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More than 100 works by the late Op-art pioneer Victor Vasarely and his son Yvaral were reportedly seized by authorities last week during a raid on the Michèle Vasarely Foundation in San Juan, Puerto Rico, as branches of the late artist’s family feud over Vasarely’s artwork and legacy.
French authorities and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) raided the foundation and took the artwork away on the truck, according to El Nuevo Día, Puerto Rico’s largest newspaper. The raid was connected to an investigation into the location of hundreds of works of art worth more than $40m according to the newspaper, citing anonymous sources. The FBI did not immediately return a request for comment. The raid was reportedly carried out under an order by a judge in France.
The Michèle Vasarely Foundation was founded by Michèle Taburno-Vasarely, the second wife of Vasarely’s son Jean-Pierre, better known under his artist name of Yvaral. The ownership of the work held at Taburno-Vasarely’s foundation in San Juan has been challenged by Pierre Vasarely, Yvaral’s son from his first wife. Pierre leads the Vasarely Foundation, based in Aix-en-Provence, France, which was established in 1976 with Vasarely’s involvement before he died in 1997.
According to the Michèle Vasarely Foundation website, the organisation was founded over the Vasarely Foundation being “totally antinomic to art” with its connections to law and politics, an apparent reference to the Vasarely Foundation being involved in an embezzlement scandal in the 1990s.
Pierre Vasarely told The Art Newspaper last year that a French court ordered Taburno-Vasarely to return 200 paintings in 2013, but that she has rejected the order. He said around 600 paintings left France illegally for the US, and ultimately Puerto Rico.
Last year, the Vasarely Foundation accused the London gallery Mazzoleni Art of selling works by Vasarely that legally belong to the foundation that were consigned by Taburno-Vasarely. Taburno-Vasarely told The Art Newspaper she was awarded two of the works included in the Mazzoleni Art exhibition in a 2008 court case, while the others were given to her by Vasarely’s sons. Her claim was disputed by a Vasarely Foundation spokesperson.
“It’s not funny, but I often compare the situation to a family (with less money and less lineage) who would kill each other over a colour TV, a home video camera or a tablet,” Pierre Vasarely told The Art Newspaper last year. “It’s an age-old problem, silly and cruel.”
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Taburno-Vasarely claims she has documents proving the works are legally hers.
“It is extremely sad to have to accept that the foundation in Aix created by the artist has merely become a space for politics and scandal. We are not in art anymore; we are in a disaster,” Taburno-Vasarely said last year.
In 2008, Taburno-Vasarely was arrested in Chicago after she allegedly tried to break into a dealer’s storage unit to retrieve Vasarely paintings she believed rightly belonged to her, a claim she denies.
Neither the Vasarely Foundation nor the Michèle Vasarely Foundation immediately responded to requests for comment.