Art News Headlines: November 19, 2010

Richard Avedon  Dovina with Elephants 1955, Paris

Christie’s in Paris will auction some of Richard Avedon’s most prized photographs this Saturday to raise money for the foundation set up by the influential American portrait and fashion photographer before his death in 2004. Highlights of the sale include a rare portrait of Pablo Picasso, a photograph of Andy Warhol posing with youths—some naked—as well as the largest photograph in print of Avedon’s famous shot of model Dovima posing with elephants at a circus. The photographs of the Beatles in trippy colors, atypical of Avedon’s stripped-down style, will also be up for bid. The 60+ photographs are expected to raise $6 million. The auction represents the largest collection of Avedon’s work to reach market. Avedon’s career framed fashion photography as modern art in magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue and The New Yorker. His style, though minimalist, captured dramatic contrasts and movements.

It was just an old Chinese vase that had been in the family for 80 years. It turned out to be much more. When the intricately painted 18th-century piece went on the block at Bainbridges, a small suburban London auction house, it sold for a record $83 million Thursday, scooped up by a Chinese buyer via telephone. The sale price was more than 40 times the pre-sale estimate and a record for a Chinese work of art—an outcome auctioneer Peter Bainbridge called “a fairy tale” for the anonymous family who owned the vase. The beautifully painted blue and yellow vase is from the Qing dynasty, and is thought to have originally occupied the emperor’s palace. The previously unheard of auction house said the atmosphere was “electric,” and when the hammer came down on the winning bid the auctioneer struck it so hard the gavel broke.

Internationally acclaimed abstract artist Nathan Oliveira, originally of Stanford, California, has died at the age of 81 from complications of pulmonary fibrosis and diabetes. During his lifetime, Oliveira enjoyed exhibitions in New York, London, Melbourne, Paris, and Stockholm. The Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco alone houses over 30 examples of his paintings. Many attribute the rise in printmaking in the late 1960s to the work of Oliveira, who was fascinated by birds and is remembered for a remarkable sense of humor. “When Mona and I got married and had children, we weren’t making very much money,” he said in the 2002 interview. “After we’d get the bills paid, I’d say to her, ‘Well, how many tubes of paint can I get this week—one of red, or two of yellow?'”

As one of Pablo Picasso’s long-suffering muses, French photographer Dora Maar was most famously depicted by her Spanish lover in a state of intense distress. For Picasso to show her looking almost serene, therefore, is something of a benevolent departure for the Cubist painter. Bonhams is scheduled to auction a rare 1938 etching of Maar later this month showing the Frenchwoman’s famous “almond nose” and “parted lips” in a state of repose. The lovers met in Paris when Maar was 29 and Picasso was 54, after being introduced by the poet Paul Eluard. The etching, entitled Buste de femme à la chaise, is expected to fetch £10,000.

The brand-new Art of the Americas Wing at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has finally—cue sigh of relief—opened after five years of construction. The gargantuan and gorgeous span of four floors and over 5,000 objects was designed by British architect group Norman Foster & Partners. The new works double the American art previously housed by the museum, which also boasts the largest collection of American colonial art in the world. Normally, “American” art brings to mind “Americana”— but this is a collection of the art of the Americas, which unites art from America Indiana,  Mesoamerica, and of course South America. To borrow a line from Holland Cotter of The New York Times, “Boston homeboys like Paul Revere begin to look, in their great harbor city, unexpectedly cosmopolitan.” God bless America.

Laura Lawson paints when writer’s block strikes and writes when painter’s block strikes. She has studied fine art at LCAD and is pursuing a degree in journalism. Recently diagnosed with the degenerative eye disease retinitis pigmentosa, she strives to bring hope to those without vision through her blog. She is currently working on her first book about coping with vision loss.

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