Tax Probe Hits Art World—and the 9 Other Biggest News Stories This Week
Catch up on the latest art news with our rundown of the 10 stories you need to know this week.
01 The fifth edition of Frieze New York opened to VIPs on Wednesday morning, featuring over 200 galleries from 31 countries.
The galleries filled the fair’s iconic, curving tent on Randall’s Island. This year, as if to spite the gloomy weather, the fair entrance is outfitted with a giant, jovial, diaper-wearing parade balloon by Alex Da Corte, Free Money. Part of the fair’s Projects sector, the balloon beckoned collectors into Frieze’s aisles as the clock struck 11. Whether Frieze’s strong opening day sales can defy the general art market slowdown observed across fairs this spring remains to be seen. However, Frieze New York’s ongoing push toward a more boutique and regionally expansive experience in Frame and the greater historical depth provided in Spotlight chart a compelling path forward for the five-year-old fair.
02 New York State authorities have launched a tax probe into art transactions, already reaching two major settlements.
The settlements come amid rumors of a larger investigation by the office of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman into sales and use taxes paid by collectors and dealers on works of art (under the current statute, such taxes need not be paid if the works are intended for resale). Schneiderman announced that Aby Rosen, a real estate developer with a major art collection, will pay $7 million to settle allegations he dodged taxes on $80 million worth of art he purchased since 2002. The attorney general is also said to have come to terms with Victoria Gelfand, a Gagosian sales executive, who will pay $210,000 in unpaid taxes on private art transactions. (The gallery isn’t implicated in the probe.) Absent from the settlements is any admission of wrongdoing by the parties involved, with Rosen denying he broke the law and Gelfand’s lawyer noting his client disputed Schneiderman’s conclusions.
03 Ahead of next week’s major New York auction sales, forecasts are down roughly 50% from last year.
Last may, Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips brought in a whopping $2.7 billion at auction. For this year’s auction season, presale estimates are between $1.1 billion and $1.6 billion, with the top lots at Christie's and Sotheby’s valued around $40 million each—roughly $100 million less than the record-breaking Picasso from last year. The number of lots in each of the sales has also decreased. Such figures underlie various reports that the auction market is cooling, with global art sales dropping 7% percent last year. The New York Times’s Scott Reyburn points to a substantive decrease in guarantees, particularly at Christie’s, as proof that the contraction is impacting the high end of the market. “The market is no longer on steroids and is returning to its normal state,” art advisor Todd Levin told the Times. It is possible, however, that this contraction may allow some buyers—priced out during the wild boom years—to return to the market.
04 The Santa Monica Museum of Art is moving to downtown L.A. and changing its name.
(via the Los Angeles Times)
The museum, previously dubbed SMMoA for short, will be rechristened as the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (ICA LA) after the move. In a statement, executive director Elsa Longhauser assured that the new location did not change the institute’s mission to “reveal vibrant, untold stories and pivotal moments in the history of contemporary art,” though there will be a renewed emphasis on social action. The new space comes as the cultural landscape of L.A. changes, with new institutions like The Broad setting up shop in the city’s heart. ICA LA will be a short drive away from that museum, in a 12,700-square-foot former textile plant in the city’s arts district.
05 A captivating sculptor with an enigmatic personality, the artist Marisol died at the age of 85 last Saturday.
(via the New York Times)
Born María Sol Escobar, the Venezuelan-American artist opted for the name Marisol in the late 1950s as her career exhibiting in New York began. Known for confounding interviewers with guarded and obscure answers to their questions, Marisol’s work skirted between pop and folk art, launching her to fame in 1960s. Although known to appear at parties with Andy Warhol and in exhibitions alongside Jasper Johns, Marisol was seemingly uninterested in art-world grandeur, often leaving the United States after successful exhibitions rather than capitalizing on the attention. Critics have long debated how to categorize Marisol’s output. Though her sculptures of notable figures and objects like Lyndon B. Johnson and soda bottles put her in a pop art tradition, her later pieces include carved mahogany fishes and surreal works on paper that align with folk-oriented tradition. The significance of her oeuvre has yet to be fully reckoned with. As Marina Pacini, the chief curator at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, told the New York Times, Marisol “was an incredibly significant sculptor who has been inappropriately written out of history.
06 MoMA will institute a voluntary buyout program for staff this summer, a plan revealed just days after the museum announced a $100 million gift from Hollywood mogul David Geffen.
(via The Art Newspaper)
The news, which leaked after an all-staff meeting, applies to employees considering retirement—specifically, those age 55 and up who have worked at the museum for a minimum of nine years. In a statement regarding the buyouts, MoMA referenced the current expansion and noted that “the Museum is in a transitional stage in terms of the scope of its operations, which are at a reduced level during the renovation period.” MoMA’s decision comes on the heels of a similar announcement last week by another New York institution: As part of a plan to assuage its current $10 million deficit, the Met will consider staff cuts in the next 24 months, as well as a slowdown in the construction schedule for its new modern and contemporary wing.
07 A fire broke out in the Cologne home of artist Rosemarie Trockel, damaging $34.5 million worth of art.
(via artnet News)
The fire, in which no one was harmed, occurred on Monday afternoon while the artist was on vacation, Trockel’s gallery, Sprüth Magers, told a local paper. The exact works damaged in the blaze have not been identified, except for one confirmed to be by Andy Warhol. Significantly impacted was the artist’s personal collection stored in her basement, where the fire began. Though the cause is currently unconfirmed, it is believed to have been electrical. Along with her collection and her own sculptures, Trockel’s home was significantly damaged and will require major repairs. Trockel, a German artist, is best known for her knit sculptures that tackle issues of femininity and production.
08 A white woman is suing the Getty Foundation for discrimination, alleging she was denied an internship because of the color of her skin.
Southern Utah University student Samantha Niemann brought the discrimination lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court, claiming she was “deterred” from applying to the Getty Foundation’s Multicultural Undergraduate Internship. The express goal of that program—which lasts 10 weeks and offers a $4,500 stipend—is to encourage “greater diversity in the professions related to museums and the visual arts.” In 2016 the criteria were modified to state that “applicants must be members of an underrepresented group.” Niemann argues that her civil rights were violated given that she is otherwise “well-qualified” for the position, and is seeking both punitive and compensatory damages from the Getty. As it stands, the arts are in need of diversity—according to the 2012 census, four out of five people making a living in the field are white.
09 Following serious opposition from a Chicago nonprofit parks organization, Star Wars creator George Lucas is now “seriously pursuing” other cities to serve as the site of his proposed museum.
The conflict first surfaced in 2014, when Friends of the Parks sued the city for offering Lucas public land for the project. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who originally proposed a 17-acre slice of lakeside real estate near the Chicago Bears’ football stadium, revised his plan following these complaints. However, Friends of the Parks also opposed the second site, which would have seen the Lakeside Center convention hall torn down to leave room for the new Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. On Wednesday, lawyers representing the city of Chicago filed for a writ that would dismiss the case brought by Friends of the Parks in a last-minute effort to salvage the proposal; Lucas’s wife Mellody Hobson had issued a statement a day earlier, declaring that she and her husband will be forced to abandon plans in Chicago if the parks group does not back down. Lucas has pledged more than $740 million to go towards the museum, which will serve as a repository for the director’s memorabilia and art collection.
10 Despite the uproar surrounding Anish Kapoor’s 2015 installation at the Palace of Versailles, the French landmark will continue its summer contemporary art program with a presentation of works by Icelandic-Danish artist Olafur Eliasson.
(via artnet News)
Eliasson follows a series of art-world stars, including Kapoor, Jeff Koons, and Takashi Murakami, who have created installations for the palace and its grounds. The news marks a sort of full circle for the Berlin-based artist, whose first show in France—held at Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 2002—was offered to him by Catherine Pégard, the president of Versailles. Eliasson’s upcoming exhibition, opening in June, will draw inspiration from the scientific discoveries of the Renaissance, as well as incorporate Versailles’s ornate fountains. It remains to be seen whether the works will inspire as much controversy as last summer’s installation, a Kapoor work officially titled Dirty Corner (2011) but nicknamed “the queen’s vagina.” Repeatedly vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti, Kapoor refused to remove the offending remarks until a French court ruled that the sculpture must be wiped clean.
—Abigail Cain, Molly Gottschalk, Isaac Kaplan