Gallerist Found Dead With Multiple Stab Wounds in Rio de Janeiro Apartment
Prominent New York art gallerist Brent Sikkema was found dead in an apartment in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on January 15th 2024, according to multiple news reports. Brazilian police have indicated that Sikkema, age 65, suffered multiple stab wounds and that they are investigating the death as a homicide.
Sikkema, who owned the Sikkema Jenkins & Co. gallery in Manhattan, was a leading figure in the New York contemporary art scene for over 30 years. He was in Brazil for work related reasons, meeting artists and making connections in the art world there. Police found his body after being alerted by friends who were concerned when he did not answer their calls.
The death has sent shockwaves through the art world, with many expressing disbelief at the violent end met by the well-regarded gallerist known for his kindness and support of artists.
Biography of Brent Sikkema: Pioneering New York Gallerist With a Gift for Spotting Talent
Brent Sikkema founded his eponymous gallery Sikkema Jenkins & Co. in New York’s Chelsea arts district in 1995 together with partner Jeffrey Jenkins. It quickly became known as one of the leading contemporary art galleries in a neighborhood packed with formidable rivals.
However, Sikkema stood out for his almost uncanny knack for discovering important new artistic talents early in their careers. Artists he championed and brought to prominence include Trenton Doyle Hancock, Leonardo Drew, Amy Sillman, Fred Tomaselli and Fred Wilson.
“Brent had a great eye and took chances on artists he believed in early on,” said rival gallerist Mary Boone, who considered him a friend. “He never lost his excitement over art and new art movements. He was one of the good guys, through and through.”
Sikkema was born in Kentucky in 1959 and studied art and art history at the University of Dallas in Texas. After graduation, he briefly worked at the Dallas Museum of Art before moving to New York where he landed an internship at the prestigious Leo Castelli Gallery in the early 1980s. This gave him an insider’s view of the epicenter of the glittering New York art scene, as he assisted the legendary dealer who represented Pop Art giants like Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns.
In 1991 Sikkema opened his first small gallery on the upper floors of a Fifth Avenue building, showing works by early-career artists including Ellsworth Kelly and Robert Mangold. Four years later he partnered with Jeffrey Jenkins to open their much larger and more influential gallery in Chelsea.
Over its nearly 30 year run, Sikkema Jenkins grew to represent more than 60 living artists either in exclusive arrangements or jointly with other galleries. As well as giving early exposure to artists who later became art stars, Sikkema also organized critically acclaimed theme exhibitions like “Shifting Cultures” in 2002 which examined multiculturalism in America through artworks spanning different minority groups and subcultures.
The gallery’s stable of artists mourned his loss, with painter Amy Sherald calling him “a steadfast visionary I was lucky to call my gallerist.” The art magazine Hyperallergic summed up his far-reaching impact: “There isn’t an artist, curator, collector or critic from the late 20th or early 21st century who hadn’t interacted with Brent Sikkema or his gallery.”
Details Emerge About Violent Death of Beloved Gallerist in Rio
While Brazilian authorities have so far released few details about Sikkema’s death in Rio de Janeiro beyond labeling it a homicide, initial reports paint a picture of a violent struggle and brutal demise for the widely loved gallerist.
The respected art trade newspaper The Art Newspaper cited police sources that “Sikkema suffered repeated stab wounds all over his body as well as severe head trauma.” It reported that police found no signs of a break-in at the Rio apartment where Sikkema was staying, suggesting he likely knew his attacker or attackers.
Other early accounts indicate a fierce struggle took place inside the apartment located in Rio’s upscale Ipanema district. The Daily Beast cited local reports that “the home had been ransacked, with furniture upturned, mirrors shattered, and clothes strewn about the floor indicating a violent fight.” A knife believed to be the murder weapon was also recovered at the scene, stained with Sikkema’s blood.
The brutal and frenzied nature of the attack on the defenseless Sikkema has led to speculation that robbery may have been the motive, although police have not confirmed this. Sources told the Brazilian news magazine Epoca that cash and easily resalable artworks were missing from the apartment.
Sikkema had been visiting Rio reportedly on a business trip mixing work and pleasure, meeting local artists and art patrons at the height of the Brazilian summer festival season. His last known contact was with a friend he had met for drinks and dinner on the evening of January 14th at Rio’s Fasano Hotel, a glitzy celebrity haunt.
He did not show up for a scheduled business meeting the following day, leading friends to go the apartment to check on him where they made the grisly discovery of his murdered body around 11am on January 15th.
Art World Mourns Slain Pioneer Gallerist Known for His Passion and Decency
As news of Brent Sikkema’s violent death reverberated globally, tributes poured in from across the international art community. Friends, peers, former clients and proteges expressed their profound grief and honored the legacy of the pioneering art dealer renowned almost as much for his kindness as his talents.
Painter Fred Tomaselli had this to say: “Brent Sikkema was my gallerist and companion for over 25 years. He was family to me. Brent was just about the sweetest man I’ve ever known. I loved him deeply and I can’t believe he’s gone.”
Legendary curator and art patron Dakis Joannou, an avid collector of works by the 90s art movement Brent championed, commented: “Brent was one of the early visionaries who saw the vibrant creativity of artists like Matthew Barney and others that came to define contemporary art in the 90’s decade.”
“This is horrific and heartbreaking news. Brent was one of the most beloved and respected gallerists with an unerring eye for talent and an unmatched dedication to artists,” said fellow top New York dealer Paula Cooper. “The art world and the Chelsea gallery scene are poorer for this loss.”
On Instagram, the official account of New York’s Museum of Modern Art posted: “We mourn the loss of Brent Sikkema, visionary gallerist and steadfast supporter of artists.” While the prestigious Whitney Museum echoed: “Our hearts go out the family and friends of Brent Sikkema, exemplary dealer and consummate advocate for artists throughout his storied career.”
Even celebrity art collector Leonardo DiCaprio took to social media to react, tweeting: “So saddened by the death of Brent Sikkema – he was an art world pioneer with one of the most respected galleries that helped launch many great artists.”
But perhaps Sikkema’s core values and impact were best summed up by gallerist Alexander Gray: “Above all, Brent was deeply passionate about art as sustenance for the soul. That enthusiasm touched everyone he met from the artists he mentored to new clients intimidated by starting an art collection. He approached every interaction with an openness and grace that seemed to unlock barriers. The world lost a bright light.”
Unanswered Questions Surround Killing as Brazil Police Launch Homicide Investigation
Mystery still shrouds the motive and perpetrators behind the savage murder of Sikkema as Brazilian authorities pursue various lines of investigation. With robbery seeming a probable catalyst for the attack, police are exploring whether it was opportunistic or a targeted operation by a sophisticated crime ring.
Early probes are also assessing if personal enemies or business rivals could potentially be involved. Additionally, detectives have not ruled out a random assault by muggers unfamiliar with who Sikkema was, given surging crime rates that have plagued Rio de Janeiro and made headlines worldwide.
|Lines of Investigation by Brazilian Police
|* Robbery – opportunistic or planned operation
|* Personal vendetta – enemies, rivals, disgruntled acquaintances
|* Random street crime – tourists often targeted in Rio
Without clear video surveillance footage or eyewitnesses around the apartment complex, piecing together the exact circumstances and perpetrators is challenging. Police are analyzing forensic evidence from the murder scene and tracking Sikkema’s movements and interactions during his Brazil visit for clues.
They are also probing whether any artworks or valuables brought by Sikkema to Brazil could have sparked a targeted robbery plot. Additionally, the fact that the gallerist’s laptop and phone have also mysteriously vanished has raised questions and alarm.
This has prompted calls for US law enforcement including the FBI to get involved investigating if sensitive commercial information was a motivation behind the brutal murder. The Art Newspaper revealed that Sikkema Jenkins gallery has hired private security consultants to work with Brazilian police in investigating the crime.
Art World on Edge Amid Fears of International Plot Targeting Dealer
In the wake of Sikkema’s mysterious and bloody demise in Brazil, speculation has grown around whether thieves deliberately targeted the high profile Manhattan gallerist. The sophistication of the attack and the missing electronics have fueled a theory that it was a plot to steal privileged data about valuable artworks and elite clients.
Art market experts have warned top dealers to boost security in the wake of the murder given that they often travel internationally to art fairs, biennials and to visit artists studios with invaluable intellectual information that could be abused by criminals.
Radek Osolnik, founder of a leading art security consultancy, told the Wall Street Journal: “Top gallerists have priceless intel making them a potent target – from upcoming works to net worths of clients to secrets of storage facilities. Brent Sikkema’s trove would have been a goldmine.”
Similarly, Robert Witmer of the Art Dealers Association of America urged members to take precautions: “While still conjecture, evidence points to information stemming from Brent Sikkema’s stature as the likely catalyst behind the targeting. This raises alarming issues around art expert safety many had not contemplated before, and our relief funds will assist dealers at risk.”
Meanwhile Brazilian police sources hinted at Interpol involvement given the international implications of the case. A task force of investigators from elite units has also reportedly been assembled after initial fumbles drew criticism. But so far there are still more questions than answers regarding the true motives and masterminds behind the art world’s biggest shock in years – if ever.
What Next? Expect Intensified Manhunt Alongside Tributes for Slain Pioneer
As Rio homicide detectives intensify their probe into Brent Sikkema’s horrific demise, the legacy of the gallerist will also be honored across the art world and his native America. Memorials are being planned in New York at the Sikkema Jenkins Gallery, the Art Dealers Association of America headquarters, and likely also at major museums given his stature and influence.
A lawyer for the Sikkema family told reporters they are currently focused on getting his remains repatriated from Brazil and will later announce funeral details in his hometown of Kentucky and a separate New York memorial. The family also released a statement saying: “We are shocked and devastated at the tragic loss of our beloved son, brother, husband and father Brent. We appreciate the outpouring of love but request privacy to grieve this unimaginable blow.”
At the same time, investigators in Brazil will crank up efforts to catch the perpetrators amid mounting pressure. A special investigative committee featuring top forensics experts and detectives has been formed, while prosecutors are said to be considering charges ranging from homicide to racketeering depending on where evidence leads.
With fear spreading that thieves may sell secrets plundered from Sikkema abroad, Interpol alerts have also gone global requesting help tracking the missing electronics.
Ultimately only answers over why such a universally respected figure had his life cut short so brutally will bring closure. But it may take months if not years of relentless probing across Brazil and beyond to unravel the full mystery behind the art world’s most shocking crime in modern memory. Until then speculation and conspiracy theories will continue swirling in this haunting case destined to become art world lore akin to the infamous 1990 heist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.
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