In the end, Google’s closeups intrude on the art experience

Just how wonderful is the new Google Art Project, which allows you to navigate through galleries of the world’s leading museums and get microscopically close to masterpieces such as Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night’’?
Like Google Earth, with its ability to spy on homes halfway around the world, Google Art Project uses technology that is initially astounding — and then weirdly disappointing. You are able to see the blue and gold brushstrokes of “The Starry Night’’ at greater proximity than Van Gogh himself. It’s exciting, for those who fetishize “the hand of the master,’’ to feel oneself so close to genius.
But we’re deluding ourselves if we think Van Gogh’s brilliance can be subdivided into pixels.
Launched Feb. 1, Google Art Project provides access to more than 385 rooms in 17 world-famous museums, including the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, the National Gallery in London, the Frick Collection in New York, the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, and the Palace of Versailles in France. (Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, which already offers sophisticated access to its collection online, is keen to get involved down the track.)
Google allows you to zoom in on super-high-resolution photographs of particular works of art — one in each museum. You can also see reproductions at lower resolutions of more than 1,000 other works in the participating museums. And using navigational tools similar to Google Street View, you can go on a virtual tour of dozens of the museums’ rooms.
Museums around the world are terribly excited, as are quite a few art critics.
Call me a curmudgeon, but I remain underwhelmed. It’s not just that Google’s interface is frustrating, or that the choice of viewing possibilities is constrained and seemingly arbitrary. It also strikes me as a classic case of not seeing the forest for the trees. Technology is getting confused with art in ways that do little to advance the cause of either.
If you live far from some of the world’s great museums — and we all do — Google Art Project can give you tantalizing glimpses of their galleries and of individual works of art. It’s exciting, for instance, to see the confident lightness of touch and the richness of color in Whistler’s “The Princess from the Land of Porcelain’’ in the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
Similarly, under magnification, the brush marks used for the rug that covers the table in Holbein’s great “The Ambassadors’’ in London’s National Gallery seem amazingly loose and uneven; so when you see what an impression of detailed exactitude they make at a distance, you can’t help but marvel.
But it is still much more interesting to see all these things up close with your own eyes.Continued...
Why? Because, to start with, human vision is binocular; digital photography is not. The human eye can grasp the thickness, weight, and texture of the yellow impasto Van Gogh used for the stars and moon in “The Starry Night’’ much more effectively than a camera.
What’s more, it is because your eyes are attached to your body with all its nerves and weight and appetites. They can rove around as they like, independent of the movements of a handheld mouse. They are sensitive to changing light conditions, to atmosphere, to space — in short, to what people like to call “aura.’’ All of this is what gives the experience of looking at art so much meaning and interest.
I’m not for a second suggesting that new technologies, from photography to the Internet, should be kept apart from museums and their art. As an art critic, I rely every day on art books and museum websites and the amazing ease and speed of Google Images.
The Google Art Project is one more development in this story and, at the very least, it is likely to increase the appetite of people to get off their padded swivel chairs and hightail it to a museum. (And that is exactly why some of the world’s leading museums have agreed to take part in the project.)
But in the end, art stands apart from — and is in many ways an antidote to — our contemporary tendency to succumb to techno-lust, our hang-up with “virtual’’ experience, maximum visibility, and infinite reproducibility. Art gains its kick from its palpable presence (ask any collector). It is about those immediate, untranslatable experiences that take place in our souls and not on a pixellated screen. At bottom, it is more concerned with what cannot be known, about what gets lost in shadows, than with what can be illuminated by means of higher and higher resolution and by multiplying phalanxes of pixels.
It’s interesting to compare Google Art Project to Google Earth. Speak to people in the high-tech world of mapping and they find Google Earth’s virtual travels almost laughably primitive.
It’s the same with Google Art Project. Art historians and conservators scrutinize paintings with X-radiography, infrared reflectography, ultraviolet illumination, laser scanning, and various kinds of examination under raking, specular, and transmitted light. What sort of secrets are they unlocking? Nerdy matters of attribution, technique, and dating, for the most part. Nothing to do with art. Their functions are important, their powers impressive, but with very few exceptions, their discoveries need not detain us. And the levels of magnification and detail provided by Google Art Project are nowhere near as sophisticated even as these established techniques.
Indeed, not for the first time, Google is getting credit here for promoting a newly presented version of technology that was already widely available. Hundreds of the world’s top museums, in addition to the MFA, already provide Web users with the ability to get up close to images of works in their collections. Some also provide 360-degree views of art objects or particular galleries.
So Google is simply aggregating, facilitating, popularizing. This is what they do.
They do it very well, of course, and we’ve seen in the world of news and information that relatively simple innovations can have huge and profound consequences. So why am I skeptical about the ultimate impact of Google Art Project?
Because I don’t believe it answers to what people really want from art, or, indeed, from art museums.
Every year, millions of people go to art museums all around the world. This, despite the fact that almost every popular work of art will come up on your computer if you type its title into Google Images. They go for any number of reasons, from looking at art to hooking up.
But one thing almost all the reasons have in common is that it gets people away from their computer screens.
Sebastian Smee can be reached at

LA museum, Getty get Mapplethorpe art, archives

(AP) – 2 days ago

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Robert Mapplethorpe's nude photos changed history and his portraits captured history. Now his art and archives are headed to Los Angeles where a pair of museums will preserve it all.
Two thousand Mapplethorpe photographs and his archives have been jointly acquired by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the J. Paul Getty Trust.
Valued at more than $30 million, the bulk of the works will come from the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation in New York. It was obtained with donations from The David Geffen Foundation and the Getty trust, the museums said in a joint statement.
"It's one of last great analog archives because so much is being shot digitally now," said Sean Kelly, owner of the Sean Kelly Gallery, which represents the Mapplethorpe Foundation in the Americas.
Mapplethorpe became a symbol for artistic freedom after he died of AIDS at the age of 42 in March of 1989.
In June of that year, a Mapplethorpe exhibit at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington was canceled because a high ranking senator considered some of the photos obscene. There was an effort by Congress to limit federal funds for the arts.
In 1990, a grand jury indicted the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati and director Dennis Barrie on obscenity charges for showing Mapplethorpe's work. Both were acquitted after a trial that focused on the use of public money to support art that some considered obscene.
Critics objected to photos that showed oral sex, bondage and homosexual fondling.
The year before he died, Mapplethorpe started his foundation to promote photography, support museums that exhibit photographic art and to fund research into HIV and AIDS.
His foundation biography says: "In the late 70s, Mapplethorpe grew increasingly interested in documenting the New York S&M scene. The resulting photographs are shocking for their content and remarkable for their technical and formal mastery."
Mapplethorpe told the ARTnews in late 1988: "I don't like that particular word shocking. I'm looking for the unexpected. I'm looking for things I've never seen before . I was in a position to take those pictures. I felt an obligation to do them," the biography says.
There have been over 200 solo Mapplethorpe exhibitions around the world since 1977 and his foundation has donated millions to AIDS research.
"His legacy is absolutely enormous and it's only growing in stature as the years go by," Kelly said. "This acquisition is an indication of how important Mapplethorpe is and the critical position he occupies in recent contemporary art."
The acquisition consists of more than 2,000 works by Mapplethorpe, including several 20-by-24 inch Polaroid photos, works of art from his contemporaries and personal correspondence, the museums said.
There are over 200 drawings, hand-painted collages and assemblages, 120,000 negatives with 6,000 related contact sheets, Mapplethorpe's 1978 film "Still Moving" and a 1984 video titled "Lady."
There will still be a large number of Mapplethorpe photos available for sale around the world. Kelly said he has a big show planned at his gallery in May. There are also a large number of Mapplethorpe photos at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.
At some point, the number of prints that can be legally made from each negative will run out, Kelly said, "but it's unlikely that will happen anytime soon."
It's the first time the J. Paul Getty Museum and LACMA have joined forces to acquire a collection.
The Getty obtained museum curator Sam Wagstaff's collection in 1984.
Artist Lowell Nesbitt told The Associated Press in 1990 that Wagstaff was Mapplethorpe's mentor and benefactor. "He introduced Mapplethorpe to what were the most advanced forms of art going on in the United States at that time. He probably helped develop Mapplethorpe's very personal eye and incredible ability to use light, which was somewhat prophetic," Nesbitt said.
Wagstaff, who died two years before Mapplethorpe, gave Mapplethorpe a Hasselblad 500 in 1975. With that camera, he captured the S&M subculture around New York.
The LACMA part of the purchase was made possible by a donation from the Geffen foundation. In a statement issued by the museums, Geffen called Mapplethorpe "one of the most significant artists of the 20th century."
So how did the collection end up in Los Angeles?
Mapplethorpe Foundation president Michael Ward Stout said he was in Los Angeles three years ago visiting LACMA chief executive Michael Govan. The men were colleagues when Govan was deputy director of the Guggenheim.
Stout said he was talking about finding a home for the collection, and Govan asked "Why not us?" That's all it took.
And does this mean Mapplethorpe has changed coasts?
That's a resounding no, Kelly said. "He's getting a second home in Los Angeles. He's still a New Yorker. His foundation remains in New York. He's going to live bi-coastally."

Brown University to open new $40M arts building

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Brown University’s new $40 million Granoff Center for the Creative Arts was built around the concept of collaboration, including venues for performances and art exhibits, as well as classroom space for subjects as varied as robotics and music. The Ivy League school celebrates the center’s opening on Thursday.

Richard Fishman, a sculptor and professor of visual art at Brown, who was involved in the building’s development, said school officials hoped to bring people together with the building’s design.
"The arts touching out into all the areas of the university: science, technology and the humanities. That’s what it’s about," he said.
The 38,815-square-foot, three-story concrete and steel building is covered in zinc on three sides. Its facade is mostly made up of windows that look out onto a green swath of the Brown campus where there is space to display art. Inside, the building is split vertically down the middle by glass, and floors on either side are offset half a story so people can look diagonally up or down and see what’s happening in adjacent spaces.
Architect Charles Renfro, of the New York-based firm Diller Scofidio and Renfro, said the designers wanted the building to engage the public life of the university. They also hoped to make it available to the surrounding community.
"Unlike a lot of the buildings at Brown, it’s a very public building," Renfro said. "It’s about production and presentation."
The building sits along one of Providence’s main thoroughfares, Angell Street, making it easily accessible to the public. A back entrance along Angell opens to a small courtyard, adjacent to a cafe, and there are plans to put tables and chairs there, Renfro said. From there, people will be able to see art displayed on a large wall through the building’s windows.
In the front of the building, there is an outdoor amphitheater wired for sound and with a movie screen, which can be used for performances and summertime movies. It looks through windows into a 218-seat recital hall, which Renfro calls the jewel of the building. It was designed to accommodate many kinds of performances, from lectures to music.
From the auditorium, which sits at the lowest point of the building, one can look up into the building’s first floor Cohen Gallery, its main space for displaying art. On view until March 20 is Loop, an exhibition by the sculptor Julianne Swartz, who uses commonplace materials and technology, such as electrical wires and mirrors, in her work. It is free and open to the public, as will be all future exhibits.
Those who look up from the gallery will see into the Physical Media Lab, a shop space that can be used for activities such as robotics or other work. In January, it began hosting its first class: experimental musical instrument design.
Diagonally above the Physical Media Lab is another classroom space, a Media Lab, for computer production. Across from and above that lab are two studios that can be used for a variety of art forms, such as dance or visual media.
The building also boasts a recording studio. In the back of the building are smaller project studios designed for individual, rather than collective, work.
The building’s many windows can be covered with blinds or shades to create privacy, or to save energy during the summer. The school hopes to attain gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, program.
Renfro said he sees the building as "open source," a term most often heard in reference to software that can be changed and improved by users, because of the many possibilities in how to use the space and the nature of the work students and faculty will be engaged in there. Fishman said it’s still a work in progress that will evolve as people use it.

The Work of Art in the Age of Google

If art is among your full-blown obsessions or just a budding interest, Google, which has already altered the collective universe in so many ways, changed your life last week. It unveiled its Art Project, a Web endeavor that offers easy, if not yet seamless, access to some of the art treasures and interiors of 17 museums in the United States and Europe.
It is very much a work in progress, full of bugs and information gaps, and sometimes blurry, careering virtual tours. But it is already a mesmerizing, world-expanding tool for self-education. You can spend hours exploring it, examining paintings from far off and close up, poking around some of the world’s great museums all by your lonesome. I have, and my advice is: Expect mood swings. This adventure is not without frustrations.
On the virtual tour of the Uffizi in Florence the paintings are sometimes little more than framed smudges on the wall. (The Dürer room: don’t go there.) But you can look at Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” almost inch by inch. It’s nothing like standing before the real, breathing thing. What you see is a very good reproduction that offers the option to pore over the surface with an adjustable magnifying rectangle. This feels like an eerie approximation, at a clinical, digital remove, of the kind of intimacy usually granted only to the artist and his assistants, or conservators and preparators.
There are high-resolution images of more than 1,000 artworks in the Art Project ( and virtual tours of several hundred galleries and other spaces inside the 17 participating institutions. In addition each museum has selected a single, usually canonical work — like the Botticelli “Venus” — for star treatment. These works have been painstakingly photographed for super-high, mega-pixel resolution. (Although often, to my eye, the high-resolution version seems as good as the mega-pixel one.)
The Museum of Modern Art selected van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” and you can see not only the individual colors in each stroke, but also how much of the canvas he left bare. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s star painting is Bruegel’s “Harvesters,” with its sloping slab of yellow wheat and peasants lunching in the foreground. Deep in the background is a group of women skinny-dipping in a pond that I had never noticed before.
In the case of van Gogh’s famous “Bedroom,” the star painting chosen by the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, I was able to scrutinize the five framed artworks depicted on the chamber’s walls: two portraits, one still life and two works, possibly on paper, that are so cursory they look like contemporary abstractions. And I was enthralled by the clarity of the star painting of the National Gallery in London, Hans Holbein’s “Ambassadors,” and especially by the wonderful pile of scientific instruments — globes, sun dials, books — that occupy the imposing two-tiered stand flanked by the two young gentlemen.
Google maintains that, beyond details you may not have noticed before, you can see things not normally visible to the human eye. And it is probably true. I could make out Bruegel’s distant bathers when I visited the Met for a comparison viewing, but not the buttocks of one skinny-dipper, visible above the waves using the Google zoom. Still, the most unusual aspects of the experience are time, quiet and stasis: you can look from a seated position in the comfort of your own home or office cubicle, for as long as you want, without being jostled or blocked by other art lovers.
At the same time the chance to look closely at paintings, especially, as made things, really to study the way artists construct an image on a flat surface, is amazing, and great practice for looking at actual works. And while the Internet makes so much in our world more immediate, it is still surprising to see what it can accomplish with the subtle physicality of painting, whether it is the nervous, fractured, tilting brush strokes of Cezanne’s “Château Noir” from 1903-4, at the Museum of Modern Art, or the tiny pelletlike dots that make up most of Chris Ofili’s “No Woman No Cry” from about a century later at the Tate Modern in London (the only postwar work among the 17 mega-pixel stars).
The Ofili surface also involves collaged images of Stephen Lawrence, whose 1993 murder in London became a turning point in Britain’s racial politics; along with scatterings of glitter that read like minuscule, oddly cubic bits of gold and silver; and three of those endlessly fussed-over clumps of elephant dung, carefully shellacked and in two cases beaded with the word No. Take a good look and see how benign they really are. (You can also see the painting glow in the dark, revealing the lines “R.I.P./Stephen Lawrence/1974-1993.”)
Another innovation of the Art Project is Google’s adaptation of its Street View program for indoor use. This makes it possible, for example, to navigate through several of the spacious salons at Versailles gazing at ceiling murals — thanks to the 360-degree navigation — or to get a sharper, more immediate sense than any guidebook can provide of the light, layout and ambience of the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. It also means that if your skill set is shaky, you can suddenly be 86’ed from the museum onto the street, as I was several times while exploring the National Gallery. Keep in mind that usually only a few of the many, many works encountered on a virtual tour are available for high-res or super-high-res viewing. And those few aren’t always seen in situ, hanging in a gallery. The architectural mise-en-scène is the main event of the virtual tours in most cases, from the Uffizi’s long, grand hallways to the gift shop of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the modest galleries of the Kampa Museum in Prague, where the star paintings is Frantisek Kupka’s 1912-13 “Cathedral,” the only abstraction among what could be called the Google 17.
The Art Project has been hailed as a great leap forward in terms of the online art experience, which seems debatable, since most museums have spent at least the last decade — and quite a bit of money — developing Web access to works in their collections. On the site of the National Gallery, for example, you can examine the lush surface of Velázquez’s “Rokeby Venus” with a zoom similar to the Art Project’s. Still, Google offers a distinct and extraordinary benefit in its United Nations-like gathering of different collections under one technological umbrella, enabling easy online travel among them.
When you view a work by one artist at one museum, clicking on the link “More works by this artist” will produce a list of all the others in the Art Project system. But some fine-tuning is needed here. Sometimes the link is missing, and sometimes it links only to other works in that museum. Other tweaks to consider: including the dates of the works on all pull-down lists, and providing measurements in inches as well as centimeters.
Despite the roster of world-class museums, there are notable omissions: titans like the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, the Prado in Madrid and the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, not to mention most major American museums, starting with the National Gallery in Washington. Without specifying who turned it down, Google says that many museums were approached, that 17 signed on, and that it hopes to add more as the project develops.
This implies an understandable wait-and-see attitude from many institutions, including some of the participants. The Museum of Modern Art, for example, has made only one large gallery available — the large room of French Post-Impressionist works that kicks off its permanent collection displays — along with 17 paintings that are all, again, examples of 19th-century Post-Impressionism. (Oh, and you can wander around the lobby.)
On first glance this seems both unmodern in focus and a tad miserly, given that several museums offer more than 100 works and at least 15 galleries. But MoMA is being pragmatic. According to Kim Mitchell, the museum’s chief communications officer , the 17 paintings “are among the few in our collection that do not raise the copyright-related issues that affect so many works of modern and contemporary art.” In other words, if and when the Art Project is a clear success, the Modern will decide if it wants to spend the time and money to secure permission for Picasso’s “Demoiselles d’Avignon” and the like to appear on it.
This might also hold true for the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid, which owns Picasso’s “Guernica,” but has so far limited its participation primarily to 13 paintings by the Cubist Juan Gris and 35 photographs from the Spanish Civil War. Needless to say, the works and galleries that each museum has selected for the first round of the Art Project makes for some interesting institutional psychoanalysis.
From where I sit Google’s Art Project looks like a bandwagon everyone should jump on. It makes visual knowledge more accessible, which benefits us all.
In many ways this new Google venture is simply the latest phase of simulation that began with the invention of photography, which is when artworks first acquired second lives as images and in a sense, started going viral. These earlier iterations — while never more than the next best thing — have been providing pleasure for more than a century through art books, as postcards, posters and art-history-lecture slides. For all that time they have been the next best thing to being there. Now the next best thing has become better, even if it will never be more than next best.

Russian Buyers’ Spending Spree Boosts $137 Million U.K. Auction

Russian buyers went on a shopping spree at a London auction last night that raised 84.9 million pounds ($136.6 million).

Collectors from the former Soviet Union bid a total of more than 20 million pounds for works by 20th-century artists such as Pierre Bonnard and Rene Magritte at Christie’s International.
“It’s shopping,” Guy Jennings, partner in the London- based dealership Theobald Jennings, said in an interview. “These are colorful works that will look good in a house in the Cote d’Azur. This market is driven by Western-based Russians and new European money. The rise in commodity prices has made a difference to them.”
Trophy-quality Impressionist and modern pieces are in demand after making up 7 out of the 10 priciest lots at auction last year. Some collectors have been helped by higher commodity values, with the Standard & Poor’s GSCI Spot Index up 34 percent in the last year.
Sandra Nedvetskaia, a Zurich-based Christie’s employee who looks after Russian clients, gave a winning phone bid of 7.2 million pounds for the 1923 Bonnard landscape, “Terrasse a Vernon.” The price with fees, the highest of the evening, was more than double the low estimate and a record for the artist.
Nedvetskaia’s bidders gave a further 4.7 million pounds for Magritte’s 1941 painting of a nude woman, “L’aimant,” and 3.1 million pounds for Kees van Dongen’s 1926 portrait of the fur- coated actress, Lili Damita, which doubled its low estimate.

Russian Favorite
A 1912 landscape by Russian favorite Natalia Goncharova was bought for 4 million pounds and Andre Derain’s 1905 Fauvist landscape “Bateaux a Collioure” for 5.9 million pounds by the same bidder represented by Thomas Seydoux, Christie’s head of Impressionist and modern art.
Forty-nine percent of the auction’s buyers were from continental Europe (including Russia), 23 percent from the U.K., 23 percent from the U.S. and 5 percent from Asia, said Christie’s.
Decorative paintings attracted competition, particularly if fresh to the market. An 1896 Edgar Degas drawing of dancers, “Danseuse jupes jaunes (Deux danseuses en jaune),” had been in the same private European collection since 1899. It sold for 5.4 million pounds, beating a top estimate of 5 million pounds.

The 31-lot Surrealist section raised a record 23 million pounds with a new auction high of 4.1 million pounds paid on the telephone for Salvador Dali’s 1926 painting, “Study for ‘Honey is Sweeter than Blood,’” influenced by his friend the poet Federico Garcia Lorca. Never offered at auction before, it was estimated at as much as 3 million pounds.

Brown Sunflowers

The one high-value disappointment was Paul Gauguin’s 1901 study of sunflowers in a vase painted in Tahiti as a tribute to his friend Vincent van Gogh. “Nature morte a ‘L’Esperance’” failed to attract any bids against a low estimate of 7 million pounds. The brown color of the painting put off buyers, dealers said.
Four works sold for 10.1 million pounds to raise acquisition funds for the Art Institute of Chicago.
Christie’s estimated its 76 lots would fetch at least 72.6 million pounds at hammer prices. Seventy-nine percent of the works were successful, with 23 lots selling for more than 1 million pounds. The equivalent event last year totaled 76.8 million pounds, also boosted by Russian demand.
(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

Le Maitre d'Ecole

"Le Maitre d'Ecole"

"Le Maitre d'Ecole" (1955) by Rene Magritte. The work was included in Sotheby's Feb. 8 auction of Impressionist and modern art in London. Last seen on the market in 1988, it sold for 2.5 million pounds, beating an estimate of 800,000 pounds to 1.2 million pounds.

Alberto Giacometti

Giacometti Bronze

The 1957 Alberto Giacometti bronze "Grand buste de Diego avec bras," a sculpture of the Swiss-Italian artist's brother. The work failed to sell at a London auction.

Picasso’s Mistress Makes $40.5 Million as Art Buyers Get Choosy

"La Lecture"

A Pablo Picasso painting of his mistress last night sold for 25.2 million pounds ($40.5 million) as highly valued artworks attracted selective bidding.

“La Lecture” was estimated to make 12 million pounds to 18 million pounds at Sotheby’s in London. Ten of the 42 Impressionist and modern lots failed to sell, including a bronze by Alberto Giacometti.
“The auction did all right, not great,’’ the London-based dealer Alan Hobart of the Pyms Gallery said in an interview. “The auction houses are struggling to find the goods. Rich collectors are hanging on to their art. Once prices are driven up, the market becomes more discriminating.”
Classic works by modern artists with reputations such as Picasso are attracting investment-conscious new buyers from the emerging economies of Russia, Asia and the Middle East, said dealers. Choosy bidders held back on other lots, in contrast with the equivalent event last year, which raised twice as much, boosted by the record 65 million pounds for another Giacometti bronze.
The oil-on-panel Picasso portrait of his blonde muse Marie- Therese Walter asleep in a chair with a book on her lap was bought on the telephone by Mark Poltimore, deputy chairman of Sotheby’s Europe, who acts for Russian clients. There were seven bidders “from around the world,’’ said Helena Newman, Sotheby’s European chairman of Impressionist and modern art.
The work, entered by an American collector, dates from 1932, the same year as Picasso’s Walter-inspired “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust,” which fetched $106.5 million -- a record for any work of art at auction -- at Christie’s International in New York in May last year.

Mistress Meeting
Picasso was 45 and Walter 17 when they met outside a Paris subway station in 1927. She was his mistress from 1927 to about 1935 when he was married to Olga Khokhlova.
A 1923 head-and-shoulders oil portrait of Khokhlova sold to a telephone bidder for 1.7 million pounds, just missing a high estimate of 1.8 million pounds.
Giacometti’s 1957 bronze portrait of his younger brother, “Grand buste de Diego avec bras,” estimated at 3.5 million pounds to 5 million pounds, failed to sell because of its pale color, according to dealers.
Marino Marini’s 1955 bronze of a mounted horseman, “L’Idea del Cavaliere,” carried a low estimate of 3.7 million pounds, reflecting the artist record of 4.5 million pounds paid for another sculpture at Christie’s Frieze Week sale in October.
One of three lots guaranteed by an irrevocable bid, it attracted negligible competition and was sold for 4.2 million pounds to David Norman, a Sotheby’s New York-based specialist.

Magritte Moon
Rene Magritte’s 1955 painting “Le Maitre d’Ecole,” showing a crescent moon hanging above his bowler-hatted alter ego, fetched 2.5 million pounds, beating a top estimate of 1.2 million pounds, and setting an auction record for a work on paper by the artist. It attracted three phone bidders. Telephones bidders dominated the evening, with about six lots falling to buyers in the room.
The auction raised 68.8 million pounds with fees against presale estimates of 55.6 million pounds to 79.3 million pounds, based on hammer prices. Successful buyers hailed from 11 different countries, Newman said. Last year’s 39-lot event raised 146.8 million pounds.
(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

Court denies heirs' claims over stolen WWII art

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A federal appeals court has dismissed claims against the German government by heirs of an art dealer whose collection was seized by the Nazis and sold at auction during World War II.

Fred Westfield, a retired Nashville professor, filed the federal lawsuit seeking payment for the art and tapestry collection belonging to his uncle Walter Westfeld, a German art dealer in the 1930s.
According to the lawsuit, Westfeld attempted to send his art collection to Tennessee, where his brother lived, but Nazi officials seized and sold off the collection. Westfeld later died in the Auschwitz death camp in Poland. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeal ruled Wednesday that the claims against the German government were beyond its jurisdiction.

As art market booms, some see the risk of bust

- At the top end of the art market, the financial crisis seems a distant memory -- surging prices saw Christie's and Sotheby's post impressive 2010 results that were back to, or above pre-crisis levels.

Yet while the market leaders are confident the recovery from 2009's deep slump can be sustained, the prospect of speculative money pouring into art, driven partly by rich Chinese investors, increases the risk of boom and bust, some analysts believe.

"This bull market trend could go on for some time, supported by China's rising class of super-wealthy, but eventually the bubble will burst, as it did in Japan in the early 90s and the global art market crash in 2008," ArtTactic said in its latest analysis of the contemporary art market.

"Too much speculative money will push art prices beyond their long-term, intrinsic art historic value, and it will become a game of who's the Greatest Fool."

The research company said it believed more "hot" money, lured by recent spectacular gains, would enter not only emerging markets but also established Western markets too, with Andy Warhol paintings a prime candidate for further speculation.

"We will experience mini-booms and busts more frequently than in the past as speculators move in and out of different markets trying to cash in on the latest trend," ArtTactic said.

"We see 2011 being the start of this new era, where art is increasingly moving from a collectable asset towards a financial asset."


Over the next two weeks in London, the two big auctioneers are offering works worth around $650 million at impressionist and modern, surreal, and post-war and contemporary art sales.

While New York is still the art market hub, London is not far behind and an increasingly international client base, plus the rise of internet bidding, means the February sales should give a fair picture of the state of the global art market.

Jussi Pylkkanen, president of Christie's Europe, said he was confident going into 2011 that the strength of the market was sustainable and that there was room for further growth.

The number of new clients who registered for a sale at the world's largest auction house last year rose 23 percent on 2009, and the number of people who bought an item was up 13 percent.

"It's that rise of new registrants which really for me signals both sustainability and actually further potential growth," he told Reuters in a recent interview.

"This new influx of buyers ... continues to grow, and that really is the vital piece for me," he added. "I am very comfortable that it is sustainable."

As long as prices remain high, experts argue, top quality works will continue to come on to the market, creating a cycle that is vital to the market's future expansion. A knock in confidence hits supply just as much as demand, they add.

Christie's posted record annual sales of 3.3 billion pounds ($5 billion) in 2010, up 53 percent on 2009. Sotheby's boasted an auction total, not including private sales, of $4.3 billion in 2010 versus $2.3 billion in 2009.

The next test for the market comes on Feb. 8 at Sotheby's, with impressionist and modern works worth 56-79 million pounds going under the hammer. Among its star lots is Pablo Picasso's "La Lecture" of 1932 valued at 12-18 million pounds.

The following evening, Christie's opens its account at an auction valued at 55-81 million pounds (excluding surreal works) that includes a still life by Paul Gauguin in tribute to Vincent Van Gogh estimated to fetch 7-10 million pounds.

It was at the equivalent sales in 2010 that Sotheby's broke the auction record when a Giacometti statue raised $104.3 million. Months later, Christie's sold Picasso's "Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust" for $106.5 million in New York.

(Reporting by Mike Collett-White)