The FBI has seized over 100 works from the Michèle Vasarely Foundation in San Juan, Puerto Rico, which houses pieces by the late artist Victor Vasarely and his son Jean-Pierre, also known as Yvaral. The center was founded by Yvaral’s second wife, Michèle Taburno-Vasarely, whose ownership of the two artists’ work has been bitterly contested by Pierre Vasarely — Victor’s grandson and Yvaral’s son from his first marriage.
Victor Vasarely (1906–1997) was a Hungarian-born painter best known for his abstract paintings and sculptures associated with the Op Art movement. He spent most of his life in France, where his grandson Pierre has headed the Vasarely Foundation since 2009. The organization was established in 1976 and Vasarely served as honorary president. His son Yvaral created similar kinetic works and became a successful artist in his own right.
An FBI spokesperson confirmed to Hyperallergic that the order to raid the San Juan space originated from the District Court of Paris.
The seizure is just the latest in a long and bitter saga. The website for Michèle Taburno-Vasarely’s foundation even makes digs at the Vasarely Foundation in France, which was embroiled in an embezzlement scheme in the 1990s.
“Regrettably, the Aix-en-Provence institution in which its founder had invested so much energy and hope is inexorably declining due to its lingering association with the legal world as well as the political arena, both universes being totally antinomic to art,” says a statement on the Puerto Rican foundation’s website.
Taburno-Vasarely was arrested in 2008 after being accused of stealing paintings from a dealer’s storage unit in Chicago, claiming that the Vasarely artworks belonged to her and she feared they would be taken.
“Taburno-Vasarely was arrested in 2008 after being accused of stealing paintings from a dealer’s storage unit in Chicago, claiming that the Vasarely artworks belonged to her and she feared they would be taken. She told Hyperallergic that “an American gallery owner cut the lock on my storeroom, emptied it completely, and changed the lock which I was obliged to break, in order to regain access to my storeroom” and as a result, she was detained for 24 hours.
“The US justice system declared me to be 100% in the right and returned everything to me,” Tabuno-Vasarely said. In 2012, a French court granted Pierre the rights. Taburno-Vasarely moved to Puerto Rico that year; she had left France in 2004.
She said that a court affirmed her rights to the work, but a French court granted Pierre the rights in 2012. Taburno-Vasarely moved to Puerto Rico that year. She had left France in 2004.
In 2013, a French court ordered that all Vasarely work must be returned to France and the proceeds from past sales be distributed among the heirs, but the ruling was not immediately enforced. In December, Pierre accused a London gallery of selling Vasarely works that he said rightfully belonged to his foundation. Those works were on loan from Taburno-Vasarely’s Puerto Rico organization.
Neither foundation has responded to Hyperallergic’s requests for comment.