Published: December 4, 2001
Trade News from around the World
Tom Hays of the Associated Press reports on December 3 that as a high-profile conspiracy trial nears its end, defense lawyers hope to portray their client as an apathetic auction-house chairman who couldn’t have pulled off a complex price-fixing scheme that cheated customers out of millions of dollars. Some who know former Sotheby’s chairman A. Alfred Taubman have even portrayed him as being confused by mathematical complexities and so bored by finance that he would nod off at meetings. The unflattering portrayal of the multimillionaire from Bloomfield Hills, Mich., surfaced at his federal conspiracy trial in Manhattan, which will go to the jury this week. The prosecution’s case centered on testimony by Diana “DeDe” Brooks, the former chief executive for Sotheby’s, who agreed to testify against Taubman in hopes of avoiding a three-year prison sentence. The defense responded with testimony intended to show that Brooks rigged commissions behind Taubman’s back. William Sheridan, chief financial officer of Sotheby’s, testified Brooks complained about having to answer to “old men who fall asleep at meetings.” She once even extended a $105 million line of credit to a buyer without getting the board of director’s mandatory approval, he said. Another Sotheby’s executive, Michael Curl, claimed when he mentioned speaking to Taubman about the business, Brooks snapped: “Alfred Taubman doesn’t run this company – I do.” Brooks’ predecessor, Michael Ainslie, portrayed him as being demanding about maintaining Sotheby’s lead in market share, but confused by math. However, as Ralph Blumenthal and Carol Vogel of The New York Times write, “Deriding what [lead prosecutor John G. Greene] called ‘the dumb, hungry Taubman story’…Greene said the evidence showed that Mr. Taubman conspired with his Christie’s counterpart at 12 secret meetings in the mid-1990’s. Mr. Greene asserted that he then directed the auction house’s chief executive, now his main accuser at the trial, Diana D. Brooks, to carry out his orders to fix commission rates with her counterpart at Christie’s in a scheme that cost customers millions.”
In Kabul, Afghanistan, writes Greg Myre of the Associated Press, the clanging metal door to the Culture Ministry’s storage room swung open on November 28, revealing a horror show inside: more than 2,000 sculptures, carvings and pottery pieces dating to antiquity had been smashed and dumped into large piles of rubble, courtesy of the Taliban. Sandstone statues of ancient kings, stone panels featuring elephants and paintings of Twentieth Century Afghan royalty were systematically destroyed during a two-month assault on Afghanistan’s cultural heritage that began in February and included explosions that obliterated a pair of giant Buddhas carved into the cliffs of the country’s central highlands. Armed with hammers and axes, a crew of Taliban workers came repeatedly to the ministry, prying open wooden crates and steel cases to demolish the art that had been salvaged in 1995 from the thoroughly looted Kabul Museum. The artifacts had been placed in the ministry storeroom in central Kabul in the belief that they would be safe there. Though Afghanistan doesn’t formally have a government to replace the Taliban, acting culture minister Abdul Hafiz Mansour appealed for international help to rebuild the museum. While the museum’s holdings have dwindled, several large pieces of Islamic art remain inside the fractured building, surviving because they were too heavy for the looters and were acceptable to the Taliban. In the center of the ground floor is a massive, black marble basin from the Fifteenth Century, with a detailed Islamic inscription on the outside. In addition, thousands of the artifacts salvaged by museum workers in 1995 are still in storage in Kabul, but given the recent history, the ministry won’t say where they are.
According to AP’s Angela Doland, when Sotheby’s made its Paris debut on November 29, the gavel fell on a rigid, centuries-old set of regulations that kept foreign auction houses out of France and eventually left the country’s art market in stagnation. Sotheby’s entered the Paris market with French flair: rdf_Descriptions on the auction block included manuscripts and early editions by authors such as Andre Gide, Marcel Proust and Guy de Maupassant, a collection estimated at up to $2.7 million. The auction is the culmination of the company’s decade-long struggle to convince officials to end a monopoly by French auctioneers and let outsiders in. Until recently, only government-licensed judicial officials, called commissaires-priseurs, were allowed to hold auctions in France. In a telephone interview, Laure de Beauvau Craon, chairman of Sotheby’s France, said, “[French auctioneers] were protected by a monopoly, and now they will have to become businessmen.” As the auction opened at the sleek and modern renovated space in the neighborhood that is home to France’s presidential palace – some in the crowd burst into applause as Beauvau Craon referred to the “end of the monopoly” in an opening address.
AP’s Karen Matthews writes that two paintings looted by the Nazis in the 1930s were returned to the victim’s daughter November 27 in a ceremony arranged by New York Gov. George Pataki. The paintings – the second and third returned to the same family – were recovered as part of a settlement brokered by the Holocaust Claims Processing Office of the state Banking Department. “[The] announcement is truly monumental,” Pataki said. “In less than one year, a New York State agency has recovered three paintings belonging to one family.” The paintings returned Tuesday were “Portrait of Charlotte Corinth,” a 1915 work by Lovis Corinth, and “Seated Nude on Blue Cushion,” a 1927 work by Karl Hofer. They were part of the collection of Ismar Littmann, a prominent attorney and art collector in prewar Breslau, Silesia, in what is now Poland.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Calif., has purchased a rare Seventeenth Century Flemish painting as a tribute to its retired director, John Walsh. “The Return From War: Mars Disarmed by Venus,” was painted by Peter Paul Rubens and Jan Brueghel the Elder between 1610-12. Walsh is a scholar of Seventeenth Century Dutch painting. The price of the 50.5 by 64.5-inch work was not disclosed, but the painting was bought from a private estate in Wimbledon, England, and will be displayed in the Getty Center’s East Pavilion in mid-January, the Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press reported December 1.
The Manchester Historic Association, Manchester, N.H., has been given the Perley D. Colby Collection of Native American Artifacts. A retired soil scientist and an avocational archeologist, Colby was instrumental in bringing the Litchfield site – located on the Colby Farm – to the attention of the New Hampshire Archeological Society, where archeological excavations were conducted 1959-1965. The Colby family has been farming since 1920 and at one point in time had 1,500 acres cultivated in Litchfield, Hudson and Manchester. The collection of several hundred artifacts includes all types of Native American stone tools – points, edge tools, ground stone tools as well as pottery sherds – reflecting many types of activities. The artifacts span in age from the Early Archaic (9,000 years ago) through European settlement.
Gallery Systems, a company that provides software and support for museums, foundations, galleries, visual resource libraries and collectors, has opened its second European office in Berlin, Germany. Heading the new office is Jost Hansen, former researcher, cataloguer and database manager, most recently at the Albertina, Vienna.
John L. McGraw and Frank L. Hohmann, III have been named to the Winterthur Board of Trustees for three-year terms. Hohmann is a managing director of Credit Suisse First Boston, which he joined in November 2000 when the firm merged with Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette. A Winterthur member since 1997, Hohmann is also on the boards of Egerton Capital Limited, Mount European Fund, and U. Vine Limited, all in London. An avid collector of Eighteenth Century American furniture, he lives in Manhattan with his family. In addition to his new role as a trustee, McGraw is a member of Winterthur’s highest level membership group, Collectors Circle. He also is a former board member of McGraw Hill Publishing Company and is past president of the Norton Museum of Art.
Cynthia E. Rallis, deputy director of the UCLA Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, will become the Cleveland Museum of Art’s director of development in January. She will oversee the implementation of a comprehensive development program that includes professionals in the areas of planned giving, corporate relations, foundations, grants and governmental relations, individual giving and constituent development.
The Connecticut Valley Historical Museum, Springfield, Mass., has again been awarded accreditation by the American Association of Museums, the national organization that represents the museum community.
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