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The widely publicized civil lawsuit brought against art dealer Larry Gagosian, collector Peter Brant and others by the U.S. attorney's office in New York, seeking more than $26 million in taxes, involves one of the first big art deals of the 1990s: the transfer of Abstract Expressionist and Pop art holdings of California collector Richard Weisman, son of fabled collectors Frederick and Marcia Weisman, to Swiss powerhouse dealer Thomas Ammann Fine Art in Zurich.

According to the federal lawsuit, Gagosian, Brant, New York tax expert Jay I. Gordon and luxury travel czar Geoffrey J.W. Kent formed a shell company called the Contemporary Art Holding Corporation (CAHC) in early 1990. In a one-day transaction on February 15, 1990, the complaint says, CAHC bought 62 works of art, sold 58 of them and earned approximately $17 million in taxable capital gains on the deal. With interest and penalties, CAHC now owes $26.5 million in taxes, interest and penalties, according to the IRS.

The four remaining works were "fraudulently conveyed to Gagosian and Brant," leaving "CAHC with no assets to pay its taxes." The four paintings are Blonde Waiting (1964) by Roy Lichtenstein, Untitled R#2 (1947) by Clyfford Still, Onement #6 (1953) by Barnett Newman and Green & Blue (1957) by Mark Rothko.

Some additional highlights from the lawsuit that have not been reported:
  • Weisman's "cost basis" of the collection of 62 works was a relatively modest $3,005,766.26.
  • Ammann Fine Art paid $20 million for the 58 works it received.
  • CAHC structured the sale as a three-year installment plan, and reported to the IRS that it owed $679,356 in 1990 taxes, $4,234,372 in 1991 taxes and $1,825,745 in 1992 taxes -- but never made any tax payments.
  • In late 1990, Citibank lent CAHC $5 million, purportedly secured by the Rothko and Newman paintings.
  • GJK, a company formed by Geoffrey Kent, purportedly sold the Rothko to C&M Arts in June 1993 for $1.6 million, and purportedly sold the Newman to the Machalite Foundation in Liechtenstein for $2.25 million.
  • The IRS served a notice of levy on Gagosian in 1993, stating that more than $7.56 million was due and citing the Still and Lichtenstein paintings.
  • Gagosian sold the Still painting for $2.25 million on Sept. 30, 1996, and used the proceeds to acquire paintings by Frank Stella and Eric Fischl.
To read the complete complaint, filed by U.S. attorney James B. Comey in U.S. District Court, click here.

The Miami Art Museum has plans for a new $200-million facility on the bay in Miami's Bicentennial Park -- and Miami real estate mogul and photo collector Marty Margulies is against it. Margulies has organized a "town meeting" to discuss what he calls the "fiscal irresponsibility" of the plan, slated for Mar. 25, 2003, at his own museum, the Margulies Collection at the Warehouse in the city's so-called Fashion District [see "Miami is for Collectors," Dec. 16, 2002]. "If they want a museum, let private donors pay for it," Margulies told the Miami Herald. "Why burden the taxpayers?"

Margulies also argues that MAM doesn't need a new building because it lacks a major collection, and that Miami should dedicate its public funds to social and school programs rather than to museum construction. Herald art critic Helen Kohen, Newsweek art critic Peter Plagens and FIU museum director Dahlia Morgan are on the bill as panelists with Pinecrest mayor Evelyn Greer moderating. But don't look for MAM director Suzanne Delehanty. She won't be there -- MAM held its own series of public meetings in 2000 and 2001, which Margulies admits he failed to attend. Margulies made his fortune by developing Grove Isle in Coconut Grove, the Grand Bay condominiums in Key Biscayne and other projects.

Margulies is fighting an uphill battle. In 2001, Miami-Dade County officials earmarked $213 million of a $1.5 billion bond issue for cultural facilities. And several months ago, the museum put together a fundraising team that is notably high-powered, co-chaired by real estate investor Paul L. Cejas, former U. S. ambassador to Belgium and former chairman of the Miami-Dade County school board; Dr. Phillip Frost, chairman of Ivax Corporation, a leading pharmaceutical manufacturer, who is also governor of the American Stock Exchange and chairman of the board of trustees of the University of Miami; and housing developer Jorge M. Pérez, who currently serves as vice chairman of the Miami-Dade Cultural Affairs Council and is a director of the Miami Film Festival.

Last week the Museum of Modern Art ended nearly 15 months of art-world speculation by spurning outside candidates for its chief curator post and appointing longtime museum curator John Elderfield to head the department of painting and sculpture. Elderfield, 59, who came to MoMA in 1975 and has been curator at large at the museum since 1993, succeeds Kirk Varnedoe, who resigned in January 2002. Elderfield was widely perceived to have been passed over when director William Rubin elevated Varnedoe to chief curator in 1989, so the new appointment is viewed in some quarters as making long-overdue amends. The widely liked Elderfield is co-organizer of the current MoMA QNS blockbuster -- call him "Mr. Matisse Picasso" -- and is celebrated for his exhibitions of "Fauvism" in 1976 and "Kurt Schwitters" in 1985, among many others.

Elderfield's appointment is a safe choice by museum director Glenn Lowry of an unassailable member of the museum's old guard. The feeling of consolidation is further amplified by the appointment of Kynaston McShine, a MoMA curator since 1968, to succeed Elderfield as chief curator at large. Observers note that McShine had essentially been put out to pasture until his career was revived by Lowry after Varnedoe's departure. According to the New York Times, no curator will be "de facto" in charge of contemporary art, as was the deposed contemporary curator Robert Storr. Meanwhile, Storr is organizing major retrospectives of Max Beckmann and Elizabeth Murray at MoMA ex officio.

The troubled Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, whose director Kate M. Sellers and board president and major patron George David both resigned abruptly late last year, throwing the museum's $120-million expansion plan into uncertainty, has named a new director -- Willard Holmes, the Canada-born deputy director of the Whitney Museum of American Art. Holmes, 54, was director of the Vancouver Art Gallery from 1987 to '92 before going to the Whitney in '94.

"James Rosenquist: A Retrospective," an exhibition of 210 works dating from 1958 to the present, opens May 18-Aug. 17, 2003, at two museums in Houston -- the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Menil Collection. The MFA installation features works made after 1970, including more than 50 paintings and 34 source collages. Organized by the Guggenheim Museum in New York and curated by Walter Hopps, the show is slated to appear at the Guggenheim in New York (Oct. 2, 2003-Jan. 4, 2004) and the Guggenheim Bilbao (June 17-Oct. 31, 2004), and additional venues.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has announced the addition of more than 1,400 works of art to its collection in 2002. "It has been an exciting year for acquisitions with important works of art added to every curatorial department," said LACMA president and director Andrea L. Rich. Among the acquisitions are Cavaliere Baglione's The Ecstasy of Saint Francis (ca. 1603), purchased with funds from the Ahmanson Foundation; Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres' Study of a Nymph from the Fountain of the Innocents, after Jean Goujon (ca. 1802-06); Abbot Henderson Thayer's Mount Monadnock (ca. 1918); Joaqun Torres-Garca's Construction with White Line (1938), bought with funds from the 2002 Collectors Committee and Alice and Nahum Lainer; Diego Rivera's 1951 charcoal drawing on canvas Huicholes, the gift of an anonymous donor; and a rare copper vase designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and dated 1898, donated by Max Palevsky.

Contemporary art acquisitions at the museum include Stephan Balkenhol's Man Off Balance (2002), Luc Tuymans oil painting Der Diagnostische Blick XI (2001) and Sarah Lucas' 20 Flags (2002), all purchased with funds provided by the Buddy Taub Foundation, and Robert Smithson's Proposal for a Monument at Anartica [sic] (1966), purchased for the photography department with funds from the Ralph M. Parsons Discretionary Fund.

New York collector Norman Dubrow, who put together his own "Dubrow Biennial" at the Kagan Martos Gallery in SoHo last March as a challenge to the Whitney Museum's version, is at it again, this time with a global scope. The "Dubrow International" opens at two galleries -- on Mar. 21 at the Roger Smith Gallery on Lexington Avenue at 47th Street and on Mar. 22 at Kravets/Wehby on West 21st Street. Among the artists included in the show are Arturo Elizondo, Gelatin, Torben Giehler, Michael Majerus, Yasumasu Morimura, Wangechi Mutu, Shigeyoshi Ohi, Jon Pylypchuk, James Rielly, Lily van der Stokker, Wolfgang Tillmans and Gillian Wearing. The Whitney Museum mounts its own version of an international contemporary survey this summer, when "The American Effect" opens in July.

Malian photographer Malick Sidibé has won the 2003 Hasselblad Foundation International Award in Photography, a prize that consists of a gold medal and a cash purse of SEK 500,000 (about $57,900). Born in 1936 in Soloba in southern French Sudan (now Mali), Sidibé is famous for his photographs of Bamako social life from the late 1950s to the mid-'70s. For more info, see

New Republic critic Jed Perl is the first recipient of the Marian and Andrew Heiskell Visiting Critic and Journalist Award from the American Academy in Rome. His six-week residency at the academy began in mid-February 2003. Perl is working on his forthcoming book, New Art City (Knopf), an exploration of "the change-everything years of mid-20th-century Manhattan."