Rudolf Stingelâ€™s 2012 painting Untitled, which sold at Christieâ€™s New York this past May for $6.5 million but has not been paid for in full, remains under lock and key at the auction house while a battle over its ownership unfolds in the Supreme Court of the State of New York. Today, one of the vying parties filed a fresh memorandum of law that further unpacks the murky nature of who exactly holds clear title to the painting.
The selling agent behind the disputed painting, a 95-by-76-inch blow-up of a 1930 black-and-white photograph of Pablo Picasso elegantly outfitted in a double-breasted suit and tie, and smoking a cigarette, was the 32-year-old art dealer Inigo Philbrick, the subject of several lawsuits in three jurisdictions amid allegations of a massive art fraud some experts peg in the $100 million range.
What todayâ€™s memorandum makes clear is that the case revolves around a transaction that looks like a purchase, but in fact represents a loan made to Philbrick. As attorney Judd Grossman put it, â€œThat is the real story here of what is going on with all of these Inigo dealsâ€”there was a lot of easy money allowing him to perpetrate these frauds, not only from the Reubens but others as well.â€
The Reubens would be Guzzini Properties Limited, an entity registered in the British Virgin Islands that is a subsidiary of the Geneva-based Reuben Brothers SA. Guzzini claims to be the rightful owner of the Stingel, along with Wade Guytonâ€™s Untitled from 2006 and Christopher Woolâ€™s Untitled enamel on linen painting from 2009, having acquired the trio of works from Inigo Philbrick in June 2017 for $6 million.
The sale and purchase agreement under the Guzzini Properties Limited letterhead is described as a â€œfinance document,â€ which in English law, the governing law of the Guzzini document, covers financial obligations to a lender or other secured party. It lists the worksâ€™ respective values in this way: $10 million for the Stingel, $6 million for the Guyton, and $9 million for the Wool, all told, $25 million worth of canvas.
In the memorandum of law filed today by Grossman, the attorney representing â€œfor parties in interestâ€ Aleksandar Pesko and Satfinance Investment Ltd., another entity vying for title, states in part, â€œAlthough Plaintiff here (thatâ€™s Guzzini) alleges that the total â€œpurchase priceâ€ for the Stingel and two other artworks was $6 million, according to the loan agreement, the total value of the three works is actually closer to $25 millionâ€¦. These figures are more in line with the typical loan-to-value ratio for art-backed loans, rather than the alleged â€œpurchase priceâ€ for artwork in a purported armâ€™s length, non-distressed sale, as Guzzini claims was the case here.â€
Todayâ€™s memorandum includes several exhibits, among them an email written by Pesko in October to Lisa Reuben, the daughter of the multibillionaire Simon Reuben and a former executive in Sothebyâ€™s contemporary art department, and apparently the point person in the Guzzini matter.
Pesko attached to the email the invoice and payment proof of $3.35 million in January 2016 to Philbrick for a 50 percent share in the Stingel.
Efforts to reach Reuben by email went unanswered, as were phone and email requests for comment from Guzziniâ€™s attorney, Wendy Lindstrom of Mazzola Lindstrom.
If the competing claims over title of the Stingel in the Supreme Court of New York matter sounds complicated, the picture is further tested by a separate action in the Circuit Court of Miami-Dade County where the German entity FAP GmbH (Fine Art Partners) alleges it acquired the same Stingel from Philbrick in 2015 for $7.1 million.
FAP filed its complaint in October in Miami, where Philbrick maintained an eponymous gallery, which abruptly shut down shortly after the FAP filing.
In the Guzzini sale and purchase agreement, revealed for the first time today, Philbrick, the seller, had a buy-back option on the three artworks for a fee of $10,000 and a stipulation that the buyer (Guzzini) â€œundertakes not to sell the Artworks until any option for the Seller to buy back the Artworks expires.â€ That expiration date was August 2019, three months after the Christieâ€™s non-sale.
The Guzzini agreement was provided to Grossman, Peskoâ€™s counsel, by Philbrick before he went missing sometime in November.
Adding to the confusing drama of the battle over the sequestered painting, Guzziniâ€™s action for winning clear title in New York wasnâ€™t filed against Philbrick but against the painting itself, â€œUntitled by Rudolf Stingel, 2012â€ and as a court document duly noted, no representation of an attorney was recorded.
It seems that the Stingel needs legal aid and the action must set a precedent for a painting being the sole defendant in a court case.
â€œThe Guzzini filing in New York seeks to clear title for the Stingel,â€ said a spokesperson for Christieâ€™s, â€œafter the fraudulent activities of the selling agent (Philbrick) involved in the sale were discovered. Christieâ€™s agrees that determination of rightful ownership of the Stingel work by the courts is the next necessary step forward.â€
Objet: Candles Inspired by Classical Sculptures
Scrolling through the Instagram postings of American influencers whose brands rely on a certain adjacency to European culture, I’ve noticed that the standard fare of empty Diptyque glasses, Matisse cutouts, and starburst mirrors is now being complemented by sculptural candles. In the past few years, we’ve seen pastel-hued candles shaped like geometric solids, candles speckled…
Scrolling through the Instagram postings of American influencers whose brands rely on a certain adjacency to European culture, I’ve noticed that the standard fare of empty Diptyque glasses, Matisse cutouts, and starburst mirrors is now being complemented by sculptural candles. In the past few years, we’ve seen pastel-hued candles shaped like geometric solids, candles speckled with bright colors looking like they’re straight out of Splatoon, and candles in the form of cereal bowls, pastries, and sneakers. But what this new wave of creators are displaying on their shelves and coffee tables are miniature versions in wax of famous Classical statues.
The most viral brand in this regard is New York–based Anaïs Candle, which was founded around a year ago. One of the owners, Kat, who declined to give her full name because she doesn’t want to take the focus away from the products, has had a lifelong fascination with the Venus de Milo. Soon after the launch of the Venus candle, which appeared in highly aestheticized Instagram photos, either in rows of four or solo in elaborate tableaux where it was flanked by champagne flutes, flower arrangements (roses and peonies, mainly), high-end beauty products, or latte art, there was, Kat says, a demand for a male equivalent. Anaïs Candle opted for the head of Michelangelo’s David. “There were already a lot of candles depicting the male body,” she says. On the site, the head is known simply as “Man.”
While Anaïs maintains a neutral color palette, with candles available in off-white, stone gray, calcite blue, and black, other independent candle makers are melding Classical art with a Gen-Z color palette. Forget Millennial Pink and its buddy Marigold Yellow; what about a bust of Artemis in ultramarine blue, or a David in lime green or bubblegum pink? Néos Candle Studio, based in Costa Mesa, California, gave their versions of Venus and David, as well as a candle inspired by the Diana of Versailles, just such a contemporary spin. Says Néos founder Sonia Marcinek, “A David or Artemis candle in a neon color creates the exact eclectic aesthetic I had in mind when I envisioned my candles.”
There is a whole pantheon of deities, heroes, and comely mortals to draw from, though, and Cody Bennett, founder of the Australian company The Busted Gentleman, is doing so. “So many brands have done versions of David and Venus,” he says. “I wanted to show that there are other Greek gods just as beautiful.” His candles depict gods of the arts, including Apollo and Orpheus.
The Busted Gentleman
All of these candles have two to six hours’ worth of burning time, but customers often won’t light them. Yet, the candlemakers maintain, that’s part of the experience. “We would say that when our candles burn, it’s actually even more aesthetic,” says Kat.
Auction Sales Rebound to Pre-Pandemic Levels with Boost from Asia: Report
According to a report published by London-based art market analytics firm Pi-eX, auction sales are once again at pre-pandemic levels after a tumultuous year of financial strain. Despite an abrupt shutdown that forced the industry to adapt overnight, data from the second quarter of this year suggests the auction market is back in full force.…
According to a report published by London-based art market analytics firm Pi-eX, auction sales are once again at pre-pandemic levels after a tumultuous year of financial strain.
Despite an abrupt shutdown that forced the industry to adapt overnight, data from the second quarter of this year suggests the auction market is back in full force. According to the report, the top three public auction houses—Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips—saw a 405 percent year-over-year increase in sales during the second quarter of 2021 between the months of April and June.
Whereas the houses brought in $900 million during the second quarter of 2020, during the second quarter of this year, they brought in $4.6 billion, slightly exceeding numbers from the same period in 2019. In the second quarter of 2020, these houses weathered the worst year-over-year drop-off since the 2008 financial crisis.
In a recent interview with Bloomberg Markets, Christie’s CEO Guillaume Cerutti said that auction houses struggled in 2020 because “there was very strong demand, but the supply was more challenging.” In other words, art collectors were more reluctant to sell their works during the embattled financial period. Buyers, on the other hand, were likely to go after opportunities to collect during the economic lag.
Now, things have changed. A boost from Asia-based clients fueled the market’s return to its pre-pandemic level. They increased auction sale results in China, boosting them to $1.2 billion this year—a sum that’s up 69 percent from the $734 million generated in the second quarter of 2019.
By comparison, the U.S. failed to bounce back to its 2019 level during 2021’s second quarter, however, with saw a 16 percent drop in sales from the same period in 2019.
In a report on the first half of 2021, Christie’s said Asian buyers accounted for a historic high of 39 percent all bids across fine art and luxury categories, spending $1.04 billion in total. Phillips likewise found success in the region, seeing the highest increase in sales between the second quarters of 2019 and 2021. The 34 percent uptick can be attributed to the London-based house’s collaboration with Chinese auction house Poly for its modern and contemporary art evening sales. This spring, Phillips and Poly made $122 million across four consecutive white-glove sales over the course of a week.
Meanwhile, across sales in all regions, Sotheby’s saw a 16 percent increase in the second quarter of 2021 over the second quarter of 2019. Christie’s, which led by market share in 2019, however, saw its Q2 2021 sales dip by 9 percent.
The second quarter of this year also saw the return of another crucial auction format: the single-owner collection sale, which brings major holdings amassed by the world’s wealthy elite to the open market, often after decades of secrecy. The estate of French advertising tycoon Francis Gross sold his Surrealist works at Christie’s, for example, and luxury footwear mogul Stuart Weitzman parted ways with rare stamps at Sotheby’s. According to the Pi-eX report, these auctions helped boost the houses’ sales by a significant margin, signaling a return of confidence among the art world’s high-profile sellers. The sales generated $489 million in Q2 2021, about five times the amount made in the second quarter of 2020.
A new focus on non-traditional collectible categories, such as crypto art, attracted millennial buyers this year and played a role in the market’s rebound. NFT sales are now a $2.4 billion global market according to a recent Dapp Industry report. Following the $69 million sale of a Beeple work in March, NFTs dominated the first quarter of 2021. The pace of NFT buying slowed between April and June this year, accounting for just $50 million, or around 1 percent of Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips’s total sales.
Venice Avoids UNESCO’s ‘In Danger’ Designation After Cruise Ship Ban
After banning large cruise ships from traveling through its lagoon, Venice has avoided being designed an “in danger” UNESCO World Heritage site. UNESCO made the announcement on Thursday, a week after the Italian cabinet declared the city’s waterways a national monument. The historic move aimed to preserve the embattled ecosystem from damage by the ships,…
After banning large cruise ships from traveling through its lagoon, Venice has avoided being designed an “in danger” UNESCO World Heritage site. UNESCO made the announcement on Thursday, a week after the Italian cabinet declared the city’s waterways a national monument. The historic move aimed to preserve the embattled ecosystem from damage by the ships, which had begun to return to Venice following a break necessitated by the pandemic.
The World Heritage Committee, the governing body of the heritage sites, has given the Italian government until next December to further detail its efforts to preserve Venice’s ecosystem and heritage. Italy’s Culture Minister, Dario Franceschini, said in a statement that “attention on Venice must remain high” and emphasized the city’s need to find a “sustainable development path.”
Environmentalists have been campaigning for a decade to ban oversized tourist vessels from the lagoon, citing the large waves caused by ships. These waves destabilize the underwater ecosystem and could harm the city’s already fragile foundation. In recent weeks, protestors have staged demonstrations, flying flags reading “No big boats.”
In 2019, UNESCO warned the Italian city about the problems associated with cruise ships passing through the Venice lagoon. Those cruise ships, which brought millions to Venice each year prior to the pandemic, will now be banned from entering the Basin of San Marco, the Canal of San Marco, and the Giudecca Canal as of August 1.
Non-governmental watch groups claim that the ban does not address the many issues the city faces, such as over-tourism and the management of natural resources. The groups also say that the temporary decision to moor cruise ships in the industrial port of Marghera still puts the lagoon at risk.
“The persistent issues afflicting the precarious state of conservation of Venice and its lagoon has long been associated with a complex and ineffective governance framework,” Stephan Doempke, chairman of World Heritage Watch, told the UNESCO committee. “It lacks a long-term vision and a strategy involving the local community.”