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How an International Bank Sank Millions in Brazil for Some Rodin Fakes

The short lived Bahia's Rodin Museum

Did you know that the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), a very
well-known international financial organization, gave money to the past Bahian
government mostly used to buy fake sculptures and to use the name of a French
museum (Musée Rodin)?

Did you know that, behind a well publicized loan for use agreement by a French museum to a Bahian museum, there was a 3.3 million reais (US$ 1.7 million) deal including the purchase of 4 worthless bronze sculptures and the right of using the name of Museu Rodin Bahia with IDB money?


Welcome to Bahia, a poor land where foreigners get rich and locals get poor (except few ones as we shall see).


The story you are going to read is about a beautiful Italian palace named Palacete Comendador Bernardo Martins Catharino, based in the splendid Salvador da Bahia and designed by the Italian architect Rossi Battista.


Constructed in 1912 for the Bernardine Comendador Martins Catharino, with drawing of Italian architect Baptista Rossi, the little palace was put under state protection since the decade of 1980, as it was one of the last units of the eclecticism in the Bahian capital.


As the palace became to decay in the last few decades, an 11 million reais (US$ 5.8 million) project for restoration works of the place was done and supposed to be covered partly by the IBD (5.7 million reais) and the remaining by the government of Bahia (5.3 million reais).


In fact things were a little bit more complicated.


The PRODETUR II program (Programa de Desenvolvimento Turístico do Nordeste) was financed by the Banco do Nordeste and the IDB, with the support of the Brazilian Ministry of Culture and coordinated by the Secretary of Tourism of the Bahian government.


The Prodetur II program gave the US$ 5.8 million for the restoration works of the Palacete Catharino. The Ministry of Culture financed the project within the Rouanet law, a legislation that allows contributors to the arts to deduct these expenses from their income taxes.


The interesting thing was, as the Folha de S. Paulo of June 14, 2006 reported, that the past government of Bahia used part of the IBD money (58% of the total) for other than restoration works.


In fact, the Bahian government paid 3.3 million reais (US$ 1.7 million) to the French Museum Rodin, in Paris, for a complex package, which included the purchase of the bronze sculptures copies of Rodin’s ones and the supervision of the works of the creation of the Rodin museum in Bahia.


The money was used also to get the rights to the name and logo of Museum Rodin Bahia.


Kátia Fraga Jordan, senior director at Museu Rodin da Bahia and of the Associação Auguste Rodin denied the payment of royalties to the French museum, but this statement is hard to believe given that the name and the logo of Museum Rodin Bahia was registered at the Institut National de la Propriété Industrielle in 2004, in Paris.


On the other hand, the French museum conceded an unusual loan for use agreement of 62 plaster sculptures made by Auguste Rodin to the Bahian museum.


Mr. Jacques Vilain, the then director of the French museum went personally to Bahia to negotiate the terms of the deal.


By looking at Musée Rodin’s 2002 financials where the agreement between the Bahian and French government about the Bahian museum is published (pp. 34-35), the terms are completely unreadable being published in very small letters, strange thing for the 84-page financials of French museum.


However what is readable is the profit and loss account which shows a great loss (3.9 million euros – US$ 5.3 million) for the year. The French museum was undergoing tough times and the sale of the “original” sculptures and the right of usage of its name and logo was one way to get out of it.


In 2004 the financials of the French Museum Rodin improved a lot with the sale of “authentic” bronze sculptures by Rodin. At page 64 of the 2004 financials the 37% increase in sales of bronze statues (total amount of 1.9 million euros – US$ 2.6 million) was justified, mainly because of the sale of the statue “L’Homme qui marche sur une colonne” to the future Museum Rodin Bahia and to Athens local Pinacoteca. In 2004 the 636,000 euros (US$ 870,000) loss of the French museum was reverted into 2 million euros (US$ 2.73 million) gain.


But why on earth the Bahian government was going to commit itself to such a big cost when the aim of the IDB funds was completely different (restoration of the Palacete Catharino)?


The answer maybe comes from the fact the only way to justify expensive works inside the palacete (and therefore the need to spend the money given by IDB) was to build a museum inside the palacete itself.


It had to be something related to art, as the IDB money was aimed at the restoration of a piece of art. At that time the French museum was just in the market selling its name and its sculptures to the best offer.


If we add that the exposition of Rodin art in São Paulo back in 1995 was a great success, bingo, the problem was solved.


Clearly the restoration of the Palacete Catharino had nothing to do with the creation of a museum inside the Palacete dedicated to the French artist. However, this way, the company Brasil Arquitetura run by Francisco de Paiva Fanucci of São Paulo got the contract about the creation of the new museum.


In fact the creation of the modern museum Rodin Bahia just inside the Palacete Catharino and with a clear different style, shows a great contrast between completely different architectonic styles rather than an improvement of the Palacete itself.


The Rodin Bahia museum, the so-called first ever museum outside Paris dedicated to the French artist by the local press (which is not true because in Philadelphia, USA, in Seoul Korea and in Shizuoka, Japan, there are other ones dedicated to Rodin), was inaugurated inside the Bahian palace at the end of last year.


But before, in May 2002, a bilateral cooperation agreement between France and Bahia was signed between the French Ministry of Culture and the Secretary of Culture of the Bahian government and the Associação Cultural Auguste Rodin – Rodin Bahia was created.


The association was supposed to coordinate the project and the president of this entity was the secretary of Tourism of the state himself, Paulo Gaudenzi.


As part of the agreement, the 3-year renewable loan for use agreement by a French museum to a Bahian museum about the 63 plaster sculptures of Rodin was signed.


Mr. Jacques Vilain, the director of the French museum, thought that a creation of a museum in Brazil was worthwhile. Emanoel Araújo, the plastic artist, coordinator of the São Paulo exposition and director of the São Paulo Pinacoteca at the time, supported the project too.


The fact that in 2006 (11 years after the successful São Paulo Rodin expo) a museum dedicated to this French artist was going to be a great success in Bahia seemed a bit audacious. The inauguration took place the 19th of December of 2006, when the Bahian government had already lost the power to the new Wagner administration.


Everybody was happy: Bahia had a museum which was the first one to be benefited by a loan for use agreement of French plaster sculptures, the French museum did a good cause to help export French culture to a poor city like Salvador and the IBD did a great job in safeguarding a Brazilian museum and palace.


The most interesting thing of the whole story is that the bronze sculptures are fakes. And, best of all, the Bahian government knew it.


On November 1st 2006 several papers published the following statement: “O governo da Bahia comprou quatro réplicas de esculturas em bronze, que ficarão expostas na área anexa do palacete” or the government of Bahia bought four copies of bronze sculptures, which will be shown in the area annexed to the palace.


Gary Arseneau, an expert of Rodin’s art, says:


“I have briefly checked out the Rodin Bahia website. The four so-called “Rodins” in question were posthumously reproduced in bronze between 1995 and 2001, some seventy-eight to eighty-one years after Auguste Rodin’s death in 1917.
 
“Normally, one would find reproductions of this stature in a museum gift shop. By definition, rule of law and laws of nature, dead men don’t sculpt.
 
“Additionally, knowing the corrupt Musée Rodin in Paris …, I would say these four posthumous three-dimensional objects, in question, are  “something that is not what it purports to be,” which is one legal definition of fake.


“In closing, if today someone tried to pass off something that they made, with a counterfeit signature applied for monetary consideration as a work of art by a famous artist and got caught, serious questions of law would come into play.”


Eventually a large amount of money was spent by the past Bahian government for the right of using a name of a French museum and for the creation of a museum in Bahia with four fake sculptures.


The original aim of restoring palacete Catharino, for which the money was supposed to be spent, was changed into building an awful annex to the original building. And a bust French museum enriched itself on a Bahian museum with IDB money.


The new Bahian state administration, based on some irregularities which the TCE (Court Tribunal of the State) pointed out, decided to change the name of the Rodin Museum in June 2007.


The new secretary of state of Bahia, Márcio Meirelles, stated the need to host art works of other artists in a recent meeting in Paris with the new director of the French museum. Dominique Vieville, due only to the short period of the loan for use agreement (three years).


The trip to Paris by Meirelles must be linked to the renegotiation of the terms of the unbelievable deal signed between the past Bahian administration and the past director of the French museum.


According to the Diário Oficial da Bahia of May 29, 2007, the change in name of the Museum Rodin Bahia is caused by a cost/benefit evaluation of using such name, which implicitly implies the existence of substantial costs associated with the use of such a name. The new name of the museum will be the “Museum of dialogue”.


Meirelles affirmed that 15 million reais (US$ 7.7 million) were spent over the last few years for the restoration works, the creation of the Rodin Bahia museum and the purchase of the four fake sculptures.


Insurance costs for the transportation of the French plaster sculptures related to loan for use agreement, beside the transportation and package costs, were still not covered. Ironically, the French plaster sculptures never got to Bahia and it seems that never will.


In addition, the Museum Rodin Bahia was under the administration of a NGO called Abacult, which was not linked to the state despite the fact that the state itself paid most of the costs of the Bahian museum.


Abacult was created by the past secretary of culture, Gaudenzi, and other state officers, in a clear violation of the principle of impersonality and separation between public and private duties. Abacult earned more than 2.5 million reais (US$ 1.3 million) for the management of the museum in 2006 alone.


The contract with Abacult was not renewed and, only after 3 months from its inauguration Museum Rodin Bahia was closed: it was opened only 99 days for a total cost of 15 million reais (US$ 7.75 million), nearly 150,000 reais (US$ 77,000) per day.


John Dear is an investigative journalist. You can contact him at johndear2015@yahoo.com.

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