Let's keep the subject changed, OK? I was terribly amused by this article on Bloomberg this morning, and you may find it funny, too. It seems that one of Enron's evil, deposed executives had spirited one of the corporation's artworks home with him, a gouache by Polish modernist Jean Lambert-Rucki which probably resembles the work shown above. Evidently short on cash, he looked around his house and tried to think of ways to make a quick buck. Spotting the artwork, he cooked up a crazy scheme to defraud the gallery who sold it to Enron:
Historical Design Inc., an art gallery on East 61st Street in Manhattan, said Shankman purchased three works of art in November 1997 for $40,000. The gallery said Shankman complained this year that one of them, a gouache painting called "Les Visiteurs" signed by J. Lambert-Rucki, was a fake. He threatened to "go public" unless he was paid least $150,000, the gallery said in court papers.
"Shankman, a former high-echelon Enron executive [...] maliciously formulated and carried out a fraudulent plan or scheme seeking to extort cash from the plaintiff," the gallery said in a complaint filed Oct. 7 in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan.
The gallery, which is seeking at least $400,000 in damages and other fees, contends the artwork belongs to Enron's shareholders and creditors and that Shankman "wrongfully took possession of it for his own use and benefit."
The gallery said its own investigation determined that Enron paid for the art, according to the complaint. Shankman rejected the gallery's requests to examine the painting, the gallery said. Historical Designs said Shankman "kept increasing the size, amount and the urgency of his demands to plaintiff for IMMEDIATE CASH ONLY."
What a crazy, desperate, hilarious scheme! Bloomberg is excellent at reporting on the business of the art world, but they leave several things out of their account of this ham-handed blackmail attempt. First of all, the artwork didn't belong to him, and even if it did, it was worth a fraction of the amount he was trying to extort. He obviously thought that the gallery would just be a pushover. But a gallery like that doesn't just have wheelbarrows of cash lying around to use for hush money! Furthermore, a corporate art supplier such as Historical Design, Inc., most likely holds meticulous records regarding artworks' provenance, authenticity, etc. Believe me, in this day and age of looted art repatriation, galleries and museums are more paranoid than ever about issues surrounding the chain of ownership. Art doesn't just drift casually in and out of galleries like this.
And, finally, who in the world is going to forge a gouache by Lambert-Rucki, an artist considered esoteric by even the most hardened champions of obscure modernism?
I could go on and on about why this story is just sublimely ridiculous, such as the idiot crook's bold declaration of forgery followed by a refusal to let it be examined, but I'm too busy forwarding it to all my coworkers at the NGA.
But let me tell you, if you think the art world is made up of sitting ducks just waiting to be plucked by crafty, deposed corporate executives, well, Mr. Shankman will probably have a couple of years in prison to think about the error of that line of thought.