An Owl vase made by Pablo Picasso was swiped from a Manhattan gallery, police said Tuesday. The 10-inch ceramic piece is estimated to be worth about US$30,000. Chelsea’s ACA Gallery noticed that it was gone May 10, but a police report wasn’t filed until Monday.
When one of the oldest and most respected art galleries in America, the Knoedler Gallery in New York, closed its doors abruptly in 2011, the art world was stunned. Not because the gallery closed, but by the discovery that over the course of 15 years, the gallery and its president, Ann Freedman, had sold millions of dollars in forgeries to wealthy collectors.
Art dealer Kenneth Hendel recently found himself in a sticky situation: He was in possession of stolen art. The Florida-based dealer purchased a painting by Picasso after it failed to sell at auction. After the purchase, Wilma “Billie” Tisch, the rightful owner, discovered the painting’s whereabouts and demanded its return. Hendel claims that he is now the rightful owner. The dealer is confident that he will not be forced to return the work because he is working under the assumption that Florida law protects his purchase. He claims that “the piece belongs to the last person who purchased it if it has passed through at least two people since the theft.” This is simply not true.
While it is true that certain aspects of the law in Florida are more forgiving towards current possessors than would be the case under New York law, there are major misconceptions in Hendel’s analysis. There is no law, in any state, that allows someone to gain title over a work after it has passed through a requisite number of exchanges. In fact, a work can be sold by a hundred dealers and yet still belong to an original owner.
Billionaire socialite Wilma “Billie” Tisch is suing a Florida gallery owner for trying to sell a US$1 million Picasso that was stolen from her Manhattan home — sometime after December 2009, according to court papers.
Tisch, 88, only recently discovered the 1928 portrait of the famed painter’s mistress, Marie-Therese Walter, was missing.
Pablo Picasso famously once said, “We all know that art is not the truth.”
With the recent conclusion of the first lawsuit filed against the now defunct, Knoedler Gallery of New York, for selling forgeries, the art world has been abuzz with stories of high-end fakes and the grave issue of false attributions. However, it is a universally established fact that forgeries are not a recent phenomenon but in fact have only grown in prevelance over the last four centuries.
Currently, the FBI estimates that art theft, fraud, looting, and trafficking across state and international lines are a “looming criminal enterprise with estimated losses running as high as $6 billion annually.”
In 2009, two years before news of the Knoedler Gallery’s US$70m sale of fake Abstract Expressionist paintings began to emerge, Ann Freedman resigned as director. Two years later, the venerable gallery closed down and the lawsuits against Knoedler and Freedman began to flood in. Five settled. The first to reach trial, brought by the collectors Domenico and Eleanore De Sole, also settled its claims against Freedman on 7 February (and against Knoedler shortly afterwards), just before she was set to take the stand in the New York courtroom. Her testimony had been eagerly anticipated, not least because she has never given her view of the unfolding scandal and her involvement in it. Until now.
Speaking to The Art Newspaper in an exclusive interview, her first in several years, she summed up the situation thus: “There has been a lot of misunderstanding.” We spoke to her in her sun-filled gallery on the Upper East side, FreedmanArt, which she opened in 2011. “Looking back, there can be things I didn’t see at the time… Could I have done some things differently? Not a day goes by that I don’t think about it. I don’t have an answer sitting here. I will at some point probably.”