Monday, May 9, 2016

A Gallery Show That Questions Art Fairs

Eric Fischl’s “False Gods,” 2015, is one in a new series of oil paintings showing now at Skarstedt Gallery that poke fun at the art-fair circuit. Credit © Eric Fischl. Courtesy Skarstedt, New York
This week, the painter Eric Fischl hopes to holds a mirror up to the frenzy of New York’s art-fair season, capped by the opening tomorrow of Frieze New York, with “Rift Raft,” his new solo show at Skarstedt Gallery. Like this body of work, the fair circuit is relatively new to Fischl. “I started going to art fairs about four years ago for research. I had always tried to stay away from them,” Fischl says. “It’s like speed dating; there is nothing particularly pleasant or accurate about it. People are consuming art based on name recognition or some sort of sense of ‘get in quickly’ mentality. It was easy to rationalize going, because I felt like a spy.”
Hung on both stories of Skarstedt’s Upper East Side townhouse, Fischl’s paintings portray a fantastical world populated by disenchanted figures. Staring into the voids of their cellphone screens, Fischl’s well-heeled characters remain unfazed by the onslaught of look-at-me colors and purposefully provocative images. “You have artists who are asking you to connect with them, and then you have people who aren’t paying any attention to that plea, but are instead looking elsewhere. I think that really talks to a reality that is everywhere. We are in our bodies and out of our minds,” Fischl says. “I think over time artists have become even more extreme. It’s gotten stranger and stranger, and it still doesn’t seem to matter because people are more interested in something else.”
Amid the claustrophobic carnival of false walls and people, familiar images begin to appear in Fischl’s landscapes: a Tom Wesselmann nude, a Keith Haring dog, a bare-bottomed Sarah Lucas sculpture. “I was choosing work because of what it triggered in me,” Fischl says of his curatorial choices. “Some of it I admire, some of it I think is silly.” His own work isn’t exempt: “Girl With Doll,” a seminal piece from his ’80s heyday, makes an appearance too.
Fischl’s “Her,” 2016. Credit © Eric Fischl. Courtesy Skarstedt, New York
The depiction and commodification of the female body complicates several of Fischl’s compositions. A painting titled “She says, ‘Can I help You?’ He says, ‘It can’t be Helped’” depicts a man looking at a female form through the barrel of his iPhone — presumably snapping a picture to marinate on later. These binaries pop up again and again: the apprehensive female exhibitor standing alongside the brazenly topless cartoon, the old man transfixed by the dazed young woman. “I think that it’s something that was in the early work. Themes of my life, themes of my art, are about connection, about the longing for connection. It’s about needs and desires,” Fischl says. (This summer in the Hamptons, Fischl’s first foray into the female form will be on view at the Parrish Art Museum’s upcoming exhibition “Unfinished Business: Paintings From the 1970s and 1980s by Ross Bleckner, Eric Fischl, and David Salle.”) “Basically, these are stories about men and women, boys and girls, and trying to figure that whole thing out — art that is sort of about females and objects of desire, and the awkwardness around that.”

The Ins and Outs of Stolen Art, Explained

The Ins and Outs of Stolen Art, Explained

Modigliani’s Seated Man With a Cane (1918). Photo by Brian Smith.
Art dealer Kenneth Hendel recently found himself in a sticky situation: He was in possession of stolen art. The Florida-based dealer purchased a painting by Picasso after it failed to sell at auction. After the purchase, Wilma “Billie” Tisch, the rightful owner, discovered the painting’s whereabouts and demanded its return. Hendel claims that he is now the rightful owner. The dealer is confident that he will not be forced to return the work because he is working under the assumption that Florida law protects his purchase. He claims that “the piece belongs to the last person who purchased it if it has passed through at least two people since the theft.” This is simply not true.
While it is true that certain aspects of the law in Florida are more forgiving towards current possessors than would be the case under New York law, there are major misconceptions in Hendel’s analysis. There is no law, in any state, that allows someone to gain title over a work after it has passed through a requisite number of exchanges. In fact, a work can be sold by a hundred dealers and yet still belong to an original owner.

Stolen Art Statute in the U.S.

In the United States, every state operates under the “nemo dat” rule, shorthand for “nemo dat quod non habet,” meaning “no one gives what he doesn’t have.” Generally, a thief can never gain good title (ownership not subject to competing claims or liens) and may never pass title. Anyone in the chain of sale for a stolen work will not get good title, absent an exception.
There are narrow exceptions that allow a good faith purchaser (someone without constructive or actual knowledge of any title defects) to gain proper title. In limited circumstances, the court may deem it equitable to grant title to a good faith purchaser rather than the original owner. And while it is true that those limited exceptions vary from state to state, no state simply provides title to the most recent purchaser, as Hendel suggests.
Due to New York’s position at the center of the art market, both in the U.S. and the world at large, the Empire State is particularly protective of original owners in order to prevent the state from becoming a haven for stolen art. The state’s protective stance is reflected in its statute of limitations exception. As a general rule, a victim has a set time to file a lawsuit. For art theft, the clock typically begins to run when the work is stolen. However, the New York statute of limitations for art theft begins when the true owner demands the return of the object and the possessor refuses the demand. The reasoning is as follows: A good faith purchaser does not commit a wrongful act until he or she refuses to return the stolen work; only then can the statute of limitations begin to run. This “Demand and Refusal Rule” is tempered by a legal defense called “laches,” that prevents an original owner from sitting on their rights for an unreasonable length of time.
Other states are not quite as protective, following the “Discovery Rule.” That rule holds that the statute of limitations begins to run when a diligent owner knew, or should have known, the current location of an artwork. This standard is used by all states other than New York, as it encourages the original owner to act diligently in seeking his or her property. In the case that the original owner did nothing to recover his property, then a court may not agree to delay the statute of limitations, and the owner may be barred from bringing suit. This analysis is fact-specific and differs from case to case.
The inquiry in Tisch v. Hendel will rely on many facts. Should Tisch have discovered the location of the work earlier? How should she have searched for the painting? Should she have advertised the theft or would that have driven the work further underground? Did Hendel act in good faith? He is an art dealer with knowledge of the art market. Should he have research the work more thoroughly before purchase? As Picasso is the most stolen artist, should Hendel have been more skeptical of the piece and its low sale price? However, independent of the outcome of this case, the U.S. statute is clear and, in fact, much more stringent than in certain other jurisdictions worldwide.

What Loopholes Could Have Protected Hendel?

In the U.S., courts have recognized the importance of researching the title and history of artworks. If someone intends to purchase stolen art, there are other jurisdictions that are more favorable. Switzerland has long had a reputation as a safe haven for stolen property. Not only does the European nation fiercely guard the privacy of its banking clients, but its freeport in Geneva has become home to some of the greatest private art collections, with many deals taking place in the secrecy of its vaults.
The freeport has become notorious for housing looted and stolen art. One of the most famous dealers in looted Roman and Etruscan antiquities, Giacomo Medici, stored his wares in the freeport, eventually facing criminal changes, serving time in prison, and having his collection seized in the late 1990s. But the freeport continues to make headlines, as a raid earlier this year led to the discovery of a trove of illicit antiquities belong to one of Medici’s contacts, Robin Symes.
After much criticism over the nature of the Geneva warehouse, a change to the Swiss Customs Act was enacted on January 1, 2016. The regulations were amended to implement time limits for exports, increase transparency by declaring goods for export and provide the identification of buyers. The change to the Act was motivated as part of a larger program to reduce money laundering and smuggling. However, even with these changes, stolen art may be easier to transfer in Switzerland due to the fact that Swiss law presumes good faith on the part of a purchaser.
Individuals involved in the trade of stolen art have also used offshore accounts to complete transactions away from the prying eyes of the law and the art market. In April, a Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca, suffered a security breach and had millions of internal files become public. The information in the so-called Panama Papers leak confirmed the suspicion that wealthy individuals use shell companies to hide art.
One prime example among the revelations is the case of Modigliani’s portrait Seated Man With a Cane (1918). The piece was once stolen by the Nazis. It vanished for decades but appeared for auction in 1996 at Christie’s and again in 2008 at Sotheby’s, with the well-known Helly Nahmad Gallery listed as consignor. At this time, the original owner’s heir, Philippe Maestracci, discovered the work’s whereabouts and claimed the painting as his family’s missing property. But when Maestracci demanded return of the work, the Nahmad Gallery claimed that it did not own the painting. The gallery claimed that the Modigliani portrait was purchased by International Art Center S.A. (“IAC”), a Panamanian company. As was revealed in the Panama Papers, IAC is a shell company for the Nahmads that was established by a member of the family. Ownership was later transferred to other family members through a share transfer.
For individuals with stolen art, the options are not limited to Florida and New York. Offshore accounts, freeports, and nations that presume good faith are all options for collectors. However, as a lawyer, I do not advocate hiding or purchasing stolen art or loot. As noted above in reference to the Panama Papers and the discovery of Medici and Symes collections, hidden art troves are usually discovered, and with disastrous consequences. It is not wise to deal in stolen or looted art. And it is important to purchase art with good title, as those purchases encourage a healthy and transparent art market, and those works also retain their value upon resale and are not subject to seizure.

Leila Amineddoleh

buzzz a the week

Maurizio Cattelan's Hitler Sculpture Leads Christie's $78 Million Sale


Maurizio Cattelan's Hitler Sculpture Leads Christie's $78 Million Sale

Bruce Nauman, Henry Moore Bound to Fail (Conceived in 1967 and executed in 1970)
Image: Courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd.

Christie's jumpstarted a jam-packed auction week in New York this evening with its "Bound to Fail" sale. Organized by Loic Gouzer, deputy chairman of postwar and contemporary art, the sale realized $78 million, edging toward its $81 million high estimate. Of 39 lots on offer, all but one was sold, making for a 97-percent sold-by-lot rate, and a 98-percent sold-by-value rate. But despite the strong overall results, activity and bidding in the sale room frequently seemed strained and sluggish throughout the sale.
Several new auction records were set, including for John Armleder, Maurizio Cattelan, Paola Pivi, Neil Jenney, Rebecca Horn, and Daniel Buren. The remaining two "records" were medium-specific, i.e. a video record for Bruce Nauman ($1.63 million) and for a sculpture by Richard Prince ($2.7 million).
The only real action of the evening happened during bidding on the final lot, Maurizio Cattelan's creepy, kneeling mannequin, Him (2001), which the viewer first sees from behind. A frontal view of the work reveals that it is a model of a mini-Adolf Hitler.
Once the work, which was estimated at a hefty $10 million to $12 million, reached $10 million, Gouzer, who has previously spearheaded other themed hybrid sales at Christie's, went head-to-head with private art dealer Philippe Segalot, who was seated in the sale room. Though bidding had been moving in $200,000 increments, momentum suddenly picked up. After Marianne Hoet, international director of postwar and contemporary art (who was on the phone with a client), jumped in, the bidding moved quickly to $13.2 million.
After the Brussels-based Hoet battled Gouzer's client for several more minutes, Hoet won the work for her client on a hammer price of $15.2 million. With premium, the final price is $17.2 million.
The price far exceeded Cattelan's previous record of $7.9 million, set in 2010, for an untitled installation that featured a sculpture of the artist emerging though the floor.
Martin Kippenberger, Feet First (1990)Image: Courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd.
Martin Kippenberger, Feet First (1990)
Image: Courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd.
The second highest lot of the night was a far quicker affair. When Jeff Koons's One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Spalding Dr. J Silver Series) (1985) came on the block (the unpublished estimate, which was revealed to us by a Christie's specialist at the auction, exceeded $12 million), bidding opened around $9 million. It ended quickly when a Christie's specialist bidding for a client on the phone won it for $13.5 million with seemingly only one competitor: a client bidding, again, via Gouzer. The final price, with premium, was $15.3 million.
A typically irreverent work by Martin Kippenberger, Feet First (1990), depicting a crucified frog, sold for a premium-inclusive $1.3 million, compared with an estimate of $700,000 to $900,000.
Based on paddle number, the same client purchased at least one other work tonight, Robert Gober's giant hyper-realistic sculpture of a stick of butter, Untitled (1993-94), which sold for $2.3 million.

Jeff Koons, One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Spalding Dr.J Silver Series (1985)Image: Courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd.
Jeff Koons, One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Spalding Dr.J Silver Series (1985)
Image: Courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd.
The centerpiece and inspiration for the sale was Bruce Nauman's contextually-loaded bronze work, Henry Moore Bound to Fail (1970), which was the third highest lot of the night, after Koons. Following bidding competition between Gouzer and a Christie's specialist standing next to him who was clearly taking instructions from a client in the front of the room, the piece sold for just under $7 million, against an estimate of $6 million to $8 million.
Maurizio Cattelan, Him (2001)Image: Courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd.
Maurizio Cattelan, Him (2001)
Image: Courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd.
A Richard Prince "Joke" painting, Drink Canada Dry (1991) sold to Christie's contemporary head Brett Gorvy, bidding for a phone client, for $3.6 million, compared with an estimate of $3 million to $4 million.
Glenn Ligon, Malcolm X (version 1) #1 (2000)Image: Courtesy of TKTKTK
Glenn Ligon, Malcolm X (version 1) #1 (2000)
Image: Courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd.
Glenn Ligon's Malcolm X (version 1) #1 (2000), sold for just over $1 million, landing in the middle of the $800,000 to $1.2 million estimate.
Though, as usual, much of the bidding came by clients over the telephone, we did spot West Coast film producer and collector Stavros Merjos bidding authoritatively on Kerry James Marshall's large, commanding canvas, Untitled (Pin-up) (2014), which he won for $680,000 at hammer, or a premium inclusive $821,000 (estimate: $650,000 – $850,000).
"It was a challenging sale," Gouzer told reporters at a post-auction press conference. "We all knew it was. The name said it, because we explored works by artists that were not central works, done deals or market darlings. And it did very well, testifying not only to the strength and breadth of the contemporary market but also the capacity of collectors to collect widely."
Jussi Pylkkanen, auctioneer of the evening and global president of Christie's, was enthusiastic about the impact and potential of these "curated" sales. Following the sale, he told artnet News that they are "interesting and inspiring" for collectors and specialists alike because of the range of works offered.
For seasoned collectors, as far as price points go, he said, "You don't just collect things in the millions."
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'Vagina Kayak' Artist Found Guilty of Obscenity in Tokyo Court


'Vagina Kayak' Artist Found Guilty of Obscenity in Tokyo Court

Megumi Igarashi and her lawyers pose with a sign reading “a part is not guilty" in front of the Tokyo District Court on May 9, 2016. Photo: KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images.
Megumi Igarashi and her lawyers pose with a sign reading “a part is not guilty" in front of the Tokyo District Court on May 9, 2016. Photo: KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images.
Concluding a protracted case that began two years ago, a Tokyo district court today found "Vagina Kayak" artist Megumi Igarashi guilty of distributing obscene images.
The Guardian reports that the 44-year-old was slapped with a 400,000 yen fine (approximately $3,500), half the amount demanded by prosecutors. Japan's obscenity laws carry a maximum penalty of two years in prison, but back in February, case prosecutors decided to only demand a fine of 800,000 yen.
Igarashi was cleared of another charge, related to the displaying of obscene material in an adult shop in Tokyo (namely, plaster versions of the vagina kayak).
The ruling ends a case that goes back to July 2014, when Igarashi was arrested for trying to raise funds online to pay for the construction of a vagina-shaped kayak, which was realized using a 3D printer.
Megumi Igarashi's documentation of the process of turning a 3D model of her vagina into a working kayak. Photo: Courtesy the artist.
“I don't believe my vagina is anything obscene," Igarashi stated in a press conference upon being released. “I was determined I would never yield to police power," she declared.
In December 2014, however, Igarashi—whose artistic moniker Rokude Nashiko means something similar to “reprobate child"—was arrested a second time on suspicion of having sent a link “that shows her plan to create a boat using three-dimensional obscene data" to numerous people.
Igarishi's case has highlighted Japan's rather contradictory stance on pornography. Although the country has a buoyant pornography industry, its laws forbid the depiction of actual genitalia, which usually appear censored or pixelated.
Megumi Igarashi. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.
For the artist, her case also revealed the level of misogyny present in the country. "Works that focus on female gender themes are looked down upon [in Japan]," she told artnet News last year.
Throughout her ordeal with the Japanese authorities, Igarishi has emerged as a strong advocate for women's rights and freedom of expression, supported and respected by many across the world.
The Guardian reports that an en English translation of her book What is Obscenity? will go on sale tomorrow.
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