Archive for the 'Stories' Category

A Caravaggio in the Attic



Finding a long lost treasure is headline material. Should the trove be a multi-million dollar painting by a master, it generates additional press coverage and ratings. A version of Judith Beheading Holofernes discovered in a Toulouse attic is being attributed to Caravaggio.

il mistero del Caravaggio ritrovato in soffitta (La Repubblica) click

Caravaggio Masterpice (ArtInfo) click

“Lost Caravaggio Causes a Rift” (The Guardian) click

Let’s compare the Toulouse candidate to the Galleria Nazionale d’arte antica, Palazzo Barberini Judith Beheading and notice some interesting details. The Roman piece was a product of Caravaggio’s stay at the Palazzo Madama working for Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte.

Roman Judith Beheading Holofernes, c. 1598-1599, Galleria Nazionale d'arte antica. Painted for Cardinale del Monte.

Judith Beheading Holofernes, c. 1598-1599, Galleria Nazionale d’arte antica. Painted for Cardinale del Monte.

Let us now look at the Toulouse candidate:

Toulouse Judith Slaying Holofernes

Toulouse Judith Slaying Holofernes / Charles Platiau, Reuters

Let us compare the Holofernes on the Toulouse candidate and the Barberini Judith Beheading.

Comparison of Holofernes

Comparison of Holofernes. The Toulouse candidate is on the left, the Barberini Judith Beheading is on the right.

Are we in the presence of the same painter? Would this be Caravaggio?


Catherine Puglisi in her 1998 Caravaggio monograph (Phaidon) states “choosing a distinct moment in the narrative, Caravaggio boldly represented Judith slicing Holofernes’s neck with his sword. This choice of the climax must have challenged him to consider the question of exactly how a woman decapitated a strong man and to reconstruct the physical as well as the emotional experience (page 69).” In the Barberini piece, Puglisi notices “Caravaggio’s skillful command of expression… Judith’s face presents the most  impressive study in expression. A few lines disturb her smooth brow, dark shadows partially obscure her eyes fixed on Holofernes, and her lips are slightly parted. That she is deeply troubled and even repelled by this act is heightened by the arc traced by her body, curving back from her victim at the shoulders at the legs where her skirt is swept up. (page 70). ”  How dramatically consistent would it be for Judith, in the Toulouse candidate, to be slaying a strong man who fights for his life while she looks away, at the spectator? The force used to grab the Assyrian general’s hair is totally absent from the French candidate.

Caravaggio’s peripatetic lifestyle during this period (Naples, Valletta, Syracuse, Messina, Palermo, Naples) makes an identification of the models difficult, not the case with the Barberini Judith Beheading. Of the period of the Toulouse candidate, a simple look at the London’s National Gallery Salome with the Head of Saint John the Baptist and the Borghese’s David with the Head of Goliath make the French Judith Beheading more problematic. The provenance research presented just points to the existence of a second version of the Judith painted at Del Monte’s Palazzo Madama.

Moving beyond from experts’ opinions, the public has not been presented with real evidence: X-rays, brushstroke pattern, chemical analysis of the pigments (comparison is possible to paintings of the period), infrared imaging spectroscopy,  reflectography, Luminescence Imaging Spectroscopy, pentimenti to aid in the attribution process. It is often the case that iconography and poor research justify the existence of a masterpiece where there is none. Opinion often bypasses the role of serious scientific study. Art historians and the French people are owed the results of thorough scientific inquiry and the new algorithms in place to avoid speculation based on inflated scholarly egos.


Freeports and secret accounts in the art world


Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi painted for Louis XII of France between 1506-13, terribly restored and sold to Dmitry Rybolovlev by Yves Bouvier.

A Nazi-looted Modigliani was seized from the Geneva Freeport in the collection of Edmond Safra’s cousin David Nahmad. That heaven of anonymity was also the site of the “Bouvier affair,” an art world scandal involving an art handler turned dealer, a Russian oligarch, secret bank accounts, and even a Leonardo.

Yves Bouvier, “the king of the freeports,”  was arrested in Monaco in 2015 charged with fraud and money laundering. According to The Wall Street Journal, HSBC is being investigated for issuing false documentation to help the case against Bouvier. Allegations of stolen Picassos from the painter’s daughter have been questioned when payment for the pieces appeared in Lichtenstein trust.  U.S. prosecutors have opened an investigation.

Bouvier’s Pôle R4, Île Seguin (Seguin Island) is scheduled to open next year.

The New Yorker: “The Bouvier Affair” (article from February) click

Full disclosure? Department of Justice inquiry – No regulation on the art market – Bloomberg (click)

Painting looted by Nazis hidden offshore



Modigliani, Sitting Man, 1918

Le Monde and Conaissance des arts tell the story of a Modigliani sold by Christie’s and purchased by a marchand and collector cousin of Edmond SafraThe Nazis stole the work from Jewish art dealer Oscar Stettiner. The Nahmad family, alleged owners, represented to US authorities that the painting was part of the assets of IAC, an offshore company created by Mossack Fonseca. According to a Swiss paper, David Nahmad (colossal art dealer) is the sole owner of the corporation. Mr. Nahmad is himself Jewish. The family’s impressive art collection is held, according to media reports, in the Geneva Freeports, a customs-free heavily guarded facility. Swiss prosecutors raided the storage space and seized the painting.

Le Monde (click)

Conaissance des arts (click)

‘Panama Papers:” Doomed to Oblivion? A History


A Rake's Progress

Public memory is short, so is media editorial attention. With the release of the “Panama Papers,” Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson resigned.  In a world of impunity for the powerful, he will possibly remain the sole sacrificial lamb.  Britain’s conservative Prime Minister David Cameron finally admitted to a beneficial interest in his father’s offshore investment trust. Figures implicated in the Mossack Fonseca leak include a Spanish Infanta (another princess is being tried for corruption and hiding assets). The list of the notorious includes Vladimir Putin, Ukrainian President Petro Proshenko, the Qatari, Moroccan and the Saudi royal families, the Chinese Communist Party leadership and Venezuelan Chavista apparatchiks.

The revelations should come as no surprise. Italian journalist Roberto Saviano has recently published ZeroZeroZero detailing the operations and political tentacles of drug cartels and the Russian mafia. Money laundering through offshore accounts is their vehicle to power, political connections and luxury.

Hervé Falciani with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists made public extensive information about HSBC Geneva . The bank held over 181 billion € for close to 100, 000 individual depositors and 20, 000 offshore companies. Clients included Wellington Florida resident and former Chavista Alejandro Andrade, billionaire Alfred Taubman, Argentine socialite collector Amalita de Fortabat*, actor Christian Slater, designer Diane von Fürstenberg, among others. Socialist Venezuela ranked third among countries with the largest dollar amounts, the United States fourth with $13.4 billion (USD).

In a story that has gone cold, senior management of Banca Privada d’Andorra was arrested, the bank taken over after the US Treasury revealed that it was a “primary money laundering concern” for the Russian mafia, Chinese shady operators and Venezuelan corrupt officials. Matters became complicated when it was revealed that BPA had acquired Banco Madrid, a private bank in the Spanish capital. The country’s central bank took control of the entity. The United States had expressed concern over suspect operations and correspondent relationships with HSBC, Citigroup, Bank of America and Deutsche Bank. The results of the investigations were never released to the press. The identities of those involved remain a secret.

In 2012, Assistant Attorney General (a Clinton family friend, “FOB”) Lanny Breuer offered HSBC a sweet settlement deal after the British bank admitted to violating financial regulations, criminal law and federal statutes when laundering billions of dollars for Mexican and Colombian drug cartels. According to a Rolling Stone story, none of the bank officials were criminally prosecuted, their punishment: “deferred compensation bonus.” HSBC was recently sued by American victims of violent crime from drug cartel activity.

A “60 Minutes” segment aired on January 31, 2016 showed American lawyers’ inclination (including top-notch New York legal firms) to set up staggered corporate structures shell companies with offshore origins. They would be designed to invest funds in Manhattan real estate, yachts, airplanes and items of conspicuous consumption.

McClatchy Miami Herald investigators reveal that Mossack Fonseca retained the services of a Miami representative. Not without irony, Olga Santini worked out of a “Miami Vice”-featured Brickell apartment. The city’s luxury real estate market is awash with stories of corrupt Brazilians, Italian gangsters, Venezuelans and other colorful Latin Americans buying multi-million-dollar properties.  Interestingly, the paper has not revealed any Russian name from the resident Sunny Isles and Aventura plutocracy. Area politicians have objected to a FinCEN geographic investigation of high-value real estate transactions. Waterfront apartments on Brickell, downtown Miami, Miami Beach, Surfside, Aventura, Bal Harbour and Sunny Isles are all in the seven figure range.

With Espirito Santo Bank, Miami was the setting for another international banking and money laundering scandal. The parent company in Lisbon was taken over by the government, investigated, its CEO detained on suspicion of fraud, mismanagement and irregularities. The conglomerate was audited for evidence of money laundering. The empire included a diamond mine in Angola, Miami luxury condos and a Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF) office and hotel (Conrad) skyscraper on Brickell Avenue. The tower was quietly sold for $142 million. The sale took place after Santo Espirito Bank had been sued for fraud and aiding and abetting money laundering. In February 2014, SSB agreed to a consent order with the FDIC regarding bank secrecy and anti-money laundering requirements. According to The Wall Street Journal, as recently as December 2014, New York prosecutors and a federal grand jury sought to ascertain if the Miami subsidiary had been used by a Venezuelan businessman to launder money and transfer large sums to the Cayman Islands and Switzerland. In July, 2015, Ricardo Espirito Santo Salgado, head of the empire, was placed under house arrest in Lisbon. In a surprise move announced in May of last year, a Venezuelan group headed by Salomón Benacerraf (owner of newspaper Diario Las Américas)  and the Cohen family of the Sambil Group (shopping centers in Curaçao, Dominican Republic and Spain) purchased Espirito Santo Bank Miami for $10 million. It is has been rebranded as Brickell Bank.

Miami banking authorities and regulators are now looking at increased activity in bearer bonds from non-citizens and account-holders from non-resident corporate entities. It is often that offshores seek the anonymity of Delaware corporations to allow them entry into the United States.

Only The Guardian has reported on a common practice by offshore companies for portfolio diversification: art purchases. The British paper tells the story of currency trader, John Lewis, a former George Soros partner, who purchased the Ganz collection and using Christie’s changed the course of art world economics, the history of the auction house and the investment in visual arts as a high-value high-return asset for offshore agents. The ease with which art sales can take place, relatively unsupervised, to international companies – especially at the gallery level or within the context of international art fairs – makes this an ideal venture instrument, easy to transport, easy to hide and with a fast turnaround possibility as long as the provenance is legitimate and the piece is certified by a recognized expert. The very galleries or auction houses that sell the pieces to an offshore corporation have no problems encouraging museums to showcase the works in special exhibits (further enhancing the value of the asset) if in the collection of a corporate owner. This affords anonymity and legitimacy.

The “Panama papers” are evidence of a sense of entitlement and assured impunity. Socioeconomic status confers privileges on a ruling oligarchy. Politicians, sports figures, hedge fund billionaires, royalty, entertainers, powerful investors and bankers are actors in a global economy and a transnational financial system. It assures them profit and permanence. Laws and financial regulations are flexible and accommodating to hegemony. The major players in the system, multinational corporations and international financial institutions have evolved into a “transnational historic bloc” that exercises global power by controlling even the information released to the public through the media they control and the way justice is administered. Economic and financial structures respond to political patronage. With financial and power concentration in fewer hands, instances like the “Panama Papers” will provide short-term  entertainment but no real pressure for transparency and accountability.

The world financial system’s fragility was tested by fraudulently rated mixed mortgage-backed instruments. No systematic investigation and prosecution of culprits ensued from our Justice Department. Is one to expect any difference this time?


  • Pictures of the author with the late Amalita de Fortabat, Dolores Smithies and Mrs. Javier Pérez de Cuéllar were published in the New York media. No more than a social acquaintance brought the author together with Mrs. Lacroze de Fortabat, introduced by his friend Cuban-American socialite, collector and Sotheby’s employee Dolores Smithies.

O Ceremony, Show Me But Thy Worth


Daniel Boulud Arrives in Miami


It is daring for Daniel Boulud to tread in Miami’s shifting sand. The city is known as the capital of cosmetic and social surgery. The celebrated and much-lauded creative genius behind Daniel’s, the Park Avenue gourmet temple, opened an affordable DB Bistro Moderne in downtown Miami’s JW Marriott Marquis.

A bistro it is not. Sweeping vistas of downtown Miami, a Fornasetti obelisk, private dining rooms, etched paper wallcovering in a rich peach color create a sleek metropolitan atmosphere. The setting offers a marked contrast to the warm and nurturing Gallic fair. The high ceilings, elegant and majestic, would work with less barbaric demographics where people refrain from talking 70 deafening decibels above normal.

The Bistro Moderne opened in November but Georgette Farkas, a glamorous and gracious hostess, decided to wait for the place to be running like clockwork before extending a kind invitation. She brought along a German wine and food expert. He lived in Barcelona and Madrid and is thoroughly familiar with Ferran Adrià’s El Bulli (actually started by German Dr Hans Schilling under French chef Jean-Louis Neichel). We also talked about the Italian pride in cucina artigionale. A Miami realtor was also there. Georgette had arranged for “Big Papa,” Daniel Boulud, to come over and chat. By birth a lyonnais, he is, therefore, down to earth, direct, and charmingly earthy.

Many of the items on the menu change in and out depending on the season and customer reaction. The famous DB Burger is of course a staple. The Tomato Tarte Tatin is a specialty of the house. Jarrod Verbiak, of Slovak and Hungarian background, is the Executive Chef. My chestnut orechiette (venison ragout) had a “foresty”, not “gamy” flavor. Absent was any trace of fibrous texture. The parmesan touch proved surprisingly consistent.

John Mayfield, the sommelier, uncorked a great S. Abin (Pierre Yves Colin Merey) to get us started followed by an unremarkable Chilean Monte Alpha for my venison. He treated us to a great Languedoc, Zumbai Tomasi, for my boeuf borguignon which spoke of French heartiness and subtlety. My choice for main course melted with its delicate texture, enhanced by the flavor of black truffle vinaigrette. I chose to accompany it with super green spinach and pomme frites.

The dessert creations envisioned by Jerome Maure vary from the French traditional to the South Florida creative. I opted for a Coup d’emperatrice, a coconut rice pudding on key lime and mango. DB Bistro Moderne Miami, consistent with its location, offers a number of variations on the theme of dulce de leche (Coup dulce de leche).

There is historically a great affinity in France for Tokaji (Tokaj). Louis XIV was given a bottle by Francis Rákóczi II, Prince of Transylvania, and it was served at Versailles. When Louis XV offered a glass to Mme. De Pompadour, he referred to the libation as “Vinum Regum, Rex Vinorum.” We, of lesser rank, were offered two types: Oremus and, of longer fermentation, Disznoko Aszu 5 Puttonyos, a veritable classic. Mayfield set us on a change of pace from ports, Calvados XO (DB Bistro Moderne owns a Menorval XO) a good Armagnac VSOP, or a cognac like the Jean Grosperrin XO that Boulud keeps with pride in Miami.

There is a Miami zoological male specimen prone to wear shirts embroidered with lace and other materials over jeans appliquéd with shiny beading. They are as loud as their minimally dressed and heavily produced female companions. Some have, amazingly, found their way to DB Bistro Moderne and their howls, yowls, oinks, and gibbers make civilized conversation impossible. The general manager, meets polite folk, the city’s faux, Latina hyenas, Miami Housewives, and city royalty like the Estefans feel welcome and special.

Of the Boulud brands, the Miami Bistro Moderne is the more appropriate business decision to introduce a city in tune with frijoles negros, ceviche and rodisio to the world of one of the masters of French haute cuisine.

Miami’s Fake Princess Now Divorced from Greenberg Traurig Partner. Real Emperor Dies in Paris


The marriage of Thi Nga Goldman (TiNa, her childhood name in Chatelet) to Miami lawyer Steven Goldman has ended. Court records indicate that the partner at Greenberg Traurig has filed for divorce.
-2011-000030-FC-04 -132011DR000030A001CH -N/A FC17 (Section, FC 17) DOM 01/03/2011.

While the divorce of the faux Imperial Highness was finalized (a Miami Beach created by Ana Remos, Selecta Magazine and the Bass Museum), the death of His Imperial Highness Crown Prince Bao Long, eldest son and heir of the late Emperor Bao Dai, last Emperor of Vietnam, titular head of the Nguyen Dynasty, was announced in Paris.

In the press release made public by the royal family, Mrs. Goldman is obviously absent:

The Imperial Order of the Dragon of Annam

HIH Crown Prince Bao Long, the eldest son and heir of of the late Emperor Bao Dai, the last monarch of Vietnam, died in Paris on 28 July 2007 at the age of 71.

Prince Nguyen-Phuc Bao Long was born at the Kien-Trung Palace in the Purple Forbidden City, Hue, on 4 January 1936, eldest son of Emperor Bao Dai by his first wife, Empress Nam Phuong. He was educated in Vietnam and France, and underwent military training at the École Militaire de St Cyr (Coëtquidan, France) and the École d’Instruction de la Cavalerie et de l’Artillerie (Saumur, France).
Appointed as Heir Apparent with the style of Dong-Cung Hoang-Thai Tu, 17th September 1938, the Prince was invested in an elaborate Mandarin ceremony at the Palace of Can-Chanh, in the Purple Forbidden City, Hue, on 7 March 1939. Granted the style of His Imperial Highness on 18 June 1945, he came of age and was confirmed as Heir Apparent on 15 June 1954. The Prince represented Vietnam at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey, in London on 2 June 1953.
The Prince was commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant in the 1st Armoured Cavalry Regiment of the French Foreign Legion on 14 July 1955, served in Algeria 1955-1958, retiring as Captain in 1958. Honorary Lieutenant Colonel of the Regiment of Musketeers, 1949; Honorary Colonel of Imperial Guard, Vietnamese Army. He received the Kim Boi medal 1st class, Grand Cordon of the National Order of Merit of Vietnam (15 June 1954), the Order of the Legion of Honour, the Cross of Military Valour with red, silver and bronze stars (1958), France’s North Africa Medal (1997) and the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal (1953).
The Prince retired from a long career in investment banking and lived quietly for most of his adult life in London and Paris. He succeeded on the death of his father as Head of the Imperial House of Vietnam and Sovereign of the Imperial Orders on 31 July 1997.

The following email is received from a friend of Thi Nga Goldman’s family who previously submitted a comment to this site:

We have met all the family in their Chatelet Vietnamese restaurant in Paris.

The person adds:
We are friends of Ung Thi family , the VN restaurant in Place Chatelet is closed now , our son Ng Khoi was working there when he was a student for Sup Aero and Space ENSAE. It’s possible that there is a confusion of Ung Thi ‘s name , from our side we are certain that our friend Ung Thi is the father of Thi Nga (her child nick name was “TiNa”).

On September 3rd he adds:
You know better than me about some aspects of Ung Thi’s family and the big royal family of Bao Dai . I think you are right about some results of your reseach , HIH is not a correct title for Thi Nga . I am sure there are only 2 HIH princesses daughters of Bao Dai and Nam Phuong: Phuong Mai and Phuong Lien (one was working in a Hong Kong bank , the other was married to the French pilot of Bao Dai and divorced later on) . I have some difficulties to find the name of Ung Thi’s restaurant. I ‘ll try again with our friend Dieu Hy, (daughter of Vinh Du , a royal cousin ) after her summer holidays in Pyrenee until 15 /09/08 . I can tell you now that Thi Nga has two sisters and two brothers. I am trying to have some news from them.

A Geography Lesson for Dick Cheney



After a speech in Dallas, a journalist inquired into Dick Cheney’s views on Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. His response: “the people of Perú deserve better… leadership.” The country begs to differ. The United States deserves better leadership. To help the Executive shape and articulate a foreign policy, our country requires a Vice President with knowledge of geography.

“We have refrained from making public pronouncements about Mr. Chávez — I think, for good and legitimate reasons. He’s a — obviously, an individual with his own agenda. And he spends a great deal of his time worrying about us and criticizing the United States…And the people of Perú (sic), I think, deserve better in their leadership.” Embarrassing! The “slip” or mistake is symptomatic of a mindset: our southern border is Finisterre, beyond it, the chaotic void of Latinalia.

A country experienced in embarrassment from the current administration, public displays of ignorance from its leadership are still not welcome. As the White House team comes to mind, Karl Rove, a senior advisor, does not have a college degree. Consistency, like world geography, is not one of Dick Cheney’s strengths. On a CSPAN interview of April 15, 1994 he stated that invading Iraq would create a quagmire… , the same quagmire faced by our troops today. The Vice President seems to forget that no weapons of mass destruction, no connections with Al-Qaeda prior to our military intervention, and no civil war existed prior to our invasion. Three thousand of our boys and girls dead and a price tag of $300 Billion in taxpayer money has been the result of his inconsistency. The administration was charged with the duty to apprehend Osama Bin Laden. Where is he? Last we heard he was coiffing his beard while in the business of making videos. The Bush/Cheney White House has failed miserably in the task and has diverted the nation’s attention chasing giants and windmills in Iraq. Allowing General Colin Powell to embarrass himself in front of the United Nations and the world, pardoning a convicted felon (former chief of staff Libbey), the Bush-Cheney episode, soon to conclude, has been one of the darkest clouds in American executive branch history.

Fourth-world tyranny and “caudillismo” are characterized by secret tortures, prisoners of war, and lack of due process. The US now maintains prisons and torture chambers in Cuban territory (Guantánamo) rivaling those of Caribbean fossil Fidel Castro. Constitutionally protected civil rights are now a whim championed by “liberals.”

Since Dick Cheney’s days as Vice President are numbered, one can safely ask without fear of a holiday stay in tropical Guantánamo: isn’t his interview on CSPAN in 1994 and his present stance not evidence of the biggest “flip-flop” in Vice Presidential history. We can afford to offer the Vice President a geography lesson. Venezuela (Hugo Chávez’s fiefdom) lies north of Perú.

Investigation Looks to Museum and Miami Beach City Hall


The Imperial Downfall of the Bass Museum
A Simulacrum of Feudal Order in a City of Delusion


The alleged princess and philanthropist Dolores Ziff

Hollywood made it to SoBe. A polychromatic elephant parade moved down Collins Avenue, the production of a princess, the Bass Museum and the City of Miami Beach. There were “Gifts of the Silk,” fifty foot dragons, and Thai dancers. A newly arrived princess from la Conchinchine married a powerful real estate lawyer… was blessed by influential philanthropists Sanford and Dolores Ziff, and, alas, received the key to the city. Thi-Nga Goldman, imperial princess of kitsch, combined Thai and Vietnamese rituals at will in elaborate social affairs with largesse of photo-ops. An impeccable website full of promises (nonexistent companies) and a complex genealogy assured the absence of Google activity or independent research. There was talk she attended a synagogue… A rabbi married her to Mr. Goldman. A fervent anti-Communist, the new Miami royal understood the plight of Cuban-Americans. The princess greeted fans riding alongside the mayor in a Jaguar convertible. Flags flew all over Miami Beach and connecting bridges: “The Jade Collection of HIH Princess Thi-Nga of Vietnam.” The Bass Museum of Art had just elected Mrs. Thi-Nga Goldman (allegedly HIH Princess Thi-Nga of Vietnam) to chair its Board of Directors. Upon taking office, the institution opened a one-owner exhibit of Mrs. Goldman’s jade collection. It was curated by Ms. Diane Camber, the museum director, without express board approval, without addressing the possibilities of appearances of impropriety or consulting existing museum policies, without provenance documentation, and without curatorial expertise in Oriental art.

DermerThiNga.jpgMayor and Thi Nga

The alleged princess and the mayor, at left receiving the Key to the City

Countless calls to Ms. Lee Ortega, the museum’s press officer, about this matter went unanswered. The Bass exhibit and the provenance of the objects were to be the subject of an article in a bilingual arts magazine. The lack of response from Ms. Ortega or Ms. Camber made it necessary to contact the State Attorney’s Office to intervene on a Sunshine Law request for documentation. The information arrived on a piecemeal basis and after countless dilatory practices. It finally became possible to examine the exhibition budget, the VIP party’s expense report, Mrs. Thi-Nga Goldman’s contribution (from her personal American Express, not her alleged foundation or company as the museum falsely declared in its press releases), and, most importantly, to read the minutes of the Board of Directors. The prevalent attitude at the Bass was that the museum— almost like a private club — owed no explanation or information to taxpayers.

I. Conflict of interest

The American Association of Museums looks askance at an institution doing a one-owner exhibit of the collection of an employee or member of the board of directors. Since they have undue influence in programming decisions and stand to gain from exhibition of their holdings, it is a blatant conflict of interest. The Bass violated §§IB and IC of the AAM Code for Borrowing Objects.

“I. Borrowing Objects
The policy will contain provisions: A. Ensuring that the museum determines that there is a clear connection between the exhibition of the object(s) and the museum’s mission, and that the inclusion of the object(s) is consistent with the intellectual integrity of the exhibition. B. Requiring the museum to examine the lender’s relationship to the institution to determine if there are potential conflicts of interest, or an appearance of a conflict, such as in cases where the lender has a formal or informal connection to museum decision making (for example, as a board member, staff member or donor). C. Including guidelines and procedures to address such conflicts or the appearance of conflicts or influence. Such guidelines and procedures may require withdrawal from the decision-making process of those with a real or perceived conflict, extra vigilance by decision-makers, disclosure of the conflict or declining the loan.” AAM GUIDELINES ON EXHIBITING BORROWED OBJECTS…

It is a well established fact that in today’s world, museums depend on collectors to borrow pieces in order to complement exhibits. Serious museums, however, avoid one-owner shows when the collection is unknown or can be supplemented by local or nearby holdings. Neighboring Lowe and Norton museums have distinguished Oriental art collections and have experts that could have made this a solid educational enterprise for the benefit of South Florida.

II. An exhibited not vetted

The jade show was never looked at by a true Asian art expert; the provenance of the pieces remain a mystery to this day. Ms. Camber proceeded without board approval to curate the exhibit on her own. Ms. Camber has no credentials as an Asian art expert. A sign, subsequently removed, informed the visitor, that an ancestor of Thi Nga (Mrs. Steven E. Goldman) had met with guillotined Louis XVI in 1812. This is shoddy curatorship. Ms. Camber does not have a Ph.D. but the fact that Louis XVI was executed in 1793 is high school information. Not only is there a conflict of interest situation at hand but also reckless actions on the part of the museum’s director. What if the collection has no aesthetic or historical merit? What about if the provenance is questionable? South Florida taxpayers have a right to know.

III. Misrepresentations to the press and public

The museum, in its website, states: “The Private Jade Collection of Her Imperial Highness Princess Thi-Nga of Vietnam will be on view at the Bass Museum of Art through April 29, 2007, and will travel nationally and internationally.”…

No curator or expert at Harvard’s Sackler Museum, the Asia Society, the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, among others, was aware of the collection, its importance, or the existence of the princess. The collection, naturally, is not traveling anywhere outside the Goldmans’ living room.

IV. A questionable owner

At that juncture the imperial identity of Cong Tang Ton Nu Thi-Nga or Thi-Nga-Cong-Tang-Ton Goldman’s (Mrs. Steven E. Goldman) became an issue. There were banners all over the city that read: “The Jade Collection of HIH Princess Thi-Nga of Vietnam.” In a VIP event at the Bass, the alleged princess received the key to the city of Miami Beach. Some experts reacted in the following manner:
“Hello, this genealogical tree is false [in Thi-Nga’s website  http://www.imperialholdingsinternational… specifically at…

“The last King of Vietnam (Bao Dai, Prince Vinh Thuy) was born in 1913. He was of the fifth generation of King Minh Mang. According to this image, Thi-Nga is of the fourth generation of King Minh Mang! She should then be more than 130 years old! In any case, she is not in the direct line of the king, she is not princess; she is nothing at all.”
Mr. Tan Loc NGUYEN, France, Vietnamese history and art website operator used by UCLA “Internet Links for Vietnam”

According to Professor My-Van Tran, Ph.D.:“Re your question. I do not know or hear anything about this ‘princess’. Nor I have any dealing with her. By the way she should be Ton Nu Thi Nga. However, please bear in mind that as the Nguyen monarchs had many, many wives and concubines there have been many, many, many grand children and great grand children. If they all claim royal title as ‘prince or princess’, we should have many thousands of them all over the world, including Vietnam!!!!!
Dr. My-Van Tran, Associate Prof. and Coordinator, International and Asian Studies

According to the Royalty system and title. Thi Nga’s father is not an Emperor. He … connects with the royal family. In this regards one should not use the title HIH Prince or princess. Possibly Lady…
Dr. My-Van Tran

Thi Nga offers her own genealogy at…
Her alleged grandfather, in any official Vietnam royal history consulted, died at age 15 in 1855 and her father is never referred to as “Prince Ung-Thi” (though known as a wealthy man, owner of the Rex Hotel). Her great great grandfather is a Duke and is referred to as HH the Prince. He was the son of an Emperor (Minh Mang) who fathered over one hundred children with over one hundred wives and concubines. Ms. Camber, as Director and Curator was charged with the responsibility to do the research and find out that there is only one His Imperial Highness Crown Prince of Vietnam: the grandson of the last Emperor of Vietnam. It is a simple matter. The family lives in France. “Bao Long is the head of the Imperial Family. In when the Emperor Bao Long inherited the position of head of the Nguyen_Dynasty… . He has remained out of politics and lives quietly in Paris and he has not married and currently does not have any children. Bao Long has been working with Prince Bao_Vang who serves under him as the Grandmaster of the… Order of the Dragon of Annam. The position is non-political in Vietnamese politics and the role of the royal family under the leadership of Crown Prince Bao Long is for humanitarian, educational, and cultural endeavors of the people of Vietnam…,_C…

The trouble with claiming special status from this [descent from Minh Mang], even if true … is that Minh Mang had a huge harem and produced over a hundred children, meaning his great-great-grandchildren and so on today would constitute a small army. Because of this very tradition, titles were not inherited in Vietnam beyond the second generation. …and has had no contact or endorsement by the Emperor’s heir Crown Prince Bao Long, who lives modestly in France.” This is in a site on Modern Royal Pretenders assessing the validity of a Vietnamese royal pretender who wishes to trace his lineage (just like Thi-Nga Goldman) to Minh Mang.…

Royal historian Henry Soszynski, based in Austria, writes to me: “In the 1930’s there were some 10,000 Vietnamese royalty. In the Asian system of declining nobility her position as ggggdau of Gia Long (Phuc Anh). It basically means she is a commoner now. There was a website devoted to her, a perfume website of all things! I can’t find it now. This is all very suspect, proceed with caution.”

Professor Henry Bolt, Emeritus, University of Richmond, researched in an effort to assess the basis of Mrs. Goldman’s genealogy and came to the conclusion that there were indeed sound arguments to question her claim to imperial status.

Anyone with access to Google could have performed this type of inquiry. Ms. Camber did not exercise due diligence. Had the museum any concern for its community, it would have discovered that there is no Princess Thi-Nga Foundation nor any Imperial Holdings International Corporation in Florida. The other enterprises in Mrs. Goldman’s website  http://www.imperialholdingsinternational… have had the “coming soon” sign since inception.

There is no shadow of critical inquiry or scholarly practice when it comes to this exhibit or to Mrs. Goldman. The museum and City Hall acted like hysterical teenagers in the presence of a “star.” Even the Miami press lost all semblance of objectivity or credibility. When sharing this information with a MIAMI HERALD investigative reporter, he found that there was “no story” and that the public would not be interested. Leaving the information for over a month and picking it up again, he never confronted Thi Nga Goldman with tough questions, never interviewed her husband, the powerful attorney, never looked at the Board minutes, had no idea of a royal pre-Miami past nor pressed her for verifiable details. He never contacted anyone from Prince Bao Long’s office in France. For this journalist, the public was not interested in this type of thing and THE HERALD could afford to wait for the kind of story “others” would publish about it, to his mind “full of inuendo and speculation.” Managing editor David Wilson in an email made the claim that “we are always weighing how much time and energy are to be invested in pursuing stories of all sorts. I’m glad we got to this one, and I’m satisfied that Dan Chang did a thorough job with it.” Mr. Chang never published a story about the irregularities with the Bass’ Board Chairman. EL NUEVO HERALD, however, suffered the public embarrassment of having to write an ERRATA after Social Editor Ana Remos published a three-month old story about the Museum’s VIP gala having announced to her readers that the recently closed Jade exhibit was opening next year. Ms. Remos has made Mrs. Goldman a regular feature in her columns, somewhat of a change for her monarchical hispanophilia.…;

She made statements to EL UNIVERSAL in Mexico… that announced the creation of a jade collection museum next to her summer house in Exuma, The Bahamas. These allegations took place in the context of a trip with honorary Bass Board member Nora Bulnes and with Bass Friends member Dolores Ziff. The following communication was issued from the Prime Minister’s office representative in Exuma:
Good Afternoon Mr. Sanchez, Please be advised that Mr. Danny Strachan the representative for the Prime Minister’s Office here in Exuma has contacted the Ministry of Financial Services and there is no such company registered in the Bahamas. Thanks and regards, Rhonda E. Ingraham
Exuma Tourist Office, Exuma, Bahamas P.O. Box Ex-29041 Mr. Sanchez, We have thoroughly checked all relevant sources here in The Bahamas and to date there is no Oriental Art or Jade Museum registered in Exuma, The Bahamas.
Kind Regards,
Rhonda E. Ingraham, Exuma Tourist Office, Exuma, Bahamas.

Having corresponded with other entities of the Government of the Bahamas, enough information was gathered to come to the conclusion that there are no Imperial Holdings International, no Imperial Resorts, no building activity under Imperial Resorts or under Princess Thi-Nga or under Mr. and Mrs. Steven E. Goldman. The Mayor and the Commission are also at fault. Had they done the necessary research, the mayor would not have awarded Thi-Nga Goldman the Key to the City.
With so many questions about the owner, a number of requests were made to the mayor, the city manager and the Bass to examine the documentation backing up the collection’s provenance. Two messages from Ms. Camber’s assistant state that there are no records nor have ever been, to verify purchases, line of provenance, or authenticity. The mayor and city manager have always maintained silence and do not respond to emails.

V. UNESCO fiasco…

In April of 2006, Mrs. Thi-Nga Goldman told the Bass’ board of directors (reflected is in the minutes) that she was leaving for Vietnam to work with UNESCO on the preservation of Hue. The communication received from that institution shows that she is unknown in Vietnam or Paris. She is also unknown in the Friends of Hue Foundation in California. Could this not be construed as misrepresentation to the Board of Directors?
Sent: Wednesday, May 02, 2007 10:26 PM
To: jjsanchez
Cc: ‘Boccardi, Giovanni’; ‘Do Nhu Quynh’
Dear Justo Sanchez
I am writing to you from the UNESCO Office in Vietnam. Apologies for my late reply. I was out of the office yesterday, and only received your email forwarded from the World Heritage Centre today.
Since I arrived in Vietnam in August 2004, we have not had any cooperation with a Princess Thi Nha, nor received any donations from the Princess Thi Nga Foundation. More specifically, we have not received any portion of any Imperial Ball in Miami during November last year. Of course, we cannot exclude that she has cooperated with other bodies for the purpose of the restoration of the Complex of Hue Monuments. This morning, we contacted the Head of International Relations of Hue Monuments Conservation Centre, the body responsible for the restoration of the World Heritage Site of Hue, reporting to the provincial Governor. He has not heard of Princess Thi-Nga and has not had any cooperation with someone of that name. He is now checking with other bodies in Hue if they have heard of her. I will write back to you if I have any news.
Best regards,
Edle Tenden (Ms.)
Culture Programme Coordinator, UNESCO Hanoi Office
23 Cao Ba Quat Street, Hanoi, Viet Nam
Tel: +84 4 747 0275 (Ext. 16) .Fax: +84 4 747 0274
Mobile: 0904 398 481
From: Boccardi, Giovanni/ UNESCO

VI. Misrepresentations by the Board Chairman

In its Code of Ethics, the AAM states that: “Sections on individual ethics, personal conduct, and conflict of interest issues that spell out such details for staff, volunteers, and members of the governing authority.” It adds: “The effectiveness of a nonprofit institution is directly related to the public’s perception of its integrity.” In April of 2006, Mrs. Thi-Nga Goldman (the alleged Princess) told the Bass’ board of directors (reflected is in the Board minutes) that she was leaving for Vietnam as part of her work with UNESCO on the preservation of the city of Hue. As it happens, they do not know her in UNESCO Vietnam or Paris (proof in writing from the institution). Subsequent investigations reveal that they do not know her in the Friends of Hue Foundation in California. Was this not misrepresentation on the part of the future Board Chairman? Does she not owe the Board and her community an explanation? Mrs. Goldman has not created a Princess Thi Nga Foundation in Florida, does not have an Imperial Resorts in the Bahamas (documentation available) does not own any of the registered trademarks she claims she does in her website  http://www.imperialholdingsinternational… . She is not an imperial princess since HIH Crown Prince Bao Long is the head of the Nguyen Dynasty and Thi-Nga Goldman is not directly related to him. There is no Imperial Holdings International company in Florida or the Bahamas. There is no IMPACT company in Florida. All of these nonexistent institutions have been given credit for events at the Bass Museum of Art. Can an AAM museum have a person like that at the head of its Board of Directors? “The Commission expects an accredited museum to have ethical guidelines that address ethical duties of the governing authority, staff, and volunteers, ethics related to the relationship of the governing authority and director, conflict of interest, collections ethics issues, museum management practices, and responsibility to the public.”

How long will the Bass Board continue its inaction regarding Ms. Diane Camber, the Jade exhibit, and Mrs. Thi-Nga Goldman? Is there any measure of accountability in the institution’s policies? What is the role of City of Miami Beach officials like Max Sklar, Director of Tourism and Cultural Development and City Manager-Bass Trustee Jorge González?The American Association of Museums and the International Museums Council, both, having been asked to look into this matter, will perform a thorough investigation and will prescribe pertinent policies. Miami-Dade County Cultural Affairs Council is discussing this matter as well as the State of Florida.

The institutional usefulness of a “yes” board is questionable. Bass trustees have never been actively involved in curatorial or administrative issues (refer, please, to the Board minutes). The Board and the City of Miami administrators, with their dormant attitude are partly at fault for this type of imbroglio. How long will it take for them to realize that this is a case of an “Imperial Princess with no clothes”?

The Mojito Path to Political Correctness


“Killing Time”, is an exhibit curated by a visionary, a modern-day Piranesi, and two unknowns. This recipe for mediocrity is the product of “socio-lism.” From the Cuban slang, “socio” means buddy. Glexis Novoa, the main curator, is a serious artist with important museum monographs to his credit. How did two other curators appear in the picture? Would it be “kunstwelt” (art world) politics or “socio-lism”? How about the list of artists? Is it the result of rigorous canons of scholarship or “socio-lism”?
Would it be “socio-lism” or politics that explains Exit Art’s silence on one of the curators Mr. Elvis Fuentes’ possibility of conflict of interest with his full-time job at El Museo del Barrio and his art consultancy for Puerto Rico’s CIRCA art fair? That is, at least, an appearance of impropriety frowned upon in professional circles.

Cuba’s isolation has made most Americans idealize its educational achievements. It is, alas, an inflated myth. Do Mr. Elvis Fuentes and Ms. Yukisladys Villalonga have BA’s or Masters’ degrees? Have they studied in the United States or European universities There should be at Exit somebody trained with the rigor of art history in real universities, not to have a First World Eurocentric perspective, but to have the assurance of strict historical methodology and philosophical training.

Exit Art’s announcement mentions the curators’ experience in European museums, especially time spent in Aachen, Germany. Caught by surprise, these Aachen curators, if asked to talk about Alcuin of York might be at a loss for words. Having spent time in Aachen, I took the opportunity to study Carolingian art and the illuminated manuscripts of the Ottonian period. It has been an interest of mine to look at the correspondence between the production from German monasteries and the great Spanish Beato de Liébana (as in Morgan Beatus). Could this make me a curator of Cuban art?

The evening at EXIT was a spectacular success. It was an occasion to feel “politically correct,” truly outside the mainstream. The New York intellectual bourgeoisie enjoyed the product of a member of UNEAC (Castro’s fossilized intellectual and artistic police, those who made life impossible for gay artists like Reinaldo Arenas). It was a rare and poignant opportunity to welcome people from exotic “enemy soil:” Cuba. Artists and so-called curators like Yukisladys Villalonga proved to be the exotic fauna during a West Side spring evening. Exit Art hosted an arty and “subversive” West-Side cocktail party put together by a Havana-based curator and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. It was meant to open New Yorkers’ eyes to what the embargo and the Republicans have tried to hide. The event is nothing more than bourgeois political praxis against George W. Those too lazy for political activism against corruption, an unexplained and inexplicable war, and incompetence go to cocktails. Nothing there is more therapeutic than to feel politically correct, mojito in hand. Interestingly, in the roster of artists, there is a number of loud anti-Communist voices this side of the Strait of Florida. Somehow, they do not seem to mind Ms. Villalonga’s official UNEAC affiliation. Could this newfound flexibility be explained as the product of a New York exhibit at Exit?

A Colloquium on Artist Lydia Rubio



Justo Sanchez and artist Lydia Rubio

Miami, FL–(HISPANIC PR WIRE)–April 13, 2007
Culture in the City, “South Florida’s Premier Weekly Cultural Event Series” hosted a colloquium with renowned visual artist Lydia Rubio and art critic and journalist Justo J. Sanchez.

According to Sanchez, “Lydia Rubio’s work is about formulas, strategies, and maps. When looking at a canvas – her virtuoso Imago Ignota, for example – her artist’s sketchbooks, or her large scale sculptural installations, the senses, cognitive mind, and emotions are engaged. Her opus requires work on the part of the spectator but is ultimately coherent and satisfying.” He added: “Ms. Rubio gives form, visible form, and articulates fundamental questions about forlornness, dislocation, existence, love, quest for knowledge, and location in geographical and historical coordinates.”

There is a distinctive element in Lydia Rubio’s elaborate pieces: their use of words and images whether in painted surfaces, sculptural multi-panels, and integrated installations of public art. Her paintings, at times accompanied by books, are technically refined panels that offer a conceptual reconsideration of the medium of painting. Fragmentation plays a big role in her work as evident in the recent Lot 24, a conversation with Rubens’ The Departure of Lot and His Family from Sodom. The artist points to David Hockney’s book Secret Knowledge. Mr. Sanchez argues that one finds in Rubio more than an exercise in human perception but an essay in juxtapositions and inner contradictions: adding and changing possibilities to a visual text.


Lydia Rubio, Lot 24

Mr. Sanchez finds “an honest philosophical inquiry taking place chez Rubio. Her sketchbooks are proof of her methodological transparency. They become documents of an epistemological and artistic process.” He recalls having discussed Kuhn and Feyerabend with Ms. Rubio, probing her aesthetic protocol: “she has always been against what she calls ‘the myth of spontaneity.’ Although she studies, step by step, the problems to be solved, she is not guided by an agenda. Lydia allows her training, and what she reads, her research, work with the materials, acquired sensitivity to move her in a given direction. These elements, she has confessed to me, result in a flow of automatic writing and drawing.”

Ms. Rubio is currently working on three important public art commissions in Miami-Dade and North Carolina.

For Mr. Sanchez, Ms. Rubio’s work is provocative: “it is not to be taken passively nor is it for the lazy. Puzzles, philosophy, and, certainly, serious art are not the domain of the lazy or the weak at heart.