News
$150 Million Modigliani Sets Auction Estimate Record—and the 9 Other Biggest News Stories This Week

01  A Modigliani nude at Sotheby’s is expected to sell for above $150 million, the highest pre-sale estimate in auction history.

(via Sotheby’s)
On Tuesday in Hong Kong, Sotheby’s staged a dramatic reveal of this auction season’s star lot: ’s Nu couché (sur le côté gauche) (1917). The piece, one of only a few of the artist’s reclining nudes left in private hands, will hit the block during Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern evening sale in New York on May 14th. The $150 million estimate is guaranteed by an irrevocable bid, insuring that the work will not go without a buyer. The piece could smash the current Modigliani record, set in 2015 when Liu Yiqian, the Chinese taxi driver-turned-billionaire investor, snagged Nu Couché (Reclining Nude) (1917–18) for $170.4 million at Christie’s New York. Yiqian paid with his American Express Centurion Card. The consignor of Nu couché (sur le côté gauche) is reportedly horse breeder John Magnier. When the work was last sold at Christie’s in November 2003, four bidders propelled it to a final price of $26.8 million, above the $25 million estimate. Magnier emerged the ultimate winner in that bidding war, the Irish Times and The Telegraph both reported. At the time, Carol Vogel of the New York Times identified the seller as Vegas casino tycoon Steve Wynn, who had bought it privately in the mid-1990s for almost $10 million more than the selling price.

02  One progressive collective and three solo artists have been shortlisted for the Turner Prize.

The prize, given annually to an artist who is either British or working in Britain, is one of the most prestigious in the art world. Last year the accolade went to , the first woman of color to win, while in the past, the prize has spurred the ascendancy of recipients such as , , and . This year, The Guardian writes that the nominees include Forensic Architecture, a multidisciplinary 16-strong research firm committed to social justice, which made a splash at last year’s Documenta in Kassel, Germany. There, the group presented a video work based on an investigation into a series of xenophobic murders by a far-right terrorist organization that occurred between 2000 and 2011. Forensic Architecture is the odds-on favorite to win, with the betting house William Hill naming them the 13/8 favorite to take home the prize. Other nominees include artists , , and , all of whom were recognized for work that is either outwardly or subtly political in nature. All of those shortlisted will show at Tate Britain from September to January, and the winner, who will also receive a £25,000 award, will be announced in December.

03  Ai Weiwei took a selfie with a far-right German politician, and defended the act after criticism mounted.

(via Frieze)
Alice Weidel, a member of the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party in German parliament, went up to at a restaurant in Berlin, identified herself as a government figure, and asked if she could take a selfie. Ai agreed, and Weidel posted the resulting snapshot to Twitter last week, with a caption reading, “#AiWeiwei is in the capital!!!! I almost did not dare ask him for a selfie ;-).” Immediately, fans began to ask why Ai, who is a vocal activist on behalf of refugees around the world, publicly appeared with a politician who has called immigrants “illiterate.” Weidel’s AfD party is fiercely right-wing, and other members have called a Holocaust memorial a “monument of shame” and deemed work in Documenta 14 that calls for more open borders “ideologically polarizing, deformed art.” But in a statement to Frieze, Ai said Weidel fully explained who she was when she approached him in the Berlin restaurant, and even then he agreed to take a selfie. “I don’t believe that differences in political views or values between people should act as a barrier in communication,” he said in the statement. He added that he applauded Weidel’s forthrightness in just coming up to him in a restaurant, saying she “shows an openness to differences in political agendas.”

04  A U.S. appeals court issued a scathing opinion finally dismissing the famous monkey selfie lawsuit.

(via The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals)
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found that non-humans do not have standing to sue for copyright infringement in a ruling handed down Monday, dealing a major blow to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). The animal rights group sued photographer David Slater in 2015 for copyright infringement over a selfie taken by a monkey using Slater’s equipment. PETA claimed that Naruto, the monkey, owned the rights to the photo. Slater and PETA reached a settlement earlier this year, with both parties then moving to dismiss the case—a beneficial outcome for PETA, which wanted to end the suit in a way that avoided unfavorable precedent. But the Ninth Circuit took the remarkable step of refusing to dismiss the suit last week so the U.S. appeals court could issue a ruling. Reading the opinion, it is clear why. Judge Carlos Bea, writing for a three-judge panel, not only found that Naruto lacked standing to sue, but excoriated PETA, which was representing the animal, for settling and then attempting to dismiss the suit. As it is put in the decision, “In the wake of PETA’s proposed dismissal, Naruto is left without an advocate, his supposed ‘friend’ having abandoned Naruto’s substantive claims in what appears to be an effort to prevent the publication of a decision adverse to PETA’s institutional interests.”

05  Real estate developer and art collector Michael Shvo will pay $3.5 million after pleading guilty to tax evasion.

The commercial art world’s two least favorite words might be “tax probe.” Manhattan prosecutors indicted Shvo for fraud in 2016, alleging the collector failed to pay $1 million in state and city taxes due on purchases of luxury goods, artworks, and a Ferrari. Shvo plead not guilty at the time, but prosecutors announced on Friday that he changed his plea to guilty and is required to pay $3.5 million as part of the plea agreement. Shvo admitted to making false representations of where art and other goods should be shipped, and also came clean about providing out-of-state addresses to auction houses and galleries to avoid New York taxes. “Michael Shvo’s brand of tax evasion was an art form unto itself,” Manhattan district attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., said in a statement. But Shvo is not the only collector ensnared by recent investigations into the non-payment of sales tax related to art purchases. Around the same time Shvo was first charged, New York attorney general Eric T. Schneiderman secured settlements in a pair of similar tax investigations, with collector Aby Rosen paying $7 million and Gagosian Gallery paying $4.2 million as part of settlements tied to the cases. The lesson here: understand (and pay) sales and use tax.

06  Documenta announced a new director who will chart the quinquennial out of troubled financial waters.

(via Documenta)
Sabine Schormann will take up the leadership position from Wolfgang Orthmayr, who served as Documenta’s interim director, when she moves to Documenta’s home base of Kassel, Germany, this autumn. Schormann previously served as the manager of two significant arts trusts in northern Germany, which required her to manage a combined €5 million yearly budget. Such experience will come in handy, as Schormann will inherit the difficult legacy of Documenta 14, curated by Adam Szymczyk, which ran a €7 million deficit that resulted in the removal of then-CEO Annette Kulenkampff. The widespread criticism of Szymczyk and his team strained relations with Documenta’s artists, who uniformly defended the event’s curatorial vision in a series of open letters, and the exhibition’s top officials hope Schormann’s appointment can turn a page. “Now we have the opportunity to bring Documenta up to date and strengthen it lastingly,” Christian Geselle, Kassel’s mayor and chairman of Documenta’s supervisory board, said in a statement accompanying the announcement. Schormann faces the challenging task of rebuilding creative trust in the quinquennial and stewarding its finances ahead of the next edition, slated for 2022. Among her first tasks will be appointing the artistic director of Documenta 15.

07  Frida Kahlo’s relatives won a temporary injunction barring sales of a Barbie doll modeled after the artist in Mexico.

(via the BBC)
The toy company Mattel created a Barbie doll of the late Mexican artist for their series of “Inspiring Women.” But a court in Mexico ruled on Thursday that the Kahlo-esque Barbies cannot be sold in the country, at least temporarily. The decision comes after Kahlo’s great-niece, Mara de Anda Romeo, argued that Mattel never received the necessary rights to use Kahlo’s image for its series. During the dispute, Romeo’s lawyer said that his client was not seeking money, but asking that Mattel redesign the doll, which features a lighter skin color, fairer eyes, thinner unibrow, and more able-bodied figure than that of the actual artist. The BBC reported that Romeo was “thrilled” with the decision and that the family intends to take similar legal action in the U.S. Lawyers for Mattel have yet to comment on the decision, or announce if they will appeal.

08  The founder and director of Basel’s Liste art fair will retire after two decades at the helm.

(via Liste)
Peter Bläuer has served as director of Liste since starting the fair for young galleries in 1996. But on Wednesday, Liste announced that Bläuer will be stepping down from his position. The fair will also transition to a non-profit model, allowing it to continue running each year in its longtime home, a former brewery in Basel. In a release, Liste representatives said that the fair will maintain “strict standards of quality to support new international galleries and their as yet relatively unknown artists.” A six-member panel will convene to search for Bläuer’s replacement, which is expected to be announced in August, after the next edition of the fair opens June 11th. A job listing said candidates should be “connected with the international art scene” and “familiar with the mechanisms of the art market,” and that they must be a native German speaker who can also converse fluently in English.

09  An Italian museum director has to stand trial for “absenteeism” from the job due to daytime gym visits.

Government authorities in Rome hired agents to tail Anna Coliva, the director of the state-funded museum Galleria Borghese, after receiving an anonymous tip she was sometimes absent from her post. Authorities did discover that, on occasion, Coliva would clock in to work before going to the gym, The Art Newspaper reported. Her total time away the office was 41 hours over 12 days, investigators found. But an attorney for the embattled director argued Coliva has worked more than enough overtime to compensate for any hours spent outside the office. Indeed, the museum has thrived under her leadership: A recent show of sculptures brought in €2.5 million in ticket sales. Still, a judge decided to take up a case against Coliva on the charges of absenteeism and recklessness with public funds, and she has been suspended without pay. The Art Newspaper came down hard on the side of the director—the outlet calls the case “the latest shocking tale of bureaucratic ineptitude in Italy”—and her colleagues chimed in on her behalf as well. Anna Lo Bianco, the former director of the Palazzo Barberini, insisted that the Galleria Borghese during Coliva’s term at the helm “has not been equalled by any other institution in Italy.”

10  David Zwirner floated a “tax” on mega-galleries to subsidize fair costs—but the proposal is, for now, purely hypothetical.

(via the New York Times)
Zwirner proposed the rathery lofty idea—that large galleries might pay more for fair booths in order to subsidize costs for smaller galleries—during a conversation at the New York Times Art Leaders Network in Berlin. The New York Times reported the mega-gallerist did get some ad hoc support from gallerist Elizabeth Dee and Marc Glimcher, president of Pace, who was in the audience. When asked from the stage if he was in on the plan, Glimcher responded, “Let’s do it!” Zwirner is perhaps the most prominent member of the art world’s upper echelons to suggest a financial remedy to the widely-reported economic squeeze being felt by mid-tier galleries. “It’s not good that a few galleries are getting more and more market share and the younger galleries are having a harder time to compete,” Zwirner said. While Zwirner has galleries across the world, including in Hong Kong’s glitzy new H Queens tower, he and other mega-dealers depend on emerging galleries to foster the younger talent. But those smaller institutions suffer when their breadwinners depart for bigger galleries. While most acknowledge there is something wrong with the art market ecosystem, implementing solutions remains a question of design and will. Marc Spiegler, the global director of Art Basel, said he had “no issue” with “helping the younger galleries at the fair,” but that it would be difficult to conjure a remedy, and any solution would ultimately depend on how many big galleries wished to participate.

Cover image: Amedeo Modigliani, Nu couché (sur le côté gauche), 1917.Photo courtesy Sotheby's.