Courts & Crime

Miami art festival opens with surprise visitors: U.S. marshals

The first glimpse of Art Basel's lofty and provocative galleries in the Miami Beach Convention Center was supposed to go to the thousands of VIPs, invitees and celebrities gathered for Wednesday's exclusive sneak peek.

But federal authorities beat them to the punch.

U.S. marshals entered the international art festival before its opening and confiscated several pricey pieces of art from Swiss exhibitors Galerie Gmurzynska.

"The seizure came as a total surprise without any advance notice to the gallery," said Peter R. Stern, attorney for Gmurzynska.

The marshals arrived ahead of Basel's noon opening and took four paintings, according to Asher B. Edelman of the New York gallery Edelman Arts, which recently obtained a default judgment worth about $767,000 against Gmurzynska.

"It was completely quiet," Edelman said. "We went into the booth prior to the opening of the fair. I selected four pictures and told the marshals what they were worth. The marshals removed the pictures and that's that."

Barry Golden, a spokesman for the U.S. marshals, confirmed the confiscation took place based on a court order, but would not discuss details of what he called a "private seizure."

Artworks have never before been seized from Art Basel Miami Beach, an event that is now in its eighth year, according to festival spokeswoman Sara Fitzmaurice.