Court

A Geneva Court Has Found Antiquities Dealer Ali Aboutaam Guilty of Illegally Importing Artifacts


Following a lengthy, six-year investigation, a court in Geneva, Switzerland found veteran antiquities dealer Ali Aboutaam guilty of illegally bringing artifacts into the country accompanied, in some instances, by forged documents. The decision was handed down on January 10.

Aboutaam was given an 18-month suspended jail sentence and ordered to pay roughly $490,000 (CHF450,000) in legal costs, according to reports in The Wall Street Journal and earlier, in Paris Match. The sentence includes a three-year probation period. The Geneva Police Tribunal did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“Mr. Aboutaam is adamant about sustaining the antiquities world for future generations, has always favored the cultural value of ancient art by ensuring its preservation so that it can continue to be appreciated by the greatest number of enthusiasts,” said his attorneys Didier Bottge and Romain Stampfli, in a statement shared with Midnight Publishing Group News.

They added: “Within the legal imbroglio of national legislation and international treaties and conventions and their entanglement and inconsistency, [Aboutaam] has not always been able to align himself with the regulations in place, which is why the Geneva authorities opened an investigation against him.”

They continued: “Among the thousands of ancient artifacts examined, only 18 works appear to be documented in a questionable manner, namely below the legal requirements. That is 0.01 percent.”

Aboutaam himself characterized the latest development as “a deal to end a six-year exhausting investigation that resulted in vetting almost 16,000 antiquities for which the value will only go up,” according to an email.It historically cost us anywhere between between $2,000 and $25,000 to check a provenance with outside consultants, with contacting possible source countries.” He added that he has no plans to appeal the decision.

The Geneva court ruling said he relied on false documents to prove the origin of some of the artifacts he owned. He was also convicted of paying an intermediary in the four years between 2012 and 2016 to import antiquities into Switzerland, in breach of Swiss laws.

According to Paris Match, the indictment said that Aboutaam “in his capacity as administrator of Phoenix Ancient Art SA, has asked art experts, or has asked employees of Phoenix Ancient Art SA to obtain from art experts: produce and/or sign false invoices; and/or produce or cause others to produce documents indicating source that are contrary to reality, sometimes contained directly in invoices; and/or provide untrue source indications for use by others.”

Aboutaam also said: “The bottom line is that interpretations of paperwork can go either way after an ordeal of six years, but let the record be clear that, unlike with what one has been witnessing elsewhere, not a single piece was proven to have stolen or illegally obtained. On the contrary, the painstaking investigation ended up positively vetting 99.9 percent of the Geneva holdings.”

According to the ruling, 46 objects, including from Syria and Egypt, will remain in the custody of the Swiss government indefinitely. Aboutaam said it’s not known “what the Swiss authorities will do with the forfeited pieces since they have no knowledge as to their countries of origin and the pieces have not been claimed by anyone.”

Ali and his brother Hicham, run Phoenix Ancient Art Gallery in New York and Geneva. Phoenix has repeatedly been subject to police investigations in connection with illicit artifacts over the years. Hicham is not part of the Geneva investigation.

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From Sotheby’s Selling the World Wide Web to a Court Fight Over Invisible Art: The Best and Worst of the Art World This Week


Sotheby’s Sells the Web – Information may want to be free, but an NFT associated with the source code for the World Wide Web just sold for $5.4 million.

Thomas Houseago Opens Up – The artist spoke to Midnight Publishing Group News’s Kate Brown about how mental illness, recovery, and trauma are helping to heal him and improve his art.

Statue of Princess Di Unveiled – On what would’ve been her 60th birthday, Princes William and Harry unveiled a new statue honoring their late mother.

Survey Says – The AAMD has released its annual salary survey on jobs in the museum world for a variety of different roles.

Greek Police Recover Stolen Paintings – Authorities recovered a Picasso and Mondrian painting stolen almost 10 years ago in a brazen heist.

Archaeologists Discover Massive Monument – A massive, 4,500-year-old burial ground was discovered in Syria, and experts believe it’s the oldest war monument in the world.

Restitution Rules Change – The Dutch government has made a major policy change to its restitution process, saying that it will return stolen artworks to Jewish institutions if heirs are unable to be found.

Sargent’s Debut Features Socially Engaged Art – Writer-curator Antwaun Sargent’s show at Gagosian features Black artists whose work engages and enhances local communities.

Cuban Artist Arrested – Artist Hamlet Lavastida was detained by Cuban officials as part of a massive crackdown on creative expression.

Invisible Sculptors in Visible Battle – A Florida man is suing the Italian artist who sold an invisible sculpture for $18,000, saying he had the idea first.

Portuguese Collector Arrested for Fraud  Joe Berardo, who opened a museum dedicated to his collection, was arrested over alleged ties to a major fraud scheme.

New Yorkers Protest New Monument – Downtown residents of Manhattan are protesting Governor Cuomo’s plan to build a monument to essential workers, saying they weren’t consulted and do not want to lose precious green space.

Getty President to Depart – James Cuno will retire from the Getty Foundation after more than a decade helming the world’s wealthiest institution.

Flinstone House Wins Lawsuit – A judge ruled that a California woman’s quirky “Flinstone House” can keep its array of Bedrock-esque lawn sculptures.

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Harvard Can Keep Daguerreotypes Depicting Enslaved Africans, Despite Objections From One of the Subject’s Ancestors, a Court Has Ruled


Harvard University does not have to hand over a set of 19th-century daguerreotypes, thought to be among the first photographs of enslaved people in America, to one of the subject’s ancestors, a Massachusetts judge has ruled.

In dismissing the case, the judge has ended one chapter of the lawsuit, which began in March 2019 when a retired probation officer in Connecticut named Tamara Lanier filed a lawsuit alleged that the Ivy League university illegally owned the photos and was responsible for a “decades-long campaign to sanitize the history of the images and exploit them for prestige and profit.”

The case drew instant headlines at the time for the tricky ethical questions at its core. The photos, taken in 1850, were commissioned by Harvard biologist Louis Agassiz and used as evidence to support his theory that Black people were biologically inferior to white people. They depict a man named Renty and his daughter, Delia, from the waste up. Per Agassiz’s orders, the two were “stripped naked and forced to pose,” according to the lawsuit, “without consent, dignity, or compensation.”

Yet, despite the “horrific circumstances” into which the images were born, according to the judge’s ruling this week, Lanier has no legal right to the photos, which belong to the photographer, not the subject.

“Fully acknowledging the continuing impact slavery has had in the United States, the law, as it currently stands, does not confer a property interest to the subject of a photograph regardless of how objectionable the photograph’s origins may be,” wrote Middlesex superior court judge Camille Sarrouf. The university also will not have to pay Lanier damages, per the ruling.

5/31/1977-Cambridge, MA- Photographs of American slaves, possibly the oldest known in the country, have been discovered in the basement of a Harvard University museum. Among the previously unpublished daguerreotypes discovered are these (L-R): a Congo slave named Renty, who lived on B.F. Taylor's plantation, "Edgehill"; Jack, a slave from the Guinea Coast (ritual scars decorate his cheek); and an unidentified man.

Photos discovered in the basement of a Harvard University museum. Among the previously unpublished daguerreotypes discovered are these (L-R): a Congo slave named Renty, who lived on B.F. Taylor’s plantation, “Edgehill”; Jack, a slave from the Guinea Coast (ritual scars decorate his cheek); and an unidentified man.

Sarrouf ruled against Lanier’s assertion that Harvard’s treatment of the photographs constituted a violation of her civil rights, which fell beyond the three-year statute of limitations governing such claims. The right to control the commercial usage of the photos lapsed with the death of the subjects, the judge said.

Lanier’s attorney, Ben Crump, said in a statement that he remains “convinced of the correctness of Ms. Lanier’s claim to these images of her slave ancestors and that she will be on the right side of history when this case is finally settled.”

“It is past time for Harvard to atone for its past ties to slavery and white supremacy research and stop profiting from slave images,” the lawyer added.

Harvard did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Lanier has said that she plans to appeal the ruling. The judge, she told the New York Times, “completely missed the humanistic aspect of this, where we’re talking about the patriarch of a family, a subject of bedtime stories, whose legacy is still denied to these people.”

The daguerreotypes were rediscovered in a box at Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology in 1976. Despite growing up with stories about “Papa Renty,” Lanier did not know the photos of her great-great-great-grandfather existed until 2010, when she charted her genealogy.

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A French Appeals Court Has Found Jeff Koons Guilty of Copyright Infringement Again—and Hiked Up His Fines


In a double hit of bad news for art star Jeff Koons, a French appeals court not only upheld a 2018 decision that found him and the Pompidou Centre guilty of copyright infringement, but also increased his fine.

French photographer Frank Davidovici initially brought the lawsuit in 2015, alleging that Koons had copied his photo for an ad campaign for the clothing line Naf Naf. Koons’s 1988 sculpture Fait d’hiver, from his “Banality” series, depicts a woman lying in snow next to a pig wearing a ring of roses and a barrel around its neck, and penguins standing nearby. Davidovici’s photo also shows a female model lying in snow in a similar position with a pig (which is the Naf Naf mascot), also wearing a small barrel around his neck. Davidovici’s image did not feature penguins, and his model wore a jacket as opposed to Koons’s model, who wore a revealing mesh top.

Davidovici saw the work in a catalogue for Koons’s popular 2014 retrospective that debuted at the Whitney Museum in New York and later traveled to the Centre Pompidou.

Jeff Koons, Fait d'Hiver (1988) Photo: Courtesy Christie's via artnet Price Database

Jeff Koons, Fait d’Hiver (1988). Photo: Courtesy Christie’s via Midnight Publishing Group Price Database

 

Davidovici sought €300,000 ($352,000) in damages and for the state to seize Koons’s sculpture. In 2018, the Paris court ordered the artist and the museum to pay Davidovici a total of €135,000 ($153,000).

The artist’s associated LLC was also fined €11,000 for reproducing the work on Koons’s website; a publishing house that sold a book with the image was fined €2,000. The court denied the request for the sculpture’s seizure.

Now, the appeals court has raised the amount that Koons and the Pompidou have to pay to the photographer to €190,000 (an increase of €45,000). The decision, filed yesterday, was first reported by ARTnews. In addition, if Koons and the Pompidou continue to show reproductions of the work online, they will owe an additional €600 ($700) per day.

Neither Gagosian Gallery, which represents Koons, nor the Pompidou Centre immediately responded to requests for comment. Davidovici’s attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In an unusual twist, shortly after the November 2018 decision in favor of Davidovici, as Midnight Publishing Group News reported, Elisabeth Bonamy, the art director who said she conceived and executed the visual elements of the ad, said she had not been properly credited for her role in the ad.

“Franck has always taken advantage to make his name famous while completely forgetting me. It’s not very elegant,” Bonamy told Midnight Publishing Group News. She said that Davidovici’s credit-taking had also upset the photographer of the advertisement, William Klein.

Bonamy did not respond to Midnight Publishing Group News’ comment on the most recent legal decision.

In November 2007, a porcelain version of Fait d’hiver sold for $4.3 million at Christie’s. In 2001, a porcelain version offered at Phillips, failed to sell on an estimate of $1.5 million to $2 million.

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Republican Leaders Accuse the National Museum of African American History of ‘Bias’ in Its Display on Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas


A freshman Republican lawmaker from Florida has accused the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture of bias and dishonesty in the way it presents the story of Justice Clarence Thomas in a display about the Supreme Court.

In 2017, the museum added the display, which presents information on Thomas and Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first Black Supreme Court Justice. It includes a photo of Thomas as a college student, a photo of him assuming his position at the court in 1991, and a copy of Jet magazine featuring him on the cover. A display text gives a biography of Thomas and compares the two men’s judicial philosophies, explaining that Thomas identifies himself as an advocate for “judicial restraint,” and for the “original intent” of the writers of the Constitution.

Representative Byron Donalds, who is Black, authored a letter complaining that the museum’s treatment of Thomas, the second African American to serve on the nation’s highest court, “falls short.”

President Donald J. Trump is presented with an award by Florida State Rep. Byron Donalds, left, and Matthew Charles, one of the first inmates to benefit from the First Step Act of 2018, at the 2019 Second Step Presidential Justice Forum Friday, Oct. 25, 2019, at Benedict College in Columbia, S.C. Official White House photo by Shealah Craighead.

President Donald J. Trump is presented with an award by Florida State Rep. Byron Donalds, left, and Matthew Charles, one of the first inmates to benefit from the First Step Act of 2018, at Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina. Official White House photo by Shealah Craighead.

“Black history cannot and should not be political,” reads the letter, which was also signed by South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, Utah Representative Burgess Owens, and other prominent conservative leaders.

Addressing the museum’s director, Kevin Young, who assumed the position this year, and advisory council chair Kenneth Irvine Chenault, the lawmakers acknowledge that the museum largely fulfills its mission but note that, “It is unfortunate to see pitfalls likely driven by irresponsible bias.” The museum must present Thomas’s whole life and history, they conclude, “and not the disingenuous effort displayed today.”

Young declined an interview, but the museum sent a statement: “While all our exhibitions are based on rigorous research, they are still open to interpretation,” it reads. “Through scholarship, publications, and education, the museum will continue to explore the rich contributions and complexity of African Americans.”

Representative Donalds’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Also co-signing the letter were five prominent figures in Black conservative circles: Heritage Foundation president Kay C. James, who served in the office of personnel management under George W. Bush; Bruce LeVell, who headed up Donald Trump’s Diversity Coalition; Alveda King, a niece of Martin Luther King Jr. and former Republican Representative from Georgia; Los Angeles attorney Marc T. Little; and political commentator Paris Dennard.

Supporters of Thomas were outraged when the museum opened, in 2016, including a mention of the Justice only in connection with Anita Hill’s sexual harassment accusation during his confirmation hearing in 1991, which he notoriously described as “a high-tech lynching.”

Installation at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

In 2019, in the context of “rumors” about his retirement, Thomas incorrectly criticized the museum’s display, saying that it misrepresented the inspiration for his beliefs about affirmative action, which he opposes. While noting that he’d never been to the museum, he said that a group of students had told him that the display attributes those beliefs to his childhood educational experiences.

In fact, the display correctly states that his beliefs came about in connection to his law school education. However, he again condemned the museum’s portrayal of him, which he had not seen but had only heard about and which was still factually correct.

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