Back in 1973, Salvador Dalí saw a painting attributed to Goya hanging in the window of a Madrid art gallery and decided he had to own it. He started negotiating with the gallery’s owner, Isidro Clot, recalls Clot’s widow, María Jesís Pérez. Clot proposed that in exchange for the painting Dalí begin creating small sculptures that the dealer would have the right to reproduce and sell.
Dalí didn’t agree on the spot, says Pérez, who at the time was Clot’s girlfriend and later became his second wife. “Send me a contract, and my wife and I will think it over,” she remembers Dalí saying. The artist called back in the middle of the night to accept the deal, she says, and signed the contract the following day at the Ritz Hotel in Barcelona. (The painting, titled Saint Paul, now hangs in the Dalí museum in Figueres, Spain.)
Working quickly in warm wax, Dalí began forming small maquettes. With Clot paying him 2 million pesetas for each one, about $35,000 at the time, the artist eventually created more than four dozen of the maquettes over several years, Pérez says. Unable to continue the payments, Clot in 1975 took on a partner, fellow Madrid art dealer Juan Quirós, selling him half the rights to the maquettes Dalí was creating. Clot and Quirós used some of the maquettes—mainly Christ figures—as the basis for brooches and necklaces that they sold in the late 1970s, each one accompanied by a plastic, identity-card-like certificate of authenticity.
If this account is true—details of the business have been confirmed by Quirós and Enrique Sabater, Dalí’s assistant from 1968 and secretary and business manager from 1972 until early 1981—this arrangement marked the initial stages of what was to become a multimillion-dollar Dalí sculpture industry that continues to this day as the maquettes have been enlarged and used to create editions of sculptures. As we shall see, however, little is ever as it appears to be in the world of Salvador Dalí, even two decades after the artist’s death, on January 23, 1989, at the age of 84. As it turns out, Quirós’s claim to the sculptures isn’t recognized by Robert Descharnes, Dalí’s secretary during the last years of his life. Many regard Descharnes as the world authority on Dalí sculptures, but his critics contend that his scholarship is often lacking.
Neither Quirós nor Pérez, for instance, is mentioned in Dalí: The Hard and the Soft, a 2003 book by Descharnes and his son Nicolas that is the bible of dealers and auction houses when it comes to authenticating Dalí sculptures. (Nicolas says he and his father learned of Quirós’s claim only after the book’s publication and hope to include him in a revision of the English-language edition due out next year or in 2010. Quirós, however, says he has known Robert Descharnes for years.) The book attributes rights to the vast majority of the Clot sculptures to Juan-Javier Bofill, a Barcelona businessman, and Obra Contemporínea, a company owned by a group of Catalan investors. Bofill and Obra bought the rights in the 1990s from Andrés Campos, Clot’s son-in-law, during the period when Robert Descharnes was managing Dalí’s estate. Since then they have produced and sold the Clot sculptures around the world in editions as large as 10,000.
Pérez, now 64, says that Campos defrauded her after Clot died in 1991 and that she suffered a stroke the following year, leaving her nearly destitute—an account confirmed by another Clot son-in-law, Joaquín González Manzanares.
Campos initially agreed to respond to questions from ARTnews but in the end only provided a letter drafted by his lawyer explaining that he wouldn’t respond. “In the world of Dalí, there are certain unscrupulous individuals who would use my comments to further their own aims,” the letter says, in part.
Which set of claims is legitimate, and which of the works (if any) are genuine? When it comes to Dalí multiples, such conundrums are the norm. As Ian Gibson documented in his 1997 book, The Shameful Life of Salvador Dalí, the major biography of the artist so far, Dalí and his wife, Gala, had a voracious appetite for money to sustain their lavish lifestyle. Starting in the ’60s they authorized numerous editions of Dalí prints, often in deals with publishers and dealers who approached their representatives during the couple’s annual sojourns at the Hôtel Meurice in Paris and the St. Regis in New York.
The Dalís’ penchant for dealing only in cash, the large number of contracts they agreed to, and the fact that Dalí signed thousands of blank sheets of paper that were later used for prints (how many thousands is a matter of dispute) have led to widespread, long-term abuses in the Dalí graphics market. Thousands of “Dalí prints” continue to sell annually—often at many times their actual worth, experts say—on the Internet, in art galleries and poster shops, and at art auctions held on cruise ships. Organizations that authenticate Dalí works on paper—such as the New York–based Salvador Dalí Archives (run by Frank Hunter, the successor to the late Dalí expert Albert Field) and Salvador Dalí Research Center (set up by art dealer Alex Rosenberg and other Dalí authorities)—regularly turn up fakes among the works brought to them for evaluation.
In many cases the alleged fraudsters have been operating for decades. For instance, on March 19, Chicago-based U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald announced criminal charges against three Europeans and four Americans for allegedly creating and selling counterfeit prints by a number of artists, including Dalí. Leon Amiel Jr., 36 at the time of the indictment, who was charged with six counts of fraud, is the third generation of his family alleged to be involved in the production of questionable Dalí graphics. His late grandfather, Leon Amiel Sr., was a major publisher of dubious Dalí prints, and three women members of his family went to prison eight years ago for dealing in counterfeit art.
What is less known is that Dalí also authorized the production of dozens of sculptures. A lengthy ARTnews investigation and interviews with 80 publishers, dealers, scholars, and other sources in the United States, Spain, France, Belgium, and Germany shows that the Dalí sculpture business has its own cast of characters but is as rife with excesses, unreliable information, disputed ownership claims, and legal conflict as the graphics market. Numerous posthumous Dalí sculptures of uncertain provenance continue to surface—on eBay, in galleries and retail outlets, and in art auctions, including those held by Christie’s and Sotheby’s.
“I don’t know where all these sculptures are coming from,” Sabater says. “Somebody has to do something.” Dawn Ades, a well-known Dalí scholar and a professor at the University of Essex, says she is outraged by the way “Dalí’s name has been exploited, taking advantage of an all-too-gullible public.”
Officials at the Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation in Figueres, the organization designated by the Spanish government to manage Dalí’s estate, also are alarmed by the continuing flood of sculptures onto the market, and by what they consider to be a lack of transparency about the works’ origins and generally posthumous production.
“There’s confusion in the Dalí sculpture market that’s obvious to anyone who looks at it carefully,” says Joan Manuel Sevillano Campalans, the foundation’s executive manager. “There’s confusion about the provenance, about the definitions used; confusion in the use of Dalí’s brand, his image, and his name; over how involved Dalí really was in the creation of the different works; and over the numbers and sizes of the editions. All this makes the evolution and evaluation of prices difficult to follow. We are worried that collectors often aren’t fully aware of what they are buying.”
ARTnews has identified at least ten publishers, mostly European, that are producing more than 100 different Dalí sculptures, mainly bronzes. The pieces retail at prices ranging from a few thousand dollars for small sculptures sold in huge editions of up to 10,000 to $1.35 million for monumental versions of the same works, as large as 12 feet high and made in limited editions of a dozen or fewer. It’s hard to know exactly how many Dalí sculptures the publishers have produced in total, or how many they continue to produce, but they have created an industry that has probably generated tens of millions of dollars in revenue this year alone.
The foundation, ARTnews has also learned, is quietly aiding at least two European police investigations involving Dalí sculptures. In one, Belgian federal police in Brussels have uncovered what they believe is a money-laundering operation involving phony sales of Dalí sculptures by an unauthorized Dalí institute in Saint Petersburg. The chief investigator won’t reveal who is suspected, but a source familiar with the investigation says the alleged scam has its roots in France and Corsica. (Belgian police are involved because the money passed through a Belgian bank.) The other investigation, based in Stuttgart, Germany, involves allegedly unauthorized editions of two Dalí sculptures, Surrealist Angel and Cubist Angel. Sevillano says the foundation also plans to pursue that case in the German courts to bring it “to a final conclusion.”
Alleged illegalities aside, there are numerous problems with the Dalí sculpture market. There is no complete list of the contracts Dalí and his secretaries signed. There is no central registry that keeps track of how many of each sculpture edition have actually been made, and the makers are unwilling to share that information. As a result, there is no way of knowing for sure if the publishers have stuck to their announced edition sizes. Sales descriptions of the sculptures in auction catalogues are often unreliable, and those on the Internet are overly hyped.
For instance, America Art Gallery, a Seattle-based online marketing company, sells a bronze melting-clock sculpture, titled Persistence of Memory and attributed to Dalí, that is priced at $2,595 and said to be from an edition of 500. The sculpture, which isn’t mentioned in the Descharnes book, is described as follows in the company’s promotional copy: “This item selling in Upscale Art Galleries for up to $5,000.00-$7,000.00 when it can be found. This is a creative Piece, perfect for any art lovers home, office, or place of business. Certificate of Authenticity provided. Our previous Dalí sculptures SOLD OUT very quickly! Don’t miss your opportunity to own this wonderful and rare piece.”
America Art Gallery, which also sells Dalí prints and several other Dalí sculptures, didn’t respond to requests for an interview. According to its Web site, the gallery is owned by U.S. Internet Inc., which also markets hair-salon and beauty products online.
Dalí’s exact connection to many of the works is often far less certain than it is to the Clot collection. “Dalí’s sculptures, in the main, are adaptations of his paintings and drawings, done late in his life,” says Alex Rosenberg. “I’m not certain how involved he really was in their creation.” Many of the sculptures were first cast in the late ’70s and early ’80s, when Dalí was beset with health problems. His hands shook so badly after 1980 that he couldn’t paint, and the much older Gala was starting to fail; she died in 1982 at the age of 87. The year before her death, according to a source close to Dalí at the time, Gala signed a flurry of contracts with questionable characters whom Sabater and others had not allowed to do business with the artist. After Gala’s death Dalí became deeply depressed; he was badly burned in a fire in his bedroom in 1984. Descharnes says that Dalí was mentally acute even after the fire, but press reports at the time stated that during his last years his weight dwindled to 90 pounds and he was a virtual hostage of his entourage.
Skeptics suspect that in many cases Dalí did little more than sign off on sculptures the publishers hired other artists to create—“plucking images from Dalí’s paintings,” as one scholar puts it. That was the case with both Cubist Angel and Surrealist Angel, says María José Rom, who contends that the sculptures were originally conceived in the early ’80s by her German-born art-dealer ex-husband, Rudolf Rom.
“Those sculptures came out of the head of Rudolf Rom,” says María José, who worked with her husband at the time and now owns a small hotel on Spain’s Costa Brava. “They’re taken from images [from works] in the Salvador Dalí museum in Figueres. Rom had artists put them in 3-D form. All Dalí did was give his bon à tirer” (approval).
A number of anomalies in the sculptures support the view that they are at best imperfect reflections of Dalí’s vision. For example, the versions of the Clot sculptures made by Quirós have a rougher surface than those made by Obra Contemporí¡nea, according to Pick Keobandith, director of Qu Art, a Brussels art gallery that produces eight Dalí sculptures; she has examined both. Quirós claims that the surface roughness was created by Dalí as he modeled the sculptures and is a sign of authenticity. Nicolas Descharnes says his father’s photos indicate that the surface should be smooth.
Some of the sculptures have changed over time. An example is Birdman, which is produced by Beniamino Levi, a onetime Milan gallery owner who is now based in Switzerland and who manufactures 29 different Dalí sculptures. A version of Birdman that sold at Bonhams in London on May 14, 1998, has a different base, height, and treatment of the ground under the figure’s feet from the one in Levi’s current catalogue, although both are dated 1981. Levi admits that he modified the sculpture over time. Under his contract with Dalí, he explains, he is required to respect the image the artist created “from head to foot” but has the right to change the bronze base under the figure’s feet.
Often several parties claim rights to slightly different variants of the same sculpture. Both Levi and the Valsuani foundry in France, which is controlled by Leonardo Benatov, one of the publishers, produce versions of Homage to Newton, a sculpture prized by collectors partly because a version of it is installed at Plaza Dalí, a 1985 tribute to the artist created by the city of Madrid. The Descharnes say Dalí altered the Newton somewhat for the Madrid installation and have dubbed that sculpture Newton de Gala. Rights to it are claimed by Rosa María Laa, who worked with the city to create the plaza. She says that in gratitude Dalí ceded to her and her late husband all rights to the sculpture, as well as to a related stone structure (dubbed Dolmen de Dalí by the Descharnes) also installed at the plaza.
The Dalí Foundation recognizes Laa’s rights, but only if she sells the two pieces together, as an installation similar to the one in Madrid. Lately Laa has started producing a version of the piece—a Newton figure, 40 centimeters (about 16 inches) tall, in bronze, priced at â‚¬20,000 ($27,250)—and showing it in exhibitions in Greece organized by Qu Art. Eventually she intends to sell cities around the world a full-scale replica, with the figure 3.85 meters (about 151.5 inches) tall, as it is in the Plaza Dalí in Madrid. Negotiations have already started with Moscow and a city in China, she says. (The Descharnes book mentions Laa’s late husband but says nothing about either of them having rights to any of the sculptures.)
Imposing order on this situation has not been a high priority of the Dalí Foundation. The organization gained control over Dalí’s copyrights only in 2004, after a lengthy legal battle with Robert Descharnes, who had continued to manage Demart NV, Dalí’s company, after the artist’s death. The foundation has been moving slowly since then. Its focus, according to Sevillano, has been on raising Dalí’s standing with scholars and major museums, partly by helping to organize exhibitions such as “Dalí: Painting and Film,” which was on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York last summer after touring Tate Modern and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
When it comes to authenticating Dalí’s work, the foundation’s initiatives include a research project with the University of Barcelona that aims to amass technical data that will make it easier to certify Dalí prints; the organization also is building an online catalogue raisonné of Dalí’s paintings that so far has progressed into the 1930s. But researchers have done little work on the sculptures. Sevillano admits that “it’s still a matter of debate within the foundation” whether a catalogue raisonné of Dalí sculptures “is at all necessary or feasible.” In the meantime, dealers and auction houses routinely turn to Robert and Nicolas Descharnes to fill the void.
It’s unclear which, if any, of the sculpture publishers are doing anything illegal. They all claim to have contracts signed by Dalí or his representatives allowing them to produce the sculptures in large editions. Because in some cases more than one party claims to own rights to the same works, there plainly are problems with some of the contracts, but resolving these legal issues would be a lengthy and costly process that the foundation so far has tried to avoid, instead privately urging the conflicting parties to go to court themselves.
Sevillano says the foundation has also encouraged the publishers to release more information about their sculptures, specifying when the works were cast and if they were derived from sketches and gouaches. But many of the publishers have resisted because their contracts with Dalí, some of which have been examined by ARTnews, often give them wide latitude. “The real reason the foundation doesn’t like our contracts is that they’re too broad,” says Jean-François Marchi, the Paris lawyer whose firm represents Benatov and sometimes the Descharnes.
The foundation nonetheless has considerable leverage if it decides to crack down. Its pockets are deep: its revenue comes mainly from operating three Dalí museums (in Figueres, Port Lligat, and Píbol, Spain) that are wildly popular with tourists. It had a profit of about $5 million last year, and it proved during its long battle with Descharnes that it is willing to spend a great deal of money in court if necessary. The foundation also controls the use of Dalí’s name and “brand,” and the publishers can’t do advertising and promotion without using the artist’s name. That leverage is already being used against Bofill, whom the foundation is threatening to take to court over his use of the artist’s name in promoting a commercial Dalí museum and sales outlet he operates in Barcelona’s tourist district.
Qu Art, the Brussels gallery, was the only publisher that had agreed to follow the foundation’s rules strictly, until Laa recently followed its lead. The gallery has signed new, restrictive agreements directly with the foundation that, among other things, require the gallery to clearly identify the eight sculptures it produces as posthumously made and, where appropriate, to make it clear that they are derived from sketches and paintings.
John Heinz, Qu Art’s owner, a retired management consultant, now refuses to show his sculptures with those of most of the other Dalí publishers, partly because he was embarrassed in late 2004 when the opening of a show Qu Art held in Brussels with Obra Contemporínea and Benatov was attended by Belgium’s Prince Philippe and Princess Mathilde but boycotted by the foundation, which was displeased that the other publishers were involved. “How can anyone think they can fight it out with the Spanish state?” Heinz asks. “The foundation exists, and it’s legitimate. In the long term I don’t think this market will continue to exist unless everyone accepts the authority of the foundation.”
Many of the publishers, however, are far less conciliatory. Obra Contemporí¡nea, Levi, Bofill, and Benatov, whose Valsuani foundry produces about nine Dalí sculptures, recently formed the Dalí Sculpture Institute, with Robert Descharnes as its honorary chairman. The publishers say the institute’s purpose is to issue more information about their sculptures, as the foundation has requested, as well as to defend their rights as publishers. But some of their language is provocative.
Dalí’s sculptures “must be protected against incompetence,” says Marchi, whose firm is drawing up the institute’s legal framework. “There are nothing but bureaucrats at the foundation, who didn’t know Dalí. One of the goals of the institute is to keep Dalí from being mummified by people who didn’t know him.” Sevillano dismisses the institute as “an obvious attempt to avoid the foundation’s more rigorous approach” and says there is a clear “conflict of interest” when an educational organization is run by people with products to sell.
The publishers are a diverse group. Quirós is a Spanish count as well as an art dealer. Bofill sports an upturned mustache only slightly less extravagant than Dalí’s. Magnus Bromander, who claims the right to produce a single Dalí sculpture, The Anthropomorphic Cabinet, owns the Art Now gallery in Gíteborg, Sweden. Benatov is a naturalized French citizen whose father, according to Marchi, was a prince who fled Russia for Europe during the revolution; he eventually became a well-known painter. The younger Benatov is also an artist; his abstract paintings and a large bronze bust of Napoleon decorate Marchi’s Paris office. According to the Dictionnaire des fondeurs de bronze d’art, a history of French art foundries by Elisabeth Lebon, Benatov gained control of the Valsuani foundry—which in its heyday did castings for Arp, Bonnard, and Matisse—in 1981, after it went bankrupt.
By far the most visible Dalí publishers are the octogenarian Beniamino Levi and his American-born wife, Roberta. Levi says he moved to Paris from Italy in the mid-’70s, after his Milan gallery’s windows were defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti, and began to focus on Dalí after that. He and his wife, who had been an art dealer in New York, married in 1988. They now live in Switzerland, but they also have a home on the Spanish island of Ibiza. They own two large exhibition-spaces-cum-showrooms—Dalí Universe in London and L’Espace Montmartre in Paris—that display their collection of Dalí sculptures and prints and also sell sculptures they and other publishers produce.
The Levis say their contracts allow them to produce their 29 Dalí sculptures in three small sizes in editions of 350, plus 35 artist’s proofs, each in three different patinas. Like most of the other publishers, they also make the sculptures in “museum” (four- or five-foot-tall) and “monumental” (about nine-foot-tall) versions in editions of 12. Retail prices range from €6,000 to €25,000 ($8,200 to $34,000) for smaller versions to $500,000-plus for monumental ones.
Levi says he bought four of his contracts directly from Dalí, whom he met in Paris in the late ’70s; two from other owners; and the remaining 23 from Dalart, the company set up by Sabater when he was Dalí’s business manager. Sabater vouches for Levi’s contracts, with the exception of those for the works Space Elephant and Woman Aflame; Levi says he signed contracts directly with Dalí for those two. He says he traveled to Spain to get Dalí’s personal approval of maquettes for all of the sculptures before they were produced.
Add it all up, and the Levis claim the right to make more than 100,000 pieces, although Beniamino Levi says that the smaller versions of the sculptures have been produced only in one size so far and that the couple has made a total of only “6,000 to 7,000 over 30 years. That only makes about 200 per year.” By contrast, Obra Contemporí¡nea, according to Carolina Artola, the company’s business manager, is publishing smaller versions of the Clot sculptures in editions of 10,000, each one divided into separate editions for different national markets (2,500 for the United States, 350 for Italy, and so forth). These pieces retail for €1,500 to €30,000 ($2,000 to about $41,000), she says.
Robert Descharnes, now 82, has played a major role in the sculpture producers’ success. The publication of Dalí: The Hard and the Soft (in French in 2003 and English in 2004) gave late, large-edition Dalí sculptures new legitimacy. In the years before the book came out, worldwide auction sales of Dalí sculptures averaged 80 annually, according to Artprice.com, a French company that tracks world auction results. Since then the number has soared: Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and smaller auction houses around the world sold 249 Dalí sculptures in 2006 and 179 last year, according to Artprice.com. Auction catalogue descriptions now routinely refer to images in the Descharnes book by number, and the auction houses seem willing to sell any work illustrated in the book.
“Robert and Nicolas Descharnes are the experts we make reference to,” says Jay S. Vincze, London-based director of Impressionist and modern art at Christie’s. “We tend to run [Dalí sculptures] through them.” Edouard Sebline, deputy director of Impressionist and modern art at Sotheby’s in Paris, says that Sotheby’s refers to the Descharnes book and checks a sculpture’s auction history, then decides on a “case-by-case” basis. “What’s certainly true is that it’s not always clear who made them and when,” Sebline says. “There’s a lack of clarity about what they are.”
Dealers frequently refer to the Descharnes book as a catalogue raisonné of Dalí’s sculptures, but even Nicolas Descharnes admits it is far from comprehensive. New York–based Dalí authority Frank Hunter dismisses it as a “coffee-table book,” and Sevillano calls it “basically an author’s recollection and opinion with a lot of photographs and interesting but incomplete information.” The book, which is now out of print, is nearly 300 pages long and contains photos of hundreds of sculptures but has no subject index. There is no indication of which sculptures are still in production, and for many editions there is no date, edition size, or dimensions. Some sculptures have different numbers in the French and English editions.
The book does little to clear up the identity of the publishers. It usually lists sculpture editions by company, even though in many cases the publishers have used multiple company names over the years. For instance, Levi says his main company is now I.A.R. Art Resources, which is based in Switzerland. But in the past the Levis have operated under the company names Camblest, Serena Fine Arts, Inter Art Resources, Jemelton, and Master Fine Art Gallery, all of which have been merged or closed down for reasons of “operational simplicity,” Levi says.
The Levis issued sculptures under many of these names but say their editions remained consistent as the company names changed; they didn’t start a new edition of a given sculpture when the name changed. They still issue the large versions of their sculptures under the rubric Gotham Editions and organize promotional exhibitions (they have held more than 70 around the world since 1988) as the Stratton Foundation. But only some of these names are in the Descharnes book. There is a photo of Levi donating a large version of one of his Dalí sculptures to Pope John Paul II, but he is identified only as “an Italian art dealer and president of the Stratton Foundation.”
The lack of precise information may be one reason the auction market for late Dalí sculptures is so chaotic. On Artprice.com, ARTnews surveyed hundreds of auction results and catalogues dating back to the ’90s. Prices were all over the map, catalogue descriptions were almost always incomplete, and many pieces failed to sell (the buy-in rate was nearly 50 percent last year, according to Artprice.com). A July 3, 2008, Sotheby’s auction in Paris was typical. The sale catalogue devoted an entire page to The Anthropomorphic Cabinet, describing it as a Dalí sculpture “conceived in 1982,” carrying the number 198/330 and the mark of Barcelona’s Mibrosa Foundry.
Nowhere is it noted that the publisher is Bromander’s Swedish gallery, that Bromander commissioned the foundry to produce the sculpture, that the sculpture may have been cast in the last few years, or that it continues to be produced. Estimated at $15,800 to $23,600, the work failed to sell. However, number 190 in the same edition of 330 sold for $17,616 at Sotheby’s in Paris last December.
Bromander sells the sculpture in the 62-centimeter (approximately 24-inch) size for €26,500, plus 20 percent value-added tax, for a total of about $43,000. He says he bought rights to the sculpture in 1988, six months before Dalí’s death, from a friend of the artist’s, Klaus Cotta, a Zurich-based financier and collector who has since died. Bromander admits that he can’t be absolutely certain of the validity of the contract because “it was signed by a very old and sick man who I never met,” but he believes that Dalí worked on the maquette and that it is one of the artist’s best sculptures.
Cotta, however, had a colorful history. According to the 1992 book The Great Dalí Art Fraud and Other Deceptions, by Lee Catterall, Cotta signed a contract in 1981 with Gala and John Peter Moore (yet another of Dalí’s business managers) to acquire 3,500 sheets of blank paper signed by the artist. That same year Cotta was stopped by Spanish police for allegedly trying to smuggle 1,085 contraband Dalí prints into Spain.
Auction catalogues and the Descharnes book gloss over the numerous other knotty issues in the Dalí sculpture market. Take, for example, Surrealist Angel and Cubist Angel. Three editions of each sculpture produced by Qu Art are listed in the Descharnes book, and there is a note indicating that “another series of multiples exists from another [publisher].” The unnamed publisher, Descharnes confirms, is Rudolf Rom, former partner of Qu Art’s Heinz, with whom Heinz says he broke off relations 20 years ago, and Peter Frauenfeld, a German notary based near Heidelberg, who oversaw editions of the sculptures produced by Rom in the ’80s and issued certificates of authenticity for them.
Both Heinz and Nicolas Descharnes say Robert Descharnes, as head of Demart NV, canceled Rom’s contracts to make Dalí sculptures (in 1991, Heinz says), because Rom made versions of Cubist Angel and Surrealist Angel more than 2 meters (78 inches) tall, as well as the small versions authorized by his contract in editions of 1,500 in bronze and 950 in crystal. Demart contended that the large versions were bigger than allowed, and a German court agreed, ordering Rom to stop producing and selling the large versions, Sevillano says. Demart then issued new contracts giving Heinz the right to produce the two sculptures. The foundation later acknowledged the validity of those contracts and continues to back Heinz’s right to produce the sculptures.
Ernst Schoeller, the lead detective in the current German police investigation, won’t divulge details of his inquiry, but Heinz says that both he and the foundation complained to German police that someone was trying to sell the large versions of the sculptures on the open market. Heinz, who makes his own large versions of the two Angels in editions of 12, terms those sculptures “fakes.” He calls Rom a “puppet” and charges that Frauenfeld is responsible. (Rom failed to respond to a list of questions in time for this article.)
Frauenfeld tells a very different story. In e-mails to ARTnews, he contends that both versions of the Rom sculptures were permissible under Rom’s contracts with Dalí and claims that the legal dispute was never fully resolved in German courts. He acknowledges that investors in a company originally set up with Heinz’s accord have sold some of the large versions of the sculptures in recent years. But he says the molds for all the sculptures have been destroyed and dismisses Schoeller’s investigation as “absurd.”
It is the new versions of the sculptures Heinz produces that are invalid, Frauenfeld says, terming them “crude forgeries” that “in no way corresponded to Dalí’s desires.” In contrast to María José Rom’s account (and what Levi says about Birdman), he asserts that Dalí took great interest in the sculptures but was mainly interested in the size and the base, which he insisted be a perfect cube. Frauenfeld questions Demart’s right to issue new contracts after Dalí’s death and claims that Heinz altered the sculptures to make them more salable—for instance, adding back a finger missing from the right hand of the Cubist Angel.
Heinz says he made the changes at the behest of Robert Descharnes. “Descharnes was Dalí’s friend and had been appointed by him,” Heinz says. “He said Dalí would have wanted them that way.”
The history of the Clot collection is equally tangled. Bofill says that for the time being he has stopped making the 22 Clot sculptures he claims the right to produce. But Obra Contemporánea, the group owned by Catalan investors, continues to market Clot sculptures, confident that its contracts are valid. Artola says that Obra Contemporánea had the accounting firm Arthur Andersen and its Spanish arm, Garrigues & Andersen, perform an extensive audit of the Clot sculptures before buying the rights to 22 of them in 1998. It also got Descharnes to authenticate the sculptures and asked the foundation if there were any problems with them. She says that these inquiries confirmed the Clot works as the only ones among the late sculptures “made by Dalí’s own hands” and established a clear line of ownership. “We got all the original documents, edition books, contracts, and molds,” she says. “As far as I know, Quirós has no claim” to the sculptures.
However, Quirós and Robert and Nicolas Descharnes now agree that there are actually 53 Clot sculptures, not the 44 that Obra and Bofill divvied up. (The French version of the Descharnes book listed 44, but the number illustrated was raised when the English version came out a year later, Nicolas says.) Sevillano says the foundation wasn’t genuinely consulted by Obra Contemporánea and might have warned of problems with the Clot sculptures if it had been. The foundation has since stayed out of the dispute while privately urging the parties to settle their differences in court.
Quirós, 74, claims that when he bought half the rights to the Clot collection, in June 1975, he was backed by the late Pedro Masaveu, an important Spanish collector, and that they gave Clot an initial payment of 130 million pesetas, more than $2 million at the time. Quirós showed ARTnews copies of the contract as well as an affidavit signed by Clot’s son-in-law Joaquín González Manzanares affirming that the contract is legitimate. At the time, only nine sculptures had been created, and Quirós says it was Masaveu who paid Dalí the 2 million pesetas for each additional maquette he produced, until 1978, when Clot and Masaveu had a falling-out and the total stood at 53.
Quirós says he handled all the transactions, and describes handing over suitcases full of cash to Dalí, who, he says, would pat the bills, grunt his approval, and then call for someone to take the money away, without counting it. Quirós says that he and Masaveu parted ways amicably in the early ’80s, when the collector’s health was declining, and that as part of their settlement Quirós kept all their shared rights to the Dalí sculptures, which at the time were not being produced and did not appear to be very lucrative. He confirms Pérez’s story that Andrés Campos, who is separated from Clot’s daughter Carmen, wrested control of the family business from his father-in-law before Clot died of cancer, in 1991, and that Pérez was left nearly destitute.
That, however, is far from the last of the complications in this saga. Quirós says that in the ’80s, before Campos’s resale of the rights to Bofill and Obra Contemporánea, he and Clot ceded to Sabater 100 percent of the rights to the Dalí sculptures in four countries, all tax havens at the time: Andorra, Monaco, Switzerland, and Uruguay.
Both Quirós and Sabater say Quirós later bought back these rights, which they both contend not only allow him to produce the Clot sculptures in those countries but to sell them anywhere in the world. Quirós says he is now producing monumental versions of Clot sculptures, more than 12 feet tall, in editions of eight. He says he has already sold 22 of them, at €1 million ($1.35 million) apiece, but he won’t say whom he sold them to—only that some of them went to Turkey.
The other major complication in the story is that in the early ’80s Isidro Clot resold rights to produce the sculptures in the United States. Paul Zueger, owner of American Design, an Aurora, Colorado, company that owns a number of art galleries, says that he owns the right to produce two of the Clot sculptures: Christ of Saint John of the Cross (which Obra Contemporánea also produces) and Trajan (which is in Bofill’s portfolio, according to the Descharnes book). Zueger says he bought the rights from James Raemisch, a wealthy Madison, Wisconsin, farm-implement dealer, who had purchased them from Clot. Raemisch declined to be interviewed.
Zueger, who says he often dealt directly with Clot, provided ARTnews with copies of his contract with Raemisch, a document that appears to be Clot’s original contract with Dalí, and a scan of a plastic identity-card-like certificate of authenticity similar to the ones Clot issued in Spain. Zueger says Clot wanted a card to be issued with each sculpture. The cards bear the name and logo of Exmundart, Clot’s company, as well as an identifying number and series number for each sculpture.
Zueger says he is now producing only one of the sculptures, Christ of Saint John of the Cross, and sells only a few annually. He says he had a chance to make a big sale last year when an agent approached him about buying 200 pieces to be sold in cruise-ship auctions, but adds that the deal fell through because “they ended up buying from some cut-rate company they won’t tell me the name of” that undercut Zueger’s $2,200 price for each sculpture by $400. Zueger says he may take the other company to court if he can figure out its identity.
Artola says Obra Contemporánea knew before buying into the Clot sculptures that some U.S. rights had been sold but was told the editions had all been fully produced. Robert Descharnes says he is unaware of any U.S. rights to the sculptures having been sold.
Other U.S. deals may have been cut, though by whom is unclear. For instance, America Art Gallery also sells a version of Christ of Saint John of the Cross. And a Burbank, California, foundry called Andevan Bronzeworks is producing Time in the 4th Dimension, a melting-clock sculpture similar to the one America Art Gallery markets online, and selling it for $2,985.
Andevan’s owner, Ian Killips, a Harvard M.B.A. who bought the foundry, formerly known as the Sun Foundry, several years ago, says the previous owner had purchased contracts from Descharnes to produce the melting clock and several other Dalí pieces. Killips admits, however, that he never saw a copy of the contract for the sculpture, and he refused to provide ARTnews with copies of the contracts he says he does have.
Killips says he’s planning to drop the Dalí sculpture anyway, partly because it doesn’t sell very well; he says his company has only produced 20 copies or so of the melting-clock sculpture. When reminded that Andevan’s Web site at the time showed an example of the sculpture with the number 124/500 stamped on it, Killips responded that “they aren’t necessarily numbered sequentially.” Robert Descharnes says he has never heard of the Sun Foundry and denies ever selling it rights.
Despite all the problems, Dalí’s late sculptures have been gaining legitimacy with some museums. Prominent curators in the United States and Europe are only generally aware of the existence of many of the sculptures and tend to rank them far below the Surrealist objects Dalí created in the ’30s. None of the late sculptures was included in the major retrospective of 2004–5 at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Less established institutions, however, take a different view. Florida’s R&R Bond Gallery sold 42 Dalí sculptures to the Museo Soumaya, the Mexico City museum owned by billionaire Carlos Slim. The museum won’t disclose the price but says that 38 of the pieces came from the Levis, half of them small in size and half in the larger “museum” scale. “It’s very important to start working on the Dalí sculptures,” says Alfonso Miranda, the Soumaya’s director, who notes that the museum also has a large collection of posthumously cast Rodins. “It’s an important part of Dalí that hasn’t been explored.”
Indeed it is. The Dalí sculpture publishers are fond of noting that there has been continued posthumous production of sculptures by other artists, from Rodin and Degas to César and Arman. But no one can point to such a huge posthumous production by an artist of Dalí’s stature, particularly an artist who wasn’t known during his lifetime as a sculptor.
For now, the sculptures are adding to the pall already cast over the artist’s reputation by the numerous scandals involving Dalí prints.
Thane Peterson is a writer based in rural Pennsylvania. Additional reporting by George Stolz, Madrid correspondent for ARTnews.