May 2 and 3 have been set as dates for the auction of some $1.5 million in art treasures that represent the remaining assets of art dealer and gallery owner Steven Straw, who filed last year for bankruptcy, listing $16.2 million in debts.
Some 350 pieces of antique furniture and decorative art and more than 175 paintings will be put on the block, according to the New York-based Phillips Fine Art Auctioneers and Appraisers.
The art world is still reeling from one of its biggest scandals. It involves an FBI investigation into Straw's dealings and the financial collapse of his Newburyport, Mass., gallery.
Straw, 27, bartered works by such masters as Edgar Degas, Georgia O'Keeffe and Willem de Kooning in nationwide deals forged with the aid of a private Cessna 414 plane. He allegedly sold paints he never owned and nonexistent art, reaping millions in return.
In Tennessee, the Chattanooga district attorney is investigating the complaint by businessman Louis Cards that Straw bilked him out of $500,000 for a one-third interest in a Gauguin painting donated to the National Gallery of Art in Washington by a wealthy Michigan couple in March 1977.
"The Straw case gives the art business a bad name," said Peter Fairbanks, Phillips' senior vice president and auctioneer, who sat before an array of neary $175,000 worth of art works from the Straw collection. "It has shaken people's confidence in the art business, which is not deserved.
"The Straw collection was not an art problem so much as a business problem," said Fairbanks in an effort to separate the elegant assemblage of art from the legal controversy. "This is not a typical situation for the art world as a whole."
The Straw collection, assembled between March 1977 and June 1979, will be exhibited at the Steven Straw Gallery in Newburyport, located in a 172-year-old structure from which Straw ran his short-lived empire. The sale will be held at the Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston.
The auction will include Mary Cassatt's "Baby John Asleep," sketches by Winslow Homer, still lifes by William Michael Harnett and works by Degas.
The decorative art includes 18th- through 20th-century American and English works.