Thursday, May 24, 2007

"News for the Art Set"

Left: Brian Kenny Rooster Boy. Right: Ryan McGinley Untitled (Elevator).
Jasper Johns, Figure 4 1969, lithograph on arjomari paper, 38 x 31".

by Laura Berlin

Art is about expression, yet beyond the visual there are many means
through which expression is possible. The multitude of tactics that can be employed in the aim of expression are boundless but so often we find that the ability or freedom to express oneself is tied up with games of money and power. In an art environment overrun by the economic growth currently being enjoyed, one wonders how this is influencing the state of artistic production. Like author Vida D. Scudder points out, “creation is a better means of self-expression than possession, it is through creating, not possessing, that life is revealed.” However, for those proud possessors, there is a celestial, maybe emotional link to the creators.

Andy Warhol, Lemon Marilyn 1962
Joseph Lau
This past week's Sotheby's and Christie's postwar and contemporary art auctions put Christmas to shame with records set on 26 artists’ work as well as on overall sales. Sotheby’s took the title first with a $ 254.8m total on May 15th, but it was taken away the very next day by Christie's, which rang in with a $384.6m total.

The auctions were so popular that at Sotheby's only 9 of the 74 offered lots failed to sell and at Christie's only 4 of 78 failed to sell. Of the big price tags were Andy Warhol's Green Car Crash (Green Buring Car) 1963, estimated at $25 - $35m, and selling for $71.7m to an undisclosed buyer speculated to be Joseph Lau, Hong Kong collector and owner of Warhol's 1972 portrait of Chairman Mao which he acquired for $17.3m.

However, the truly impressive total was Rothko's White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose) which broke the record for a contemporary work sold at auction for $72.8m over its $40m estimate. Other works of note were Warhol's Lemon Marilyn 1962, on offer from Manhattan dealer Richard Solomon, which went for $28m, an untitled Rothko from 1961, on offer from the Lee V. Eastman collection, which went for $22.4m; Jasper Johns Figure 4 1959 which was purchased by Larry Gagosian for $17.4m over it's $14m estimate and Francis Bacon's Study from Innocent X which went for $52.6m, nearly double Bacon's last record price of $27.5m. Peter Brant, newsprint magnate and a major collector summed up  the auctions’ outcome, “It's unbelievable, amazing. But there will be a day of reckoning.” (New York Times)
Andy Warhol, Green Car Crash (Green Burning Car) 1963
Francis Bacon, Study after Velazquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X 1953
Des and Robin Woodhead with Gordon Watson
That day is not today, at least not for Sotheby's who for one isn't letting their newly acquired funds rest. On May 21 Sotheby's France acquired the Paris auction house Calmels-Cohen for an undisclosed sum from husband and wife co-founders Cyrille Cohen, who will join Sotheby's as its vice president, and Laurence Calmels, who will continue to run Calmels-Cohen. Until September 2001 France never allowed foreign auction houses to conduct sales in the country. Now the house is intent upon reasserting its presence and hopefully gaining some lead as they currently rank fourth below Christie's in overall sales in France. While Sotheby's turnover for 2005-2006 jumped from E43.7 to E62.6 this figure is still far behind Christie's E200.8m. Robin Woodhead, chief executive of Sotheby's International points out, however, that these numbers can be deceiving as the house sells 70% fewer lots than Christie's but averages around twice the value for each. Nevertheless, an additional E138m or so couldn't hurt. (The Art Newspaper)

Chandramohan (top); Manoj Soni (middle); Shivaji Panikkar (above)
On May 9th, lawyer Niraj Jain accompanied by police officers stormed the Maharaja Sayajirao University art department library and arrested graduate student singularly named Chandramohan for his final-year work which city police commissioner, P. C. Thakur, said, was "deliberately offending religious sentiments." The university is a state-run institution in Vadodara, in western Gujarat state and led by the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. The work in question is a digital enlargement of a painted work that depicts a female form wielding weapons in her many arms, evoking a goddess from the Hindu pantheon, and giving birth.

Fellow students, offended by the blockade placed on their freedom of expression, immediately mounted a protest in the form of an exhibition with works culled from the university's ancient archives pointing to the obvious fact that even classical works of Indian art are littered with erotic forms.

Maharaja's vice chancellor, Manoj Soni, unhumoured by the curatorial rebuttal demanded the exhibition be closed, the archives be sealed and acting dean of the art depatment, Shivaji Panikkar to issue a formal apology. Panikkar refused based upon his “principles and conviction” and has been suspended, a slight which brought the 27 year teacher to tears. Both Panikkar and Chandramohan have gone into hiding based upon fear of Hindu radical groups. (The Hindu)

The senator, as seen by Dana Schutz
If the art world had any ability to influence politics it would be Obama by a landslide as evident by the numerous heads who have contributed funds to the campaign that, at its last total, was at $24.8m over Hillary Clinton's comparatively meager $19.1m. Donors include DreamWorks chief executive David Geffen, TV producer and Hammer Museum board member Dean Valentine, Chicago dealer Rhona Hoffman, New York dealer Peter Findley, president of the Field Museum in Chicago John McCarter, and Valentinaa Castelli of Gagosian Gallery. Even artists are coming to the likeable world-be-president's aid with Dana Schutz painting his portrait for the cover of The New Republic Magazine. But as art worlders are a group hell bent on aesthetics it doesn't hurt that Obama, along with his left leaning politics, has the chiselled good looks of a Mapplethorpe model. (The Art Newspaper)

On the Short List:

Giorgio Cavaglieri
Renowned architect and preservationist Giorgio Cavaglieri, died this past Tuesday at age 95.

The Jefferson Market Library, restored by Mr. Cavaglieri in the 1960s
While his impressive list of accomplishments includes designing airfields for Mussolini's army and collaborating with designer Rosario Candela in the building of luxury Manhattan apartment buildings he is best known for the restoration of the Jefferson Market Library in Greenwich Village, considered the first example of successful preservation in Manhattan.

A man who was revered for his painstaking attention to detail and to upholding a true respect for original design, he nonetheless was adept at blending the old with the new in his creations. The spirit which Cavaglieri brought to his preservation aims, such as his enraged 1985 letter to the Times wherein he claimed that preserving just the facades of landmark buildings was a way to "delude the public into thinking that they are preserving the appearance of the environment while still satisfying the greed of the investors," will be missed. (New York Times)
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