Published: February 13, 2001
Trade News from around the World
Sotheby’s is suing Michel Cohen, a prominent Manhattan art dealer and owner of Cohen Gallery, saying he swindled the auction house out of nearly $10 million in loans to buy four paintings by Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall. The missing millions were just a fraction of the money Michel Cohen allegedly took from art galleries in Europe and the United States, Forbes.com reported February 8. The report said that the grand total could soar as high as $75 million. Officials at Sotheby’s alleged that Cohen defaulted on $9.9 million in loans given to him last year for the purchase of two Picassos and two Chagalls for resale. “We have done business with Michel Cohen for a number of years, and we were absolutely shocked when he failed to repay his debts,” Diana Phillips, a Sotheby’s spokeswoman, told The Associated Press. Sotheby’s sued him January 23 in state court in Manhattan. The suit was also filed in California, where Cohen had another residence. Cohen could not be reached for comment. He did not return a message left at the Cohen Gallery. Forbes said he may be in Cuba.
There is, however, some good news for Sotheby’s in the courtroom: A federal judge has ruled for the auction house in a lawsuit filed by Al Luckett Jr., a Santa Fe art dealer, who contended a 1998 auction of his Spanish colonial antiques was mishandled. According to AP, U.S. District Judge LeRoy Hansen on February 8 dismissed charges of negligence, breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty and associated charges for breach of covenant of good faith and fair dealing. Hansen did award dealer Al Luckett Jr. $10,049, a refund on an improper surcharge. Luckett had sought $3 million, plus unspecified punitive damages. Hansen ruled Sotheby’s advised Luckett before he consigned the collection to the auction house that the firm had no experience with the types of objects that Luckett was selling. The company relied on Luckett to create bidding estimates, the judge wrote.
And Carol Vogel and Ralph Blumenthal report in the February 12 edition of The New York Times that economics experts have endorsed a $512 million class action settlement by Christie’s and Sotheby’s, court papers filed late February 9 showed. Their decision is a major step toward final court approval of the antitrust lawsuit brought last year by more than 130,000 auction house customers who said they were cheated in a price-fixing scheme dating from 1992. The Times states that the experts conclude the structure of the settlement would help stave off insolvency for both companies, especially the publicly held Sotheby’s, which trades on the New York Stock Exchange. The experts calculated the chance of a default by Sotheby’s over the next five years at 9.16 percent, a probability that would more than double if the company’s bonds, now rated at junk status, were downgraded further, write Vogel and Blumenthal.
As part of an $85 million fund-raising drive, reports The Associated Press, the Barnes Foundation seeks $3 million from donors to renovate he Eighteenth Century farmstead of art collector and educator Albert C. Barnes, Ker-Feal, which houses Barnes’ collection of antiques and early American art. Ker-Feal has been badly neglected and is steadily decaying. Mold, beetles, water seeping through the basement walls, and internal theft are among the threats the foundation is attempting to foil; a 1993 Barnes audit found that some 52 artifacts – ranging from pewter spoons to crystal lamps – have disappeared over the years. The foundation plans to eventually open it to limited public visits. It also hopes to include Ker-Feal in a planned assessment of its holdings.
The Nineteenth Century painting “Le Grand Pont,” by Gustave Courbet, currently being disputed by Yale Univeristy, the family of its Jewish collector, and the present owner, a former Nazi storm trooper, is the subject of another investigation, this time by the Chicago Tribune. The work hangs in the Yale University Art Gallery, but a Tribune examination of National Archives records revealed a claim by Josephine Weinmann in 1948 that the work had been stolen by Nazis. The Tribune first reported on the effort being undertaken by museums to trace ownership of Holocaust artwork with questionable history on January 28. Along with thousands of claims for artworks by masters such as Cezanne and Rembrandt, the Courbet claim ended up buried in U.S. government archives inaccessible for half a century. Had these records been open before now, claims such as the Weinmanns’ could have been settled long ago. The story, by Tribune reporter Ron Grossman, appeared in the Sunday, February 11 edition.
A painting by Andrew Wyeth, stolen from a gallery in broad daylight 34 years ago, is finally being returned to its rightful owner, Sears, Roebuck and Co. The watercolor, titled “The Studio,” was painted by Wyeth in 1966 and stolen in 1967 in Chicago when someone walked out of the Sears Vincent Price Art Gallery with it, said Frank Bochte, spokesman for the FBI in Chicago. When it showed up in November at Christie’s New York, officials there became suspicious and contacted the FBI, Christie’s spokesman Joel Gunderson told AP. Actor Vincent Price, who teamed up with Sears from 1962 to 1971 to sell art from a gallery that traveled to Sears stores throughout the country, paid $27,000 for the painting, Sears spokeswoman Jan Drummond said. She said it was offered for sale in the gallery for $30,000. It is worth about $500,000 today. According to Drummond, Sears may donate the painting to a museum so it can be viewed by the public.
The Saint Louis Art Museum, Missouri, has announced Emily Rauh Pulitzer’s gift to the museum of Jackson Pollock’s “Number 3, 1950,” one of only a few major paintings by Pollock still in private collections. This monumental work was among the paintings that helped establish Pollock as a leader in the Abstract Expressionism movement and as one of the most significant figures in Twentieth Century American art. Painted during one of Pollock’s seminal periods, the large-scale work exemplifies the drip paintings by which he is best known.
Gunston Hall Plantation, Mason Neck, Va., the circa 1755 Chesapeake home of George Mason, recently added an important piece to its collection – a mahogany desk-and-bookcase made by Virginia cabinetmaker John Selden circa 1775. Less than a handful of Selden pieces are known to exist, and the identification of Selden as the maker of the desk-and-bookcase add enormously to the importance of the piece. In addition, while there are surviving flat top Selden case pieces, this desk-and-bookcase is the only example with a pediment. This feature, an unusually elegant form for the Chesapeake region, makes the desk-and-bookcase the most elaborately crafted Selden piece currently known.
The New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, N.Y., has awarded the eighteenth annual Henry Allen Moe Prize to Eastman Johnson: Painting America by Teresa A. Carbone and Patricia Hills. Carbone, co-author of the catalogue, is associate curator of American painting and sculpture at the Brooklyn Museum of Art; Hill is professor of art history, Boston University, and an expert on Johnson. The book, published in conjunction with a major exhibition of Johnson’s work at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York, explores the work and life of one of the most important American artists of the Nineteenth Century.
Richard Edward Oinonen, 56, well-known auctioneer and owner of Oinonen Book Auctions, died on January 23 after a year-long battle with cancer. While a student working at Amherst Auction Galleries, Oinonen discovered he loved antiques and had a sixth sense for finding interesting and unusual rdf_Descriptions. He also helped put together several book auctions, and became a book dealer, setting up a few shows in the late seventies and early eighties. In 1980, he established Oinonen Book Auctions with Leif Laudamus as partner and chief cataloguer. For the last 20 years, Oinonen Book Auctions has held twelve catalogued sales per year, as well as twelve uncatalogued auctions, to disperse lesser material.
Donald C. Peirce, curator of decorative art at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Ga., passed away on February 5. Peirce, 52, had been undergoing treatment for diabetes for some time. Peirce had been at the High since 1980, and previously served as associate curate of decorative art at the Brooklyn Museum. Current projects include (all on view at the High Museum): “Building Our Collection” (through November 4); “Emile Galle Glass: The Gift of Mr & Mrs Sergio S. Dolfi” (through June 24); “Bentwood Furniture from the High Museum of Art Collection: The Steinfeld Gift” (will be on view June 30 to December 2).
Three Danes were sentenced to prison February 9 in Copenhagen for stealing paintings by Rembrandt and Giovanni Bellini from the Nivaagaard Collection museum two years ago, reports the Associated Press. The paintings, Rembrandt’s “Portrait of a Lady” and Bellini’s “Portrait of a Young Man,” were stolen Jan. 28, 1999, from the museum. Estimated to be worth $25 million, the paintings were recovered unharmed seven months later.
The Bass Museum of Art, Miami Beach, Fla., will reopen on Wednesday, May 2, inaugurating a facility that has been renovated and greatly expanded by architect Arata Isozaki. Four exhibitions – three of them organized by the museum itself – will feature the strengths of the museum in areas ranging from Renaissance painting to video, while introducing visitors to Isozaki’s new spaces. The $8.4 million expansion project more than doubles the size of the museum, from 15,000 to 40,000 square feet.
The Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, Mass., has named David R. Brigham to the position of director of collections and exhibitions. Brigham replaces Elizabeth de Sabato Swinton, who will be retiring from the museum after 23 years. WAM has named Dr Swinton curator of Asian Art Emeritus. In his new role, Brigham will oversee the museum’s curatorial, registrar’s and conservation department. In addition, Brigham will retain his current responsibilities as curator of American art, and will continue to maintain an active program in American art by publishing the collection and organizing exhibitions. Prior to joining the Worcester Art Museum in 1996, Brigham served as assistant professor of Art History and American Studies, chair of the Art History Department, and director of the Suzanne H. Arnold Art Gallery at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pa.
Ken Bloom, a New York native who served as the director of Landmark Arts at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, has been named director of the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, Colo. Bloom succeeds Cydney Payton, who resigned in December after nine years in the position. Bloom officially begins his new job May 1. His salary, according to the Associated Press, will be $68,000 a year. Since leaving the Boulder museum, Payton accepted a job as director of Denver’s Museum of Contemporary Art, where she will begin March 15.
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