(qlmbusinessnews.com via news.sky.com– Mon, 24th Sept 2018) London, Uk – –
Comcast's dramatic shoot-out with the US entertainment giant ends 21 months of uncertainty for Sky over its ownership.
Comcast has triumphed in the auction to buy Sky plc, the owner of Sky News, for £29.7bn in the biggest takeover ever seen in Europe's media industry.
Comcast's offer of £17.28 per share was £1.61 ahead of Fox's offer of £15.67.
The US giant's victory follows a dramatic shoot-out with US entertainment giant 21st Century Fox in a rare three-round auction overseen by the Takeover Panel.
The result ends 21 months of uncertainty for Sky over its ownership after the company's independent committee unanimously recommended the offer to shareholders.
In a statement Sky plc said: “As the price of the final Comcast Offer is materially superior, it is in the best interests of all Sky shareholders to accept the Comcast offer.
“Accordingly, the Independent Committee unanimously recommends that Sky shareholders accept the Comcast offer, and in order to ensure the successful closing of the Comcast offer, urges shareholders to accept immediately.”
Both companies want Sky to help them compete more effectively with the new wave of online entertainment providers, including streaming services provided by the likes of Netflix and Amazon Video, who sell their content directly to viewers.
Comcast in particular wants Sky to give it a presence in Europe and reduce its dependence on the US and has also made clear its admiration for Sky's technological know-how.
Disney, meanwhile, has been looking for a way to make its content available directly to viewers without having to go via a third party like a cable company.
Sky agreed to be taken over by Fox, its biggest shareholder, in December 2016. Since then, Fox has agreed to sell most of its entertainment assets to Disney, including its Hollywood film studio and its 39.1% stake in Sky.
However, the bid was held up by a lengthy series of investigations by the Competition & Markets Authority and by Ofcom, the broadcasting and telecoms regulator.
That opened the door for Comcast to make a counter-bid for Sky. In July, it tabled a £14.75-a-share offer for Sky, valuing the company at £26bn.
That was the highest offer going into today's auction and compared with Friday night's closing price of £15.85.
Under the contest, Fox – as the lower bidder – was entitled to raise its offer first.
In the second round, only Comcast was allowed to raise its offer.
This meant the two sides went into a final “sudden death” round of bidding.
Such auctions are exceptionally rare. There have been only four since the rules were changed in 2002 and the most recent of these was in April 2008 when Enodis, a maker of kitchen equipment for McDonald's and Burger King, was acquired by the US company Manitowoc for £948m.
Brian Roberts, chairman and chief executive officer of Comcast, said it was a “great day”.
He added: “Sky is a wonderful company with a great platform, tremendous brand, and accomplished management team.
“This acquisition will allow us to quickly, efficiently and meaningfully increase our customer base and expand internationally.
“We couldn't be more excited by the opportunities in front of us.
“We now encourage Sky shareholders to accept our offer, which we look forward to completing before the end of October 2018.”
Jeremy Darroch, group chief executive for Sky, said: “This is the beginning of the next exciting chapter for Sky.
“Brian and his team have built a great business and we are looking forward to bringing our two companies together for the benefit of our customers and colleagues.
“As part of a broader Comcast we believe we will be able to continue to grow and strengthen our position as Europe's leading direct to consumer media company.
“Today's outcome is down to the hard work of tens of thousands of people who have built and developed this business together over the last 30 years. Sky has never stood still, and with Comcast our momentum will only increase.”
21st Century Fox said in a statement that it was “considering its options regarding its own 39% shareholding in Sky and will make a further announcement in due course”.
It added: “Sky is a remarkable story and we are proud to have played such a significant role in building the incredible value reflected today in Comcast's offer.”
Other companies whose fates have been decided by an auction overseen by the Panel include Corus, the owner of British Steel and Canary Wharf, the commercial property company.
However, in terms of the amount of money being paid, this auction is by far the biggest yet.
Sky, which was founded in 1989, is Europe's biggest pay television broadcaster.
It has 23 million household customers in the UK, Ireland, Germany, Austria and Italy, while it has recently launched “over the top” services in Spain and Switzerland.
It floated on the stock market in 1994 and, since flotation, has been a remarkably stable business, having had just five chief executives in the intervening 24 years – the late Sam Chisholm, Mark Booth, Tony Ball, James Murdoch – who is the current chairman of Sky and current chief executive of Fox – and Mr Darroch, the current incumbent.
(qlmbusinessnews.com via cityam.com – – Wed, 19th Sept 2018) London, Uk – –
UK media giant Sky will bundle Netflix into its subscription for the first time in November in an effort to step up user engagement with its own programming.
The Ultimate on Demand package will give users access to Netflix and Sky Box Sets on its Sky Q platform, making it easier for customers to browse TV selections from both companies.
The plan will cost £10 a month on top of a Sky Q subscription, which is more than the £7.99 Netflix currently charges. However, it will include an additional 350 box sets which would cost £5, therefore saving customers around £2.99 a month.
“We want Sky Q to be the number one destination for TV fans,” said Stephen van Rooyen, Sky chief exec. “Partnering with Netflix means we will have all the best TV in one great value pack, making it even easier for you to watch all of your favourite shows.”
Media firms share a tricky relationship with one another in a crowded market – while Netflix is a considerable threat, Sky recognises the demand for consolidating their entertainment subscriptions. Putting Netflix directly on its Sky Q platform is a shrewd way of adapting to viewer demands while encouraging customers to consume more of its own content.
Sky trying to be a ‘one stop shop'
Paolo Pescatore, a leading media & tech analyst, said the move showed Sky's ambition to become a “one stop shop media provider.
“Sky wants to position itself as an aggregator of services as underlined by recent tie-ups,” he explained. “As important as bringing services together is to be offer users a seamless and integrated service experience.
“Therefore, the move further increases Sky’s own value as a one stop shop provider.”
Comcast, who is competing with Fox to takeover Sky, has also signed its own similar agreement with Netflix. Pescatore added that Sky's move could make it an even more attractive asset for Disney (which is taking over Fox).
“More importantly it will also get access to Netflix’s catalogue and metadata which will prove more attractive to Disney,” he concluded.
Read more: 21st Century Fox extends deadline for Sky to vote on £24.5bn offer
(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Sat, 8 Sept, 2018) London, Uk – –
Rent parties were held in 1920s New York when African Americans faced disproportionately high rents. They threw wild jazz parties for paying guests to make up the money before the rent collector came round.
British choreographer Darren Pritchard is putting on performances inspired by these rent parties, to highlight housing inequalities in the UK today.
(qlmbusinessnews.com via cnnmoney.com – – Sat, 1 Sept 2018) London, Uk – –
The US box office bounced back in a big way this summer with revenue spiking 12.8% over this time last year, when it suffered the worst haul in two decades.
This summer's offerings of superhero movies, documentaries and films that ushered in a new era in on-screen representation has been the “perfect antidote” to last year's “abysmal” ticket sales, according to Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at comScore (SCOR).
“Last summer gave short-sighted naysayers ammunition to declare the death of movie going,” he said. “However, the cyclical nature of the industry was proven once again with a strong summer that had slate of films that offered everything from cinematic fast food to cinematic fine dining.”
Here's how the US box office rebounded this summer:
Hollywood finally got the message about representation. Films with diverse casts or ones that touch on race relations resonated with movie fans this summer.
“Ocean's 8,” an all-female sequel to “Ocean's Eleven,” topped the box office on its opening weekend in June. The film has since gone on to make $138 million domestically, which places it in the top ten highest-grossing films this summer.
Boots Riley's $3 million movie “Sorry to Bother You” has brought in roughly five times that amount since opening last month.
Spike Lee's “BlacKkKlansman” has made $26 million over its first two weeks, which is the most for a Lee film since 2006's “Inside Man.”
And “Crazy Rich Asians,” the first major studio film since “The Joy Luck Club” 25 years ago to feature a predominately Asian cast, exceeded expectations at the big box office as one of the biggest rom-coms in recent years. A sequel is in early development at Warner Bros.
Related: ‘Crazy Rich Asians' exceeds expectations, takes top spot at box office
The summer movie season is not typically known for documentaries, but that wasn't the case this year.
“Three Identical Strangers,” the Ruth Bader Ginsburg documentary “RBG” and the Mr. Rogers documentary “Won't You Be My Neighbor?” all made more than $10 million. “Won't You Be My Neighbor?” made a staggering $22 million. All three appeared in less than a 1,000 theaters during their theatrical runs.
This summer's docs were outliers because it's not a genre that is typically popular at the box office. The top documentary last year was Disney's nature film, “Born In China,” which made $13.8 million, and the top documentary that was shown in less than a 1,000 theaters last year was “I Am Not Your Negro,” which made $7.1 million.
“When people are fatigued by the news, by negativity, a divided country and sensationalism, a simple true story of one person overcoming huge obstacles to do good becomes almost soothing for adults to watch in the theater,” Fandango correspondent Nikki Novak told CNN.
The mouse was mighty this summer with three of the top five highest grossing films in the box office.
“The Incredibles 2” is at the top with “Solo: A Star Wars Story” and Marvel's “Ant-Man and the Wasp” coming in fourth and fifth, respectively.
Disney accounts for roughly a 35% market share of the overall box office this summer, according to comScore. That doesn't include the record opening weekend of “Avengers: Infinity War,” which premiered a few days before the season began in May.
Even the studio's biggest disappointment this summer was somewhat successful. May's “Solo,” which brought in lackluster returns for a “Star Wars” film, still made $213 million.
“Studios are stepping up their game to compete with not only each other but with streaming services like Netflix,” Novak added. “What this summer really showed is that people still love going to the movies.”
At age 20, professional gamer Michael Schmale had it all: a steady salary, a team mansion overlooking Hollywood and a chef, personal trainer, coach and team manager who were all there to help him play at his best. But the job came with plenty of uncertainties too. This is a series about careers of the future hosted by Bloomberg Technology's Aki Ito.
Video by David Nicholson and Victoria Blackburne-Daniell
Selfridges department store in London is selling a luxury ice cream for £99 which contains 24-carat gold leaf. The ice cream is called “Billionaire's Soft Serve” and it weighs 350 grams. Here's a run down of what you get for your money.
PRIVATE chef-prepared meals, spa treatments and chauffeur-driven rides are just a few of the services provided to clients of New York’s most exclusive hotel… for dogs. D Pet Hotels, in New York’s affluent Chelsea neighbourhood, caters for the pets of the rich and famous, and its rooms and services are fit for the world’s most pampered pups. And with basic suites starting at a cool $84 a night and featuring an orthopaedic bed, TV, and 24-hour care, patrons include some of the world’s most famous dog lovers.
Editor-in-chief Edward Enninful sits down with British Vogue August cover star Oprah Winfrey to discuss what life is really like for the global powerhouse, her proudest achievements and most valuable advice.
In Nigeria, an 11-year-old artist is creating waves with his unique creations. From a makeshift studio in a poor neighbourhood in Lagos, Waris Kareem produces incredibly life-like works of art. CGTN's Deji Badmus went to check them out.
(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Wed, 11 July 2018) London, Uk – –
Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox has increased its offer for UK broadcaster Sky to £24.5bn, topping a previous offer from rival bidder Comcast.
US media giant Comcast made a £22bn offer for Sky in February, trumping a previous offer from Fox, which valued Sky at £18.5bn.
Fox is expecting to get regulatory approval from Britain this week for the deal.
Fox said Sky's independent committee had agreed the deal.
What have been the stumbling blocks for Fox's Sky deal?
Rupert Murdoch's Fox has been trying to get approval from UK regulators since 2016 to buy the 61% of Sky it does not own already.
The bid was held up by fears that it could give Mr Murdoch too much power over UK media.
Fox has been trying to address those concerns through concessions, including selling Sky News to Disney once the deal is complete.
In June, the then Culture Secretary, Matt Hancock, said the Fox deal could go ahead if it sold Sky News, with certain provisos.
At the time, Mr Hancock said he needed to be confident that the deal ensured the long-term financial viability of the channel.
Sky News would need to continue to be a major UK-based news broadcaster. It would also need to be able to make editorial decisions independent from the control of the Murdochs.
Mr Hancock said in June that there would be no public interest concerns with a Comcast takeover of Sky.
How do Sky shareholders feel?
Analysis: BBC business editor Simon Jack
There is nothing better for an owner than watching an auction between two rich buyers who really want what you are selling.
That is how Sky shareholders feel as Murdoch-controlled 21st Century Fox raised the bidding once again for Sky.
The new bid is a whopping 80% more than the market thought Sky was worth before the bidding war started.
A source close to the deal said: “It's absolutely unbelievable – they are way overpaying.”
And I'm told it's not done yet. “I think Comcast want it more – and will be back.”
This is sweet music to the 61% of Sky shareholders who aren't part of the Murdoch family and they will be happy with the independent directors on the Sky board.
The big question may be for Disney, which, if the price goes any higher, may start to think that the company they want to buy – Fox – is overpaying for Sky – which in turn means they are getting a worse deal.
As one source at Sky told me: “If you can figure out what the strategy is here, then let me know.”
Is there also a battle for Fox?
Yes. Separately, Disney wants to buy Fox's entertainment assets, including its stake in Sky.
In June, Disney increased its offer for 21st Century Fox to $71.3bn (£54bn) in cash and shares, up from an earlier $52bn offer.
Comcast also wants to buy Fox. The US media conglomerate is locked in a battle with Disney over Fox's entertainment assets, which include movie studios, cable channels, National Geographic and a 30% stake in video website Hulu, as well as Indian network Star.
Fox would keep hold of some successful assets, including Fox Sports, Fox News and Fox Television Stations, and make them into a new company called “New Fox”.
Cosmetic dentistry has taken over the world. Having perfect teeth shouts success, but where did all begin? Well, Hollywood of course. But one dentist was more influential than any other in creating the movie star smile.
Luxury trains are special trains designed specifically to offer an elegant train ride, and evoke a strong sense of association as in history, heritage and decadence of a leisurely ride. Luxury trains operate in several countries and offer a luxurious and comfortable traveling option to luxury travelers. Whereas some luxury trains like the Orient Express promote tourism in major destinations of an entire continent other trains take guests on a long leisure ride, cutting across state borders but limited to one specific country.
Nowadays there is an increase in the trend of luxury train travel around the world. Luxury train travel proponents assert that it has several advantages over travel on airplanes. Whereas during air travel the monotony of the journey is occasionally broken by the view of clouds through the plane's window, a winding luxury ride on board the trains provides ample opportunity to the guests to witness the local environment, social and economic conditions, and myriad colours of the places they are traveling to. There are a number of reasons for the growing popularity of the luxury trains over air travel, which includes ample space, restaurants and bars, spacious and comfortable sleeping and seating area and even wash/bath rooms. Since the time of introduction of Pioneer in 1864 by American industrialist George Mortimer Pullman, luxury train travel has come a long way.
(qlmbusinessnews.com via theguardian.com – – Sat, 16 June 2018) London, Uk – –
Forgeries have got so good – and so costly – that Sotheby’s has brought in its own in-house fraud-busting expert.
The unravelling of a string of shocking old master forgeries began in the winter of 2015, when French police appeared at a gallery in Aix-en-Provence and seized a painting from display. Venus, by the German Renaissance master Lucas Cranach the Elder, to describe the work more fully: oil on oak, 38cm by 25cm, and dated to 1531. Purchased in 2013 by the Prince of Liechtenstein for about £6m, Venus was the inescapable star of the exhibition of works from his collection; she glowed on the cover of the catalogue. But an anonymous tip to the police suggested she was, in fact, a modern fake – so they scooped her up and took her away.
The painting had been placed in the market by Giuliano Ruffini, a French collector, and its seizure hoisted the first flag of concern about a wave of impeccable fakes. Ruffini has sold at least 25 works, their sale values totalling about £179m, and doubts now shadow every one of these paintings. The authenticity of four, in particular, including the Cranach, has been contested; the art historian Bendor Grosvenor said they may turn out to be “the best old master fakes the world has ever seen.” Ruffini, who remains the subject of a French police investigation, has denied presenting these paintings as old masters at all. To the Art Newspaper, he protested: “I am a collector, not an expert.”
The quality of these paintings – their faithful duplicity – jolted the market. The sums of money at stake in art, never paltry to begin with, have grown monstrous. Thirty years ago, the highest auction price for a painting was $10.4m, paid by the J Paul Getty Museum for Andrea Mantegna’s Adoration of the Magi in 1985. In contrast, while the $450m paid for Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi in 2017 counts as an outlier, abstract expressionists and impressionists frequently come, in auctions or private deals, with nine-figure price tags.
In lockstep, the incentive to be a proficient forger has soared; a single, expertly executed old master knockoff can finance a long, comfortable retirement. The technologies available to abet the aspiring forger have also improved. Naturally, then, the frauds are getting better, touching off a crisis of authentication for the institutions of the art world: the museums and galleries and auction houses and experts who are expected to know the real thing from its imitation.
What was most unnerving about the alleged fakes sold by Ruffini was how many people they fooled. The National Gallery in London displayed a small oil painting thought to be by the 16th-century artist Orazio Gentileschi – a battle-weary David, painted on an electric-blue slice of lapis lazuli; the work is now suspect. A portrait of a nobleman against a muddy background was sold by Sotheby’s in 2011, to a private collector, as a Frans Hals; the buyer paid £8.5m. Sotheby’s also sold an oil named Saint Jerome, attributed to the 16th-century artist Parmigianino, in a 2012 auction, for $842,500. With care, the catalogue only ventured that the work was from the “circle of” Parmigianino– an idiom to convey that it was painted by an artist influenced by, and perhaps a pupil of, Parmigianino. But the entry also cited several experts who believed it was by Parmigianino himself.
The works were full of striking, scrupulous detail. On Jerome’s arm, for example, dozens of faint horizontal cracks have appeared; every so often, a clean, vertical split intersects them. In French canvases from the 18th century, cracks in paint tend to develop like spider webs; in Flemish panels, like tree bark. In Italian paintings of the Renaissance, the patterns resemble rows of untidy brickwork. On the Saint Jerome, the cracks match perfectly. Prof David Ekserdjian, one of the few art historians who doubted that the painting was a Parmigianino, said he just didn’t feel the prickle of recognition that scholars claim as their gift: the intimacy with an artist that they liken to our ability to spot a friend in a crowd. “But I have to be frank, I didn’t look at it and say: ‘Oh, that’s a forgery.’”
When Sotheby’s sells an artwork, it offers a five-year guarantee of refund if the object proves to be a counterfeit – “a modern forgery intended to deceive”, as its terms specify. In 2016, after uncertainty crackled over the Hals and the Parmigianino, the auction-house sent them to Orion Analytical, a conservation science lab in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Orion was run, and staffed almost solely by, James Martin, who has loaned his forensic skills to the FBI for many art forgery investigations. Within days, Martin had an answer for Sotheby’s: both the Hals and the Parmigianino were fakes.
The “Hals” contained synthetic pigments that the artist, in the 17th century, could not have used. In Saint Jerome, similarly, Martin found phthalocyanine green, a pigment first synthesised four centuries after Parmigianino died. It showed up consistently across 21 paint samples from various parts of the painting – “a bit like taking the pulse of a corpse 21 times,” Martin told the New York Times last year. Sotheby’s refunded both buyers, and filed suits against the sellers, demanding they return their proceeds from the sales.
In December 2016, in a signal of how attribution scandals have spooked the market, Sotheby’s took the unprecedented step of buying Orion Analytical, becoming the first auctioneer to have an in-house conservation and analysis unit. The company had seen enough disputes over attribution to mar its bottom line, its CEO, Tad Smith, said: “If you looked at earnings reports from a year or two ago, you’d see little blips here and there. These were expenses coming from settlements – not a slew, the number was small and statistically insignificant, but they’re expensive.” The cost of insurance that covers such settlements was also rising. With Martin in the building, “the pictures and other objects moving through Sotheby’s now have a much higher chance of being checked”, Smith said. Last year, Martin analysed more than $100m worth of artworks before they went under the hammer or into private sales. Sotheby’s employs him, in part, as a conservator, so he ministers to the health of the paintings and sculptures that pass through. But over the past two decades, Martin has also become the art world’s foremost forensic art detective. He has worked so many forgery cases with such success that he also serves Sotheby’s as a line of fortification against the swells of duff art lapping into the market.
The first major painting sold by Sotheby’s was also a Hals – a real one: Man in Black, a half-length portrait of a hatted gent. Until 1913, Sotheby’s had dealt in books for a century or thereabouts; art made up only a wan side business. In that year, though, a Sotheby’s partner found a Hals consigned to the firm, and rather than forwarding it to Christie’s, as was often the practice, decided to auction it. After a spirited contest of bids, Man in Black sold for £9,000 – a 26% rate of return per annum since Christie’s had last auctioned the work, in 1885, for around £5. It was the first signal, for Sotheby’s, that there was profit to be mined from paintings. Last year, it sold $5.5bn worth of art, jewellery and real estate.
For Sotheby’s, the question of authenticity is not merely, or even primarily, academic. There is more at stake than a satisfying answer to the fundamental conundrum of whether authenticity matters at all – a debate that has been fought and refought in the history of western art. “If a fake is so expert that even after the most thorough and trustworthy examination its authenticity is still open to doubt,” the critic Aline Saarinen once wondered, “is it or is it not as satisfactory a work of art as if it were unequivocally genuine?” Typically, this debate comes to rest at the same place every time. Of course authenticity matters; to study a false Rembrandt as a true one would be to hobble our understanding of Rembrandt as an artist, and of the evolution of art. Now, however, the question’s philosophical whimsy has been replaced by financial urgency. At a time when the art market is synonymous with art itself, a lack of regard for attribution would derail a trade that traffics in the scarcity of authentic Rembrandts.
Leaving straight forgeries aside, any discussion about the “authenticity” of an artwork opens suddenly, like a trapdoor, into the murk of semantics. On the sliding scale of attribution that art historians use – painted by; hand of; studio of; circle of; style of; copy of – each step takes the artist further from the painting. These variations, often subtle, are compounded by the unease about overpainting; Salvator Mundi had been worked over so many times and so heavily, critics argued, that it was less by Da Vinci than by his restorers. Deliberate fakes, misattributions and poor restorations all encroach into the realm of the authentic. In two decades at the Met in New York, Thomas Hoving, the museum’s director until 1977, must have examined at least 50,000 objects, he wrote in his book False Impressions. “I almost believe that there are as many bogus works as genuine ones.”
Like criminals of every stripe, modern forgers have kept easy pace with the techniques that attempt to trap them. The mismatch between the purported age of a painting and the true age of its ingredients is the workhorse of Martin’s technique. So forgers have grown more rigorous in their harvesting of materials, taking the trouble, for instance, to source wooden panels from furniture they know is dateable to the year of the fake they are creating. (The trick isn’t wholly new; Terenzio da Urbino, a 17th-century conman, scrabbled around for filthy old canvases and frames, cleaned them up, and turned them into “Raphaels”.) Forgers also test their own fakes to ensure they’ll pass. Wolfgang Beltracchi, a German artist who served three years in prison for forging paintings worth $45m, surveyed the chemical elements in his works by running them under X-ray fluorescence guns – the same handheld devices, resembling Star Trek phasers, that many art fairs now train upon their exhibits.
Georgina Adam, who wrote Dark Side of the Boom, a book about the art market’s excesses, told me that many forgers are sensibly choosing to falsify 20th-century painters, who used paints and canvases that can still be obtained, and whose abstractions are easier to imitate. “The technical skill needed to forge a Leonardo is colossal, but with someone like Modigliani, it isn’t,” she said. “Now, scholars will say it’s easy to distinguish, but the fact is that it’s just not that easy at all.” In January, in a celebrated Modigliani exhibition in Genoa, 20 out of 21 paintings were revealed to be counterfeits.
As the tide of money in the market has risen, making decisions about authenticity has turned into a fraught venture. Collectors, realising how much they stand to lose, are now happy to take scholars and connoisseurs – traditionally the final authorities on the authenticity of a work – to court for their mistakes. Realising that their reputations, as well as their bank balances, may wilt under the heat,these experts have begun to subtract themselves from the game entirely.
The estates of several 20th-century artists had once taken on the duty of resolving doubts over attribution, setting up authentication committees, consisting of experts or the artist’s former colleagues or friends – people expected to know the work best. In 2007, a collector named Joe Simon-Whelan sued the Andy Warhol estate’s authentication committee, claiming it had twice rejected a Warhol silkscreen he owned because it wanted to maintain scarcity in the Warhol market. Four years later, after spending $7m in legal fees, the estate dissolved the committee. The authentication boards of other modern artists – Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Roy Lichtenstein, Alexander Calder – have followed. Individual connoisseurs – as the art world calls its experts – won’t always challenge popular identifications, wrote the critic Jerry Saltz in a scorching essay on the vertiginous price of Salvator Mundi. They are reluctant to “rock the already splintering institutional boat. As in the wider world, where people sit by for fear of losing position, it’s no wonder that many old master experts are keeping quiet, not saying much of anything.”
The collapse of these committees feels like a victory of the market over the academy, like a blow to the very cause of trustworthy authentication. (In New York, a small band of lawyers is lobbying for legislation that will protect scholars from being sued merely for expressing their opinion.) In this void of opinion, Martin’s abilities – premised not on the mysterious instincts of connoisseurship, but on the verifiable results of the scientific process – have an even higher valence.
Martin, a tall man with lumber-beam shoulders, has a voice that never surpasses a murmur. He is a consummate nerd; find someone who looks at you the way Martin looks at his Fourier-transform infrared microscope. He trained as a conservator of paintings, but now he assays them: picks out their chemical constituents, inspects pigments and binders, peers under their washes of colour. From a painting’s materials, he can extract the vital detail of when it could, or could not, have been created.
The field of scientific art conservation is not a crowded one; Martin, who set up the first for-profit art lab in the US, has been consulted in nearly every major fraud case in the past 25 years, often working alongside the FBI or other investigators. When he is described as the premier forensic detective working in art today, the accolade comes not only from people such as John Cahill, a New York lawyer who has managed dozens of art transactions, and who called Martin “hands-down the best in the business,” but also from those on the other side of the fence, so to speak. Beltracchi, the German forger, told me that, after his arrest, he had seen an assortment of technical studies collected by the police and the prosecution. He remembered Martin’s well. “His reports contained the most accurate results. His reports were factually neutral and without unrealistic guesses.” By folding Martin into its staff, Sotheby’s has given itself a muscular chance to stamp out problems of attribution before they flare into spectacular, expensive affairs. But it’s hard not to feel, at the same time, that it has cornered a precious resource, at a moment when the art world needs him most.
Martin spent much of last year setting up a new lab in what used to be a photo studio on the fifth floor of the Sotheby’s headquarters in Manhattan. Soon, he will also have a London facility, in the building where the Beatles once recorded A Taste of Honey for the BBC. The New York lab, one large room, is as white and aseptic as a dentist’s clinic. Many of the cabinets are still empty, and the desk surfaces often bear nothing apart from one red pack of Martin’s Dentyne Fire gum. Outside the lab, above the lead-lined double doors, is a warning light; if it’s on, so to is the giant x-ray fluorescence machine, and no one is allowed in.
One Friday in mid-February, the room held only two items of art. A carved wooden chair sat on a counter; on a stand was a painting that, for reasons of confidentiality, may be described here only as “a late-19th century American work”. When a painting checks into the lab, it is first submitted to a visual examination in bright, white light; then the lamp is moved to one side, so that the light rakes over the surface at an angle, showing up restored or altered areas. The canvas in Martin’s lab was at the next stage; it had been photographed under ultraviolet and infrared, and then under x-rays to discover some of the painting’s chemical elements.
On a computer, one of Martin’s two colleagues cycled through the images. Under infrared, the painting’s browns and yellows and greens turned into shades of grey, but no spectral underdrawings peered back out. (Not that underdrawings would have suggested anything about authenticity one way or another; they’d merely have been a further nugget of information to consider.) Mapped for lead by the x-ray fluorescence unit, the painting looked faded and streaked with dark rust; the streaks betrayed where restorers had perhaps applied touchups with modern, lead-free paint. Mapped for calcium, the painting showed yellow-green splashes where conservators had made repairs with a calcium carbonate filler.
Not every object needs to move beyond these non-invasive phases. (At Orion, Martin was once able to unmask a fake Modigliani after seeing, under infrared, a faint grid, which had been drawn by a forger who wanted to guide his work.) If Martin has to disturb the painting, he will place it under a stereo microscope and, squinting through the two eyepieces, pick out a grain of paint with a scalpel. He demonstrated with a sample of phthalocyanine blue, a synthetic pigment he picked out of a box that held paint cakes of different colours. Working with the same steady, cautious manner in which he speaks, he teased out a particle smaller than the width of a human hair, flattened it gently, then nudged it on to a slim, small rectangle of metal, where it was held in place between two tiny diamonds.
“You don’t drink a lot of coffee before you do this,” he said, grimacing.
The metal plate then goes into the Fourier-transform infrared microscope, like a slide. The spectrometer pumps infrared light through the flecks of pigment; a computer analyses the light’s behavior and returns a tidy spectrum graph. Martin has looked at so many of these spectra that he recognises on sight the patterns thrown up by different pigments, but even if he didn’t, the computer could rifle through databases of the spectrum patterns of other known chemicals, find the nearest match, and tell Martin what, in this case, he already knew: that his sample was phthalocyanine blue.
By a system of triage – sorting, for instance, for artists with a high incidence of being faked in the past, or for works accompanied by scientific analysis reports that are suspiciously long – only a small percentage of the tens of thousands of objects passing through Sotheby’s is diverted to the lab. Martin thinks of them as patients showing symptoms. Sometimes, like a doctor doing general checkups, he will tour the galleries at Sotheby’s just before a sale, reading every work with a handheld infrared camera. In the past year, his lab has stopped several lots from going to market, preventing possible disputes after the sale. In one case, a painting valued at $7m was removed from sale after the lab found that it had been completely and irretrievably overpainted by a restorer. “An appraiser would’ve said it’s worthless,” Martin said. “So it wasn’t sold.”
The arduous process of Martin’s work divorces art from its aesthetic. It reduces compositions of great prestige or high beauty to their very particles; it frees Martin up to think of art as pure matter. In this way, he comes closer to the artist than anyone has before, often becoming only the second person to think as intensely about the materiality of the object, about the chemical nature of its pigments or the physical properties of its canvas. The art he analyses derives its worth from unique, flashing inspiration. His own talent, if anything, has more in common with the forger. It lies in his capacity to be unflashy but diligent – to perform a step time after time without a slackening of attention, to never leave a molecule unturned, to never conclude more about a work than what it tells him about itself.
When Martin turned 13, his father gifted him a microscope, a chemistry kit, and art lessons – a splendid piece of foreshadowing. He used them all, but he was particularly attracted to art. The family lived in Baltimore, and whenever they visited Washington DC, Martin spent his time at the National Museum of Natural History, drawing the dioramas, while the others wandered the capital. His father worked in army intelligence. “As a child, I’m not sure I understood what he did. I do remember being in airports and trying to guess who was a spy,” Martin said. He devoured detective stories and loves them still, particularly Patricia Cornwell’s novels about Kay Scarpetta, the forensic pathologist. “We both examine patients that cannot speak their past,” he said.
In a universe a twist away from ours, Martin might have become a forger himself. Late in his teens, he joined an art school where students were taught how to grind their own pigments and stretch their own canvases. For practice, he set up an easel in the Baltimore Museum of Art and copied the works he liked; he grew so accomplished that once, as he was leaving with his copy of William Merritt Chase’s Broken Jug, the museum director spotted him and asked if he was returning the painting to storage.
“I was very good technically,” Martin said, “but like most art forgers, I didn’t have my own creative way of doing things.” He thought he’d become an illustrator of medical textbooks, but then heard about a conservation programme at the Winterthur Museum in Delaware. The portfolio he submitted included his copy of the Chase, as well as of other painters – all at such a high level of craft, said Richard Wolbers, who taught him at Winterthur, “that we were blown away”. He was such a good copyist, in fact, that he was almost rejected. “Later, I heard that the committee worried that if they trained me to be a conservator and taught me all the science, I’d be a natural forger.”
After Winterthur, Martin was hired by the Clark Art Institute, a museum in Williamstown, Massachusetts, to conserve paintings. A couple of years later, he set up the museum’s first conservation lab, filled with equipment that he bought or begged from chemistry departments in nearby universities. At the time, in 1990, the apparatus of analysis – the microscopes, the spectroscopes, the infrared cameras – was bulky, expensive and difficult to operate. Few museums had their own labs, Martin said. “The Guggenheim, the Brooklyn Museum, MoMA [Museum of Modern Art], the museums in San Francisco – none of them had the facilities.”
In getting to know a painting, conservators in these museums relied first on the tactility of their craft – “listening to the sound of the swab on the canvas”, Martin said, or “feeling the pull of the swab in the varnish”. Most conservation departments owned microscopes, some perhaps even x-ray machines. But if they needed some serious technology – Fourier-transform infrared microscopes, say, or scanning electron microscopes – they could turn only to the lab in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or to those in universities. Even then, an expert was still needed to interpret the data. “Small museums really didn’t have any place to go. Some people took paintings to the vet to get them x-rayed.”
Martin’s lab began by assisting conservators who had no equipment of their own. “If someone was trying to get a varnish off a painting and didn’t want to damage it by using a solvent that was too strong, they’d send me a sample,” he said. “I’d tell them: ‘It’s polyurethane. You’re not going to get it off.’ Or: ‘It’s shellac. You need to use alcohol.’” A conservator wondering if the strange sky in a landscape was overpaint – paint applied by later restorers – could mail Martin a tiny cross-section tweezed out of the work, so that he could examine it under a microscope. “We’d see the layers in the cross-section: varnish, varnish, varnish, then blue sky, then more varnish, then more sky. So we’d establish that the topmost layer of blue was overpaint.”
In its materials, an artwork holds its biography, so inevitably, Martin became an arbiter of authenticity. Nearly all of the privately owned art labs in Europe and the US have been founded in the past decade – not coincidentally, around the time that the world’s multi-millionaires realised how hollow their lives had been without art. But in the 1990s, at Clark, and then again at Orion, which he founded in 2000, Martin was often the sole resource for collectors and merchants.
Some of his stories from these years have the baroque pulpiness of Elmore Leonard plots. Martin narrates these with care; he is alive to the sensational aspects of his work, but by default, he wears an air of studious detachment. There were the two questionable gentlemen from Tel Aviv, who slipped a pair of paintings out of architects’ tubes, shook them open as if they were rugs, and asked him to confirm that they were Modiglianis. (They weren’t.) There was the client who sent Martin to test a painting at an auction house, claiming he wished to bid on it, but then also had Martin stop by a warehouse to assess “a horrible copy” of the same painting. (Martin now thinks the client wanted to know how close the fake was to the genuine work.) There were the two ferocious dogs chained near the front door of a house in Los Angeles, guarding the stolen Chinese sculptures held within. There was the collector who offered to fly Martin to an undisclosed location, have him picked up by a security detail, and bring him in to examine an old Mexican stele, a stone carving supposedly worth $50m. The night before his flight, Martin was unable to sleep, so he Googled the collector and found that he had recently been released from federal prison after serving time on weapons charges.
Next morning, Martin called the collector and turned down the case.
“Oh,” the collector said. “Did you read about the murders?”
“No,” Martin said. “What murders?” The collector, it turned out, had once been implicated in the killings of two people over a matter of Mexican steles. Martin never got on that plane.
The FBI first came to Martin in 1994. A suspicious number of works ascribed to the 19th-century artist William Aiken Walker, who often painted black sharecroppers in the American south, were emerging in the market. “They’d sell at really small country auctions for $5,000 or $10,000 – so low that nobody would pay for analysis,” Martin said. From the paintings, Martin sampled a yellow pigment called PY3, which had been manufactured in Germany and was not available to American artists until the late 1940s, decades after Walker died. Walker also used lead white paint, Martin found; the forger used zinc white. A former vitamin salesman named Charles Heller was eventually indicted for a spree of counterfeiting, but he pleaded guilty to lesser charges and served one year in prison.
With even a little study, a con artist would know not to use zinc white; some forgers go on to become diligent researchers, accessing technical journals and case studies to learn what experts search for. Martin recalled a painting once referred to him, around 3.5 sq metres in size and dated to 1932. In a first round of study, he discovered nothing amiss. But the work’s provenance – its documented history of ownership – was shaky, so he ran a second pass under a microscope. For most of a day, he scanned the painting in dime-sized increments, until his eyes dried up. Was anything embedded in the paint: dust, or hair, or an insect wing? Did the dirt look as if it had been smeared on deliberately? Finally, embedded in a speckle of blue, he found a slim fibre; with a scalpel, he snipped it off and subjected it to infrared spectroscopy. The fibre turned out to be polypropylene. Perhaps someone had worn a polar fleece while painting the forgery?
For a while, Martin cited this example in a two-day course he taught. Last year, though, he read a translation of Faussaire (or Forger), a French novel written in 2015 and containing a wealth of sound wisdom for forgers. “If you want to get hold of antique lead,” one character advises another, for instance, “then you can just pick up bits of it from the old buildings in Rome.” The same character warns of the dangers from “microparticles from your clothes … You must always work in an old smock. Never nylon or a modern apron.” Martin is convinced the detail came from his anecdote; it was one reason he decided to stop teaching his course altogether.
As a crime, art forgery can seem trifling – less a sinister outrage than a half-complete Robin Hood jape that merely robs the rich. After Beltracchi’s arrest in 2010, the Frankfurter Allgemeine called art forgery “the most moral way to embezzle €16m”; Der Spiegel noted that, unlike crooked bankers, Beltracchi hadn’t swindled the common man. But the crime can have real victims, and Martin has met so many of them that he has developed a gentle bedside manner to break bad news. He has seen people who used the money set aside for their children’s education to buy a painting, only to find it to be fake. “So we aren’t just talking rich people. In some situations, it’s a person’s whole life.”
The inflation of the art market, and its attendant litigiousness, imposes fierce pressures upon anyone called to judge the authenticity of an artwork. Martin’s harshest experience of this came during the bitter legal battle over the fate of the Knoedler gallery. The Knoedler, once New York’s oldest gallery, closed in 2011, days after Martin issued a report concluding that a Jackson Pollock it had sold for $17m was fake.
The bogus Pollock was only the inauguration of a scandal. Over 15 years, Knoedler had sourced and sold 40 paintings ascribed to a range of leading modern artists: Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Richard Diebenkorn and Robert Motherwell, among others, earning roughly $80m in the process. When the ambiguity of the works’ provenance raised needles of suspicion, 10 buyers sued Knoedler and its director, Ann Freedman; all but one of these lawsuits have been settled out of court. In 2013, investigators learned that the forgeries had been painted by a Chinese immigrant, who was by then 73 years old, in his garage in Queens, and placed with Knoedler by an art dealer who pleaded guilty. Knoedler’s executives claimed they had no knowledge of the fraud, and argued that scholars had verified the works before sale.
In at least four of the lawsuits, which carried on for years, the plaintiffs hired Martin to test the paintings they had purchased. He found them all to be forgeries. A purported Rothko from 1956, which sold for $8.3m, used a ground layer of white paint between the canvas and the oils; through that decade, though, Rothko had used a transparent ground layer. In an apparent Pollock, the artist seemed to have misspelled his own signature as “Pollok”. Further, in 16 Knoedler paintings he analysed, Martin found the same ground layer of white paint and other anachronistic pigments repeating themselves across the works of several artists, as if Motherwell, De Kooning and Rothko had all travelled forward in time, met in a bar, and swapped tubes of paint.
Eventually, Martin was proved right; when the FBI raided the Queens garage, it even found the tubs of white that had coated the canvas in the fake Rothko. But, until then, the trials were a torrid experience. Knoedler recruited experts to attack Martin in court. “They went after him with a vengeance, saying he’d soiled the evidence, accidentally or on purpose,” said the lawyer John Cahill, who represented some of Martin’s clients. Knoedler’s attorneys served six subpoenas on Martin, to extract more than 8,000 documents and emails related to the case. Instead of being an expert witness, he was forced to defend himself – the care and soundness of his methods, his very character – in court.
When Martin talks about the Knoedler trials, even the memory of the ordeal draws a look of horror on his face. “He’s a real boy scout, and his integrity means a lot to him, so he suffered,” Cahill said. It was an attempted impeachment of Martin’s whole career. “His entire power relies on being objective, on not being part of the party,” said Narayan Khandekar, who runs Harvard’s Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies. “He comes under a lot of pressure, because people have a lot of money at stake on the outcome of his analyses. But he’s been very, very brave to stand up and stay stolidly on track with what he does.”
Martin had always loved science for its ability to guide him in pursuit of truth, and he felt a deep distress when his objective facts were countered with dirty tricks and personal vilification. In 2016, after his clients settled with Knoedler, Martin found it difficult to return to work. He wanted to never have to provide expert testimony again, and to go away to paint for a while; he’d already primed a set of boards.
“It was surreal, what happened to me,” he said. “No scientist should have to go to through this.” When, later that year, negotiations began for Sotheby’s to buy Orion, Martin was ready to be cocooned within a larger institution. He’d rather probe works before they hit the market, he decided, than go through the acrimonious aftermath of a sale even once more. Above his desk in Sotheby’s, Martin keeps pinned a pair of sketches of himself from his time in the Knoedler courtroom, as if to remind himself of what he has gratefully left behind.
In conversation, Martin uses many homespun metaphors, but his favourite is that of the three-legged stool. Deciding the authorship of artworks, he says, relies on connoisseurship, technical analysis and provenance. He values the opinions of connoisseurs, considers them complementary to his own skills; his tests can definitively reveal if a painting is not by Da Vinci or Modigliani, but they are unable to affirm authorship, except in rare cases.
Science has a habit, though, of showing up the sagacity of scholars. In a 1932 trial in Berlin – the first in which a forensic exam was used to scrutinise art – two connoisseurs squabbled about the authenticity of a set of 33 canvases, all purportedly by Vincent van Gogh, all sold by an art dealer named Otto Wacker. It took a chemist, Martin de Wild, to trace resins in the paint that Van Gogh had never used, and to prove the paintings fake. Since then, the science has improved, even as human judgment has remained the same, vulnerable to the potential thrill of discovering new work, and to market pressures. During the Knoedler trial, Cahill remembered, one expert admitted that he couldn’t tell one Rothko canvas from another, or indeed whether a Rothko had been hung upside-down or right side up.
In any case, however fond he is of the three-legged stool, Martin may have to think soon of a different item of furniture. The humanities are in decline everywhere; in England, the last art history A-level was cut in 2016. The populace of connoisseurs is thinning out. “In British art now, for a major artist like George Stubbs, there’s no recognised figure that we can all go to and say: ‘Is this by George Stubbs or not?’ Because various specialists have died recently, and there’s no one to replace them,” Bendor Grosvenor, the art historian, said. Meanwhile, researchers at Rutgers University have developed an AI system that, in tests, detected forged paintings with 100% accuracy by scanning and comparing individual brushstrokes. One leg is growing longer, another growing shorter, the stool becoming decidedly imbalanced. And so, if the art market wants to beat back the threats posed by sophisticated forgeries – if it wants to preserve its financial vigour, rooted as it is so absolutely in the notion of authenticity – it will have to turn more and more to the resources of science.
As a thought experiment, it is possible to envision the immaculate forgery – the one that defeats scientist and connoisseur alike. Our villain is a talented copyist, well practised in the style and the themes of his chosen artist. He is also a resourceful procurer of materials, able to rustle up every kind of age-appropriate canvas and frame, pigment and binder. He fits his forgery neatly into a chain of provenance – giving it the title of a now-lost work, or providing false documents to claim that it had been part of a well known private collection.
In theory, if each of these steps is perfectly performed, there should be no way to expose the painting as fake. It will be a work of art in every way save one. But the world of today, the world in which the forgery is being created, is likely to fix itself in some form within the painting – as radioactive dust, perhaps, or as cat hair, or a stray polypropylene fibre. When that happens, only the scientist can hope to nab it.
(qlmbusinessnews.com via uk.reuters.com — Thur, 14 June 2018) London, UK —
(Reuters) – Comcast Corp (CMCSA.O) offered $65 billion on Wednesday to lure Twenty-First Century Fox Inc (FOXA.O) away from a merger with Walt Disney Co (DIS.N), setting up a bidding war between two of the largest U.S. media companies with its 20 percent higher offer.
Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts said he was highly confident regulators would allow Comcast to acquire most of Fox’s media assets after AT&T Inc’s (T.N) court victory on Tuesday, which allowed it to buy Time Warner Inc (TWX.N) for $85 billion.
The fight to win Fox’s assets is shaping up to be a summer blockbuster starring well-known media moguls, led by Rupert Murdoch who built Fox into a global media empire. Comcast’s Roberts, who led a failed bid for Disney in 2004, now faces off against Disney Chief Executive Robert Iger, whose own dealmaking has added heroes from Pixar, Star Wars and Marvel comics to the home of Mickey Mouse.
Fox’s board will now have to decide whether Comcast’s offer beats Disney’s. If Fox prefers Comcast, Disney will have five business days to respond.
Comcast may have a tough time winning over Fox’s largest shareholder, the Murdoch family. They own a 17-percent stake and would face a multi-billion dollar capital gains tax bill by accepting an all-cash offer from Comcast, tax experts previously told Reuters.
Fox shareholders will vote July 10 on the Disney transaction but the company could postpone the meeting, Fox said in a statement.
Some analysts see difficulties for Comcast-Fox, which would add Fox’s movie and television studios to Comcast’s NBC Universal, but Roberts said in a letter to Fox that he would offer the same conditions as Disney and promised to fight for the deal in court if necessary.
Comcast is expected to lead a wave of traditional media companies trying to combine distribution and production to compete with Netflix Inc (NFLX.O) and Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google. The younger firms produce content, sell it online directly to consumers and often offer lucrative targeted advertising.
A merger between Fox and Comcast would create a company with a stable of well-known media brands and franchises, such as the X-Men superheroes. A combined company would hold the rights to air Fox’s long running TV show “The Simpsons”, the U.S. rights to the Olympics and Premier League Soccer.
Fox’s international assets such as Star India appeal to both Disney and Comcast, which want to expand their global presence.
Major sports and news assets including Fox News, Fox Business Network and Fox Sports would be spun off into a separate company.
Shares of Comcast, Fox and Disney were barely changed in after-hours trade.
Comcast in a statement outlined an offer that was similar to Disney’s, including a commitment to the same divestitures. It said that it would go to court and fight if the Justice Department tried to block the deal.
Comcast offered $35 per Fox share for the media assets, compared with Disney’s stock offer, worth $29.18 per share at the close of trade on Wednesday.
Comcast offered a $2.5 billion reverse termination fee if the deal did not go through, the same as Disney. It also offered to pay Fox’s $1.525 billion breakup fee owed Disney, if Fox went with Comcast.
Comcast said it intended to pursue its $30 billion acquisition of Sky Plc (SKYB.L) in parallel with its Fox bid. Comcast bid for Sky in April, after Fox’s bid for the remainder of European pay-TV group it did not already own was delayed by regulators.
Fox in a statement said it had received the proposal and would review it.
Justice Department lawyers who tried to stop AT&T’s $85 billion deal expect consumers will lose out as bigger companies raise prices, and some lawyers saw that as a concern in a Comcast-Fox deal which would put two movie studios and two major television brands under one roof.
“One cannot ignore the fact that there’s less independent content to go around,” after the AT&T deal, said Henry Su, an antitrust expert with Constantine Cannon LLP.
Still, the AT&T court fight gave Comcast valuable information about how to structure a Fox deal, said David Scharf, a litigation expert with Morrison Cohen.
Disney itself has “surgically” structured a transaction that “might be doable,” avoiding Fox Broadcasting and big Fox sports channels, U.S. antitrust chief Makan Delrahim said last week.
“I don’t think either will have a significant advantage over the other,” given that both Disney and Comcast seem motivated to divest what they need to win a deal with Fox, said Ketan Jhaveri, a former Justice Department attorney who served on the telecommunications task force.
Reporting Carl O'Donnell and Liana B. Baker in New York; Additional reporting by Sheila Dang in New York; Diane Bartz in Washington; and Vibhuti Sharma and Arjun Panchadar in Bengaluru; Writing by Peter Henderson; Editing by Lisa Shumaker