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Saturday, February 21, 1998

Artwork returned to Menil Collection following seizure

HOUSTON (AP) -- Fifteen works of art by Robert Rauschenberg have been returned to a traveling exhibit, a week after they were seized by authorities over a $5.5 million debt to an art dealer.

The pieces were taken Feb. 13 from a display at the Menil Collection in Houston. They were part of "Robert Rauschenberg: A Retrospective," a traveling exhibit of more than 300 works at Houston's three art museums.

A Travis County court ruled in September that Rauschenberg and business associates must pay $5.5 million to Austin Art Consortium Inc. and art dealer Alfred Kren.

The judgment included $1.8 million for unpaid commissions, libel, slander and interference with prospective business relationships, the consortium said. The remaining $3.7 million was for punitive damages.

Authorities said the artwork would be sold at public auction if Rauschenberg did not pay.

The paintings, however, were returned Thursday, a day after attorneys reached an agreement to show the works in Houston and settle the dispute later.

In their suit, Kren and the consortium contended they brokered sales of the artist's work, coordinated exhibitions and performed other functions for him.

The relationship broke down in a financial dispute that led to the suit. The judgment was entered in default.

The return of the paintings was blocked for a time Thursday until State District Judge Lamar McCorkle resolved another dispute, this one involving $6,000 demanded by Lone Star Transfer & Storage workers for moving and storage fees.

Employees at the company were shown the court order for the release of the art but insisted the storage bill be paid first.

McCorkle, who had engineered the agreement Wednesday, intervened. Austin Art Consortium Inc. and Kren turned out to be the ones responsible for the bill.

McCorkle downplayed the dispute.

"There was some miscommunication with the warehouse and the lawyers, and the court entered an order, and the artwork is back at the Menil," the judge said.


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