By David Rosenstein | Investigation
Prof. Mikhail Tamoikin, the man who put the self-portrait of Benvenuto Cellini on the map, gives exclusive interview to The World Art News.
Famous paintings from the Renaissance always capture your imagination. Portraits of extraordinary people of that period are especially memorable. From this perspective the self-portrait by Benvenuto Cellini, who rivaled da Vinci and Michelangelo, is undoubtedly an artwork to remember. But will it be remembered for its artistic beauty and historical significance or for never-ending liens and charges that plague the owner of this masterpiece, a controversial Russian cosmetics entrepreneur that keeps getting this precious artwork into legal trouble.
The road to recognition as an authentic work of art by Cellini himself, of himself, was long and difficult for this old portrait. And as this masterpiece was about to be added to the list of world’s more notable artworks, its owner, Oleg Nasobin, managed to create yet another controversy with the very people who put Cellini’s self-portrait on the map.
In this article, prof. Mikhail Tamoikin Ph.D., vice president of the Tamoikin Art Fund, for the first time tells his side of the story when dealing with Mr. Nasobin during their joint venture to promote and sell the spectacular self-portrait by Benvenuto Cellini. To understand the nature of the business relationship between these two men, one must go to the beginning. Here’s prof. Tamoikin in his own words:
The Tamoikin Art Fund (TAF) is one of the largest and fastest growing private art funds in the world with a reputation of undertaking extraordinary projects and discovering world-class rarities. We’ve published in Forbes 400, the World Gold Council chose our ancient Parthian-Sarmatian necklace as one of “30 Golden Treasures Rediscovered Over 30 years” and in 2007 the Tamoikin family, that owns TAF, sold the 16th century Solovetsky Iconostasis for $5 million, setting a world record and returning this famous Christian icon back to its historic lands. Precisely because of this reputation we were approached by Mr. Nasobin’s representative to appraise and then to promote the self-portrait of Benvenuto Cellini.
What went wrong?
Without a doubt one of the most important aspects when dealing with an emerging high-end artwork, that aspires to become a world-class masterpiece, is – ownership. The owner, his background, status, and character can be as important as the item itself, especially in the initial stages of public recognition. Naturally, responsible owners, who not only value their own reputation but the reputation of the artwork in their possession, tend to avoid scandals and conflicts, as such perception may label them as problematic. Unfortunately for Cellini’s only known self-portrait, that’s exactly what Mr. Nasobin has become – a problematic owner who causes conflict and controversy. As prof. Tamoikin puts it:
In the art world, bad reputation around an item is like an aura of failure. It doesn’t matter how high-end your work of art is, once the word gets out that you or your rarity are problematic, partners, investors, and above all, buyers, won’t have anything to do with you. The artwork becomes untouchable since no one wants to tarnish their image by mere associating with such a controversial item or an individual. We are one of the few organizations that can break this aura and restore the reputation of an asset, if, of course, the owner is wise enough to let us help him, have patience, and not interfere. That’s exactly what happened when we took on sale of the world-famous Solovetsky Iconostasis. Prior to our involvement it was blacklisted by the Russian Ministry of Culture which tried to destroy the reputation of this holy relic by publicly accusing it of being fake. We not only exposed the top Ministers for their lies and corruption but defiantly sold the Solovetsky Iconostasis for $5 million, set a world record along the way, and through that sale triumphantly returned it back to Russia. Now, when it comes to the self-portrait of Benvenuto Cellini, unfortunately we cannot claim such triumph due to the problematic behavior of its owner.
Indeed, Oleg Nasobin’s past, according to public and private sources, is full of questionable behavior and open conflicts with various businessmen, government officials, art experts, and reporters. One of such art experts and businessmen is prof. Mikhail Tamoikin, who says the following:
In the beginning of 2018, I was contacted by a representative of Mr. Oleg Nasobin who asked me to appraise a painting which is now known as the self-portrait of Benvenuto Cellini. I agreed and shortly afterwards he introduced Oleg to me. We signed a contract №47-FR and after receiving full payment for the appraisal order, I provided a detailed (80 page) TES fair market value report, which left Mr. Nasobin very satisfied. And why wouldn’t he be? Not only has our thorough research and appraisal determined that this Renaissance painting is worth over €107 million but we put the reputation of the entire Tamoikin Art Fund on the line for this artwork. It worked, and ever since, everyone in the art market has been quoting our valuation, thus permanently tying Cellini’s portrait to €107m price point.
For this alone, Oleg should be grateful to us, and in the beginning he was. So much so that he asked if we could take on his artwork as a serious project on a partnership basis the nature of which would be to promote and eventually locate a buyer for this masterpiece.
After long negotiation process we signed a contract № 55-FR in which we basically agreed that The Tamoikin Art Fund would be appointed as a custodian of this painting and use its own funds to organize an international media campaign to: (a) strategically promote the self-portrait of Benvenuto Cellini in order to establish public credibility of what was at that time a relatively unknown painting claiming to be a world-class artwork; (b) undertake our best efforts to locate a buyer for this self-portrait. Should we be successful in selling this artwork, our fund would receive 20% from the sale.
Within 8 months we were able to launch a massive international media campaign as promised. Over 200 media organizations in more than 60 countries were for the first time notified about Benvenuto Cellini and his extraordinary painting. Serious coverage appeared in top news networks across the globe. We created so much buzz that even 3 years later Cellini’s portrait is inseparable from the Tamoikin Art Fund in the media and all major search engines. When BBC, Financial Times, and The Art Newspaper wanted photographs and information about this portrait, they came to us.
Eventually we were able to locate an interested buyer from the Middle East that was willing to purchase the self-portrait of Benvenuto Cellini for €107m, a deal that we would have made if Oleg hadn’t abruptly ended all communication with us a few weeks prior.
Bluntly put, our fund was not able to simultaneously introduce to the world, establish credibility, and sell Cellini’s self-portrait for €107m, all in mere 8 months. It’s simply unrealistic; that’s not how these high-end art projects work. They take time and Oleg was fully informed of that from the very beginning. We definitely achieved the first two steps, introduction and credibility, but to sell this masterpiece required patience on behalf of Mr. Nasobin. Unfortunately, being an eccentric man, patience is not one of his virtues, so after 8 months, like a child he threw a fit and went into hiding. After all that we’ve done for him, I was stunned by this unprofessional behaviour.
Here I must point out some facts. According to our agreement we weren’t obligated to sell this painting, no one in their right mind can promise that. We did agree to make our absolute best effort to find an interested buyer, which we undertook, and if not for Mr. Nasobin’s impatience, would have been successful at. Considering that we put our art fund’s reputation on the line and the enticing 20% commission that was promised to us, why wouldn’t we do all that’s within our power to make this sale happen? Our entire team was highly motivated, and in a short period of time we began preliminary talks with several potential clients.
Prof. Tamokin, did your contract with Mr. Nasobin have an expiry date and why exactly did your partnership in this monumental project fell apart?
Our contract 55-FR was set to expire by the end of 2018 with a possibility of renewal, however, that expiration did not apply to certain parts of that agreement. As the 2018 was coming to an end we proposed to renew that contract. It was at that point when Mr. Nasobin, much to our surprise, flatly refused and shortly after broke off all communication with us. As I was later informed through my own sources that knew Oleg, he realized that our media campaign accomplished everything he ever wanted, so he decided to cut us out and try to sell this portrait by himself. After all, 20% from €107m is a lot of money and as it must have appeared to him, all the heavy lifting was already done. As I see it, the man got greedy and in doing so, once again, got this masterpiece into trouble.
While I was caught of guard by this short-sighted behaviour, we immediately responded with charges that were based on those parts of the contract that did not have an expiry date. Since we were going to be spending our money and doing all the heavy lifting pro bono, we specifically written that contract in such a way as to protect us from being pushed out of this project at the expiry date.
I won’t go into all parts of that agreement, but I will quote the most important part which states the following: “the contract remains valid until the self-portrait is sold.” In context with the other parts of that agreement what this means is that the contract is still valid, and our fund must either be fully compensated for our work; with all the overdue charges and damages to date that comes to €2 million. Or if Mr. Nasobin decides to sell it, he must get our permission and pay us 20% commission from that sale, as stated in the contract. Oleg was well aware of these terms and agreed to them when he signed it.
Did your safeguards work?
Yes. Now, according to the governing law under which that contract was signed, as well as the International Law, no commercial action (or non-profit for that matter) can be taken with this painting until we are fully compensated for the work that we’ve done. Essentially, the portrait is under arrest. All knowing of this fact who still choose to engage with this artwork are breaking the law. If Oleg is withholding the existence of our charges from individuals or organizations that are interested in Cellini’s self-portrait, he is engaging in a misleading behavior which is illegal.
Little over a week ago, once again, we submitted our updated charges to Mr. Nasobin due to his recent attempt to whitewash his past and extract commercial value from this painting through a newly created scheme called the “Cellini Art Fund”. The absurdity of this situation isn’t only in that creating such a fund was our idea, but that Mr. Nasobin is trying to copy the Tamoikin Art Fund while pretending to act as if we don’t exist.
In fact, the day after we submitted our new charges, Oleg removed my appraisal report and all mention of us from his newly created fund’s website. Of course, we recorded these changes and consider them as yet another attempt to hide evidence of our key involvement in the Cellini project, as well as further proof of guilt on behalf of Mr. Nasobin.
We also informed UNESCO and the Italian government of our legal charges, since it appears Oleg has gotten them involved in this scandal. Because Mr. Nasobin is hiding from us and is withholding the knowledge of our charges from the public, I am giving this interview to bring everyone up to date on what is happening with Cellini’s portrait.
It is my sincere hope that this conflict will be resolved in a civil manner so that the only known self-portrait by Benvenuto Cellini will finally be free and clear of any liens, charges, or controversy. I’ve outlined the path for a quick resolution that benefits all parties involved. If it’s ignored I must also firmly state that under no circumstances will the Tamoikin Art Fund drop our legal claims. On the contrary, we will unequivocally demand full compensation, including overdue costs and damages, from Mr. Nasobin. Hopefully he’ll come to his sense and understands that the longer he waits, the more debt will be charged against Cellini’s self-portrait.
It seems that the mischievous spirit of Benvenuto Cellini lives on in his mysterious self-portrait that 500 years later continues to stir trouble for everyone that comes in contact with it. It’s a Cellini alright!
This fascinating story of money, betrayal, and prestige is brought to you exclusively by The World Art News. Our team of reporters is closely following Cellini’s only known painting and we have a hunch that this is just the beginning. Subscribe to our newspaper and be the first to find out what will happen next in the Cellini saga.
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