This morning at around 5:30 a.m. CET, firefighters and police were called to Santander and Cantabria’s Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Spain due to smoke billowing from the top of the building.
The blaze broke out on the top floor of the museum. Thankfully, none of the artworks in the collection—which includes Francisco de Goya‘s 1814 portrait of King Fernando VII—were damaged as the museum is currently undergoing renovations and works are temporarily stored in a bunker in the basement.
At around 10 a.m., Santander’s mayor, Gema Igual, tweeted that the blaze had been contained, writing: “The fire at MAS declared at dawn is under control. No one was hurt and the worker who was guarding the art collection is well. Firefighters are working on the inside on ventilation and searching for hotspots.”
El incendió del MAS declarado esta madrugada está controlado. No ha habido que lamentar heridos y el trabajador que custodia colección de arte se encuentra bien. Los bomberos siguen en el interior con labores ventilación y búsqueda de focos calientes
About a dozen apartments in the block adjacent to the museum on Rubio street were evacuated, but residents have since been able to return to their homes.
As a precaution, the collection will also be moved to another safe location as soon as possible, while the rest of the museum is being examined. The cause of the blaze is as yet unknown but is being investigated by the city’s criminal police.
The museum has been closed to the public since February, while it is undergoing a €585,980 ($690,000) renovation project which includes roof repairs and the installation of an elevator to improve accessibility.
It’s rare that art deals gone wrong wind up in criminal, rather than civil, court. But English art dealer Timothy Sammons, age 61, appeared at his arraignment in New York State Supreme Court this afternoon flanked by court officers and with his hands cuffed behind his back. Prosecutors are calling for the former Sotheby’s specialist to serve five to 15 years in prison for allegedly stealing millions of dollars from clients who had entrusted him with works by artists including Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall.
“As alleged in the indictment, the defendant used his industry experience to gain the trust of prospective art sellers, then betrayed that trust by pocketing the proceeds of those sales to fund his own lavish lifestyle,” Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance said in a statement. “Not only did victims lose millions of dollars, but many lost valuable pieces of artwork that had been in their families for generations.”
Sammons has been charged with multiple counts of grand larceny in the first and second degrees and one count of scheming to defraud in the first degree.
The district attorney asserts that between 2010 and 2015, Sammons, an art dealer with offices in New York and London, defrauded five victims in the US, the UK, and New Zealand. In court on Friday, assistant district attorney Kevin Wilson said the stolen artworks were worth tens of millions of dollars. He called Sammons, who allegedly defrauded his clients of works including Pablo Picasso’s Buste de Femme, Marc Chagall’s Reverie, and Paul Signac‘s Calanque de Canoubiers, “a significant flight risk.”
Sammons allegedly used proceeds from the sale of one victim’s art to pay other clients and used art that did not belong to him as collateral to obtain personal loans.
Glenn Hardy, Sammons’s attorney, pleaded with Judge Felicia Mennin to allow Sammons to post bail, saying it would be very complicated to compile the records necessary to mount his defense if he were sent to jail. He argued that Sammons—whose passport has been seized and who voluntarily turned himself in to US Marshals—was not a flight risk.
Moreover, he pointed out that while living in the UK after being released on £20,000 bail, Sammons had submitted willingly to restrictions on his travel imposed by the UK’s Insolvency Service and that those restrictions had gradually been lifted due to his compliance.
“This is going to be a complex and detailed case in which Mr. Sammons has entered a not guilty plea and will maintain his innocence throughout,” Hardy tells artnet News.
Judge Mennin declined to set bail and Sammons was taken into police custody after the arraignment. His next court date is scheduled for November 6.
A legal battle is brewing between art collector David Mugrabi and Mana Contemporary, the New Jersey-based fine art storage company. Mugrabi is suing Mana, which he says is preventing him from accessing his stored collection of over 1,300 works. He claims there was an arrangement for his family to use the Mana facilities free of charge, and that the organization has wrongfully charged him in excess of $500,000.
The son of noted Andy Warhol collector Jose Mugrabi—the family is said to have over 1,000 pieces by the legendary Pop artist—David Mugrabi has filed his suit on behalf of the Mugrabi clan, which works together to collect, exhibit, and sell art. As reported in Bloomberg, Mugrabi accused Mana of denying the family access to the art collection, stored at the company’s Jersey City facility.
According to the complaint, filed in New York State Supreme Court, the Mugrabis have stored 1,389 works of art, including paintings, sculptures, and collectible furniture, as well as some 80 miscellaneous items, at Mana. They claim the family art collection is valued in excess of $100 million.
The Mugrabis began storing their collection at Mana in March 2014. They say that they paid the normal rates until September of the same year when Jose Mugrabi met with Mana president Gene Lemay and drafted a new storage agreement. In exchange for “advising clients” to use Mana, the Mugrabis would store their entire collection there for free.
When a new account manager began handling the Mugrabi’s collection at Mana in May 2015, the company allegedly ceased to honor the second agreement, and began sending what the suit calls “spurious invoices.” On August 8, Mana is said to have sent the family a bill of $519,475.43.
The suit claims that Mana began preventing the Mugrabis from removing artworks from storage on September 13 of this year. “As of today, we have placed a hold on your account for non-payment,” reads an email from Mana submitted as an exhibit in the suit. “This means we will not be releasing any items from inventory until the account is brought current.”
According to the filing, the family has sold three of the artworks and arranged for two of them to appear in upcoming museum exhibitions—one of which will not happen if it is not delivered to the institution by Friday, October 27. Another consignment deal with a foreign gallery has allegedly fallen through because the Mugrabis were prevented from removing the work from storage. (Email correspondence, presented as an exhibit in the complaint, shows that one of the artworks was supposed to be picked up by Zurich’s Galerie Gmurzynska.)
The Mugrabis claim that the lack of access to their collection has brought “the family’s art business to a standstill.” According to the suit, they’ve lost the opportunity to sell “millions of dollars worth of art” to potential clients.
Mana is “holding hostage the Mugrabi Art Collection,” said David Mugrabi in an affidavit, arguing that the damages to his business far exceed the amount of the disputed bill. “Would it be fair and equitable for Con Edison to block one from living in a $10,000,000.00 residence because of a disputed $1,000.00 electric bill?” he asks in the affidavit.
Beyond denying access to the collection, the Mugrabis have also accused Mana of damaging at least 11 works it was storing. The suit identifies works by Tom Wesselmann, Richard Prince, Mark Flood, Kaws, Anh Duong, Frank Gehry, David Opdyke, Robin Rhode, Jenny Saville, and Glen Luchford, worth some $5 million, as having been affected.
The Mugrabis are seeking the immediate return of their artworks and $10 million in punitive damages, arguing that Mana’s “conduct evidenced a high degree of moral culpability and/or was so flagrant and/or so willful, wanton and/or negligent or recklessness [sic] as to imply a criminal indifference to civil obligations.” They have offered to put forward $600,000, to cover the bill from Mana, plus interest, while the case is pending to ensure the prompt release and transfer of the collection.
The Mugrabis are represented by high-profile art lawyer Aaron Richard Golub; Mana is represented by Fran Mulnick Parker. As of press time, Golub’s office had not responded to artnet New’s request for comment.
artnet News has received the following statement from Parker.
Pursuant to a written agreement, Mana Contemporary stores art and performs various related services for Fashion Concepts Inc. [Jose Mugrabi’s textile business] Because they have defaulted on payment for an extended period of time and continue to owe an amount in excess of $500,000 (plus additional fees) despite several attempts to recover same, Mana Contemporary has no choice but to enforce its lien in accordance with the Agreement.
UPDATE: The Art Newspaper reports that Mana has been ordered by the court to release five works of art in exchange for $1 million from the Mugrabis by noon on Wednesday, October 25. Should Mana fail to do so, they will have just 24 hours to return the entirety of the stored collection to the family.
The bitter dispute between Hollywood actor Alec Baldwin and New York dealer Mary Boone has ended. The actor received a seven-figure settlement from Boone over a $190,000 Ross Bleckner painting he bought in 2010 that turned out to be a different painting than the one she promised to deliver. The agreement, reached last month and finalized on Friday, concludes a civil fraud case that was scheduled to head to trial next year.
Although settlements of this kind are often confidential, Baldwin went into surprising detail with the New Yorker, which recounts the saga and its resolution in next week’s print edition. (The article went online this morning.) Baldwin told the magazine he received a seven-figure sum, half of which he plans to donate to the fund to rebuild the Sag Harbor Cinema in the Hamptons.
As part of the settlement, Baldwin was also allowed to keep the work he was duped into buying—and commission another new work by Bleckner. “Maybe I’ll have Ross paint a picture of the seven-figure check that Mary paid me to settle,” Baldwin told the New Yorker. He said he plans to tour the fake work as part of a lecture series on art fraud.
A longtime fan of Bleckner, Baldwin had coveted the large-scale painting Sea and Mirror (1996) since the late ’90s, when he first spotted it on an exhibition flyer. He tried to buy the work at Sotheby’s in 2007, but was outbid. Three years later, Boone agreed to find the work and negotiate a sale on his behalf. Baldwin bought it—or, so he thought—for $190,000.
When the work arrived, the actor suspected something was amiss. It was signed, dated, and stamped with the inventory number of the 1996 work he loved, but the colors were different than he remembered.
“They were bright, like M&M’s,” he told the New Yorker. “The brushstrokes were less feathery, and the paint smelled, well, fresh.” Boone told him that the previous owner was a heavy smoker and Bleckner had cleaned the painting as a courtesy.
Baldwin ultimately had the painting tested by a Sotheby’s expert and concluded that the work he owned was not, in fact, the 1996 painting he thought he had bought. Bleckner later admitted the canvas was a copy. “I’m so sorry about this,” the artist wrote in an email to Baldwin, according to the New Yorker.
Boone offered the actor a full refund plus interest, but Baldwin decided to press civil charges, seeking to make as much noise as possible about Boone’s blunder.
The dealer’s lawyer Ted Poretz asked the court to dismiss the case on the grounds that it fell outside the statute of limitations. But a judge ruled in August that the suit could proceed to trial.
According to the New Yorker, a settlement became more appealing for Boone’s side after Baldwin’s lawyers obtained damaging emails that included discussions of how to prematurely age the painting and ensure that the paint was dry.
Reached by artnet News, Boone’s lawyer declined to comment on the settlement.