Wildenstein is charged with tax fraud and money-laundering in a case that has thrown a very public spotlight onto the normally reserved and secretive family known in the country simply as “Les W.” The case is part gossip factory, including stories of glitzy displays of wealth, family betrayals, and a friendship with former French president Nicolas Sarkozy. But more importantly, it is a rare glimpse into the complex financial arrangements and freeports used by some wealthy art-owning individuals to shield themselves from tax laws. Wildenstein, who normally presides over Wildenstein & Co. from the company’s luxurious headquarters on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, is accused of failing to disclose and pay tax on the full amount of the inheritance he received after his father’s death in 2001. At the time, Wildenstein reported some €40.9 million, with a resulting tax bill of €17.7 million. But now, French prosecutors are saying that Wildenstein should have declared roughly €616 million in taxable assets. In defense, Wildenstein asserts that his father began the process of reorganizing the trusts in July, months before he died in October. Further, he contends that he simply followed the advice of lawyers and financiers who told him that the assets weren’t owned by the family but by independent trusts, and thus need not be disclosed to tax authorities. Authorities argue that the trusts were far from independent. The trial is expected to wrap up by October 20.
05 Sotheby’s has determined that a Frans Hals painting sold in 2011 was a forgery—one in a potential string of Old Master fakes—and refunded the buyer.
The work, An Unknown Man
, a portrait once attributed to the Dutch master, sold for £8.5 million in 2011. Sotheby’s has since confirmed that the work is “undoubtedly” fake, annulled the sale and fully reimbursed the client. The determination comes amid reports that a series of Old Master paintings (a notoriously difficult genre to authenticate) may have been forged by an as-yet-unknown individual. Implicated are a work loaned to the National Gallery
that is attributed to
and a piece attributed to
. That latter work, purchased by the Prince of Liechtenstein in 2013, was seized by a French judge in March after its authenticity was questioned. The investigation by the judge, which is said to have widened to include some 25 paintings, is ongoing. That number comes by way of a recent Daily Mail
story, which declared the possibility that millions in forged Old Master works have been sold and exhibited. While the Sotheby’s announcement offers some confirmation to the underlying claims (namely, that a few forgeries have been discovered), the exact scope of the forgeries is not currently known.
06 As part of a relief package to its country’s museums, which have seen decreased attendance since the November 2015 Paris terrorist attacks, France will increase public funding to the institutions by 5%.
The 5% financial boost to French museums was announced this week by France’s Minister of Culture and Communication, Audrey Azoulay, as part of a 6.6% countrywide cultural funding hike. The increase, which will go into effect in 2017, will raise the capital provided by the French government to its cultural institutions to €2.9 billion—the largest amount that France has ever pledged to the arts in a single year. The decision comes in response to the financial hit French cultural institutions have taken in the last year. Museums, in particular, have cited decreased attendance, connected to the decline in tourism the country has experienced since the 2015 and 2016 terrorist attacks in Paris and Nice, respectively. “I know the difficulties confronting museums today, between a drop in attendance, particularly linked to the drop in tourism, and a rise in security expenses,” explained Azoulay of the reasoning behind the increase. Along with the 5% overall funding increase to museums, Azoulay also announced a whopping 12% increase to the acquisitions budgets of regional and national museums. While funding increases of this scale are largely unprecedented in France, the impact of the government’s efforts to re-stimulate the country’s cultural tourism—and how, exactly, the new funding packages will be allocated—remains to be seen.
07 The family of late artist Dash Snow has sued McDonald’s for allegedly using his work to decorate hundreds of restaurants without permission.
’s former girlfriend and executor of his estate, filed the suit in federal court in Los Angeles earlier this week. The complaint asserts that McDonald’s copied Snow’s signature street tag (“SACE,” the artist’s pseudonym) for use in the industrial, graffiti-themed décor of a number of its locations. It further alleges that associating Snow, who died in 2009, with a corporate chain like McDonald’s is antithetical to the outsider status of his work—a status that has likely contributed to the six-figure sums his pieces have fetched at Sotheby’s and Christie’s. According to the complaint, Snow’s family reached out to the fast food chain in June when they discovered the alleged infringement, to no avail. The newly filed suit would prevent McDonald’s from using Snow’s name and work in any way; it also seeks damages for copyright infringement, trademark infringement, and other related claims.
08 The Turkish government has decided to leave Creative Europe, the European Union’s cultural funding organization.
Effective January 1, 2017, Turkey will no longer be a part of Creative Europe, which, after signing an agreement with the EU in late 2014, the nation officially joined in 2015 as one of several non-EU nations to receive financial support for its arts and culture sectors. This exit from Creative Europe (which has an approximate budget of $1.64 billion to spend between 2014 and 2020), will see Turkey relinquish future funding and sever relationships with European cultural institutions. The motives behind this decision are still unclear, though several reports suggest that it may be related to the organization’s funding of an April concert in Germany commemorating the Armenian Genocide, an event Turkey refuses to acknowledge. This is the latest in signs of an increasingly strained relationship between Turkey and the European Union. The move also follows a series of hits to the country’s arts and culture sector in the wake of the July 15 failed military coup in the country—including the cancellation of the Çanakkale Biennial and Art International art fair, as well as a wave of censorship among artists and journalists. A spokesperson for the EU expressed regret over Turkey’s exit from the program: “The European Commission regrets Turkey’s decision and the fact that Turkish cultural and audiovisual operators will miss future opportunities for cooperation with their counterparts in the EU. Although this is unfortunate, the commission respects the sovereign decision of Turkey.”
09 L.A.-based illustrator Lili Chin has sued mega-retailer Kohl’s and two clothing manufacturers for what her complaint calls “flagrant” and “willful” copyright infringement.