Art dealer

Is a dead shark in a tank really worth millions of dollars? Art, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder—but Damien Hirst’s infamous 1991 work, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, fetched a reported US$12 million for reasons aside from its creative merit. In the video above, Vox breaks down the economics behind high-profile art market sales, and explains why an art dealer’s reputation is sometimes just as important (if not more so) than a work’s creator.

Jeff Koons' Gazing Ball sculpture at centre of legal tussle between art dealers

Lawyers for Blue Art Limited filed an amended complaint Wednesday night  against David Zwirner and his gallery, which Fabrizio Moretti says failed to deliver a work of art he bought for $2m. The new complaint comes after Zwirner’s motion to dismiss named the previously anonymous purchaser and called the lawsuit “a case of buyer’s remorse”. In response, Moretti’s recent court filings reveal the work at the heart of the case—Jeff Koons’ Gazing Ball (Centaur and Lapith Maiden) (2013), from the gallery’s show that year. And while he previously asked for the original purchase price for the work plus fees, Moretti’s updated suit seeks $6m in total damages.

In the new filing, Moretti’s lawyers say Zwirner and the gallery played “a kind of ‘three card monte’ in which the numbered casts of the sculpture”—an edition of three, plus an artist’s proof—“were distributed to their buyers willy-nilly”.

On 24 June 2014, according to the complaint, Moretti made a purchase agreement and soon put down a deposit of $400,000 on edition 2 of 3, his lawyers say. By early 2015, the gallery told Moretti that the sculpture was nearly complete and the collector started paying off what he owed. In April 2015, the work was ready but instead of being delivered to Moretti, it was labelled as edition 3 of 3 and taken to the Contemporary Art Evening Auction at Sotheby’s in May, where it carried an estimate of $1.5m to $2.5m—and failed to sell.

On 29 June 2015, the court papers say, Moretti paid the final $200,000 he owed and around that time, another sculpture was completed. This one, however, was labelled edition 1 of 3 and went to another buyer, who still owed the gallery $1.6m. Moretti, faced with a bad art market and a sculpture from a series that had now been unsold at auction, says he still had not received his piece by the time he filed his lawsuit on 4 August this year.

Further complicating matters is the fact that the editions that were made are not the same as the one shown at the Gazing Ball show at David Zwirner Gallery in May 2013, the complaint says. That is now classified as a “prototype” and the dimensions of the sculpture ready for collection by Moretti are different from the object he purchased, the collector says.

Moretti’s amended suit alleges that Zwirner’s dealings violate the New York Arts and Cultural Affairs Law, updated in 1991 to “augment the laws protecting art purchasers from the slippery practices of some art dealers”, according to the court papers, and to outline the information that must be provided to the buyer of a sculpture. Moretti is seeking additional damages because Zwirner violated the law in the vagueness of the purchase agreement and in the editioning, the court documents state. The complaint also accuses the dealer and gallery of breach of contract and fraud, among other charges.

Two men copied famous artworks and sold them for millions

Two men hid out in a Melbourne studio, painting exact replicas of Brett Whiteley’s paintings and then sold them for millions of pounds. Art restorer Mohamed Aman Siddique and dealer Peter Gant were found guilty in May on charges of obtaining and attempting to obtain financial advantage by deception over the fakes.

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Peter Gant at the Supreme Court in Melbourne, during the Whiteley fake art court case (Stuart McEvoy for The Australian)

Barristers said at a pre-sentence hearing that Gant would never work in the industry again because of extra punishment he suffered due to publicity around the trial. Sydney Swans chairman Andrew Pridham fell victim to the art fraud and bought a fake of Whiteley’s Big Blue Lavender Bay painting, which he thought was an original, for £1.5 million. The men also replicated Orange Lavender Bay and sold it for £600,000 and they were gearing up to sell a third, Through the Window, for almost £500,000.

The pair face the possibility of a maximum ten year prison sentence and have flagged their plans to appeal.

The hearing continues.

New evidence in stolen Picassos case

Art dealer Olivier Thomas has been placed under investigation once again as new evidence has emerged in the ongoing investigation into stolen Picasso paintings. Last year, Picasso’s stepdaughter Catherine Hutin-Blay accused the dealer, who’s associated with former Freeport head Yves Bouvier, of stealing three works from her. Hutin-Blay alleged that three paintings, including two works by her stepfather that she had entrusted to Bouvier for storage, had been stolen and surreptitiously sold to Dmitry Rybolovlev without her consent.

Thomas was detained by French authorities in May of 2015, and the Brigade de Repression du Banditisme, a special unit of the French Ministry of the Interior, took over the investigation. But Thomas evaded formal charges in his first appearance at court on 9 November, 2015. Back then, he insisted that the works in question “meant nothing to him” and that he had never seen them before. He then emerged from the judge’s office as assisted witness. However, the investigation was still ongoing at the time.

Now, investigators who seized and searched his digital devices, found photos of the disputed artworks on his laptop that he had apparently taken himself.

Thomas was placed under investigation once again on July 6, in Paris by judge Isabelle Rich-Flament for “abuse of trust, fraud, concealment, and laundering” to the detriment of Hutin-Blay.

The judge had summoned Thomas for renewed questioning, and reminded him of his insistence that he had “never seen these pictures” before. The Justice maintained that Thomas had seen the works on multiple occasions, and that his feigned confusion is the crux of the problem.

Dealer: Warhol Spacefruits are real; owner has Authenticity Certificates

In response to news reports of Nira Levine’s lawsuit over a set of Warhol Space Fruit prints, Kristine Woodward writes with this statement:

“Woodward Gallery emphatically refutes Nira Levine’s baseless and inflammatory allegations. The Spacefruit prints which Levine, an art dealer herself, purchased through the Gallery, were authenticated with a rating of “A” by the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board. The Andy Warhol Foundation has just confirmed those findings. The original Certificates of Authenticity were transferred to Nira Levine when she took possession of the prints in 2014. The prints themselves are additionally stamped with the aforementioned “A” numbers. Accordingly, there is no factual basis for her to now – or ever – claim that the prints are fake. It is shameful that Nira Levine would assert a dubious statement in a lawsuit when she in fact has obvious proof of her investment in hand.”

Long-lost still-life by Gauguin rediscovered in Connecticut

A still-life of flowers by Paul Gauguin—which hung for 30 years in the home of a retired Manhattan antiques dealer, who did not know it was by the artist—has been rediscovered by a Connecticut auction house. Authenticated by the Paris-based Wildenstein Institute, the painting “certainly appears” to be the long-lost still-life Summer Flowers in a Goblet listed in the artist’s catalogue raisonné, says the Gauguin specialist, Sylvie Crussard. The work is now due to be sold on 29 June at Litchfield County Auction, with an estimate of US$800,000 to US$1.2m.

'Imagine how easy Keith Haring is to fake'

Last October Richard Polsky, the San Francisco art dealer who wrote I Bought Andy Warhol, started an authentication service for the artist’s works, driven by the dissolution of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts’ authentication committee four years earlier. Now, Polsky has announced that he is taking on authentication of works by Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat.