State v. Roderick Webber, No. B-19-031881 (Fla. DDC. filed Dec. 10, 2019). After performance artist David Detuna ate Maurizio Cattelan’s banana at Art Basel Miami in December 2019, Roderick Webber used the empty space to scribble the words “EPSTIEN [sic] DIDNT KILL HIMSELF.” He is now is defending himself in court against charges of vandalism brought by the Miami DA’s office. A trial is scheduled for February 27, 2020. Reportedly, the gallery will not press charges.
Benton et al, v. UMB Bank, No. to be confirmed (Mo. Jackson Cty Ct. filed Dec. 17, 2019). The estate of painter Thomas Hart Benton (1889–1975) is suing Kansas City’s UMB Bank in Federal court, for allegedly mismanaging the estate, underselling artworks, and breaching their duties of care. The family is asking for the bank’s removal as trustee and for $1 million in damages, plus legal fees.
Edelman Arts v. New York Art World, LLC, No. 652017/2018 (N.Y. Sup. Ct, Dec. 20, 2019). A New York Supreme Court judge ruled that Edelman Arts, owned by collector and financier Asher Edelman, must pay an invoice––which they claimed to be canceled––for a $5 million Keith Haring. According to Pryor Cashman, the firm that represented the gallery, the decision highlights “that art dealers are subject to liability when they agree to purchase an artwork in their own name” and that buyer’s remorse does not suffice to cancel a sale. Decision available upon request.
Belgium | Igor and Olga Toporovsky, the couple who lent numerous fakes supposedly by Russian avant-garde artists such as Kandinsky and Malevich to the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent, have been arrested in Belgium. They face charges of money-laundering and fraud.
France | Jeff Koons and the Centre Pompidou in Paris are liable for copyright infringement regarding Koons’ sculpture “Naked,” which was found to be similar to a photography by Jean-Francois Bauret. The Paris court of appeals upheld and confirmed the lower court’s finding that this amounted to plagiarism. CA Paris, 17 décembre 2019, RG 17/09695.
France | A French court of appeals ruled that a fax message sent by an interested buyer to an auctioneer was sufficient to express the former’s intention to purchase. While the buyer contested the sale because he did not formally express the purchase order, the judges relied on a series of factors, including that the buyer had been contacted during the auction, that he was the highest bidder, and that he did not contest the sale for more than 2 years. CA Rennes, 22 octobre 2019, RG 16/08134.
Monaco | Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier was cleared of the criminal charges of fraud and money laundering pending against him in a Monaco court. This is one of many lawsuits brought by Russian oligarch Dmitri Rybolovlev who alleges that Bouvier defrauded him of $1 billion over the course of 38 deals, by misrepresenting the purchase price of artworks. He is still claiming redress in the US, London, Paris, and Geneva. Bouvier’s lawyers stated that “all investigations were conducted in a biased and unfair way without the defendant being in a position to retrospectively redress these serious anomalies that permanently compromised the balance of rights of the parties.”
Poland | Art historian Tomasz Kitli?ski is being sued for defamation by Polish governor and incoming parliamentary representative Przemys?aw Czarnek. Kitli?ski had commissioned the artist Dorota Nieznalska to create the installation Judenfrei that refers to the Nazi term for areas “cleansed” of Jews. Czarnek publically dismissed Judenfrei as being anti-Polish and demanded its removal. Kitli?ski stood his ground and posted a protest letter online that started: “The governor of Lublin Region prides himself in offending Ukrainians, Muslims, the LGBT community and women, for whom he sees no social role other than the reproduction of children.” Under Polish criminal law, Kitli?ski may face a two-year prison sentence for slandering a public official.
UK | After Picasso’s “Bust of a Woman” (1944), the portrait of his muse Dora Maar, was defaced at the Tate Modern, authorities apprehended Shakeel Ryan Massey who is denying the charges and is scheduled to appear for a pre-trial hearing at the end of January.
UK | Sotheby’s has settled the case over a forged Frans Hals painting, “Portrait of a Gentleman,” which the auction house had sold privately before suspecting it was a fake and repaid its buyer. The consignor, art dealer Mark Weiss, will reimburse Sotheby’s for the lost sale. The High Court did not weigh in on the authenticity of the painting.