Guggenheim Bilbao director admits to E4.2m loss
By Charmaine Picard. Museums, Issue 193, July-August 2008
Published online: 14 August 2008
NEW YORK. The director of the Guggenheim Bilbao, Juan Ignacio Vidarte, has admitted that the Spanish museum lost e4.2m of public money when it purchased Richard Serra’s The Matter of Time, 2005, using US dollars rather than euros to buy the work.
Mr Vidarte appeared before the Spanish Parliament’s Committee on Basque Culture in May to testify about a 2007 government audit of the museum’s finances. The investigation also uncovered the embezzlement of over e480,000 by former chief financial officer Roberto Cearsolo.
According to a report issued in 2007 by the Basque Court of Auditors, the museum paid more than $27m for the acquisition of art between 2002 and 2005, including Richard Serra’s commission of seven monumental sculptures for the cavernous ground-floor gallery in the Gehry-designed building.
The installation cost the authorities over $20m paid in three instalments in 2004 and 2005. Museum spokesperson Alicia Martínez told The Art Newspaper: “In 2002 we were going through a highly volatile time in the currency markets” and the museum entered into a “forward exchange contract”, expecting the dollar to rise against the euro.
Although museum officials declined to comment on the ongoing internal investigation and lawsuit filed against Mr Cearsolo by the Guggenheim, a press release issued by the institution states that on 11 April the museum received a letter delivered by Mr Cearsolo’s attorney with the former CFO’s signed confession. Included with the written admission of guilt was a cheque for over e250,000 and Mr Cearsolo’s promise to repay the balance of misappropriated funds.
The scandal has led Basque officials to contemplate a series of reforms over how public funds at the institution are spent. In late April the Basque parliament unanimously authorised a measure requiring the Guggenheim Bilbao to undergo annual audits to ensure greater transparency. Before the 2007 examination of museum finances, there had not been an audit at the institution since 1997.
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