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Picasso’s French electrician has conviction for stealing artist’s collection quashed

France's highest appeal court has overturned the conviction of Pablo Picasso's former electrician and his wife, who were given suspended sentences for keeping 271 of his works in their garage for four decades.

Picasso's French electrician has conviction for stealing artist's collection quashed
Pierre and Danielle Le Guennec. AFP

Pierre and Danielle Le Guennec were given two-year suspended jail sentences in 2015 for possession of stolen goods, in a case that made headlines
worldwide.

A higher court upheld the verdict in 2016 but the Cour de Cassation, in a ruling seen by AFP Thursday, overturned it.

Ruling there was insufficient evidence that “the goods held by the suspects had been stolen” the court ordered a retrial.

The couple's lawyer Antoine Vey hailed the ruling.

“It's a great decision which reinforces the line that Le Guennecs have always upheld — that there was no theft whatsoever.”

The retrial will offer them “a huge opportunity to finally establish the truth”, Vey said.

The collection, whose value has not been assessed, includes drawings of women and horses, nine rare Cubist collages from the time Picasso was working with fellow French artist Georges Braque and a work from his famous “blue period”.

At his original trial Le Guennec, who is in his late seventies, claimed that Picasso had presented him with the artworks towards the end of his life to reward him for his loyal service.

But he later changed his account, telling the appeal court that the works were part of a huge trove of art that Picasso's widow Jacqueline asked him to conceal after the artist's death in 1973.

Le Guennec said he stored more than a dozen garbage bags of unsigned works which Jacqueline later retrieved, except for one which she left him saying: “Keep this, it's for you.”

The affair came to light when Pierre Le Guennec attempted to get the works authenticated by Picasso's son Claude Ruiz-Picasso in 2010.

The artist's heirs promptly filed a complaint against him, triggering an investigation.

ARCHITECTURE

Futuristic Gehry tower opens in World Heritage Arles

Rising high beyond an ancient Roman arena in Arles, a tall, twisted tower created by Frank Gehry shimmers in the sun, the latest futuristic addition to this southern French city known for its World Heritage sites.

Futuristic Gehry tower opens in World Heritage Arles
Gehry's Luma Tower opens in Arles, France. Photo: H I / Pixabay

The tower, which opens to the public on Saturday, is the flagship attraction of a new “creative campus” conceived by the Swiss Luma arts foundation that wants to offer artists a space to create, collaborate and showcase their work.

Gehry, the 92-year-old brain behind Bilbao’s Guggenheim museum and Los Angeles’ Walt Disney Concert Hall, wrapped 11,000 stainless steel panels around his tower above a huge glass round base.

It will house contemporary art exhibitions, a library, and offices, while the Luma Arles campus as a whole will host conferences and live performances.

From a distance, the structure reflects the changing lights of this town that inspired Van Gogh, capturing the whiteness of the limestone Alpilles mountain range nearby which glows a fierce orange when the sun sets.

Mustapha Bouhayati, the head of Luma Arles, says the town is no stranger to
imposing monuments; its ancient Roman arena and theatre have long drawn the
crowds.

The tower is just the latest addition, he says. “We’re building the heritage of tomorrow.”

Luma Arles spreads out over a huge former industrial wasteland.

Maja Hoffmann, a Swiss patron of the arts who created the foundation, says
the site took seven years to build and many more years to conceive.

Maja Hoffmann, founder and president of the Luma Foundation. Photo: Pascal GUYOT / AFP

Aside from the tower, Luma Arles also has exhibition and performance spaces in former industrial buildings, a phosphorescent skatepark created by South Korean artist Koo Jeong A and a sprawling public park conceived by Belgian landscape architect Bas Smets.

‘Arles chose me’

The wealthy great-granddaughter of a founder of Swiss drug giant Roche, Hoffmann has for years been involved in the world of contemporary art, like her grandmother before her.

A documentary producer and arts collector, she owns photos by Annie Leibovitz and Diane Arbus and says she hung out with Jean-Michel Basquiat in New York.

Her foundation’s stated aim is to promote artists and their work, with a special interest in environmental issues, human rights, education and culture.

She refuses to answer a question on how much the project in Arles cost. But as to why she chose the 53,000-strong town, Hoffmann responds: “I did not choose Arles, Arles chose me.”

She moved there as a baby when her father Luc Hoffmann, who co-founded WWF,
created a reserve to preserve the biodiversity of the Camargue, a region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Rhone river delta known for its pink flamingos.

The tower reflects that, with Camargue salt used as mural panels and the
delta’s algae as textile dye.

Hoffmann says she wants her project to attract more visitors in the winter, in a town where nearly a quarter of the population lives under the poverty line.

Some 190 people will be working at the Luma project over the summer, Bouhayati says, adding that Hoffman has created an “ecosystem for creation”.

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