Art Dealer Perry Rubenstein Gets Jail Time for Embezzlement—and the 9 Other Biggest News Stories This Week

Artsy Editors
May 26, 2017 5:12PM

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

01  Art dealer Perry Rubenstein has been sentenced to six months in prison after pleading no contest to two counts of grand theft by embezzlement.

(via The Art Newspaper)

A Los Angeles County court handed down the decision on Monday, dismissing an additional felony theft charge against Rubenstein. The dealer was also slapped with three years of formal probation and has paid more than $1.1 million to two former clients, Michael Ovitz and Michael Salke. Rubenstein, who once operated a successful gallery in Manhattan, ended up in financial hot water after his 2012 move to Los Angeles. That year, the dealer ran into trouble with Ovitz, when he failed to hand over the proceeds from the $975,000 sale of two Richard Prince works. The same year, Rubenstein arranged for Salke to sell a Takashi Murakami scroll to the Broad Foundation for $825,000. Again, he failed to turn over all the proceeds to the collector. In 2014, Rubenstein declared bankruptcy; filings noted that the gallery owed a total of $5.4 million at the time. “I have been rendered penniless,” Rubenstein wrote earlier this year. “I take full responsibility for this taking place and do not blame anyone else.”

02  The National Endowment for the Arts is once again slated for elimination under President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget proposal, released on Tuesday.


As part of a $3.6 trillion slash to federal spending over 10 years—including major cuts to Medicaid and other social safety net programs—the arts agency would see both direct grantmaking and funding to states zeroed out. To ensure an orderly shutdown, the NEA would receive $29 million for salary and administrative costs through fiscal year 2018. “This budget request is a first step in a very long budget process,” read an NEA statement forwarded by a spokesperson to Artsy. “We continue to accept grant applications for FY 2018 at our usual deadlines and will continue to operate as usual until a new budget is enacted by Congress.”

03  A Nazi-looted Pissarro painting from the Gurlitt trove has been returned to its rightful heir.

(via The Art Newspaper)

Camille Pissarro’s La Seine, vue du Pont-Neuf, au fond le Louvre (1902), found in the Salzburg home of Cornelius Gurlitt, was returned Tuesday to the heir of Parisian collector Max Heilbronn, whose collection was looted during the German occupation of France. Authorities originally identified the painting as looted art in 2015, a year after the discovery of hundreds of works in Gurlitt’s Salzburg home, which itself came shortly after the discovery in 2012 of some 1,200 works in Gurlitt’s Munich apartment. Gurlitt had inherited the collection of works—among them, paintings by Marc Chagall, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso—from his father, Hildebrand Gurlitt. A Nazi collaborator, Hildebrand dealt in looted art and profited by pressuring fleeing Jews into selling their collections for far under market price. Exhaustive and ongoing provenance research into what has been dubbed the “Gurlitt trove” indicate that some 150 of the pieces were likely looted or sold under duress by their original owners. Including La Seine, four works from the Gurlitt trove have been restituted.

04  A new art fair, Art Berlin, will launch in the German capital in September.

(via Art Berlin)

Organizers of art berlin contemporary (abc) and Art Cologne announced on Wednesday that negotiations between the two entities had concluded successfully, with the new fair now confirmed to take place from September 14th to 17th at Station Berlin, the same time slot and location that abc formerly occupied. Maike Cruse, who directed abc and continues to lead Gallery Weekend Berlin, will head up the team behind Art Berlin, with Art Cologne Director Daniel Hug and Koelnmesse, now the parent company of both fairs, providing strategic support. Speaking to Artsy last month, Hug outlined some of his intent for Art Berlin. “On one hand it has to be a totally normal art fair, encompassing everything that Art Cologne is; that’s what Berlin needs,” he said. “But, on the other hand, it shouldn’t lose the innovative platform that abc has been so far.” The event symbolically brings together the two cities, which have been sometimes rivals over the past 25 years of Germany’s art world development.

05  The hiring of several foreigners to serve as museum directors in Italy, part of a plan by the country’s government to shake up its national museums, has been blocked in court.

(via The Telegraph)

The surprise ruling by a regional court in Italy bars five of the seven foreign appointments made as part of a major talent recruitment drive—which saw 20 new appointments in total—that began two years ago to rejuvenate the nation’s culturally rich but poorly run institutions. The court found that the appointments were not done transparently, noting that several interviews were conducted “behind closed doors,” without proper oversight. Dario Franceschini, Italy’s culture minister, said the Italian government will appeal and lambasted the court’s ruling. "I’m speechless,” he said. “The international selection of the directors was made by an absolutely impartial commission.” Two foreign appointees were unaffected by the ruling: James Bradburne, the head of the Pinacoteca di Brera Gallery in Milan, and Eike Schmidt, who leads the famous Uffizi Galleries in Florence.

06  The foundation of former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has given $75 million to the city’s forthcoming art center the Shed.


When completed in 2019, the Shed will serve as a mixed-use venue, bringing visual art, dance, performance, and more to Manhattan’s Hudson Yards. The space, expected to cost around $500 million, is backed by several wealthy patrons besides Bloomberg, including Daniel L. Doctoroff, the Shed’s chairman and president, who has helped fundraise $421 million toward a $500 million goal. The project also received city funds, with Bloomberg appropriating $50 million—which grew to $75 million—during the twilight months of his mayoralty in 2013. He remains just as committed today. “I’ve always believed the arts have a unique ability to benefit cities by attracting creative individuals of every kind, strengthening communities, and driving economic growth,” Bloomberg said in a statement to the New York Times. “The Shed will help New York achieve all three goals.”

07  Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, victim of the biggest art heist in U.S. history, has doubled its reward for the return of the stolen artworks to $10 million.

(via the New York Times)

The institution announced its decision Tuesday, noting that the change will only last through 2017. The Gardner last upped the reward in 1997, when the board of trustees raised the sum from $1 million to $5 million—a fraction of the missing artworks’ estimated worth of $500 million. “It is our fervent hope that by increasing the reward, our resolve is clear that we want the safe return of the works to their rightful place and back in public view,” noted Steve Kidder, president of the museum’s board, in a statement. The theft, which took place in 1990, was carried out by two men dressed as police officers. Although the Gardner has since identified the original perpetrators—who managed to escape with 13 paintings by the likes of Vermeer, Degas, and Rembrandt—they no longer have the art in their possession, the museum said.

08  A statue personifying justice as a woman was removed from outside Bangladesh’s Supreme Court on Friday.

(via the New York Times)

The pre-dawn removal came after the statue faced mounting criticism and angry protests from the Islamic hard line group Hefazat-e-Islam, which argues that the depiction of living things is prohibited under Islam. The group is also calling for an end to life-drawing in public school and the removal of any and all public works showing humans or animals. “This is an alarming signal for our country,” said Mrinal Haque, the Bangladeshi sculptor ordered to remove the $22,000 piece—completed only five months ago—by the court. “We all have to stand against this fundamentalist movement.” As authorities gathered to take the statue down, they were met with protests from secular groups, who attempted to halt the process. The country’s prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, appeared to support the removal because it depicts a Greek god. “Why would a statue of the Greek Themis be set up in Bangladesh?” she said. (Haque denied the work depicts Themis.) The fight over the statue is yet another sign of rising tensions in the country between secular and religious groups.

09  Sotheby’s will auction a bag containing lunar dust collected during the Apollo 11 mission, after its current owner prevailed in a legal battle against NASA.

(via the Wall Street Journal)

In 1969, Neil Armstrong took a “giant leap for mankind” when he landed on the moon. He also collected samples of rocks and dust in a pouch, which was accidentally mixed in with less historical ephemera from other NASA missions. Through a bizarre turn of events, the bag was eventually put up for auction by the U.S. Marshals Service as part of a criminal investigation into a museum director who was trafficking stolen space artifacts. Michigan lawyer and geology enthusiast Nancy Lee Carlson purchased the bag of dust for $995 in 2015, eventually sending it to NASA for testing. When the agency realized its mistake, it tried to keep the material, but Lee sued and prevailed in court. When it hits the auction block in July, Sotheby’s estimates it will fetch between $2 million and $4 million. “It’s an incredible piece of history, and losing it was a colossal mistake for NASA,” Joseph Gutheinz, a former special agent at NASA’s Office of the Inspector General, the agency’s law-enforcement arm, told the Journal. “But Nancy Lee bought it fair and square.”

10  Previously overlooked documents have shed new light on the life of Leonardo da Vinci’s mother, Caterina.

(via The Guardian)

Oxford University art historian Martin Kemp has reconstructed details of Caterina’s life using 15th-century tax and property records that were an early innovation in the region now called Tuscany, which surrounds the wealthy city of Florence. The documents appear to show that she was an orphan named Caterina di Meo Lippi, who lived with her grandmother in a ramshackle farmhouse (her late father’s house was deemed shabby enough not to be taxed by the authorities). When she was 15, Ser Piero da Vinci, a more socially prominent lawyer working in Florence, seduced her, on what Kemp surmised was a “nice, spring evening probably in the fields—and that was it.” He married within his class, but his family likely provided Caterina with a dowry, which enabled her to marry another peasant, with whom she went on to have five more children. Leonardo da Vinci was raised by his grandfather, Antonio da Vinci, according to 1457 tax return. Leonardo is listed as a family member, “born of [Ser Piero] and of Caterina.”

Artsy Editors

Cover image: Portrait of Perry Rubenstein via Instagram.