Alexandra Peers delivers her weekly column for Art in America.
Banned in Boston, Back in Court

Shepard Fairey, back in court, pleaded guilty to three charges of vandalism in a Boston court today. While the plea prompted prosecutors to drop several other charges against the artist, he essentially becomes "banned in Boston" as he must alert local officials of plans to visit and is prohibited from carrying graffiti materials in the county unless it is used for "authorized" art installations.

The artist was sentenced to two years probation for defacing public property and for wanton destruction of property. He was also fined $2,000 for graffiti clean-up.

Fairey, no stranger recently to the legal process, is also involved in a lawsuit against the Associated Press, which charges that the artist's famous "Hope" poster of President Obama violated copyright laws because it is based on an AP photo of Obama. Fairey has acknowledged beginning with that image, but has said he materially changed it in the making of his art.

This is the art world, so illegality isn't exactly denting the artist's popularity. "Hope" is now in the collection of the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., he's been honored at a party at the Shore Club in Miami hosted by Morgans Hotel Group CEO and influential art collector Fred Kleisner, and Shimon Bokovza, owner and founder of SushiSamba restaurants and the Sugarcane Lounge, has invited him to show in a graffiti exhibition (presumably, "authorized") to be held during Art Basel Miami later this year.

Fairey was arrested in February, essentially for posting flyers and then for failing to appear in court. He was in the city for opening of his solo show at the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art, which runs through Aug. 16.  

The Cinderella Sale

Elsewhere, this week in the art world brought a brush fire in California that closed the Getty, Kansas City, Mo.'s, Nelson-Atkins Museum announced it would open its new Native American galleries this fall, and there was something of a Cinderella story in London.

Barbara Piasecka Johnson, widow of Johnson & Johnson magnate J. Seward Johnson Sr., parted with her Old Master paintings to the tune of nearly $16 million at Sotheby's Wednesday, nearly double pre-sale estimates. Since her single-owner sale fared better than the Old Master paintings sale as a whole, perhaps it was her success story that added to the provenance. A Polish immigrant and former maid to the Johnson family, Johnson married her boss and then became embroiled in an battle with his other heirs when he died in 1983, leaving her 36 million shares in the pharmaceuticals company. Forbes Magazine estimates that Johnson is the ninth richest woman in America.

As a collector, she's perhaps most famous for "flipping" the single most expensive piece of furniture ever sold. In 1990, Mrs. Johnson bought the so-called Badminton Cabinet, an 18th-century Italian cabinet made of ebony, bronze and stone named for the British estate where it resided for 250 years, for $15.2 million. Fourteen years later, she sold it for $36.7 million, also at auction, to Prince Hans-Adam II, Liechtenstein's head of state.

Sotheby's opted to sell her Renaissance and Baroque paintings in London both because the Old Master paintings market has been strong there and because the works have a "unique spiritual aesthetic," i.e., many of them are religious artworks, which have traditionally been underpriced in the U.S.
The top lot of the Johnson paintings sale was an epic nude by Jusepe de Ribera, "Prometheus," which brought $6.3 million dollars, several times the expected price.

Drink Up

Acker Wines is accepting bids through 8 p.m. Sunday, July 12, for its 1,000 wine auction at Per-lot prices vary widely, from about $60 to into the thousands, but a tempting bottle of 1978 Chateauneuf du Pape that is "still young and coy but (with) some leatherly fruit definition" starts at $500. One tip for bargain-hunters: a search key lets you look for wines that have no bids as yet.

The Madding Crowd

A final note: If the art world is supposedly dead, who were all those people in line for white wine at the Haunch of Venison opening Wednesday? The similarly long wait to get into the "Iran Inside Out" exhibition at the Chelsea Art Museum and surprisingly crowded gallery shows on the Lower East Side (the police had to urge patrons to stop blocking Orchard Street at the opening of Lisa Cooley's new group show) are testament to the fact that there's still a lot of energy and excitement surrounding contemporary art. 

Of course, most of these people are just window-shoppers. But then, they always were.