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Crime & Litigation

Authorities recover $10M in stolen art, arrest suspect

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Written by Associated Press   
Friday, 19 December 2014 10:07
LOS ANGELES (AP) – Authorities have recovered $10 million worth of art – including paintings by Chagall and Diego Rivera – that were stolen in one of Los Angeles' largest art heists.

According to the Los Angeles Times, court documents show FBI and Los Angeles police investigators recovered nine pieces of art at a West LA hotel in October.

Prosecutors allege 45-year-old Raul Espinoza tried to sell the art to undercover agents for $700,000 cash. He pleaded not guilty to receiving stolen property and remains jailed.

Messages seeking comment were left for Espinoza's public defender Wednesday.

The artworks were among a dozen stolen from a real estate investor's home in August 2008. The elderly residents were in their bedrooms and heard nothing.

Three paintings are still missing.

Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-WF-12-18-14 0117GMT





French adman accuses artist Jeff Koons of stealing idea

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Written by AFP wire service   
Wednesday, 17 December 2014 11:46
Jeff Koons, 'Signature Plate' for Parkett No. 19, 1989, porcelain with decal. Image courtesy of archive.

PARIS (AFP) – A French adman has accused U.S. mega-artist Jeff Koons of stealing an idea from his 1985 Naf Naf advertisement to make a multi-million-euro artwork, a source close to the case said Wednesday.

Franck Davidovici was the author of ad campaigns for the French clothing brand in the 1980s, famously introducing a little pig to pose alongside models in highly successful, theatrical scenes.

The 1985 autumn-winter campaign showed a young girl lying in snow, apparently the victim of an avalanche, being nosed at by a small pig with a barrel of rum under its neck, in reference to the famous St. Bernard rescue dogs.

Koons's porcelain artwork, which dates from 1988, shows a similar looking young girl, strands of hair on her cheek just like in the ad, though she is wearing different clothes. The pig does appear to be wearing a rum barrel.

Like the ad, it is called Fait d'Hiver.

A bailiff went to the Georges Pompidou Center in Paris last week, where a retrospective of the artist's work is taking place, to take a photo of the artwork, said the source, who wished to remain anonymous.

Jean Aittouares, the lawyer for Davidovici, told AFP there would be "legal action" but refused to comment further.

There are four copies of Fait d'Hiver, and the one currently exhibited in Paris was sold for around three million euros ($3.7 million) in 2007 at Christie's auction house in New York. It now belongs to the Prada collection.

Neither the Georges Pompidou Center nor Koons was available for comment when contacted by AFP.

Jeff Koons, 'Signature Plate' for Parkett No. 19, 1989, porcelain with decal. Image courtesy of archive.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 17 December 2014 11:59

Native American masks sold in France despite protests

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Written by AFP wire service   
Monday, 15 December 2014 16:43

Drawings from an 1894 anthropology book of katsina figures, or spirits, made by the native Pueblo people of the Southwestern United States.

PARIS (AFP) – Some 250 sacred Native American, Eskimo andpre-Colombian artifacts went under the hammer in France on Monday despite strong opposition from the Navajo and Hopi tribes who traveled to Paris to try to halt the sale.

It was the fourth time in two years that sacred masks from the Hopi tribe have been sold at auction in France.

The 18,000-strong Hopi tribe of Arizona uses the masks in dances at religious ceremonies that are normally closed to outsiders.

The tribe and Survival International advocacy group did not protest the sale on this occasion, instead launching legal action to try to identify the buyers and sellers, according to their lawyer Pierre Servan-Schreiber.

Representatives from another tribe, the Navajos, chose another route – buying back their masks at a cost of 1,500 euros ($1,800).

"We are happy to bring back with us these sacred masks that will be purified by our shamans who will decide when they can be used for our winter ceremonies," said Rex Lee Jime, vice president of the Navajo nation, which counts some 200,000 members spread across Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado.

The sale, organized by the Eve auction house, passed without incident at the Hotel Drouot in central Paris, but two people were ejected for fear they would try to disrupt the event.

Approximately 20 Hopi masks were sold, and efforts to name the buyers were not successful.

A rare double mask resembling two bird's heads stacked upon each other that had belonged to the founder of a modern art museum in Dallas, went for 87,500 euros.

"We have no intention of divulging the name of the sellers or the buyers of the masks. That stays in the private domain," Eve auctioneer Alain Leroy said ahead of the sale.

He said it was legal to own, collect and sell the colorful masks and statuettes.

"This sale is not scandalous because it is not forbidden."

Three activists stood outside the auction with cards saying "We are not for sale" and "Stop cultural genocide."

The Hopis' case had drawn support from the U.S. embassy in Paris, which had called for the auction to be suspended.

As with the four previous sales since 2013, the Board of Voluntary Sales, which oversees the sector, rejected Hopi calls to ban the auction.

The Hopis' lawyer said certain masks could have been "exported fraudulently to be sold in France."

While the sale of sacred Indian artifacts has been outlawed in the United States since 1990 – legislation which has allowed the tribe to recover items held by American museums in the past – the law does not extend to sales overseas.

In April last year the sale of some 70 Hopi masks fetched around 930,000 euros despite international appeals to halt the auction, decried as a sacrilege by activists including Hollywood legend Robert Redford.

Brightly colored, intricate Kachina dolls and masks or headdresses are valued at thousands of euros.


Drawings from an 1894 anthropology book of katsina figures, or spirits, made by the native Pueblo people of the Southwestern United States.

Last Updated on Monday, 15 December 2014 16:51

Staff from top Uzbek museum jailed for paintings fraud

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Written by AFP wire service   
Friday, 12 December 2014 10:58
TASHKENT, Uzbekistan  (AFP) – Several employees from Uzbekistan's top museum have been jailed for selling original art works and replacing them with copies for 15 years, the General Prosecutor's Office newspaper reported Friday.

The chief curator of the Uzbek State Arts Museum, Mirfayz Usmonov, received a nine-year sentence and two other museum staff received eight years each, the Huquq newspaper reported.

It did not say when the employees were sentenced in the court in Tashkent, capital of the Central Asian nation, nor give details of other staff involved.

Between 1999 and 2014, museum workers replaced several original works by Russian and Soviet avant-garde artists, including Alexander Nikolayev, Richard-Karl Sommer and Victor Ufimtsev, who had lived and worked in Uzbekistan last century.

They sold them to unidentified clients for $100 to $800 each, the report said.

They also sold 25 originals by European artists, including Italian Renaissance painter and sculptor Lorenzo di Credi.

The report said the state had suffered "major" losses but did not provide figures.

The Italian embassy in Tashkent urged caution in 2012 when the museum displayed a painting by Italian Renaissance master Paolo Veronese – which the museum called a lost masterpiece of Western art – saying further work was needed to confirm the work was genuine.

At the time, the museum also displayed a "long-forgotten" collection of Picasso ceramics.




More than 200 queries received on Nazi-era art hoard

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Written by AFP wire service   
Friday, 12 December 2014 10:23
A German government-appointed task force has already established that 'Two Riders on the Beach' painted by Max Liebermann should be returned to the rightful owners' heirs. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. BERLIN (AFP) – A task force investigating the provenance of priceless paintings found in a Nazi-era art hoard said Friday it had received more than 200 queries about specific works by possible heirs.

The head of the panel of experts, Ingeborg Berggreen-Merkel, said there had been a strong response to its call for the families of suspected victims of art looting under Hitler to come forward and stake claims.

"We are reviewing each individual case – the people have a right to that," she told German news agency DPA.

But she added: "Thoroughness must in each case trump speed."

The 14-member international task force was established a year ago to sort through the spectacular trove hidden for decades by Cornelius Gurlitt, son of a powerful art dealer during the Third Reich.

Around 500 works found in 2012 in Gurlitt's flat in the southern city of Munich are suspected by the task force of having been plundered by the Nazis.

Berggreen-Merkel said the experts hoped to wrap up the bulk of their work by the end of 2015.

She said the panel had focused first on claims by Holocaust survivors, then on queries from descendants.

"We want to give people whose families suffered so terribly under these appalling conditions answers as soon as possible," she said.

Gurlitt died in May and named in his will the Museum of Fine Arts in Bern as the sole heir of the more than 1,000 paintings and sketches by Picasso, Monet, Chagall and other masters.

The Swiss museum agreed late last month to accept the bequest and pledged to work closely with the task force to assist restitution efforts.

It has published a list of the artworks on its website .

The Bern museum has said those works would stay in Germany and not "pass through its doors" until thorough provenance research had been completed.

The Gurlitt trove has thrown a spotlight on the problem of looted art still held by museums and in private collections nearly 70 years after World War II.

Jewish groups strongly criticized the secrecy with which Germany initially handled the case and Berlin has been at pains to display more transparency on the issue.

A German government-appointed task force has already established that 'Two Riders on the Beach' painted by Max Liebermann should be returned to the rightful owners' heirs. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Last Updated on Friday, 12 December 2014 10:33
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