01 The Metropolitan Museum of Art has been sued over a Picasso masterpiece in its collection, allegedly sold under duress by Jewish owners before World War II.
The complaint, filed Friday, centers around ’s
painting The Actor
(1904–5), originally owned by Jewish industrialist Paul Leffmann. His great-grandniece alleges that the painting was sold in 1938 as Leffmann raised funds to flee persecution in Fascist Italy after already escaping Nazi Germany. The complaint details at great length the quasi-legal financial extortion and bureaucratic barriers that the Leffmanns faced in their quest to eventually reach the relative safety of Switzerland and later Brazil. To raise the funds necessary to escape Italy as it heightened cooperation with the Nazi regime, the complaint states that the Leffmanns were forced to sell The Actor
for $12,000, “a price well below its actual value.” Indeed, the complaint notes the figures was $6,000 less than what the work was requested to be insured for when it was loaned to the Museum of Modern Art the next year. The complaint further states that the Leffmanns would not have sold the piece if not out of fear for their safety, and that they never transferred good title to the piece. Before it was donated to the Met in 1952, the painting was also sold through the now-defunct M. Knoedler & Co. Gallery. The plaintiff originally contacted the Met in 2010, but through mutual agreement a lawsuit was put on hold—until that deal ended this Friday. The lawsuit seeks the return of the work or, alternatively, damages in excess of $100 million. According to Reuters, the Met noted that its research “makes clear” that the work was not sold due to Nazi persecution and that the $12,000 figure was a fair price. “While the Met understands and sympathizes deeply with the losses that Paul and Alice Leffmann endured during the Nazi era, it firmly believes that this painting was not among them,” the statement said. The Actor
garnered attention six years ago when a visitor tripped and fell into the work, tearing the canvas (the piece was subsequently repaired).
02 Two missing paintings by Vincent van Gogh, swiped from Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum in 2002, have been recovered by Italian police during a raid on a farmhouse connected to the Mafia.
The two paintings, Seascape at Scheveningen
(1882) and Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen
(1884/85), are examples of ’s
early work and were thought to be worth a total of $4.5 million when originally stolen. This discovery is part of a larger investigation into organized crime by a specialized group of Italian public prosecutors. Police uncovered the paintings while scouring a farmhouse in the Naples region linked to a clan of the Camorra family, infamous for its ties to the international cocaine trade. One expert labeled it a case of “art-napping”—a Mafia practice in which artworks are stolen and then used either as a form of payment within the family or, in the case of arrest, as leverage to get a reduced sentence. Although both paintings have sustained minor damage and are missing their frames, the museum said they are in better condition than expected. Both works will be used in forthcoming criminal cases, so their return to the museum has been delayed indefinitely. “We have been waiting for this moment for 14 years,” museum director Axel Rüger said. “And naturally the only thing you want is to take them straight home with you. But we will have to exercise a little bit more patience.”
03 Photographer Jock Sturges’s exhibition in Moscow was forced to close after attracting protests amid claims by nationalist Russian activists that his work contained child pornography.
The exhibition of work by
, “Absence of Shame,” opened on September 8th at The Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography before the premature closure occurred this week. It featured images from a series focused on families living in nudist colonies in France, Northern California, and Ireland. Both the museum and Sturges himself vehemently deny the pornographic nature of the images; however, the gallery’s founders pulled the exhibition, citing ongoing security concerns (one protester went so far as to throw urine on one of the photographs). “Galleries and museums across the world haven’t seen these photos as pornography. It simply isn’t the case,” Sturges told the Russian network Ren TV in response to the controversy. Sturges, along with his contemporaries, like
, whose photographs aim to capture adolescence and can feature children in the nude, are no strangers to controversy. In 1990, following complaints around the representation of nude children in Sturges’s work, his San Francisco studio was raided by the FBI and police; the investigation later fizzled and Sturges was never indicted.
04 The Armory Show has appointed Nicole Berry as deputy director, looking to channel her expertise into further cultivating a VIP collector base for the New York fair.
(via The Armory Show)