Move over Monet. One of the world’s oldest auction houses is putting the arts of ancient China and the “monumental works” of the 1980s on the back burner for a moment and offering up “100 of the Rarest Sneakers Ever Produced.” In collaboration with Stadium Goods, the FarFetch-owned premium sneaker and streetwear marketplace, Sotheby’s is hosting an auction of footwear ranging from two pairs of Nike Mag sneakers inspired by Marty McFly’s kicks in Back to the Future Part II to “the auction’s crown jewel,” the unworn pair of handmade Nike “Moon Shoe” circa 1972, which were designed by Nike co-founder and Oregon University track coach Bill Bowerman.

The impending auction, which the 275-year old, New York-headquartered Sotheby’s, calls “the first of its kind,” boasts a range of shoes, including Kanye West’s Yeezy Boost 350s, which are expected to sell for between $7,000 and $9,000, and Off-White x Nike Limited AF1s, which Sotheby’s expects to go for between $11,000 and $16,000, as well as Air Jordan 11 Jeters – which comes with an estimated auction price of between $40,000 and $60,000, and the Nike Waffle Racing Flat, which will likely set a buyer back between $110,000 and $160,000.

The rare sneakers auction is part of a larger effort by auction houses to remain relevant in the modern market and court the next generation of collectors. As Architectural Digest noted last year, “Across the major auction houses, most have plans in place to cultivate a younger demographic.” This has seen auction houses, such as Christie’s, hosting cocktail hours on weekends to order to draw in a younger, hipper crowd, and others, including Freeman’s in Philadelphia, hosting auctions with pieces at more accessible entry prices.

Sotheby’s, in particular, has looked to engage new – read: younger – consumers. “We are really focusing on Weibo and WeChat right now, particularly growing our Chinese audience,” Sotheby’s director of digital marketing and strategy, Noah Wunsch, said. And thanks to the company’s growing presence on multiple platforms, it is seeing significant uptick in new buyer engagement, while remaining cognizant of the legacy of the Sotheby’s name and the risk of “alienating its older, engaged clients.”

image: Sotheby’s

All the while, with its rare sneaker auction and its recent offering of “the only privately owned collection of every Supreme skate deck ever manufactured,” including the three that led to a legal scuffle between the famed streetwear and Louis Vuitton back in 2000, Sotheby’s joins the likes of houses that are looking to inherently “cooler” offerings than impressionist artworks and rare books.

French auction house Arterial, for example, made headlines when it staged an auction last spring entitled, C.R.E.A.M. (Cash Rules Everything Around Me), a nod to rap group Wu-Tang Clan’s 1993 single. The auction’s 145 lots – which were available by way of the house’s Paris headquarters and simultaneously online – consisted almost exclusively of limited-edition and hard-to-get goods from New York-based cult streetwear brand, Supreme.

Arterial’s entire Supreme auction brought in a bit more than $1 million, which is less than $15 million less than what Pablo Picasso’s singleYoung Girl with a Flower Basket (Fillette à la Corbeille Fleurie) sold for last year. While Nike sneakers and Supreme skate decks might make up just a tiny fraction of the $11.21 billion global art auction market, many of the buyers interested in these items are the future.

In April, The KAWS Album (2005), a painting by KAWS, the New Jersey-born graffiti artist-turned fine artist named Brian Donnelly, sold for HK$115.9 million ($14.82 million) at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, breezing past the pre-sale estimate of HK$8 million ($1.02 million). The sale, which set a record price for the artist, “seems to be a harbinger for something to come,” Betsy Bickar, a vice president and art advisor at Citi Private Bank, told Barrons, speaking particularly of an emerging audience of younger collectors.

“If younger buyers are demanding a more holistic and inclusive approach to luxury, the market will eventually respond,” writer and art historian Osei Bonsu told Hypebeast this spring. And that seems to be exactly what is underway as we speak.

About 30 minutes outside of Marfa, Texas (population 1,900) is Prada Marfa – a small adobe brick-constructed structure meant to look like a Prada store. Designed by Berlin-based artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset, the small space, which measures out at a mere 15 feet by 25 feet, was constructed in 2005 and designed to resemble a Prada store, right down to the Fall/Winter 2005 collection shoes that are on display inside. The strappy sandals, metallic pumps, and ankle-grazing boots that line shelves on the rear wall, and the top-handled patent leather bags that are perched on two tables near the front windows were selected and provided by Miuccia Prada, the creative director of the cult-favored Italian design house.

Mrs. Prada also permitted Elmgreen and Dragset to use the Milan-based brand’s intellectual property, namely, a stylized rendering of its name – a registered trademark for use in connection with retail services – for the “store” but is, otherwise, unaffiliated with the project and did not fund it. In fact, the $80,000 Prada Marfa project was funded by New York-based non-profit organization, Art Production Fund, in collaboration with Ballroom Marfa, a Texas-based non-profit. 

In the twelve years since its was built, Prada Marfa – which is technically located in Valentine, Texas, on a rural stretch of highway just off U.S. Highway 90, a little more than 25 miles northwest of the city of Marfa that is uninhabited by any other nearby structures – has never been opened and will reportedly never be repaired (save for some restorations that have taken place following significant acts of vandalism), allowing it to slowly degrade back into the natural landscape. That is the point of the installation.

Speaking of the creation of Prada Marfa, which has become something of a “must visit” spot for road trippers in and around Texas, Elmgreen has said he and his partner did not anticipate that it would be the subject of such fan fury: “No one was there for the opening … There were just some ranchers that were there and five friends from New York!” Since then, it has welcomed guests that range from Beyoncé and her sister Solange to no shortage of fashion indursty influencers and editors, as well as a number of unnamed brands that have wanted to use it as a background for ad campaigns, something the Elmgreen and Dragset do not permit.

As for why Elmgreen and Dragset decided to set up shop in the middle of the desert in Texas, Elmgreen said the impetus was simple: “It was something we came up with because we thought, ‘How would these shops for luxury goods actually look if they were taken out of their normal context, being in Mayfair, or Paris, or Milano. How would they look if you totally isolate them – almost like a U.F.O. dumped down in the middle of nowhere?’” Prada Marfa is the result.

The Legality of Prada Marfa

Despite its enduring fame, it was not all that long ago that the fate of Prada Marfa was in question. The fight over Prada Marfa started in September 2013 when the faux store/permanent installation was classified by the Texas Department of Transportation as an “illegal outdoor advertising sign.” Following a probe, the Department of Transportation determined that Prada logo on the “store” was in violation of the 1965 Highway Beautification Act, which prohibits advertising on unlicensed land bordering federal highway U.S. 90 and requires advertisers to have a permit.

Elmgreen and Dragset never obtained a permit, saying at the time of its debut that they “reject the idea that their installation is an advertisement.” They elaborated, saying: “There’s a difference between being commissioned by a company to do something for them and using their logo, and using their logo on your own.” Their lack of proper paperwork trust the little structure into an art-versus-advertising debate that was already underway in Marfa. As it turns out, just months before Elmgreen and Dragset unveiled their Prada-centric work, Playboy Enterprises had planted its own installation on the same highway, just a mile northwest of Marfa.

The Playboy piece consisted of a 1972 Dodge Charger placed atop a large box in front situated next to forty-foot neon Playboy bunny sign. Designed by artist Richard Phillips for Playboy, and paid for by Playboy, the installation caught the attention of the Texas Department of Transportation. Despite push back from Playboy as to the status of the sign, the Texas Department of Transportation found that the signage fell neatly within their definition of an advertisement. The “TxDoT regulations define an ‘Outdoor advertising sign’ as ‘an outdoor sign, display, light, device, figure, painting, message, plaque, placard, poster, billboard, logo or symbol, or other thing which is designed, intended, or used to advertise or inform, if any part of the advertising or information contents is visible from the main-traveled way of a regulated highway.’”

“We know it’s illegal. They don’t have licences, they don’t have permits,” Department of Transportation spokeswoman Veronica Beyer said in June 2013. With that in mind, the Department of Transportation ultimately ordered Playboy to remove the 40-foot neon sign, and give the Beverly Hills-based global media and lifestyle company a month to disassemble it.

Elmgreen and Dragset were dealt a more favorable hand. After nearly a year of deliberations between Ballroom Marfa, the Texas-based non-profit art organization that oversees Prada Marfa, and the Texas Department of Transportation, Ballroom Marfa obtained a lease for the privately-owned roadside land, allowing the site to be classified as a museum and thus, fall into a loophole in Texas state law. In the case of Prada Marfa, Breyer told the press in September 2014, “The site is now an art museum site and the building is their single art exhibit,” noting that any signage on the site may now be considered “on-premise” and does not require a permit under state law.

Speaking of Marfa

Speaking of the Prada Marfa project, Michael Elmgreen told Dazed Digital several years ago that the famed fashion brand “didn’t initiate the work at all, we did a project in Chelsea in the gallery district of New York before where we used the Prada logo. We covered the windows of a private commercial gallery there saying ‘Opening soon: Prada’, so everyone thought that the gallery was closed.” He further stated, “It was a cool project to do but the gallery didn’t like it so much because it didn’t sell anything for the whole duration of the exhibition! We didn’t ask permission at that time, we thought Prada is interested in art, they’re not going to sue us – and they didn’t sue us. But when we were doing the Prada Marfa we knew that it would be up for quite a while, we thought we’d better check that we were allowed to use their logo.”

Finally, Elmgreen said, “We gave them a call and said we’re doing this shop, would you provide the shoes and the bags. And they were very nice, Miuccia herself selected things that were really cleverly chosen in the sandy colours because it’s in the middle of the Texan desert, where everything has these dusty, earthy colour tones. So the bags and the shoes from that AW05 collection had pieces that would correspond to that colour scheme. She was very generous, she wrote us a letter that said you can use the logo freely and we’re not going to run after you and sue you.”

 image:  Culture Shock Art

image: Culture Shock Art

A Chanel suit lined with acetate trim, instead of silk. A Louis Vuitton bag bearing slightly asymmetrical “LV” initials in the brand’s monogram toile pattern. An Hermes bag with off-kilter stitching. These are some of the counterfeits with which the fashion world commonly deals. But long before vendors set up shop on Canal Street and before online marketplaces began offering fakes online, forgery ran rampant in the art world. And unlike the thousands of dollars that came to be tied to counterfeit fashion purchases, art fakes have been known to invoke multi-million dollar schemes.

Just six years ago, for instance, the most significant case of art fraud in American history began to unravel. The story goes a little something like this: New York art dealer Glafira Rosales – a “well-dressed and cultivated” women of 40 – walked into M Knoedler & Co. (“Knoedler”) with a Rothko painting.

The Making of an $80 Million Dollar Art Scheme

The gallery’s director Ann Freedman – who joined Knoedler in the late 1970’s when she was 29 years old and swiftly rose through the ranks to become president and then director of the gallery by the early 1990’s – “was dazzled” by the Rothko, per Vanity Fair. “After consulting experts, she felt it was clearly authentic, though its story was, admittedly, sketchy. Rosales said she had a friend who wanted to consign the work to Knoedler. The friend wanted to stay anonymous.”

This was the first meeting between Freedman, who had just taken over the directorial role of the gallery, and Rosales, “a woman from Long Island [that] no one in the art world had ever heard of,” according to ArtNews. Rosales came to meet with Freedman by way of Jaime Andrade, a Knoedler associate, who was been brought on board years prior by Larry Rubin, the director that made way for Freedman’s promotion when he left in 1994.

Rosales – with the alleged help of her boyfriend, Jose Carlos Bergantiños Diaz; his brother Jesus Angel Bergantinos Diaz; and Pei-Shen Qian, a successful Chinese artist, and the individual who did the actual painting – would go on to spearhead a 15-year, $80 million forgery scam, blindly fooling art collectors into buying counterfeit paintings attributed to the likes of Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell, and Willem de Kooning from Knoedler.

One such collector: Chairman of the board at Sotheby’s and former Gucci Group CEO Domenico De Sole, the brilliant lawyer and businessman who, along with creative director Tom Ford, took the Italian design house from a nearly bankrupt entity in the early 1990’s to wildly profitable venture in just a decade. It was under his watch that Gucci managed to artfully fend off a hostile takeover by LVMH head Bernard Arnault and land under the umbrella of LVMH’s rival conglomerate Kering.

As laid out by ArtNews last year, “On a trip to New York in November 2004, [Domenico and his wife Eleanore De Sole] visited the Knoedler & Co. gallery on the Upper East Side of Manhattan for the first and last time.” Mr. De Sole had just cashed out of Gucci, pocketing roughly $25 million by selling some 433,101 shares in nine separate transactions that year.

Having opened in 1846, Knoedler was one of the United States’ oldest and most widely-known commercial art galleries, initially rising to fame as a leading supplier of Old Master paintings to the likes of Cornelius Vanderbilt, J. P. Morgan, and Henry Clay Frick.

The De Soles “went there to inquire about buying a work by artist Sean Scully, who had been represented by Knoedler off and on for years, and met with Freedman, the gallery’s president. She told them she did not have any work by Scully available, but she did have a painting—right there in her office—that she said was by Mark Rothko,” according to ArtNews.

Freedman explained to them that “a private Swiss collector had owned the work, and that his family wanted to remain anonymous.”

The anonymous collector – whose paintings Rosales was consigning to the gallery – was initially known around the gallery as Mr. X. “The provenance of the work was always murky,” per the Washington Post. Rosales allegedly told Freedman that she was representing a man – Mr. X. – who resided between Mexico and Switzerland. He allegedly inherited the paintings from his parents, but the identity of this private collector was never revealed.

“As Freedman remembers it, Rosales said Mr. X.’s Philippines-based parents had known Alfonso Ossorio, an Abstract Expressionist painter,” wrote Vanity Fair. “Supposedly Ossorio brought the couple to artists’ studios, where they purchased paintings from the artists directly. The paintings remained in storage until their son inherited them, so none appear in the catalogues raisonnés of the now dead artists.”

But as ArtNews notes, “By the time the De Soles arrived at Knoedler, Freedman was using the late David Herbert to explain the origins of the Rosales works. Herbert, who died in 1995, was a former low-level employee at the two leading New York galleries that showed the Abstract Expressionists in the 1950s, Sidney Janis and Betty Parsons. The story became richer when Herbert’s name was floated in connection to the paintings: Mr. X and Herbert had engaged in a love affair. This was why the collector, who was married and had a family, wanted his name to be kept secret.”

After short deliberations (and confirmation in writing from the gallery that the Rothko had been “viewed” by 11 different experts, most of whom have since said they did not consent to being included on this list and denied having seen the painting for any meaningful amount of time), the De Soles opted to purchase the Rothko from Knoedler for $8.3 million.

As the story unfolds, that painting – “Untitled (1956)” – was fake, as were 39 other expertly crafted paintings that Ms. Rosales supplied to the gallery under Freedman’s watch.

A Highly-Followed Trial

“More than a decade after [their] meeting [with Freedman] at the gallery, and two years after their Rothko was revealed to be a fake, the De Soles would tell a jury that Freedman and Knoedler had knowingly conned them out of seven figures,” writes ArtNews.

The De Soles had filed a $25 suit against Knoedler, its holding company 8-31, Freedman, Rosales, and others in a New York federal court 2012, alleging violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, among other statutes, in connection with what they called a coordinated pattern of fraud that lasted for years.

The weeks-long trial focused largely on “questions about what efforts were made to verify the authenticity of the works and who was aware they were forgeries—and, of equal importance, when.”

The De Soles emphasized in their testimony that Freedman should have exercised more due diligence to verify “Mr. X” and the authenticity of art works. They further argued that they relied heavily on the fact that they were dealing with “the most trusted, oldest, most important gallery,” a common argument across the ten lawsuits filed in connection with the gallery’s alleged fraud.

Private equity manager, John Howard, another plaintiff that sued Knoedler after purchasing a forged Willem de Kooning work, said: “Here I am dealing with the Knoedler gallery, one of the most prestigious galleries in the U.S., founded before the Metropolitan Museum of Art.” Howard’s suit settled before trial.

The defendants countered, arguing that as sophisticated entities, the plaintiffs should have known to independently verify the authenticity of the work before purchasing it. Moreover, Freedman’s counsel, who vehemently denied that their client was aware that the paintings were, in fact, counterfeit, noted that Freedman  purchased a few of the forged works, herself.

In February 2016, after two weeks of trial and before its culmination, the case was settled out of court; the terms, confidential. “The De Soles are extremely pleased and not surprised that Ms. Freedman settled after two weeks of trial evidence showing that, for 15 years, Knoedler ignored the most eminent experts, buried unhelpful research, made up stories about where works came from, earned profit margins that virtually announced the fraud, hid the truth, and lied to collectors, like the De Soles, to sell fakes and make millions,” the De Soles counsel said in a statement to Artnet.

The De Soles settled with Knoedler and the gallery’s holding company, 8-31, days later.

The Others

As for the others, who earned more than $33 million thanks to the elaborate scheme, according to prosecutors: Qian, who was charged criminally for creating the counterfeit works, fled to China, where he is safe from U.S. authorities due to the lack of a U.S.-China extradition treaty. Jose Carlos Bergantiños Diaz, who fled to Spain thanks to his status as a dual Spanish-American citizen, was also charged and, as of February 2016, was awaiting extradition from Spain. Rosales pleaded guilty in 2013 to several criminal charges and early this year, was sentenced to nine months of house arrest and three years’ probation, and is required to pay $81 million to the victims of the fraudulent scheme.

According to the Art Newspaper, as of April 2017, “Seven of the ten Knoedler lawsuits have been settled. The Hilti Foundation settled with Freedman, but its lawsuit against Knoedler is still active. A claim brought against both Knoedler and Freedman by Frances Hamilton White, over a Jackson Pollock she and her then-husband bought in 2000 for $3.1 million, is ongoing.”

Meanwhile, just three blocks from the now defunct Knoedler gallery on New York’s Upper East Side, Freedman maintains her own gallery, Freedman Art, which she opened after resigning from Knoedler in 2009.