-made bike that had been stolen from Armstrong's equipment trailer in Sacramento, but then recovered by the police. It’s all about the back-story.

FRANZ WEST, EXHIBITION DESIGNER
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is opening a new installation of Pacific Island art in a presentation designed by Austrian artist Franz West. "Art of the Pacific," Nov. 7, 2009-June 2010, organized by LACMA deputy director Nancy Thomas, features special pedestals for the objects as well as benches covered with a shaggy textile. Gallery walls are painted with a maté tea wash, a reerence to the early tea trade that brought voyagers to the Pacific, by artist Andreas Reiter Raabe.

The installation showcases a collection of 46 works acquired this summer from the Masco Corporation Foundation via Sotheby’s, a purchase made possible by donations from the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, Jane and Terry Semel and other LACMA trustees. The Masco Corporation collection toured several U.S. museums in the mid-1990s under the title, "Island Ancestors, Oceanic Art from the Masco Collection." As is common practice, the financial details of this transaction have been kept hidden from the public.

BLACK ART FAIR IN HIATUS
The 13-year-old National Black Fine Art Show, which last February brought more than 40 exhibitors to the Merchandise Mart space on 34th Street and Fifth Avenue near the Empire State Building, has announced plans to take a one-year hiatus. The show’s producers, Keeling Wainwright Associates, said the move was prompted by market instability, and promised to return in 2011. For more info, see www.blackfineartshow.com


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