Victims of alleged Morrisseau art fraud include Westerkirk Capital billionaire Sherry Brydson
A company run by one of the wealthiest women in Canada and the chief executive of a large property management firm are among the alleged victims of what police have called the biggest case of art fraud in history.
Police in Ontario charged eight people earlier this month with churning out thousands of forged Norval Morrisseau paintings worth tens of millions of dollars – works that ended up hanging in galleries and the homes of unsuspecting collectors. The individuals were part of three separate fraud rings, according to detectives, the earliest of which started operating in 1996.
Court records filed in Thunder Bay show that Westerkirk Capital Inc. is among those allegedly defrauded. The sole director of Westerkirk is Sherry Brydson, whose net worth has been estimated at more than US$14-billion by Bloomberg. Ms. Brydson is the granddaughter of Roy Thomson and a shareholder in Woodbridge Co. Ltd., the controlling shareholder of Thomson Reuters Corp. Woodbridge is also the owner of The Globe and Mail.
“Norval Morrisseau is one of Canada’s most significant and celebrated artists, and we are grateful that both he and his work have been globally recognized as such,” said Neil Sweeney, vice-president of corporate affairs at Westerkirk. He declined to comment further, citing the criminal case.
A deep passion for art runs in Ms. Brydson’s family. Her uncle, Kenneth Thomson, amassed a sizable collection during his lifetime and donated more than 3,000 pieces of Canadian and European art valued at roughly $300-million to the Art Gallery of Ontario in 2002.
Ms. Brydson, through Westerkirk, has been a collector of Morrisseau paintings for years. “I was first introduced to Norval Morrisseau’s work at Expo 67 in Montreal, where his mural on the Indians of Canada Pavilion, stunning in its colours, subject matter, style and emotion, caught my attention and captured my heart,” she wrote in a book featuring Morrisseau paintings published by Westerkirk in 2012. “I believe Norval Morrisseau has a message that he communicates through his paintings. He intended to share the stories and teachings of his people, whilst inspiring awe and respect for the natural world.”
Morrisseau, an Ojibwe artist, became one of the most renowned painters in Canada during his lifetime. He pioneered a new style of art that became known as the Woodland School, recognized for its vibrant colours, thick black lines, spiritual themes and X-ray-like renderings of people and animals. His career took off in 1962 after an exhibition at a Toronto gallery. He died in 2007 of complications related to Parkinson’s disease, leaving behind a large body of work.
Ms. Brydson staged a show of Morrisseau paintings in 2010 at a spa she owns in downtown Toronto, and has lent parts of her collection to other institutions such as the MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina, which put on a months-long exhibition that ended last year.
The court documents do not provide any details about how Westerkirk was allegedly defrauded or came to be in possession of forged paintings.
Police have charged David Voss, 51, with defrauding Westerkirk of an amount exceeding $5,000, according to court documents. (A message left at a phone number for Mr. Voss was not returned.) He’s one of the eight individuals accused of peddling forgeries after a two-and-a-half-year investigation by the Ontario Provincial Police and the Thunder Bay Police Service. Forty charges have been laid in total, and police estimate the fraud rings could have produced as many as 6,000 forgeries. The RCMP conducted an investigation in the 2000s, but no charges were laid.
Mr. Voss was a prodigious dealer of Morrisseau’s work, and sold many paintings to an auction house in Port Hope, Ont. Randy Potter, the auctioneer, recalled to Maclean’s magazine in 2018 that Mr. Voss pulled into the parking lot one day with a trunk full of Morrisseau paintings. Mr. Potter had never heard of Norval Morrisseau at the time and didn’t ask many questions about where the artworks came from. “I guess I never really cared,” he said. He estimated that he sold around 2,000 paintings supplied by Mr. Voss until he shut down the auction house in 2009. Mr. Potter died in 2018.
One painting purportedly sold by Mr. Voss was called Spirit Energy of Mother Earth, which was later purchased in 2005 by Barenaked Ladies member Kevin Hearn from a gallery in Toronto. A few years after the sale, Mr. Hearn came to believe the painting was a forgery and sued the gallery owner. The case went to trial starting in 2017, and brought to light a wealth of evidence about an alleged forgery operation in Thunder Bay run by Gary Lamont.
One Indigenous painter submitted an affidavit stating that Mr. Lamont commissioned art from him, but told him not to sign any of the works. He later learned that someone else had signed Norval Morrisseau’s name on the canvases before they were sold. Another Indigenous man testified that he worked for Mr. Lamont and witnessed Benjamin Morrisseau, a nephew of the famous artist, paint works in the Woodland style and then sign Norval Morrisseau’s name. Mr. Voss, according to witness testimony, was a customer.
Police have charged Mr. Lamont with multiple counts of fraud, while Benjamin Morrisseau faces charges of forgery and participating in a criminal organization. In a 2019 documentary about forgeries, There Are No Fakes, Mr. Morrisseau told the filmmakers that he had never forged his uncle’s work, saying it would be a “bad omen on my spirit.”
According to court documents, Mr. Hearn is also among those allegedly defrauded by Mr. Voss. The painting at the heart of his lawsuit, Spirit Energy of Mother Earth, was on display at the police news conference in March announcing the charges.
“I just want to express gratitude to everyone over the years who’s stood up for the truth of this and tried to do the right thing,” Mr. Hearn said, adding that he feels for the many people who have been duped by alleged forgeries. “There are a lot of people who never got closure from this.”
Mr. Lamont, meanwhile, is accused of defrauding Brent Merrill, the president and chief executive officer of MetCap Living Inc., a large residential property manager based in Toronto that oversees about 350 apartment buildings in Canada. He is also the owner of a Toronto art gallery called Gallery 260, which has dealt in Morrisseau paintings over the years. Mr. Merrill did not respond to interview requests.
The eight accused are scheduled to appear in court in Thunder Bay and Bradford, Ont., later this month.
Art collector Myriam Ullens killed outside her home in Belgium, allegedly by her stepson – Art Newspaper
Myriam Ullens, a major collector who, with her husband Guy Ullens, supported and championed Chinese contemporary art, was killed outside the couple’s home in the village of Ohain south of Brussels today (29 March) according to multiple reports in the Belgian press. She was 70 years old. The reports claim she was shot by her stepson Nicolas Ullens, who has been detained by police. Her husband, Guy, reportedly survived the incident.
Myriam and Guy were in their car outside their home around 10am when Nicolas fired on his stepmother, who died at the scene, according to La Libre. Myriam and Nicolas had been in a protracted dispute over issues of inheritance, according to multiple reports.
Myriam and Guy Ullens, who married in 1999, have been important and influential art collectors for decades. They started out collecting classical Chinese scroll paintings, but eventually shifted their attention to contemporary art. In 2007, they opened the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing—considered at the time to be the first contemporary art museum in China—which showed works from their collection of more than 2,000 works. In 2017 they sold the museum, renamed the UCCA Center for Contemporary Art, to a group of investors; they continued and broadened their collecting activities under the banner of the Swiss-based Fondation Guy & Myriam Ullens.
In 2004 Myriam, who went by Mimi and was a cancer survivor, founded the Mimi Foundation to create centres within hospitals to provide physical and mental therapy for patients undergoing cancer treatment. In 2013 she co-organised an exhibition and benefit auction during Frieze Week in London to support the Mimi Foundation.
“If many of the artists in this project are Chinese that is because of our long and close relationship with them. This is just the tip of our iceberg—that we are continuing to follow and collect intensively with the new generation,” Myriam told Ocula at the time. “A collection is like a living breathing body. It evolves in an organic manner.”
Myriam was born in Cologne, Germany. Following early success in the food industry, she married Guy, a Belgian businessman and baron, and devoted herself to fashion (launching the brand Maison-Ullens) and philanthropy. The couple’s charitable activities also included opening the Ullens School, an educational facility in Nepal.
Nicolas Ullens, a former Belgian state security agent, is one of four children Guy had with his first wife, Micheline Franckx.
The Ullenses’ foundation did not immediately respond to a request for further information.
Major Collector and Chinese Art Patron Myriam Ullens Has Been Shot Dead Outside Her Home in Belgium – artnet News
Myriam Ullens de Schooten, a preeminent collector and well-known figure in the art world, was shot dead yesterday in front of the house she shared with her husband, Baron Guy Ullens de Schooten. Both are major collectors of Chinese art and respected in the art world as the founders of UCCA in Beijing, China.
The murder occurred at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, March 29. Local media have reported that Ullens suffered four bullets to the head, and had died by the time emergency services arrived to the family home in the Belgian village of Ohain. The stepson of the 70-year-old German baroness is reportedly a prime suspect.
The 50-year-old Nicolas Ullens de Schooten, a former state security agent and one of four children, is suspected of shooting his stepmother while she was in a car with his father, who survived the attack. He has been taken into custody for questioning. According to some Belgian reports, the victim and suspect were in an open dispute over an inheritance issue. Local authorities did not immediately respond to Artnet News’s request for further information.
“The vision and passion of Myriam Ullens—her love for art, belief in cultural exchange, and commitment to helping others—are at the core of UCCA’s history and values,” said Philip Tinari, UCCA’s director, in a statement shared on social media. “We are shocked and saddened by her death, and will remember her strength, style, creativity, and generosity as we carry forward the work of the institution that she and Guy so generously founded and nurtured through its first decade.”
Born in Cologne in 1952, Myriam, known to friends as “Mimi” Ullens was an active philanthropist, who initiated an education program and school in Nepal. A cancer survivor, Ullens also launched The Mimi Foundation, which was active in cancer wards at eight hospitals in Belgium, France, and Switzerland, providing support to patients going through treatment.
Myriam and Guy Ullens married in 1999 and built out an evolving collection focused on art from China, beginning at first with classical Chinese scroll painting before focusing on contemporary art from China. Their “universal” collection, as it is described on their foundation’s website, includes works by prominent Chinese artists including Huang Yong Ping, Wang Jianwei, Xu Zhen, together with Western art stars like Rashid Johnson, Sterling Ruby, and Tracey Emin; another area of focus in their collection was digital art.
They opened the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in 2007 to exhibit their collection that numbers around 2,000 artworks; the institution was one of the first of its kind in China. In 2017, the couple sold the museum to a group of patrons and shareholders and it was renamed the UCCA Center for Contemporary Art. They continued to be involved and served on the foundation council, while actively collecting via their Fondation Guy & Myriam Ullens, based in Switzerland. Myriam was also actively involved in luxury brand Maison Ullens, which she founded in 2011. The family is of Belgian nobility; Guy Ullens is a philanthropist as well as a financial services company executive who has been collecting art since the 1960s.
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Banksy artwork Brace Yourself! sells for over $2m at auction in US – The Guardian
The Banksy artwork Brace Yourself! has sold for $2,032,000 (£1.6m), more than three times its original estimate, during an auction featuring a performance from the band that inspired the piece.
The anonymous artist created the work in 2010 for the British band then known as Exit Through the Gift Shop, who shared the same name he wanted to use for his 2010 documentary film.
To avoid copyright issues, the group agreed to Banksy’s offer to create a painting for them on the condition they changed their name.
The artwork, a large-scale painting of a grim reaper figure riding in a carnival bumper car, was sold to Miguel Garcia Larios, the owner of Rcnstrct Studio in Hollywood, during an event hosted by Julien’s Auctions in Beverly Hills.
Its original estimate was $600,000 and the sale was preceded by a live performance by Brace Yourself!, fronted by the singer Natalie Zalewska.
Zalewska previously said the sale was about preserving the artwork as a “piece of history”.
The Exit Through the Gift Shop documentary tells the story of Thierry Guetta, a Los Angeles-based Frenchman who videotapes underground art escapades and later finds fame with the moniker Mr Brainwash.
A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the artwork will go to the music charity MusiCares, which provides health, financial and rehabilitation support to people working in the sector.
Also featured in the auction was an original print of Banksy’s Girl With Balloon, which sold for $195,000, and more than 70 artworks from famous names such as the painter Bob Ross, the actor Jim Carrey and the Jane’s Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro.
In early March, Brace Yourself! was displayed in the window of the Hard Rock Cafe in Piccadilly Circus, London.
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