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The week in art news – former head of the Louvre investigated for money laundering and organised fraud

Plus: Inigo Philbrick sentenced to seven years in prison | Rima Abdul Malak appointed French culture minister | Randall Griffey appointed head curator at Smithsonian American Art Museum | Italian police find lost Titian

27 May 2022

Jean-Luc Martinez, the former president of the Louvre, was charged with money laundering and being complicit in organised fraud on Wednesday. Also questioned earlier in the week, as first reported by Le Canard Enchainé, were the head of the Louvre’s Egyptian department, Vincent Rondot, and the Egyptologist Olivier Perdu. Both were released without charge on Tuesday evening, while Martinez was indicted and released subject to a control order. At the centre of the investigation by the Central Office for the Fight against Illegal Trafficking in Cultural Goods (OCBC) is a rose-granite stele depicting Tutankhamun. It was sold to the Louvre Abu Dhabi in 2016, along with four other ancient Egyptian artefacts, by the Parisian dealer Christophe Kunicki of Bergé & Associés and Roben Dib, a dealer in Hamburg, for eight million euros. After the launch of the Louvre Abu Dhabi project in 2007, Martinez (president of the Louvre in Paris from 2013 to 2021) was co-chair of the museum’s acquisitions committee. It is alleged that he turned a blind eye to false certificates of origin for the five objects, which were smuggled out of Egypt during the Arab Spring.

The former art dealer Inigo Philbrick has been sentenced to seven years in prison after pleading guilty to an $86 million wire fraud last November. The dealer knowingly sold artworks to more than one owner – and sold or used works of art as the collateral for loans without the knowledge of their owners (or disclosing their true ownership to lenders). Works that Philbrick used in this way include Humidity (1982) by Jean-Michel Basquiat, an untitled painting of 2010 by Christopher Wool and an untitled painting of 2012 by Rudolf Stingel. When passing sentence, Judge Sidney H. Stein of the New York Southern District Court emphasised that Philbrick’s punishment of seven years in prison plus two years on supervised release was intended as ‘general deterrence’, to be a warning to potential offenders.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) has appointed Randall Griffey as its new head curator. Currently a curator in the modern and contemporary department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Griffey will oversee a redisplay of the SAAM’s permanent collection as well as all its curatorial staff. Griffey, who with Kelly Baum curated ‘Alice Neel: People Come First’ (Apollo’s exhibition of the year in 2021), will take up his post in September. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (LA MOCA) has appointed Clara Kim chief curator and director of curatorial affairs. Kim joins LA MOCA from Tate Modern, where she has been senior curator of international art since 2006.

New members of the French government were announced last Friday after Emmanuel Macron’s re-election as president last month. Rima Abdul-Malak, who has been an advisor to Macron since 2019, is the new culture minister, replacing Roselyne Bachelot. Her previous jobs, reports the Art Newspaper, include working in the office of the mayor of Paris and being programme director for Clowns sans frontières. And the historian Pap Ndiaye, head of the Musée national de l’histoire de l’immigration, is the new education minister.

A painting by Titian has been recovered by Italian police, reports Forbes, after being missing for nearly 20 years. Portrait of a Man with a Beret (1512) has been untraceable since 2004 when, it was thought, it may have been moved to Switzerland. It was discovered by the Turin branch of the Italian police’s Cultural Heritage Protection Unit, after a tip-off, in a workshop in the Asti area of Piedmont. It returned to the Italian state in a ceremony on 19 May. Two Swiss citizens are currently under investigation.