Chinese Firm Surpasses Dan Loeb’s Activist Stake in Sotheby’s—and the 9 Other Biggest News Stories This Week

Artsy Editors
Jul 29, 2016 5:26PM

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

01  Taikang Life Insurance has purchased the largest single share of Sotheby’s, with the Chinese company disclosing a 13.5% slice in the auction house.

(via the Wall Street Journal)

The company, run by Chen Dongsheng, reportedly has a “positive view” of Sotheby’s and its business strategy, as well as an interest in a board seat. Chen also founded China Guardian Auctions Co. Ltd, the government’s first auction house, though the company has consistently fallen behind competitor Poly Guardian. Hong Kong is a major auction hub for Western and Chinese houses alike, so Taikang Life Insurance’s stake in Sotheby’s “could present both Sotheby’s and China Guardian with potential benefits and conflicts of interest,” writes Kelly Crow. Taikang Life Insurance’s share—disclosed in a filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday—revealed a larger stake in the company than those of other activist investors including Dan Loeb’s Third Point LLC, which owns a 11.38% share of Sotheby’s.

02  Photographer Carol Highsmith, who donated 18,755 images to the Library of Congress, is suing Getty for $1 billion after the photo agency allegedly falsely claimed copyright and charged for her public domain works.

(via Hyperallergic)

Highsmith was first alerted to the issue when she received a letter from Getty claiming she owed the company $120 for using her own image on her website. After further investigation, Highsmith realized Getty and another photo agency, Alamy, were claiming to be the copyright holder of the images and charging fees for the use of Highsmith’s works. The photos in question actually fell under the public domain after Highsmith gave them to Library of Congress, a donation the institution called “one of the greatest acts of generosity in the history of the Library.” In her lawsuit, Highsmith alleges that the two photo companies are “are not only unlawfully charging licensing fees … but are falsely and fraudulently holding themselves out as the exclusive copyright owner.” Though damages from a copyright violation in a case such as this are normally capped at $25,000 per instance (of which there are 18,755), since Getty violated the same statute with another photographer’s work within the last three years Highsmith is able to seek three times that amount.

03  The Paris-based Institut Restellini announced that a long-awaited catalogue raisonné focused on Amedeo Modigliani’s paintings will be released by the end of the year, marking the sixth published collection of the Italian artist’s works.


This news is a continuation of a project by Marc Restellini, a Parisian art historian who has been working on a catalogue for Modigliani since at least 1997. Until 2015, Restellini’s work was sponsored by the Wildenstein Institute, a respected publisher of catalogues raisonnés; now, the catalogue is being overseen by the Institut Restellini. The process has been rife with delays and complications—over a decade ago, Restellini was even forced to call off an inventory of the artist’s drawings after receiving death threats from those concerned he might not include their works. The catalogue of paintings was originally intended to be published in 2002, a date that was pushed back several years, then put on hold indefinitely until the Institut’s July announcement. It remains to be seen if this version will meet its publication deadline. Another project concerning Modigliani’s legacy was also announced this year, when an international group of curators and scholars gathered with the goal of determining Modigliani’s working method and technique using scientific markers.

04  The recent political turmoil in Turkey is taking its toll on the art market, according to some of Istanbul’s leading gallerists.

(via artnet News)

Dealer Kerimcan Güleryüz noted that the Turkish art market is currently undergoing a “real Darwinian winnowing,” as galleries struggle to sell art and stay afloat amidst ongoing violence and unrest. The market outlook is even more pressing given art fair Art International’s decision, announced in April, to cancel this year’s edition in response to a series of ISIS attacks. With Contemporary Istanbul as the only major fair remaining on the fall roster, exhibitors worry that sales will remain low if it proves difficult to attract an international crowd. However, there is some positive news on the horizon: Art International intends to return in full force in 2017, and on the collector front, numbers are growing. Gallerists, too, are working towards possible collaborations for the fall. “We will probably take slower steps in this case but there will be more solidarity to keep the spirits up and keep the market going,” says Asli Sümer, founder and director of artSümer in Istanbul.

05  French artist Orlan has lost a plagiarism and image copyright infringement lawsuit brought against pop star Lady Gaga and, as a result, must pay a reported $22,000.

(via The Art Newspaper)

The suit surrounds the cover art for Gaga’s 2011 album Born This Way along with the music video for the album’s single of the same name. Orlan has claimed that Gaga not only borrowed the artist’s “carnal art” aesthetic, but she went as far as to plagiarize two of Orlan’s sculptures: Bumpload (1989) and Woman With Head (1996). The artist had sued Gaga in June of 2013 for $31.7 million, amounting to 7.5% of the royalties earned from the album, which sold eight million copies worldwide. Yet on July 7th, Paris’s High Court rejected Orlan’s claims, asserting that the works are not solely comprised of their physical elements, and thus Gaga’s use of similar imagery on the album cover and in the video does not constitute use of the artworks per se. Furthermore, in regard to Bumpload, the court ruled that making modifications to the human body is a concept which cannot be owned exclusively by an individual. As per the court’s ruling, Orlan must pay Gaga and her record label €10,000 respectively, though she says she intends to appeal the decision.

06  Several high-profile staff members have left Christie’s.

(via the New York Times)

The announcement comes a week after Christie’s reported $3 billion in sales for the first two quarters of 2016—down $1.5 billion from the same period last year. It is not clear, however, if the departures are voluntary exits or forced dismissals. The executives, who didn’t respond to requests for comment, are Paul R. Provost, the senior vice president and director of trusts, estates, and appraisals; Nicholas Hall, international head of Old Master paintings and 19th-century art; and Cathy Elkies, head of Christie’s 20th- and 21st-century design. In a statement, Christie’s said, “As a private company, we don’t comment on speculation around our employees. However, like any business, we continue to review the deployment of resources and focus investment on areas of growth so as to best to serve our clients.” Most high-profile auction house departures reported this year have been from Sotheby’s, but if these recent announcements are any indication, Christie’s may also see significant personnel changes coming soon.

07  Saddled with growing debt, Hawaii’s Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum now faces accusations of obstructing access to its archives, as well as continued custody battles over many of its objects.

(via The Art Newspaper)

The Bishop Museum, established in 1889 by the the last descendant of the royal Kamehameha family, has been struggling for years to stay afloat financially. In 2011, then-director and chief executive Blair Collis, charged with the task of resuscitating the museum’s finances, was discovered to have misused funds tied to his museum credit card; he stepped down in May in the wake of these corruption allegations. Financial documents from 2014 reveal that the Honolulu-based museum, the largest in the state, is facing more than $7.5 million in debt. Meanwhile, many objects in the private museum’s collection of over 25 million items have scarcely been seen in years—most notably a group of 83 native Hawaiian artifacts that several local organizations have laid claims to. Munich art dealer Daniel Blau says he has found it increasingly difficult to access the archives, even for research purposes. Although this has been denied by a museum spokesperson, some wonder if the institution will resort—or has already resorted—to selling off pieces in its collection to raise much-needed funds.

08  After 14 years spent in Battery Park, the sculpture that survived the World Trade Center attacks has found a permanent home at the new Liberty Park.

(via the New York Times)

Fritz Koenig’s Sphere for Plaza Fountain was once the focal point of the World Trade Center; after the events of September 11th, 2001, it was badly damaged but not destroyed. In 2002, the sculpture was installed in Battery Park to serve as New York City’s interim 9/11 memorial. However, the 25-ton work was never meant to be permanent—the park conservancy didn’t include the work in its long-term renovation plan for the outdoor space. The National September 11 Memorial, too, expressed no interest in hosting Sphere. So it remained in stasis until last Thursday, when the Port Authority board approved a plan to transfer the sculpture to the elevated Liberty Park. Located near the St. Nicholas National Shrine, Sphere will overlook the memorial plaza. A spokesperson from Koenig’s foundation noted that while the artist is now 92 years old, he remains “very interested” in the fate of the sculpture. “He was not happy with the last placement in Battery Park. The possibility of a better situation electrified him,” she said.

09  Syed Haider Raza, recognized as one of India’s greatest modern painters, died last Saturday in New Delhi at the age of 94.

(via Newsweek)

Known for his founding role in the Bombay-based Progressive Artists’ Group of the 1940s and ’50s, Raza’s work is characterized by brightly colored geometric abstractions painted in acrylic. His paintings set records for Indian art at auction, with Saurashtra (1983) selling for $3.5 million at Christie’s in June 2010. Born in 1922 in a remote rural village in India, Raza moved to Paris in 1950 on a French scholarship and remained there for 60 years. He returned to his native country just six years ago, where he continued to paint up until his death; a solo show in January included more than 20 works made in 2015. Along with other leading members of the Progressive Artists’ Group—including M.F. Husain and F.N. Souza—Raza’s work defined the post-independence era of Indian art, eschewing traditional methods and embracing the influence of European and American artistic movements.

10  The iconic Armada Portrait of Elizabeth I (c. 1590) has been acquired by London’s Royal Museums Greenwich after a campaign to save the painting received a £7.4m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

(via The Art Newspaper)

The portrait is being sold by the Tyrwhitt-Drake family, descendants of Sir Francis Drake, and will now enter a public collection for the first time. One of the U.K.’s most famous works of art, it will hang in the Queen’s House when it reopens in October—the site of the palace where Elizabeth I was born. Art Fund launched a campaign to purchase the painting in May of this year and drew an extraordinary response.  Donations included a £1m grant from Art Fund, £400k from Royal Museums Greenwich, 8,000 public donations totaling £1.5m—fundraising efforts came from schoolchildren, among others, who reportedly held bake sales up and down the country—and one of the Heritage Lottery Fund’s largest-ever donations to a museum: £7.4m. In light of the U.K.’s ongoing identity crisis and political upheaval, it’s perhaps no wonder that natives responded to a call to save this treasured symbol of the country’s heritage and historical position as a global power. The painting, completed around 1590, memorializes the strength of Elizabeth’s reign, which prevailed over an attempted invasion of England by the Spanish Armada in 1588. The artist remains unknown, but there is hope that the conservation of the painting, set to begin next year, will uncover clues to its authorship. 

Artsy Editors

Cover image: Photo courtesy of Sotheby's.