From Christie’s Almighty da Vinci to documenta’s Disastrous Idea: The Best and Worst of the Art World This Week

Plus, the Western art world is increasing its presence in Asia—and even a Ferrari couldn't rev up Sotheby's Contemporary auction.

The green stands for money. (TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
The green stands for money. (TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

Here’s a rundown of the most important news stories from this historical week in the art world.



Jesus Christ, Superstar – There’s no getting around the biggest art-market story of the week, and possibly the year: Hailed by Christie’s as “the last da Vinci,” Leonardo’s lost-and-found masterpiece Salvator Mundi armageddoned all prior auction records, selling to an anonymous phone bidder for $450.3 million (including fees) on Wednesday evening. Holy moly, literally.

“$966,855 Per-Square-Inch” – That was art advisor Todd Levin’s gobsmacked response to the canvas’s value, though other watchers freaking out on social media were less specific and more WTF.

A Biblical Market Bump – Having undergone a massive price markup of its own (it once cost just £45), the Leonardo shared the market love, loaves and fishes-style, with other artists in the Christie’s sale, yielding auction records for Adam Pendleton, Kerry James Marshall, Lee Krasner, and Hans Hofmann as well. But artnet News’s astute Tim Schneider wondered what, exactly, the purchaser of the Salvator Mundi was buying. (Hint: it wasn’t a painting.)

There Were Some Other Auctions, Too – The salesroom shuffle began this week at Christie’s Impressionist and Modern sale, where Van Gogh helped the sale overshoot its high estimate to a whopping $479.3 million. Uptown at Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern sale, Marc Chagall’s Les Amoureux set a new record for the artist, selling for $28.5 million—while the very fancy red Ferrari on offer at Sotheby’s contemporary sale on Thursday zoomed away for more than $7 million. Phillips, meanwhile, shrugged off its cutting-edge rep by hammering Picasso’s Portrait de femme endormie III as its surprise top lot, selling the 1946 work on paper for an in-the-room price of $8 million—almost nine times its high estimate!

Agnes Gund’s Multimillion-Dollar Fund – The beloved art patron‘s latest initiative, the recently established Art for Justice Fund, doled out $22 million worth of grants this week. Some 30 organizations received money, with $200,000 going to Philadelphia’s Mural Arts program, which fights to highlight the problems of mass incarceration.

Joan Mitchell Also Made It Rain – The Joan Mitchell Foundation announced its list of grant recipients for 2017, shining a light on under-recognized artists around the country. These 25 artists join the ranks of such past recipients as Mark Bradford, Nick Cave, and Glenn Ligon.

Head East, Young Mega-Gallery – The number of world-bestriding blue-chip art emporiums setting up shop across Asia is increasing at a rapid pace, so we’ve compiled a handy list of the latest moves, including by David Zwirner, Lévy Gorvy, and Perrotin.



Louvre Abu Dhabi Detainment Drama – A pair of Swiss journalists on assignment in the UAE to cover the opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi were detained for two days after filming Pakistani workers outside the city, apparently incensing local officials. After intense and emotionally draining interrogations, the men were released without any concrete explanation for their arrest.

Laura Owens Gets Praised… and Harshly Attacked – At the reception for the painter’s highly acclaimed Whitney Museum retrospective, anti-gentrification activists disrupted the celebration. The faction has gone so far as to issue death threats to the LA-based painter, who runs a gallery in the Boyle Heights neighborhood, where denizens fear being priced out by the fabulous people.

The Art Heist That Wasn’t – Over $100,000 worth of photographs in the current show “Carolee Schneemann: Kinetic Painting” were stolen from MoMA PS1—and then mailed back within days after a facilities manager reported the crime. The wily oddball thief remains afoot.

Sexual Harassment Allegations Continue – The Canadian collector François Odermatt has been accused of sexual misconduct, including, in one instance, rape. In a statement to artnet News, Odermatt refuted the alleged instances. The reports follow a spate of similar accusations across the art world including Artforum‘s former co-publisher Knight Landesman and Armory Show director Ben Genocchio.

When Avant-Garde Is Aren’t-Garde – Museums across Europe have discovered a slew of fake Russian avant-garde masterpieces. Unfortunately, the forgeries weren’t discovered until the state collection of North Rhine-Westphalia in Düsseldorf had already used one of the works as part of its logo.

The Riddle of documenta’s Downfall, Solved – According to an audit released this week, the killer was Athens. The financial troubles that plagued the exhibition were tied to director Adam Szymczyk’s insistence on staging an ambitious program that would span two countries, which caused unforeseen expenditures on, oddly, air conditioning, and hotel tabs.

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