Miami Herald: Surprise! Marshals seize 4 paintings from Art Basel gallery

Dec 4, 2009

The Miami Herald published this article on December 4, 2009


The first glimpse of Art Basel’s lofty and provocative galleries in the Miami Beach Convention Center was supposed to go to the thousands of VIPs, invitees and celebrities gathered for Wednesday’s exclusive sneak peek.

But federal authorities beat them to the punch.

U.S. marshals entered the international art festival before its opening and confiscated several pricey pieces of art from Swiss exhibitors Galerie Gmurzynska.

“The seizure came as a total surprise without any advance notice to the gallery,” said Peter R. Stern, attorney for Gmurzynska.

The marshals arrived ahead of Basel’s noon opening and took four paintings, according to Asher B. Edelman of the New York gallery Edelman Arts, which recently obtained a default judgment worth about $767,000 against Gmurzynska.

“It was completely quiet,” Edelman said. “We went into the booth prior to the opening of the fair. I selected four pictures and told the marshals what they were worth. The marshals removed the pictures and that’s that.”

Barry Golden, a spokesman for the U.S. marshals, confirmed the confiscation took place based on a court order, but would not discuss details of what he called a “private seizure.”

Artworks have never before been seized from Art Basel Miami Beach, an event that is now in its eighth year, according to festival spokeswoman Sara Fitzmaurice.

Wednesday’s surprise appearance by the U.S. marshals was connected to a lawsuit filed July 13 in federal court by Edelman Arts as an asignee of XL Specialty Insurance Co. The complaint alleged that Gmurzynska was responsible but would not pay for $750,000 in damages to an insured Robert Ryman painting exhibited in Art Basel in 2007.

Edelman said his company obtained a default judgment in October, and, when Gmurzynska and its insurers still would not pay, was given the authority to confiscate and auction off the paintings.

Edelman confirmed that the pieces taken, first reported by, were worth approximately $6 million and were created by Edgar Degas, Yves Klein, Fernand Leger and Joan MirĂ³.

Stern said Gmurzynska was unaware of any judgment until Wednesday. He said Gmurzynska maintains that it is not at fault in the damaging of the Ryman painting and that the dispute was between the insurers and Edelman arts, but it has agreed in principal to a settlement. He said the terms are confidential.

“The parties have in principal settled the dispute,” Stern said, “and the paintings are expected to be back on the walls by tomorrow.”