George Lindemann Journal by George Lindemann - "Christie’s First Spring Sale Drops Prices Back to Earth" @nytimes By CAROL VOGEL

George Lindemann Journal by George Lindemann - "Christie’s First Spring Sale Drops Prices Back to Earth" @nytimes By CAROL VOGEL

A Modigliani portrait from 1919 was sold for $17.6 million, above its high estimate of $12 million, at Christie’s on Tuesday. Credit Christie's Images, 2014

After all the predictions that prices were only going one way — up — the spring auction season got off to a tepid start at Christie’s on Tuesday night, where some examples of Impressionist and modern art by Picasso, Kandinsky and Dalí brought far less than expected; others barely skimmed by, and two classic works by Degas were left unsold, victims of estimates that were simply too high.

Christie’s was kicking off two weeks of sales, including the more buoyant segment of the market, postwar and contemporary art, and expectations were running high. The opening night could be seen as a reality check.

“The market continues to be discerning at the highest level,” said Conor Jordan, deputy chairman of Christie’s Impressionist and modern art department. The evening was not without its bright spots. A portrait of a russet-haired young man with blue eyes that Modigliani painted in 1919 brought $17.6 million, well above its $12 million high estimate. It had last been on the market in 2002 at Sotheby’s, where it was sold by Robert C. Guccione, publisher of Penthouse magazine. Back then it brought $8.4 million.

Christie’s had high expectations, having secured several of the season’s high-profile estates, including that of Huguette Clark, the reclusive copper heiress who died in 2011 at the age of 104. Both her father, Senator William A. Clark, and his second wife, Anna, loved all things French, including their art. The most expensive painting was Monet’s dreamy “Nymphéas,” or Water Lilies, painted in 1907 and inspired by the artist’s garden in Giverny. Mrs. Clark had bought it in 1930 from the Durand-Ruel Galleries in New York, and it had not been seen in public since. Four bidders went for the painting, which sold to Elaine Holt, a Christie’s expert in the Impressionist and modern art department based in Hong Kong, who bid on behalf of a client. She paid $27 million, above its $25 million low estimate but far short of its $35 million high.

Asian bidders, especially from mainland China, helped fuel many of the auction’s higher prices, Christie’s officials said. Of the evening’s 53 works, six went unsold. The evening totaled $285.9 million. It had been estimated to bring $244.5 million to $360.4 million.

(Final prices include the buyer’s premium: 25 percent of the first $100,000; 20 percent of the next $100,000 to $2 million; and 12 percent of the rest. Estimates do not reflect commissions.)

Also coming to auction were three paintings by Renoir, including “Jeunes Filles Jouant au Volant” (“Young Women Playing Badminton”), painted around 1887. Mrs. Clark had purchased it in 1958 for $125,000, a high price at the time, when the Minneapolis Institute of Arts deaccessioned it; on Tuesday night it sold with only one bid at its low $10 million estimate, or $11.3 million with fees. (The painting had been on loan to the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington.)

But another Renoir saw some action. “Les Deux Soeurs,” a colorful scene of two sisters with wide-brimmed hats reading, painted around 1890 to 1895, sold to Sumiko Roberts, from Christie’s in London, who was taking bids on behalf of a client. She paid $8 million, well above its high $6 million.

Works from the estate of German collectors Viktor and Marianne Langen brought fairly solid prices and also some bargains. A 1942 Picasso, “Portrait de femme (Dora Maar)” of the artist’s lover and muse, regally posed in purple, was estimated at $25 million to $35 million. Paul Gray, one of the owners of the Richard Gray gallery in Chicago and New York, snapped it up for $20 million, or $22.6 million with fees. “Le Modèle,” one of Braque’s Cubist interiors, this one from 1939, that was expected to sell for $8 million to $12 million, sold for $9.1 million including fees. And a colorful 1909 landscape by Kandinsky sold to a telephone bidder for $17.1 million, above its low $16 million estimate.

Works on paper were in demand. The Langens’ Picasso watercolor, “Composition: Nu sur la Plage,” which he painted on July 13, 1933, was estimated at $1 million to $1.5 million but brought $2.5 million. Five bidders went after a gouache on paper of a Surreal setting — a giant leaf rising and round white ball — with two tiny people in a landscape that Magritte created in 1963. It had been expected to fetch $700,000 to $1 million, and sold for $1.25 million

As the crowd was pouring out of the auction house afterward, people were trying to draw conclusions from the evening’s results. “People are selective,” said Christophe Van de Weghe, a New York dealer. “Yes there’s a lot of money around — but the market is getting smarter.”      

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George Lindemann Journal by George Lindemann "Fight Over Guggenheim’s Legacy Roils Her Palazzo" @nytimes by DOREEN CARVAJAL

George Lindemann Journal by George Lindemann "Fight Over Guggenheim’s Legacy Roils Her Palazzo" @nytimes by DOREEN CARVAJAL

The names of two New York donors next to that of Peggy Guggenheim outside her museum palazzo in Venice. Credit Laia Abril for The New York Times


VENICE — The battle now raging over the Peggy Guggenheim Collection started with just a few words written in brass letters above the sculpted lions that guard the 18th-century palazzo turned art museum here.

On a wall facing the Grand Canal, the names of two Long Island art donors appeared last summer in letters nearly as large as those naming Guggenheim, who bequeathed her home, the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, and vast art collection to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in New York before her death at 81 in 1979. It was a step too far for some of her relatives.

“I will sue. I will sue. I will sue,” Sandro Rumney, her grandson and a former art dealer, vowed when he confronted the museum’s director during festivities for the Venice Biennale last summer, family members say.

And so they have. Seven descendants who live in France are pressing a lawsuit in a Paris court, with a hearing scheduled for May 21. They charge that the foundation ignored Peggy Guggenheim’s last wish for the collection, which consists mainly of Cubist, Surrealist and abstract postwar art: that it be displayed in the palazzo in its entirety and without additions.

Peggy Guggenheim in her Venice palazzo in 1974 with one of her cherished pets. Credit Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone, via Getty Images

They say the museum has removed nearly half the works and added pieces donated by Rudolph B. and Hannelore B. Schulhof, the parents of Michael P. Schulhof, now a foundation trustee. The relatives are seeking to revoke Guggenheim’s donation if the collection is not restored to its initial state, a requirement that they say was stipulated by the heiress in a 1969 letter. They are demanding that the posted names of the later donors be removed, and that their artworks be taken out of the palazzo and garden.

The family also contends that rentals of the museum garden to well-heeled donors desecrate Guggenheim’s grave. Her remains are interred there in a wall alongside a tribute to “my beloved babies,” as she called them, 14 dogs with names like Cappuccino and Sir Herbert.

The foundation counters that its actions are faithful to Guggenheim’s memory, and that she attached no conditions to the donation. But the family says the foundation is violating her principles by pursuing a New York-centric corporate strategy, including aggressive merchandising of the collection. The museum boasts a new mascot, a bright yellow vinyl “Cappuccino” named for one of Guggenheim’s Lhasa apsos that is being sold in a limited edition for 140 euros ($195) each.

“They are absolutely running Peggy’s collection as a corporate enterprise,” said Sindbad Rumney, 27, a great-grandson and filmmaker who sniffs at the mascot, saying it is more appropriate for Disneyland. “In her lifetime, she would open her house for free to make it accessible,” he said in a phone interview. “She was not a merchant. She was an art lover, a patron. She did not want to be involved in commercial things.”

Peggy Guggenheim lived at the palazzo for the last three decades of her life and was one of the last people in Venice to maintain a private gondolier. The child of Benjamin Guggenheim, who died in 1912 in the sinking of the Titanic, she inherited her fortune in 1919, when she turned 21. After buying the palazzo in 1949, she amassed a 326-piece collection that included paintings and sculptures by modern European and American masters including Picasso, Kandinsky, Miró and Calder.

Santiago Rumney Credit Dmitry Kostyukov                    

She began opening her private collection to the public on a seasonal basis in 1951. After her death, the Guggenheim Foundation opened it year round and began expanding the museum by buying up neighboring buildings. The annual number of visitors has since increased to almost 400,000 from 35,000, according to the foundation.

The New York-based foundation, which oversees the Peggy Guggenheim collection, was founded by her uncle Solomon in 1937. The institution owns and controls the Venice museum and exhibitions, which the family acknowledges; what is in dispute is whether managers have respected her wishes as described in the letter.

“The foundation’s efforts have only honored, preserved and enhanced the memory and reputation of Peggy Guggenheim, “ said Betsy Ennis, a spokeswoman for the foundation in New York, noting that none of the works that she collected have been sold, and that they have been carefully conserved. She added that while the family objects to the nature of the garden parties, family members have attended some of them in the past.

But the family’s criticism of the Guggenheim Foundation’s corporate style and ambitions tends to resonate in Europe, where the Guggenheim proposes to create a new €130 million ($180 million) branch in Helsinki and opened a satellite in Bilbao, Spain, in 1997. Another branch is under construction in Abu Dhabi.

The lawsuit filed by the family seeks more financial information about the Venice collection, saying that the foundation has not issued an annual report about it since 2011 and does not disclose information about its revenues. On Monday, the foundation filed a response of nearly 100 pages to the suit in the Paris court, emphasizing that in a 1976 gift deed, no conditions were attached to Peggy Guggenheim’s donation.

Photos of Peggy Guggenheim, Mr. Rumney's great-grandmother. Credit Dmitry Kostyukov

But it also submitted a 1974 agreement spelling out her vision for the collection, including conditions outlined in the 1969 letter to her cousin Harry Guggenheim, then the president of the New York foundation. In the letter, she asked that “the collection be kept as a whole in the palazzo.” She was so detailed that she also directed that her earrings should be kept on display. The foundation argues, though, that the accord was not legally executed by lawyers.

It is not the first legal skirmish between the foundation and Peggy Guggenheim’s descendants. In 1992, they sued in a French court over museum displays in Venice that they said clashed with the collector’s vision. The two sides negotiated a settlement that led to the creation of a family committee to keep the descendants informed about museum activities.

Eleanor Goldhar, a spokeswoman for the Guggenheim Foundation, said the committee was “purely symbolic” and did not hold formal meetings, although descendants “received regular communications and updates from the director of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.” Relatives contend that communications broke down, and that when some of the grandsons began suffering from ill health, they were ignored.

Santiago Rumney, 22, a son of Sandro who worked as an intern at the Venice museum, suggested that the latest clash began with a series of slights. After relatives were startled by the waterside sign bearing the Schulhofs’ names, he said, he was initially denied entry to an evening gathering in the house. Members of the Schulhof family attended that party to celebrate the donation, but the two sides did not mix, he added.

Hannelore Schulhof died in 2012, and her husband, Rudolph, died in 1999. Michael P. Schulhof, their son, who is now a member of the advisory board of the Peggy Guggenheim Foundation as well as a trustee of the New York-based foundation, declined to comment on the dispute.

The advisory body includes no Guggenheim descendants, something that Santiago Rumney said he wanted to change. “We want to recreate the advisory board with people who care about art, so it is not just for businessmen,“ he said.

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George Lindemann Journal by George Lindemann - "A Day in the Life of Artist Dan Colen" @wsj by Christopher Ross

George Lindemann Journal by George Lindemann - "A Day in the Life of Artist Dan Colen" @wsj by Christopher Ross


FARM BOY | Colen at his property in upstate New York, where many of his large-scale pieces are constructed. Photography by Tim Barber for WSJ. Magazine

THE 34-YEAR-OLD ARTIST Dan Colen lives in Manhattan's East Village, but the majority of his work is made either at his new studio in Brooklyn's Red Hook, overlooking a blue expanse of the Upper New York Bay, or at his 40-acre farm in Pine Plains, New York, where roosters crow and the air smells of manure.

These are not his native environments: Raised in Leonia, New Jersey, he came to fame in the mid-aughts as a member of a gritty, decadent clique of artists (including Dash Snow and Ryan McGinley) who helped define the New York downtown arts scene and whose bacchanalian exploits are still legendary. Colen is sober now, and the location of his studios says something about the scale, direction and pace of his work these days. "Walking out of your studio and seeing water instead of the Holland Tunnel, that's going to affect how you create," he says.

This month, the Brant Foundation, in Connecticut, is mounting a comprehensive exhibition spanning his entire career. His trademark pieces blending abstraction with low materials—paintings made from bubble gum or resembling bird poop, papier–mâché boulders covered in graffiti—will be displayed alongside newer works that seem to reflect his change in scenery: small landscape paintings, a heap of scrap metal occupied by canaries. Preparing for the opening, he lopes around the museum with a rangy energy, wearing a tight-fitting jean jacket and Chuck Taylor All-Stars. Sporting a terrifically cowlicked head of hair, he sometimes resembles an overgrown boy. His irreverent former self appears in flashes, like when he mentions, as a cop car passes his Range Rover on the highway, that there is currently a warrant out for his arrest (he missed a court date for carrying a type of knife that's illegal in New York City).

Descending from a line of makers—his father sculpts with wood and clay, and his grandfather was a mechanic and inventor—it's not surprising that Colen now nearly resembles a construction foreman. In the course of a day, he consults with riggers installing an outdoor piece at Brant and discusses with foundry workers how to move boulders. At his farm, one member of his crew is strapping an ash-wood barrel shut while another is tinkering with guitar cases. He counsels his staff of artisans and workers not to focus so much on formal perfection as on an intuitive process of discovery. "I tell them it's not about virtuosity," he says. "It's about commitment."

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George Lindemann Journal by George Lindemann "Camille Henrot: An Art World 'It Girl'" @wsj by Ellen Gamerman

George Lindemann Journal by George Lindemann "Camille Henrot: An Art World 'It Girl'" @wsj by Ellen Gamerman

RESTLESS ART Camille Henrot says she's inspired by eBay, turtles and nail polish, among other sources, for her videos, like 'Grosse Fatigue,' above. © Camille Henrot/ADAGP/Silex Films/kamel mennour, Paris

Turtles figure prominently in artist Camille Henrot's ambitious video chronicling the history of the world in 13 minutes. She sees the creatures as symbols of a prehistoric past and a burdened future. "The turtle, she's slow because she is carrying this massive round thing—it's like a figure of Atlas," she says.

Thinking hard about reptiles—and most everything else—is a hallmark of the 35-year-old French intellectual's work. On the heels of that video, "Grosse Fatigue," which won her the Silver Lion award for most promising young artist at the recent Venice Biennale, the artist is unveiling her first comprehensive U.S. museum exhibit. "Camille Henrot: The Restless Earth" opens Wednesday at the New Museum in New York.

The show features her abstract video telling the story of humankind through quick cuts of images like turtles and eyeballs, dead birds and oranges, fizzy water and the cosmos. Other pieces on view include her works on paper and a new installation of literature-inspired Japanese ikebana flower arrangements.

This spring, the New Museum is dedicating separate floors to three young artists rather than doing a group show. "It's a way to give exposure, to show the artists who are changing how art is being made," says curator Gary Carrion-Murayari. "Camille was a very easy choice for us in that respect."

Ms. Henrot created "Grosse Fatigue" during an artist fellowship at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington last year. She scoured the collections, filming employees opening drawers of exotic-bird specimens, flipping through files filled with dead bees, and so on. The film advances quickly through time by using overlapping windows on a computer desktop—search results from the Smithsonian's database. She incorporated her own footage and studio shots of brightly painted fingernails—a nod to her discovery that even the weightiest words in a Google search often seem to match the name of a nail polish.

It wasn't a solitary effort: Ms. Henrot worked with a cinematographer and film editor, as well as a makeup designer, models and production assistants. A writer created the text, which is performed like a spoken-word poem, and her partner, a musician named Joakim Bouaziz, created the score.

Ms. Henrot finds inspiration from disparate sources including eBay, where her purchases range from firemen's boots to nude vintage photographs. Sometimes she buys an item just because she likes the picture of its seller. After moving from Paris to New York in late 2012, she says the cargo container with all her stuff was held up by authorities for months—she suspects because its contents were so weird.

As a child, she wanted one day to have a "real job," eager to distinguish herself from her mother, an artist. Nevertheless, she attended art school in Paris, studying animated film. She took a job in an advertising agency, where she learned tricks like how to shoot a piece of cake to make it look more delicious (blow it with a hair dryer so it seems fluffy). Along the way, she was making films on her own, including an inventive music video for the band Octet in which the musicians were rendered as half-real, half-animated bodies. The film was shown in a 2005 exhibition at the Fondation Cartier, a contemporary art center in Paris, and her career as an artist was launched.

Ms. Henrot didn't grow up traveling—she says her mother was afraid of flying—but now her experiences in foreign cultures feed directly into her work. The videos featured at the New Museum include "Coupé/Décalé," an experimental film illustrating a coming-of-age ritual on Pentecost island in the Vanuatu archipelago where young people jump into a void while being held by liana vines around their ankles.

Sometimes her images can be hard to watch. Those turtles in "Grosse Fatigue" are featured with close-ups of their slick tongues and stony eyes. Ms. Henrot, who as a child had a pet turtle named Zoe that escaped through a window of her Paris home, shot the creatures during a vacation in the Seychelles. She filmed a little girl giving a huge turtle a banana and included the footage in her video. "I was interested in the stupidity of man feeding wild animal," she says.

Ms. Henrot brought home a souvenir from that trip: A scar on her hand from a turtle that bit her when she too tried to feed it.           

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George Lindemann Journal by George Lindemann "Secret Power of Synonyms" @nytimes by KEN JOHNSON

George Lindemann Journal by George Lindemann "Secret Power of Synonyms" @nytimes by KEN JOHNSON

View slide show|5 Photos

‘Mel Bochner: Strong Language’

‘Mel Bochner: Strong Language’

Credit Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times

Words have been the subjects and primary constituents of the enigmatic yet acerbically provocative paintings Mel Bochner has been creating over the past 12 years. “Mel Bochner: Strong Language,” an elegantly produced exhibition at the Jewish Museum, gives them their due and traces their roots back to text-based works that Mr. Bochner created in the ’60s and early ’70s, when he was one of New York’s pre-eminent Conceptual artists.

Mr. Bochner wasn’t alone in his preoccupation with language then. Carl Andre, Richard Serra, Robert Smithson and many other avant-gardists at the time made word art. Also, like Donald Judd, Robert Morris and Smithson, Mr. Bochner wrote critical and theoretical essays with a rigorous, analytic fervor determined to extinguish sloppy, sentimental thinking and writing about art.

The new paintings still revolve around philosophical issues that were dear to the Minimalists and the Conceptualists of the ’60s. The way they flip viewers back and forth between seeing visual forms and reading verbal texts prompts rumination about different modes of perceptual and cognitive consciousness.

They feature lists of synonyms, many gleaned from Roget’s Thesaurus, and often colloquial and vulgar ones. While some are made with a brushy touch, others are neatly lettered in juicy colors and in horizontal rows on flat, colored backgrounds, like Modernist stripe paintings. “Crazy” (2005) offers more than three dozen synonymous words and phrases in rows filling a 5-by-6 1/2-foot brown rectangle, with each word a different color. The list begins with “crazy,” continues with “nutty,” “daffy,” “dippy,” “dizzy” and “loopy” and ends with “foaming at the mouth.” “Die,” also from 2005, runs from “decease,” “expire,” “perish,” “succumb” to “push up daisies” and “sink into oblivion.”

Almost every painting is devoted to more or less negative words, as indicated by titles like “Nothing” (2003), “Useless” (2005), “Contempt” (2005) and “Obscene” (2006). An especially unsettling one is “Jew” (2008), which lists anti-Semitic labels in impulsively printed yellow letters on a brushy gray and black background, colors that pointedly evoke those of the Star of David armbands that the Nazis forced European Jews to wear. (Mr. Bochner, born in 1940, grew up in an observant Jewish household.) More lighthearted, though also rendered in yellow on black, is “The Joys of Yiddish” (2006), where you find words like “nudnick,” “nebbish,” “schmoozer” and “schlemiel.”

There’s an accusatory feeling in some pieces. One made of brushy white letters on a dark brown ground begins with “Liar,” “prevaricator,” “fabulator,” “dissembler,” “deceiver,” “hypocrite.” Who is addressed by these names, you might wonder? Am I the accused? “Silence!” “Cool it!” “Gag it!” “Swallow it!” commands one of the show’s biggest paintings — it’s 10 feet wide — in neat, cheerfully colored letters, as if to cut short your protestations of innocence. Several paintings say only, “Blah blah blah blah,” sarcastically reflecting, presumably, the sort of empty blather produced by advertisers, politicians, government bureaucrats, talk show personalities, journalists, pundits, bloggers and art critics.

The exhibition, which was organized by Norman Kleeblatt, the museum’s chief curator, also includes a selection of Mr. Bochner’s word-based works from the 1960s and ’70s. Among these is a series of small verbal portraits of other artists, including Marcel Duchamp, Dan Flavin and Eva Hesse, made of letters and words composed in configurations that formally reflect the subject’s art. “Portrait of Eva Hesse” (1966) has words like “wrap-up,” “secrete,” “cloak,” “bury” and “obscure” inked in concentric circles, mimicking the circular forms of some of Hesse’s sculptures.

But the newer paintings have a visual and affective impact that Conceptual art of the ’60s and ’70s rarely had. Far from coolly analytic, they’re hotly assertive, charged it seems with crotchety indignation and furious exasperation. And therein lies the crux: What are they so worked up about? It’s hard to say.

Taken one at a time, the paintings are lushly sensuous and bracingly punchy, but seeing many of them together is enervating. The volume is always turned way up; you feel as if you were being yelled at by a word-mad autistic savant. Styles and techniques may vary — some recent pieces have letters with the thickness of cake frosting applied to velvet — but the format of listed words,forcing you repeatedly to read left to right, and top to bottom, enhances a bullying effect.

At the same time, it seems that some of the paintings are mocking themselves. With “Babble” (2011), which begins with “babble,” “blather,” “blabber” and ends with “ad nauseum” (the painting spells it this way), it’s as if it were making fun of its own logorrhea. As with the blah blah paintings, there’s a hint that the artist himself might be wrestling with some kind of inner conflict, possibly between his imaginative, creative self and his skeptical, critical self. It’s hard to say for sure, though. The paintings are resolutely impersonal.

In this regard, a Conceptual piece from 1970 that Mr. Bochner has recreated for the exhibition is worth considering. Irregular letters chalked on a black background painted directly on the wall state, “Language is not transparent.” This might be true literally, if it makes any sense at all. Taken metaphorically it’s debatable. We do speak of some writings as clear and others as impenetrable. Reading Tolstoy you can feel as if you were “seeing through” the words on the page to the characters, landscapes and events they describe. Paintings often are metaphorically transparent, too; they can be like windows onto other worlds or into the depths of an artist’s psyche.

But that sort of transparency is not to be found in Mr. Bochner’s paintings. They are adamantly opaque, both literally and metaphorically. Whatever psychological dynamic animates them is hidden behind their optically aggressive and verbally peevish surfaces. It’s frustrating. You suspect that there’s something deeper activating them, something that would explain their splenetic moods, but you don’t know what it is. What’s he repressing?

As if sensing such questions might be on viewers’ minds, one of the last works in the show demands in loosely written white letters on a small, silver-painted canvas, “Do I have to draw you a picture?” As if you were an idiot for asking. You might want to say: “Well, sure, maybe a picture would help. Maybe all those words are just getting in the way.”

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George Lindemann Journal by George Lindemann - "Door to Art of the World, Barely Ajar" by HOLLAND COTTER

George Lindemann Journal by George Lindemann - "Door to Art of the World, Barely Ajar" by HOLLAND COTTER

On a pay-what-you-wish Saturday evening in late February, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum rotunda was dense with visitors to a new show, “Italian Futurism, 1909-1944: Reconstructing the Universe.“

Suddenly, a bugle squawked out a few notes, and from two upper ramps banners unfurled. One was painted with the words “Wage Theft.“ The other carried a drawing of a world globe accompanied by the phrase “1% Museum.“

A call-and-response chant began: “Who is building the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi?“

“Migrant workers in labor camps! Is this the future of art?“

Then a single voice called out: “The Guggenheim Museum has a museum empire. The Guggenheim should not be on the wrong side of history.“

After about 20 minutes of this orchestrated interruption, which included a tossing of leaflets and the posting of a manifesto, the demonstrators left the premises.

They were members of an activist political group called G.U.L.F. (Global Ultra Luxury Faction), which is affiliated with two larger groups, Gulf Labor and Occupy Museums. For two years Gulf Labor, a coalition of international artists, has been protesting, largely through the web, the state of what some critics likened to indentured servitude of laborers, many from South Asia, brought in to work on a new Guggenheim franchise located on Saddiyat Island — “Island of Happiness” — just off the coast of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

Protesters at the Guggenheim. Credit G.U.L.F. (Gulf Ultra Luxury Faction)

Asked for a response to the protest, the Guggenheim’s director, Richard Armstrong, said the complaints were misplaced. Construction on the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, designed by Frank Gehry, had not yet begun at the time of the demonstration. G.U.L.F. countered that all the labor-intensive structural groundwork that would make the building possible — roads, sewage systems — had been underway for some time, and reports of worker abuses were rife.

Whatever the reality, in the eyes of at least some art world citizens, the Guggenheim was doing at the very least a convincing impersonation of a globalizing corporation with new headquarters, built by and for the rich at the expense of the poor, to supply a luxury leisure and tourist spot in the Middle East with global art exhibitions.

Global — as in globalism and globalization — has been a period-defining word in talk about art and its institutions in the last few decades. And along with certain other zeitgeisty terms like multiculturalism and postmodernism, it once had a utopian ring.

When the economy, including the art market, bottomed out at the end of the 1980s, walls came down, and long-excluded art came in. Not only did the art of African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Native Americans gain admittance, but so did new art from Africa, Asia and South America, art that we barely even knew existed.

Back then, globalism seemed to hold one main promise: finally bringing us all, with our manifold colors and languages, to the table, where we wouldn’t all just break bread side by side, we’d cook up whole new fusion cuisines.

Cleaning a work by Jeremy Deller, installed near M+, a Hong Kong museum opening in 2016. Credit Laurent Fievet/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Even before the financial crisis in the late 1980s, there were indicators of incipient change. One came with the 1984 exhibition “‘Primitivism‘ in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern“ at the Museum of Modern Art, organized by William S. Rubin and Kirk Varnedoe, that paired examples of traditional African, Oceanic and Native American objects with Western modern art. The take-away idea was to demonstrate the ingenious use Western artists had made of those “primitive“ sources. Non-Western art objects were reduced to illustrating Western accomplishments.

The response was explosive. In a widely read review in Artforum, the critic Thomas McEvilley, who died last year, slammed the museum with accusations of cultural colonialism. The curators came back with a defense, only to have Mr. McEvilley demolish it and, by doing so, to decisively accelerate a broad rethinking, already underway, of the blinkered attitudes of Western museums toward the rest of the world.

The debate had international repercussions. In 1989 an exhibition called “Magiciens de la Terre,“ organized by Jean-Hubert Martin at the Pompidou Center in Paris, was conceived as a corrective to the MoMA exhibition and had the distinction of being one of the first truly global museum shows, bringing together 50 contemporary artists from Europe and North America with 50 from Africa, Asia, South America and Australia.

But in a different way from MoMA, it gave the non-Western work a primitivizing gloss, beginning with the title. Art by the Western artists was, for the most part, presented for cool contemplation, but the work chosen by many of the non-Western participants had an ethnographic spin as if the objects were expected to do something: heal, receive prayers, create magic, be spiritual. Despite the show’s stated intention to create something like a globalist balance of values, a West-in-control-of-the-rest perspective remained intact.

Still, a door to a larger view of the world did open. But has it stayed open, and if so, how wide?

Workers last year at the future site of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, near where the Guggenheim is building a branch. Credit Marwan Naamani/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In terms of genuine globalist reach, MoMA is a more expansive institution than it was in 1984, but only in the area of contemporary art. Global modernism remains either outside its ken or perhaps hidden away in its storage vaults. In any case, we rarely see it.

The Guggenheim has been more on the ball, though too often in a self-aggrandizing, one-shot way. For a show in 1996 imported from the Royal Academy of Arts in London, called “Africa: The Art of a Continent,“ it jammed hundreds of “traditional“ African objects, representing dozens of cultures, into its rotunda in an inchoate, context-free display. It took roughly the same omnibus approach in “China: 5000 Years“ in 1998 and in “Brazil: Body and Soul,“ which opened in 2001. It was no coincidence that these blockbusters came at a time when the museum was working hard to establish international branches.

The situation at the museum has improved. The Guggenheim has mounted some large Asian shows since — a Cai Guo Qiang retrospective in 2008, the 2013 Gutai show — and there are on-staff Asian art curators. But the museum’s much advertised global art acquisition initiative has gotten off to a disappointingly stingy start. The first installment, last year’s “No Country: Contemporary Art for South and Southeast Asia,“ was small and tucked away in a side gallery.

In New York it has been left to smaller museums, often short of money, to pick up the globalist slack in a consistent and venturesome way. These include the Queens Museum, the Bronx Museum of the Arts, El Museo del Barrio, the Studio Museum in Harlem and Asia Society. Most innovative of all was the Museum for African Art, which opened in 1984 and revolutionized ideas about how to present non-Western culture in a Western context. Dismayingly, last year the museum changed its mission and name — it is now the New African Center — leaving its future as an exhibiting institution unclear.

And, of course, what has changed most boldly over the last decade is the global art landscape and the place of museums in it, a story still very much in the process of unfolding. With “Magicien“ as an originating model, international biennials and art fairs have proliferated. Essentially pop-up events, they plunk down large shipments of price-tagged pluralism everywhere, standardizing and neutralizing the experience of “difference” — editing it to a manageable market and determining what we will see in our big, ostensibly “global” museums, the “1%” as the protesters had it.

A painting seen in “Gutai.” Credit Richard Perry/The New York Times

Some of the newest of these institutions are in the Middle East and China. For the last several years China has indulged in a spectacular binge of museum construction, thanks both to competitive nationalism and to new wealth. New regional museums of archaeological or other traditional material abound. So do private museums housing personal collections amassed by members of the newly rich. There are even museums of world culture, all but unheard-of outside the West until now. Two state-run museums that opened in Shanghai in 2012, one devoted to modern and the other to contemporary art, are mandated to show at least some Western work.

In Hong Kong, among the exclusive shops and restaurants of the developing West Kowloon Cultural District, the colossal M+ museum is in operation even though its building won’t be finished until 2016. The institution’s bias is 20th- and 21st-century Asian-centric work, but it will incorporate significant Western material.

The M+ pointedly calls itself a visual cultural museum rather than an art museum. But with a starter collection that appears to draw heavily on the internationally approved contemporary Chinese canon, it could, without strong curatorial direction, adhere to a now standard-issue global format.

Is there any place to escape from this model among new or newish museums outside the Western sphere? Southeast Asia presents serious possibilities, with a lively art scene and interesting contemporary spaces in Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and Yogyakarta, Indonesia. And Africa, where large-scale Western-style museums are all but impossible to sustain, produces alternatives almost by default.

Institutions like Bandjoun Station in the western region of Cameroon; Zoma Contemporary Art Center in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; and Raw Material Company in Dakar, Senegal, are all small, artist-built-and-run institutions that multitask as exhibition venues, archives, libraries, studios, guesthouses, gathering spots and schools.

Far from being part of the floating world of a market-driven museum culture, they’re thoroughly grounded in a local context, yet, through social media, networked internationally. Given their slender means, they have to stay flexible, light on their feet and open to alteration. In most cases, the one component they lack is a permanent collection. Deeply committed to the idea of art being, intrinsically, a form of social activism, their very existence carries a political charge.

Our big globalizing institutions of modern and contemporary art carry no such charge. Despite their fabulously rich holdings in art, any spark of a vision of the museum as a community of cultures, a forum of equal Others, is hard to find. In this context, globalism is shut down, out of fuel.

Even unbuilt, the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi feels like a white elephant, corralled on the Island of Happiness with others of its kind: an Abu Dhabi branch of the Louvre designed by Jean Nouvel, and a performing arts center designed by Zaha Hadid, all constructed by people who will most likely never get in the doors and whose art is still hard to find in comparable museums in New York. Yet it would take a real cynic not to speculate about how this might be different. What if seemingly incompatible institutional features — humane local wisdom and custodianship of treasures of art — could be made to coexist? We’d have museums that are on the right side of history, and in which the future of art would be secure. That ideal is worth storming an empire for.

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George Lindemann Journal By George Lindemann - "Is collecting art as profitable as it is painted?" @FinancialTimes by By Melanie Gerlis

George Lindemann Journal By George Lindemann - "Is collecting art as profitable as it is painted?" @FinancialTimes by By Melanie Gerlis

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A new book challenges the notion that art is an investment-grade asset
Work by Yayoi Kusama at Art Basel Miami Beach last year©Getty Images

Work by Yayoi Kusama at Art Basel Miami Beach last year

The international art market is having its time in the sun: auction records keep tumbling, living artists have become superstars, and their punchy paintings and shiny sculptures have become the billionaire’s playthings of choice. Amid all this noise, however, it is time to question the much-touted belief that art is also an investment-grade asset.

Most of the related books and headlines of recent years have extolled the potential of art as an investment, not least in comparison to the volatile stock markets and dwindling returns on alternative assets that have characterised the financial markets since the most recent economic downturn. One joke going around the City of London a couple of years ago was that UBS’s art collection had proved more profitable than its investment banking division.

It is understandable that the wider market gloom moved the debate about art as an asset into a new territory. Art, said its proponents, was not only a source of great value, but was also impervious to the world’s economic slings and arrows.

Yet when looked at more carefully as an investment category, art falls short relative to many of the other assets to which it is frequently – and favourably – compared. These include both traditional and alternative investments, whether public and private equity, gold, wine, or residential property. Its lack of correlation to such assets is also questionable.

The combination of the market’s illiquidity, opacity, lumpy supply and asymmetry of information undermines art’s profile as an asset. This is reinforced by the unique qualities of each work – including its history of ownership, trading and display – which create enormous ranges of pricing and valuation, and preclude sensible data aggregation or comparison. The market’s opacity further opens it up to unchecked manipulation.

Price transparency is another huge problem facing those who would map art’s returns on to a Bloomberg screen, alongside their other investments. Only 50 per cent of an already relatively small number of art trades are recorded (auction results are made public, dealers’ prices are not). To put this into perspective, Artnet, a database of auction sales, records that 1.8m works of fine art were offered at auction in 2012. By comparison, there were an average 1.5m trades per day through the London Stock Exchange alone in May 2012.

Even if the limited, patchy and inconsistent available data on art sales could be put into a hypothetical basket of all segments of art, its financial profile is hardly compelling. Most such theoretical analyses of the art market find that the average compound return for works kept for between five and 10 years is around 4 per cent.

Relatively speaking, this is already less than for gold, wine and both public and private equity, and also lower than the residential property market – another market of unique goods, but with more trading volume and available data (as well as an actual and economic utility) than the art market. And this is before considering the so-called risk adjusted return (the profits needed to make up for the peculiarities of any market). One investment professional whom I interviewed for my book* said that, given the risks in the art market, anyone who is content with less than a 50 per cent return on art “needs a lesson in investment”.

Meanwhile, art’s supposed lack of correlation with other markets is not entirely convincing. The price levels for art do not reflect its fundamental characteristics, rather the fortunes of its buyers. The art market as a whole crashed soon after the economic downturn began in earnest in 2008. Thereafter, only the top-priced works recovered as the wealthiest few emerged relatively unscathed from the credit crisis and new wealth was created outside the gloom of Europe and the United States. Many experts also agree that the data frequency to support the correlation claim is much too short to be meaningful, given how relatively infrequently art is sold for a known price. What may seem to be a lack of correlation may in fact just be a lack of information.

This is not to say that art doesn’t offer a different type of return – and even one with some grounding in economic analysis, should this be important. In a 2007 paper, the economists Erdal Atukeren and Aylin Seckin estimated the intangible joy of looking at a work of art – which they define as its “psychic return” – at around 28 per cent. While it would be difficult to persuade a bank to lend money on the back of this estimate (or indeed against most estimates of art’s value), owning and looking at art certainly offer something that a stock certificate or bar of gold do not.

Meanwhile, the social worth of art also cannot be ignored. In recent years, contemporary art in particular has become fashionable. Art fairs such as Frieze and Art Basel – essentially slick trade shows – have transformed themselves into “to be seen at” events around the world, complete with celebrities and VIP events. Participation in today’s art market offers an unparalleled presence in today’s experiential economy: how else could a hedge fund trader find himself sitting next to a film star at an exclusive dinner in a Miami Beach hotel?

For investment purposes, however, while all assets have their risks and peculiarities, art seems to offer none of the saving graces. Like gold, art is a hard asset with no intrinsic worth. But gold, which also divides opinion as an asset, has a daily, fixed, per-ounce price that enables it to be traded as a commodity and certainly a more convincing hedge against inflation. Private equity is a notoriously opaque and often illiquid area of investment, but still offers enough genuine data points from which to create indexes, assess risk and attempt to gauge returns.

Meanwhile, there does not seem to be any impetus to rectify the lack of verifiable and meaningful data in the art market – which underpins most of its profit potential anyway. There is a chance that you make money on your art, and a greater chance that you don’t; the difference is largely luck. Equating a popular asset with a profitable asset is misleading. From an investment point of view, art seems to be a very fragile prospect.

* ‘Art as an Investment? A Survey of Comparative Assets’ by Melanie Gerlis is published by Lund Humphries in the UK (£30) on January 17 and in the US in February ($60)

Melanie Gerlis is the art market editor of The Art Newspaper. She will be taking part in a panel discussion, “Is art really a good investment?”, at the London Art Fair on January 17,

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George Lindemann Journal by George Lindemann - "Lost in the Gallery-Industrial Complex" @nytimes by HOLLAND COTTER

George Lindemann Journal by George Lindemann - "Lost in the Gallery-Industrial Complex" @nytimes by HOLLAND COTTER

A new year. A new New York mayor. Old problems with art in New York. I have a collection of complaints and a few (very few) ideas for change.

Money — the grotesque amounts spent, the inequitable distribution — has dominated talk about art in the 21st century so far. It’s a basic fact of art history. Emperors, popes and robber barons set the model for the billionaire buyers of today. Of course, it is today that matters to the thousands of artists who live and work in this punitively expensive city, where the art industry is often confused with the art world.

The distinction between the two, though porous, is real. The art industry is the nexus of high-price galleries, auction houses and collectors who control an art market renowned for its funny-money practices. In numbers of personnel, the industry is a mere subset of the circle of artists, teachers, students, writers, curators and middle-range dealers spread out over five boroughs. But in terms of power, the proportions are reversed, to the degree that the art world basically functions as a labor source, supplying the industry with product, services and exotic color but, with the age of apprenticeships long gone, only uncertainly sharing in its wealth.

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The scene at Christie’s during the sale of Francis Bacon’s “Three Studies of Lucian Freud.” Christie's Images, via Associated Press

Do I exaggerate? A bit. The argument can be made that labor is benefiting from its ties to management, in a high-tide-floats-all-boats way. Visit art schools or galleries, and you get the impression that a substantial portion of the art world is content to serve as support staff to a global ruling class.

The reality is that, directly or indirectly, in large ways and small, the current market system is shaping every aspect of art in the city: not just how artists live, but also what kind of art is made, and how art is presented in the media and in museums.

I got tired of money talk a while back. Rather than just sputter with indignation, I figured it would be more useful to turn in another direction, toward art that the industry wasn’t looking at, which is a whole lot of art. But reminders keep pulling you back to the bottom line. With every visit to the gallery-packed Lower East Side, I see fewer of the working-class Latinos who once called the neighborhood home. In what feels like overnight, I’ve watched Dumbo in Brooklyn go from an artist’s refuge to an economically gated community.

Recently, my attention was drawn to a controversy surrounding a large and much praised group exhibition installed at a complex of converted warehouses called Industry City in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. The show, “Come Together: Surviving Sandy,” was conceived as a benefit for artists who had suffered losses in the 2012 hurricane and was promoted as evidence of art-world solidarity. Yet a widely read blog, Art F City, reported that the owners of the complex, which had for some years provided low-rent studios for artists, were now raising rents dramatically, forcing many artists to vacate. (Landlords say 25 percent of Industry City tenants are artists). The new residents seem to be an upscale clientele drawn by the artsy atmosphere.

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Part of the exhibition “Come Together: Surviving Sandy” at Industry City in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Marilynn K. Yee/The New York Times

Whatever the full facts, money is the winner, and with that comes caution and conservatism. This is almost absurdly obvious on the high-end of the market. Sales of retrograde “masterworks” can be relied on to jack up the auction charts at regular intervals; the most recent record was set last fall by a $142.4 million Francis Bacon painting of Lucian Freud, a monument to two overpraised painters for the price of one. Meanwhile, big, hugely pricey tchotchkes — new whatevers by Jeff Koons, say — roll out of fabrication shops and into personal museums being assembled by members of the international power elite.

Outside auctions, the marketing mechanics buzz on. Roughly since the end of the multicultural, postmodern 1990s, we’ve watched new art being re-Modernized and domesticated, with painting the medium of choice, abstraction the mode of preference. Together they offer significant advantages. Paintings can be assembly-line produced but still carry the aura of being hand-touched. They can be tailored to small spaces, such as fair booths. Abstraction, especially if color is involved, can establish instant eye contact from afar. If, in addition, the work’s graphic impact translates well online, where stock can be moved eBay style, so much the better.

Other traditional forms — drawing, photography, some sculpture — similarly work well in this marketing context. But an enormous range of art does not, beginning with film, performance and installation, and extending into rich realms of creative activity that defy classification as art at all. To note this dynamic is not to dismiss painting or object making, but to point to the restrictive range of art that the market supports, that dealers are encouraged to sell, and that artists are encouraged to make.

The narrowing of the market has been successful in attracting a wave of neophyte buyers who have made art shopping chic. It has also produced an epidemic of copycat collecting. To judge by the amounts of money piled up on a tiny handful of reputations, few of these collectors have the guts, or the eye or the interest, to venture far from blue-chip boilerplate. They let galleries, art advisers and the media do the choosing, and the media doesn’t particularly include art critics. What, after all, does thumbs up, thumbs down matter when winners are preselected before the critical votes are in? In this economy, it can appear that the critic’s job is to broadcast names and contribute to fame.

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The Silent Barn art space in Brooklyn’s thriving Bushwick neighborhood. Sasha Maslov for The New York Times

Conservative art can encourage conservative criticism. We’re seeing a revival — some would say a disinterment — of a describe-the-strokes style of writing popular in the formalist 1950s and again in the 1970s: basically, glorified advertising copy. Evaluative approaches that developed in the 1980s and 1990s, based on the assumption that art inevitably comments on the social and political realities that produce it, tend to be met with disparagement now, in part because they’re often couched in academic jargon, which has become yet another form of sales-speak.

There’s no question that we need — art needs — an influx of new commentators who don’t mistake attitude for ideas, who move easily between cultures and geographies. Regular gigs in mainstream print journalism have all but dried up, but the Internet offers ambitious options in a growing number of blogazines including Art F City (edited by Paddy Johnson) and Hyperallergic (edited by Hrag Vartanian), which combine criticism, reporting, political activism and gossip on an almost-24-hour news cycle.

And although both are based in New York, they include national coverage and in a feisty mix of voices, a welcome alternative to the one-personality blog of yore. That mix would probably be even more varied, and transcultural, if a few forward-thinking, art-minded investors would infuse some serious capital into such enterprises so they could pay writers a living wage and make online freelance writing a viable way of life.

I don’t know what it would take to get a global mix of voices into some of New York’s big, rich art museums. If archaeologists of the future unearthed the Museum of Modern Art as it exists today, they would have to assume that Modernism was a purely European and North American invention. They would be wrong. Modernism was, and is, an international phenomenon, happening in different ways, on different timetables, for different reasons in Africa, Asia, Australia and South America.

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Truong Tan’s “What Do We Want,” part of “No Country: Contemporary Art for South and Southeast Asia” at the Guggenheim Museum. Richard Perry/The New York Times

Why aren’t museums telling that story? Because it doesn’t sell. Why doesn’t it sell? Because it’s unfamiliar. Why is it unfamiliar? Because museums, with their eyes glued to box office, aren’t telling the story.

Yes, MoMA and the Guggenheim have recently organized a few “non-Western” shows. MoMA’s  2012 “Tokyo 1955-1970: A New Avant-Garde,” packed to the ceiling with art we’ve rarely if ever seen, was a revelation. But they need to take actions far more fundamental and committed. International Modernism should be fully integrated into the permanent collection, regularly, consistently.

Their job as public institutions is to change our habits of thinking and seeing. One way to do this is by bringing disparate cultures together in the same room, on the same wall, side by side. This sends two vital, accurate messages: that all these cultures are different but equally valuable; and all these cultures are also alike in essential ways, as becomes clear with exposure.

With its recently announced plans for an expansion, MoMA has an ideal chance to expand its horizons organically. The new spaces, which should certainly be devoted to the permanent collection, won’t be ready for several years, but the museum has no excuse for waiting for its long-overdue integration process to begin.

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“The Shadows Took Shape,” an exhibition of Afrofuturist works at the Studio Museum in Harlem. Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times

And on the subject of integration, why, in one of the most ethnically diverse cities, does the art world continue to be a bastion of whiteness? Why are African-American curators and administrators, and especially directors, all but absent from our big museums? Why are there still so few black — and Latino, and Asian-American — critics and editors?

Not long ago, these questions — of policy but also political and ethical questions — seemed to be out there on institutional tables, demanding discussion. Technically, they may be there still, but museums seem to be most interested in talking about real estate, assiduously courting oligarchs for collections, and anxiously scouting for the next “Rain Room.” Political questions, about which cultures get represented in museums and who gets to make the decisions, and how, are buried.

Political art brings me back to where I started, with artists, and one final, baffled complaint, this one about art schools, which seem, in their present form, designed to accommodate the general art economy and its competitive, caste-system values. Programs are increasingly specialized, jamming students into ever narrower and flakier disciplinary tracks. Tuitions are prodigious, leaving artists indentured to creditors for years.

How experimental can artists be under such circumstances? How confidently can they take risks in an environment that acknowledges only dollar-value success? How can they contemplate sustaining — to me this is crucial to New York’s future as an art center — long and evolving creative careers? The temptation for many artists, after a postgraduate spurt of confidence, is to look around, see what’s selling, and consider riffing on that. We’re seeing a depressing number of such riffs these days.

Again, do I exaggerate? And, again, sure, to some degree. By no means is all the news bad. Start-up galleries are opening; middle-tier galleries are holding their own, or doing better than that. Artist-intensive neighborhoods like Bushwick and Ridgewood are still affordable, companionable and fun.

But when the rents get too high, or the economy fails, or art buying falls out of fashion, and the art industry decides to liquidate its overvalued assets and leave? Artists, the first and last stakeholders, will have themselves to fall back on. They’ll learn to organize and agitate for what they need, to let City Hall know, in no uncertain terms, that they’re there. They’ll learn to share, not just on special occasions, but all the time. They’ll learn that art and politics are inseparable, and both can be anything and everything. They’ll learn to bring art back from the brink of inconsequence.

As someone long on questions and short on answers, let me ask: Why not start now?

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George Lindemann Journal by George Lindemann - "Let Curators Be Curators, MOCA’s New Chief Says" @nytimes by By RANDY KENNEDY and JORI FINKELJAN

George Lindemann Journal by George Lindemann - "Let Curators Be Curators, MOCA’s New Chief Says" @nytimes by By RANDY KENNEDY and JORI FINKELJAN

The New York office of Philippe Vergne, the Dia Art Foundation director, who was named on Wednesday to lead the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, looks out onto a brick vista of Chelsea art galleries. But hanging on the wall next to the windows is a photograph of Walter De Maria’s New Mexico land-art work “The Lightning Field,” showing a vast sweep of Western plateau.

As Mr. Vergne heads to California — the second New York-based director in a row chosen by the Los Angeles museum — he will in one sense be taking over an institution whose possibilities are just as wide-open. Barely more than 30 years old, beloved and fiercely defended by local artists and in possession of one of the best collections of postwar art in the country, the museum is still in the early stages of defining itself in a rapidly growing international art world. And its board, after years of failing to give the museum enough money to meet its ambitions, recently announced that it had raised $100 million toward an endowment that it hoped to increase to $150 million.

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Philippe Vergne will head west to the Museum of Contemporary Art. Robert Caplin for The New York Times

But Mr. Vergne will also take over an institution that, by the standards of most large-city museums, is now little more than a shell. It employs only two full-time curators, after several departures in recent years, most during the tumultuous tenure of the previous director, Jeffrey Deitch, who himself left in 2013, with two years left on a five-year contract. After years of cost-cutting and layoffs, the museum has 42 full-time employees. By contrast the Hammer Museum, across town, has 93 full-time employees, including six curators, even though its collection and exhibition space is much smaller than the Museum of Contemporary Art’s.

In a wide-ranging interview Friday morning, Mr. Vergne said that, unlike Mr. Deitch — who was criticized for running the museum as de facto chief curator, leading to the acrimonious departure of the longtime head of the curatorial staff, Paul Schimmel — he believed in the importance of a chief curator. He said he would make his first priority finding one and recruiting a staff, and then would mostly stand back and help them work.

Mr. Vergne, 47, who was born and educated in France but who has worked for many years in the United States, said that he understood how much work would have to be done to rebuild the museum. And while he is highly respected as a curator, he said, “I don’t think I will curate.”

“The role of the director is to support the curators and let the curators be curators,” said Mr. Vergne, an animated man known for dry wit and a persistently thick Gallic accent.

He added that even with the recent growth of the endowment, he expects much of his job to watch the bottom line and to woo donors. “I know that to do that,” he said, “my time will be consumed with making sure the institution is financially secure.”

His goal, he said, is to have the resources to be able to use the collection as a launching pad to make the museum “the most experimental institution in this country.”

Mr. Vergne’s record as a fund-raiser for Dia is not clear. In 2009 the foundation announced plans to build a new space on West 22nd Street. But construction has not begun and Dia has not commented on the state of its capital campaign. In the interview, Mr. Vergne insisted that progress would be announced soon and that the “proof will be in the pudding.”

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“The role of the director is to support the curators,” said Mr. Vergne, whose predecessor at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles was described by critics as a de facto chief curator. Robert Caplin for The New York Times

“I feel very strong about where Dia is compared to where Dia was when I found it,” he said.

Fred Sands, the new president of the museum’s board, said it chose Mr. Vergne in part because he had solid administrative talents as well as the respect of artists and a deep understanding of the contemporary-art terrain.

“He knows how to run a business,” he said. “A museum is a not-for-profit business, but it is a businesAs for Mr. Deitch, a veteran New York gallery owner whom he described as “sort of a loner,” Mr. Sands said: “He was not focused on running the museum. I love the guy, but that’s not what he was interested in.”

He added: “I think the artists and curators are looking for a good dad and Philippe is that. People have been saying to me, ‘Well, you finally did it.’ ”

A question that has hovered over the appointment is the role of Eli Broad, the billionaire collector who was deeply involved in recruiting Mr. Deitch and who later this year will open a museum featuring his own vast contemporary collection across the street from the Museum of Contemporary Art’s downtown site. Mr. Broad, the museum’s founding chairman, bailed it out in 2008 when it almost went under, but he has also been criticized as a kind of puppet master.

While Mr. Vergne said he met Mr. Broad as “part of one conversation” during his visits, search committee leaders said Mr. Broad was not involved in making the selection.

But Mr. Vergne emphasized that he was open to the idea, when appropriate, of sharing pieces from the museum’s collection with Mr. Broad’s museum. “What makes a collection alive is for a collection to be seen, so I think it would be great if there is a relationship between the two institutions,” he said. “For me it’s almost a no-brainer.”

“I like Modernism,” he added, “but more is more.”

Randy Kennedy reported from New York and Jori Finkel from Los Angeles.

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George Lindemann Journal by George Lindemann - "The (Auction) House Doesn’t Always Win" @nytimes By GRAHAM BOWLEY

George Lindemann Journal by George Lindemann - George Lindemann

The (Auction) House Doesn’t Always Win - By GRAHAM BOWLEY

Christie’s and Sotheby’s Woo Big Sellers With a Cut

When Christie’s sold Jeff Koons’s “Balloon Dog (Orange)” for $58.4 million in November, it seemed as if the auction house had just earned a pretty penny.

After all, Christie’s, like other auction houses, typically charge commissions to buyers and sellers, which for high-priced works might be an eighth to a quarter of the gavel price.

But the owner of the work, the newsprint magnate Peter M. Brant, said Christie’s certainly made no money from him. To secure his business, the house waived the seller’s commission, he said, and then, as a sweetener, gave him a large share of the buyer’s fees.

“I was not required to give them anything from the buyer’s commission until it reached a certain price — which it did not make,” Mr. Brant said in an interview, rather wistfully, since he was hoping for a higher price.

Factor in Christie’s other costs — buying insurance and newspaper ads, publishing glossy catalogs, moving the towering Balloon Dog to its Rockefeller Center headquarters, where it was parked outside for gawking — and the possibility of making lots of money seems to be limited.

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“Balloon Dog (Orange)” at Christie’s last fall. Its seller says Christie’s made no money from him. Don Emmert/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Christie’s would not comment on this, or any individual, sale. But Mr. Brant is not alone in his bargaining, and far from alone in noting that even as bidding prices go ever higher, the auction houses’ cut is rapidly shrinking.

Caught in a scramble to outmaneuver their competitors for the top works and market share, the major auction houses have increasingly offered all kinds of financial incentives to lure the top consignments — essentially giving away a big share of their commissions for the privilege of selling someone’s art.

“The process of consigning artwork to the major auction houses today is like buying an airplane ticket, and just as opaque,” said Thomas C. Danziger, an art market lawyer. “You never really know how much the guy in the seat next to you at the auction — or on your flight — has paid for the same ride.”

In this game, the biggest collectors receive the best deals, which, several in the industry said, has led to an auction house paradox: The pricier the artwork, the lower the profit margin.

That has not stopped the main houses — including Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips — from doggedly pursuing a small clutch of millionaires and their art collections. The sales fuel splashy headlines and perhaps rope in other sellers. But these companies may also be repeating tactics that got them into trouble five years ago, when an art market bubble collapsed with the financial crisis, analysts and industry experts said.

The auction houses deny that they are trimming profits with givebacks or putting themselves at financial risk. Christie’s may have reaped little from the 10-foot-high “Balloon Dog,” but it made money on the whole night, in part because the sculpture’s presence helped attract other sellers.

“The evening sales are immensely profitable,” said Christie’s chief executive, Steven P. Murphy. “Yes, the margins on the top lots are much thinner than the middle market. But sometimes, volume makes up for that. A thin margin on a $50 million lot is still a profit.”

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Andy Warhol’s “Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster)” at auction at Sotheby’s in November. It fetched $104.5 million. Andrew Burton/Getty Images

But the activist hedge-fund investor Daniel S. Loeb, who announced last year that he had bought a 9.2 percent stake in Sotheby’s, has called for the ouster of William F. Ruprecht, its longtime chief executive for, among other things, giving up profits.

In a public letter to Mr. Ruprecht, Mr. Loeb wrote, “It has been Sotheby’s who has most aggressively competed on margin, often by rebating all of the seller’s commission and, in certain instances, much of the buyer’s premium to consignors of contested works.”

In an interview, Mr. Ruprecht said it is impossible to compare Sotheby’s, a publicly traded company that releases audited results quarterly, with other houses, which are privately held. Christie’s is owned by François Pinault, the French luxury-goods magnate, while Phillips’s owner is the Russian company Mercury Group. And Mr. Ruprecht told analysts that an increase in the buyer’s fee last year had helped stabilize its business. Some analysts agree that conditions may get easier, if rising prices tempt reluctant sellers off the sidelines even without discounted fees.

The competition is fierce, in part because the number of elite collectors is small. According to Christie’s, about 150 collectors worldwide can buy a painting for more than $20 million.

“It is small but it is growing,” said Mr. Murphy, whose company has been seeking to expand the number of collectors in countries like China and India.

Typically, a seller might pay about 10 percent commission on a $100,000 artwork. A buyer would pay about 25 percent. But for some works of art — commonly those worth $1 million or above — sellers don’t usually pay anything.

And the buyer’s fee, which drops to about 12 percent for works worth more than $2 million, can be split among many parties. For the most expensive works, the sellers can receive 4 percent to 7 percent of that fee on top of the hammer price, a practice called “enhanced hammer,” auction experts said. Some of the buyer’s fee can also go to an outside guarantor, an investor who promises to buy the work for a minimum price. (That investor also typically receives a share of any amount above the minimum price.) What’s left of the fee goes to the house.

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Daniel S. Loeb. Jacob Kepler/Bloomberg News

Mr. Danziger, the art market lawyer, said that one of his clients, selling a postwar painting in November, received a part of the buyer’s fee, prominent placement on the auction website and in the catalog, and paid no commission. The work sold for seven figures.

Michael McGinnis, chief executive of the Phillips auction house, said marketing was a strategic way to promote sales and attract future business.

“You have to give some here to get some there,” he said.

In the case of the “Balloon Dog (Orange),” Christie’s arranged for an outside guarantor, identified several potential buyers, and structured the sale so it would get part of the buyer’s fee only if the price exceeded a certain target, which it failed to reach.

These arrangements cost a lot of money. Sotheby’s annual reports show that in 2011 and 2012, it gave up more than $40 million annually in sellers’ commissions, and analysts said this trend continued last year.

At Sotheby’s the total amount of buyers’ and sellers’ fees as a proportion of gavel prices has been falling steadily since 2009; in 2012, it was 16.3 percent, the lowest since 2008. Analysts expect a slightly lower number in 2013. In 2012, Sotheby’s profits were $108.3 million — up from 2008, but down from 2010 and 2011, when the market began to recover.

The figures for 2013 promise to be slightly better. But in November, the company acknowledged the economic pressures, including the negotiations over sellers’ commissions and buyers’ premiums. “Competition is still affecting our revenue margins,” Mr. Ruprecht said in a call with analysts at the time.

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Sotheby’s chief, William F. Ruprecht. Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Whitney Museum of American Art

Analysts said similar pressures are playing out at Christie’s, though Christie’s may be better placed to weather the competition because it sells more lower-priced artwork, where profit margins are fatter.

Auction houses offer guarantees backed by outside investors, but can also guarantee works themselves. Now Sotheby’s is preparing to offer more such guarantees to the richest sellers. In June, it tripled its borrowing capacity to $300 million.

The level of Christie’s direct guarantees is unknown. But the total value of artwork carrying guarantees has been increasing for the past three years, accounting for 10 percent of Christie’s lots sold in 2012, the company said.

Both houses said their level of risk-taking is well below pre-2008 levels, and they are offloading liability by having outside investors take on some of the new guarantees.

In 2008, both auction houses ratcheted back guarantees after prices fell sharply, leaving them with millions of dollars in unsold works, as well as painful losses. Following that, Mr. Ruprecht said Sotheby’s was abandoning them almost entirely and returning to a simpler model as agents for buyers and sellers.

The auction houses have also expanded into private art sales, becoming dealers in their own right. The transformation can sometimes mean owning the art, with the risks this entails.

“The auction houses are not set up to calculate the financial risk,” said David Kusin, who runs Kusin & Company, a consulting firm in Dallas that specializes in the economics of the art market. “Getting into a business they are unsuited for and unprepared for puts all market participants at risk.”

To some in the industry, it sounds a bit like 2008. Howard Rachofsky, a Dallas collector and former hedge-fund manager, sold his own Koons sculpture, “Balloon Flower (Magenta)” back then for $25.7 million at Christie’s in London.

Christie’s offered him an outside guarantee, too, no seller’s commission and a share of the buyer’s fee.

“They didn’t make a lot, they made a little bit,” he said. “But in terms of visibility, it gives bragging rights.”

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