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April 2016

Ace is Low On April 6, 2016 Sam Leslie, a bankruptcy trustee, took over control of the day-to-day operations of the Los Angeles based Ace Gallery when Douglas Chrismas, the founder of the Gallery, failed to comply with a court order to pay $17.5 million to settle debts. After taking over Leslie began sorting out ownership of  artworks so the gallery could satisfy debts by selling what it owned. According to the New York Times one of the issues Leslie had to deal with was the fact that a computerized inventory does not seem to exist for the Ace Gallery collection which is estimated to contain around 2,750 pieces.

About a month after taking over the day-to-day operations of Ace Gallery Leslie has kicked Chrismas out. The catalyst for this was the discovery that Chrismas diverted around $17 million to Ace New York and the Ace Museum – according to The Art Newspaper Ace New York closed “over a decade ago” and Ace Museum has a “spotty exhibition history.” To make matters worse, The Art Newspaper is also reporting that Leslie said Chrismas directed his assistants to place 60 artworks from Ace Gallery into private storage. Because Chrismas has declared bankruptcy so many times even if these works are personal property he might still be in trouble.

Panama Papers & Ganz Sale The Panama Papers — the leak of 11.5 million files from Mossack Fonseca, a Panamanian law firm — revealed that there may have been something nefarious behind the infamous Ganz sale at Christie’s. The Ganz collection, which was auctioned for $206.5 million at Christie’s in 1997, was seen as a catalyst for today’s art market and owed its success in part to being auctioned as a single collection with each pieces most recent provenance listing the famed art collector Victor Ganz. The collection was advertised as “fresh” meaning “no other collector or dealer had been offered these works.” Yet, the Panama Papers reveal that the ownership may have passed briefly to British billionaire Joe Lewis, who entered into a secretive agreement with Christie’s and acted as a third party guarantee, thereby ensuring the auction’s success and benefiting Lewis and the auction house. SE

Hidden Idol hits Asia Week This spring New York Times reported about multiple law enforcement’s efforts to quash illegal sales of looted artworks offered for sale during the Asia Week New York. The efforts were a result of the Operation Hidden Idol, a nine year investigation into antiquities smuggling. The Manhattan district attorney’s office led by Cyrus R. Vance has collaborated with federal officials to orchestrate warranted raids and seizures to reobtain illegally smuggled antiquities from abroad. Many items have been returned to their home countries. In the past, prosecution of art dealer smugglers was rather rare, however Mr. Vance hopes to implement sterner policy and has stated, “If you don’t send the message, you don’t deter others…Antiquites raiding is not an acceptable business model.”