Paris Dealer Who Sold Golden Sarcophagus to the Met Charged with Money Laundering & Other Stories

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Paris Dealer Charged with Fraud and Money Laundering in Sale of Golden Sarcophagus to the Met
French art dealer and Mediterranean archeology expert Christophe Kunicki was charged with fraud and money laundering in Paris following an investigation that began after the sale of a golden sarcophagus to New York’s Metropolitan Museum for €3.5 million in 2017. The Met subsequently returned the sarcophagus to Egypt, after learning that its provenance was forged. The investigation revealed that the piece was stolen during the Arab Spring unrest in 2011, and the Met advised that it will “pursue claims against all parties … involved in deceiving the museum.”

The remainder of the news summaries are separated by region for your browsing convenience.

UNITED STATES

American Collector to Sue France in European Court of Human Rights over Pissarro Painting
Counsel for the American real estate developer and collector Bruce Toll announced plans to file suit against France before the European Court of Human Rights in the aftermath of France’s Court of Cassation rejection of the collector’s appeal for the ownership of the painting Pea Harvest by Camille Pissarro. Toll purchased the artwork at Christie’s in New York in 1995. In 2017, while it was on loan to the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris, the work was seized by the French authorities. The same year, a Paris court held that the painting, which was confiscated in 1943 by the pro-Nazi Vichy government in France, had to be returned to the heirs of the original owner, Simon Bauer. The court’s decision relied on a 1945 order by the French Government annulling all seizures that occurred under German occupation and all later transactions in such confiscated art. While the French court suggested that Toll has recourse against Christie’s, his counsel noted that the statute of limitations on any possible claim had expired, since the contract with Christie’s was signed in 1995. Counsel also pointed out that France had issued an export license for the painting after it was sold by Sotheby’s London in 1966. At that time, the Bauer family made a claim for the painting but eventually lost in court.

Unknown Explorer Finds Hidden Treasure in Rocky Mountains
Ten years after hiding a treasure chest with an assortment of valuables worth some $2 million, art dealer Forest Fenn announced that it has been found. The search involved thousands of hopeful treasure hunters traversing five states and the unfortunate passing of five individuals. In the treasure chest were a 2,000-year-old necklace as well as two ancient Chinese jade carvings. Over the course of the 10 years, Fenn’s only clue was a poem found in the last pages of his autobiography. At this time, the lucky finder remains anonymous.

ACLU Files Suit against Miami Beach Officials for Removal of a Memorial Painting
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida filed suit on behalf of artist Rodney Jackson and two curators over the removal of a painting memorializing Raymond Herisse, who was fatally shot by Miami Beach police in 2011. The ACLU claims that Miami Beach officials improperly censored the artist and the curators, thus violating their First Amendment rights. The ACLU’s counsel referenced two cases from the 1990s involving unsuccessful attempts by municipalities to shut down controversial art exhibitions in support of his argument of First Amendment violations.

Facebook Bans Sale of Historical Artifacts
Facebook has banned the sale of historic artifacts on Facebook and Instagram following criticism from archeologists, activists and researchers, including the U.S.-based Antiques Trafficking and Heritage Anthropology Research (ATHAR) Project and the BBC. ATHAR reported that illegal items were offered and purchased before they could be removed from the site. At least 200 Facebook groups were identified, where group leaders were giving real-time instructions to looters as to which items to excavate and posting videos and photos of looting occurring in real time. Not surprisingly, the buying and selling of antiques increased in April during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Sotheby’s Granted Summary Judgment Award for New York Dealer’s Failure to Pay
A New York court granted Sotheby’s summary judgment motion, awarding the auction house $2 million in damages against art dealer Anatole Shagalov. The suit involved a 10-foot square painting on a tarp by Keith Haring. Shagalov purchased the painting for $6.5 million, but never paid Sotheby’s for the painting. Sotheby’s eventually resold the work to the guarantor and sought payment through the judicial system. While Shagalov alleged that he was given special terms by Sotheby’s to extend the payment plan past the 90 days required by Sotheby’s, the court held that the record was devoid of evidence that such an agreement existed. Shagalov’s representative announced plans to appeal.

Tribal Leaders Call for Removal of Mount Rushmore Memorial
Leaders of the Great Sioux tribe are calling for the removal, but not the destruction, of the Mount Rushmore memorial. The memorial was erected in 1941 on Black Hills, a site sacred to the Lakota Sioux, Cheyenne, Omaha, Arapaho, Kiowa and Kiowa-Apache tribes. Over the years activists have protested the memorial, claiming that the tribal nations were entitled to the rights over this land per an 1868 treaty.

EUROPE

Russia’s Crackdown on Arts and Culture

  • The director of the Gogol Theatre in Russia, Kirill Serebrennikov, was found guilty of embezzling government funds while staging a contemporary arts festival. The charges brought included accusations that Serebrennikov never staged a play despite receiving government funding for one. In court, the defense pointed out the awards, press reviews and other evidence that the production had taken place. Serebrennikov was given a three-year suspended sentence for the time he served while under house arrest. The case is widely criticized as a government attempt to crush artistic freedom.
  • Dozens of people were detained during protests that took place in multiple Russian cities in opposition to the arrest and possible six-year imprisonment of activist Yulia Tsvetkova, who will stand trial this month for posting feminist body-positive art on social media. The Russian art community rallied in support of Tsvetkova and expressed their concerns over the classification of stylized drawings as pornography by the Russian government, claiming that the precedent could make it possible to imprison half the artists in the country.
  • Pyotr Verzilov, a participant in the Russian art groups Voina and Pussy Riot, was sentenced to 15 days in prison for “petty hooliganism” for cursing after he was attacked by an alleged police provocateur outside of a police station following questioning as to his participation in an anti-government rally last year.

Furniture Restorer Disfigures Virgin Mary Painting
The owner of a copy of the 17th century Virgin Mary painting by Spanish Baroque artist Bartolomé Esteban Murillo hired a furniture restorer to clean the painting. The “restorer” badly disfigured the painting after his restoration attempts, charging €1,200 for his work. The incident, one of several in recent times where priceless art is damaged by non-professional restorers, led to calls for stricter rules on the restoration of art and historical artifacts from Spain’s art conservation community.

AFRICA

Archaeologists Discover Earliest Evidence to Date of Human Presence in the Congo Basin
Archaeologists recently dated new samples of ancient stone tools found in the Congo Basin using cosmogenic nuclides produced by a large accelerator mass spectrometer. Preliminary results suggest that the artifacts may be up to 850,000 years old, thus representing the oldest evidence of human existence in the Congo Basin. The discovery was made by Richard Oslisly of France’s Research Institute of Development, who has been researching the region since 1987. Oslisly’s work will allow for a greater concentration in the Congo to better understand the earliest civilizations in that region.

ASIA

Students in China Find a Fun Way to Social Distance
Students in China have created hats to help maintain social distancing in school. The hats are modeled after garments worn 1,000 years ago during the Song dynasty.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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