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June 2019

Secrets on Sale. A large selection of Vivian Maier’s photographs went on sale  at Photo London in Somerset House for the first time in May, with the most expensive print being sold for $6,500. The secretive artist’s estate was once the subject of a two-year copyright dispute between the Howard Greenberg Gallery and lawyer/photographer David C. Deal, who represented Maier’s cousin.

Pumpkin Thief. German art collector Angela Gulbenkian was charged with two counts of theft, totaling $1.4 million, by the London High Court for charges dating back to 2017 and 2018. Hong Kong-based art advisor, Mathieu Ticolat, is suing Gulbenkian for the purchase of a famous pumpkin sculpture by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, which never arrived.

Long-Overdue Book Return. Over 600 books, including a number of medieval manuscripts, were returned to the University and Regional Library of Bonn, Germany in April. The books had been looted by Allied troops following the immediate aftermath of World War II, and resurfaced after a Belgian woman attempted to auction them off at Sotheby’s. After some examination, the auction house’s experts were able to match the books with the Bonn Library’s inventory of losses and soon thereafter contacted the library.

Arrivederci to Resale Royalties. In Italy, primary market galleries no longer have to pay the artist’s royalties following a six-year negotiation between the Italian Association of Modern and Contemporary Art Galleries and the Italian Society of Authors and Publishers (SIAE), which serves as the royalties collecting agency. Furthermore, the transaction must amount to more than €3,000 to qualify for resale royalties.

Worlds Colliding. Craig Gilmore and his partner, David Crocker, became unlikely figures in Poland’s fight for gay rights after agreeing to return Melchior Geldorp’s Nazi-looted “Portrait of a Lady” (1628) to the National Museum of Warsaw back in 2016. The painting returned home in 2018, accompanied by Gilmore and Crocker, where the couple was met with a cold reception from the Polish government, headed by the right-wing anti-LGBTQ+ Law and Justice party. The couple soon became heavily active in the promotion of LGBTQ+ rights in Poland.

Smutty Fruit Snatchers. A contingent of artists, including German artist Marius Sperlich, is accusing Chris Brown of ripping off their work in his new music video, “Wobble Up.” The video contains images of fruit, dressed up as various body parts. The artists claim that the suggestive fruits were taken from their own body of work. Several comparisons between Brown’s video and the works in question can be found on Sperlich’s Instagram account.

Leonard-NO. Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi made headlines again in May when its owner announced that the painting would not be exhibited at the Louvre’s upcoming da Vinci exhibition in October. The Louvre curators decided not to include the painting in the exhibition unless it was listed as a work by the famed artist and inventor’s workshop. Its dubious attribution has been the subject of controversy since 2011.

Tiananmen Tweet Troubles. Chinese authorities detained filmmaker and activist Deng Chuanbin after he tweeted a photo that made reference to the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. Authorities purportedly arrived at his home only hours after the tweet with an arrest warrant. Deng, also known as Huang Huang, was last detained by the Chinese government in 2015 as he attempted to attend the International Service for Human Rights training in Geneva, Switzerland.

Crimes from the Kitchen Cabinet. Seattle resident and artist David Young came to the startling realization  that he was the owner of over 70 lost Weegee photos after pulling them out of his kitchen cabinet earlier this year; Young had initially acquired the photos in the 1970s. Weegee (real name Arthur Felig) was active from about 1935 to 1947, and was well-known for his crime photography and his ability to appear on scene with almost supernatural speed.

Art Worth Fighting For. President Donald Trump announced last month that Chinese paintings, drawings, sculpture, and antiquities will be included on the list of imported goods produced in China that could be subject to a 25 percent tariff. This announcement comes nine months after art and antique dealers successfully lobbied to have the goods exempt from the tariffs. On June 17, lawyers lobbyists representing dealers and cultural institutions will fight the new policy at the US International Trade Commission hearing.

Facebook’s Black Market. Is the dark side of the art market thriving through social media? The BBC released a report following investigations on private Facebook groups where looted Middle Eastern Artefacts have been posted for sale. So far, Facebook has removed 49 groups, but more remain active.

Golden Age Restitutions. The Dutch Restitutions Committee recommended the return of two 17th century paintings to the heirs of Jacob Lierens, a Jewish art collector whose paintings were sold and then acquired by the Nazi regime in 1941. Both paintings were returned to the Netherlands after the war, but remained in possession of the Dutch government.

Saving Face. The Museum of East Asian Art in Bath, England received several artifacts that were taken in April 2018, from a collection of 40 stolen items during a disastrous heist. Thus far, 18 objects have been returned to the museum and more than half still remain missing. Fortunately, the museum launched a new temporary exhibition of the returned items on May 28, titled East Asian Life, which will be on view until November 10.

Banning the Bannon. On May 31, the Italian minister of culture declared that it would begin proceedings to evict far-right conservative Steve Bannon from a Carthusian monastery in Collepardo, Italy. The decision follows year-long protests staged by villagers at Collepardo and neighboring towns. Bannon and his associate Benjamin Hartwell, a British conservative, signed a lease (now revoked) on the monastery in 2018, and planned to use it as a school for nationalists. A leading factor in Italy’s decision was the “safeguarding of national cultural heritage,” as the monastery, built in 1204, is currently listed as a national monument.

The Rent Is Too Darn High. 25 London-based artists were locked out of Stewkley House Studios after lease-providers Association for Cultural Advancement through Visual Art failed to make rent payment in March. This triggered a clause in the lease agreement permitting the landlords to re-occupy the property. The affected artists have not been able to access their works and tools and may suffer loss of earnings.

All That Glitters is Gould. Australian art dealer Robert Gould is being sued by a Sydney collector over the sale of a Howard Arkley painting, “Well Suited Brick Veneer” dated 1991, which is now suspected of being a fake. The painting was purchased from Gould Galleries for $205,000 back in 2002. The collector’s legal team allege that Gould did not provide adequate provenance documents. Since legal proceedings began, Arkley’s estate has refused to grant copyright for the reproduction of the painting’s image, preventing Gould from selling the painting as an authentic work.

Blood and Iron(y) at the Whitney. Forensic Architecture’s video project for the 2019 Whitney Biennial revealed that the use of tear gas and bullets manufactured by Warren Kanders, Vice-chair of the Whitney, may have been used to perpetuate war crimes. The video, directed by the award-winning Laura Poitras and narrated by musician David Byrne, and the rest of the Whitney Biennial exhibition are on view from May 17 to September 22.

Sow Long. The façade of the Wittenberg Church in Germany where Martin Luther preached has a sandstone relief that  depicts Jewish people drinking from a sow’s teats while a rabbi lifts her tail to inspect her hindquarters. Following a court complaint from the German Jewish community, the Evangelical Church is now discussing the removal of this “Judensau” image. Plaintiff Michael Düllman presented the complaint on May 24, but it was rejected by a regional court. Düllman and his lawyer, Hubertus Benecke, now plan to appeal.