Germania Bank (Photo by Scott Lynch)

Germania Bank (Photo by Scott Lynch)

Aby J. Rosen, owner of the gloriously graffitied Germania Bank building at 190 Bowery (soon to be outfitted as a high-end office building for fashion agencies and archives) is in the news today for something other than his disruptive real estate moves on landmarked buildings (in case you forgot, he also pissed off preservationists two years ago, when he displaced The Four Seasons restaurant and its Picasso curtain painting from the Seagram Building).

Today the Attorney General announced that Rosen, a big-time contemporary art collector, failed to pay sales and usage taxes on over 200 works of art acquired since 2002.

To settle on the disputed works, which include pieces by Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst and Jean Michel Basquiat worth at least $80 million, the German-born developer will pay the city $7 million. He’ll also settle up on his taxes, and agree to a “code of conduct” requiring him to use outside accountants for future tax returns.

Apparently Rosen, who used a company called 22nd Century Acquisitions to buy artwork and another called Lever House Artwork to commission it, claimed tax exemption by saying his purchases were for resale. While art buyers are subject to sales-and-use taxes on artwork, art dealers who purchase works to resell them are not.

But Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman wasn’t having it, arguing that because the pieces were displayed in Rosen’s New York residences and his real estate offices, they were used for his personal enjoyment and to enhance the status of his business. “When art collectors don’t pay their fair share, law abiding New Yorkers should not be stuck footing the bill,” he said in a press release.

Rosen’s spokesperson, Roxanne Donovan, sent us this statement: “The recent settlement with the AG’s office relates to an uncertainty as to whether some of Mr. Rosen’s transactions were done as a private collector or as a dealer based on how artwork can be displayed for sale. Mr. Rosen will continue to act as both an art dealer, buying and selling fine art, and as a private collector, as applicable.”

Perhaps it’s not surprising Rosen is mixed up in this. In a New Yorker profile last year, he said he was willing to sell any of his artwork off the walls the very same day–a nod to the resale status of his works.

Of his own art collection (Warhol, Basquiat, Koons, Hirst), he said, “I’m surprisingly very unattached to those things. I love them, but if you walk in my house and say, ‘Can I buy it?’ Absolutely. It’s worth X, you can walk out with it.” 

Meanwhile, work moves forward at the old Germania Bank, one of the last authentic old Bowery buildings, which Rosen bought for $55 million from photographer Jay Maisel last year. Maisel originally bought the entire thing for $102,000 in 1966 and moved in when it was “knee-deep in garbage and coated in soot.” He eventually fixed it up into a very impressive 35,000 square foot home and gallery for his family.

But, times are changing. Rosen’s trenchant assessment in the New Yorker is that: “Bowery’s on fire. Bowery’s cool. Bowery’s smart.” And the building itself will likely not remain a street art mecca for too long.

“‘It gives the building some sort of aura, some sort of cachet,” he said. “But, once the building is finished, who knows? I mean, graffiti is nice, like the gritty seventies of New York. But let’s be honest—those days are gone.'”