Art Recovered in Germany 25 Years After Theft in New York

The Art Loss Register sent out this release today:

Four contemporary paintings stolen in 1988 in a brazen Fourth of July theft from a New York City gallery have been recovered in Cologne, Germany 24 years after the crime.  The theft had been reported to the New York City Police Department, FBI, and Interpol and registered with the International Foundation for Art Research and the Art Loss Register (‘ALR’) who today announced the recovery of artworks by Robert Motherwell, Franz Kline, Jean Dubuffet and Fernand Leger.  The recovery of these works brings a substantial conclusion to an extraordinary case which spanned over two decades, and involved five law enforcement agencies.

Published accounts at the time of the theft stated that an unidentified intruder had picked the locks of the Solomon Gallery on Madison Avenue and quickly made off with six valuable works on display.

The oil on canvas by Karel Appel, was the first work to resurface and was recovered in 2003 when a German art dealer searched the ALR Database through his lawyer in Stuttgart, Germany.  The dealer claimed to have purchased five of the six stolen works on a buying trip in New York but the lawyer could produce no documentation of the sale and refused to divulge the name of his client to authorities.  A German public prosecutor issued a warrant for aiding and abetting the sale of stolen goods but a police raid of the lawyer’s home and office failed to uncover the other pictures.  According to law enforcement, all references to the dealer had been removed from the firm’s case files and in a bizarre series of events, one law firm partner was charged with threatening a police officer involved in the raid.

The sudden focus on the law firm meant the lawyer could no longer represent the art dealer who quickly retained new counsel. Hiding behind this second lawyer, a criminal specialist from Munich, the German dealer once again refused to cooperate and the case went cold.

Over the course of the next nine years, no attempts were made to contact the ALR or authorities over the stolen pictures.  Finally, in 2012 the daughter of the now deceased dealer contacted the Dedalus Foundation in New York to authenticate the stolen Motherwell.  The daughter, a fine art professional, had also approached a local auction house but was quickly referred back to the ALR.  The ALR Recovery Team immediately flew to Cologne where they met with police authorities and positively identified the works as the paintings stolen in 1988.

Christopher A. Marinello, a lawyer who specialises in recovering stolen and looted artwork for the ALR, negotiated the return of the four paintings with the lawyer for the family. “At the Art Loss Register, we’re going to make life difficult for those who attempt to sell stolen art.  You can hide behind lawyers and look for loopholes in civil law jurisdictions, but eventually you’re going to have to deal with some very uncomfortable issues.  The problem will not simply disappear with the passage of time. Leaving stolen artworks to the next generation is a losing proposition.”

Marinello credits authorities in the US and Germany for their strong support: “International cooperation among law enforcement is alive and well when it comes to recovering stolen art.  The determination and tenacity of Special Agent Meredith A. Savona of the FBI Art Crime Team, NYPD Detective Mark Fishstein and the Cologne Police Department were critical in bringing these pictures home.”

The paintings are now owned by the gallery’s insurer who is in discussions with the former gallery’s owners about returning the pictures to their collection.

Despite this auspicious ending one final work remains unrecovered.  Mulberry Centre by Franz Kline was stolen along with the five other works in 1988 but appears to have been separated from the others. The ALR is appealing for information on the missing work.

Sotheby’s to Open Hong Kong Offices in Late May

Sotheby’s sent out a release today revealing the location of its new, expanded presence in Hong Kong. The wording of the release suggests the new facility will have its own sale room but the company provides no details and the amount of space they are taking (the equivalent of less than a floor in their New York headquarters) is not very large as auction facilities go:

Sotheby’s is delighted to announce that it will unveil its newly-constructed state-of-the art gallery space in Hong Kong on 19 May, 2012, with opening exhibitions running through the end of May – an exciting month filled with international cultural events in Hong Kong.

This unique, flexible space will be unequalled in Hong Kong, and will afford Sotheby’s the opportunity to regularly host auctions, exhibitions, lectures, special events and other cultural programmes throughout the year, offering a new and exciting dimension to the Sotheby’s experience in Asia.

Comprising the entire 5th Floor of One Pacific Place – over 15,000 square feet – this facility will allow Sotheby’s to significantly expand its business in Asia beyond its traditional twice-annual series of auctions in April and October.

Morely Safer Had an Unerring Eye for Cont Art (Even If He Hated It)

60 Minutes are keen to promote their report this Sunday on Contemporary Art with Morley Safer visiting Art Basel Miami Beach and, in this clip above, taking a little beating from Jeffrey Deitch over the rise in value of art Safer heartily lampooned. Of course, the fact that the art sells for a lot of money has no bearing on whether the art is meaningful, valuable or of lasting importance. (In fact, if 60 Minutes is doing a segment on the art market it’s a good sign that market has already topped.)

What’s more interesting is to look at the original report. Given the passage of time, you might expect to find a string of unfamiliar names, artists whose popularity had proved the trendy dalliance Safer so confidently declares them. In the video below, you’ll see Morley mock a Cy Twombly that sells for $2.1m as mere scribbling done with the wrong end of a paintbrush.

Then we get Hilton Kramer and Brian Sewell spouting the angry dismissives we’re so used to hearing about Damien Hirst today. Of course, the report spends a lot of time with Jeff Koons and his martian-like demeanor. There’s a tour of the Basquiat retrospective with a group of young boys all declaring they could paint better than Jean-Michel, whoever the hell he was.

As the 12-minute segment progresses, an unsettling feeling of deja vu begins to creep over you. Each artist Safer fastens upon—Gober, Manzoni, Gonzalez-Torres and even Christopher Wool—is bigger and more established today than he was 20 years ago. We even get an appearance by Jeffrey Deitch (mocked for his artspeak) looking very young indeed.

For a man who loathes all of this new-fangled non-representational art, Safer has a remarkable eye for the lasting talent. Too bad he didn’t buy when he had the chance.

$100m Pincus Collection to Christie’s in May

Carol Vogel tells us that Christie’s Laura Paulson landed a very big collection of works owned by David and Geraldine Pincus, collectors who lived in Philadelphia, that is expected to make $100m or more:

Top among the paintings up for sale is a 1961 Rothko, “Orange, Red, Yellow,” which the Pincuses bought from the Marlborough Gallery in New York in 1967. Measuring nearly 8 feet by 7 feet, the painting is unusually large and of vibrant orange and reds. It is estimated to sell for $35 million to $45 million.

There have not been many paintings by Pollock at auction recently, and Christie’s will be selling “No. 28,” from 1951, one of his combinations of drip and painting in shades of silvery gray with red, yellow and shots of blue and white. Its estimate is $20 million to $30 million.

The auction will also include Newman’s, “Onement V,” from 1952. The last of a series of five paintings, it is the only one that is not in an American museum. The canvas, of rich blues, is expected to bring $10 million to $15 million.

Christie’s will also be selling the Pincuses’ de Kooning paintings and sculptures. One of the paintings, “Untitled V,” from 1983, was included in the recent de Kooning retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. It is expected to bring $4 million to $6 million.

Inside Art: Personal Connections Lead to a Special Auction (New York Times)

Lost Bouguereau Leads Christie’s 19th C European Sale in New York


Christie’s announces the highlight of its April 23rd 19th Century sale with this “lost” Bouguereau:

During his lifetime, William Adolphe Bouguereau (French, 1825-1905) was one of the best known artists in the world and among the most commercially successful. Awarded the Grand Prix de Rome as a young man in 1850, he went to Italy to study the Renaissance masters, particularly Raphael. His early success in the

Paris Salon led to important commissions from the French state, as well as wealthy private clients. This gave the prolific painter the freedom to paint for his own pleasure, including this early work, Idylle: famille antique, which has been in a private collection since the 1950s (estimate: $400,000-$600,000). A reduction of the work belongs to the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum in Hartford, CT. A later Bouguereau painting in the sale, Pifferaro (estimate: $250,000-350,000), is an idealized portrait of a young country musician. Bouguereau was born in the countryside and his heart remained there, leading him to spend long stretches outside of Paris painting the monde paysan, the subject for which he is most remembered today.


Chinese Officials to Crack Down on Antiquities Trade

Li Yaoshen, head of the policy and regulation bureau of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage in China, is taking measures to impose greater supervision over the Chinese market for “cultural relics,” according to China Daily.

A recent case involved a jade furniture set—a dresser and a stool—claimed to date back to the Han Dynasty. After being sold at auction for 220 million yuan ($34.87m) last year, an Internet user wrote a post alleging the jade wares were counterfeit and made by a craftsman surnamed Zhao inn Jiangsu province, and said the true value was about 500,000 yuan.

Although Zhao admitted that he was the maker of the jade furniture later in an interview with Xinhua, the expert who authenticated the object denied that the antique was a fake.

According to Li, the administration will set up a system to manage and regulate authentication certificates of cultural relics and adopt stricter approval procedures for relics auctions by spelling out more concrete and specific requirements on the introduction of the auction items and the responsibilities of auction professionals.

China Vows to Regulate Forgery-Filled Relics Market (ChinaDaily)

Met Compensated for Loss of Astor Childe Hassam

The battle for the Brooke Astor estate has been settled with everyone seemingly getting a piece of the pie. That includes the Metropolitan Museum which was also compensated for the loss of a painting promised to the collection:

The $20 million allocation for the Metropolitan Museum includes $3 million in compensation for the museum’s claim concerning a painting that Mrs. Astor had willed to the museum, but was sold in 2002.

The whereabouts of the painting, the American Impressionist Childe Hassam’s “Flags, Fifth Avenue,” are unknown, the museum said.

“The Museum continues to regret that it will be unable to display the work for its public as Mrs. Astor…hoped,” the Met said in a statement.

Astor’s Estate Benefits Many (Wall Street Journal)

Knoedler Faces New Suit Charging Rothko Fraud

The New York Times reports on a second suit involving the now defunct Knoedler Gallery and forged works from 20th Century American masters:

According to the new lawsuit, Domenico and Eleanore De Sole bought a Rothko painting, “Untitled 1956,” in 2004 for $8.3 million from Knoedler’s former president, Ann Freedman. A forensic analysis of the painting commissioned by the De Soles found that some of the materials and markings were “inconsistent and irreconcilable with the claim” that the painting was done by Rothko, according to the suit, which also names Ms. Freedman as a defendant.

The De Soles contend that Ms. Freedman misled them about whether “Untitled 1956” was going to be included in the definitive compendium of Rothko’s work known as the catalogue raisonné, and that she gave them a written assurance that several experts, including Rothko’s son, Christopher, had authenticated the painting when they had only briefly viewed it.

They also say that Ms. Freedman told them she personally knew the Swiss owner of the Rothko. Ms. Freedman has testified that Ms. Rosales never revealed the name of the owner to the gallery.

The De Soles say in their lawsuit that they were misled into buying “a canvas that is unsalable and worthless.”

Second Suit Accuses Knoedler Gallery of Selling Fake Art (New York Times)

How Gagosian Sells, A Case Study

The ever clever Felix Salmon would like you to think he’s an art world sophisticate. Here’s how he closes his recent post on the Gagosian lawsuit over the Lichtenstein, Girl with a Mirror:

I’ve heard a few stories, over the years, of what happens when collectors who own art try to sell that art through a gallery. In the first instance, the gallery is always very bullish, and promises to sell it for a high price at a modest commission. But then it somehow never sells, and the consignor becomes increasingly desperate, and eventually accepts a sum of money from the gallery which is a mere fraction of the amount originally mooted. It’s a standard m.o. in the gallery world: never sell anything too quickly, and wait instead for the seller’s need for cash to be as urgent as possible. That minimizes the amount the gallery needs to pay the seller, and therefore maximizes the amount the gallery can keep for itself.

As conspiracy theories go, Salmon’s is a little James Bond-villain-ish which probably suits the public persona of Larry Gagosian but hardly fits the facts in the case. Salmon claims to have read the exhibits. (You can read the emails too here.) If he did, he’s working very hard to fit those facts into his “standard m.o.” where all sellers are desperate and all dealers let those desperate sellers twist in the wind until their valuable works of art can be plucked for a pittance.

The emails show us that Gagosian sent Lichtenstein’s Girl with a Mirror to London in October of 2008. A pro forma invoice values the work of art at $4.5m for the purposes of customs.  In December, Gagosian receives a condition report that describes the work as stable but also points to a number of places where previous conservation has left discoloration and conceal unknown damage. The report does not suggest the work is bad condition but it is also clearly not pristine.

Also in December, John Good, one of Gagosian’s associates, offers the work to Sam Wylde who has purchased the Tansey that also came from the Cowles family. In November, Good had sent an email to another client whose name is redacted offering that collector the work as well.

In January, Deborah Mcleod, who works for Gagosian in LA, sends an email to Tom Dean telling him she just had lunch with Gagosian who mentioned Girl with a Mirror. McLeod clarifies for Dean that the price is $3.5m, not $3.6m. It is the same price that the complaint says Gagosian has named as the sum he will try to get for Cowles. Tom Dean expresses interest in the work but cautions “in this market we have to get creative/attractive on terms and price.” The bargaining has begun.

Remember that this is January of 2009. The world is in the depths of the credit crisis. The bubble has burst and the entire financial class is bracing for what might be a near collapse. Credit markets remain frozen and equity markets are approaching a bottom. All asset classes have correlated and are falling sharply. This may be the most important point about the entire saga. The art market’s spectacular recovery is still unforeseeable.

With this in mind, John Good, contacts Sam Wylde again in February. He cites the $4m auction price in 2007 for a work from this edition as a reference point. But he recognizes the “correction” from the market’s peak and suggests that living artists have seen a 50% fall and dead artists of strong reputation only a 25% drop. Therefore, Good reasons, even though the asking price is $3.5m, a reasonable price for the work would be a 25% discount from $4m or $3m.

Now it becomes clear that Gagosian is driving his staff hard on the Lichtenstein. He wants to see it sell. Deborah McLeod puts pressure on Tom Dean to make a decision. He cites “liquidity” problems and says he might consider the work in February. This is clearly optimistic on his part.

On March 23rd, there is a flurry of email. Tom Dean is still interested in the Lichtenstein but he clearly has some concerns about the condition of the work. McLeod has done some legwork. Here’s her report to the collector:

Hi Tom—I discussed the Lichtenstein with Dana Cramer. While she is the go-to gal for Roy’s work in general, these rare baked enamels are out of her immediate area. She directed me to Kenneth Elliot in Maryland who worked for Don Saaf, who back in the 60s fabricated the original enamels for Roy! He is confident that he can improve the surface—he had not seen it yet in person, but says he worked on a big enamel belonging to Sonnabend and improved it immensely. He sounds like our it-guy for this particular work. He would not guess as to the cost, but just for a point of reference, Dana Crammer made a wild guess of $20,000.

Larry does not want to start in on the conservation of someone else’s property, and the owner thinks it looks just fine! I think you could probably make a low offer citing the condition, and assume the risk of the un-do and re-do conservation.

We can see in McLeod’s email that Gagosian is losing patience. She lowers the bar for Dean. He says he’ll think about it on his flight to London. Later in the email chain, Gagosian himself drops the hammer: “I would like a decision . . . tomorrow.”

But even Larry Gagosian can’t make a buyer open his wallet in March of 2009. Next there is a flurry of emails around Art Basel in June where most of the information is redacted by Tom Dean is definitely stopping by the Gagosian booth for a visit. Still no sale.

On July 15th, McLeod makes another run at Tom Dean. This is the now famous “cruel and offensive offer” email. Even then, Dean doesn’t swallow the hook. He argues for loose payment terms citing the prospective sale of a company in six months which he expects to yield $50m directly to him.

Gagosian isn’t satisfied and instructs McLeod to “get a number out of him.” Apparently, it was $2m.

None of this sounds very much like Felix Salmon’s “standard m.o.,” a pantomime meant to defraud the seller. Six months hard work has barely budged Dean. So Gagosian offers to finance the work on Dean’s terms. Gagosian tries to make it look like he’s doing his client a service but we know from the court papers that he’s bought the work for $1m from Cowles and is selling it to Dean for $2m, though he won’t see the money until 2010.

A few days later McLeod writes a congratulatory note that suggests Dean was the underbidder when the Girl with a Mirror sold for $4m in 2007. He’s got the work for half off which closely matches the decline in art prices from 2oo7 to 2009.

There is a document adduced that says Charles Cowles will receive no less than $2.5m from a sale of the Girl with a Mirror. But in the dark days of 2009 when an already desperate Cowles was surely motivated to sell anything for any price—a decision being made again and again all around the world as people puked up assets to raise cash—it’s not hard to see him agreeing to Gagosian’s offer of $1m.

Far from skullduggery, the emails show a high pressure sales organization working hard to make a deal. Though Gagosian made a $1m on the sale himself, I doubt he rubbed his hands with glee. No one in 2009 was confident they would be able to cover their overhead. The emails show that Gagosian, with galleries around the world, was not complacent about meeting his.

Annals of art world skullduggery, Larry Gagosian edition (Reuters)