Huge private collection of African art under the control of curator Rodney Ellis remains in public hangar


HOUSTON – The huge private collection of African art inside a county maintenance shed in Ward One stands still, two weeks after the movers were allowed to start showing up.

When KPRC 2 Investigates approached Commissioner Rodney Ellis on the day county officials planned to move the art, he declined to comment on the state of the art. He told KPRC 2 to “speak to the county prosecutor”.

When we reminded Ellis that art moving day was due to start on that day, and asked if he was moved or not, Ellis said, “I don’t know, but whatever. I do, it will be in conjunction with the county attorney’s office.

The decision has since been put on hold following the September 9 report from KPRC 2 Investigations. Ellis’ own team at the time admitted the property had not been authenticated.

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“We would love to have it owned by the owner, whoever it is,” said spokesperson Bill Miller.

The county prosecutor’s office and its new leadership told KPRC 2 Investigates that no movement would be allowed unless approved by other agencies.

“We would obviously never do anything in connection with this work of art without first approving it with other entities which have an investigation underway,” said Jay Aiyer, first assistant of the county attorney’s office.

The Harris County District Attorney’s Public Integrity Unit has been investigating the collection since February 2020, county officials said.

“We have documented the evidence in this case,” said David Mitcham, DA Kim Ogg’s first office assistant.

Very little was said about the art collection and the investigation by the prosecutor’s office, but Mitcham reiterated that they had gathered what they needed.

“We said there was no opposition because we documented the evidence,” Mitcham said.

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While Ellis doesn’t answer questions about the art and its future, Miller confirmed Monday that they are still awaiting authentication of the artwork because “some sort of ownership verification” is required.

Throughout the investigation, questions were raised regarding the public interest accorded to the private owner of the art, as no storage fees or taxes have been paid since the art was moved in and maintained. inside the renovated hangar.

When KPRC 2 Investigates asked about dollars not collected for storage or taxes and the chances of getting a future refund, Aiyer and the county attorney’s office said they were “not looking to recover what whatever for the moment “.

“We’re not looking at it that way yet,” Aiyer said.

Aiyer made it clear that there were “irregularities” that they were attempting to “sort out” as there was no document corresponding to the private artwork stored inside the county shed. for public pennies.

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“We don’t have a hangar deal. There is no deal to put artwork in a shed, ”Aiyer said.

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