Thursday, January 20, 2011

70 Works of Art Have Vanished From Port Authority in a Decade,

The New York Times, April 29, 1979

70 Works of Art Have Vanished From Port Authority in a Decade,

By Ralph Blumenthal,

More than 70 lithographs and other works of art purchased by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for display in its World Trade Center suites and other facilities have "disappeared without notice" since 1969, according to the New York State Comptroller’s office.

The loss, estimated at $15,000 or more at current prices, was laid to what state auditors called "internal control weaknesses" that made it impossible to say for certain just how many items had vanished. Nineteen of the missing works had been assigned to the department of the art curator who had procured the pieces. A file listing the art purchases also disappeared, the auditors reported.

The Port Authority, which participated in a search for the missing items, did not dispute the fact of their loss, but it challenged the auditor's allegations of lax supervision and maintained it has since stepped up its controls.

Reason for Loss Elusive

Whether any of the items found their way into the private homes of Port Authority executives, as some employees alleged during inquiries last year, or whether some were sold or simply lost could not be ascertained by the state's Department of Audit and Control. "We just don't know what happened to them," said Arthur Gordon, director of metropolitan-area audits.

No investigatory follow-up was indicated, but such reports are usually sent to the Manhattan District Attorney as a matter of course.

The audit report, issued on Wednesday by Comptroller Edward V. Regan, is the last of a series of inquiries into Port Authority books that followed newspaper disclosures in 1977 of expense-account padding and other irregularities by authority board members and executives.

The state audit found that the since 1969 the authority had purchased about 1,500 pieces of art costing $1.5 million, more than 80 percent of the money going for four massive sculptures in the Trade Center Plaza. Most of the lithographs and posters were displayed in offices barred to the general public.

A problem came up as early as 1971 when a picture disappeared from a Port Authority office and the art curator, then Paula Fanning, called for tighter supervision. She has since reportedly declined to discuss the matter with auditors.

Beginning in 1977, authority officials and auditors were unable to locate 70 art items valued in 1974 at $7,592 and estimated by Mr. Gordon to be worth at least double that now. The lithographs included some popular works by Salvador Dali, Alexander Calder and Ben Shahn. The fact that some purchase records may also be missing makes it impossible to certify additional losses, the auditors said.

They also questioned whether the head of the art program and the Port Authority's administrator of architectural services, Saul Wenegrat, should have purchased most of the works directly from galleries rather than through bidding.

The Authority contended that its procedures had made possible art purchases at discount.

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