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Update: Helly Nahmad Keeps a Low Profile In the Weeks Following the Indictments

What effect does a scandal involving an international money-laundering and gambling scheme stretching across the globe have on a high-profile Manhattan gallery? Helly Nahmad has been quietly minimizing operations at the Helly Nahmad Gallery, following the recent raid on his gallery and indictment (reported here last month). On April 16, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara brought charges against Nahmad and 34 other people, alleging that they participated in running a high stakes gambling ring that catered to billionaires and celebrities.

Earlier this month, Benjamin Brafman, co-counsel for the gallery, confirmed that Nahmad had canceled a major exhibition to be held at the gallery entitled “Monet Richter.” The show received loans from museums in the United States and Europe and was supposed to run from May 10-June 10. “Monet Richter” was to include paintings by Gerhard Richter from the collections of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., Vienna’s Albertina Museum, and the Frider Burda Museum in Baden-Baden. The Frieder Burda was to lend “Abstract Painting, Lake” (1997), the Hirshhorn was to lend “Sancturary” (1998), and the Albertina was to lend “Abstract Painting” (1986) and “Summer Day” (1999). Representatives of these museums stated that the show was canceled a short time after the indictments were announced.

In addition to the cancelation, Nahmad will also not attend Art Basel in Switzerland set to occur from June 13-16. As part of his bail, Nahmad surrendered his U.S., Italian, and Brazilian passports and his travel is restricted to the southern and eastern districts of New York. However, the gallery itself is still expected to participate with Art Basel, a representative revealed.

Maxwell Anderson, director of the Dallas Museum of Art and former president of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) explained that exhibitions like “Monet Richter” are “branding exercises” and typically do not involve sales. When museums lend art to galleries for such exhibits, they require the shows to be educational rather than commercial in nature. However, such shows increase the prestige of galleries, as they attract dealers, collectors, museums professionals, and other art world elite. In particular, Nahmad intended the exhibit to coincide with the Christie’s and Sotheby’s mid-May Modern, Impressionist, and Contemporary Art sales–some of the most lucrative art sales in the world.

Anderson added that as long as the investigation is unfolding, the Helly Nahmad Gallery will have a hard time getting a museum to lend it art. He told Bloomberg News, “I can’t imagine a museum would be prepared to lend to a gallery that’s not in good standing, and the indictment of the owner would qualify as not being in good standing.” The Helly Nahmad Gallery remains open with a small exhibition entitled “Impressionist & Modern Masters,” including works by Rothko, Theibaud, and Calder.

Brafman concedes that any museum director is entitled to not to deal with the gallery due to the alleged involvement of its owner in the ongoing investigation, but “we note however, that the gallery has never been charged with any criminal violation.”

Source: Bloomberg News