Collector

The Heir of a German-Jewish Collector Is Suing the Guggenheim for the Return of a Prized Picasso Painting—Or $150 Million


The heir of a prominent German-Jewish family is suing New York’s Guggenheim Museum for the return of a prized Pablo Picasso painting, which he says was sold under the threat of Nazi persecution 85 years ago.  

A lawsuit filed January 20 in Manhattan Supreme Court alleges that the painting, Woman Ironing (1904), was sold under duress in 1938 as its owner, Karl Adler, rushed to flee Nazi-run Germany with his wife, Rosi Jacobi. The plaintiffs in the case, which include one of Adler and Jacobi’s direct descendants—Thomas Bennigson—and numerous Jewish charities, are seeking the return of the artwork or $100 to $200 million in damages.

The case, which was filed under the provisions of the 2016 Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act, may come down to whether or not the artwork was determined to have been sold illegally or through extortion.

“[Adler] would not have disposed of the painting at the time and price that he did, but for the Nazi persecution to which he and his family had been, and would continue to be, subjected,” the filing reads.

A general view of the exterior facade of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City. Photo by Ben Hider/Getty Images.

A view of the exterior facade of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City. Photo by Ben Hider/Getty Images.

The board chairman of a major leather manufacturer, Adler acquired the Blue Period painting in 1916, from the Munich-based gallery owner Heinrich Thannhauser. Twenty-two years later, the businessman and his wife fled Germany amid increasing threats of persecution from the Nazis.

The couple planned to immigrate to Argentina and needed money to cover the cost of short-term visas and the Nazi-instituted flight tax. As part of an effort to liquidate his assets, Adler sold Woman Ironing to Heinrich Thannhauser’s son, Justin Thannhauser, for $1,552—or roughly $32,000 today.  

The heir’s complaint characterizes the sale as “forced” and its price as “well below” market value.

“Thannhauser, as a leading art dealer of Picasso, must have known he acquired the painting for a fire sale price,” the suit says. “At the time of the sale, Thannhauser was buying comparable masterpieces from other German Jews who were fleeing from Germany and profiting from their misfortune.”

“Thannhauser was well-aware of the plight of Adler and his family,” the complaint goes on, “and that, absent Nazi persecution, Adler would never have sold the painting when he did at such a price.”

Citing its own provenance research, the Guggenheim said in a statement that the plaintiff’s case is “without merit.”

Woman Ironing entered the museum’s collection in 1978, following an extended loan and promised gift from Justin Thannhauser in 1965. But before the acquisition was final, Guggenheim administrators looked into the painting’s past and contacted Karl Adler’s son, Eric Adler, as part of the process. 

The younger Adler “did not raise any concerns about the painting or its sale,” according to the institution. The museum also pointed out that the Thannhausers, too, were Jewish and subject to Nazi persecution.  

“The extensive research conducted by the Guggenheim since first being contacted by an attorney representing these claimants demonstrates that the Guggenheim is the rightful owner of the painting,” the museum’s statement went on. “There is no evidence that Karl Adler or his three children, now deceased, ever viewed the sale as unfair or considered Thannhauser a bad‐faith actor, either at the time of the transaction or at any time since.”

A spokesperson for the Guggenheim further explained that the painting is currently on view at the museum, as it has been almost continuously since being acquired 45 years ago. The artwork is not accompanied by signage stating that it “changed hands due to theft, seizure, confiscation, forced sale, or other involuntary means” during the Nazi era, as required by a recently passed New York law.

A lawyer representing Adler and Jacobi’s heir and the other plaintiffs did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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A Spanish Collector Is on Trial for Forging Artworks by Chillida, Lichtenstein, and Munch—Then Consigning Them to Auction Houses


A Spanish collector is facing years of prison time for allegedly forging and consigning artworks by Roy Lichtenstein, Edvard Munch, and others. 

Guillermo Chamorro, aged 67, is being charged with intellectual property theft and fraud related to the falsification of 15 works of art, according to Spanish newspaper El País. The prosecutor’s office in Madrid, where the trial is taking place, is seeking a six-and-a-half-year prison sentence. 

A once respected collector and occasional artist, Chamorro has now been connected to dozens of suspected forgeries going back several years. 

An Austrian collector named Tomas Weber told El Pais that an Eduardo Chillida lithograph he purchased in the spring of 2019, from Hampel Fine Art Auctions in Munich for €3,900, was fake. The artwork had been consigned by Chamorro, to whom Weber reached out, demanding a refund.

Soon after, Weber told Spanish police that he had spotted two additional Chillida forgeries at the Setdart auction house in Madrid. Subsequent searches of Setdart’s facilities yielded more artworks believed to have been fabricated by Chamorro, including seven attributed to Chillida, two to Lichtenstein, and one to Munch. 

Of the 15 pieces Chamorro has been accused of faking, Spanish police have recovered 10. The remaining five artworks—four attributed to the Spanish painter José Guerrero and one credited to Saul Steinberg—were sold to collectors by Setdart in December 2018. 

It’s unclear if their owners have been notified about the artworks’ suspected authenticity. Chamorro, for his part, claims he only moved these pieces to Setdart for study, not sale.

Representatives from the auction house did not immediately respond to Midnight Publishing Group News’s request for comment.  

Hampel Fine Art is heavily implicated in Chamorro’s trial, too. El País reported that a Spanish-based representative for the company approached the accused forger in 2017 with the idea of selling some of his collection. Chamorro subsequently sent 29 artworks to Munich. Among the group were several iterations of Munch’s famous Scream scene, which the collector valued to be worth €250,000 to €300,000 in total.

After not being paid for the artworks, Chamorro reached out to the auction house and found out that they were being held at a local police station due to questions over their legitimacy. The whereabouts of those artworks are currently unknown.

An expert from the Reina Sofía Museum, José Manuel Lara, helped confirm the dubious status of many of the artworks connected to Chamorro. He spotted irregularities in the artworks’ signatures and pointed out that many of the pictures were made using inkjet printing processes. 

Lara concluded in court that if the pieces were not fake, they were at least “manipulations of authentic pieces.”  

Meanwhile, Francisco Baena, director of the José Guerrero Center in Granada, weighed in on the Guerrero artworks.

“Guerrero was always firm and sure, but in the ones that the police showed me, the painter hesitates, as if he knew he was forging,” Baena said at the trial.

 

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8 Questions for Art Collector and Dealer Rock Walker on His Passion for M.C. Escher’s Fantastical Works


Dutch printmaker M. C. Escher’s famed labyrinthine architectural visions (confusing staircase, anyone?) have become a pop-culture phenomenon that extend well beyond the confines of the art world. Nevertheless, and perhaps due to the artist’s favor among the college-dorm decorating set, Escher’s contributions have never been fully embraced by the art world proper.

For decades, Rock J. Walker, a leading collector and dealer of Escher prints, has been on a mission to revamp the artist’s legacy by bringing critical analysis to his work. Walker, who offers works by the artist through his gallery, Walker Fine Art, focuses not only on Escher’s most famous, optically challenging prints, but also his earlier works, including more straightforward architectural studies that emphasize his trajectory as an artist. Walker has also been an important voice in warning about the pitfalls of collecting Escher’s work (his market is notoriously flooded with fakes). 

Recently, we asked Walker about his passion for Escher and what he does with his gallery.

Rock Walker. Courtesy of Walker Fine Arts.

Rock Walker. Courtesy of Walker Fine Arts.

How did you first become interested in the work of Escher?

I was given a book on M.C. Escher in my late teens, which, after putting it away and revisiting it, piqued my interest to the degree that I wanted to find a way to own an original Escher. 

How did you amass this amazing collection?

Bucket loads of perspiration, and a teaspoon of genius.

What are the keys to collecting Escher’s work?

Read, read, read, number one. Number two, condition drives value, which is of the utmost importance when you are collecting works on paper.

What are some of the pitfalls of collecting Escher’s prints? 

Your primary pitfall is verifying who is selling M.C. Escher’s work. The market is extremely saturated with fakes simply because the work of major and expensive printmakers is easy to reproduce via copy machines and other electronic equipment.

Are there any giveaways people should look out for in regards to fakes? 

Yes. Quite simply, only deal with qualified fine art dealers. Avoid eBay and unqualified websites offering fine art for sale.

Most people are familiar with his winding staircase works. Are there less familiar motifs by Escher that you wish people knew more about?

Indeed, and that would be Escher’s early works and Italian period in all media. They will someday be of equal importance to his iconic and later works.

Much of Escher’s original work has been lost. How did that happen? 

Escher was selling his work for a few guilders (approximately two to five dollars). People did not invest in matting and framing, and they would glue them to plywood to walls and even to cardboard. As a result, for example, on a yearly basis, there are less than 50 to 75 original Eschers sold worldwide, including at auction houses and or through dealers.

Do you have a favorite work by Escher?

I do not have a single favorite. Escher did 448 prints, 137 watercolors, and just under 2,000 drawings, and I enjoy them all equally. I like to say Escher danced on the head of a pin, and he was the bridge between art science and mathematics—the Einstein of the art world.

 

M. C. Escher
Bond of Union #409 (1956)
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Maurits Cornelis Escher, Bond of Union #409 (1956). Courtesy of Walker Fine Art.

Maurits Cornelis Escher, Bond of Union #409 (1956). Courtesy of Walker Fine Art.

 

M.C. Escher
Tropea Seaside (
1930)
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M. C. Escher, Tropea Seaside (1930). Courtesy of Walker Fine Art.

M. C. Escher, Tropea Seaside (1930). Courtesy of Walker Fine Art.

M. C. Escher
Reptiles #327 (1943)
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M. C. Escher, Reptiles #327 (1943). Courtesy of Walker Fine Art.

M. C. Escher, Reptiles #327 (1943). Courtesy of Walker Fine Art.

M.C. Escher
Depth #403 (1955)
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M. C. Escher, Depth #403 (1955). Courtesy of Walker Fine Art.

M. C. Escher, Depth #403 (1955). Courtesy of Walker Fine Art.

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‘Everything Is Connected’: Collector and Curator Raquel Cayre on Why There’s No Point in Differentiating Between Art and Design


The Tomorrowists is a four-part interview series with young art world innovators who are hoping to shake up the art industry with cutting-edge initiatives and projects.

 

The curator, collector, and advisor Raquel Cayre, 29, has long viewed the art and design worlds as one in the same—two spheres whose differences are superficial, bound by the fact that they share the power to stir the soul through the eyes of the beholder. 

In the years since starting her Instagram account @ettoresotsass—which began as a love letter to Sotsass, the founder of the Memphis Milano movement, whose work Cayre has come to collect herself—the young design aficionado has carved out a place of her own in the industry, earning the attention of such design heavyweights as Kelly Wearstler and Sotsass’s widow, Barbara Radice. 

Beyond her personal collecting and social media presence, Cayre is also developing a series of projects that aim to offer audiences novel ways to experience design. For her monthlong design exhibition “Raquel’s Dream House,” she took over a New York City townhouse to create a distinctly domestic-feeling display; in “Chairs Beyond Right & Wrong,” she teamed up with R & Company to present 50 chairs from famous designers around the globe, encouraging audiences to consider them more as art than functional design.  

Cayre’s latest endeavor, Open Source, is an online platform that showcases an individual artist or designer’s work that is then sold via her online shop. 

Last week, we spoke to Cayre about how she fell in love with art and design, why she loves Sotsass so much, and what the design world might look like in 10 years.

Tell me a little about your background. How did you come to fall in love with art and design? 

Lots of travel, books, and museums, and connecting with the right people in the field. I guess I’m an autodidact. I draw from direct experiences. When I was still a student, I took a year off from university to travel. One trip to Milan and boom! Everything changed. 

I think it’s fair to say you are one of the foremost young collectors and appreciators of Ettore Sottsass and an expert on the Memphis Milano movement more generally. How did you become interested in this period and work? 

I fell into Memphis Milano by chance, and with some luck. I first encountered Ettore’s earlier works (1955–69) in Milan and was attracted to his use of natural materials: rosewood, walnut, bronze, and terracotta. With Memphis, it was the plastics and laminates in bright colors and pattern that drew me in. I bought every out-of-print book on Sottsass I could find and really nerded out. I fell in love with his work and design process as a whole. His output wasn’t limited to just Memphis… it pushed outward into other disciplines. 

What, in your view, distinguishes great design from good design? 

László Moholy-Nagy describes the project for design as “seeing everything in relationships.” Great design is seeing relationships disappear. 

Photo courtesy Raquel Cayre.

Cayre’s first acquisition, a work by Cory Arcangel. Photo courtesy Raquel Cayre.

Let’s focus a little more specifically on how you began collecting. What was the first piece you got, and what’s the story behind how you came to acquire it?

In 2014, I stumbled into Cory Arcangel’s exhibition “tl;dr” (that red-carpet install!) at Team gallery, where he was presenting works from his “Lakes” series. As sculpture, these consist of flatscreen televisions turned on their sides, displaying images with the Java applet “lake” overlaid. I knew I wanted to live with the lake of Larry David and Skrillex—two opposite worlds colliding, which is something Cory was activating with the material and dated graphics in the work too.

How did that initial acquisition grow into a collection? 

Everything is connected. A collection is about making these connections visible. Like design, it’s about seeing relationships. I am always re-examining traditional methods of presenting, viewing, and experiencing art as much as its corresponding mode of display. 

What are some lessons you learned in bringing all these pieces together?

I’ve been thinking a lot about Peggy Guggenheim’s experimental gallery, Art of the Century. She’s a great inspiration for someone who wants to learn about the rules of collecting by abolishing them. She translated the act of collecting into a way of life. 

How do you like to display your collection? Do you have any decorating tips for aspiring design collectors or young appreciators of design? 

It’s always changing. To quote some lines from Sottsass: “These objects, which sit next to each other and around people, influence not only physical conditions but also emotions… They can touch the nerves, the blood, the muscles, the eyes, and moods of their observers… There is no special difference between [art] and design. They are two different stages of invention.” 

Art collector Peggy Guggenheim poses with paintings at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, Oct. 22, 1942. (AP Photo)

Art collector Peggy Guggenheim poses with paintings at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, Oct. 22, 1942. Photo courtesy Getty Images.

It seems that in recent years, design has come to be valued as art in its own right. There’s also a lot of crossover between the two fields, with many new galleries, art fairs, and shops showing art and design alongside one another. Do you think that will become the norm over time? 

This really isn’t a new idea. Since the early 20th century, we’ve been thinking about interdisciplinary art practices and museums without walls. The flatness of painting has always been linked to the flatness of pages, posters, and the flattening out of different mediums and disciplines, like the flatness of an interface. There are connections forged between photography and typography or illustration and exhibition design, between decorative objects and a poem. Everything is connected. 

Perhaps what has changed is the model for making these relationships more equitable, more commercial. Instead of a museum without walls, we get a museum shop without walls. The interface isn’t just about reproduction, but where taste and subjectivity are constructed. It brings equivalence to the relationship between production and reception. We are the museum. 

In your view, how should we engage with design in order to try and view it in a different or more meaningful way? 

I always start by asking the question: Is it productive? 

What are you focused on at the moment? 

Right now, I’m working on Open Source, an online initiative to present works by individual artists and designers through my website. Works are sold through the website’s online shop and focus on one artist at a time. It does not propose to rethink e-commerce or the exhibition format, but, like a laboratory or workshop, test and iterate as it develops instead. Right now, there are no [formalized] shows, programs, seasons, or space. I’m presenting works by Nikako Kanamoto and Jasmine Gutbrod next. 

What do you think the design world will look like in 10 years? 

Nature. Design is always coupled with relationship and context. Like music, it’s about the production of space. Design thinking traffics in experience and reconstitutes as an act of being and seeing in the world.

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Chinese Collector Yan Du on Her Mission to Support the Greater Asian Art Ecosystem, and the Young Artists She’s Watching Now


“Art has always been part of my life and my memory,” says Yan Du, a collector based between Hong Kong and London.

Born in Beijing, Yan studied traditional Chinese painting as a child, but it was upon moving to London for her education that she says she truly fell in love with art. “When I saw works that I liked, I instantly felt this urge to live with them,” she said. “Therefore, collecting art became a natural next step.”

In the early years of her collection, Yan focused on women artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Yayoi Kusama. But a decade later she noticed a gap in the wider world’s understanding of Asian art, which she increasingly felt had to be bridged. In 2019,  she founded Asymmetry Art Foundation, a non-profit devoted to cultivating a broader understanding of and curatorial focus on contemporary art emerging in Asia through academic scholarships and curatorial fellowships. 

We spoke with Yan about the artists she’s watching now, and why supporting arts from Asia means cultivating curators and critics, too. 

Let’s start at the beginning. What was the first work you acquired?

It was a painting by Raoul de Keyser, which I bought when I was visiting New York about 10 years ago. A friend took me around to some galleries and I bought the work immediately after seeing it. It was my first significant purchase from a gallery so it has a special place in my heart.

Sydney Shen, Thirst is the Mother of Corvid Ingenuity (2020). Courtesy of the artist and Gallery Vacancy, Shanghai. Yan Du Collection.

Sydney Shen, Thirst is the Mother of Corvid Ingenuity (2020). Courtesy of the artist and Gallery Vacancy, Shanghai. Yan Du Collection.

On the other end, what’s the most recent work you’ve acquired?

Sydney Shen’s Thirst is the Mother of Corvid Ingenuity (2020), which is both an installation and a sculpture. Its visual impact is very strong. It is composed of a black patent leather BDSM high-heeled shoe and other ready-made objects, such as buckets and ribbons. The work is a response to the story of Aesop’s fable “The Crow and the Pitcher,” in which a thirsty crow tries to drink water from a narrow pitcher and can’t reach it. Then the crow fills the pitcher with stones and it reaches its beak—it’s a story familiar to me from childhood. When I discovered that the boot in Shen’s work was filled with stones, each carrying the names of the different mountains on Mars, I became even more curious about the artist’s thinking. Humankind’s desire for knowledge and the unknown is like the crow trying to fill up the pitcher to reach the water—it is driven by instinct and fearlessness. In some way, it is also similar to the desire to be close to reality and truth through the process of collecting.

You spent a decade building a personal collection before founding the Asymmetry Art Foundation. What experiences led you to the decision to create it and why did you feel such an organization was necessary. 

Through my engagement with the contemporary art world, I formed friendships with artists, and through their practices, I became aware of the importance of other practitioners whose contributions to a thriving art ecosystem are equally important: curators, writers, critics, and scholars. Foundations tend to support artists and I noticed a gap in the support of these practitioners that do vital work: creating dialogue, sharing knowledge, and introducing artists to their audiences. This is how the idea of a network of curators and the Asymmetry Art Foundation was born. 

Sydney Shen, Thirst is the Mother of Corvid Ingenuity (2020). Courtesy of the artist and Gallery Vacancy, Shanghai. Yan Du Collection.

Sydney Shen, Thirst is the Mother of Corvid Ingenuity (2020). Courtesy of the artist and Gallery Vacancy, Shanghai. Yan Du Collection.

What role are you hoping to fill in the Chinese and global art community? What role does your own collection have in this?

My collection brings together global contemporary art and Asian contemporary art. After a number of years collecting art, I decided to establish Asymmetry, and through both the collection and foundation I have deepened my relationship with many academic institutions and museums. I have a strong sense of social responsibility for the art world and society in general that my role as a patron and philanthropist allows me to fulfill. 

Collecting artworks can appear like photographic snapshots of a certain moment in time. However, creating opportunities for the continuous promotion of knowledge is an ongoing endeavor. Through the foundation’s support, we can cultivate young curators, criticism, and scholars, and indirectly through them, support exhibitions. This contributes to the wider art ecosystem. I have always believed that giving is gaining; contributing to society has changed my values and changed my life. 

What do you think is most exciting about the current Chinese art world right now? What do you see as its future? 

The pandemic has not yet ended and the art world in China is as cautious as in any other part of the world. Yet during this trying time, art institutions seem to be recovering at a rapid pace that I am so impressed by. 

In recent years, Chinese contemporary art has developed very quickly. On an institutional level, exhibition quality is improving substantially each year compared to the last. On a creative level, artist practices are increasingly more powerful and speaking in a more global language, however, they still require more international attention and need platforms to present their work. 

That’s why, in the post-pandemic world, Asymmetry Art Foundation will have a program that invites international curators and museum directors to visit important art cities in China. Through the work of the foundation, we want to convey the voices of the Chinese contemporary art world and strive to promote cultural exchanges through academic activities across the different contexts of East and West. We hope to guide Western art professionals and audiences into a better understanding of the whole picture of Chinese contemporary art through our activities, as there is still a long way to go.

What are some of the initiatives Asymmetry Art Foundation has underway?
Our first curatorial writing fellow, Hang Li, a curator based between Beijing and London, has started her placement at Chisenhale Gallery. She is currently working on a practice-led project that considers online community structures between artists, curators, and institutions at the intersection of technology and concepts of care and solidarity

In the autumn, we are looking forward to welcoming our curatorial fellow, Weitian Liu, to Whitechapel Gallery in partnership with Delfina Foundation (where they will be a resident), and inducting our first scholarship holder into the PhD program at Goldsmiths, University of London. Weitian Liu is interested in researching the notions of the civic and the civil within the institutional structures of organizations in the U.K., China, and Southeast Asia. 

Guan Xiao, Lulu Bird Walked Out Of Delicatessen Bumped Into A Swarm Of Buzzing (2020) Courtesy of the artist and Antenna Space, Shanghai. Yan Du Collection.

Guan Xiao, Lulu Bird Walked Out Of Delicatessen Bumped Into A Swarm Of Buzzing (2020) Courtesy of the artist and Antenna Space, Shanghai. Yan Du Collection.

How has the past year affected your mission?
Our foundation is based in London but, personally, I’ve been stuck in Hong Kong for a long time now. With our initiatives still very much in their infancy, we were catapulted into a void of uncertainty, and we quickly had to adapt our mission to the new normal. Thankfully, the need for opportunities for young curators and writers extends beyond any crisis and we could continue most of our programs. 

Due to heavy travel restrictions, we decided to open up our requirements to target greater Chinese practitioners based anywhere in the world, in some cases, and in others focus on local practitioners. Remaining flexible and agile has really benefited our growth and taught us to stay open-minded.   

Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, Can't Help Myself (2016). Collection of Yan Du Collection.

Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, Can’t Help Myself (2016). Collection of Yan Du Collection.

Who are some of the artists you are collecting now, or you think we should know?
I would really like to introduce a few Chinese artists: the artist-duo Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, and the artist Guan Xiao. When I first saw Sun Yuan and Peng Yu’s installation Can’t Help MyselfI was shocked, frightened, and excited at the same time. It really caught my attention in a way that was unforgettable, so I decided to acquire the work. The installation combines political metaphors, humanitarian and social issues while carrying a profound meaning of zen. 

The beast-like monster brought forth by artificial intelligence presents itself to the viewer as a nervous visual pleasure. Can’t Help Myself is, to me, one of the rare great works of this century. I haven’t been this excited about collecting a work for a long time. Of course, the great feedback this work had at the Venice Biennale is also a reason to be proud. 

Another artist I think people should know is Guan Xiao. She belongs to the younger generation of sculptors in China. Her work is outstanding and is representative of a female artist of the new generation. I’ve been following her work for some time, seeing how it develops. She has participated in many international biennials and institutional shows, and her works have a creative language that is very much in sync with what is happening around the world. Her pieces are three-dimensional collages of the post-image age, and they also contain anthropomorphic symbolism borrowing from the beginning of modernism; the works are sculptures and combine ready-made elements. Her works also carry a very contemporary feature, namely, anonymity—one of the global features of the digital age.

What are your goals and hopes for the future?
As someone who cares deeply about generations to come, I hope for world peace, the well-being of humankind, and the recovery of laughter, positive energy, happiness, and health.

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