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Disgraced Art Dealer Inigo Philbrick Indicted on Federal Fraud Charges & Other Stories


by Jana Farmer on July 31, 2020

200731-gavel-440x293-1NORTH AMERICA

Disgraced Art Dealer Inigo Philbrick Indicted on Federal Fraud Charges
A New York grand jury has indicted art dealer Inigo Philbrick on federal charges of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft; Philbrick has entered a plea of not guilty. The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District claims that Philbrick defrauded multiple people and businesses in New York between 2016 and 2019 to finance his art business, access valuable art, and obtain sales proceeds, funding and loans. Philbrick also misrepresented the ownership of certain artworks by selling more than 100 percent ownership to multiple individuals and entities without their knowledge.

In mid-October 2019, Philbrick defaulted on a loan of around $14 million and by November a number of investors had filed civil lawsuits for fraud against him. Philbrick has been ordered to forfeit any and all property derived from the profits of his fraud, including works of art that he may have transferred or sold to third parties. Philbrick was denied bail and is being held in a Manhattan correctional facility. 

FBI Raids Major Art-Forgery Ring in Michigan
A team of 30 FBI agents raided artist Donald “DB” Henkel’s home and barn in Cedar, Michigan. Henkel is suspected of leading a forgery ring that sold fake paintings as works by Surrealist artist Gertrude Abercrombie and Precisionism painters Ralston Crawford and George Copeland Ault. It also is suspected that Henkel counterfeited sports gear claimed to have been owned by Willie Mays, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Among those impacted by the forgeries is the Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc. in New York City, which reportedly paid $709,000 at auction for two fake Ault paintings. During the raid the FBI found art supplies, paintings, in-progress artwork, baseball bats, baseballs and other memorabilia. No arrests have been made at this time.

Dispute Arises Between Estate and Heirs Over $30 Million Monet Painting
Le Palais Ducal, a Claude Monet painting valued at more than $30 million has been kept off the market due to concerns over its Nazi-era provenance. A lawyer representing the heirs of department store magnate and art collector Max Emden approached Christie’s in 2018, alleging that the painting was sold under duress to Swiss dealers during WWII. When the Nazis began seizing Emden’s properties, Emden resorted to selling his art. The estate of the painting’s last owners, Herbert and Adele Klapper, claims that the work was sold in a negotiated transaction to a prominent Jewish art dealer with whom Emden had previously transacted, and with whom Emden’s son continued to do business after the war. The Klapper Estate has filed a declaratory judgment in a New York District Court to clear title to the painting so that it may be sold at auction. The case is currently on hold until September due to the coronavirus.

Quebec to Investigate Abrupt Firing of Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Director
Quebec’s Cultural Minister, Nathalie Roy, is investigating the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) over its dismissal of director and chief curator, Nathalie Bondil. In support of its decision, MMFA cited a staff union letter that alleged Bondil had created a toxic work environment that caused the resignation of several high-level employees. Before Bondil’s termination of employment, the museum board sought an external audit, which found significant deterioration in the work environment. Bondil claims that she was dismissed after raising objections to the promotion of Mary-Dailey Desmarais, whose prominent family has major ties to the museum. Bondil’s dismissal raised an uproar causing the Musée D’Orsay in Paris to cut all ties with the MMFA. Members of the MMFA have created an online petition to obtain further insight into Bondil’s dismissal. Roy is now hiring an outside firm to look into the museum’s management.


American Collector to Sue France over Pissarro Painting
The Court of Cassation, France’s high court, has ordered the return of a Camille Pissarro painting, Pea Harvest, to the heirs of the Parisian collector Simon Bauer. The painting was initially seized from Bauer in 1943. Years later, American collector Bruce Toll lent the painting to the Marmottan Museum in Paris. Toll asserts that he had purchased the work in good faith at Christie’s in 1995. However, the Court ruled that Toll cannot be considered a legitimate owner because all subsequent sales of a looted item are considered null and void pursuant to a 1945 Order annulling all acts of looting that occurred under German occupation. Toll intends to sue France arguing that the French judgment violates his ownership rights; Toll is seeking compensatory damages including the loss of a painting worth approximately $1.7 million.

Royal College of Art Embroiled in Clash with Leadership and Staff over Position of Head of Inclusion
The leadership of the Royal College of Art in London lost a vote of no confidence after appointing Mark Harrison, a white man, as its new Head of Inclusion. An open letter signed by 800 students and current and former staff members called the appointment distressing during a time of “mass protest around the violent marginalization of black people from society,” highlighting a toxic culture of systemic racism at the institution. The letter called for the rescission of Harrison’s offer and for the creation of a diverse recruitment panel to oversee future appointments. Staff and union members have called for strike action this fall if the institution fails to address their concerns. Paul Thompson, the vice-chancellor, has since dropped Harrison from the post, and the Royal College of Art has “paused the appointment” to allow for a “fuller conversation” with staff, students and alumni.

Musée Rodin in Paris Creates New Bronze Casts to Offset COVID-19 Impact
To offset the financial ramifications of COVID-19, the Musée Rodin in Paris is leveraging its right to sell bronze cast editions of Auguste Rodin’s sculptures. The museum is primarily self-funded and sales of casts of Rodin’s sculptures constitute nearly 30 percent of the museum’s revenue. Due to the pandemic, the museum is estimating a loss in revenue of €4.4 million, and the sale of nearly €1.4 million in bronzes will lower the deficit. The bronze sculptures are limited to an edition of 12. Certain sculptures such as The Thinker already reached their maximum, but others can be cast, including The Kiss and The Gates of Hell. The museum also created an online donations page and has raised €1,200 from private individuals.

Marc Quinn Installs Black Lives Matter Themed Sculpture in Place of Slave Trader Statue
Last month in Bristol protestors toppled a statue of slave trader Edward Colston during Black Lives Matter protests. Artist Marc Quinn thereafter installed a sculpture of protestor and local resident Jen Reid on the same pedestal. The new statue is a recreation of a photograph of Reid standing on the empty pedestal with her fist in the air, taken right after the toppling of the Colston statue. Quinn sought to collaborate with Reid to highlight the “institutionalized and systemic” racism in today’s society. However, the city of Bristol has since removed the statue, citing that it was installed without permission. The city is currently holding the sculpture at its museum, and the Bristol mayor advised that there was a need for a “democratic process” so that the people of Bristol could decide the future of the empty pedestal.

French Cabinet Examines New Law to Restore Looted Artifacts to African Countries Benin and Senegal
The French cabinet has discussed a draft law that would allow for the restitution of 26 looted artifacts to Benin and a historic sword to Senegal. The law compels the authorities to return the artifacts within one year. Prime Minister Edouard Philippe returned the sword last year to the president of Senegal and it is now on display in Senegal’s Museum of Black Civilizations. The sword originally belonged to Omar Saidou Tall, a Muslim spiritual leader who fought French colonialists in the 1850s in a region of West Africa that now encompasses Senegal. French troops seized Omar Saidou Tall’s possessions, including the sword. This new law is the first legislative step that France has taken toward fulfilling President Emmanuel Macron’s 2017 restitution pledge.

Monaco Judge Dismisses Dmitry Rybolovlev’s Charges Against Yves Bouvier
Monaco’s Court of Revision affirmed the decision of a lower court that dismissed Russian billionaire collector Dmitry Rybolovlev’s charges of fraud and money laundering against Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier. Rybolovlev initially filed a criminal complaint against Bouvier, who was arrested in 2015 and later released on a €10 million bail. The complaint alleged that Bouvier misrepresented his role in the sale of 38 artworks to the collector over the course of 12 years, defrauding him out of $1 billion. Rybolovlev is now facing investigation by Monaco authorities as to his corruption charges against Bouvier. The Court of Revision’s decision ends Monaco’s criminal investigation into Bouvier, however Rybolovlev is still pursuing legal action against Bouvier in other countries.

Janitor Accidentally Cleans Banksy’s Artwork from London Tube
Inspired by the lockdown and the coronavirus pandemic, anonymous England-based street artist Banksy posted a video showing images of rats, including one wearing a facemask and another with hand sanitizer, being spray-painted onto a tube train in London. Shortly thereafter, the Transport for London said the images had been removed as they breached its “no graffiti” policy. However, investigation reveals that the images were actually removed by a cleaner who had no knowledge of their significance. The Transport has since offered Banksy the opportunity to create a new version of his message in a more “suitable” location.


Hagia Sophia Loses Status as a Museum
Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has issued a decree that the Hagia Sophia turn back into a mosque after a Turkish Court revoked the Hagia Sophia’s status as a museum. The Hagia Sophia was built in the sixth century as a Greek Orthodox cathedral under the Byzantine emperor Justinian and was originally the largest Greek Orthodox Church in the world. Heritage experts are now sounding the alarm about the fate of its Byzantine frescoes and mosaics, some of which were plastered over when it was previously turned into a mosque and restored when it became a museum. UNESCO listed the Hagia Sophia as a World Heritage site in 1985. According to UNESCO, the landmark’s status as such involves legal commitments and obligations; any modification of the property requires prior notification to UNESCO and potential examination by the World Heritage Committee. Mosaics depicting the Virgin Mary and the Archangel Gabriel, which are situated in the direction of Mecca, will be covered during religious services.


New Traveling Exhibit May Have Broken Egypt’s Own Antiquities Laws
A traveling exhibit, “Tutankhamun: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh,” featuring 150 artifacts owned by King Tutankhamun, may have breached Egyptian laws designed to protect antiquities. The exhibit is the work of events company Exhibitions International, which is owned by IMG. When the show was planned in 2017, Egypt’s Antiquities Protection Law permitted the international exhibition of ancient artifacts provided that they were “not unique” and were exchanged with states, museums and scientific institutions but not commercial companies. Egypt amended the law in 2018 to allow its Council of Antiquities to approve international artifact loans without restrictions. Egyptian lawyer Sayed Said has filed a lawsuit against the country’s Ministry of Antiquities, arguing that the show contains unique artifacts that have been unlawfully lent to a commercial business under the 2017 version of Egypt’s Antiquities Protection Law. The head of Exhibitions International told the BBC that he was not concerned about a legal challenge to the show.

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