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    Robert Henke's Hypnotic "Lumière" Makes Its US Debut

    One person dropped to the ground. Another was dancing widely. A couple next to me left minutes into the performance complaining of ear damage. My companion fell asleep. These were just a few of the reactions happening around me on Saturday evening at Robert Henke’s strange and exhilarating “Lumière” performance, part of the month-long Red Bull Music Academy, an annual festival of adventurous music events sponsored by the energy drink company.

    Henke, who has been recording music under the Monolake moniker since that late 1990s, is a hero among electronic music nerds. Along with his records, initially released and typically associated with the Chain Reaction label — which helped define what is now referred to as minimal techno — Henke also has a background in engineering and has juggled both technical and artistic projects for his entire career. With Gerhard Behles and Bernd Roggendorf, he helped create and design the Ableton software that has become de rigueur among electronic musicians and deejays (if you’re a musician using a laptop, you’re probably using Ableton), and is known for constructing his own instruments and musical tools, which give his recordings and performances a unique sound and vision.

    “Lumière,” which was performed at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple, is the result of months of research by Henke on lasers. Yes, lasers. The idea was to produce a laser light show accompanied by music, but this isn’t “Dark Side of the Moon” at the planetarium. First, the result is more abstract. While the typical laser light show set to music uses the songs as a narrative map, essentially creating images with lasers to tell a story, Henke is more interested in the rhythmic potential of the images. The patterns created by the lasers are not dictated by words (Henke’s music has no lyrics), but by the sounds themselves.

    And the music itself is more visceral and pulsating. At times, the rumble of the bass notes vibrated throughout my ribcage. While the typical laser light show is meant to be viewed in relaxed contemplation, and the traditional stage visuals are meant to accompany music but not divert attention from the artist on stage, Henke’s performance was all about how it’s experienced by the audience. And, as noted above, the experience ranged tremendously. It was easy to become lost in the lights, which flickered and bounced around the giant screen on stage, or be pushed and pulled by the music, which was so loud and penetrating that is was almost impossible to not feel bullied by the sound. Enjoyable might not be the word for a performance like “Lumière,” and it’s almost impossible to imagine somebody wanting to have the experience more than once.

    In a recent conversation posted on electronic music website Resident Advisor, Henke talked about the balance of the technical and creative impulses, and how the idea for the performance was to not just have it be technically impressive but aesthetically pleasing. As an end result, he was successful on both fronts. But as something to return to again and again, whose aesthetic pleasures can be experienced from different vantage points, “Lumière” is a demanding work of art that will be hard to translate outside of its specific context. 

    Robert Henke's Lumière at the Red Bull Music Academy Festival

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    Auction Report: "If I Live I'll See You Tuesday" at Christie's

    The contemporary art auction season opened during happy hour on Monday with a loud bang at Christie’s, as the bespoke and trendy, “If I Live I’ll See You Tuesday” sale made $134,630,000. Of the 35 lots offered, all but one sold for a skinny buy-in rate by lot of five percent and 99.5-by value. The tally resoundingly beat pre-sale expectations of $92,960,000-124,080,00, that is, before the post-sale add-ons of the individual buyer’s premium.

    Twenty of the 34 works sold went for over $1 million and of those, eight exceeded $5 million and four hurdled the $10 million mark. More impressively, or so it would seem, 14 artist records were set, from newbie painter Alex Israel to the late Martin Kippenberger.

    Since this is a one-off sale, “curated” by Christie’s, there are no direct comparisons, though Phillips de Pury’s toppy and customized  “Carte Blanche” auction, organized by private dealer Philippe Segalot in November 2010, made $137 million for the 52 lots that sold.

    The raison d’etre of this effort, according to Loic Gouzer, the Christie’s specialist who organized the sale, was to give bigger play to artists who largely came to fame in the 1980s and ’90s, yet are sometimes squeezed out of klieg light attention due to pricier offerings in the Ab-Ex , London School, and Pop Art arenas.

    “It’s a risk mission,” said Gouzer earlier this spring as the sale was coming together. “These evening sales have become so big that a classic from the ’80s almost has no room in these sales anymore.”

    Still, the “risky” sale was front-loaded with 14 guarantees or 39 percent of the lots offered, assuring sales of those works no matter how they performed in the salesroom. Of those, one was financed directly by Christie’s and 11 by anonymous third parties, the latter receiving undisclosed, deal-by-deal compensation for the risk-taking, including a percentage of the buyer’s premium.

    “What happens,” questioned New York dealer Emmanuel Didonna as he joined the happy crowd of attendees waiting for limos and Uber cars immediately after the sale, “if none of this is guaranteed? That’s another question.”

    In Christie’s fine print language at the back of the auction catalogue, for those successful third-party bidders, “the remuneration may be netted against the final purchase price.”

    The house’s pre-sale promotion of the sale, titled after one of Richard Prince’s off-color joke paintings being offered, included a cool beat music video featuring professional skateboarder Chris Martin zig-zagging between the multi-million dollar entries, no doubt causing insurance underwriters and others heart palpitations.

    There was also a bit of scheduling drama, as the 6 p.m. scheduling of the sale forced boutique scaled Phillips to move its evening sale to Thursday, usually the time zone when European collectors jet back home in time for the weekend. None of those preliminary factors seemed to have any negative bearing on the evening, as Cady Noland’s (lot 1) edgy wall relief, “Percussion and Cartridge Revolvers,” from 1984, including police equipment and an illustrated guide book to pistols and revolvers, sold to dealer Larry Gagosian for $509,000 (est. $80-120,000). As auctioneer Jussi Pylkkannen hammered down the work at $420,000, he uttered, “Thank you, Larry.”

    First name IDs are rarely used in the salesroom, but this was a kind of down home evening for contemporary art players.

    The numbers quickly grew larger as (lot 2) Christopher Wool’s graphic alkyd and graphite “Untitled” work on paper and bearing the big block text “CATS INBAG BAGS IN RIVER,” from 1990, made $1,445,000 (est. $1-1.5 million), selling to a private bidder seated in the second row of the salesroom.

    New York dealer Stellan Holm was the underbidder.

    Richard Prince’s (lot 11) third party guaranteed “Nurse of Greenmeadow,” from 2002, appropriated from the lurid cover of a paperback romance novella and representing a large-scale 78- by 58 -1/2-inch example from his storied series, realized a record $8,565,000 (est. $7-9 million), going to an anonymous telephone bidder.

    The painting narrowly eclipsed “Overseas Nurse” from the same year, that made a then record $£4,241,250 ($8,467,258) at Sotheby’s London back in July 2008, before Prince’s market took a nose dive.

    After the brief evening, representing half of what Christie’s will be offering on Tuesday, market-making dealer Alberto Mugrabi posited, “Richard Prince is the most important living artist in America.”

    Indeed, it was a kind of post-market rehab night for Prince, who was represented by five works, all of which sold, although four were aided by third party guarantees.

    As for the Wool, the 32 3/8- by 22-inch work on paper last sold at Christie’s New York in May 2009 for $386,500, making it a big meow pleaser for the seller.

    Another third party financed entry, (lot 12) David Hammons’s formal yet funky wall relief, “Untitled” from 1978 and comprised of spear shaped phonograph record fragments, colored string and hair, made $3,525,000 (est. $2-3 million), selling to the telephone via Christie’s glamorous Xin Li, deputy chairman, Asia. Xin’s telephone played a starring role in the evening, showing once again the growing and aggressive impact of Asian bidding in both the Impressionist/Modern and contemporary arenas.

    It was also a successful evening for newer works by some of the lesser known, rising market stars, included (lot 4) Joe Bradley’s ravaged looking “Blonde,” from 2011, executed in oil, acrylic, colored oil sticks, graphite, paper and plastic tape, went over-estimate , selling for a record setting $965,000 (est. $500-700,0000).

    The same appellation fit (lot 5) Alex Israel’s evening auction debut as the large-scaled “Sky Backdrop,” from 2012, in acrylic and canvas and looking very much like its title, sold for $1,025,000 (est. $200-300,000) and Alex McEwan’s (lot 36) “Untitled,” from 2012, a graphite facsimile of a steel security gate, cast from chiseled from blocks of machine-chiseled graphite, went for a record $329,000 (est. $200-300,000). New York dealer Joe Nahmad was one of the posse of underbidders on the torrid Israel.

    Another big price for the lesser-known art stars included (lot 27) Michael Riedel’s graphic styled abstraction, “Untitled,” in silkscreen inks on linen, that hit a record $305,000 (est. $80-120,000).

    David Zwirner was one of the underbidders — it has been part of his stable since 2004.

    The choreography between newbies and blue chip veterans continued as the compelling Martin Kippenberger  (lot 13) pseudo self-portrait, “Untitled” from 1988 and based on a famous photograph of Pablo Picasso posed in his skivvies with his Afghan hound by his side, brought a record smashing $18,645,000, selling to Xin’s telephone bidder after a protracted bidding war with another telephone contender (est. $9-12 million). It was another third party backed lot, assuredly a big pay day for the anonymous backer.

    Bidding opened at $6.5 million and got serious after nine million, with Xin’s phone dueling with Christie’s Robert Manley, who made a gallant but ultimately second place fight for the big underwear prize. It smashed the previous record $6.4 million, set for an earlier “Untitled” work from 1981 that sold at Sotheby’s New York last November.

    The big ticket items continued to animate the season opening sale as Jean-Michel Basquiat’s (lot 23) early and impressively fierce “Made in Japan I,” from 1982, in acrylic and oilstick on paper, mounted on canvas, sold to the telephone for a relatively mild, at least by current standards, $8,005,000 (est. $7-9 million). It refreshingly went without the insurance of a guarantee, thus reflecting a more level playing field price. The Basquiat last sold at Sotheby’s London in October 2002 for £468,500 ($723,448), roughly speaking, a 10th what it fetched tonight.

    The carousel of multi-million dollar lots continued to gather speed as Jeff Koons’s now iconic and still spectacular (lot 7) “Two Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Speaking of Dr. J. Silver Series)” sculpture in a bespoke and filled fish tank from 1985 and from an edition of two, sold to a telephone bidder for $6,885,000 (est. $4-6 million).

    New York/London dealer David Zwirner was the underbidder.

    A second Koons up for grabs, (lot 15) “Aqualung,” a bronze artist proof replica of the device from 1985, part of an edition of three, and consigned by Christie’s owner Francois Pinault, realized $11,589,000, going to international dealer David Namhad (est. $9-12 million), usually known for aggressively ruling the Impressionist and Modern market.

    Gagosian was the underbidder (again).

    Yet another Richard Prince offering, (lot 6) “If I Die” joke painting from 1990 and the eponymous inspiration for the much-hyped title of the evening sale, sold to another telephone for $4,650,000 (est. 3.5-4.5 million). It too was third party backed.

    Another kind of joke painting but one done by current market darling (lot 10) Dan Colen, “Boo Fuck’n Hoo” from 2006 and depicting a snuffed out candle with its smoky trail making out the words in the title, brought a record $3,077,000 (est. $2-3 million).

    While Richard Prince appeared to be the main drawing card or inspiration as it were of the heavily marketed evening, a bow to the dark side of  (lot 20) Andy Warhol’s disaster paintings also made a cameo appearance with the lemon yellow “Little Electric Chair” from 1965 and measuring 22- by 28-inches. It made $10,469,000 (est. $7.5-.9.5 million).

    Once again, Xin’s telephone took the winning bid.

    According to the catalogue, it was last exhibited in Abu Dhabi in 2010-11 in the exhibition “From the Private Collection of Larry Gagosian.”

    Of the few British/Scottish entries in a made-in-America dominated sale, (lot 31) Peter Doig’s luminous but decidedly bleak and imaginary landscape, “Road House”, from 1991, bravura scaled at 76- by 98-inches, sold for a record $11,925,00 (est. $9.5-11.5 million).

    As the crowd streamed out of Christie’s Rockefeller Center headquarters for a post happy hour dinner, storied octogenarian Chicago art collector Stefan Edlis was asked if there were any lessons learned from the brief evening sale.

    “Buy low,” said Edlis, “sell high.”

    The evening action resumes Tuesday, again at Christie’s, with a big bout of Postwar and Contemporary offerings saddled with a low-end estimate in excess of $500 million.

    Richard Prince's "Nurse of Greenmeadow," an inkjet print and acrylic on canvas.

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    Japan’s premiere castle has revealed itself again in the town of Himeji, after years of hiding behind scaffolding. Himeji Castle, originally built in 1333, is regarded as the country’s finest example of prototypical castle architecture, and stands on a hill top park dominating Himeji town in Hyogo.

    Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993, it has been in hiding since December 2009 when reconstruction work began – to the disappointment of thousands of tourists. As of May 10, the castle’s top section is being uncovered, though work across the main structure and outer buildings is set to continue until March 2015.

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    Himeji Castle

    Japan’s premiere castle has revealed itself again in the town of Himeji, after years of hiding behind scaffolding. Himeji Castle, originally built in 1333, is regarded as the country’s finest example of prototypical castle architecture, and stands on a hill top park dominating Himeji town in Hyogo.

    Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993, it has been in hiding since December 2009 when reconstruction work began – to the disappointment of thousands of tourists. As of May 10, the castle’s top section is being uncovered, though work across the main structure and outer buildings is set to continue until March 2015.

    Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images
    Himeji Castle

    Structural repairs have been carried out using traditional techniques, including renewed plastering of walls, eaves and canopies of the upper levels, some of which had become damaged following the last major restoration work on the castle back in 1964.

    Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images
    Himeji Castle

    Himeji Castle has been remodeled many times in its history. Founded in 1333 as a fort, it became Himeyama Castle in 1346, and then in 1581, daimyo Toyotomi Hideyoshi, built an additional three-story keep.

    Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images
    Himeji Castle

    The first shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan, Tokugawa Ieyasu, gave the castle to daimyo Ikeda Terumasa in 1600, in the early Edo-era, and he then expanded the castle into a multi-faceted complex over eight years from 1601 through 1609.

    Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images
    Himeji Castle

    Himeji Castle stood relatively unchanged for the next four centuries, during over half of which, Japan was closed to the outside world. Himeji town was bombed during World War II, but the castle itself survived.

    Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images
    Himeji Castle

    The Great Hanshin earthquake of 1995, which measured Mj7.3 and hit nearby Kobe, killing 6,434, failed to damage the structure, which it the largest castle in Japan.

    Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images
    Himeji Castle

    The most visited castle in the country can soon expect to welcome tourists once again, while its parks will host festivals throughout the year.

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    Tate’s Vandalized Rothko Goes Back on Display

    A Mark Rothko painting that was vandalized in October 2012 has gone back on display at Tate Modern today, May 13, following 18 months of conservation.

    Black on Maroon (1958) was attacked by Wlodzimierz Umaniec, who called himself “Vladimir Umanets.”

    He had scrawled “VLADIMIR UMANETS ’12 A POTENTIAL PIECE OF YELLOWISM” in thick black graffiti ink, on the lower right hand corner of the painting.

    The ink had so deeply penetrated the work that, in many areas, it had soaked right through to the back of the canvas.

    Tate director Nicholas Serota spoke about the attack at a press conference this morning: “to be in a position where you are responsible for these works, and to then hear that something has happened – it is devastating.

    “It was a really ghastly feeling.”

    When news of the vandalism broke, conservators were called to the painting within the hour to assess the extent of the damage.

    “I was nervous, but it is my job,” Tate’s paintings conservator Rachel Barker said. “I had a job to do, so I got on with it.”

    Serota added: “right at the outset I said [to the conservation team], ‘you have as long as it takes.’”

    Now, after a year and a half of intense restoration work, the masterpiece has been returned to a near-normal state.

    Barker said that removing the thick ink from Rothko’s paint layers, which she described as “notoriously sensitive,” required a special chemical mix of benzyl alcohol and ethyl lactate, and had to be removed using a more delicate tissue than usual.

    The attack put Tate’s security under the spotlight internationally, and has forced the gallery to review its systems for protecting artworks.

    “Of course we have reviewed security, and I’m not going to tell you what it is,” Serota said.

    However, he did say that the changes would be as seamless as possible.

    “It is important for us not to turn into Fort Knox,” he said. “We are an art gallery.”

    Umaniec was jailed for two years following the attack.

    He stated at the time that he defaced the artwork in order to promote his own movement, “yellowism.”

    At Umaniec’s sentencing, Judge Roger Chapple said it was “wholly and utterly unacceptable to promote [the yellowism movement] by damaging a work of art,” which he described as “a gift to the nation.”

    Rothko had personally donated the work to the Tate in 1970, as part of his iconic series of Seagram murals. 

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    The painting before conservation (left) and after conservation (right)

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    “It’s half a tennis match, and half a play,” said José Lerma of “European Mixed Masters,” his show on view at Andrea Rosen Gallery in New York through June 14. The painting-based installation has some interesting resonances with Mika Rottenberg’s exhibition at Rosen’s main space across the street: namely, a restlessly inventive desire to pull together disparate themes and moments in time. For Lerma, the genesis of these works involves both the French Revolution and changes wrought by sporting technology within the professional tennis community in the 1980s.

    On a superficial level, “European Mixed Masters” is a tableaux of colorful paintings: A massive airbrush-on-canvas depiction of a crowd, along with four mixed media-on-reflective-Mylar pieces that depict the sillhouttes of tennis stars Steffi Graff, John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, and Martina Navratilova, rendered with thick outlines that recall the promiscuous smears of Jonathan Lasker. The crowd painting is derived from Pietro Antonio Martini’s engraving “Exposition au Salon du Louvre en 1787” — Lerma has appropriated many of the personages from the original, adding extra eyes and noses here and there, and inserting a handful of his own acquaintances in with the group. In Lerma’s version, the mob of faces is akin to a crowd in a theater’s orchestra pit — and also a group of spectators watching the abstract tennis match taking place among the other four paintings. (In pre-Revolutionary France, Lerma noted, many indoor tennis courts used by the aristocracy were converted to theaters.) There are other referential touchstones — a 1790 play, “Critique de la Tragédie de Charles IX,” that was part of an ongoing dust-up among intellectuals of the time — but for the most part it’s clear that “European Mixed Masters” has less to do with historical fact, and more to do with the delight Lerma takes in toying with that raw material. “The story is in the service of the paintings,” he said. “You don’t have to know any of this stuff. But if you want to go into it and find out, it gets more perverse.”

    The paintings’ color palette reflects the clash of cultures and eras that inspired them, Lerma explained. “The underpainting [on the Mylar works] is pastels, the kinds of colors you would’ve had in the ancient regime,” he said. “On top are the colors of late ’80s sports gear.” The airbrushed painting of the crowd deliberately nods to satirists like Hogarth and James Gillray, he said, with overlaid washes of pigment that reflect the hand-tinted political prints that acted as “the ‘Daily Show’ of their time.” (The rendering style, which resembles a line drawing with ballpoint pen, is what Lerma terms his “bureaucratic aesthetic — something you could make at a desk, but it’s gone incredibly out of scale.”)

    Personal background is equally as important to understanding the installation. Lerma himself used to be a tennis aficionado, but said he lost interest once the “natural touch” of McEnroe was subsumed by the “power-based” attack of people like Lendl. The artist is a history buff (and, before beginning to pursue art at the age of 27, he was studying to be a lawyer). After years of slogging through critical and theoretical texts, he finally followed his own gut and made work about what he loved. “I would read a biography any day, and look at history documentaries constantly. I was like, ‘Why am I pushing against that?’” he said. “I found a lot of information and aesthetics that were unexplored. It seemed much richer to me. And the research was a delight, the most enjoyable thing in the world.”

    If this all sounds a bit heavy and dense, it’s not. Lerma describes the exhibition as “exuberant,” and delights in the vibrant colors and super-thick paint consistency on the Mylar works (the result of mixing acrylics with silicon and caulks). “Kids will love it,” he said. “It really is a great, infantile vehicle for introducing fucked up ideas.”

    A Royal Court, Of Sorts, At José Lerma’s “European Mixed Masters”
    José Lerma.

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    Did Guyton Undermine Christie's?, Ferragamo Gives to Uffizi, and More

    — Saltz Says Guyton Undermines Christie’s Sale: Art critic Jerry Saltz theorizes that Wade Guyton’s re-printing of his 2005 painting “Untitled,” which was rumored to be guaranteed at $4 million in last night’s “If I Live I’ll See You Tuesday” contemporary art sale at Christie’s, was an attempt to sink the sale of the work by lessening its value. The artist took to Instagram shortly before the sale with photos of freshly printed copies of the work with captions like “#antiinflammatory” and “deflationarypolicy.” Saltz writes: “Suddenly the piece at Christie’s is identical to dozens of others. The uniqueness has gone away,” though he also acknowledges the obvious flip side to Guyton’s stunt. “Christie’s has already tried to spin this to its advantage and offset collector skittishness by posting Guyton’s Instagram pics on its site.” [Vulture]

    — Ferragamo Gives to Uffizi: Salvatore Ferragamo has announced plans to donate 600,000 euros for the renovation of eight rooms at Florence’s Uffizi Gallery. The museum expects renovations to completed within a year. “We are thrilled to restore these spaces to their former glory, equipping them with highly advanced technologies so they may be enjoyed by Florentines and visitors from across the world once more,” said Ferruccio Ferragamo, president of the company. [Silhouettes]

    ​— Detroit Three Ponder DIA Donation: The Detroit Three automakers — GMFord, and Chrysler — are considering making a multimillion dollar donation to the Detroit Institute of Arts after the beleaguered museum approached them and asked for $50 million. The companies have not yet decided if they will donate the money, which would partially fulfill the DIA’s requirement to raise $100 million towards the Grand Bargain. “We are having confidential discussions with the DIA and are considering the matter very carefully,” Ford Fund spokesman Todd Nissen said in a statement. [USA Today]

    — Abramovic Talks Serpentine Show: “Lots of loneliness, my dear. If you’re a woman, it’s almost impossible to establish a relationship. You’re too much for everybody.”— Marina Abramovic describes her love life in a recent profile for her upcoming Serpentine Gallery show in London. [Guardian]

    — Provincetown Art Barn Sees New Life: Joshua Prager’s non-profit Twenty Summers event series could save the historic Hawthorne Barn — the hub of the Cape Cod School of Art, where Jackson Pollock and Norman Rockwell, among others, spent summers — from developers. [Boston Globe]

    — Siqueiros Mural’s Unknown Fate: The fate of one of the world’s largest murals by artist David Alfaro Siqueiros, located in Mexico City, is unknown as owners search for investors to restore the artwork. [TAN]

    — LA MOCA director Philippe Vergne has been awarded a French Legion of Honor. [Gallerist]

    — Canada’s National Holocaust Monument will be designed by a team that includes Daniel LibeskindEdward BurtynskyClaude Cormier, and museum planners Lord Cultural Resources. [Globe and Mail]

    — Thomas J. Lax is MoMA’s new media and performance art curator. [Gallerist]


    Maternal Impulses: Ragnar Kjartansson and Sophie Calle in New York

    Auction Report: “If I Live I’ll See You Tuesday” at Christie’s

    Auction Preview: Christie’s Postwar & Contemporary Art Sale

    Check our blog IN THE AIR for breaking news throughout the day.

    Jerry Saltz on Wade Guyton in Christie's “If I Live I’ll See You Tuesday”

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    In the department’s first New York evening sale since the departure of star auctioneer Tobias Meyer, Sotheby’s Contemporary Art offerings reflect in part the generational change coming with Alexander Rotter, 40, the house’s new co-head of contemporary art worldwide, who characterized the business-getting season as a “fresh start for my team.”

    Signaling that broadened interest, on May 14 the house will offer Chris Ofili’s seminal Afrodizzia, 1996, the elephant dung-anchored work tattooed with map pins on linen that helped make Ofili a star of the “Sensation” show at London’s Royal Academy of Arts in 1997 and a 1998 Turner Prize winner. Estimated at $2 million to $3 million, it is part of a trove of works being sold by Sotheby’s over the next 18 months from the former hedge fund magnate Adam Sender.

    Other Sender collection highlights include Cindy Sherman’s alluring C-print Untitled #93, 1981, from her “Centerfold” series, with its seemingly abused ingenue defensively clutching a black satin sheet over her nightgown. Like the Ofili, it is estimated at $2 million to $3 million. Also on offer is a major Martin Kippenberger, Untitled, 1981, from the series “Lieber maler male mir.” Executed by a hired sign painter in a photorealist-styled and billboard-scaled way, it is pegged at $3 million to $4 million.

    Less-traveled evening sale candidates include Rosemarie Trockel’s machine-knit wool standout, Untitled, 1985-88, featuring feminist crossfire between the Playboy bunny symbol and the more domestic cotton symbol, at $1.5 million to $2 million, and a rare-to-market James Rosenquist, Be Beautiful, a 54-by-84 1/2-inch oil on canvas from 1964 that riffs on a Noxzema skin cream contest from the era. It is estimated at $3 million to $4 million.

    Still blockbuster-friendly, Sotheby’s is offering de Kooning’s oil Untitled, 1975-77, in a format larger than that of the Christie’s entry. Bristling with energy and created following a period where the artist stopped painting and made sculpture, it is estimated at $18 million to $25 million. The house is also offering a grand and early example from Richard Diebenkorn’s most sought after abstract series. Ocean Park #20, 1969, estimated at $9 million to $12 million, was consigned by Los Angeles collectors and museum patrons Jane and Marc Nathanson.

    In the same high-end vein, a huge, five-part, text-driven Basquiat composition, Undiscovered Genius of the Mississippi Delta, 1983, executed in acrylic, oil stick, and paper collage on canvas, is expected to fetch $20 million to $30 million—not unrealistic since six Basquiat paintings have exceeded $20 million at auction since June 2012.

    A version of this article appears in the May 2014 issue of Art+Auction magazine. 

    Auction Preview: Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Sale
    Andy Warhol's "Six Self Portraits," estimated at $25/$35 million.

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    James Gray’s Intimate and Expressive “The Immigrant” Finally Arrives

    James Gray can’t catch a break. Since the writer-director made his debut with 1994’s “Little Odessa,” each film he’s made has struggled to reach the screen. The impediments ranged from being met with the studio’s meddling interference in post-production (“The Yards”) to the main actor’s personal hi-jinks overshadowing the film during promotion (“Two Lovers”). Then there is the general indifference his films are met with in the United States, by audiences and critics alike. While a tight cinephile community continues to rightly champion the filmmaker, his work is typically ignored by those who control industry accolades.

    What’s frustrating is that Gray’s films keep getting better and better while the same obstacles get in his way. “The Immigrant,” which is finally getting a proper theatrical release on May 16, screened last year at the Cannes Film Festival and the New York Film Festival (where I first saw it), but for unknown reasons was pushed aside for a number of months. Now, it’s being dumped into theaters right before the Hollywood Blockbuster season begins with little fanfare or promotion.

    Based on the recollections of Gray’s grandparents, the film details the trials of Ewa Cybulski (Marion Cotillard), the immigrant of the title, who, along with her sister, washes up ashore on Ellis Island in 1921, from Poland. When her sister is pulled from the crowd for showing signs of illness, and Ewa’s aunt and uncle, already in America and living in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn, don’t arrive to pick her up, she falls into the hands of Bruno Weiss (Joaquin Phoenix), who saves her from deportation. When he takes her in, she reluctantly joins his stable of girls who perform at a local burlesque show and turn tricks on the side, hoping to make enough money to spring her sister out of the hospital on Ellis Island and make a life for them in America.

    Part of the appeal of Gray’s work, and also part of the reason why it’s so tepidly received, is that it falls between two modes of cinematic representation. In its tendency to be big and expressive, “The Immigrant” harkens back to a classical Hollywood style filtered through the New American Cinema visions of Scorsese, Coppola, etc. (It’s no surprise that Gray has mentioned in interviews that the film was influenced by Giacomo Puccini’s opera “Il Trittico.”) This puts him at odds with contemporary American filmmakers. But his films, unlike the work of, say, Quentin Tarantino, aren’t interested in the past as code for the present. Gray is not concerned with the past for its contemporary resonances, but as another way to navigate his own obsessions with family and small communities.

    Phoenix, who was the center of Gray’s three previous films, steps into the shadows. This is a major shift for Gray, whose earlier films, while all dealing with familial relations, were also concerned with how male identity was shaped within those groups. By placing a female at the center of “The Immigrant,” we see those dynamics shift. Phoenix, an intensely physical actor (compare his broad-shouldered performance here with his turn in Spike Jonze’s “Her,” a skinny and lonely soul with a bespoke uniform to match) is balanced by Cotillard’s measured emotionality, which Gray captures in profound close-ups.

    For all its harmony of expressiveness and intimacy, “The Immigrant” is a movie that escapes easy conclusions. Like all great films, it achieves nuance where other films would grasp for solid answers, which leaves it firmly out of place in the present — an unfortunate circumstance that should not be just understood but corrected.  

    Marion Cotillard in James Gray's "The Immigrant" (2013)

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  • 05/13/14--10:30: Boston
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    Picasso Museum Head Fired, Amtrak Sponsors Massive Murals, and More

    — Picasso Museum President Fired: Anne Baldessari, the president of Paris’s Picasso Museum, has been fired by culture minister Aurélie Filippetti after five long years of delayed renovations at the museum. The ministry attributed Baldessari’s dismissal to a “gravely deteriorating work environment” at the museum that has led to the resignation of many high-ranking employees. Civil servant Jérôme Bouët will serve as a temporary president. [NYT]

    — Amtrak Sponsors Massive Murals: In a new public art project sponsored by Amtrak and the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, artist Katharina Grosse is painting seven sites along the train’s corridor north of Philly with giant neon patterns. The painted sites, which include warehouses, bridges, and trees, are meant to be experienced from inside a moving train. “It’s a very different understanding of where a painting sits,” Grosse said. “You just get a glimpse of something rather large, it’s just touching the warehouse there on that little edge. The painting itself is far bigger, it’s maybe in the sky but there is no surface where it can land.” [WSJ]

    — Collector Plans to Open Ai Weiwei Museum: Fund manager Christopher Tsai wants to open an Ai Weiwei museum in New York to house his ongoing collection, which currently includes 40 works by the artist from the 1970s to the present. The collection he shares with his husband includes Ai’s “Map of China” (2006) and an edition of the “Circle of Animals/Zodiac Head: Gold” (2010), among others. [TAN]

    — Holland Cotter Reviews 9/11 Museum: “The first thing to say about it, and maybe the last, is that it’s emotionally overwhelming, particularly, I expect, for New Yorkers who were in the city on that apocalyptic September day and the paranoia-fraught weeks that followed, but almost as certainly for the estimated two billion people around the globe who followed the horror unfolding on television, radio and the Internet,” writes Holland Cotter in his review of the soon-to-open September 11 Memorial Museum. [NYT]

    — Cleveland Claims Cambodian Statue Wasn’t Looted: The Cleveland Museum of Art claims to have research to prove that its Cambodian statue of Hanuman was not looted from Prasat Chen. [Cleveland]

    — China Boasts More Top-Grossing Houses: Last year, 11 of the top 20 grossing auction houses were in China and accounted for 28.8 percent of the dollar amount of art sold in 2013. [Bloomberg]

    — Katy Kline has been named interim director of the DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts. [Art Daily]

    — Turns out recently deceased art hoarder Cornelius Gurlitt wrote a second will, but it doesn’t change much. [WSJ]

    — Art Basel in Hong Kong is selling $10,000 passports to an imaginary country called Jing Bang. [Bloomberg]


    Christie’s Breaks Another Record With an Assist From Asian Bidders

    A Royal Court, Of Sorts, At José Lerma’s “European Mixed Masters”

    Auction Preview: Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Sale

    Getting Intimate at the Museum at FIT

    Check our blog IN THE AIR for breaking news throughout the day.

    Musée Picasso in Paris

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    Do We Need Another Ai Weiwei Documentary?

    “Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case,” another documentary — one comes out every few months, it seems — about the controversial Chinese artist, opens with the oft repeated quote from Pablo Picasso stating that the purpose of art is not to decorate apartments but to act as an instrument of war. It’s always been a funny quote to me because, “Guernica” aside, for most people Picasso is not thought of a political artist and his words here strike as grandstanding. But maybe in the context of Ai Weiwei, a dissident artist who has repeatedly been forced into silence by the Chinese government, it makes more sense. Or does it?

    Forgetting the question of whether or not we need another film about the artist that offers very little new information or insight, there is an equally pertinent question: Is Ai a political artist? While the oppression he faces is unjust and should be fought against, maybe a more nuanced question would be: What does it mean when a political artist is not just making art in response to the world around him but is actively prodding the authorities? Is there a difference between a provocateur and a political artist when the oppression is the same?

    None of these questions are even asked in “Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case,” a rote informational documentary that tracks the current legal rigmarole the artist is facing. The film details the way the Chinese government is systematically attempting to stop Ai from making art, focusing on the bogus charges of tax evasion that have been brought up against him. The case at the film’s center is confusing, and very few specific details are given here — at least not enough for the average viewer to understand its nuances.

    That’s because the lawsuit is not really what the film is interested in. Instead, we’re presented with a trivial and convoluted meditation of the nature of truth (in a funny twist, the target of the fake lawsuit is Ai’s company, coincidentally named Fake). “It’s a fake case,” the artist says toward the end of the film. “It’s a fake case about a Fake company. But the Fake company is a real company. The Fake case is a real case, but it’s fake, it’s fabricated.”

    While that works as a witty logline, it can’t sustain an entire movie. During the screening I attended, I couldn’t help but notice details left unexplained that would have prompted more interesting questions, such as the constant surveillance of Ai Weiwei. News cameras, government cameras, personal cameras, and outside documentary crews — every moment of the artist’s life is covered through recorded images. Are the media, even his own staff of collaborators, contributing to the oppression by simply never giving him a moment of peace? Or, as it certainly seems according to this film and others, does Ai Weiwei’s approval, even participation, of this mode of living, create a whole new form of oppression that he or we fail to recognize? I guess we’ll leave those questions for the next documentary.

    “Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case” opens at the IFC Center in New York on May 16.

    Ai Weiwei's "S.A.C.R.E.D." from Andreas Johnsen's "The Fake Case"

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  • 05/14/14--08:12: Chelsea
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    Leila Heller Gallery (formerly LTMH Gallery) located in the heart of Chelsea’s gallery district, promotes a cutting edge program of international contemporary emerging and mid-career artists. The gallery has gained recognition for fostering the careers of artists working across a multitude of disciplines and mediums, helping to establish them among the leading contemporary artists internationally. The gallery presents a dynamic exhibition schedule, actively engaging world renowned curators, hosting educational panels and producing catalogues with scholarly essays. The Gallery also participates in major international art fairs each year and stages offsite projects as a continuation of the program. Gallery artists have consistently participated in major international exhibitions and biennials, and are included in important institutional collections worldwide. The gallery has gained worldwide recognition for being a pioneer in promoting contemporary Middle Eastern artists. This specialization has positioned the gallery well within the burgeoning Iranian, Turkish and Middle Eastern art market. Most importantly, it is the gallery's mission to establish contemporary Middle Eastern art within a larger cultural and Art Historical context. The gallery remains dedicated to promoting the careers of its artists, and is ambitious in growing its program. In addition to its roster of contemporary artists, the gallery is also active in the American, European and Middle Eastern secondary art markets. With all of the gallery’s activities, it remains committed to fostering long-lasting bonds within the global art world through its professionalism and innovative vision. Leila Heller Gallery artists have been included in leading national and international museums and institutions, such as The New Museum, New York; the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, New York; the Chelsea Art Museum, New York; Asia Art Society, New York; the Farjam Collection, Dubai; the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Korea; Domus Atrium Museum, Salamanca Spain; Santral Istanbul Contemporary Art Museum, Turkey; Petacha Tikva Museum of Art, Israel; Hiroshima Contemporary Art Museum, Hiroshima, Japan; The Victoria & Albert Museum, London; and the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, Iran. After being based for 29 years on the Upper East Side, in 2011 the gallery moved to a 3,500 square foot ground floor space in the Chelsea gallery district, at 568 West 25th Street at the corner of 11th Avenue. The move to the new Chelsea location, designed by award-winning architect firm Hariri & Hariri, has allowed for an expansion of the gallery's internationally recognized artist roster as well as for larger, museum quality exhibitions. The gallery also maintains a rigorous art fair schedule, participating in fairs in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Hong Kong, Paris, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Istanbul.
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    Magnus Renfrew on Art Basel Hong Kong and the Asia-Pacific Art Scene

    When ARTINFO sat down with Magnus Renfrew, Art Basel’s director Asia, to discuss the 2014 edition of Art Basel Hong Kong, he was five weeks into a round-the-world trip visiting collectors and gallerists. He had already visited Berlin, Paris, London, Shanghai, Beijing, New York, and Taipei when he met with us in Sydney, and was preparing to head to Tokyo, Seoul, and Singapore followed by Hangzhou, Guangzhou, and Chengdu.

    Returning to the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre from May 15 to 18 for its second edition under the Art Basel umbrella, Art Basel Hong Kong will feature 245 of the world’s leading galleries as well as the work of more than 3,000 artists, ranging from young emerging talents to the Modern masters of Asia and the West. Continuing the fair’s commitment to the region, 50 percent of galleries presented at the show have exhibition spaces in Asia and the Asia-Pacific.

    Renfrew’s tireless efforts to forge relationships with gallerists and collectors all over the world is evidence of his commitment to the fair and reflects his ambition to take what is currently regarded as the leading art fair in the Asia and Asia Pacific regions and establish it as an internationally significant event as well as a stop-off for the global art community. See what Renfrew had to say about Art Basel Hong Kong as well as the Asia Pacific art scene in the interview below.

    The current talking point is the change of dates from May to March in 2015. Could you speak a bit about the reason behind the change and the logistics involved?

    The complexities of securing a change of dates are easily underestimated, but there’s probably only about five days a year that the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre doesn’t have something, either an event or a conference, being built up, broken down, or taking place. So to effect this change, the management of the HKCEC has had to negotiate with nine different events to move, and each one of those events is plugged into its own global industry calendar.

    While the May dates had worked fine for the contemporary art scene in Asia and for the collectors in Asia, it had been problematic for some of the Western galleries in terms of the congested nature of the calendar, particularly the proximity to New York Auction Week and Art Basel in Switzerland. Whilst there is no time that is completely free from clashes, March gives us a much better opportunity to attract a stronger audience from the US and Europe.

    What are your plans for the future of Art Basel Hong Kong? Do you have any particular ambitions or goals?

    There are certain things that we are on the right track with; the basic sectors are along the right lines, but we would love to have more historical content from Asia. Art Basel has always been known as a modern and contemporary fair, and whilst we have a very strong presence of modern and post-war art from the West, there is still a lot more to do to build up that representation from Asia and the Asia Pacific. We would love more of those presentations, most probably through the Insights sector. But we are making some headway in that area, and it’s still early days.

    We also want to establish Art Basel in Hong Kong as a fair of truly global standing with mainstream attendance from collectors from all over the world, and with greater numbers from Europe and the United States than we currently have. Our ambition is to take what is currently regarded as the leading art fair in the Asia and Asia Pacific regions and establish it as one of the important art fairs on a global level, as well as a stop-off for the global art community. We are not aiming to create a niche Asian fair, but rather a global art fair for Asia that contextualizes Asia within the global art scene.

    Have you noticed any developing trends that interest you?

    South East Asia and Indonesia are interesting. There is also great work being produced in China that is outside the Western perception of what constitutes Chinese contemporary art. I think that some people still associate Chinese contemporary art with work that was produced for the auctions in the 2006-2008 period — smiley faces, the color red, pandas, Chairman Mao — when actually there is much more interesting work than that being produced that engages with the reality of what it is like to live in China today and the great changes that China is going through. Elsewhere in South East Asia — in Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar — there are some very interesting artists, a number of whom are working in the medium of performance, which is something I would personally like to see a lot more of at the fair.

    Will you continue to aim to have 50 percent representation of galleries with spaces in Asia and the Asia-Pacific?

    Something that we started facing about two or three years ago, when galleries began to establish branches in different parts of the world, was that people often argue over the definition of an Asian gallery. So we don’t say Asian galleries, we say galleries with spaces in Asia, because those galleries are undoubtedly making an important contribution to the local cultural ecologies in which they are located — they provide artists with opportunities to see work from different parts of the world, for example, and they provide global standards of practice in terms of artist representation for artists from those particular locations as well. It was a really interesting moment in time when this became an issue three years ago; it was a sign of the times of the globalization of the art world. It is funny that you have moments like that when you are trying to pigeon-hole things, and what worked the year before no longer works. It’s interesting that there has been this kind of a shift. It is our aim to continue to have 50% representation of galleries with spaces in Asia and the Asia-Pacific.

    Are there any regions you would like to see better represented by galleries at Art Basel in Hong Kong?

    We would like to have the broadest and most diverse presentation from all over Asia — from as far west as Turkey and as far east as New Zealand, and everywhere in-between. It would be great to have more work from the ‘stans, and we are delighted that we have the first gallery participating from Azerbaijan this year. So there is a lot more to be done in terms of the breadth of coverage, but it’s a fascinating process.

    Are there any particular mediums that collectors are focusing on?

    We have spent quite a lot of time thinking about this, but I don’t think the market works like that. Everyone is an individual and tastes are very diverse within countries — as diverse as individuals. The way it does tend to work relates to the different stages of collecting. In my experience it is pretty much the same anywhere in the world. You tend to buy work, when you are starting out, that is conservative in nature and from your own country. And then as time goes on and you develop more confidence and knowledge you often then progress to buying contemporary work, but usually again from your own country. But once you have started buying contemporary art from your own country it is not such a big leap to buying contemporary art from elsewhere in the world. And we’re seeing that pay out in China — those collectors who were early to start buying contemporary Chinese art are not just as happy buying contemporary art from elsewhere in the world.

    What makes Hong Kong the best place location for an art fair in Asia?

    There are so many different reasons. The shared history with the West means that is a place where English is commonly spoken and people feel very comfortable being there. There is probably nowhere in the world where people from Asia and the West feel quite so equally at home. Also of great importance is the geographical location. When you are looking at trying to create a major international hub fair you have to look at the natural catchment area of that location and Hong Kong has one of the widest catchment areas of anywhere in the world; it’s a natural nexus. The fact that there is no tax on the import and export of art as well as no sales tax makes the city even more attractive.

    For an art fair like this to be a success it was important for us to engage with all of the different constituencies around the region; no single domestic market is big enough. What you tend to find is that those art fairs that are located in a particular country tend to take on the identity of that country to an extent. But in Hong Kong we have a place that whilst it is part of China is also regarded as neutral territory, meaning that we can have an internationalism, which has been a positive thing.

    Anything else you would like to add?

    One of the interesting dynamics is that people are seeing the importance of buying from galleries rather than buying from auctions. Knowledge and connoisseurship are also becoming increasingly valued and respected with collectors moving beyond buying the big brand names. People are still very competitive of course, but there is now also a sense of competition to be the first person to discover a young artist’s work, and that is a positive dynamic.

    Magnus Renfrew

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    Crowded by the incursion of the Christie’s “If I Live” sale on its original May 12 date, Phillips moved its Contemporary Art sale to May 15, as it faces greater competition in the emerging art category that it has heretofore successfully vanquished. August Uribe, the firm’s freshly hired worldwide co-head of contemporary art (until recently, an Impressionist and modern rainmaker at Sotheby’s), is quietly steering the house toward a wider purview that encompasses more than young art stars, “to try to secure for sale the lots of blue-chip names.”

    That strategy will be evident this month with works such as David Smith’s unique welded steel and bronze sculpture Abandoned Foundation (Landscape), 1946, which debuted in the artist’s solo show at the Willard Gallery in 1947 and formerly resided in the Pulitzer family collection in St. Louis. Standing 13 1/4-inches high, it is estimated at $1.2 million to $1.8 million. Vija Celmins’s shimmering, star-studded, and undeniably beautiful Night Sky #3, 1991, an oil on canvas mounted on wood panel, is pegged at $2 million to $3 million and could challenge the $2,405,000 artist record set by Night Sky #14, 1996, at Christie’s last November. “I consider her extremely undervalued,” said Uribe.

    The house also has its customary Andy Warhol, a blooming Flowers canvas from 1964, executed in silkscreen inks on canvas and medium-scaled at 48- by 48-inches. It carries an estimate of $10 million to $15 million. Another version in the same size sold at Phillips in May 2011 for $8,146,500, the highest auction price so far for a 48-inch square flower painting.

    A version of this article appears in the May 2014 issue of Art+Auction magazine.

    Auction Preview: Phillips Contemporary Art Sale
    Jean-Michel Basquiat's Untitled, 1981, estimated at $8,000,000-12,000,000.

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    VIDEO: 60 Works in 60 Seconds at Art Basel Hong Kong 2014

    Art Basel Hong Kong 2014 is off to a swift start with 245 galleries showing works by more than 2,000 artists. With half the participating galleries from Asia and Asia-Pacific, the art fair provides an important window for the art world to see and buy the highest-quality work from the region.

    Here are highlights of the Art Basel Hong Kong 2014, 60 Works in 60 Seconds.

    Art Basel Hong Kong runs through May 18.

    Watch previous videos in our popular series 60 Works in 60 Seconds, HERE. 

    Art Basel Hong Kong 2014

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    A Guide to the 2014 Cannes Film Festival

    The 67th edition of the Cannes Film Festival opened Tuesday evening with a typically lavish premiere of Olivier Dahan’s “Grace of Monaco,” starring Nicole Kidman. Also typically, it was met with resounding jeers from the critics. There is always one, usually more than one. Cannes is just as famous for its cantankerous audience members, who have no problem plainly booing a film they don’t like, as its ravishing red carpet and sun-baked Euro party-vibe.

    With all the hoopla — What models will be partying on yachts? Will there be another jewel heist? — it’s almost easy to forget that Cannes is not just some congratulatory celebration by the sea, but an actual film festival, the best film festival in the world maybe. Every year its main competition is debated months in advance, with critics and cinephiles trying to guess who will make it and who won’t. The festival is a massive undertaking (there are 18 films in the main competition alone), so to help make sense of it all, we’ve compiled a handy guide detailing which films to definitely check out, which ones to keep your eye on, and which ones to avoid at all costs.


    “Goodbye to Language,” Directed by Jean-Luc Godard

    There is never a reason not to see a new film from Godard, maybe our greatest living filmmaker. The fact that he’s not making films as much as Woody Allen means we’re doing something wrong, and this new one, shot in 3-D, looks intriguing.

    “Two Days, One Night,” Directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

    The Dardenne brothers are, unlike Godard, at Cannes almost every year, or so it seems. Not that I’m complaining. They’ve won many awards here, including the top prize, and their new film, starring Marion Cotillard, looks like it may win another.

    “Maps to the Stars,” Directed by David Cronenberg

    Cronenberg returns after his excellent adaptation of Don Delillo’s nightmarish “Cosmopolis” with this Hollywood satire that he’s had on the backburner for a few years.  The film stars John Cusack, Julianne Moore, and Robert Pattinson, and the script is from novelist Bruce Wagner.

    “Saint Laurent,” Directed by Bertrand Bonello

    Gaspard Ulliel plays the famous fashion designer in Bonello’s followup to “House of Pleasure,” one of the best and most underappreciated films of the last decade.

    “Sils Maria,” Directed by Olivier Assayas

    Aside from Steven Soderbergh, Assays is maybe the most versatile filmmaker on the planet. After his epic-length international-terrorism drama “Carlos,” and the autobiographical “Something in the Air,” he’s back in Cannes with a new film starring the trio of Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, and Chloe Moretz.

    “The Homesmen,” Directed by Tommy Lee Jones

    The old grizzled actor once again plays an old grizzled cowboy. I wouldn’t miss this for the world, even if Jones mumbles his way throughout the entire film. This time he’s behind the camera as well, and the last time he directed a film he won an award at Cannes, so chances are good the audience will get behind the old geezer.

    “Mr. Turner,” Directed by Mike Leigh

    I’m not as big a fan of Leigh as others seem to be, but this film, a portrait of landscape painter J.M.W. Turner, here played by Timothy Spall, seems to be out of Leigh’s usual milieu. Which makes me want to see it even more.

    Best of the Rest:

    “Jauja,” Directed by Lisandro Alonso
    “In the Name of My Daughter,” Directed by André Techine
    “The Rover,” Directed by David Michold
    “Bird People,” Directed by Pascale Ferran


    “Leviathan,” Directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev

    The only reason this is in this category and not the one above is because I’ve never seen a film by this filmmaker. But a lot of people seem to be very excited about this film, and I’m not unsusceptible to hype, so this is where this lands.

    “Foxcatcher,” Directed by Bennett Miller

    Miller is a decent enough filmmaker, I guess, but it’s hard to see a reason why a film like this even needs to be in the main competition at Cannes. Starring Steve Carrell and Channing Tatum, this will be all over the place in a few months while excellent films are stuck in the sidebars and will never reach a theater outside the festival circuit. End of rant.

    “Timbuktu,” Directed by Abderrahmane Sissako

    Here is something I’m not proud to admit: I’ve never seen a film by Sissako. Never. I know. So that is why this film is here, although I’m sure I’ll regret this later. I guess you can strip me of my film-writing card now.

    “Winter Sleep,” Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan

    Another filmmaker that people love but I’ve never been able to appreciate, for whatever reason. And this one, at roughly three hours, makes me want to make obvious jokes about falling asleep.

    “Still the Water,” Directed by Naomi Kawase / “Wild Tales,” Directed by Damián Szifron

    I don’t know anything about these, and don’t know enough of the filmmaker’s works to make a solid judgment, but they both look interesting and, frankly, there are only two female filmmakers in the main competition and I would feel horrible putting them both in the dismal final category.

    Possible Others:

    “The Salt of the Earth,” Directed by Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado
    “Misunderstood,” Directed by Asia Argento
    “La Chambre Bleue,” Directed by Mathieu Amalric


    “The Captives,” Directed by Atom Egoyan

    Egoyan once made a few decent films, but that was a long time ago. Now, he seems content with turning out rote psychological thrillers, and Cannes for some reason continues to treat him like a filmmaker who’s worth paying attention to. I’d rather watch those dollar-bin action-movie DVDs starring professional wrestlers than anything he’s made in the last 10 years.

    “Jimmy’s Hall,” Directed by Ken Loach

    Pretty much the same as above, except I’m not sure Loach ever made a good film. Or if he did, it was so long ago that most of you reading this were not alive. But, once again, Cannes seems willing to not just show every single film this man manages to make, but to even give him awards.

    “The Wonders,” Directed by Alice Rohrwacher

    Rohrwacher makes the kind of drivel that gives foreign films a bad name in this country. Nothing much more to say here.

    “Mommy,” Directed by Xavier Dolan

    If there’s a more overhyped and less interesting filmmaker on the planet right now, please point me in his direction. For now, I’ll just stick with trying to avoid anything Dolan makes. He’s young, so maybe we can chalk it up to that.

    “The Search,” Directed by Michel Hazanavicius

    From the guy who brought you “The Artist,” that terrible fake-silent movie that your grandmother loved and won a bunch of Academy Awards, is back. This time with sound. No thanks.

    Worst of the Rest:

    “Grace of Monaco,” Directed by Olivier Dahan
    “Lost River,” Directed by Ryan Gosling 

    The 2014 Cannes Film Festival runs through May 25.

    Juliette Binoche in Olivier Assayas's "Clouds of Sils Maria"

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    Auction Report: Sotheby's Contemporary Art Sale

    Apart from an opening salvo of super-charged lots from a single owner collection, the art market presented a more ordinary and even sleepy picture at Sotheby’s contemporary evening sale, realizing $364,379,000. That figure fell midway between pre-sale expectations of $336,650,000 to $474,000,000.

    Of the 79 lots offered, 12 bought in for a decent buy-in rate by lot of 15 percent and 13 percent by value. Of those, 19 hailed from the collection of former hedge fund manager Adam Sender and marketed in a separate catalogue as “Ahead of the Curve.” As it turned out, it was an accurate and not overblown title.

    Those opening lots cumulatively made a rousing and overestimate $44,591,000, bashing pre-sale expectations of $21,150,000-$29,900,000. Six of the 19 works that sold made record highs.

    Overall, 57 works out of the 67 that sold made over a million dollars, and of those, 11 made over $10 million and five hurdled the $20 million mark In all, nine artist records were set.

    On the finance side, 39, or half of the offerings carried financial guarantees, either directly by Sotheby’s or through anonymous third parties. All of the Sender lots were backed by a Sotheby’s guarantee, meaning the house made some meaningful profit on that risk-taking bet though suffered the consequences in other deals backing works that failed to sell.

    Sotheby’s tally easily outgunned last May’s smaller sale of $293,587,000 for 53 lots sold and represents the house’s third biggest contemporary evening sale. Still it seemed almost tepid in comparison to arch-rival Christie’s gonzo $745 million result on Tuesday evening. That seemed to be part of the sale’s problem.

    Even so, the Sender group got the auction off to a rollicking start as (lot 1] Richard Pettibon’s surfing figure, “No Title (Mimicked in its…),” from 2001. made $1,325,000, selling to a telephone bidder (est. $500-700,000).

    As background, the lion’s share of the Sender kit were cherry picked on the primary market from the artists’ main dealers, giving this portion of the sale a kind of instant reading of how brilliantly these works have appreciated over a span of 10 plus years.

    That was clearly evident as (lot 2) Glenn Ligon’s luminous “The Period,” a neon sculpture illuminating the word AMERICA and executed in 2005 from an edition of five plus two artist proofs, sold for $629,000 to Stavros Merjos  (est. $300-400,000). New York/London dealer David Zwirner was the underbidder.

    Richard Prince’s (lot 3) iconic rephotograph, “Untitled (Cowboy),” from 2000, large-scaled at 48- by 76 ¾-inches and depicting a romantic sunrise as a group of Marlboro men tended to their horses, brought $3,077,000 (est. $1-1.5 million). Merjos was the underbidder. Sender acquired it from the Barbara Gladstone Gallery in 2001.

    Though not mentioned in the catalogue, Sender’s main art advisor/curator during those cherry pickinyears was New York based Todd Levin, a partnership that abruptly ended around 2008, sometime after the collector sold off a portion of his cutting edge holdings through Phillips de Pury & Company in November 2006.

    Levin was in the salesroom, sitting next to a different client who underbid two works from the Sender offerings, including the fantastic Rosemarie Trockel [lot 4] knitted wool diptych, “Untitled” from 1985-86 that made a sizzling and record $4,981,000 (est. $1.5-2 million).

    Urs Fischer’s (lot 5) “What If the Phone Rings” from 2003, an ambitious, three-part tableau of three female nudes, a blonde, a brunette and a redhead, and comprised of wax, pigment and wicks, made $3,525,000  (est. $1.2-1.8 million).

    Sender acquired it at London’s Sadie Coles HQ that same year.

    The sculpture was most recently exhibited in December 2011 in Miami Beach during the ArtBasel Miami Beach art fair in one of Sender’s homes there, and appropriately titled “The Sender Collection. Home Alone.”

    Perhaps the premier lot of the Sender offerings, Martin Kippenberger’s widely exhibited photo-realist styled composition, featuring the artist and a friend staggering down a Dusseldorf street in broad daylight, “Untitled” from 1981, [lot 8] sold to private dealer and former Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art director Jeffery Deitch for $5,541,000 (est. $3-4 million).

    New York/London dealer Per  Skarstedt was the underbidder.

    The artist infamously hired a film poster painter to execute the mocking work.

    Cindy Sherman’s cover lot chromogenic print, “Untitled #93,” featuring the artist/actress defensively cowering under a dark bed sheet, sold to New York private dealer Philippe Segalot for $3,861,000  (est. $2-3 million). Skarstedt was the underbidder. Sender acquired it at Christie’s New York in November 1998 for $96,000.

    Another art world famed work, (lot 18) Chris Ofili’s elephant dung anchored painting, “Afrodizzia” from 1996, affixed with paper collage, glitter, map pins and polyester resin and a headliner in Charles Saatchi “Sensation” exhibition, sold to David Zwirner for a skimpy $1,565,000 (est. $2-3 million).

    Perhaps most surprisingly, [lot 19] Keith Haring turned in a stellar and record setting result with his dark, acrylic and enamel paint on canvas with metal gromets composition, “Untitled (September 14, 1986),” that sold to private advisor Amy Cappellazzo for $4,869,000. Jeffrey Deitch was one of the underbidders.

    The various owners’ part of Sotheby’s marathon auction was another story, kicked off [lot 20] with the third-party guaranteed Jean-Michel Basquiat masterwork on five joined panels, “Undiscovered Genius of the Mississippi,” from 1983 that sold on a single bid for a remarkably modest $23,685,000 (estimate on request in excess of $20 million).

    The widely exhibited, mural scaled work at 49 by 185 ½ inches sold once before at auction, back at Sotheby’s New York in a November 1994 day sale for $265,000, but before the current seller acquired the work from dealer Tony Shafrazi.

    The richly referenced painting, certainly a tour-de-force in Basquiat’s short-lived oeuvre, was first exhibited posthumously at Vreg Bahoomian’s SoHo gallery in October 1989, before that dealer went bankrupt and disappeared. 

    The under-performing Basquiat seemed to have a curiously adverse effect on the sale’s atmosphere, as if someone sprinkled this isn’t a booming market anymore dust in the air-conditioning ducts.

    “It really felt like a different world,” said London dealer Pilar Ordovas, in describing the atmosphere as she exited the salesroom, “the  (lack of) energy of the room transmitted to the bidding.”

    “They started off with a roaring beginning,” said Jonathan Binstock of the Citi Private Bank art advisory group, “and then an inexplicable psychological funk settled over the room.”

    “The ambiance was really bad,” said Brussels dealer Mimmo Vedovi, who underbid the Sigmar Polke “Untitled” painting that made [lot 59] $,197,000, “and the estimates were too high. “

    Still, the sale soldiered on as another multi-panel work, Andy Warhol’s “Six Self Portraits” [lot 23] from 1986 and featuring the artist in his fright wig, with each panel scaled at 22 by 22 inches and bearing a different color, made the top lot price of $30,125,000, going to a telephone bidder (est. $25-35 million).

    The seller acquired it from one of Warhol’s last shows as a living artist at Anthony d’Offay in London in 1986.

    Still, it seemed like pulling teeth for usually based London auctioneer Oliver Barker to coax a $250,000 increment from the room and the banks of telephones.

    Another Warhol, the (lot 44) multi-color screened “Big Electric Chair” in acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas from 1967-68, bearing strong hues of blue, green and violet, realized $20,437,000, selling to dealer Alberto Mugrabi (est. $18-25 million).

    Though not identified as such, the seller is understood to be former hedge fund manager and well-known collector David Ganek.

    Another multi-panel Warhol, [lot 31] this appeared to be the night for them, “12 Mona Lisas (Reversal Series)” from 1980 and measuring 80 by 80 inches, sold on a single bid to a   telephone bidder for $11,365,000 (est. $10-15 million).

    It was last exhibited at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art in the exhibition “Wanted: Selected Works from the Mugrabi Collection” in August-December 2013, and it is safe to assume, beyond a reasonable doubt, the seller is Warhol patriarch Jose Mugrabi.

    It too was guaranteed.

    Since the art market’s recovery from the 2008 crash, the major auction houses have steadily increased their investment strategy of guaranteeing works for a chance to capture more of the upside, assuming their bets prove correct.

    Tonight, that strategy appeared to derail.

    For example, the sale was also represented with major Ab-Ex era and beyond works, as evidenced by Willem de Kooning’s [lot 27] gorgeous and juicy “Untitled” from circa 1975-77. But it bought in without a single bid (est. $18-25 million).

    Another de Kooning painting,  (lot 53) “Untitled XIII” from 1983, a late work and minimal in both the density and sparseness of the composition, sold  to a telephone bidder for $4,533,000 (est. $4-6 million).

    Another classic in the painting arena, Richard Diebenkorn’s’ (lot 39) sublime and light touched “Ocean Park #20” from 1969, from the artist’s most revered series, sold at what appeared to be a single telephone bid at $10,245,000 (est. $9-12 million).

    It was another Sotheby’s guaranteed entry.

    An evening sale during these frothy times wouldn’t be complete without at least one big and richly layered Gerhard Richter Abstraktes Bild and tonight was no exception as [lot 40] the massive, 118 1/8 by 118 1/8 inch “Blau” from 1988 hit $28,725,000, selling to another telephone bidder. San Francisco dealer Tony Meier was one of the underbidders (est. $25-35 million).

    It last sold at Sotheby’s New York in November 2002 for $2.2 million.

    Sculpture played a big role in the scheme of high end lots as Jeff Koons’ gleaming cover lot, “Popeye” (lot 34) from 2009-11 and cast in mirror polished stainless steel with transparent color coating, snared $28,165,000 (est. on request in the region of $).

    The 78 inch high cartoon familiar figure pumps his bulging bicep while his right hand holds an opened can of spinach sold to a telephone bidder identified after the sale by Sotheby’s as Las Vegas casino magnate/collector Steve Wynn.

    Though it looked like a big price, neither of Koons’ current dealers, Larry Gagosian nor David Zwirner, who were seated in the salesroom,  raised a bidding paddle.

    It too carried a Sotheby’s backed guarantee.

    A better known Koons, “Three Ball 50/50 Tank (Spalding Dr. JK Silver Series, Wilson Home Court, Wilson Final Four)” from 1985 and as described in the long title, bears three basketballs floating in a glass and steel tank filled with distilled water, failed to sell (est. $4-6 million).

    One wondered, what happened to the bidders?

     Of the more whimsical entries, Robert Rauschenberg’s  25 ¼ inch high mini “Combine” from circa 1954, executed in oil, charcoal, newspaper, canvas, fabric collage, light bulb and  (lot 42) two glass radiometers, all attached to a funky wooden structure, sold to Larry Gagosian for $5,765,000  (est. $5-7 million).

    It was sold to benefit the Paul Taylor Dance Foundation and as a prelude to the strange evening, four nimble dancers from that famous dance company, performed a tango/wrestling excerpt from “Piazzolla Caldera” at the front of the salesroom immediately before the auction took place.

    Back in the bidding action, (lot 37) Yves Klein’s stunning wall relief, “Relief eponge bleu (RE 51) from 1959 and saturated in the artist’s patented IKB pigment, sold for $16,965,000 (est. $15-20 million).

    Long marooned from evening sale action since his heydays in the 1980’s, (lot 72) Julian Schnabel’s three-part, broken plate painting opus, “800 Blows” from 1983 made a record $1,205,000 (est. $1-1.5 million).

    It carried a third party guarantee.

    After the sale, Alex Rotter, co-chairman of Sotheby’s contemporary art defended the sale and the health of the market, saying “it continues in a very solid way.”

    Pressed to elaborate about the evening, Rotter acknowledged “a fatigue set in” since it was the third consecutive evening sale of the week.

    The evening contemporary auction action plays a final act at Phillips on Thursday.  

    Jeff Koons's "Popeye," 2009-2011.

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