New and unsettling details about the case of Jeffrey Epstein, and his links to the worlds of art and science, continue to emerge. On Friday, Mother Jones published a lengthy, colorful, and unsettling interview with Epstein’s former art advisor Stuart Pivar, who says he counted Epstein as his “best pal for decades.”
Now in his late 80s, Pivar has a storied history in the arts and has often been described using terms like “eccentric” and “mercurial.” He co-founded the New York Academy of Art with Andy Warhol in 1982, and also served as Warhol’s art buyer, going on almost daily shopping trips with the Pop artist to build his collection. (He wrote about the experience in the 1997 essay “Shopping With Andy Warhol.”)
He is also very litigious. Pivar was involved in a spectacular and very acrimonious lawsuit against the school he founded in the 1990s. More recently, he has been in the news for initiating a $200 million lawsuit against a Philadelphia lawyer, claiming he was tricked into selling a Brancusi sculpture for less than it was worth. Just last month, he filed an improbably large $2 billion lawsuit against Sotheby’s for rejecting his consignment of a group of artworks.
In the interview, Pivar insists that he had no idea of Epstein’s worst crimes. “He never invited me to the ‘Isle of Babes,’” he says more than once, referring to the private island where some of Epstein’s crimes are supposed to have taken place. At the same time, he also reiterates again and again that his former friend has been “totally, totally, totally misunderstood,” calling allegations that Epstein ran a sex ring involving other powerful men “calumnies and lies,” and repeatedly referring to the woman and girls making allegations about Epstein as “trollops.”
Pivar is adamant that Epstein’s predations be understood as a medical condition, advising his interviewer to read Richard von Krafft-Ebing’s 1886 treatise on human sexuality, Psychopathia Sexualis, for insight into the case: “The point is that Jeffrey was afflicted with a disease.” At moments, he also seems to share Epstein’s own theory, previously recounted by James B. Stewart in the New York Times, that criminalizing sex with teenage girls is a cultural aberration.
Mother Jones reporter Leland Nally seemingly cold called Pivar after finding his name in Epstein’s so-called “black book,” which has been publicly posted online. The result is a rambling and at times contentious exchange, in which Pivar repeats himself often, at multiple points questions aloud why he is still talking to the reporter, and finally threatens Nally with legal action and worse if he is misquoted.
When you strip it to the essentials, here are the important points from the interview.
1. Pivar definitely witnessed sexual harassment
Despite his repeated insistence that the media is sensationalizing and misunderstanding the Epstein case, Pivar’s description suggests that he was aware that his friend’s behavior could cross the line into sexual harassment.
At one point, he recounts an incident that took place at Blumka Gallery, a specialist in medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque art (the Upper East Side gallery happens to be located less than four blocks from Epstein’s giant East 71st Street apartment):
I was a sort of an art consultant, furnishing his numerous houses, and at one point I took him to a very prominent art dealer to buy furniture and what have you. I brought along an assistant I had who was a very attractive young girl, and there we were in those precincts of art and Renaissance furniture and what have you. He grabbed her up from behind and lifted her up and squeezed the hell out of her and she screamed. I said, “Jeffrey put her down! What are you doing?”
And the three or four of us who were watching were horrified, and he put her down. He was out of control. Have you ever seen anyone do a thing like that?
2. He confirms accuser Maria Farmer’s story
One of Epstein’s first known victims was Maria Farmer, who met the financier while she was a student at the New York Academy of Art in 1995. In a long profile published today in the New York Times, she describes in detail how she met Epstein at the New York Academy of Art and began working for him. Later, she says she was groped and held hostage by Epstein and his accomplice, Ghislaine Maxwell, while at an estate in Ohio.
Farmer’s younger sister Annie Farmer, then 16, was also lured to Epstein’s New Mexico ranch where she describes Epstein and Maxwell’s attempts to seduce her, including an unwanted topless massage from Maxwell.
The Farmers say that they complained to both authorities and members of the New York Academy of Art community but saw no action. In Pivar’s account, it was Maria Farmer’s complaint to him that caused him to cut ties with his longtime friend, though there is no suggestion that he acted to report him:
[O]ne day at the flea market there’s Maria Farmer, who I knew ’cause she was a student at the New York Academy of Art, and I [asked], “What are you doing here?” And she started to tell me about some terrible thing, too terrible to utter, having to do with Jeffrey Epstein. And then a minute later, he shows up. And I began to put two and two together. And I realized that something was going on, which I didn’t know about. And at that point, I knew that he had a different life that I was not aware of.
Jeffrey brought her there, and what he did to Maria was inexcusable, of course. He locked her up, and she couldn’t get away, and her father had to come and rescue her. That’s a story she told. And, of course, that’s the least of what she told me. Forget that, her little sister, for Christ’s sake, the guy actually brought her to his place and did those kind of things, which, of course, is inexcusable and that’s the kind of thing which satyriasists do because they can’t help themselves.
She was a student at the New York Academy of Art. Jeffrey was on the board of trustees of the New York Academy of Art. That’s how come he knew her.
Jeffrey used to go to the functions of that institution. She was there. She was an artist, and Jeffrey used to buy drawings and what the heck not. My guess is that he was there only for the purpose of meeting… it wouldn’t surprise me.
3. Epstein’s dark taste in art had a meaning
Epstein’s unsettling taste in art is by now a well-established part of the narrative, from his painting of Bill Clinton in a dress (also purchased at the New York Academy of Art, in 2012) to the mural he commissioned for his home depicting himself in prison, supposedly to remind himself of where he could end up. Pivar, a rapacious collector himself whose home decor has been described as ranging from Renaissance furniture, to a collection of gemstones he inherited from Warhol, to human skeletons, provides a kind of clue to the thinking behind some of Epstein’s taste.
Notably, both men are fans of alternative theories of science (Pivar penned the book Lifecode: The Theory of Biological Self-Organization), though Pivar describes Epstein as basically scientifically illiterate but eager to impose his own values on the field. “Jeffrey came into the concept of thought and science and all with no knowledge whatsoever about anything,” Pivar says. “He really didn’t know a goddamn thing. I don’t even believe that he taught math.”
He explains Epstein’s art taste as representing a similar attachment to asserting his own independence from existing standards of value:
Jeffrey was amused to have in his house fake art which looked like real art. Because of the fact that he was putting one over, so to speak. He thought that he was—how do you describe that? When you walked into this house, for example, there was a Max Weber or something like that, and it was a fake. And it amused him that people didn’t realize that. He was able to furnish his house with the fake paintings. Jeffrey had a collection of underage Rodins, for example, because what difference does it make if it’s real or not real? And if the real one costs nothing and the expensive one—it doesn’t make a difference. He was amused to put one over on the world by having fake art. He thought that he was seeing through the fallacy.
Putting this together with Epstein’s knowing defiance of laws around sex with minors, it all seems to add up to a statement, to himself and the world, that he doesn’t have to respect the same values as everyone else.
Follow artnet News on Facebook:
Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.