German art collector in court after Portugal extradition

A German art collector and socialite accused of stealing a £1million sculpture has been remanded in custody after her extradition from Portugal.

Angela Gulbenkian allegedly pocketed some £1,143,656.25 in payment for the ‘Kusama pumpkin’ by the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama but never handed over the item to the buyer. 

The 38-year-old was extradited to the UK from Portugal and appeared at Southwark Crown Court, where she denied theft.  

Angela Gulbenkian pictured outside the court in London in August

Angela Gulbenkian pictured outside the court in London in August

Angela Gulbenkian pictured outside the court in London in August 

Gulbenkian allegedly pocketed some £1,143,656.25 in payment for the 'Kusama pumpkin' by the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama but never handed over the item to the buyer

Gulbenkian allegedly pocketed some £1,143,656.25 in payment for the 'Kusama pumpkin' by the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama but never handed over the item to the buyer

Gulbenkian allegedly pocketed some £1,143,656.25 in payment for the ‘Kusama pumpkin’ by the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama but never handed over the item to the buyer

Who was Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian?  

Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian

Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian

Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian

Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian (1869-1955) was a business man, art collector and philanthropist of Armenian origin, born in the Ottoman Empire. 

Gulbenkian played a decisive role in the first half of the twentieth century mediating international negotiations that led to the exploitation of the exceptionally rich oil fields in Al-Jazeera (Iraq). 

Throughout his life, he assembled an eclectic and unique collection that was influenced by his travels and his personal taste.

Gulbenkian took British citizenship in 1902 and died in 1955, in Lisbon.

Source: Gulbenkian Foundation 

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In 2017 a Hong-King art firm, Art Incorporated, owned by Mathieu Ticolat, claimed it paid Gulbenkian more than $1.3million for the sculpture but never received it. 

Art Incorporated filed a civil suit which saw a world-wide freeze on Gulbenkian’s assets.

Gulbenkian, who denies two charges of theft from Art Incorporated, between 9 April 2017 and 17 December 2018, has been in custody since she was arrested in Portugal in June.

Despite contesting her extradition to the UK in the Supreme Court of Justice in Portugal she was flown back to the UK.

She appeared briefly at Southwark Crown Court and was remanded in custody ahead of a plea and trial preparation hearing on 13 January next year. 

Gulbenkian grew up in Munich and married the great-grand-nephew of oil tycoon Calouste Gulbenkian, whose fortune funded a multi-billion pound foundation and Lisbon museum.

The Gulbenkians are considered one of Europe’s wealthiest, most renowned art collecting families. 

Gulbenkian herself became heavily involved in the continental art world, marketing herself as a high-end broker.

World famous Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, who was born in Japan in 1929, is known as ‘the queen of polka dots’. 

She met and inspired important artists including Donald Judd, Andy Warhol and Joseph Cornell. 

She is also renowned to be one of the original artists involved in the pop art and minimalism movements. 

Much of her artwork centres around pumpkins and her yellow pumpkin sculpture went on to become among one of her iconic masterpieces. 

Who is Yayoi Kusama?

World famous Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama (pictured in 2017) is one of TIME magazine's 100 most influential people

World famous Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama (pictured in 2017) is one of TIME magazine's 100 most influential people

World famous Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama (pictured in 2017) is one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people

World famous Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, known as ‘the queen of polka dots’, was named one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people.

Kusama, 88, is known for her use of vivid colour in her works that often depict polka dots and spotted pumpkins. 

She often appears in a wheelchair and sporting her trademark red wig. 

Born in 1929 in central Japan’s Nagano prefecture, Kusama suffered from psychological trauma due to feuding between her parents, and was already drawing dots and nets as a child based on her hallucinatory experiences.

After moving to the United States in 1957 at age 28, Kusama became a fixture in the Pop and Minimalism art movements of the 1960s.

Kusama's Yellow Pumpkin

Kusama's Yellow Pumpkin

Kusama’s Yellow Pumpkin  

During a 16-year stint in New York, she staged ‘happenings’ at the height of the sexual liberation movement where people stripped naked and had their bodies painted with polka dots on Wall Street or Central Park.

By the time Kusama returned to Japan in 1973,she was burned out and voluntarily checked into a psychiatric ward where she has lived ever since.

It was not until the 1990s that Kusama was ‘rediscovered’.

Her commercial success was highlighted when she collaborated with Louis Vuitton in 2012 and she was named the world’s most popular artist in 2014 by the Art Newspaper.

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