$210 Million Gauguin Masterpiece Embroiled in Legal Dispute—and the 9 Other Biggest News Stories This Week

Artsy Editors
Jun 30, 2017 8:12PM

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

01  A legal battle over a $210 million Gauguin masterpiece highlights the art world’s “handshake deals.”

(via The Telegraph)

Swiss art dealer, curator, and auctioneer Simon de Pury is suing Ruedi Staechelin, a former Sotheby’s executive described as an “old schoolfriend” of de Pury’s, for a $10 million commission on the $210 million sale of Paul Gauguin’s painting Nafea Faa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry?) (1892). The work was sold to Guy Bennett, a former Christie’s expert who now directs the collections and acquisitions for Qatar’s museums. When de Pury first approached Staechelin about selling the painting, he claimed he was verbally promised a handsome commission if he secured the sale, although Staechelin set the price at $250 million, and negotiations ground to a halt. In 2014, they resumed, with Staechelin claiming de Pury offered $230 million, despite knowing the Qataris would max out at $210 million. Staechelin’s lawyer, John Wardell QC, said that constituted “a clear breach of fiduciary duty and all commission has been forfeited if any right ever existed.” The case is ongoing.

02  London’s June post-war and contemporary auctions came to a close this week, and the results indicate the market is on a solid, steady upward trajectory.


The post-war and contemporary evening sales kicked off Wednesday at Sotheby’s, which brought in £62.3 million with fees (£52.6 million without), falling between the estimates of £44.3 million and £60.6 million with a 95% sell-through rate by lot. That represented a 15% increase from last summer’s evening sale, but was still less than half the 2015 total for the same sale. In a pair of short and well-managed contemporary evening sales, both Phillips and Bonhams performed extremely well in the absence of Christie’s, which canceled its June auctions, notching the same sell-through rate of 94%. At Phillips, photographer Wolfgang Tillmans set a new record when his Freischwimmer #84 (2004) sold for £500,000 (£605,000 with fees). Phillips brought in a total of £24.4 million with fees (£20.2 million without) on a sale with a high estimate of £25.4 million, its second highest result for June auctions ever, and twice what it totaled last June. At the Bonhams sale, seven lots, which together comprised 77% of the low estimate (£4.1 million) by value, were guaranteed. It was a notable step for the auction house, which has until now shied away from such a broad use of guarantees, which are typically deployed to entice reticent sellers.

03  The first Arts Council England grant since Sir Nicholas Serota took over will increase funding to regions outside the capital.

(via The Art Newspaper)

The new grants program is the first to be announced since Serota, the former director of the Tate, became the Council’s chairman in February. It consists of £409 million in annual National Portfolio grants, which will go to 831 local arts organizations, and an additional £213 million in other arts grants, for a total spending increase of 12% over the current financial year. In an effort to correct a regional imbalance, “England’s four largest recipients (Royal Opera House, Southbank Centre, Royal National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company) have accepted an average 3% reduction, with these savings mainly being channelled to smaller organizations outside London,” The Art Newspaper reported. The share of spending in the regions will rise over the next four years to 60% from 56% now. Of the annual £409 million in funding, £45m, or 11%, will go to the visual arts and £37 million, or 9%, to museums. The remainder is earmarked for theatre, music, dance, and other arts programming. The council also said it is concerned over the limited progress in diversity of museum leadership.

04  The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case on whether a group injured by a 1997 bombing in Israel can seize Persian artifacts held in Chicago museums due to Iran’s alleged role in the attack.

(via Reuters)

The U.S. citizens behind the suit want to take ownership of the ancient works as part of a $71.5 million default judgement against Iran, which was found to have sponsored the terrorist group responsible for the attack. The pieces, including ancient tablets and pottery, are held in Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History and the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute. Previously, an appeals court found that some of the survivor’s claims were barred by the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), which limits when disputes with sovereign foreign governments can be adjudicated in U.S. courts. Other aspects of the plaintiffs’ claims were also tossed out because Iran does not assert ownership to some of the works, though the plaintiffs claim it is the rightful owner because the pieces were illegally smuggled out of the country. When the Supreme Court takes up the matter in its fall term, the eventual ruling is likely to have implications for other FSIA cases, notably those in which the sued foreign government does not directly engage in commercial activity in the United States.

05  Designs have been released for New York’s first official monument to the LGBTQ community.

(via the New York Times)

In the wake of last summer’s shooting at Orlando’s Pulse Nightclub, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo formed the LGBT Memorial Commission. The commission began calling for designs in October for a memorial to the attack and a monument to LGBTQ rights. On Sunday, on the tail of Pride Week celebrations, it was announced that sculptor Anthony Goicolea’s proposal for Hudson River Park’s waterfront piers had been chosen. The work comprises a ring of nine boulders, each divided by a glass prism that casts a rainbow when struck with sunlight. Goicolea, a mixed media artist originally from Georgia who now resides with his husband in Brooklyn, says he was deeply affected by his visit to Manhattan’s West Village, home to the historic Stonewall Inn. “I had never seen people—gay people—engaging in this way,” he told the Times. Giocolea describes his work’s functional intent, with renderings of the design showing park visitors, including a gay couple, relaxing on the boulders.

06  Salvador Dalí’s remains will be exhumed in order to settle a long-running paternity case.

(via The Guardian)

For a decade, tarot card reader and fortune teller Pilar Abel has been working to prove that she is the Surrealist’s only child. According to Spanish law, this would make her heir to one-fourth of his sizeable estate. Abel, who now lives in Girona in northeast Spain, says her mother met Dalí while working in Cadaqués and the two had a covert affair in 1955. Abel was born the next year. In 2007, the courts granted her permission to remove DNA from Dalí’s death mask, but the results were inconclusive. Later that year, another test was performed on material provided by Dalí’s friend and biographer Robert Descharnes. Abel claims she never received those results, although Descharnes’s son says he spoke to the doctor and the test was negative. The Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation, which controls the artist’s estate, says it plans to appeal.

07  The family of late Austrian sculptor Franz West has won a legal fight over the rights to his estate.

(via The Art Newspaper)

Representatives of the West family argued that they possessed the rights to the artist’s estate following his death in 2012. But the Franz West Private Foundation claimed contracts created just days before the artist passed away transferred the rights to his work and assets to the newly created organization. On Tuesday, a civil law court in Vienna sided with the family, asserting that the documents establishing the foundation were created improperly and lacked standard language. Unless the foundation appeals, the remaining artworks and the profits from those already sold—a figure in the “many millions of euros,” according to the family’s lawyer—will be transferred to West’s young children (the artist’s wife died in 2016) and their legal guardian.

08  A number of small- and medium-sized galleries in New York and around the world are shutting down due to a variety of mounting struggles.

(via the New York Times)

High rents, the costs of doing art fairs, and a diminished appetite for emerging artists have hastened the decline of small- and medium-sized art galleries, the New York Times reports. Dealers such as Lisa Cooley, On Stellar Rays’s Candice Madey, and Andrea Rosen lamented the changing economics and culture of the art market, which they said leaves them unable to work closely with their artists, unable to pay their bills, or both. The trend is also indicative of, or a casualty of, the broader trend of economic inequality, which has created some thriving global “mega-galleries” serving the collecting needs of the world’s wealthiest consumers, while their smaller peers are finding fewer collectors “willing to gamble on the emerging artists represented by small and midsize galleries,” the Times reported. If this trend continues, it is unclear who or what will help discover and sustain the next generation of artists, industry insiders fear.  

09  Germany’s Bundeskunsthalle has provided an early glimpse of some of the roughly 250 works recovered from Cornelius Gurlitt’s trove of Nazi-looted art that will go on view for the first time this fall.

(via the New York Times)

The show, which features works by the likes of Monet and Rodin, will open at the Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn, Germany on November 3rd. It marks the latest development for the controversial Gurlitt collection, amassed by an influential art dealer during the Nazi era and discovered by police in his son’s Munich apartment in 2012. Titled “Dossier Gurlitt: Nazi Art Theft and Its Consequences,” the forthcoming exhibition focuses on artworks thought to be either stolen by Nazis or sold under duress. Due to a long-running legal dispute over Gurlitt’s will, these works were unable to be put on public display until now. Show organizers hope that the publicity surrounding such an event may result in new information that will help determine provenance of the objects. As of last week, of Gurlitt’s 1,039 pieces, only 63 have been researched; just four have been returned to their rightful heirs.

10  New discoveries related to a Tintoretto altarpiece formerly owned by David Bowie have emerged ahead of a planned return to its hometown for the 2019 Venice Biennale.

(via The Art Newspaper)

A jewel among the late musician’s collection, the portrait of Saint Catherine of Alexandria by Jacopo Tintoretto sold at Sotheby’s last November for £191,000, with fees. From there, it was loaned to the Rubens House, where it was revealed Tuesday. Amid this changing of hands, analysis uncovered an underpainting suggesting the work is a decade older than believed. Research—which will be published in full this fall—also suggests that the work was painted entirely by Tintoretto and not his studio. These findings have inspired the painting’s inclusion in a future Biennale exhibition in the Church of San Geminiano, which hosted a collection that inspired the likes of Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck, and Maerten de Vos. According to Belgium’s tourism minister, the exhibit will present a “unique opportunity to show the Flemish masters to the world in the place where—more than any other—they drew inspiration from their Italian colleagues and from the classical legacy.”

Artsy Editors

Cover image: Paul Gauguin, When Will You Marry?, 1892. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.