Art Industry News: A Fugitive at the Center of the $80 Million Knoedler Scandal Speaks Out for the First Time + Other Stories

Plus, a gallery attendant is up for the £35,000 BP Portrait Award and Dominique Lévy says online art fairs "don't work."

A courtroom sketch of Domenico De Sole on the witness stand with the fake Rothko painting he bought from Knoedler gallery. His case was the only one to go to trial. Photo: Elizabeth Williams, courtesy Illustrated Courtroom.

Art Industry News is a daily digest of the most consequential developments coming out of the art world and art market. Here’s what you need to know on this Friday, April 24.


Confederate Groups Fight Florida Statue Removal – City officials in Lakeland, Florida, are embroiled in a legal battle against confederate heritage groups, which are challenging the relocation of a statue of a confederate soldier from a downtown park. Their case was dismissed last year but they took it to an appeals court this week, claiming the removal violated their freedom of speech. A judgment has yet to be made, but the defense is arguing that the group’s First Amendment rights were not violated because the monument still stands, albeit in a different location. (Courthouse News)

Open Letter Protests Museum Educator Layoffs – More than 1,200 people in the arts field have signed an open letter decrying the dismissals of education staff at major museums during the pandemic. The letter, which is signed by art historians, curators, and educators, cites “disconcerting” redundancies at museums including MoMA, MOCA LA, and MASS MoCA. The letter defends the important role played by these workers, who push “criticality and innovation” and attract “donors and supporters.” (The Art Newspaper)

Fugitive in the Knoedler Case Gives a Rare Interview – José Carlos Bergantiños Diaz, who has been charged in connection to the Knoedler Gallery’s sale of $80 million worth of fake art, has broken his silence. The former dealer spoke to documentary filmmaker Barry Avrich for his film about the saga, Made You Look, and admitted that he discovered the art student who was able to execute forgeries that fooled hedge-fund managers and other titans of industry. But Bergantiños Diaz denied that he ever instructed Pei-Shen Qian to execute the paintings for profit, or that he was involved in the scheme to sell them. The former art dealer, who is now living in Spain, blamed his ex-girlfriend Glafira Rosales for selling the works through Knoedler. “I was never ambitious; Glafira was the ambitious one,” Bergantiños Diaz told the filmmaker. (New York Times)

Jerry Saltz Doesn’t Know How to Make Coffee – If you follow Jerry Saltz, you might have picked up on his unorthodox coffee habits. The 69-year-old Pulitzer Prize-winner drinks a scary amount of refrigerated gas station coffee, and thinks his coffee runs are essential travel, even during a pandemic. Apparently it’s crucial to his writing (and is probably the reason “criticism never sleeps”). Why does he do this? He has admitted on several occasions that he doesn’t know how to make it himself. Fascinated by this eccentricity, music writer Dan Ozzi follows the breadcrumbs in an effort to understand the madness. “Maybe this whole coffee ignorance is one long piece of performance art,” he writes. “Maybe it’s Jerry’s commentary on the wastefulness and excess of American consumerism in late-stage capitalism. Or maybe he’s just an obtuse idiot.” (Reply Alt)


Ben Brown Is on the Move in Hong Kong – Ben Brown Fine Arts has relocated from the Pedder Building in Hong Kong—home to many top international galleries—after it was unable to get a rent reduction to offset losses from the pandemic. The gallery is moving to a new and bigger space in a converted factory in Wong Chuk Hang, which is home to another cluster of art spaces. (Financial Times)

Dominique Lévy Says Online Fairs “Don’t Work” – The Swiss art dealer Dominique Lévy is unimpressed with Art Basel’s online viewing rooms, saying that the experiment in Hong Kong showed that the format doesn’t work. Lévy says that business is down 90 percent, and that she does not believe anyone will want to come to an art fair until there is a vaccine. If Art Basel is held in the fall as scheduled, her gallery will still participate because she holds an “unconditional” allegiance, but “I don’t believe that an online Art Basel has a future,” she says. (CNN Money)

Taipei Dangdai Launches Online Initiative – It’s not only rescheduled art fairs that are launching online components. The young art fair Taipei Dangdai is debuting an online iteration of its own in partnership with the digital arts platform Ocula. Called Taipei Connections, it’s an extension of the fair’s January edition and will exhibit works from select participating galleries. VIP clients will have access beginning April 30, with an official launch on May 2. (Art Market Monitor)


Artist Tina Girouard Dies at 73 – A seminal figure of the New York art scene in the 1970s and a key figure in the Pattern & Decoration movement, Girouard has died at the age of 73 from a stroke. She was both an artist and a founder of the iconic artist-run space 112 Greene Street. In 1971, she, Gordon Matta-Clark, and Carol Goodden also opened FOOD, a short-lived but influential restaurant in SoHo. (ARTnews)

Photographer John Pfahl Dies of Coronavirus – American artist John Pfahl, a landscape photographer who was known for manipulating the natural world by placing unlikely objects like rope, foil, and lace into his scenes, died on April 15. He was 81. (NYT)

Michelangelo Pistoletto Survives Coronavirus at 86 – A bit of good news: the exuberant Italian sculptor has survived COVID-19, though he is still in the hospital getting treatment. In an interview from his hospital bed, he said, “the role of art in this pandemic is sensitivity.” (Le Figaro)


The Black Plague Saw an Uptick in Art Commissions – The devastating 14th-century plague, which killed an estimated 50 million people, also led to an uptick in portraiture. An analysis of more than 3,000 wills in Italian cities has revealed that epidemics prompted many will-makers to commission portraiture of themselves. (Le Journal des Arts)

The Virus Puts £500 Million in Museum Projects on Hold – Delays due to the pandemic are costly to museums, and institutions in the UK have put an estimated £500 million ($617 million) worth of projects on hold, including major revamps and new building constructions. Like many institutions, the Museum of London furloughed staff this week—but it has not stopped looking for a construction firm to build its new £335 million home. (TAN)

This New York Sculpture Park Is… Actually Open? – Art Omi, a nonprofit sculpture park in Ghent, New York, has remained open alongside other parks amid the widespread lockdown. Despite some complains from locals, the Department of Health found no violations of social-distancing protocols on a recent visit. (Hudson Valley 360)

Gallery Attendant Up for BP Portrait Award – Michael Youds, a gallery attendant at the National Galleries of Scotland who is also an artist, has been shortlisted for the 2020 BP Portrait Award, which comes with a £35,000 prize. The two other shortlisted artists are Jiab Prachakul and Sergey Svetlakov. (BBC)

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