Alec Baldwin Claims Art Dealer Duped Him in $190,000 Purchase—and the 9 Other Biggest News Stories This Week
Catch up on the latest art news with our rundown of the 10 stories you need to know this week.
01 Alec Baldwin claims he was duped by dealer Mary Boone and artist Ross Bleckner when they provided him with what the actor now says was not the painting he paid $190,000 for.
(via the New York Times)
The dispute in question centers on whether or not Boone misled Baldwin when he purchased what he believed to be Bleckner’s Sea and Mirror (1996). Baldwin first encountered the piece as a picture on an invitation to an exhibition mailed to him by Boone around a decade ago. Baldwin didn’t buy the work at the time, and it later sold at Sotheby’s in 2007 for $121,000. In 2010, Baldwin asked Boone to convince the buyer to sell and, according to Baldwin, she provided the piece to him at a cost of $190,000. But as the New York Times tells it, “for reasons that remain disputed, Ms. Boone sent him another version of the painting. [Baldwin] claims she passed it off as the original.” Did Baldwin know he was getting a similar-looking but ultimately different piece? Or was he misled into thinking a copy was the original? While Bleckner didn’t comment, Boone’s lawyer stated that “[Baldwin is] wrong that the painting is a copy; it’s an original and very fine work of art by Ross Bleckner.” Baldwin met with the District Attorney to see if criminal charges could be pursued—they could not.
02 Halfway through the year, there’s a major shakeup in the auction market as—for first time in five years—China bested the U.S. in auction turnover, according to Artprice’s most recent report.
The art market data and analytics firm examined some 3,500 auction sales globally to give a picture of the market through the first two quarters of the year. Auction sales in China are up 18% in the first half of 2016, according to Artprice. The $570 million increase in sales gives China the largest share of the auction market at 35.5%. The United States follows at 26.8% of the art auction market. The art markets in the West and in China are each experiencing a readjustment, just in opposite directions and to different degrees. Over a five-year period beginning in 2010, the Western market’s two key sectors—post-war and contemporary and Impressionist and modern—leapt in value by some 273%, according to ArtTactic. Meanwhile, sales of Chinese art declined 15% over that same time period. Along with being a readjustment, the current rise in sales in China is likely also connected to the fact that mainland wealth in the country is pouring offshore in search of safe financial harbors. Many in China are still jittery after contractions in the value of the renminbi (RMB) and Chinese equity markets last August. It seems likely that some mainland billionaires looking to get money offshore by purchasing alternative assets in Hong Kong would also look to art as a vehicle in that effort.
03 In a ruling that has surprised some observers, a judge declared that the Norton Simon Museum can keep two Cranach paintings at the heart of a decade-long Holocaust restitution dispute.
Just weeks before the case was set to go to trial, U.S. District Court judge John Walter dismissed the restitution claim of the plaintiff, Marei von Saher, granting a summary judgement in favor of the Norton Simon Museum and ruling that it has legal title to Lucas Cranach the Elder’s Adam and Eve paintings currently in its collection. Von Saher is the heir to Jewish art dealer Jacques Goudstikker, who, fleeing his native Netherlands in 1940, left behind some 1,400 works of art which were soon looted by Nazi leader Hermann Göring and his dealer, German businessman Alois Miedl. Following the war, the works were secured by the Allies and returned to Dutch authorities, who sold them to George Stroganoff-Scherbatoff, an American heir to a Russian aristocratic family. For his part, Stroganoff-Scherbatoff claimed that Soviet authorities stole the two works from his family before selling them to Goudstikker in 1931. In 1971, a decade after Dutch authorities sold them to Stroganoff-Scherbatoff, Norton Simon bought the works. Von Saher subsequently sued, arguing that the works—taken by the Nazis—should be returned to her as the rightful heir, while disputing Stroganoff-Scherbatoff’s story. Numerous legal obstacles stood in her path, and the case has been dismissed twice previously. Among the challenges include the expiration of the statute of limitations and the inability of U.S. courts to interfere in actions taken by a sovereign foreign nation (the Dutch, after all, had sold the work to Stroganoff-Scherbatoff). Judge Walter ruled that the Goudstikker family and his representatives had failed to make a claim on the work in the requisite timeframe following the war and thus had no current claim. Von Saher is planning to appeal the ruling, but should it stand the precedent will likely be limited given the specifics of this case. Though there exists a general consensus that works seized by the Nazi government should be returned to the rightful owners or their heirs, the actual legal restitution process has proved frustratingly difficult to navigate to the point that some see it as fundamentally broken.
04 In an act of political protest, anarchist collective INDECLINE revealed life-size nude statues of Donald Trump in cities across the U.S.
(via the Washington Post)
On Thursday morning, pedestrians in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Cleveland, and Seattle encountered less-than-flattering statues of the Republican presidential candidate standing nude in public spaces. Inspired by the short tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” the anarchist collective INDECLINE spent four months conceiving this project, called “The Emperor Has No Balls,” a commentary on Trump’s totalitarian instincts. A spokesman for the project says the statues are also ridiculing the historical memorialization of authoritarian figures: “Looking back in history, that’s how those figures were memorialized and idolized in their time—with statues.” A Las Vegas-based artist known as Ginger, whose previous stints include creating monsters for haunted houses and horror flicks, told the Post that “Trump is just yet another monster, so it was absolutely in my wheelhouse to be able to create these monstrosities.” The statues each weigh 80 pounds and were (illegally) fixed to public grounds with industrial-strength adhesive. Nevertheless, they were quickly removed by city authorities, including in New York, where parks workers confiscated the Union Square edition amidst a crowd of booing onlookers. The nude Trump statutes are hardly the first time art has gotten overly political this election cycles—though what impact this statue and other political pieces will have on the election is itself a debated topic.
05 A 91-year-old woman who filled in a crossword puzzle artwork is now claiming she has the copyright to the altered version.
On a visit to Nuremberg’s Neues Museum, the elderly woman used a ballpoint pen to fill in blank spaces in artist Arthur Koepcke’s Reading-Work Piece (1965). The artwork, which looks like an incomplete crossword on newsprint, is accompanied by a sign which reads “Insert Words.” “The lady told us she had taken the notes as an invitation to complete the crossword,” a police spokesman said of the incident. Gerlinde Knopp, who was leading the woman and fellow senior citizens on a group visit, said that the presence of other interactive works confused the woman, who later suggested the museum put up a sign telling visitors not to take Koepcke’s instructions literally. Although Eva Kraus, the museum director, acknowledged that there was no malice behind the woman’s act of vandalism, she explained that as a state museum they had no choice but to file a criminal complaint. In a seven-page brief, the woman’s lawyer is now arguing that she owns the copyright to the modified piece, claiming her actions both added value to the work, which is insured for nearly $89,000, and in fact echoed the very intentions of Koepcke, a Fluxus artist.
06 Bronx activist groups protested Swizz Beatz’s art fair “No Commission” for its ties to developers linked with gentrification of the New York borough.
On the opening night of “No Commission,” the art fair organized by Kasseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean and Bacardi and held in the Bronx last weekend, local activist groups convened to protest the project’s associations with developer Keith Rubenstein. Rubenstein, founder of the Somerset Partners, is known for his plans to rebrand the South Bronx as the so-called “Piano District,” as well as his highly controversial “Bronx is burning”-themed party last year. Dean’s launch party took place in a venue that has been recently acquired by the developer, though he claimed in a meeting with artist Shellyne Rodriguez that he was unaware of Rubenstein’s role in gentrifying the South Bronx and had chosen the space on the recommendation of Knicks player Carmelo Anthony. Rodriguez, a member of Take Back the Bronx, reached out to other activist groups, including The Bronx Is Not for Sale, Percent for Green, and Why Accountability, to stage the protest, in which they addressed partygoers and held signs reading “Rappers lending their street cred to developers?” and “How much will a gallon of milk cost in the Piano District?” Many activists and residents believe that the fair, along with other arts projects in the area, only claim to support local communities in a strategy to give street cred for developers. The controversy was further deepened by the fact that only a third of the participating artists had strong ties to the borough, with Latino artists entirely absent from the list.
07 Investor Steven Cohen’s hedge fund has cut its holdings of Sotheby’s from three million shares to one million, a decrease of two thirds.
(via Art Market Monitor)
Though Cohen’s Point72 Asset Management offloaded the 2 million shares, the remaining 1 million shares still amounts to a significant hold in the auction house. Buoyed by a recent better-than-expected earnings report, Sotheby’s stock has risen some 50% in the last six months. This rise in share price, which Cohen no doubt wanted to take advantage of, and the investor’s continued holdings in the company are together spurring speculation that Sotheby’s stock could climb even further. Cohen’s move is far from a coincidence. Recently, Taikang Life Insurance became the largest investor in Sotheby’s, taking a 13.5% slice of the company. The move suggested confidence in the company, though the fact that the major aquisition didn’t significantly move Sotheby’s stock raised questions. Cohen’s sale of some 2 million shares helps explain why there was no sizable fluctuation due to Taikang’s acquisition.
08 Art dealer Gary Nader and “condo king” Jorge Pérez are battling over a new multi-million-dollar museum development on the Miami Dade College campus.
(via artnet News)
In his proposal for a new development on the campus, Nader claimed that the college would not have to put forth any money for the project—he himself would personally fund a 90,000-square-foot Latin American art museum with $60 million worth of works from his own collection. Despite what Nader assumed would be a shoo-in, his proposal was met with competition when the college opened the forthcoming development project to other proposals, a result of the school’s status as a public institution. Though the contract has not yet been awarded, to Nadler’s surprise the top ranking has been given to real estate firm Related, headed by Miami developer Jorge Pérez of the Pérez Art Museum. Nader’s limited partnership Nader + Museu has since struck back with a 49-page “protest bid” and nearly 400 pages of related exhibits. The document claims that the college “failed to comply with requirements for a public-private partnership, repeatedly violated the express terms and conditions of this solicitation and offered an exceeding low valuation for the right to develop private improvements on College owned land.” Nader’s counter-bid also alleges a conflict of interest—a concern seemingly not shared by the college board—due to a connection between an attorney at a law firm employed by the college and an employee of Pérez’s real estate company.
09 Artist Marina Abramović responded to uproar inspired by leaked passages from her forthcoming memoir, which included derogatory descriptions of Aboriginal Australians.
(via The Guardian)
Images of an incendiary passage from an advance copy of Abramović’s memoir, in which the artist compared Aboriginal Australians to dinosaurs, went viral last week. “They look like dinosaurs. They are really strange and different, and they should be treated as living treasures. Yet they are not,” Abramović wrote. “But at the same time, when you first meet them, you have to put effort into it. For one thing, to Western eyes they look terrible.” The excerpt sparked accusations of racism, summed up in the hashtag #theracistispresent, a play on the title of Abramović’s blockbuster 2010 MoMA retrospective, “The Artist is Present.” Shortly after the controversial statement hit social media, Abramović responded, explaining that the paragraphs were pulled from a 1979 diary entry and would be removed from the final version of the memoir: “The description contained in an early, uncorrected proof of my forthcoming book is taken from my diaries and reflects my initial reaction to these people when I encountered them for the very first time way back in 1979. It does not represent the understanding and appreciation of Aborigines that I subsequently acquired through immersion in their world and carry in my heart today,” she stated. Skeptical responses to the explanation have flooded Twitter and news outlets alike. The memoir is slated to be published by Penguin Random House this coming November.
10 Two members of Raiz Up, an art and activist collective based in Southwest Detroit, face up to four years in prison and $75,000 in fines for painting “Free the Water” on a water tower in Highland Park.
Though artist-activists Antonio Cosme, 28,and William Lucka, 22, were confronted by the police at the bottom of the tower in November 2014, they were not contacted again until nearly a year and a half later, when a newly formed Detroit graffiti task force took on the case. According to Cosme, a founding member of Raiz Up, the task force claimed that the cost of removing the graffiti—consisting of large block letters alongside a raised fist—would range from $45,000 to $75,000. Police have also raided Lucka’s home, removing art materials and charging him with number of other offenses identified through the task force’s growing graffiti database. Cosme and Lucka’s case stands at the center of an existing conflict between residents and the city’s emergency manager. While the city has criminalized graffiti in order to lure out-of-town investors and developers and stimulate entrepreneurship, residents are growing frustrated over water shutoffs due to overdue bills, some as low as $150. Cosme is a longtime critic of Detroit’s authorities, speaking up at public meetings, interrupting the mayor’s state of the city speech, and interfering with officials’ attempt to shut off a pregnant woman’s water supply during Ramadan. Cosme contends that the charges are part of an effort to publicize the new task force and promote Detroit’s agenda for redevelopment.
Cover image via Wikimedia Commons.