Valencia’s IVAM museum overpaid for artworks by as much as 1,500%

Ex-chief Consuelo Ciscar, who was replaced last year, also wildly inflated visitor numbers

Consuelo Ciscar, former director of IVAM, posing with alleged Chinese mafia ringleader Gao Ping in 2008.
Consuelo Ciscar, former director of IVAM, posing with alleged Chinese mafia ringleader Gao Ping in 2008.Tania Castro

For years, the Valencia region’s premier contemporary art museum, the IVAM, overpaid for its purchases of works by as much as 1,500 percent above market value.

It also awarded large contracts without putting them out to public tender, as is required by law; paid hefty amounts to individuals whose relationship to the museum was unclear; and grossly inflated its own attendance figures.

Details of the alleged mismanagement that took place under former director Consuelo Ciscar have emerged in a preliminary report analyzing the period between 2009 and 2013. The audit was commissioned by the Valencia regional government, which funds the IVAM.

The allegations “represent a serious setback for the public coffers, and most particularly for IVAM’s depleted budget”

Ciscar, who served for 10 years, stepped down in April of last year in what appeared to be a personal decision, but was really an undercover dismissal. Her husband, Rafael Blasco, a regional deputy for the ruling Popular Party (PP), was standing trial at the time on charges of siphoning off millions of euros from a fund meant for development aid in poor countries. He was ultimately convicted to eight years in prison.

Under Ciscar, the IVAM organized a number of controversial shows such as one featuring works by her own son, who goes by the artistic name Rablaci.

In 2008, it also purchased 63 photographs for €442,280 from Gao Ping, who was later arrested as the alleged head of a criminal ring that is thought to have laundered between €800 million and €1.2 billion over four years.

The audit shows that for years, the IVAM purchased work from the Portuguese artist and architect Julio Cuaresma, and showed his art both at the museum and in traveling exhibitions.

Inflated visitor numbers

F. B. / J. M. J.

On April 2, 2014, deputy Valencia regional premier José Ciscar announced the departure of IVAM director Consuelo Ciscar and praised her for attracting 1,163,419 visitors to the museum in 2013. The feat pushed IVAM into sixth place in The Economist"s annual list of most-visited world museums.

But the real number was closer to 85,070. Under Ciscar, attendance was inflated by over a million people.

And it was the same story in 2012: the museum claimed 1,147,637 visitors, when it was really 98,176. In 2011, the 1.1 million reported by Ciscar were actually 109,938.

The wildly inflated numbers appeared to make the IVAM Spain’s third most-popular museum after Madrid’s Prado and Reina Sofía, and ahead of the capital’s Thyssen-Bornemisza.

The reason for the extreme discrepancies is that under Ciscar, attendance was calculated using ballpark estimates that took into account not only tickets sold or given away, but also the approximate number of people who showed up for any event that took place at the IVAM, from summer concerts to fashion shows to cooking performances.

In a highly unusual practice, the IVAM also counted the number of visitors to other museums that happened to be showing IVAM exhibits.

The new management has since been providing official figures going back to 2002, the year when computerized counting systems were introduced at IVAM.

In 2011, for instance, the center acquired Cuaresma’s Della bestia triunphante for €32,400. But an expert hired by the Valencian government – Jaime Brihuega, who teaches art history at Madrid’s Complutense University – estimated the market value of the piece at €2,000 at the most. Other works by Cuaresma that were sold at auction around the same time went for prices ranging between €300 and €600.

In 2009, the museum paid €18,000 for a photograph called The deluge, by Miao Xiaochun, even though it had an estimated value of just €8,000. And the IVAM also handed over €128,400 for a piece by Natividad Navalón that was said to be worth no more than €75,000.

Of the five artworks randomly analyzed by Brihuega, the difference between what was paid and what should have been paid ranged between 45 and 1,520 percent more.

The report also found irregularities in the publication of a museum magazine called Cuadernos del IVAM, which cost €2.3 million for 20 editions published between 2004 and 2014. The project was awarded to a company called Arlanza Editores, later bought by Unidad Editorial Revistas, without any public bidding. In order to circumvent the legal requirement for a bid when the amounts at stake are upwards of a certain threshold, the contract was broken up into smaller amounts, the report said.

The audit furthermore notes that certain individuals were paid for work that was never reflected in a contract. Between 2009 and 2012, one Norberto Martínez made €2,823 a month for literary contributions and copy-editing work, yet no contract exists to reflect this ongoing relationship. Martínez was eventually appointed deputy director of publications at IVAM.

Pilar Mundina, a personal aide to Ciscar, received €37,903 for travel and other expenses “without any accreditation of the reason for her travel or her work relationship with IVAM.”

Consuelo Ciscar was appointed to head the IVAM in 2004, under then-regional premier Francisco Camps (PP), who himself stepped down in July 2011 over his involvement in the Gürtel bribes-for-contracts scandal.

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His successor, Alberto Fabra, called an international competition to replace Ciscar after forcing her out in 2014. A committee of global museum experts selected José Miguel García Cortés, a reputed art scholar who was head of Espai d’Art Contemporàni in Castellón.

Ciscar has declined to comment on the audit. But the IVAM’s new management team said in a statement that the irregularities highlighted in the report “represent a serious setback for the public coffers, and most particularly for IVAM’s depleted budget.”

IVAM said the actions described in the audit could constitute crimes, and asked for Valencia prosecutors to “take action in order to recover the indicated amounts and to assign responsibilities.”

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