Police Recover Three Francis Bacon Paintings, Part of $29 Million Heist—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.
The pieces were among the five stolen during a 2015 heist of a private home in Madrid, estimated to be worth $29 million in all. The pieces belonged to José Capelo, a friend of the Irish-born British artist. Their theft is thought to be the largest case of stolen contemporary art in Spain’s history to date. The works were recovered after Spanish police received a tip from London’s Art Loss Register, a database of stolen art. An individual from near Barcelona contacted the ALR looking to verify the authenticity of a painting, sending them a photograph of the work showing Bacon’s signature. From that image, police were able to determine the camera used and identify the individual who took the photograph, arresting the thief and several accomplices. So far, there are 10 arrests in connection with the case.
02 On Tuesday, artist Cady Noland filed a lawsuit seeking the destruction of Log Cabin (1990), a wooden sculpture formerly attributed to the artist that has been embroiled in authenticity and legal disputes.
The suit asserts that, in an effort to conserve the piece, it was entirely reconstructed from new wood without permission or notice, essentially producing an unauthorized copy. Noland says this copy and its subsequent sale for $1.4 million violated her copyright and rights under the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA). Noland also filed for monetary damages from those parties the complaint alleges may have conspired to infringe on her copyright by reproducing the work without her knowledge. The suit names Wilhelm Schürmann, the German collector who first bought the cabin, art advisor Chris D’Amelio, and two galleries that handled the work—Galerie Michael Janssen and KOW—along with Janssen personally, as defendants. In an emailed statement, Janssen said that he has yet to be served with the suit, “but based on what I have heard I believe that it has no merit.” The gallerist added that “unfortunately, Ms. Noland has a history of trying to use the law to hurt art collectors and even her own artwork. That should not be necessary and I hope to find a positive outcome in this case.”
03 New York Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed linking arts funding to institutional diversity during the launch of the city’s newly released cultural plan.
(via the New York Times)
Debuted on Wednesday, the city’s first-ever cultural plan proposes more inclusivity, equity, and accessibility for the arts across the five boroughs. Though not a budget document, the 180-page plan contains dozens of proposals, including giving more money to cultural organizations in lower-income and more diverse neighborhoods. In releasing the plan, de Blasio said that the city will require institutions to submit “meaningful goals” for the diversity of their staffs and boards. “This will be a factor in funding decisions by the city going forward,” he added. The document has its critics, including backers of the People’s Cultural Plan (PCP), an alternative document released in May that proposes tackling the larger problems of rent and affordability impacting both artists and the city as a whole. The city’s cultural plan “doesn’t make recommendations to address gentrification and displacement, which is affecting poor communities and communities of color and harshly affecting artists and art organization,” artist Jenny Dubnau, one of the PCP’s authors, told ARTNews.
04 Heavy rains this month damaged several works in the Louvre’s collection.
(via The Art Newspaper)
Conservators are assessing water damage to two works in French Baroque painter Nicolas Poussin’s “Four Seasons” series and French Rococo painter Jean-François de Troy’s Triumph of Mordecai (1736) after last week’s heavy storms. After two days of rain beginning July 9th drenched Paris, officials found water seeping into the mezzanine of the Denon wing, which houses Islamic and Mediterranean art, as well as the first floor of the Sully wing and the second floor of the Cour Carrée, according to a museum statement. Works in the affected wings, including paintings by Georges de la Tour and Eustache Le Sueur, were transferred to storage as a preventative measure to preclude further damage. As of this week’s statement, the impacted wings are closed while conservators inspect and attempt to reverse damage to the three paintings.
05 Salvador Dalí’s body was exhumed on Thursday night, revealing his signature moustache still intact.
(via The Guardian)
The Spanish artist was disinterred to collect DNA samples that will settle a long-running paternity case levied by 61-year-old fortune teller Pilar Abel. For a decade, Abel has been working to prove she is Dalí’s only child. If successful, Spanish law dictates that she she can lay claim to one-quarter of the Surrealist’s estate. The artist was buried in 1989 in a crypt beneath his Figueres museum; experts had to wait until the building cleared of visitors on Thursday evening to remove the 1.5-ton slab covering his grave and extract samples of his hair, nails, and bones. An embalmer present was “delighted” to see his trademark moustache still in place almost 30 years after his death. This will be Abel’s third attempt to prove her parentage—she performed two tests in 2007, one that was inconclusive and another where she claims she never received the results. The conclusions of the latest test are expected in a month or two.
06 Christie’s posted a 14% increase in total sales for the first half of 2017.
The London-based auction house reported that its total sales for this period came to £2.35 billion (or roughly $3 billion)—a 14% increase when compared to the same period last year. Though an increase, the 2017 figure is still shy of the house’s 2015 record for the first half of the year, when it posted results of £2.9 billion. Christie’s saw solid performance at the high end of the market, more than doubling the number of works selling in excess of £10 million from 14 to 38. The house managed the overall increase while seeing a 62% decline in private sales. In 2016, Christie’s had brokered the $174 million private sale in 2016 of two Rembrandt van Rijn paintings; there did not appear to be a similar blockbuster private sale so far this year. Much of the overall boost is attributable to an increase in buying from Asia, with 35% of all buyers at the house hailing from the continent. Christie’s opened a salesroom in China in October. A private company, Christie’s didn’t report earnings figures but the publicly traded Sotheby’s will release its figures next month.
07 The House Appropriations Committee has approved a budget that would cut millions from the budgets of federal arts agencies but will not eliminate them entirely, as some had feared.
President Trump had called for their elimination of federal arts agencies this past spring, prompting a bipartisan group of more than 150 members of Congress to counter with demands for increasing their budgets, but a plan passed Tuesday night by the House of Representatives’ Appropriations Committee will continue to fund them, albeit at lower levels. The Interior and Environment Appropriations bill, which now faces Senate approval, sets the fiscal year 2018 budgets for both the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities at $145 million each, nearly $5 million less than last year’s total of $149.8 million for each agency. Similarly, the Smithsonian Institution’s budget has fallen from $729.4 million to $716.6 million. The National Gallery of Art will maintain its budget of $155.5 million. The $31.4 billion spending plan, which sets out government spending, passed the House committee by a vote of 30 to 21. The bill will now move to the Senate for possible amendments and approval.
08 An antiquities dealer is suing the Wall Street Journal following an article that stated he was under investigation for trafficking in ISIS-looted artifacts.
(via the New York Times)
An article published on May 31st by the Wall Street Journal reported that authorities in the U.S. and several European countries were investigating Hicham Aboutaam and his brother Ali for the sale of looted antiquities. On Monday, Hicham responded with a libel suit claiming the article had damaged sales at his Manhattan gallery, Phoenix Ancient Art. Ali, who maintains a gallery in Geneva, is not a party to the suit. The article stated that neither brother had been charged and that French authorities were also examining 14 other dealers—though the article only lists the Aboutaams by name. However, Hicham maintains in a complaint filed with the Manhattan Supreme Court that his “personal and professional reputation and business opportunities have been decimated.” Following the article’s publication, the Toledo Museum of Art returned a $50,000 piece that had been donated by Phoenix, Hicham told the Times. A representative for the Journal’s parent company told the Times that it “fully [stands] by the article and will mount a robust defense to Hicham Aboutaam’s lawsuit.”
09 Twenty-one paintings attributed to Modigliani have been confiscated from an exhibition on suspicion that they were forged.
(via the Telegraph)
An exhibition at the Doge’s Palace, where several of the paintings were on display, was shut down three days early to aid the developing investigation. Among the first to cast doubt on the works’ authenticity was Tuscan art critic Carlo Pepi, who spoke out in February when the promotional materials for the show were distributed. Pepi then lodged a formal complaint with Rome’s Carabinieri art fraud unit. Modigliani scholar Marc Restellini bolstered these suspicions, labelling the works “dubious.” Three people are currently under investigation in connection with the forgeries, including the exhibition’s Swiss curator. The prices achieved for Modigliani’s works have jumped rapidly in recent years—his Nu couché (1917–18) sold for $170.4 million in 2016, becoming the second most expensive work ever sold at auction—making his market ripe for fakes. The lack of an authoritative Modigliani catalogue raisonné, which would provide a comprehensive inventory of his works, has further exacerbated the problem.
10 Ahead of Brexit, a new report has found that the U.K. art market relies heavily on trade with the European Union.
(via The Art Newspaper)
Cross-border trade with EU member states is a major part of Britain’s art market, the second-largest in the world, a new report from the British Art Market Federation (BAMF) said. Between 15% and 20% of all purchases, and up to 25% of auction consignments, come from EU countries, according to the report, which was prepared by Clare McAndrew’s Arts Economics. The report estimated the size of the British art market at £9.2 billion in art and antiques sales in 2016, which represents 21% of global transactions, slightly ahead of China’s share and just over half the United States’s share. The art industry directly accounts for 41,700 jobs, plus another 94,710 in support services such as restoration, information technology, or logistics. Anthony Browne, BAMF’s chair, said the findings underscore “that the art market is something the government should care about,” especially as it negotiates new terms of trade with the EU head of Brexit, The Art Newspaper reported.
Cover image: Henri Cartier-Bresson, Francis Bacon, London, 1971. Courtesy of Beetles + Huxley.