Swiss art historian and curator Oliver Wick.

Casino Magnate Settles with Art Historian Over Sale of Fake Rothko

The billionaire CEO of Station Casinos, Frank Fertitta, has settled his claim against Swiss art historian and curator Oliver Wick—from whom he purchased a fake Mark Rothko painting via the now shuttered Knoedler Gallery—out of court, writes Laura Gilbert of the Art Newspaper. Multiple lawsuits have been brought against Knoedler, for allegedly knowing it was selling counterfeit artworks, since its closing in 2011.

Fertitta purchased his bogus Rothko from Knoedler in 2008 for $7.2 million. The only reason Fertitta bought the work was because Wick, who at the time was a curator at Basel’s Beyeler Foundation, stated, “all is perfectly fine, otherwise I would not want to be involved with it. For this I stand with my name as a Rothko scholar,” according to Fertitta’s complaint. For his involvement in the transaction, Wick received $150,000 from the collector and $300,000 from Knoedler.

The work was but one of multiple fakes brought to Knoedler by Long Island art dealer Glafira Rosales, who eventually pleaded guilty to conspiracy, money laundering, and wire fraud, among other charges, after getting caught. The gallery sold more than thirty artworks from Rosales for nearly $70 million, but claims it was unaware that the pieces brought to them by Rosales were unauthentic (Fertitta did bring a lawsuit against the gallery and its director, Ann Freedman—it has since been settled). Fertitta initially filed his suit against Wick in 2014 in Switzerland, but it didn’t hold because the court found that “no evidence was submitted showing that the defendant was aware of the painting being a fake.” Wick had a long relationship with Knoedler: when he was at the Beyeler, he exhibited a Rothko from the gallery that was eventually sold to Liechtenstein’s Hilti Foundation for $5.5 million in 2002. Eleanore and Domenico De Sole purchased a Rothko via Wick and Knoedler in 2004 for $8.3 million, which was also shown at the Beyeler. When the Beyeler put up a painting by Barnett Newman—on loan from Knoedler in 2008—Wick sent Freedman a letter from three Newman experts saying that the painting was a phony. The Beyeler subsequently removed the work.