What is Art Law: Part I

One of our library shelves…

By Irina Tarsis, Esq.

Opinions vary on what exactly is ‘art law.’ Some believe it is a niche, and the lucky few to practice ‘art law’ fall into it rather than make a conscious decision to do it and little else. Others deny its very existence, because, after all, giving advice on tax issues to an estate of an artist is just like giving advice to an estate of a banker, and litigating a case involving an auction house differs little from that involving a hospital. And yet, there are Art Law Committees and Interest Groups in many bar associations nationwide and internationally, there are firms with art law groups, and there are museums, auction houses and artists and collectors employing attorneys.

Law is a discipline that thrives on interpretation. Those who chose to marginalize or deny art law as a legitimate practice area may be convinced they are right but the rest of us view them with skepticism. Art law is a multidisciplinary practice area that may be difficult to break into but real nevertheless. It brings under its umbrella laws concerning arts and cultural affairs; individuals creating, buying, selling, stealing or destroying art and cultural property; organizations that promote the arts; and all other peripheral service providers that foster and facilitate art trade. Matters concerning authenticity, fractional gifts, theft of art, contested property rights, moral rights, interpretations of international treaties on art loans and import/export restrictions come to the fore daily and worldwide.

This article prefaces a series of reviews and studies dedicated to surveying arts and cultural institutions with legal staff and legal needs, firms with art law groups and clients, controversial legal issues involving art works and objects of cultural import. We have began show casing organizations and individuals who have made significant contributions to building art law as a stand alone area. For examples, see Highlight: Commission for Art Recovery (NY); Patty Gerstenblith Presidential Appointee to Chair CPAC; Larry Kaye of Herrick’s Art Law Group to Receive Turkish American Business Forum Award. There a many more individuals, resources, and research areas that should be brought together under the rubric of ‘Art Law’ for the benefit of those already practicing in this field and those seeking a toehold.

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