Art Market Recap: Celebs in Hot Water Over NFT Endorsements, Vasarely Estate Woes, A Contested Van Gogh, and more!
Jane Fonda’s important collection hits the auction block, more Benin Bronzes returned, NFT endorsement issues, a Van Gogh restitution case and more!
Featured Image: Credit: Miguel Candela/Anadolu Agency Via Getty Images
A handful of major celebrities are in hot water for their role in promoting Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs. NFT Buyers are suing Justin Bieber, Madonna, other celebrities, and Bored Ape Yacht Club’s founders, Yuga Labs, claiming that they had promoted products without disclosing the compensation they received. The lawsuit brought by NFT collectors Adonis Real and Adam Titcher, also claims the parties deliberately inflated the value of its NFTs to the benefit of insiders with the heavy celebrity promotion and endorsements.
The complaint claims Yuga Labs violated the Exchange Act “by making false and misleading statements concerning Yuga’s growth prospects, financial ownership, and financial benefits for Yuga securities investors,” Scott and Scott, the law firm that filed the case, wrote in a statement. The lawsuit seeks nearly $5 million in damages and hinges on the FTC requirement that endorsers disclose their material connections with their sponsoring advertisers in clear and obvious language.
Many of the celebrities were selected from the network of Moonpay’s Guy Oseary and were compensated via payment through the Moonpay platform. However, their compensation for the promotion of the NFTs, it states, was not disclosed and therefore violates the above FTC requirement. Yuga Labs told Artnet News in a statement, “in our view, these claims are opportunistic and parasitic. We strongly believe that they are without merit, and look forward to proving as much.” The company declined to comment further on the allegations.
Germany has returned a first group of stolen Benin Bronzes to Nigeria. Over twenty pieces held by German institutions were returned to Nigeria on December 20th, 2022 in an official handover ceremony in the administrative capital of Abuja. The items included a brass head of a Benin king and a ceremonial sword known as an ‘ada’.
“It was wrong to take the bronzes, and it was wrong to keep them for 12 years,” German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock stated, according to a report in the New York Times. “More of these agreements will follow and this moment is also historic to us. We are facing up to our history of colonialism.”
Over 1,000 of these objects from the former Kingdom of Benin ended up in German museums following their purchase from British colonialists who had stolen the artifacts during a violent raid in 1897. “Britain has most of the works, and we thought they would provide leadership,” said the governor of Edo state Godwin Obaseki, according to the Guardian. “They were the ones who came here and destroyed the empire, they were the ones who looted pieces from here, and they should be leading in restitution.”
Although other institutions including the Smithsonian and the Horniman Museum in London have all participated in the repatriation of the artifacts, the British Museum has allegedly been a notable outlier and has not been forthcoming with any plan to return their holdings of the artifacts.
Actress Jane Fonda is consigning 14 drawings, paintings, sculptures, and assemblages by three Black artists based in the American South to Christie’s “Outsider and Vernacular Art” auction in New York on January 18.
“Found objects are a tradition of 20th-century art,” Fonda pointed out in a statement from Christie’s. “It’s Marcel Duchamp, his conversion of urinals into a so-called fountain, all the way to my friend Bob Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns—it’s not unique to these artists of the South.”
“We certainly feel that Jane Fonda’s support for these artists has been incredible and inspiring,” Christie’s Head of Outsider Art Cara Zimmerman told Artnet News. “She is a fantastic collector, both in her taste, and with a rare understanding that as a society, we must recontextualize the art historical canon and amplify voices from underrepresented communities that have been systemically marginalized.”
Works by Thornton Dial Sr., Thornton Dial Jr., and Arthur Dial lead the selection of works offered, in addition to works by Bill Traylor and Winfred Rembert.
London Gallery, Mazzoleni Art Gallery has 10 Victor Vassarely artworks included in their “Einstein in the Sky with Diamonds” sale, which has inflamed a longstanding family feud within the artist’s estate. Two of the artworks included have been particular sore points for the family over issues of ownership.
The Vasarely Foundation, which is led by the artist’s grandson Pierre Vasarely, has accused the gallery of attempting to sell works that rightfully belong to the foundation. Michèle Taburno, Victor Vasarely’s daughter-in-law and Pierre’s stepmother, has been identified as the consignor of the two paintings.
“Those [works] belonged to the foundation from 1975 to 1995,” Taburno told The Art Newspaper. “In 1995, they were attributed to the two heirs of the artist, his two sons. In 1997, the two heirs gave those works to me.” She also claimed that she had been legally awarded these works in 2008, following a dispute in court between her and Pierre.
Another version of the provenance lineage states that the works belong to the foundation and were caught up in a sorted embezzlement affair with the foundation’s former president Charles Debbasch.
“What I wish is for my stepmother to execute the judiciary ruling,” Pierre said. “It is not me; it’s not anyone else; it’s the French justice system, who are asking a French person who lives abroad to return expert works to France.”
In rebuttal, Taburno said: “I have so many documents proving my ownership. The federal court decision was that during four years of inquiry, Pierre Vasarely, who was accusing me, did not bring any proof that could sustain his allegations.”
A spokesperson for Mazzoleni said the gallery was “saddened by the succession dispute between Pierre Vasarely and his family which has regretfully been going on for decades, to the detriment of Victor Vasarely’s reputation.”
The heirs of a Jewish art collector are suing the Met Museum and the Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation in Athens for the return of Vincent van Gogh’s 1889 painting “La cueillette des olives (Olive Picking)”. The lawsuit claims that the Met secretly sold the painting in 1972 to avoid having to return the work to Hedwig Stern, who had sought its restitution.
Stern fled Munich in 1936, moving with her husband and children to Berkeley, California, to escape persecution. The family sold their art collection under duress and the work was later sold by Thannhauser Gallery to Theodor Werner for 55,000 Reichsmarks. Stern, however, never received the proceeds of sale for the work. The money was deposited into a blocked account designed by the Nazis to deny Jews access to their assets.
The New York Times broke the news of the secret sale in 1972, calling it an “unusual move,” and reporting the buyer as Gianni Agnielli, an “Italian industrialist” and associate of Marlborough Gallery.
The Stern heirs are seeking the return of Olive Pickers, the proceeds from the Met’s 1972 sale of the work, as well as damages in the amount of the fair market value of the painting.