Stormtrooper ‘Art Wars’ leads to legal action

Several artists, including some household names, are considering legal action against London-based curator and artist Ben Moore. They say that Moore created a Non-Fungible Token (NFT) collection that is attached to their works without owning their copyright or a license to create additional works of their original designs. The “Art Wars” Collection is an online project of 1,138 NFTs, including approximately 100 made from photographs of Stormtrooper helmets. These were originally designed by artists such as Anish Kapoor and Jake & Dinos Chapman for a separate charity project which was shown at the Saatchi Gallery in London in 2013.

As of Nov. 6, sales of the NFT collection have brought in more than 1,600 ETH (about £5 million) on the OpenSea platform, according to Jon Sharples, an associate at Canvas Art Law, who represents a number of artists.

“In the short term, it doesn’t work to say that NFTs represent a kind of gray area where the existing rules don’t apply. This is the first episode where a number of high profile artists from the contemporary art world have linked their work to NFTs without their consent,” Sharples says.

Ben Moore says he “regrets that some artists were surprised” by the online launch and has since removed works at their request. All participating artists will receive royalties on relevant sales, he adds. Of the past few weeks, he says: ‘It was like diving into a world I’ve never been a part of before. The NFT and crypto universe is a different landscape.” At the time of writing, OpenSea’s entire Art Wars collection had been removed.

This month’s megawatt auctions in New York put total 2021 public sales on track to nearly double from last year’s stunted results, says Christine Bourron, chief executive of art market analysis firm Pi-eX. Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips’ sales are currently $10.8 billion for the year to date, compared to $5.8 billion for the same period last year, Bourron notes. Single-owner collections, particularly November’s listings of the divorced Macklowes at Sotheby’s and the works of the late Texas oiler Edwin Cox at Christie’s, have proved dominant as sellers who were on their hands in 2020 pulled the trigger this year. A separate report from ArtTactic shows that the single-owner sale so far this year represented a record 20 percent ($2.2 billion) of the auction value, while the Macklowe and Cox auctions brought in $1 billion.

‘No Bare Back, after Embah’ (2017) by Lisa Brice

Primary market darlings, held back by their gallerists, also find their audience at the evening auctions: Lisa Brice’s “No Bare Back, after Embah” (2017), sold for $2.6 million ($3.2 million with fees, est. $200,000-$300,000) at Sotheby’s recent art sale on Nov. 18.

The number of lots has decreased significantly since 2007, Pi-eX notes, as auction houses chase the trophy items at all costs. Todd Levin, the New York art consultant, says: “Macklowe has turbocharged this season, with more to come in May. Right now there is still a huge amount of wealth that is hindered by a relatively small number of people who see art as an asset to buy, keep and be involved with.”

Disgraced art dealer Inigo Philbrick, who was arrested as a fugitive in June 2020 on the island of Vanuatu in the South Pacific, has pleaded guilty to defrauding buyers and investors of more than $86 million. His multi-year “material misrepresentation” included falsified contracts, one of which cited a stolen identity as the seller of a work, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Philbrick’s fraud included paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Christopher Wool and Rudolf Stingel, the statement said.

Philbrick faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted next year, but his attorney, Jeffrey Lichtman, says he “hopes Inigo gets a lesser sentence.” Of his client, Lichtman says he has “a long way to go to regain the trust of those around him, but he is very sincere in his regrets. . . He acknowledges that his behavior was foolish, immature, but above all criminal. He will spend the rest of his life repaying his victims and becoming a productive member of society.”

Christine Messineo, Newly Appointed Director of Frieze LA and Frieze New York

Frieze has appointed Christine Messineo to lead her US grants in Los Angeles and New York, replacing Rebecca Ann Siegel, who left in July 2021. Messineo has worked in galleries in both locations – as a partner at Bortolami Gallery in Manhattan and as a director at Hannah Hoffman gallery in LA. Most recently, Messineo co-founded the high-profile Plan Your Vote initiative with to encourage participation in the 2020 US general election by galvanizing artwork. She will officially kick off next week as she visits the Art Basel Miami trade show (December 2-4) with Frieze’s newly appointed Seoul Exhibition Director, Patrick Lee. Art Basel itself has yet to find a replacement for its America director, Noah Horowitz, who also left this summer. A spokesperson said that “Art Basel is actively recruiting a new Director Americas; this is an ongoing process and details will be announced in due course.”

Portrait of Catherine the Great by Dmitry Levitsky

As pressures mount to persuade the public to take a stand against Covid-19, MacDougall’s — a specialist auctioneer in Russian art — offers a 1787 letter from Catherine the Great urging smallpox vaccinations. “Such inoculation should be common everywhere,” she writes to her governor general, Count Piotr Aleksandrovich Rumiantsev, to avoid “major damage”. The Empress had firsthand experience with the smallpox – her future husband contracted the virus just before they married and was permanently disfigured. The letter will be auctioned off with a portrait of Catherine II by Dmitry Levitsky, probably painted during her reign (1762-1796), both from the same Russian collection, for between £800,000 and £1.2 million at MacDougall’s in London on December 1. from the auction, including the portrait and letter, are on display at Zubov House in Moscow until November 30.

‘The Auction’ (1958) by LS Lowry

Sotheby’s London on Tuesday had the sale of the only known auction room painting by beloved British painter LS Lowry, which went up for £2.1 million (£2.6 million with fees, estimated £1.2 million-£1.8 million). Though life imitated art, much had changed since Lowry painted the bustling ‘The Auction’ in 1958. There were no strollers or paintings stacked high in the slick 2021 salesroom, where most of the buzz was over the phone or online. The work was one of five Lowrys sold at Sotheby’s Modern British & Irish art sale on November 23. This also provided Elisabeth Frink’s “Head” (1967), sold by the fashion designer Mary Quant for an estimated £75,000 (£94,500 with fees).

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