Sunday, March 7, 2004

Costco begins selling 'fine art' on Web site

Art notes

By Marilyn Bauer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Local galleries get their dander up when collectors purchase directly from artists or find alternative venues such as coffeehouses, hospitals or florists from which to buy. Well, their headaches are about to increase tenfold, as Costco has gone into the art business.

By visiting and searching under "fine art," buyers can view its stock of "limited edition, museum quality art," including lithographs by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall.

The brainchild of San Francisco art dealer Greg Moors, who tested the fine art/Costco concept in some of the discounter's West Coast stores, the offering was so successful - he sold 43 pieces during the test - that he earned space on the Costco Web site to sell six masterpieces every week. Priced between $450 and $15,000, the artworks come matted and framed and are guaranteed authentic. And get this - Costco will let you return them.

(I have visions of consumers ordering up a Cassatt or Miro only to return their purchases after hanging them over the fireplace for a relative's visit or to impress the boss.)

On a recent visit to the Costco site, I was greeted with a sign that screamed, "Sold out!" Like all the store's merchandise, the paintings and prints are marked up only 14 percent. That's quite a savings, considering a gallery can levy markups of 100 percent to 150 percent, according to a local gallery owner.

Regional artists

The Fitton Center in Hamilton showcases the work of local artists every year in a juried exhibition. This year, the 40th for the competition, the show will run March 28 through May 16. Last year, from 285 entries, 90 were selected. Entries represent every conceivable style/media.

The Fitton has partnered with Miami University-Hamilton this year to exhibit - in conjunction with the juried show - work by Miami students. The exhibition opening is 3-5 p.m. March 28. For more information, contact Cathy Mayhugh at 863-8873.

Passion for Vatican art

It makes sense that Ash Wednesday would draw the devout to the Cincinnati Museum Center for a look at the Vatican treasures. In fact, it was a record day for the Museum Center with 2,600 visitors eyeballing the art.

At press time, the total count for the first half of the show's run is 107,000 visitors, which is spectacular given the total estimated attendance is 200,000. The show ends April 18.

Alex out, Claude in

The Cincinnati Art Museum has lent its Alexander Calder sculpture and Joan Miro mural to the Foundation Beyeler in Basel, Switzerland, which is putting on a show focusing on the relationship between the artists. Ultimately the exhibition will come to the United States, but only to the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. In exchange, CAM gets four paintings from the Beyeler collection by Claude Monet. They will go up in April and stay at the museum until late January.

Also in April, a commissioned wall drawing will replace the Miro mural. Designed by Sol LeWitt and executed by one of his assistants and two local artists (yet to be named), it will take 20 working days to complete.

Johnson out, Ambrosini in

David T. Johnson, the Taft Museum's chief curator, left the museum in September to become chief curator and deputy director of collections at Hillwood Museum and Gardens in Washington. He is still working with the Taft staff on the May 15 reopening. Johnson's replacement, Lynne Ambrosini, a consulting curator and independent scholar based in Minneapolis, will be formally announced this month. She is expected to begin work in May.

Before going out on her own, Ambrosini, who holds a doctorate in art history from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, was an associate curator of paintings at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (1986-1997).

Ambrosini is expected to take the Taft in a new direction, culminating in a 2006 show by a well-known local artist in the new gallery space. Taft's spokesperson says the new mandate will be to collect pieces as the Tafts would have collected if they were alive today. That may be even more exciting than the new building.

Also new on staff are Joseph B. Curry, who was named the museum's development director, and Sheri Besso as assistant preparator.

'Christ You Know It Ain't Easy'

Speaking of religious art, pickled shark artist Damien Hirst has just completed "In His Infinite Wisdom," a six-legged calf floating in formaldehyde for In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida at the Tate Modern in London. Curator George Muir says: "The mutant calf touches on the issues of human genome projects, DNA and cloning." Sarah Lucas, also in the show, has created a statue of Christ out of cigarettes, placed in front of the flag of St. George. The title? "Christ You Know It Ain't Easy."

Where the smokers go

Cincinnati artist Matt Lynch, an assistant professor of fine art at the University of Cincinnati's School of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning, is expecting a lot of attention Wednesday when the Whitney Museum of American Art's Biennial exhibit previews in New York.

Lynch, part of the Midwestern collaborative Simparch (for simple architecture), has worked with his team to create a site-specific building, which will act as a theater. It is an elegant structure made from inexpensive construction materials built in the Whitney courtyard.

During opening night (there are actually three openings), it's the only place where visitors can go to smoke. That should bring in the crowds.

Have you lost your marbles?

More than 500 contemporary handcrafted marbles will be showcased starting Monday at the annual Modern Marbles at A Show of Hands at Kenwood Towne Centre. The exhibition, through April 18, features one-of-a-kind glass marbles by 23 artists from across the country.

If you care to start a collection, you will be relieved to know the glass balls are going for only $4. For more information, call 791-7110 or visit


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