Posted on Thursday, 02.27.14
Prominent art dealer: Paintings stolen from Cuba's National Museum of
Fine Arts now in Miami
BY DAVID SMILEY
Works of art recently discovered stolen from the collection of the
National Museum of Fine Arts of Havana are for sale in South Florida,
according to a prominent Cuban art collector.
Miami art dealer Ramon Cernuda, owner of a large private collection of
20th Century Cuban paintings, said Thursday that he has found at least
11 paintings in Miami that belong to the collection of Cuba's Museo
Nacional de Bellas Artes. He said he learned of the theft after
purchasing a stolen painting by Vanguardia artist Eduardo Abela.
"We called the museum authorities and spoke at length with two museum
officers," said Cernuda, who has a history of reporting stolen art.
"They discovered through our call that this painting had been stolen.
Because of our call it was also discovered they had lost other works
stolen from their warehouse."
Cernuda was unsure of the totality of the crime, which he said occurred
at a museum warehouse. The blog Cafe Fuerte, citing sources, puts the
number of stolen pieces at close to 100.
Contacted Thursday, museum spokeswoman Diorca Diaz said she was not
authorized to comment. She referred a reporter to the Center for
International Press, which did not respond to an email. Likewise, an FBI
spokesman did not comment Thursday and an Immigration and Customs
Enforcement spokesman said investigators were unaware of any artwork in
Miami stolen from the museum's collection.
Several local collectors and gallery owners said they had heard little
to nothing of pieces stolen from the museum. But the reported thefts
would appear to be the latest example of the complications of trading
and collecting Cuban art in Miami, where the authenticity and ownership
of such pieces can be suspect, in part because of the large number of
artworks confiscated by the government during the Cuban Revolution.
"I've been dealing with Cuban art since the mid-'50s and we're very,
very, very careful about what we take in," said Virginia Miller, whose
Coral Gables gallery is currently showing an exhibit of Cuban art from
the 1950s to 2013.
Miller, whose gallery recently hosted two curators from the museum, was
among Miami collectors who said they'd heard nothing of the reported
thefts. But others said they'd received word of stolen art being hawked
in recent days.
Cernuda said he came across the first piece of museum art two weeks ago
when he purchased Abela's Carnaval Infantil from another gallery, which
he declined to name. He began to suspect the painting was stolen when he
found a book that listed the art as museum property.
After confirming the painting was stolen, Cernuda said he checked around
South Florida and found another 10 museum paintings in one location, all
by the the well-known Leopoldo Romañach. He declined to name the location.
"To see three or four of those works together is not common," he said.
"And I saw 10 that had been cut with, like, an Exacto knife. The thieves
didn't even bother to take out the nails from the stretchers."
Cafe Fuerte reported that the Romañach works were confirmed by a second
U.S. art dealer, though none who spoke to the Miami Herald and El Nuevo
Herald Thursday said they'd seen any stolen pieces.
This would not be the first run-in with stolen art by Cernuda, a
colorful collector whose paintings were once confiscated and then
immediately returned by the U.S. Government in a Cuban embargo flap.
Four years ago, he tipped off the FBI when a nurse tried to sell him
seven paintings that had been reported stolen from a Miami storage unit.
Works confiscated by Communist regimes frequently turn up in Miami,
according to Tania Mastrapa, a consultant who specializes in researching
ownership history — or provenance — for prospective buyers. Mastrapa
said museum heists, which have been reported before at the Havana
institution, are usually committed with the knowledge of the government.
Cernuda, speaking to the Herald from Spain, said he has yet to call U.S.
authorities. He said he intends to return the painting to the museum
when he gets back from Spain, and has asked them to document the stolen
paintings with Interpol, which keeps a database of pilfered art.
"We have recommended to the national museum they fully report the theft
to Interpol and request and consider the cooperation of the FBI so these
works, which are property of the national museum, be returned to the
El Nuevo Herald reporter Maria Perez contributed to this report.
Source: Prominent art dealer: Paintings stolen from Cuba's National
Museum of Fine Arts now in Miami - Miami-Dade - MiamiHerald.com -