I never imagined that this week’s gossip would include a story about Kim Kardashian illegally importing ancient Italian art. It’s super-complicated and the basic gist is that while Kim should have known better, she is not the only person who needs to wear this. In 2016, Kim bought $745,882 worth of art and furniture from Axel Vervoordt Gallery in Belgium. Vervoordt is the designer responsible for Kim and Kanye’s bleak, colorless home in LA, and he seemingly sold Kim some pieces of art from his gallery for her home. The problem is that one of the art pieces, the large fragment of an ancient limestone sculpture, was illegally smuggled out of Italy. And now the feds are demanding that Kim forfeit the sculpture because Italy wants it repatriated. So Kim will have to eat that money.
The U.S. government is seeking the forfeiture of an ancient Roman sculpture that celebrity influencer Kim Kardashian was in the process of acquiring after officials determined that it had been illegally smuggled out of Italy. The statue was detained at the U.S. border in 2016 after a logistics company working for Kardashian tried to import it with the wrong documentation. New legal documents have concluded that the work was “looted, smuggled, and illegally exported,” and Italian authorities have requested its repatriation.
A civil forfeiture action on April 30 in a U.S. district court named Kardashian as the consignee and importer of the ancient limestone sculpture. According to court documents, Kardashian bought the sculpture, known as Fragment of Myron’s Samian Athena (1st – 2nd century), in 2016 from Axel Vervoordt Gallery in Belgium. (Vervoordt is the art dealer and interior designer responsible for the decoration of Kardashian’s Calabasas mansion.)
The sculpture was detained when it arrived in Los Angeles in May 2016 after authorities were alerted that it might be protected cultural property. As part of a bilateral agreement to crack down on the pillaging of cultural heritage, the U.S. has restricted imports of archeological material originating from Italy. Any importer now needs clear documentation authorizing the importation or other documents such as an affidavit, license, or permit stating that the export was not in violation of the laws of the country of origin. The sculpture arrived as part of a 5.5-ton shipment described as containing 40 antiques, Modern furniture, and decorative objects, valued at $745,882. It was being imported under a U.S. tariff schedule for “antiques of an age exceeding 100 years,” as opposed to archeological material.
Officials requested provenance details from the logistics company Masterpiece International, which provided the sculpture’s sales invoice to Kardashian, as well as a previous invoice showing that Vervoordt had purchased the work from Galerie Chenel in Paris in 2012.
Suspicions were raised when authorities noticed a discrepancy in the descriptions of the sculpture on the two invoices, with the 2012 statement describing it as “a large draped statue” with provenance from an “Old German Collection, bought before 1980,” and the invoice for the 2016 sale to Kardashian describing it as a “fragment,” and containing handwritten notations indicating it had originated from Italy. A director from Vervoordt’s art history department, Robert Lauwers, had also provided a contradictory statement by way of an unsworn affidavit stating that the sculpture did not originate from Italy.
The sculpture was seized in June 2016 and, the following month, Italy’s task force for the protection of cultural heritage added a new twist by claiming it had seen (and photographed) the confiscated statue at Vervoordt’s gallery booth at TEFAF Maastricht in 2011, well before Vervoordt purportedly purchased it from Galerie Chenel in 2012.
Ollivier Chenel, a director of Galerie Chenel, told Artnet News that the gallery purchased the sculpture from an auction house in Germany in 2010, and that it had previously come from an English estate. He added that the date discrepancy on the invoice could be explained because the statue had been on loan to Vervoordt before it was officially acquired. “It is very strange that [the complaint does not mention] the German auction house as the information was given to them at the time,” Chenel said. “I can guarantee you that this sculpture was acquired legally at Hampel Auction house in 2010.”
Axel Vervoordt and representatives for Kim Kardashian did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
This sounds like it was entirely a f–k up on Vervoordt’s part, and his gallery didn’t have all of their ducks in a row and the provenance was always complicated/shady. Basically, the sculpture was taken from Italy and it would up in a German or English private collection, then at some point – weird that they can’t pinpoint it – it was purchased by Galerie Chenel, then it was purchased by Vervoordt, who then sold it to Kim Kardashian. It was Vervoordt’s gallery which screwed up the documentation, which US Customs caught. It sucks that Kim has to forfeit the sculpture but if I was in her position, I would make it about how happy I am that a piece of Italy’s ancient culture is being returned to its homeland. Put a bow on it, eat that money and move on.
Photos courtesy of Backgrid, AD.
After Kim and Ye announced their divorce, i wonder who keeps the house or if they will sell it? If they sell they might also sell a few art/furniture pieces and then this doesn’t seem like such a big deal right? Tho she would have to pay a lot of money as wel, which obviously sucks. But it ls not like she can’t afford it either.
Fakes and looted objects aren’t that uncommon in the art world. The gallery will refund Kim to protect their reputation.
This is so true
Ugh that house is so awful and they spent so much money on it. If they do sell it’ll be at a loss
Agreed. I had forgotten how much I hate their house but that AD cover (judging them hard for that feature) has made it all come flooding back.
I love a good story about art heists. It shows why provenance is so important, if you are not sure about a piece, don’t buy it. More trouble than it’s worth.
How can Europe successfully repatriate their stolen artifacts, meanwhile, African and Asian countries are looking at our museums (and Royal Families) with their hands out, completely ignored.
Well, the White Evangelical “Christian” family who own Hobby Lobby were caught importing millions of dollars of (knowingly) stolen ancient art from Iraq & Egypt – because God obviously wanted them to facilitate the slaughter of Christians across the Middle East by radical Islamic terror groups funded by illegal antiquities smuggling – and were forced to pay a multi-million dollar fine and return them to their countries of origin.
But not before creating a web of tax fraud and deceit so villainous that they effectively had the whole sordid scheme funded by the government!
And Yup, the self same family who went to the Supreme Court to claim they couldn’t let employees have birth control because it was against their morality.
Wow. I’ve boycotted hobby lobby for years but this is just one more reason I’m glad I do. That’s so repulsive.
I’ll wheel out one of my all time favourite tweets again here:
Name something that feels British but isn’t. The contents of the British Museum.
No lies there.
This is what happens with looted art. It gets stolen, then sold under the table a few times, and then it comes to light finally when people who don’t know the whole backstory get caught engaging in a purportedly legal recorded sale.
God that house makes me laugh every time I see it. What happens when fools get money.
Their house is so awful. I need some color around me.
It was detained in 2016. Did it ever make it to the house?
Nope. It is held in CBP storage until the provenance issues are resolved.
My thinking is that it was probably Kanye that orchestrated this. Kim likes pretty things, but Kanye is the one with the need to associate himself with grand things like Versailles and…ancient artifacts, probably. As an aside, the kids today give me hope for the future. My 16 year old nephew watched The Mummy because i told him it was a fun movie. He then says to me: so it’s basically two Brits and an American destroying and looting Egypt’s national treasures. I laughed because it’s…true.
my first thought was wow, there really isn’t a culture she won’t try to steal.
Meanwhile, the Nefertiti bust is still displayed in Berlin.
I’m thrilled that the government worked how it was supposed to, for once. I don’t blame Kim for this. If I had a preferred art gallery (HAH!), I would assume that they are doing their jobs legally and fairly.
Kim earns the equivalent of $150,000/day. So this amount is 6 days of work for her…??
But let’s remember that she’s an “attorney” who should know better and examine providence.
Less than that. The total shipment of art and furniture was 750k. I believe she has the other pieces. And the gallery should refund the money for the piece she didn’t receive since this is their fault.
Is the Italian government going to preserve it in a museum or does the statue just have to stay in Italy? Could she keep it in a home she owned in Italy? (don’t really care and it’s not like she’d bother but just wondering how far they go with these things)
In Italy the state owns anything related to history, archaeology and heritage, so it cannot stay in a private residence.
Anything related to history? How long ago does that start?
Odds are it will end up in a museum.
Bit of a tangent, but this reminds me that earlier this week I was reading an article about a mummy who was discovered to be pregnant. It made me think about how these artifacts and literal bodies (!!!) found in tombs have been raided and taken and how disgusting that concept is. These are people who were respectfully buried and are then desecrated in the name of history/science. Why is it ok for people to mess with the dead like this?
MOST ancient art is looted and stolen. However, I am not necessarily against museums since they are preserving the items. However, if a country wants their sh*t back to put in their own museums, I think we should let them.
There was a case in the NY Times about some wealthy socialite there who had a stolen Turkish mosaic that she was using as her coffee table – for years. She had to return it.
I actually LOOOVE the house. I thought I read she said she wanted the house. ?? I actually like Kanye, he’s BiPolar and I always had a soft spot for him.