This past Thursday, the Manhattan Surrogate Court appointed a new executor for the estate of C. C. Wang, the late artist and collector whose name adorns the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s wing for Asian art. That new executor will be Wang’s daughter, Yien-Koo Wang King, and she will now move to pursue claims worth millions of dollars that the estate’s previous executor, the artist’s grandson Andrew Wang, stole more than 20 paintings from C. C.’s collection and made suspicious dealings in the sale of nearly 100 works. (The firm Liu and Shields LLP, which represents Andrew, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)
Andrew had been the executor of the Wang estate since the artist’s death at age 96 in 2003. He has been removed from that position. A trial last April determined that C. C., who was suffering from dementia toward the end of his life, had been manipulated by Andrew into naming him and his father, Shou-Kung, in his will. Andrew was made executor of the estate, which had once been estimated to be worth $60 million, and Yien-Koo was disinherited. Her prior efforts to oust Andrew as executor in 2003 had not been successful.
Yien-Koo alleges that Andrew mismanaged the estate’s holdings. According to an application for fiduciary letters filed last December on behalf of Yien-Koo, Andrew had either “stolen outright” or sold works at “rock-bottom prices” to himself.
That application, which was approved last week, goes on to say, “[Yien-Koo] should be granted full preliminary letters testamentary so that she may pursue claims.” It alleges that Andrew stole more than 20 works in 2003; that he must provide receipt of 46 works by Wang that have not been accounted for; that he resold 98 works from the estate in China for up to 20 times their value; that he stole the 11th-century painting Procession of the Taoist Immortals by the artist Wu Zhangyuan, which is estimated to be worth tens of millions of dollars; and that he withheld assets from the estate.
“This is not nearly a family squabble over who gets what,” Timothy Savitsky, a lawyer for the firm Sam P. Israel, P. C., which represents Yien-Koo, told ARTnews. “The allegations are serious, they’re detailed, and they involve a really specific scheme. . . . The implications will likely have international significance, if the claims are proven true. It’s not just a run-of-the-mill estate fight.”
The appointment of Yien-Koo as executor is the latest development in a decade-and-a-half-long fight over Wang’s estate. Since Wang died, in 2003, his family has been embroiled in a legal battle over the sale and preservation of his legacy and holdings. The case has been an expensive and complex one. The Internal Revenue Service has said that the estate owes about $20 million in taxes.
Wang was born in Suzhou, China, in 1907, and emigrated to the United States in 1949 to escape the Communist regime. In addition to making his own work, Wang began buying Chinese art, long before a market for it existed, and he ended up doing consulting work for Sotheby’s. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York acquired various works from Wang over the years and went on to stage a 1999 exhibition of objects from his collection.