Trade News from around the World
A. Alfred Taubman, the former chairman of Sotheby’s auction house, was sentenced to a year in prison and fined $7.5 million Monday, April 22, for his role in a price-fixing scheme that exposed cutthroat tactics in the fine arts world, reports the Associated Press. “Regardless of what height we may attain in life, no one is above the law,” US District Judge George Daniels told the 78-year-old multimillionaire. The defense had asked that Taubman receive no prison time. Besides citing his poor health and his civic and charitable contributions, Taubman’s lawyers portrayed him as someone who dozed off in important meetings and lacked a grasp of finance needed for a complex conspiracy. Prosecutors had sought three years behind bars. Taubman, wearing earphones to help him hear the proceeding, expressed no emotion as the judge faulted him for portraying himself as a victim of a “vicious scheme” by subordinates who later turned on him to save themselves from prison. “There is a lack of contrition demonstrated here,” the judge said. Taubman, of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., made no statement in court or afterward. Ralph T. Giordano, chief of the New York office of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, which prosecuted the case, said, “The sentence speaks for itself. There’s nothing we could add to what the judge said.” Taubman, who is worth more than $640 million, drew support from such dignitaries as former President Ford, who said he had been friends with Taubman for about 40 years and was honored to know him. Excerpts from some of the letters were read in court by Taubman’s lawyer.
The European Union’s head office, Brussels, Belgium, opened a full-scale investigation against art house auctioneers Sotheby’s and Christie’s on April 19, claiming it had evidence they colluded to fix commission fees. EU spokeswoman Amelia Torres told the Associated Press that the two had entered into an “anticompetitive cartel agreement” starting in 1993. Torres said EU regulators had received evidence from the former head of Christie’s Anthony Tennant indicating “the two leading auction houses have colluded to fix commissions.” According to a preliminary EU probe launched in 1999, the price fixing occurred between 1993 and 2000, and resulted in overcharging by Sotheby’s and Christie’s worth millions of euros. The two companies have six weeks to reply to the EU allegations. If the commission concludes at the end of its investigation that both sides have violated EU competition rules, it could impose a multimillion-euro fine.
Thieves stole nine Expressionist paintings worth several millions of dollars from a Berlin museum early on April 20, police have told the Associated Press. The thieves broke into the Bruecke-Museum after disconnecting the alarm and smashing a rear window, police said. Six of the paintings were by Erich Heckel and the rest by Emil Nolde, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Max Pechstein. The museum houses one of the most important collections of Expressionist art.
A famous Nineteenth Century painting by Howard Pyle depicting the Battle of Bunker Hill is believed to have been stolen eight months ago from the Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, museum officials announced last week. The 1897 painting, entitled “The Battle of Bunker Hill,” was last seen by a staffer about a year ago, the museum’s deputy director, James T. Hanley, told AP April 17. The painting is the second art piece stolen from the museum in three years: An $18,000 vase signed by Dale Chihuly was reported taken from a temporary exhibition in April 1999. The vase has not been recovered. In August, museum workers looking to display the Pyle work for a fall exhibition realized the painting was missing, Hanley said. Employees thought the painting had been moved to a different level of the basement, but a search of the computerized location records showed that it was gone, Hanley said. The FBI is investigating the theft, and the museum is offering a $15,000 reward for the painting, which is estimated to be worth $250,000. The framed canvas painting, which measures 29 and a quarter inches by 41 and one-eighth inches, was part of the museum’s permanent collection.
Christie’s International, London, announced April 9 a new buyers premium for the majority of the firm’s salesrooms. Effective immediately, Christie’s will charge a buyer’s premium of 19.5 percent on the first $100,000 and ten percent on any amount over $100,000. This new premium will apply to all property sold in the firm’s salesrooms at King Street, London; Rockefeller Center, New York; Los Angeles; Hong Kong; Amsterdam; Geneva; Zurich and Tel Aviv. This new buyer’s premium will not apply to property sold at Christie’s South Kensington; Christie’s Paris; Christie’s Australia; Rome and Milan. The buyers premium at South Kensington will remain 17.5 percent on the first $80,000 and ten percent on any amount over $80,000. In Paris, the buyers premium will remain 17.5 percent on the first $80,000 and ten percent on any amount over $80,000. In Australia, the premium will remain 17.5 percent on all lots. In Italy, the buyers premium will be 18.5 percent on the first $100,000 and remain ten percent on any amount over $100,000.
The New Mexico Court of Appeals has been asked for a ruling on a property tax fight between Santa Fe County and The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, N.M., AP reports. Attorneys in the case want the court to determine whether an art museum is an educational institution or a place where visitors view art. If the court decides that the private nonprofit museum is an educational institution under state law, the museum won’t have to pay county property taxes. But if the court decides the museum isn’t an educational institution, the county will be able to keep about $30,000 the museum already has paid in taxes. The county also will be able to continue taxing the museum at a rate of about $15,000 a year.
Also according to the Associated Press, Campbell Soup heiress Dorrance H. Hamilton has pledged $5 million to help the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts expand its downtown Philadelphia campus. Hamilton’s commitment brings to $30 million the amount the academy has raised for the purchase and renovation of a former federal building on North Broad Street. The academy’s fund-raising goal is $35 million. The new building will allow the academy to expand its museum exhibition space, school, cafe and store. Officials said the expansion and consolidation of the academy’s operations will allow it to rely less on contributions and investment income to fund its $12 million operating budget.
“January,” a winter farm scene by the American Regionalist painter Grant Wood, has been acquired by the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA). “With the purchase of the Wood,” commented CMA Director Katharine Lee Reid, “we have seized a rare opportunity to fill a significant gap in our holdings with a singular late work by this renowned artist.” Other works acquired this month include unique prints – among them an extremely rare Fifteenth Century woodcut of the “Pieta” and a superb impression by Rembrandt showing the biblical character Tobit, whom Rembrandt especially favored; a luxury small-sword lavished with gold and blue enamel; and a drawing by Holocaust victim Charlotte Salomon. These and other recent acquisitions are now on view at the museum.
The National Portrait Gallery, London, and the National Museums & Galleries of Wales announce that they will be collaborating to acquire William Parry’s group portrait of Sir Joseph Banks, Dr Daniel Solander and the Tahitian Omai. A work of outstanding significance to Britain’s heritage and cultural life, the painting has been issued with a temporary export bar by Arts Minister Baroness Blackstone. The National Portrait Gallery and the National Museums & Galleries of Wales have until July 12 to raise the £1,815,750 needed to save this work of art for the nation. “Omai, Joseph Banks and Dr Daniel Solander” has not been on public display in Britain since the early 1980s. Due to the good will of the owners, during the current fundraising campaign it will be on view at the National Portrait Gallery where it will be part of a thematic display that draws on the collections of the National Portrait Gallery and the National Museum & Gallery of Wales.
After more than three years of extensive restoration, the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA) will unveil the newly restored Lilly House, the historic Oldfields estate mansion, on June 9. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Oldfields – Lilly House & Gardens is notable as one of the Midwest’s outstanding examples of an intact American country place estate. Located on the IMA’s 152 acres of gardens and grounds, the restored Oldfields – Lilly House & Gardens will be one of the region’s premiere historic house museums, and will include the mansion, grounds, gardens and outbuildings.
Elaine McKeon, chair of the Board of Trustees of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), announced Neal Benezra has been appointed director of the museum. A Bay Area native, Benezra is currently deputy director and Frances and Thomas Dittmer Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at The Art Institute of Chicago, a dual position he assumed in January 2000. Previously, Benezra spent eight years at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., where he was assistant director for art and public programs (1996-1999) and chief curator (1991-1996). From 1985 to 1991 Benezra served at The Art Institute of Chicago as curator in the department of Twentieth-Century painting and sculpture (promoted from associate curator in 1986).
The Princeton University Art Museum has launched its new website, princetonartmuseum.org, to provide general information about the museum and its educational resources, collections, exhibitions, programs and publications. Also included is a section on curators’ choices.
Ernest S. Kramer Fine Arts & Prints, Inc., Wellesley, Mass, has announced its debut on the worldwide web at: www.kramerfineart.com. The website features a searchable inventory of more than 600 American and European fine prints by Nineteenth and Twentieth Century artists. It showcases the period 1880-1950, with an emphasis on works of the 1920s, 30s and 40s. Specialties include the regionalists Benton, deMartelly, Curry and Wood; and American sporting art, Benson, Clark, Ripley, Schaldach and Rungius.