$20 Million in Annie Leibovitz Prints Mired in Canadian Tax Controversy—and the 9 Other Biggest News Stories This Week

Artsy Editors
Jul 14, 2017 6:12PM

Catch up on the latest art news with our rundown of the 10 stories you need to know this week.

01  A major 2013 donation of 2,000 Annie Leibovitz prints to a Canadian museum has not been exhibited after a government body denied certification of their cultural significance.

(via CBC News)

Valued at $20 million Canadian, the pieces were donated to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia four years ago by the Mintz family—just two days after they were purchased for $4.75 million US from Leibovitz herself. But the gift raised a number of red flags. Donors can apply to have their gifts reviewed by a Canadian board to determine if the works are of “outstanding significance” and “national importance.” Pieces that meet those requirements are then assessed for their value, which can result in a tax break for donors. Had a deduction been granted for the Leibovitz collection, it would have resulted in a tax windfall more than double the price originally paid for the pieces. The board originally rejected the collection’s significance entirely, later certifying 762 pieces at a value of $1.6 million. Now, a fourth and final application is before the board. But its refusal to certify the entire collection has prevented Leibovitz, who still holds the copyrights to the works, from being paid in full—under the terms of her deal with the Mintz family, the photographer was to be paid half of the $4.75 million upfront, with the other half coming after the expected tax deduction.

02  After alleging the Russian fashion designer Vika Gazinskaya ripped off one of his pieces for a line of dresses featured in Vogue, artist Brad Troemel was sent a cease and desist letter.

(via Instagram)

As is typical for these kinds of cases, the plagiarism allegations were first made on social media after Troemel posted a side-by-side comparison of his own work and the Gazinskaya-designed dress on Sunday. Both are grids containing a mix of multicolored squares and written letters and numbers, similarities Gazinskaya chalked up to “inspiration.” In a subsequent post, Troemel rejected the characterization, asserting that if that were the case, Gazinskaya “would’ve mentioned me as an inspiration when asked what influenced [the] line in Vogue.” On Monday, Troemel posted an image of a cease and desist letter from a lawyer representing Gazinskaya. The letter claimed that Troemel was “disparaging” Gazinskaya on social media “with false claims of ‘theft’ regarding [her] decision to use the idea of multicolored blocks and letters.” Troemel has consulted a lawyer and is considering pursuing future litigation of his own.

03  Ai Weiwei condemned the Chinese government for barring Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo, who died on Thursday, from travelling for medical care.

(via The Guardian)

Prior to Liu’s death, Ai told the British newspaper The Guardian that Beijing’s stance was unconscionable. “He should not have been sentenced,” Ai said. “He should be completely out of jail, released without any conditions. He should be a free man, then he should make a free judgment about where to stay and where to get medical care, and who he wants to be associated with.” The Nobel Laureate, who was jailed for his pro-democracy activities, was diagnosed with late-stage liver cancer in June and died in Shenyang, in northeastern China, Thursday. Two doctors from the U.S. and Germany had visited him in a Chinese hospital and declared he could travel for treatment to either of their hospitals, contradicting claims by Chinese doctors that his condition left him unfit to move. Ai added that Western governments who claimed to stand for human rights were sacrificing activists like Liu in favor of pursuing their business interests. “Each of those deals sacrifices someone like [Liu]. So don’t pretend, when Liu Xiaobo is dying, or Liu Xiaobo [is in] such difficult circumstances, don’t pretend anybody is innocent,” Ai said.  

04  On Monday, a federal appeals court in San Francisco revived a 16-year-long Nazi restitution dispute centered on an Impressionist painting by Camille Pissarro, the value of which could exceed $40 million.


Currently held by Madrid’s Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Rue Saint-Honoré, Après-midi, Effet de Pluie (1897) was originally owned by German-Jew Lilly Cassirer, who sold the work to a Nazi functionary in 1939 for roughly $360. Asserting the transaction was a forced sale, Cassirer’s heirs filed a petition in 2001 in Spain seeking the work’s return after they learned where it was being held. When the petition was denied, Cassirer’s grandson and great-grandchildren sued the Spanish museum in 2005. In June of 2015, a lower court dismissed the suit, ruling the museum held the rights to the painting under Spanish law. But Monday’s ruling by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found that while Spanish law does apply, a trial is required to determine whether or not the museum knew the painting was stolen when it was acquired in 1993 from Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza as part of a $338 million purchase of his collection.

05 An Amsterdam Airbnb host who pushed a South African filmmaker down a flight of stairs has been charged with attempted manslaughter.

(via artnet News)

The victim, Sibahle Nkumbi, has been hospitalized with a concussion and extensive bruising to her face and body. Her friend, South African artist and activist Zanele Muholi, videotaped the incident. The two women were visiting the city for the opening of Muholi’s solo show at the Stedelijk Museum, which features a new series of photographic self-portraits alongside images documenting life in South Africa for the black LGBTQ community. Allegedly, the altercation began when the artists were late to check out of their Airbnb and one of the hosts became angry. Nkumbi claimed that the man began shouting at them, saying, “This is not Africa.” In a video interview with an Amsterdam-based journalist after the incident, she said, “I come from South Africa, where you’d expect that, because racism is visible….But to come here and get attacked like that, I didn’t expect that at all.”

06  Police arrested four suspects in Berlin in connection to the heist of an enormous gold coin.

(via U.S. News)

A several-hour-long raid on Wednesday targeted 13 buildings and resulted in the arrest of four suspects connected to the heist and the questioning of an additional nine. The object of the heist, which occurred this year at Berlin’s Bode Museum, was the Canadian “Big Maple Leaf” coin—valued at $4.5 million, despite lower face value estimates. The coin is a larger rendition of the Canadian $50 gold piece, with an image of Queen Elizabeth II gracing one side and a grouping of maple leaves on the other. Loaned to the Bode by an anonymous collector, the coin was one of only five manufactured by the Royal Canadian Mint. “We assume that the coin was partially or completely sold,” said Berlin state criminal officer Carsten Pfohl at a press conference. Experts predict the thieves melted down the coin in order to more easily sell the gold, making recovery a near-impossible prospect.

07  Fifty thousand square feet of artist workspace will be created at the Brooklyn Army Terminal, increasing affordable studio options for New York’s artists.

(via the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs)

Details of the plans were announced on Friday by the NYC Economic Development Corporation and NYC Department of Cultural Affairs. The arts nonprofit ArtBuilt Brooklyn will develop and oversee the space, which will host up to 50 artists. Slated to open later this year, the terminal will offer studios between 250 and 4,000 square feet with affordable, long-term leases. “New York’s creative community is an extraordinary source of energy and vitality for our city,” said Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl in a statement. “But for artists to continue to thrive and produce work that connects with communities throughout the five boroughs, we need to keep New York a place where they can afford to live and work.”

08  Art dealer Glafira Rosales was ordered to pay $81 million to victims of the Knoedler forgery scandal.

(via artnet News)

Rosales had pled guilty to wire fraud, money laundering, and tax evasion charges in 2013. The restitution order, filed July 5 in U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, is an addition to a previous sentence of nine months of house arrest and three years probation for her role in the fraud scheme. It involved selling paintings attributed to Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Robert Motherwell, but were actually created by a Chinese painter who has since fled to China. The U.S. attorney’s office explained the delay in filing the restitution order was due to the complex task of identifying all the victims of the fraudulent scheme, which dates back to 1994. Rosales says her former partner Jose Carlos Bergantiños Diaz, also named in the 2014 indictment, threatened her in order to keep her participating in the fraud.

09  Some £3 million worth of jewelry was stolen from London’s Masterpiece art fair last week.

(via The Art Newspaper)

The Chelsea fair, which features a mixture of art, antiques, and jewelry, ran from June 29 through July 5 and welcomed a record 44,000 visitors. Police believe the heist took place during the final two days of the event, sometime between 5 p.m. on July 4 and 9 a.m. the next morning. The thieves targeted the booth of Swiss jewellers Boghossian, swiping several items that have since been valued in the millions. No witnesses have been reported; instead, investigators are combing through CCTV footage for clues.

10  A visitor posing for a photo in a Los Angeles gallery knocked over a series of pedestals displaying works of art, causing an alleged $200,000 in damage.

(via Hyperallergic)

The incident, which took place at the pop-up art space 14th Factory, occurred two weeks ago. But video footage was only uploaded to YouTube on Thursday, showing a female gallery-goer setting off a domino effect after losing her balance and falling backwards into one of the room’s many display pedestals. These were part of an installation titled Hypercaine, a collaboration between artists Simon Birch, Gabriel Chan, Jacob Blitzer, and Gloria Yu. In an interview with Hyperallergic, Yu said three of the crown-like sculptures atop the pedestals were irreparably damaged, and the others were affected to “varying degrees.” Some have hypothesized that the video, which captures the incident perfectly, may be a stunt to promote the show.


A previous version of this article stated that under the law, charitable gifts to Canadian museums must be reviewed by the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board (CCPERB). The text has been updated to reflect that there is no legal requirement for donors to submit their work to the CCPERB.

Cover image: Portrait of Annie Leibovitz by Robert Scoble, via Flickr.

Artsy Editors