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Ringling Museum Asian art donor sues to get millions back

Ringling Museum of Art. Image courtesy to the museum

Sounds of Japanese and Indian drumming filled the air. Hundreds of guests sampled tea and watched karate demonstrations and dancers swirling in colorful costumes.

But one person did not attend the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art's community festival in May, celebrating the opening of the Center for Asian Art in the Dr. Helga Wall-Apelt Gallery of Asian Art.

Helga Wall-Apelt.

The donor whose name is most prominently associated with the new center was absent. She is suing the Ringling for breach of contract and is asking that millions in donations be returned. A trial has been set for February.

Museums work hard to nurture their donors. They fete, flatter and placate them, hoping to establish a long-term relationship. It's the reason we see names plastered on building facades, wings, galleries, even stairwells and elevators.

Such a dramatic public disintegration of a relationship between the Ringling and a patron is unusual in the art community. Museums prize discretion in their dealings with those who give.

But in the case of Wall-Apelt, dozens of court documents help unfold an ongoing art world mystery.



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