$10 Million Reward Extended for World’s Largest Art Theft—and the 9 Other Biggest News Stories This Week

Artsy Editors
Jan 12, 2018 8:55PM

01  The Gardner Museum has extended a $10 million reward for information leading to the recovery of works stolen from the museum in 1990.

(via the New York Times)

The Board of Director of Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum voted to keep the reward of $10 million from reverting to $5 million (as it was set to at the end of 2017) for information that could help recover famous works by Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet, Johannes Vermeer, and Rembrandt van Rijn that were stolen in what is the world’s largest unsolved art heist. On March 18, 1990, two thieves disguised as Boston police officers tricked museum guards into allowing them into to the building, then restrained the guards, and left roughly an hour and 20 minutes later with the works. While multiple suspects have been identified in the nearly three decades since, no one was ever charged with the crime and the statute of limitations for the theft has passed. The Federal Bureau of Investigation claimed in 2013 that it had identified the perpetrators, but did not name them and said they had already died. The investigation into where the stolen works are, however, is ongoing; and after making detailed timelines, and compiling databases of pertinent information, the museum’s head of security has stated he hopes the reward will reveal enough crucial evidence that leads to finally finding the missing artworks.

02  Scholars confirmed Tuesday that 20 artworks by Modigliani previously on view at Genoa’s Palazzo Ducale were actually fakes.


More than 100,000 people flocked to a Genoa exhibition last year to ogle paintings attributed to Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani. But expert examination of these works has revealed that much of the show was comprised of forgeries. This news follows a lengthy investigation into the provenance of the paintings initiated by Italian authorities last summer. Art historian Isabella Quattrocchi, asked by Italian authorities to examine the works, didn’t mince words. She described the paintings as “blatantly falsified,” citing both their style and pigment composition. The art squad of the Italian Carabinieri is continuing to look into the case. Exhibition curator Rudy Chiappini is under investigation, along with Joseph Guttmann, the Hungarian dealer who owns 11 of the pieces, and another unnamed party. The Palazzo Ducale said it is cooperating with authorities and denied any attempt to deceive, asserting that the institution trusted Chiappini, who served as director of the Museo d’Arte Moderna in Lugano, Switzerland, for nearly two decades.

03  Jean-Michel Basquiat’s record-breaking $110.5 million painting will go on view at the Brooklyn Museum at the end of January.

(via the New York Times)

Japanese collector Yusaku Maezawa broke records when he paid the whopping sum for Untitled (1982), a skull painting by the famous artist, at Sotheby’s last May. The work will appear in the Brooklyn Museum show “One Basquiat,” which opens January 26th and runs through March 11th. The exhibition will mark the first time the work has been displayed in a museum, though Maezawa has explicitly stated his plan to continue showing the work publicly. “My hope is that art becomes more accessible to a wider audience, and not just enjoyed by a select few,” the 42-year-old billionaire told the Times.

04  David Zwirner will expand his New York presence with a five-story Renzo Piano-designed building in Chelsea.

(via the New York Times)

The global megadealer, who this year celebrates his 25th year in business, is breaking ground this spring on a $50 million building designed by Piano, the New York Times reported. The new gallery, set to open in fall 2020, will have three floors of galleries and be connected to the residential tower going up at the same address, 540 West 21st Street. Zwirner also opens his new Hong Kong location, in the city’s Central district, at the end of this month, and has galleries in London and multiple other locations in New York as well. According to the Times, the gallery brings in revenues of well over half a billion dollars a year. The opening in Asia is intended to place Zwirner in one of the art world’s increasingly important centers, while he described the new gallery in Chelsea as something that would better serve his artists, of whom he represents more than 50, including estates, and his staff, which numbers 165 globally. “It will upgrade the quality of my spaces, and that is something attractive for all these people that I need in my life — the artists and the people who work here,” Zwirner told the New York Times.

05  La Salle University’s decision to deaccession 46 works from its collection has drawn criticism.

(via The Art Newspaper)

The Philadelphia university announced last week that it has consigned 46 works by artists from Henri Matisse to Dorothea Tanning to Christie’s for a springtime auction. Funds from the sale will go towards helping the museum’s financial troubles, The Art Newspaper reported Saturday. The American Alliance of Museums (AAM) along with the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) issued a statement criticizing the the sale, which violates industry guidelines. La Salle has stated that the money will go to aiding learning initiatives at the school. However AAM and AAMD have argued that “a different governance structure does not exempt a university museum from acting ethically, nor permit them to ignore issues of public trust and use collections as disposable financial assets.” The Association of Art Museum Curators (AAMC) & AAMC Foundation also disavowed the move, saying it “goes against fundamental best practices of museums,” which prohibits museums from deaccessioning work for anything other than their collections. The university did not respond to criticisms of the sale but a La Salle spokeswoman told The Art Newspaper that the online and London-based sale is set to occur between March and June.

06  A New York court ruled that billionaire art collector Dmitry Rybolovlev can use confidential documents from Sotheby’s in an international legal fight with Yves Bouvier.

(via The Art Newspaper)

The judgement, handed down December 22nd, is a setback for Sotheby’s, which has sought to remove itself from the legal tussle between Rybolovlev and the Swiss freeport magnate Bouvier. In 2015, the Russian billionaire filed the first of several suits against Bouvier, who once served as his art advisor, accusing him of fraud. Rybolovlev alleges that Bouvier was supposed to act as his agent in procuring several major pieces but instead sold Rybolovlev artwork at a massive markup and pocketed the profits. Though Rybolovlev has filed suits across the globe, last April a court in Singapore ruled that the lawsuit filed there should be heard in Switzerland, the venue that Bouvier argues is most proper for the dispute. The latest ruling in New York, however, means that Rybolovlev can now also bring a suit in the United Kingdom against Sotheby’s, which Rybolovlev argues played a role in the alleged fraud. According to his attorney, the confidential documents show that the auction house, as well as a top Sotheby’s executive, were aware that Bouvier was buying work on behalf of a client and encouraged Rybolovlev to purchase works at “grossly inflated” prices. Sotheby’s rejected the characterization as “baseless” and argued that a U.K. suit is “simply a tactic, using Sotheby’s location in England as an excuse to continue his worldwide dispute with Mr. Bouvier in the English courts.”

07  The pioneering curator Kynaston McShine has died at age 82.

(via ARTnews & Hyperallergic)

Born in Trinidad in 1935, McShine joined the Museum of Modern Art one year after graduating from Dartmouth College in 1958 with a degree in philosophy. At the time he was the only person of color in a curatorial role at the museum. While at the MoMA he curated the legendary 1970 exhibition “Information,” which shone a spotlight on noted conceptual artists including Hans Haacke and Vito Acconci, at the age of just 35. In 1966 he curated the groundbreaking abstract sculpture exhibition “Primary Structures” at the Jewish Museum, which he joined as a curator in 1965. “Over the course of more than 50 years, McShine devoted himself to those pursuits, organizing exhibitions that highlighted the most venturesome and radical of his time,” wrote Andrew Russeth in ARTnews.

08  Discussions concerning the return of Cameroon’s “Bangwa Queen” sculpture, currently held in France, have stalled.

(via The Art Newspaper)

The Dapper Foundation in Paris, which owns the work, has stalled all restitution attempts by the Bangwa people of Cameroon, according to its lawyer Earl Sullivan. The sculpture was either “given to or looted by” a German agent in the late 1800s and made its way through numerous collections before being acquired by the Dapper Foundation in 1990. Recent attempts by the Bangwa people to reach out to the foundation to discuss the object’s return have been met with “no substantive response,” Sullivan said. This lack of dialogue contradicts a statement from French president Emmanuel Macron in November, in which he noted that the return of objects taken from Africa will be a “a top priority” for the nation.

09  Authorities seized several antiquities from the New York home and office of billionaire collector Michael H. Steinhardt.

(via the New York Times)

Investigators took at least nine pieces in last Friday’s raid together worth a total $1.1 million, reported the New York Times. The hedge fund manager and museum donor, who has a gallery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in his name, didn’t comment on the seizure of the objects, which Manhattan prosecutors allege were looted from Greece and Italy. Among the objects cited in search warrants are a $380,000 Greek oil vessel from the 5th century BC and ancient figurines. The raid is part of a broader crackdown on the purchase of illicit ancient objects by Manhattan district attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., who announced the formation of a special unit to combat the trafficking of looted antiquities in December. While the Manhattan DA’s office has seized several pieces—including some that have been on view at the Met—so far no individuals have been charged for possessing the works.  

10  The debate continues over the Met’s decision to require out-of-town visitors to pay its full $25 suggested admission fee.

(via Hyperallergic, Cause and Effect & Artforum)

In an interview with Hyperallergic, Daniel Weiss, president and CEO of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, rationalized the decision to charge full price by touting a model of “co-investment,” in which everyone who enjoyed the museum and had a stake in it would pay something according to their means. But, he noted, “for various reasons, over the past 10 or 12 years, the pay-as-you-wish policy has failed. It has declined by 71% in the amount people pay. So the question then is [whose] responsibility is that? It’s a social contract that no longer works.” However, finance columnist Felix Salmon, writing in Cause & Effect, questioned Weiss’s math. “Admissions revenue was $6.11 per visitor in fiscal 2017, which is higher, not lower, than the $6.02 it was in fiscal 2012. So I don’t know where Weiss is getting his 71% figure, but at best it’s cherry-picked,” Salmon wrote. The museum later responded, clarifying that “as costs have risen, admissions revenue has not kept sufficient pace.” Meanwhile, a Care2 petition to keep the Met “Free for All” has nearly 18,000 signatures as of Friday afternoon. The Met has actually never been totally “free”; its pay-as-you-wish policy required some contribution, even if just a penny.

Artsy Editors

Cover image: Edouard Manet’s painting Chez Tortoni (top) is seen near an empty frame at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum on December 27, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. Photo by Ryan McBride/AFP/Getty Images.