Jul 08 2021

German Socialite Guilty of Fraudulent Kusama Sale

by Gabrielle Tse

Portrait of ANGELA GULBENKIAN. Image via Instagram.

On July 2, German art dealer and socialite Angela Gulbenkian pled guilty to the fraudulent sale of Yellow Pumpkin (2012), one of Yayoi Kusama’s famed fiberglass pumpkin sculptures. The buyer, Hong Kong-based art advisor Mathieu Ticolat, paid USD 1.38 million for the sculpture in 2017 but never received the piece. In February 2020, Gulbenkian failed to show up at the scheduled hearing of the case in a London court, and was tracked down four months later in Lisbon. She was promptly extradited to the United Kingdom for the court hearings. Gulbenkian’s sentencing is now scheduled for July 28.

In 2017, Gulbenkian duped Ticolat by claiming issues with insurance and customs, and the original owner’s reluctance to release Yellow Pumpkin, among other reasons for her inability to ship the sculpture. She even threatened to stop correspondence with him if he continued to “bother” her with questions about the sculpture’s whereabouts, according to a report in Town and Country Magazine. In 2018, on behalf of Ticolat, Art Recovery International founder Chris Marinello filed criminal complaints against Gulbenkian in the UK and Hong Kong, and a civil suit in Germany. Gulbenkian and Ticolat had previously settled a civil case. However, the agreed-upon payment was allegedly never paid by Gulbenkian.

This is not the only charge that Gulbenkian is facing. In a separate but similar case, she fraudulently sold Andy Warhol’s print Queen Elizabeth II (1985) to an anonymous London-based art dealer for USD 151,000 in 2019. The dealer only discovered Gulbenkian was not authorized to sell the portrait after the real owner demanded return of the piece, which was already resold to others. Gulbenkian is also guilty of the theft of USD 69,000 from her client Jacqui Ball in 2019.

Born Angela Maria Ischwang, the Munich native married a distant relative of the late Calouste Gulbenkian, who was an Armenian oil magnate, art collector, and the founder of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. Angela Gulbenkian allegedly leveraged her surname to gain footing in the art market, using a Gulbenkian Foundation email handle in her transactions. The Gulbenkian Foundation has distanced itself from the dealer, with a spokesperson telling Bloomberg that Angela Gulbenkian “does not have any relation whatsoever with the foundation.”

Gabrielle Tse is an editorial intern at ArtAsiaPacific.

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