Murmurs

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Named as winners of Japan's 12th Praemium Imperial were Ellsworth Kelly, for painting, Niki de Saint Phalle, for sculpture, and Richard Rogers for architecture. The $135,000 awards are presented by the Japan Art Association for lifetime achievements in each discipline.

Dutch art dealer Rene Scholten is opening a showplace in New York dedicated to Japanese art. The Scholten Japanese Art Gallery is located in a 19th-century town house at 66th Street off Madison Avenue and came with a $12 million price tag.

Challenged by the entries of Sotheby's and Christie's into the French marketplace, the consortium of auctioneers that makes up Drouot, the 150-year-old Paris auction house, has hired Jean-Michael Wilmotte, an award-winning architect, to give a 21st century look to its elegant 19th century building on rue de Richelieu.

Bernard Arnault, French chairman of Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey and Phillips auction house, has acquired Art & Auction magazine.

"Pie in the Sky," a film biography of Andy Warhol pal Brigid Berlin, premiered at the recent Venice Film Festival. Shelly and Vincent Fremont, an exclusive agent for Warhol's estate, were producers of the picture documenting the life of the debutante-turned-artist.

Jackie Gleason, who earned $1,000-a-pound every time he stepped on stage, has been immortalized with an eight-foot bronze statue in Manhattan. The heroic figure portraying Gleason as bus driver Ralph Kramden stands in front of the Port Authority But Terminal at 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue.

In a New Yorker profile, writer Calvin Tomkins reveals that tennis superbrat John McEnroe has given up both his rock band and his SoHo art gallery. McEnroe is currently concentrating his talents on court commentary.

According to a recent issue of Maxim magazine, 90 percent of the people who call themselves artists in the United States today earn less that $1,000 a year.

The Hartz Group, owners of the ultra-chic SoHo Grand Hotel, which opened in 1996, has just opened the $65 million, 203-room Tribeca Grand Hotel at 2 Avenue of the Americas (Sixth Avenue and Canal Street).

And for the uptown art crowd there will soon be the Chambers Hotel, a 15-story edifice on 56th Street just west of Fifth Avenue. Given the neighborhood, it's not surprising the owners are advertising that it will contain more that 400 pieces of art by some 100 artists. Rates will start at $375.

This month the New York Historical Society opens its new 17,000-square-foot wing, the "Henry Luce III Center for the Study of American Culture," containing major Hudson River School landscapes, priceless Colonial portraits and the world's largest collection of Tiffany lamps.

Singer Joni Mitchell now joins the ranks of other show business names like Anthony Quinn and Phyllis Diller who have their own art gallery outlets. From 500 paintings, drawings and photographs made over the last three decades, Giles Hebert, director of the Mendel Art Gallery, a public museum, selected 87 pieces for Mitchell's first retrospective, called "Voices: Joni Mitchell," in Saskatoon, Canada, where 1,000 viewers show up daily.

While SoHo dealers were holding their eighth annual Downtown Arts Festival, 30-plus gallery owners in fast-developing Brooklyn got together for their first arts festival, "Elsewhere: Williamsburg," which included bus tours of the new Greenpong gallery scene. …