In what can only be described as a highly unusual art law case, a Manhattan federal judge has ordered Christie’s auction house to identify the winning—yet ultimately unsuccessful—bidder of a 5,000-year-old artifact that Turkey is claiming as stolen cultural property.
The bizarre part? The troubled deal stemmed from an auction in late April that was never consummated. The buyer reneged and Christie’s still possesses the piece, described as an Anatolian marble female idol of Kiliya type. The artifact, known as the Guennol Stargazer, has been in the US for nearly 60 years and has already passed through the hands of several owners since it was allegedly illegally excavated and smuggled out of the country.
The Republic of Turkey filed an amended complaint on Thursday (July 27). Along with Christie’s, the complaint names collector and hedge fund manager Michael Steinhardt, who consigned the work to the April 28 auction, titled “The Exceptional Sale.”
On Wednesday, Judge Alison J. Nathan granted Turkey’s request to compel Christie’s to produce the name and contact information of the winning bidder of the work. “The Court does not order Christie’s to provide the requested information immediately,” Nathan added, but the parties must meet to negotiate “a protective order to govern that disclosure.”
According to Nathan’s ruling, “it is reasonable to believe that the bidder—who elected to bid a hammer price of more than $12 million dollars on the idol notwithstanding an announcement that the Republic had filed this suit, and later pulled out of the sale after the suit was not resolved within 60 days—might have information about the idol, about the bidding process, or about Christie’s vigilance in determining the provenance of the idol.”
Who Knew What When?
After the idol was smuggled out of Turkey in the…