Friday, December 7, 2012

The economic case for government funding of art and culture is heating up. Time for some lemonade...

Here's a short video by my friend David Castello-Lopes and his collaborator Léonard Cohen, which makes the case for public funding of culture in a witty and elegant way. It's set in the Tuileries Gardens in Paris, but I'm hoping I can persuade David and Léonard to do one for the UK too, although the message is universal.

The issue of how to value culture in economic terms was hotly debated by participants at the recent Forum d'Avignon. Isn't it time we convened our own version of Forum d'Avignon here in the UK to make a forceful case for the fact that the arts and culture generally are not just superfluous add-ons that people do in their evenings and free time, but a critical part of the engine of economic growth.

Maybe we should be rallying support from Guardian Culture Professionals and others to create a two- or three-day forum to drive this message home.

  The Parable Of The Tuileries. Public funding in culture and arts: A handful of positive economic aspects. from Léonard Cohen on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

EXCLUSIVE: US sculptor files copyright complaint against billionaire property developer Igor Olenicoff

Olenicoff's copy of Wakefield's work
Following my report in The Art Newspaper in July 2011, and which I also reported on Artknows here, I can now report that Russian-born billionaire property developer and convicted tax felon Igor Olenicoff and the company he founded, Olen Properties Corp., are being sued by contemporary artist Don Wakefield for alleged copyright infringement.

In 2011 it emerged that Wakefield had found at least seven unauthorised copies of a unique, large-scale granite sculpture he had created in 1992 on properties owned by Olen Properties in Brea, Irvine and Newport Beach, California. 

In his copyright complaint filed this week in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Wakefield alleges that Olenicoff wrongly presented the work to the Public Art Department in the City of Brea, California, and to the public in general, as the work of a Chinese artist.

Following my publication in The Art Newspaper of Wakefield’s claims, another American artist, John Raimondi, came forward with similar allegations against Olenicoff. Raimondi has filed a separate copyright complaint against the property developer and his company.

Igor Olenicoff: Forbes lists his wealth at $2.4 billion
In 2007, Igor Olenicoff admitted lying on his tax returns about his ownership of a number of foreign bank accounts. He was convicted of tax fraud and had to pay the US Government over $52M in fines. He is still listed as a billionaire on Forbes list of the wealthiest Americans. Bradley Birkenfeld, an employee of UBS at that time and the whistle-blower in Olenicoff’s 2007 tax-avoidance case, was recently awarded $104m from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for drawing attention to the illegal Swiss accounts held by Olenicoff and others.

UBS are the corporate sponsors of Art Basel Miami Beach contemporary art fair that is currently preoccupying most of the major art news outlets.

Don Wakefield says he has proof that Olenicoff was ordering copies of his work to be made in China and that he then submitted some of the sculptures to the Public Art Program in the City of Brea, California, bypassing the artists altogether, thereby saving himself significant expense.

Detroit-born Wakefield, who now lives in Southern California, found the first piece in 2008 but thought it was the original. He only realized his sculpture had been copied when he discovered three additional unauthorized copies in 2010 and three more in 2011. Later it emerged that several unauthorized copies of two different sculptures by east coast American artist John Raimondi were also found as a result of Wakefield’s investigation.

Wakefield believes that in terms of the size of the works — some being 25ft tall — the case represents one the largest copyright infringements in American legal history.

Both Wakefield and Raimondi are represented by attorneys Gene Brockland of law firm Herzog Crebs of St. Louis, Missouri and Mike Kuznetsky of Kuznetsky Law Group, Los Angeles. Both cases are pending in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

"Insufficient commitment" from the UK trade forces cancellation of leading antiques fair

LAPADA President Earl Howe and Judith Miller in happier times
The January 2013 edition of the National Fine Art and Antiques Fair, scheduled to take place at the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) in Birmingham from 16-20 January, has been cancelled due to what the organisers, Clarion Events, describe as "insufficient commitment from the trade".

This is a major blow to Clarion and doubtless also something of an embarrassment to the London and Provincial Antique Dealers' Association (LAPADA) and the British Antique Dealers' Association (BADA), the two UK trade associations whose members make up the majority of the dealers who usually exhibit at the fair.

Meanwhile, over in Miami, the annual Art Basel Miami Beach contemporary art fair continues to attract the super-rich collectors, or what another collector/speculator, Adam Lindemann, has described as "scenesters, people who don’t even pretend they are remotely interested in art.”

According to The Art Newspaper, Mr Lindemann recently penned a stinging attack on contemporary art fairs, adding his voice to others at the top of the market who have been pouring scorn on the oligarchs and other philistine trophy-hunters attracted by the rising prices for high-end art.

Jeff Koons, Hanging Heart, 2006
But it's not as if Mr Lindemann hasn't himself pumped this market. In 2006, he bought Jeff Koons's Hanging Heart (right) from Larry Gagosian for $4 million only to 'flip' it at Sotheby's months later for $23 million, on which occasion Gagosian bought it back (see my report of that sale here).

Over the past twenty-five years the pattern hasn't changed. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Forbes recently reported that the fortunes of the three wealthiest people in America — Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Larry Ellison were up $7 billion, $7 billion and $8 billion, respectively, despite the three men's charitable donations. The art market mirrors that trend with the top of the market remaining strong and the middle squeezed.

So, back in the UK, if you were planning on a New Year trip to Birmingham for a little antiques shopping, you should adjust your calendar. Was the cancellation of the National Fine Art & Antiques Fair in part an issue of location, underscoring the 'north-south' divide? Are London-based LAPADA and BADA members reluctant to travel north? One can't see BADA members showing "insufficient commitment" to their own London-based fair on 13-19 March 2013.