Vagaries of Valuation for Collections of Artwork

By Elizabeth Summers*

Screen Shot 2017-10-12 at 4.57.56 PMFor better or for worse, the world cares how much collectors pay for art. A record price realized at auction or in a “private” sale can create headlines in both art world publications and the national press. The final value of a collection, however, is determined only upon the collector’s death, when the personal representative of the estate assigns a value to the art for purposes of the federal estate tax. Issues surrounding the valuation of art have generated extensive and energetic litigation in the U.S. Tax Court and, by extension, considerable interest among estate planning attorneys.

General Rules of Estate Tax Valuation

The value of a decedent’s gross estate is determined by calculating the value of all property the decedent owned at the time of his or her death, wherever such property is situated. (IRC Section 2031) Under IRS regulations regarding valuation for estate tax purposes, the value of every item of property includible in a decedent’s gross estate is its fair market value at the time of the decedent’s death. (T.R. Section 20.2031-1(b)) The IRS defines “fair market value” as the price at which the property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller, neither being under any compulsion to buy or to sell and both having reasonable knowledge of the relevant facts. With unique objects like individual works of art, the determination of a “fair market value” may be difficult. Fortunately, the IRS has provided additional guidance. Special rules apply to tangible personal property “having marked artistic or intrinsic value” of a value in excess of $3,000. Items that fall into this category must be formally appraised, and the appraiser must be competent in the specific subject matter of the appraisal. The appraisal of a painting of “artistic value” must include a description of the size and subject of the painting and the name of the artist. The appraisal must be filed with the estate tax return, along with a written statement by the executor containing a declaration that, under penalty of perjury, the appraisal is complete and accurate, and the appraiser both qualified and disinterested.

Valuation of Works of Art

While relatively minimal guidance exists in the Internal Revenue Code and Treasury Regulations specific to the valuation of art, subsequent IRS publications have created further special requirements for works of art that have been appraised at $50,000 or more and are transferred at death. The IRS now provides a procedure through which the executor of an estate may request a “Statement of Value.” The Statement of Value is effectively a pre-approved appraised value, issued by the IRS, that the executor may rely on to substantiate the value of a work of art for purposes of the estate tax. 

For the purpose of the Statement of Value requirements, the IRS defines “art” as “paintings, sculpture, watercolors, prints, drawings, ceramics, antique furniture, decorative arts, textiles, carpets, silver, rare manuscripts, historical memorabilia, and other similar objects.” The executor must request a Statement of Value for an item prior to filing the federal estate tax return that first reports the transfer of the art work. The request must include the following: a copy of the appraisal; a description of the work; the appraised fair market value; the cost, date and manner of acquisition; the date of death; and the location of the IRS District Office with jurisdiction over the estate tax return. The current fee for a Statement of Value is $5,700 for one to three items, and $290 for each additional item.

An appraisal submitted for purposes of securing a Statement of Value must contain, among other information, a detailed description of the work, a professional photograph, the specific basis for the valuation, and a statement that the appraisal was prepared for estate tax purposes. The appraiser must prepare, sign and date the appraisal and sign a statement attesting to his or her competency and expertise. The appraisal must be prepared within 60 days of the valuation date, and the executor must sign the request for the Statement of Value under penalty of perjury. While the Statement of Value procedure constitutes a kind of insurance against challenge for the valuation of an asset that might otherwise be subject to significant scrutiny, it can be time-consuming and expensive.

All returns selected for evaluation or requests for a Statement of Value that include an artwork with a claimed value in excess of $50,000 will be submitted to the IRS’s Art Appraisal Services department for possible review by the Commissioner’s Art Advisory Panel. The IRS established the Art Advisory Panel in 1968 for the purpose of assisting the IRS in evaluating appraisals of art. The Panel is composed of renowned curators, dealers and art historians from across the United States. In 2015, the most recent year for which a report is available, the Art Advisory Panel reviewed 446 appraisals of artworks, representing a total value of almost $650 million. Of these appraisals, the Panel recommended adjustments to the appraised value of the property approximately 65% of the time. While the IRS is not technically bound by the Panel’s recommendation, in practice, its opinion is generally decisive.

Because the outcome of an appraisal can dramatically affect the amount of estate tax the collector’s estate owes, it should come as no surprise that art appraisal issues have been extensively litigated in the Tax Court over the past decade. Following are some recent cases of interest.

Effect of Economic Forces in the Estate of Bernice Newberger v. Comm’r, T.C. Memo. 2015-246 (2015).

In some cases, the appraised value of a work may not be the best indicator of value and in such instances the Tax Court may also consider relevant sales and the effects of larger economic forces upon the art market. The variations in market and appraised value are well illustrated by the ruling by the Tax Court reached in regards to the Estate of Bernice Newberger . Upon Bernice Newberger’s death in July of 2009, her art collection included Pablo Picasso’s Tete de Femme (Jacqueline), an untitled work by Robert Motherwell, and Jean Dubuffet’s Element Bleu XV. In early 2010, Christie’s appraised the Picasso at $5 million. Sotheby’s appraised the Motherwell at $450,000 and the Dubuffet at $500,000. The Picasso sold in an auction at Christie’s on February 2, 2010, for over $12 million. The estate listed the appraised values on the estate tax return that it filed in October of 2010. The return made no reference to the 2010 February sales price of the Picasso. The estate continued to hold the Motherwell and Dubuffet.

The IRS issued a notice of deficiency stating that the Picasso, the Motherwell and the Dubuffet had values of $13 million, $1.5 million and $750,000, respectively. The IRS based its adjusted valuation on the February 2010 sales price of the Picasso, the sale of a comparable work by Motherwell for $1.4 million in November of 2010, and the sale of a comparable work by Dubuffet for $825,000 in November of 2007. The estate promptly appealed, asking the Tax Court to honor the original $5 million valuation because the Christie’s sale was “a fluke,” and arguing that the comparable sales prices for the Motherwell and the DuBuffet failed to take into account the effects of the global recession of 2008-2009.

In a remarkably nuanced decision, the Court held for the IRS in valuing the Picasso at $10 million, which the IRS expert had arrived at by adjusting the sales price to account for July 2009 market conditions. However, the Court held for the estate regarding the Motherwell and Dubuffet works, finding that the estate’s experts had properly taken into account the depressing effects of the global recession on the art market at the time of Ms. Newberger’s death. The Court made specific reference to the IRS expert’s “inexplicable” valuation of the estate’s Motherwell at a price above the sales price for the comparable work, which was sold in November of 2010, after the art market recovered.

Fractional Interests in the Estate of Elkins v. Comm’r, 767 F.3d 445 (5th Cir. 2014)

The ownership of a work of art can be divided into a number of fractional interests. While fractional interests allow the owner to discount the value of his or her property for lack of marketability and control, they can create significant hurdles for the appraiser.   

James Elkins built an impressive art collection over his lifetime, including works by Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Jasper Johns, Cy Twombly, and David Hockney. By the time of his death, James Elkins owned fractional interests in 64 pieces of artwork. Specifically, Elkins owned a 73.055% interest in 61 of the works, subject to a restrictive co-tenant’s agreement with his children (the holders of the remaining fractional interests), and a 50% interest in a grantor-retained income trust (“GRIT”) that owned 3 works. Following Elkins’ death in February of 2006, his executor valued his 73.055% interest in the 61 works owned in conjunction with his children at approximately $9.5 million, and his 50% interest in the GRIT at approximately $2.6 million. To reach this value, the executor commissioned an appraisal from Sotheby’s, determined Elkins’ pro-rata share of the value of the appraised works, and applied a 44% discount to the pro-rated appraised value for lack of marketability and control. The IRS issued a notice of deficiency valuing the estate’s 73.055% interest at approximately $18.4 million and the 50% interest in the GRIT at $5.3 million. See Estate of Elkins v. Comm’r, 140 T.C. 86 (2013). 

The Tax Court disregarded the restrictions in the co-tenancy agreement between Elkins and his children and, with it, the estate’s 40% discount. The discount was reduced to 10% to account for the uncertainties a hypothetical buyer would face in determining a resale value in light of Elkins’ children’s continuing interests in the works. Understandably, the estate appealed.

On appeal, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the Tax Court ruling and held that indeed the estate was entitled to a higher discount for the fractional ownership.

Conflicts of Interest in Estate of Kollsman v. Comm’r, T.C. Memo. 2017-40.

In evaluating an appraisal, the IRS will also scrutinize the motivations of the appraiser as it did in the review of the valuations submitted for the Estate of Kollsman. Upon her death, Eva Franzen Kollsman owned two old master paintings: Maypole by Pieter Brueghel the Younger, and Orpheus attributed to Jan Brueghel the Elder, Jan Brueghel the Younger, or a Brueghel studio. A Sotheby’s specialist sent a brief letter to the executor of Kollsman’s estate appraising Maypole at $500,000 and Orpheus at $100,000, which values the estate included on Kollsman’s federal estate tax return. The same specialist also sent another letter proposing that the estate grant Sotheby’s an exclusive right to auction both works, and stated an estimated value at auction of $600,000-800,000 for Maypole and $100,000-150,000 for Orpheus. The estate accepted Sotheby’s proposal. The IRS issued a notice of deficiency, finally asserting a value of $2.1 million for Maypole and $500,000 for Orpheus.

At trial, the Court essentially disregarded the Sotheby’s appraisal, believing the appraiser gave a low estimate in order to reduce the estate’s tax burden and “curry favor” with the executor for the purpose of securing the right to auction the works. The Court accepted the IRS’s valuations, applying only a 5% discount for the risks associated with cleaning the paintings and an additional 20% discount for Orpheus due to the work’s generally poor condition and the uncertainty of its attribution.

The manner of disposition of the collection may also be relevant for purposes of valuation. Some estates include a “blockage discount” in the calculation of the value of a collection. A blockage discount accounts for the difference in the overall value realized if a number of works by a single artist are liquidated at once, as opposed to being sold off one by one. Selling a large “block” of works risks flooding the market and devaluing all of the artist’s work. Blockage discounts have been utilized in a number of collectors’ and artists’ estates, including those of Georgia O’Keeffe and Andy Warhol.

The IRS contested the application of a blockage discount to the appraisal of certain works of art owned by the estate of Lisa de Kooning, the daughter and sole heir of the abstract expressionist Willem de Kooning. Upon de Kooning’s death in 2013, Christie’s valued her collection of her father’s paintings and sculptures at $231 million. The estate commissioned two experts to calculate the amount for a blockage discount for the collection. The experts determined that the appropriate discount would be 60% for the paintings and 85% for the sculptures, and consequently valued the entire collection at a total of approximately $100 million. The estate submitted a request for a Statement of Value reflecting this amount. 

After consulting the Art Advisory Panel, who advised that the value of de Kooning’s works would only increase over time, the IRS rejected the blockage discount and issued a Statement of Value of approximately $255 million. This figure included a 50% discount for sculptures valued at over $100,000. Undeterred, the estate challenged the Statement of Value in its return and submitted additional information regarding the blockage discount. The IRS promptly disallowed the sculpture discount and, without making any adjustment to the Statement of Value, increased its value of the collection by $60 million to approximately $315 million. In February of 2017, the estate filed a case with the Tax Court to contest the IRS’s new position and the resulting $92 million tax bill. As of the date of this article, the case remains pending and the result shall be of keen interest to both estate planners and art law enthusiasts.

Conclusion

Despite the guidance provided by the IRS and relevant case law, the appraisal of art for estate tax purposes remains more of an art than a science. The valuation of artwork is intensely fact-specific, subject to a short time horizon, and dependent on the state of the art market. For those in New York City on November 10, 2017, the upcoming Art Law Day organized by the Appraisers Association of America might be of some interest.

Select Sources:

*About the Author: Elizabeth A. Summers is a Trusts and Estates Associate with a firm in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she specializes in wealth transfer planning for high net worth individuals and families. 

Disclaimer: This article is intended for educational purposes only and is not meant to provide legal advice. Any views or opinions made in the linked article belong to the author alone. Readers are not meant to act or rely upon the information in this article and should consult a licensed attorney regarding their specific situation.

Book Review: “Art and Business: Transactions in Art & Cultural Property” (2016)

By Marine Leclinche*

Art and Business coverWith every new publication on the subject of art law we are pleased to note the developments and growth of the field, as well as acknowledge new authors tackling the subject.

In his introduction, to Art and Business Kevin P. Ray, a Chicago-based attorney who specialized in art and cultural heritage and financial services at Greenberg Traurig, LLP, explains that this book is not intended to be exhaustive but rather to “provide an introduction to what people need to know when entering into transactions that involve art”. Indeed, the goal is deftly accomplished by the book that provides a comprehensive and concise presentation of the transactional issues and challenges encountered in the global and developing art market. While the author wishes for his book to be of interest to artists, collectors or attorneys, it can also be added that this book is definitely worth reading for students graduating from law school or art school. Even if art law is now an accepted practice area, and law schools are more and more willing to train students to this field, this textbook is a good reminder of the diversity of the subject. Art law encompass many diverse issues in addition to copyright and infringement.

Ray’s examination of the art law field is divided into ten chapters. Of the ten chapters, the first seven introduce readers to the basics of art transactions where art deals are involved, namely: cultural property, intellectual property, art trade, authenticity or title, but transactions in the art world are not always mere question of copyright infringement, title or authenticity, there can be restrictions on materials, or preemptive rights among countries that can complicate international business relationships for example. Ray uses the last three chapters to synthesize the themes of art finance and art-secured transactions, areas which may be less familiar to some art professionals

The book also contains two Appendices on restrictions applicable to art and cultural property. Appendix A provides information about the type of restrictions (e.g. export or import restriction) applicable to art and cultural property and their legal sources (national laws and regulations), and categories of objects to which these restrictions could apply. The second list categorizes restrictions according to market sectors (e.g. for Impressionist and Post-Impressionist, restrictions could apply on materials, on exports or on imports)

The first chapter “Art and Cultural Property in the Law” is a good introduction to understanding how art has been defined throughout centuries. The role of art in our societies has changed throughout time and discoveries of new techniques or materials and so has its definition. While this chapter is more conceptual at first, the author is able to quickly guide the reader towards legal status of art. For the author, the legal definition of art is essential for at least two areas: customs classification and copyright and intellectual property.

The second chapter is dedicated to intellectual property and copyright laws. The author uses cases in order to illustrate the challenge of ‘copyrightability’ and the purpose of infamous fair use doctrine and moral rights. The last section of this chapter concerns artists’ resale rights and sums up very well the origin of the rejection by U.S. copyright law and the difficulties to create or maintain a bill on resale royalty.

The third chapter explores the question of cultural property, a complex issue that has been first used in the 1954 Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (the “Hague Convention”). While the Hague Convention includes both movable and immovable cultural property, it applies only during periods of armed conflicts.

In 1970, the UNESCO Convention, eventually addressed the issue of protecting cultural property in peacetime and targeted specifically moveable cultural property which makes it more relevant, according to the author, to art trade and transactions discussed in his book.   As explained by the author, source countries (“countries that were the location of ancient civilizations, many of which are former colonies”) started to advocate for a convention that could regulate the removal of some objects during colonials period by market countries (“important centers of the art and cultural property trade […] which are former colonial powers”). Nevertheless it seems that the effectiveness of the 1970 UNESCO Convention was put into question, those doubts led to the creation of the UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects adopted in 1995. This Conventions applies to international claims for the restitution of stolen cultural object and the return of cultural objects, but it has been ratified by less states than the 1970 UNESCO Convention meaning that “it has limited applicability for most art transaction”.

One of the most famous examples of a continuing dispute over tangible cultural property concerns the Parthenon Sculptures (formerly called the Elgin Marbles). The Parthenon was constructed between 447 and 432 B.C.E and served originally as a temple to Athena. The temple was used for diverse purpose such as: a Greek Orthodox cathedral (5th century C.E, a Roman Catholic cathedral (in 1204), a mosque in 1458 or a military center in 1687. It suffered several destructions by fire and bombardments. Several sections of the book are dedicated to the dispute over the ownership of the Parthenon sculptures off and on since the 1832 Greece independence. Since Greece formally demanded for the Parthenon sculptures return in 1982, England and Greece decided to use cultural diplomacy instead of trial threats. A disagreement still remains concerning Lord Elgin alleged permission to remove the sculptures. In 1799 Lord Elgin was appointed British ambassador to the Ottoman central government in Constantinople, and supervised “a team of artisans and workmen to travel to Athens to make drawings and plaster casts of Greek sculptures and architectural fragments”. The outcome of this venture was that upon the obtention from the Ottoman government of document of permission for access to the Parthenon, part of the sculptures were removed from Athens and later brought to the British Museum in London. The obvious legal issues concern the issuance of the alleged removal permission of the Ottoman government. If the two countries achieve to agree on the return of the sculptures several issues would persist such as the running of statute of limitations and implementation of international laws.

Another interesting reference in the chapter on cultural property concerns Native American cultural heritage and its protection by US domestic laws. The Kennewick Man saga shows how much a legal definition can sometimes be too rigid in an evolving world of historical discoveries. After the discovery of a human skull and bones near Kennewick, Washington, on federal lands, the remains were sent first to an anthropologist for analysis and upon discovery that they were approximately 9,000 years old, further scientific studies were planned. Five tribal groups opposed these further studies and demanded the remains to “be turned over for reburials”. The scientists excavated the Kennewick Man based on the 1979 Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA) and argued that it was not “Native American” remains according to the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) governing among other things the treatment, repatriation and disposition of Native American human remains. A claim was brought in the US District Court for the District of Oregon to avoid restitution. It was held in 2004 that Kennewick Man’s remains were not “Native American” human remains according to the NAGPRA. Last but not least, a publication in the scientific journal Nature determined that according the genetic sequencing of Kennewick Man’s genome, it was “more closely related to modern Native Americans than to any other living population” and especially to the Colville Tribe, who claimed formerly for the restitution of the remains. The Kennewick Man is still currently in the custodial care of the Burke Museum in Seattle.

Chapter five and six respectively called “Questions of Authenticity and Questions of Titles” provide essential definitions that help novice readers not to confuse attribution and authenticity, or provenance and provenience. Authenticity of an artwork has always been subject to suspicion and leads more and more to expensive and largely media-covered litigations where the art authentication experts are left to the anger of purchasers or owners. Just this year, Sotheby’s auction house filed two lawsuits, one in the UK and one in the US to recover funds from the consignor’s of artworks they found to have been forgeries. Ray explains very well in chapter five the strange fascination that art theft and forgery create in the media and among the public, analyzing extensively the story and proceedings of the Knoedler & Company case.

In the chapter concerning art ownership and title, the author decided to tackle the issue of stolen art, first explaining the moral aspect of the question that has been a classic subject of a large number of movies (Gambit in 1966, remade in 2012, or How to Steal a Million also in 1966). As stated by the author, most of the time this subject is romanticized but in reality involves much more complicated issues with the common law principle of nemo dat and problems of statutes of limitation.

The author very appropriately dedicated a fair amount of pages on the issue of Nazi-Looted Art providing a good explanation of the various challenges: emotional, geographical and time-related and the legal basis for past and current cases. That said, a more complete review of art law cases involving Nazi-era looted restitution cases is in order.

The three last chapters are the most technical and also challenging chapters of this book, for non-finance trained professionals. The author addressed art sale transactions from the standpoint of both the U.S. Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) and the UN Convention on Contract for the International Sale of Goods (CISG). This part is very useful as the author makes straightforward comparison between the two legal documents and demonstrates their respective benefits and weakness. Chapter 9 “Secured Transactions” treats art as a “quasi-asset class for investment” and discusses, once again, the lessons from the following cases: Lindholm v. Brant 925 A.2d 2048 (Conn. 2007) and Salander O’Reilly Galleries, LLC bankruptcy cases to illustrate his explanations. The last short chapter deals with international trade in art and especially exports restrictions and preemptive rights. The example of the sale of the 1733 portrait of Ayuba Suleiman Diallo by Hoare of Bath at Christie’s in 2009 is given to show the limitation that a country can impose on the exportation of an artwork that is considered  a national treasure. It was requested from the buyer: the Qatar Museums Authority to submit a request for an export license to which the UK exercised its preemptive rights in order to enable British museums to acquire it. Eventually the National Portrait Gallery and the QMA reached an agreement for a loan of the painting.

The author decision to provide a selection of case decisions and legal materials, helps the readers to put some more abstract concepts back in context or remember famous cases concerning forgeries. Nevertheless the book could become quickly outdated on these points because of new developments in pending cases or evolution of laws.

On the book shelf of the art law publications Art and Business appears an up to date and an informative reference that offers simultaneously to its readers a very good introduction on basic issues rose by art law and the art business, and thanks to the author expertise, more specialized chapters concerning art transactions and sales, that will provides great sources for less experienced lawyers. Ray’s book is clear, and provide numerous and well-researched footnotes to help readers to deal with a particular topic in depth. Published by the American Bar Association (ABA), despite its price ($199.95), this book makes a valuable addition to a reference library for any art professionals.

Disclaimer: This article presents general information and is not intended as legal advice or substitute to reading Art and business.

*Marine Leclinche is a Spring 2017 Legal Intern with Center for Art Law. She is a LL.M candidate at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. She earned a degree in Intellectual Property Law in France, and now focus her studies on art and fashion law. Ms. Leclinche can be reached at leclinch@law.cardozo.yu.edu.

WYWH: Introduction to Estate Planning for Artists in “Your Art Will Outlive You”

 

By Heather DeSerio

The subject of what life keeps in store for artists’ legacy when they are no longer around to protect their works is of increasing interest to auction houses, galleries, heirs and artists themselves. On January 11, 2017, the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) in conjunction with the New York State Bar Association’s (NYSBA) Entertainment, Arts, and Sports Law Section (EASL) Committee on Fine Art and NYSBA’s Pro Bono Committees hosted an event, entitled “Your Art will Outlive You- How to Protect It Now,” which took place in Dumbo Brooklyn, New York. The panel of lawyers and art professionals presented a two-hour overview to artists and art professionals about what an artist can do to protect their work now, rather than wait until after they pass away.

screen-shot-2017-02-01-at-10-20-55-am

Source: Heather DeSerio

 

There were six key speakers: Judith B. Prowda of Sotheby’s Institute of Art, Carol J. Steinberg of Law offices of Carol J. Steinberg, Elisabeth Conroy of Edward W. Hayes, P.C., Declan Redfern who is a Partner at Kayser & Redfern, LLP, Peter Arcese, practicing T&E attorney and an Adjunct Professor at the NYU School of Continuing and Professional Studies, and Alicia Ehni, an artist and Program Associate at NYFA Learning. The majority of those in attendance were artists, with at least one conservator and a recorder for estate processing. NYFA, a nonprofit organization with a mission to “empower emerging artists and arts organizations across all disciplines at critical stages in their creative lives and professional/organizational development” created its own “Take Aways” for the event that can be found here.

While artists tend to shy away from legal topics, this sold-out event was clearly of interest and tackled such fascinating and complex topics as will drafting, estate planning for artists, establishing artist foundations, gifting artwork while living, copyrights, and forming artist cooperatives. The following is a summary of the discussion that took place.

  1. Wills

Elisabeth Conroy, an Associate at Edward W. Hayes, P.C., started the stimulating presentation on estate planning for artists by giving an introduction to what a will is and followed up by providing the requirements for a valid and enforceable will. The five requirements are that (1) the will must be in writing; (2) must be signed by the person whose will it is, which is called a testator and they must be 18 years old; (3) signed at the end of the will; (4) published, meaning that there is an acknowledgement that this is your last will and testament; and (5) at least two witnesses must sign in the presence of the testator within 30 days of one another. Additionally, she spoke about choosing an executor of the will, types of bequests, joint wills, how to store and update a will when major life changes occur such as marriage, divorce, and children. Conroy mentioned that while an attorney is not required to create a will, it may be a good idea because using an attorney to draft and execute a will creates a presumption of the will’s validity. She also highlighted the commonly overlooked importance of having a living will and a health proxy, because designating someone to make health decisions if a person becomes incapacitated is a good idea. She ended her remarks by recommending that people should execute a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) authorization so the person that serves as the health proxy will also have access to a person’s medical records to make important life decisions.

  1. Estate Planning for Artist- Trusts, Foundations, Fiduciaries, and Valuing Art

Peter Arcese is a trusts and estates practitioner who also serves as an Adjunct Professor at NYU School of Continuing and Professional Studies. He delivered quite an impassioned and intriguing presentation about estate planning for artists and why it is unique for artists. He highlighted various types of trusts that exist. Arcese repeatedly stressed the importance of appointing a qualified fiduciary. A qualified fiduciary means the fiduciary should understand what the artist’s intentions are and be competent enough to deal with auction houses, the artist’s family, lawyers, and accountants. Arcese also noted that a fiduciary should be savvy and knowledgeable enough to make decisions that are in the best interest of the artist and can deal with complex issues that may arise pertaining to funding the foundation and overseeing the administration of the estate. In addition, it is important that the fiduciary does not engage in self-dealing. This is so that the artist would avoid many problems that other artist foundations have faced such as was illustrated by the infamous Rothko case.

Art valuation is a complex topic that was briefly discussed on several occasions. Arcese told the audience about the important benefits of achieving discounts for the benefit of taxation of the estate when an artwork is sold. He pointed to the David Smith case and the DeKooning case.

One of the questions asked during the event was about the availability and reliability of art appraisals for lesser known artists. He responded that a person should try to find a highly qualified individual with a good reputation to appraise the artworks and give an estimate. This can usually be done by an auction house or qualified appraiser. There was no definitive clear answer to a follow-up question about whether the appraisals are correct, but, Arsece told the audience, “It should be based on the fair market value or what one would get at auction.”

Funding the Foundation:

Artist foundations have got their initial funding in ways such as:

  1. Borrowing money: The Adolph and Ester Gottlieb Foundation borrowed the first $10,000 to make grants and started with nothing else.

(*The Adolph and Ester Gottlieb Foundation was the first foundation to give money to artists.)

  1. Funded by select gifts of art to the estate to sell off, and the proceeds are used to help get the initial funding started.
  2. Facilitate exhibits of works in estate’s collection.
  3. Publish a catalogue raisonné of the artist’s works.
  4. Licensing of the copyrights in accordance with the artist’s wishes.
  5. Life Insurance Policy: The funds received can be directed to help fund the establishment of the foundation to help pay for the initial cost of the foundation.

During Arsece’s abridged discussion about artist foundations, he emphasized key points. First, how important it is for all artist to leave clear directions about what to do and directions that layout the vision for the foundation. Next, he pointed out that foundations can be created during the artist’s lifetime or created upon death. In conclusion, Arsece reviewed the types of foundations: there are public foundations, which are based on the corporation structure, and there are also private foundations that are run by family members or named individuals by the artist.

Many questions from the audience concerned matters of funding the artist foundation and tax issues. One question specifically asked if it is a good idea to create a trust to minimize taxation in comparison to having a will. The answer was a resounding yes from several the panelist that confirmed that a trust can save on taxes. There is a one-time credit that the IRS Code allows of up to $5,500,00.00 of the value of artwork that is not subject to taxation. This exempt amount of artwork can be set aside in a trust and will not be taxed again. The monetary value of artwork is determined from the date when the artist passes and the appreciation in value of the work is free of taxation. It is advised to consult an attorney that is experienced in setting up trusts so that they tailor the plan to accomplish whatever tax savings are best depending on the individual’s goals.

  1. Artist that Gift Artwork During Artist’s Lifetime

Declan Redfern, a partner with Kayser & Redfern, LLP, with more than three decades of Trust & Estates experience including litigation both in the U.K. and the U.S. Redfern drew upon his experience to illuminate another important aspect of artist devising their property during their lifetime by elaborating on the differences between gifting an artwork during the artist’s lifetime (inter vivos gift) and how the copyright exists separately from giving of the physical work itself. An artwork’s copyright does not automatically transfer just because the physical object is gifted to someone.

When a living artist gifts artwork to someone, there are three general requirements that must be established to prove that it was an inter vivos gift: First, there has to be an intent to divest the title by the donor, second the acceptance of artwork by the donee, and third, delivery of work from the donee to the donor. Once all three requirements have been established, then an inter vivos gift has been perfected and it is no longer part of the artist’s collection.

Redfern highlighted several issues with gifting. Each example indicated problems with trying to figure out what happened with the gift during the deceased artist’s lifetime when there was conflicting circumstances, conflicting documents, or the artist’s intent was not clear. These examples illustrate that it is imperative for artists to make their intentions clear in written document that clearly describes their intentions at the time when they gift is given and indicates what rights are intended to be gifted.

He concluded his presentation by talking about the Deadman Statute. It is an evidentiary rule that applies in court when trying to establishing if a gift was actually gifted because one cannot rely upon what a Deadman told a person. There must be documentation that is notarized by a disinterested party to defeat a Deadman Statute. This also helped reinforce the idea about getting things in writing and even notarized by disinterested parties so that a person can establish that an inter vivos gift was intended to be given by the artists and if any copyrights were granted with the inter vivos gift besides possession of the artwork.

  1. Copyright Law

Carol J. Steinberg, one of the organizers of the program as well as a speaker, discussed copyright law because these rights are important for artists to consider when a person is creating an estate plan for the artist’s artwork. She stressed the importance of understanding that the law grants artists six set of copyrights, which exists separately from the physical artwork itself. Under the Copyright Act of 1976 Section 106 the six different rights are:

  1. the reproduction right;
  2. the right to prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work;
  3. the distribution right of copies or phonorecords;
  4. the right to perform the copyrighted work publicly;
  5. the right to display the copyrighted work publicly; and
  6. for sound recordings, the right to perform the work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.

Steinberg also informed the audience that artists can choose to retain or assign the six different copyrights independently from one another. The assignment can be done while the artist is still living or upon the artist’s death in a testamentary document that indicates the artist’s intentions for the artwork’s copyrights.

She tied it all together by mentioning that the copyrights are commonly administered after the artist death by the artist’s foundation or estate in accordance with the artist’s wishes as indicated in the artist’s testamentary documents. This is an important remark because with the rise of the internet there has been an increase in litigation involving issues such as the unlicensed reproduction, distribution, and creation of derivative works involving items such as a catalogue where the artwork is reproduced in a picture or a reproduction of the artwork is displayed on a picture on a website that features the artwork. Sometimes this occurs when owners of the physical artwork fail to realize that they need a license from the artist’s foundation or artist’s estate which are in charge of administering the artist’s copyright in a work of art after the artist is deceased. This licensing of an artwork’s copyright is necessary to ensure that another is not infringing on the artist copyrights that are still retained by the artist’s foundation or estate.  

  1. Artist Cooperatives

Alicia Ehni, the Program Associate at New York Foundation for the Arts, suggested to the audience of the program that artists should form cooperatives consisting of artists, curators, collectors, and other key players in the art world. This would benefit artists because it would  get their work seen by other professionals in the art world, which in turn gives them the exposure they need to potentially get placed in shows and museums. An increase in an artist’s visibility and prominence in the art world helps artists to increase their collectability and raises their value in the art market. A trickle effect results in more work being produced by an artist as they sell more work. Once an artist increases their work output, then there is a greater need for the artist to keep proper documentation about the work they produce and track the work’s provenance. This is because documentation is helpful in the art resale market and for authenticity. Unfortunately, artists and their foundations or estates are plagued with problems such as authentication of artwork, lack of documentation by the artist while they are living, and the need to generate income from the artist artwork to fund the artist’s foundation.

Authentication of artwork is a problem when there is a lack of record keeping performed by the artist during their lifetime. This is a highly controversial topic because artist estates and authenticators have faced several lawsuits about artworks that were improperly attributed to an artist that turned out to be forgeries. Thus, authenticators and artist’s estates tend to shy away from authenticating artworks since they do not want to be held liable for wrongly authenticating an artwork. One thing that could help with this authentication problem is for living artists to be proactive in creating a method of systematically documenting their artwork. This protective step is commonly overlooked by artists, which could create problems down the line because no one else is better qualified to determine which works should be attributed to the artist then the artist themselves.

An artist should regularly document their work by taking photos, creating a numbering system, record when an artwork is sold and to whom it was sold. Also, an artist may want to keep a list of where the artwork is stored or consigned, and provide information about the artworks materials and dimensions. Thorough records created during the artist’s lifetime would facilitate the artist’s estate management of the collection and distribution of the inventory if and when the foundation in charge of the works needs to sell authenticated works. Therefore, artists should be prudent and begin this practice at the beginning of their career to ensure their legacy is protected.

Conclusion:

“Establishing the Artist Foundation” is a vital topic in the art industry as demonstrated by the challenges encountered by high-profile foundations such as the Rothko and Warhol Foundations. Many artists, galleries, and auction houses are transforming their business strategies by incorporating artist management to help meet the needs of aging artists. Crassly put, dead artists are big business for sales, exhibits, and catalogue raisonnés. As mentioned by Robin Pogrebin in her New York Times article, “Decision Time For Aging Artist,” aging artists such as Chuck Close are beginning to think about planning for their families now rather than simply leave it to a gallery to manage their estate as artists commonly have done in the past. Artists are taking an active role in establishing a plan for their work to curtail many of the problems other artist’s estates and foundations have faced. In deciding how to develop a plan for the artist’s artworks the legacy, preservation, copyright, licensing, establishing an artist foundation, establishing a trust, and the selection of a qualified fiduciary are all important elements that merit additional education and planning to ensure the will of the artist is honored posthumously. The artist should consult a qualified and experienced attorney to establish a plan and guide them through the process of estate planning for artists.  

Select Sources:

  1. In re Rothko, 84 Misc. 2d 830, 379 N.Y.S.2d 923 (Sur. Ct. 1975), modified, 56 A.D.2d 499, 392 N.Y.S.2d 870 (1st Dep’t), aff’d, 43 N.Y.2d 305,372 N.E.2d 291, 401 N.Y.S.2d 449 (1977); on remand, 95 Misc. 2d 492, 407 N.Y.S. 2d 955 (NY Sur. Ct. 1978).
  2. Simon-Whelan v. Andy Warhol Found. for the Visual Arts, Inc., No. 07 CIV. 6423 (LTS), 2009 WL 1457177 (S.D.N.Y. May 26, 2009).
  3. Jennifer Maloney, The Deep Freeze in Art Authentication, April 24, 2014 available at https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304279904579518093886991908

About the Author: Heather DeSerio (NYLS, JD candidate, Class 2017) is a Spring 2017 Legal Intern with the Center for Art Law. In her studies, she is concentrating in Intellectual Property Law. Prior to law school, she worked as a fine artist and received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting from Ringling College of Art and Design. She can be reached at heather.deserio@law.nyls.edu.

In Other News: Allegory, Fakes, HEAR Act, Synergy and Street Art

Screen Shot 2017-01-26 at 11.29.08 AM.png

Follower of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, “The Blind Leading the Blind” (circa 1600). Auctioned by Sotheby’s at the Master Paintings & Sculpture Evening Sale (Jan. 25, 2017). Estimate: $100,000 – 150,000. Hammer w/ buyer’s premium: $137,500.

* * *

Old Masters Faked The 2011 private sale involving a “modern forgery” was undone five years later, when Sotheby’s auction house recognized that it sold the work under a false attribution to Frans Hale. The handsome sum of about $10 million dollars paid for the “Portrait of a Man” was reported as reimbursed by the auction house to the buyer in 2016. In January 2017, Sotheby’s again made the news for denouncing authenticity of another painting and naming its consignor a defendant in a breach of contract complaint. The second painting, known as “St. Jerome” by an old master from Italy, has been tested by a lab Sotheby’s acquired in 2016 and reported as containing modern pigments. Funds at stake from the sale of “St. Jerome” – over $650,000.

The existence of fakes in the art market is no news. The steps taken by different players (private and public actors) to address claims and evidence of misattribution and fraud are newsworthy.

* * *

Eyes on HEAR Act  In January 2017, Carter Ledyard & Milburn LLP issued an advisory regarding the new federal law, Public Law No. 114-308, known as the Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery (HEAR) Act extending the statute of limitations for claims to Holocaust-expropriated art. See full text here.

From the advisory: “The HEAR Act operates by displacing individual American states’ statutes of limitations with the new six-year deadline. The HEAR Act does not create a federal right to recover artwork, and does not create a uniform federal statute of limitations for all Holocaust art claims. Claimants must still allege a right to recovery under existing state law, based on theft or conversion. Although Congress’s stated intention is for these disputes to be decided on the merits, because of an exception set forth in the law, the new law will not end quarrels about which state’s law applies. . . .”

* * *

Beyond the Artmarket Room for meaningful artist/lawyer relationships are explored in an essay co-authored by Sonia K. Katyal and Joan Kee for Hyperallergic entitled “How Art and Law Can Work Together Beyond the Marketplace” (Jan. 12, 2017).

Excerpts from the essay: “… More recently, lawyers and artists alike have struggled over competing claims to freedom of artistic expression and those made in the name of defending intellectual property rights. … The questions raised regarding racial difference, inequality, and appropriation are difficult ones, and, over time, it has become increasingly urgent that we engage with both the languages of art and law to make sense of how to answer them.

Today, the need for these conversations — particularly as they address non-white, female, queer, and transgender artists — becomes particularly acute in the wake of Donald Trump’s election, who has demonstrated an explicit intent to perpetuate unequal treatment before, and despite, the law. How does the art world respond, and how can art lawyers support the need for a critical response?…”

 

* * *

Tasseography The newly minted President of the United States is making the news and inspiring artists to apply themselves. In “A Tremendous Roundup Of Street Art Ridiculing Donald Trump” (Jan. 27, 2017) and “‘It’s going to make art great again’: the street artists taking on Trump” (Jan. 25, 2017), The Huffington Post, The Guardian and others have picked up on the fact that “street artists have a lot to say about President Donald Trump….”

“Legs”: Art Law Issues Stand Out in a New Documentary

By Adelaide Dunn*

Screen Shot 2016-12-21 at 10.59.31 PM.png

Film still from Legs: A Big Issue in a Small Town, showing Larry Rivers, “Legs”. Source: ReelGA.com

In Sag Harbor, NY, a fiery local debate over a prominent artwork, which started in 2008 and still rages on, has led residents to consider exactly what it means to live in a small town with a big personality. Legs: A Big Issue in a Small Town (2015) is a documentary by Sag Harbor-based filmmaking power couple Beatrice Alda and Jennifer Brooke, which tells the heartfelt and amusing story of a giant pair of legs and a multilayered community struggling to define its identity (See trailer: https://vimeo.com/162895102)

A haven for artists, intellectuals and freethinkers, Sag Harbor is situated at the center of New York’s Hamptons – where a long list of creatives, including Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, have lived and worked. But, as the documentary reveals, the town also has a rich whaling history and toytown vibe that its self-described “natives” strive to preserve.

The sculpture at the heart of the issue is a large pair of legs, created by Larry Rivers (1923-2002). A known provocateur, Rivers “had the audacity to challenge abstract expressionism” by combining figuration with abstraction and parodying the old masters. (Jackson Pollock once tried to run over one of Rivers’ sculptures in East Hampton.) Visitors had to walk through the middle of the Legs to enter Rivers’ studio nearby in the town of Southampton. Some were amused and others annoyed, sowing the early seeds of discord surrounding the Legs.

Ruth Vered and Janet Lehr – a couple of eccentric gallerists – purchased a second iteration of the Legs in 2008 and mounted them to the side of their home, a converted, whitewashed Baptist church. At once quirky, racy and Pop, the sixteen-foot pair of fiberglass Legs are mysteriously androgynous, poised in a carefree prance, and adorned with garter-like stripes. Loved by some and loathed by others, the Legs quickly became an iconic local landmark and the subject of a protracted legal dispute, beginning in 2008 and continuing today.

The Case

Soon after the installation of the Legs, Vered and Lehr’s neighbors complained to the Sag Harbor Zoning Board. The Sag Harbor Village Building Inspector subsequently concluded that they needed a building permit, and the Sag Harbor Village Attorney issued an opinion stating that the Legs were an “accessory structure” in violation of the requirements of the Zoning Code of the Village of Sag Harbor (Applebome). Most notably, the Legs are located a foot from the property line where 35 feet is required (Sag Harbor Online).

After the Building Inspector denied Lehr and Vered’s application for a building permit in 2010, in 2011 they petitioned the Sag Harbor Zoning Board of Appeals to allow them to keep the Legs where they stand. The Board denied their application without prejudice. A string of public hearings followed from 2011 to 2012. Lehr and Vered were supported by dozens of Sag Harbor residents who argued that the Legs are a work of art that should remain, as well as the Larry Rivers Foundation, which produced a petition signed by 400 local residents arguing the same. Neighbors continued to call for the removal of the sculpture (Menu).

In 2012, Lehr and Vered’s attorney argued before the Board that this is a unique case that will not create a detrimental zoning precedent, because Larry Rivers has an important place in the locale’s artistic history, and because the amount of support Lehr and Vered have received indicates that there is serious value to the Legs remaining in their prominent position in the Village. Moreover, the Legs should not be dealt with under the Zoning Code because they are a form of expression protected under the First Amendment. He made the point that other forms of expression, like flag poles and bird baths, are not regulated by the Zoning Code. Further, public health, safety and welfare are not impeded by the sculpture (Sag Harbor Online).

The Board rejected those arguments, holding that the issue of art was a red herring, and that a work of sculpture can still be subject to zoning laws. But the Board nevertheless allowed aesthetics to affect its decisionmaking. It stated that the Legs are an undesirable change in the character of the neighborhood, and their location in the historic district of Sag Harbor is contrary to the Village’s goals of preserving its historic features. Vered called the Board a “bunch of chickens” and appealed the decision (Sag Harbor Online).

In 2015 the New York State Supreme Court in Riverhead upheld the Board’s ruling that the Legs are a structure that is subject to the Zoning Code. The Court dismissed the issue of the Legs’ status as a work of art, reasoning that “what is art?” is a “question philosophers from Plato to Arthur Danto have debated, [which] is best left to their province” (Steindecker). But for now, the Legs remain standing. With characteristic vigor, Lehr and Vered have appealed the New York Supreme Court’s decision and are not removing the Legs until they are forced to do so.

The Film

In preparation for the film, Brooke and Alda interviewed an impressive diversity of Sag Harbor residents and asked for their opinions regarding the Legs. Interviews with artists, musicians, critics, lawyers, sociologists, café owners, local politicians and other residents offer earnest perspectives. For some, the Legs are a reassuring symbol that Sag Harbor has a sense of humor and a creative spirit. Responses range between “live and let live” and “who cares?”. For others, the Legs are an unwelcome punctuation of the town’s quaint, historical aesthetic. Sag Harbor is a town facing significant change, due in part to its popularity as a vacation spot for New York City’s upper crust. To the “native clan”, the preservation of Sag Harbor’s look is a surrogate for the preservation of its “culture” – a concept that is also up for debate. Behind this seems to be an unspoken jibe against whom they see as foreign art snobs and pretentious Manhattanites invading their neat world.

The film’s conversation touches upon three themes common to art lawsuits (each analyzed below): (1) what constitutes art, and who is qualified to make that call? (2) the implications of a community rejecting an artist’s expression, and (3) the tendency of art lawsuits to provide platforms for broader social inquiries and new creative expression. Legs uncovers the universal complexity of social dynamics in small towns and queries how we tolerate our neighbors’ differences. This writer had the pleasure of seeing Legs “in situ”, at Sag Harbor’s Bay Street Theater, as part of the 2016 Hamptons International Film Festival. The colorful cast of talking heads could be seen – and heard – during the screening and the following Q&A with Alda and Brooke.

Art Law Theme #1: What is Art?

In its decision regarding the 2015 appeal, the New York State Supreme Court in Riverhead side-stepped the problematic conundrum of “what is art”, choosing not to behave like art critics. Indeed, this question has preoccupied the contemporary art world since the readymade movement, originating with Marcel Duchamp’s famous urinal and carrying through into noted contemporary oeuvres like those of Jeff Koons and Dan Flavin. Appropriating a readymade consumer object, placing it within an art gallery and elevating it to the sacred status of “art” causes the viewer to question the validity and sincerity of “art” as a concept. This interpretive tension lies beneath a great deal of contemporary art, readymade or other. It is no wonder contemporary art that creeps into courtrooms causes such anxiety. The law depends on stable categories and analogies that enable binary, adversarial approaches to problem solving. Contemporary art, at its very core, aims to resist the notion that there can be a right answer, and that “art” lends itself to a stable definition.

The classification of artworks as everyday objects – the reverse of the readymade – is an occasional conceptual defunct of the law. The decisions of international customs authorities provide two interesting examples that can be compared with the New York State Supreme Court’s decision regarding the Legs.

The first involves the late Dan Flavin. Flavin is celebrated for his vibrant and dramatic assemblages of fluorescent tubes of strip lighting, which have exhibited at noted galleries and museums worldwide. But the European Commission ruled in 2010 that Flavin’s works should be classified for tax purposes as “wall lighting fittings”. This means that any works of the American artist being imported into the EU are liable to full value-added tax, which is 20%. If his works were treated as sculpture, they would only be liable to 5% (Kennedy).

Constantin Brancusi, a key inspiration for Flavin, is coincidentally also a victim of philistine customs rhetoric. When none other than Marcel Duchamp brought a selection of Brancusi’s sculptures, including his iconic Bird in Space, from Paris to New York City in 1926, a customs official (himself an amateur sculptor) refused to call it art (Gayford). To qualify as “sculpture”, works had to be “reproductions by carving or casting, imitations of natural objects, chiefly the human form” (Cleary).

Because Bird in Space was an abstract rendition of the form and motion of a bird, missing representational signifiers like wings and a beak, the work was relegated to the category of “Kitchen Utensils and Hospital Supplies”. For that reason, 40% of the work’s value was levied against it, while qualifying sculptures were free from import taxes. But a thirteen-month appeal, which involved Brancusi testifying as to his painstaking production method, and supporting testimony from Jacob Epstein and Edward Steichen, led to a reversal (Brancusi v. United States). This was the first U.S. court decision recognizing that non-representational sculpture could be considered art (Martin).

As these examples and the case involving the Legs reveal, artists’ unique expressions can be undermined and injustices can occur when challenging artworks are categorized as mere objects.

Art Law Theme #2: the People v. the Artist

Furthermore, it seems democratically significant that the small community of Sag Harbor can advance such a critical voice regarding aesthetics and what is, in the words of one of the film’s interviewees, a “frontal challenge to private property”. It is also significant that those in favor of the Legs’ removal amassed such lobbying power. This is because there is a general assumption in the law that the public benefits from having free access to artworks. For example, according to moral rights rhetoric, artworks present references to history and the contemporary that influence present and future generations. Those references become part of a community’s shared vocabulary (Hansmann & Santilli, 106). And in copyright and First Amendment philosophy, society’s uncensored marketplace of ideas is fed by the public consumption of creative works, no matter the content. A diversity of expression in the marketplace of ideas strengthens democracy, since creative works have political and social implications (Netanel, 159).

But situations like that in Legs allow us to deconstruct these assumptions as out of step with the nature of contemporary art. The famous case involving the removal of Richard Serra’s sculpture Tilted Arc from the Federal Plaza in Manhattan provides a useful analogy. The federal employees and area residents that argued for the removal of the sculpture – a 120 feet long curved steel wall – mainly protested the imposition of an austere and challenging aesthetic on them (Duboff, Burr & Murray, 337). Despite testimony of numerous art world amici, including Keith Haring and Claes Oldenburg, arguing that dismantling a site-specific work is equal to destroying it, the Court ordered the removal of Tilted Arc. Like with the Legs, the Court justified its decision with practical considerations, such as Tilted Arc’s obstruction of police surveillance and attraction of rats (Serra v. United States General Services Admin). The removal was said not to be content-based and not a violation of Serra’s right to freedom of expression.

Both the Legs and Tilted Arc illustrate how, when sculptures with unstable meanings are superimposed onto the adversarial legal system, artificial binaries can shape trial narratives. For Tilted Arc, that binary manifested as the people versus the artist. Similarly, the Legs dispute pitched regular people against the art world.

Legs captures well the contrasting personalities driving the debate. The disgruntled neighbor who lodged the initial complaint with the Zoning Board receives considerable screen time. Poised within her plush heritage home, she labels herself the representative of “the neighbors who have to look at [the Legs] everyday”, calling them an “eyesore”. During the screening, her scathing remarks were met with laughter and lighthearted jeers from the audience.

Vered – unapologetically an art world archetype – makes outspoken and emotive comments about her Legs that anchor the conversational flow. She mentions a tacky blow-up angel decoration in a nearby yard that she and Lehr found “offensive” but managed to tolerate. Citing the U.S. Constitution in her convictions, she opines, “freedom of speech is becoming freedom of hate”. Being somewhat inflammatory by nature, Vered’s response to the dispute was to install floodlights around the Legs that lit them dramatically each night.

One of contemporary art’s virtues is, of course, its resistance to widespread understanding and approval. But some critics have argued that contemporary art has become a collection of abstruse messages accessible only to art world denizens (Meeker, 218). The critic Adam Gopnik writes that contemporary art’s popular audience has been “displaced by a professional constituency” (Gopnik, 141). It is this alienation of regular people from the contemporary art world – accentuated by the legal adversarial system’s narrative binaries – that appears to have exacerbated the disputes behind the Legs and Tilted Arc cases.

Art Law Theme #3: A Platform for Broader Social Inquiries and New Creative Expression

A positive ramification of arts conflicts is that they allow people to play out their anxieties without resorting to violence. This provides a democratic platform upon which to reconcile different values and identities within a community. Stephen Tepper, a sociologist appearing in the film, offered an interesting theory on how democracy enables communities to engage in these “symbolic conflicts”. This leads to “ontological security”, or mental stability resulting from the coherence of one’s social life. Tepper is the author of Not Here, Not Now, Not That! Protest Over Art and Culture in America, which examines some 300 examples of arts conflicts and reaches these conclusions.

Indeed, Brooke and Alda utilized the dispute as a platform for discussing wider social tensions. The implicit hostility felt by different racial groups is shared. The homophobia experienced by a couple of Sag Harbor dads – who until recently were prohibited from being Boy Scout leaders – is told with candidacy and intimacy. Power dynamics between native residents and recent arrivals are told of. Though Legs concludes before the case is fully litigated, the discussion, according to one interviewee, is just as important as the resolution.

The best arts conflicts are those that result in new creative works. Christoph Büchel’s response to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art’s lawsuit against him was to make new art out of thousands of pages of discovery documents. Mass MoCA was asking the Court for the right to open to the public Büchel’s immense yet unfinished installation, “Training Ground for Democracy”. Büchel and his attorney called the museum’s refusal to give them confidential documents “censorship” (Kennedy).

Brooke and Alda similarly found good documentary fodder in the dispute. They named their goal in the Q&A as giving a “voice to the village”. Based on the heartfelt comments and interjections of Bay Street Theater’s attendees, they clearly succeeded. The filming and screening of the documentary seems to have constituted a catharsis for the community. While legal institutions make attempts at dispute resolution, Legs offers a more therapeutic process, which might be called dispute relief.

Conclusion

In all, Legs is a rich, meandering conversation that stands as a celebration of the Sag Harbor community’s passions – despite how different those passions can be. Viewers shouldn’t expect the drama and sensationalism that often comes with coverage of artistic debates and free expression matters. Though localized, the themes explored are universal to small towns, such that Legs will strike a chord wherever it screens. It has, in fact, had a successful first run of over 25 festivals, and the next stages of distribution should be just around the corner.

Vered and Lehr’s appeal will be one to watch. Despite the unfavorable decisions from the Zoning Board of Appeals and Supreme Court of New York at Riverhead, an appeal court may well see the situation differently. New York’s courts have in recent years become more adept at importing into their decision-making techniques of artistic analysis, awareness of the art world’s unique business conditions, and acknowledgement of new production techniques in the realm of contemporary art. In such cases, which often involve debates over artistic meaning and merit, the roles of art critic and legal advocate can be intertwined. It is likely that a court will be sympathetic to Lehr and Vered’s position and make a finding that their freedom of expression and private property rights triumph over zoning requirements and neighborhood complaints about aesthetics. More on this as the Legs saga continues.

* * *

From the editors: A special screening of “Legs: A Big Issue in a Small Town” by the Center for Art Law as part of the 2017 “You’ve Been Served” series is planned for the Spring of 2017. Art law topics to be discussed in conjunction with the film will include VARA and NYS zoning laws.

 

 

References and Sources

*About the Author: Adelaide Dunn recently graduated with an LLM in Competition, Innovation and Information Law from the New York University School of Law. Before that, she completed a BA/LLB(Hons) in Art History and Law from The University of Auckland in New Zealand. Adelaide is particularly interested in the intersections of copyright, moral rights and the visual arts. She is currently doing intellectual property, entertainment and commercial law work as a law clerk for a solo practitioner in New York City. Adelaide can be reached at adelaide1dunn@gmail.com.

 

Broad or narrow: Taxman reviews “Private” Museums

By David Honig, Esq.*

screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-1-48-18-pmLast year, on November 20, 2015, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) launched a review of eleven US private museums in response to a recent New York Times Article that exposes a possibility for abuse of 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. Every “domestic or foreign organization described in section 501(c)(3)” is considered a private foundation, unless it fits into one of four scenarios, dealing with where the organizations “support” is derived, set out in § 509(a).  Senator Hatch’s investigation did not include all nongovernment owned museums as the term “private museum” suggests – after all many of the most renowned museums in the United States, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the National Gallery of Art in Chicago are private museums even if they are not thought of as such. Instead, Senator Hatch looked into a subset of museums that only have one donor and are designated private foundation under 26 U.S.C. § 509.

The investigation, which concluded in May of 2016, sought to determine whether, and how much, these museums benefit the public. This inquiry was ignited by the fear that these private foundation museums are offering minimal benefit to the public while affording the donors substantial benefits including tax deductions. For example, the New York Times article mentions that at least two of these museums, Glenstone in Potomac, MD and the Brant Foundation Art Study Center in Greenwich, CT, require reservations and “[are] open only a few days a week to small groups.” The reason this matters is the tax advantages afforded to charities with 501(c)(3) nonprofit status are granted because of the public benefit these organizations provide. Logic suggests, if these museums are not providing a public benefit they should not be given preferential treatment. The real issue is not whether these museums provide a public benefit but whether the benefit provided can justify the private reward. In other words, should individuals capable of purchasing multi-million dollar artworks be afforded a discount on creating and maintaining private viewing salons?  Before determining whether these museums provide enough or any public benefit some background should be given, first on the museums themselves then on the tax benefits associated with this setup.

Screen Shot 2016-11-23 at 1.50.14 PM.png  

The Private Museums

The United States has a long history of encouraging private enterprise. This can be seen in airlines, railroads, institutions of higher education and charitable organizations. The investment of private capital helps alleviate some of the financial strain felt by the state, while encouraging private organizations or individuals to provide public services. Seeking to reward private investment for the public good, “Congress sought to provide tax benefits to charitable organizations, to encourage the development of private institutions that serve a useful public purpose or supplement or take the place of public institutions of the same kind.”

One way Congress provided tax benefits to charitable organizations was by creating 26 U.S.C. § 501. Section 501(a) grants tax exempt status to certain organizations. Relevant here are corporations “organized and operated exclusively for … charitable … or educational purposes … ”. Seeking to take advantage of this section of the internal revenue code collectors have created organizations and donated artworks to them in order to establish museums for their private collections.

The Tax Scheme

One benefit of creating a nonprofit organization and donating artworks to it is clear – if the museum charges an entry fee the revenues can be used to maintain the artworks and space without the donor having to pay taxes. By relinquishing ownership of these works the donor no longer bears sole responsibility for upkeep. Since 9 of the 11 museums surveyed by Senator Hatch do not charge an admission fee, most of the founding donors have to donate more funds to insure the works and premises do not deteriorate. On its face, the free admission scheme is detrimental to the founding donor. In addition to paying for the upkeep, although possibly at a subsidized rate, the founding donor must also relinquish control of the works to the nonprofit corporation for the corporation to be eligible for the tax benefits under the internal revenue code.

Taking these issues in turn, the first, having to pay for upkeep, could actually be a benefit. The internal revenue code, specifically section 170, allows a donor to deduct a “contribution or gift” made to, among other organizations, corporations that qualify for 501(c)(3) tax exempt status. This means that besides possibly paying a reduced rate for the upkeep and maintenance of her art and a facility to house said art, the founding donor can deduct the amount donated to the museum to cover these costs.

In addition to allowing deductions for contributions section 170 also allows a donor to deduct gifts made to authorized organizations. By converting a collection that was privately owned by an individual into one that is held by a museum for the “public’s benefit” the founding donor can use money that would have been personally spent for upkeep of the art to reduce her taxes. By combining tax exempt status granted by 501 with the deductions afforded for charitable contributions in section 170 a founding donor is duly rewarded. Note: the internal revenue code places a limit, usually 50% of gross income, on the amount of deductions a person can take each year for charitable donations.

Tax deductions are not the only reason for a founding donor to entertain creating this type of organization. Once the works are donated the museum owns them and a donor no longer has no control, or so it would seem. If the donor serves on the board of directors, acts as president or serves in some other executive position the donor could execute control over the works of art. In fact, this is exactly what “many” of the founding donors are doing. An example of this is the Broad in downtown Los Angeles, whose founders Eli and Edythe Broad serve on the Board of Governors.

A donor that serves on the board or as an executive will be involved in not only how the artwork is managed but more importantly the operations of the museum. This includes determining hours of operations, admission price, what works should be bought and sold, displayed, put into storage or on loan. It is easy to see why Senator Hatch was worried about abuse of these tax exemptions since donors are able to reap huge tax benefits while seemingly giving up little in their enjoyment and control of art. In fact, some of the museums surveyed said that they are located on land owned by or partially by the founding donor. In other instances, museums are located on land adjacent to the donor’s residence. In order for this scheme to make sense and continue the public must get some benefit.

Public Benefits

“[C]harities [are] to be given preferential treatment because they provide a benefit to society.” It follows, that if there is no benefit to the public then the charity should not be given preferential treatment and a donor should not be allowed to receive tax deductions for donations to that charity. But the issue here is not one of existence of benefit it is one of degree of quality and quantity of benefit. The question ultimately boils down to whether or not these museums provide enough public benefit to be given preferential treatment and how is that determination made. In other words, what is the required level of public benefit that an organization must produce in order to receive preferential tax treatment under section 501 and how is it determined?

Unfortunately, it is hard to determine whether action actually benefits the public and the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) guidelines are not very helpful on this front. Besides being open to the public for viewing and informing the public of access, it really is not clear what is required of an organization to achieve tax exempt status.

There are clear benefits to founders of private museums but the question remains are those benefits enough. For instance, of the 11 museums that received a letter from Senator Hatch 10 of them responded that they engage in or have engaged in loan programs. This means that a work of art that would normally be displayed in someone’s home or sit in storage was put on display for a large number of people to see. The creation of more museums allows works to be displayed that otherwise would sit in a basement or storage facility and never be seen by the public.  

Not only does the creation of more museums allow for more work to be shown it allows different work to be shown and curated in different ways. Private museums allow the whims of one person to dictate how and what art is acquired and later displayed. This type of museum does not have to focus on what it thinks would be the most educational exhibit for its visitors as traditional public museums do. Instead the exhibits can focus on art or whatever emotion or reaction a curator wants to provoke. This too is “educational” in its own right even though it is not designed with that purpose in mind.

Maybe the best example of this would be Eli and Edythe Broad’s Broad Museum in Los Angeles, California. The Broad is the poster child for what these types of private museums can be. It is open most days of the week and draws large crowds of young people. In addition to its visitors having a lower average age than the national average of museum goers, 32 compared to 45.8, as of March 2016 70% of the Broad’s visitors were younger than 34 years old.

The Broad represents what these museums can be, but just because others do not do as much as the Broad does not mean they do not do enough to benefit the public. The limited hours and days of operation and reservations requirements can be justified: the founder wanted to create unique and more intimate experiences for visitors. Should it matter that this type of public benefit is intangible?

Ignore for a second the obvious benefit of public access to these artworks. Also ignore the limited circumstances some of the museum allow the public access to these works – a reason for reduced access might be that these museums are new and the operating expenses associated with keeping more traditional matters currently do not make sense because of number of guest expected. How is it determined whether the public receives enough or any benefit at all? Maybe the benefit is not clear or scientific, maybe it is indirect, or maybe it will take years to manifest but once it does it will be incalculable. The fact is public benefit can be difficult to pinpoint.

This difficulty is reminiscent of a Copyright issue raised over 100 years ago. When approached with the question of whether an advertisement could be protected under copyright law in Bleistein v. Donaldson Lithographing Co., Justice Holmes pointed out that judges should not determine the worth of “pictorial illustrations”. His reasoning, which boils down to the tastes of any portion of the public should not be looked down upon. Following that logic, maybe Congress, the IRS or a court adjudicating the issue of public benefit should determine that if any portion of the public benefits from an organization that organization should be allowed to keep its tax exempt status.

 *  *  *

Note: This Article is being reprinted with the permission from Entertainment, Arts and Sports Law Journal, Fall 2016, vol. 27, no. 3, published by the New York State Bar Association, One Elk Street, Albany, New York, 12207

*About the Author: David Honig is a member of the Brooklyn Law School Class of 2015. While attending law school he was a member of the Brooklyn Law Incubator & Policy (BLIP) Clinic. He is admitted to New York and New Jersey state bars. From 2015 to 2016 he served as a postgraduate fellow at the Center for Art Law. David is currently pursuing an LL.M. in taxation from NYU Law.

Building an Anthology from Ephemera: The Legal Issues of Constructing a Political Art Archive

By Scotti Hill*

INTRODUCTION

Predating the advent of words, images have long served as an elemental tool of communication, working to describe and persuade. As the modern era’s complex political systems galvanized and alienated large masses of the globe’s population, the combination of image and text has forged a new path for the rapid dissemination of ideas. In response, political protest manifested into artistic expression, a form preferable to violence.

Attempts to preserve artifacts from political protests have been undertaken with renewed urgency. From the fight for democracy in East Asia to socio-economic and racial activism in the United States, urban areas are drowning in visual and textual evidence of dissatisfaction, reminders of the angst of political alienation. Over the past several years, political events and tragedies have also mobilized archivists hoping to preserve the emotional and historical potency of movements’ artistic output.

Spontaneous graffiti, posters and artifacts have accompanied large systematic protests, such as Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter, raising concerns about the effectiveness of unauthorized artmaking. In Paris and New York, items gathered in the aftermath of terrorist attacks were collected with a sense of emotive resolution. The ephemera of political activism for these protests-posters, makeshift sculptures, graffiti, installations-have been cautiously assembled in archives. Building upon a recent New York Times commentary that investigates the increasing frequency of artifacts archives across the globe, this article explores the legal issues accompanying the preservation of political art, including how copyright, trademark, nuisance, First Amendment and vandalism claims can complicate the already murky notions of artistic authorship in political protest art.

Copyright: Is Political Protest Art Protected?

Copyright defines the possession of an exclusive legal right to literary, artistic or musical material. Normally, the creator retains copyright despite a change in ownership of the physical object. The government retains the copyright to public artworks it commissions, although under the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA), artists can still enjoy certain protections for state owned works, including preventing the work’s destruction or removal from the site in which it is placed. As the first federal legislation of its kind, VARA effectively grants artists a moral right to protect their creations. VARA does, however establish criteria for what creations are protected, including original and exclusive works crafted from media such as paintings, photographs, sculptures and drawings.

The U.S copyright law is designed to protect intellectual property from being improperly appropriated, exploited and disseminated by third parties. U.S. copyright law’s fair use exception allows for reproduction in cases of educational commentary, criticism, reporting or teaching. In determining fair use, the individual or organization seeking to reproduce the image must articulate the underlying philosophical purpose accompanying the image and take care to not impede the original work’s potential marketability.

Generally, copyright protection for an artistic creation is broad, covering any work of original authorship crafted in a tangible medium that “possesses at least some minimal degree of creativity.” Do temporary or impermanent creations, like those used in political protests, retain the same protection?

Creators of political protest art frequently operate under the guise of anonymity, working to shape or build upon a dialogue. Such items are rarely crafted as art items, let alone designed to be exhibited after the event they are intended to address, shore up or put down. Instead of being cherished in a pristine exhibition space, works are created to be portable and destructible so that they may serve as instruments of a movement, rather than merely symbols of it. Such items include posters that loudly parade the epitaphs of the movement, sculptures symbolizing political ideals, and flyers and pamphlets that participants hand out to eager members of the public.  Most importantly, these items are intended to be shared, to elicit a desired reaction in furtherance of the larger philosophy for which they serve. The disposability of such items negates the care and attention paid to traditional artworks, decreasing the incentive to protect item through legal means. With the foregoing logic in mind, it’s seemingly unlikely that creators of political protest art can assert robust copyright protection for works not intended to survive beyond a certain event. As it stands, the record is silent on the issue of artists seeking copyright protection for works used in political protests, yet the advent of protest artifact archives may bring this once ancillary issue front and center.

Ferguson, Street Art and the Politics of Anti-Institutional Artmaking

The 2014 death of Michael Brown rendered Ferguson, Missouri a hotbed of political and social unrest. In turn, artists and intellectuals resisted a media firestorm that presented the city’s extreme political unrest in a monolithic fashion. In his communal art project, Push Forward, artist Damon Davis pasted images of raised hands in various locations throughout Ferguson. With the permission of local business owners, whose establishments had been boarded up and closed to the community, these stirring images served as visual symbols of collective solidarity. Davis’ works, and many others like it, signal an increasing acceptance of graffiti as art, with more business owners allowing their structures to serve as mediums or ‘canvases’ of expression.

In the 21st century, street artists have seized a growing spirit of dissatisfaction with cultural institutions-namely museums and galleries for which pioneering Land Artist Robert Smithson deemed “mausoleums of culture.” Now, art forms such as graffiti bring art directly to the people, and while the last decade has ushered in an unprecedented degree of cultural acceptance to the medium that was once dismissed as vandalism, this arena is still abound with legal issues such as nuisance. 

As a common law tort, nuisance claims can be either public or private, and, arise from unauthorized and inappropriate uses of one’s property. Often, nuisance claims aim to reverse the tortfeasor’s action, which has affected the property’s value or the owner’s reasonable use of land. The illegal placement of graffiti has served as a logical iteration of nuisance, with the art form existing as a literal defacement of property-regardless of aesthetic value or societal appreciation.

Still other forms of political artmaking evoke public nuisance claims, raising concerns about the viability of art rooted in illegality. VARA’s protection of public artworks is contingent on whether or not the work is of “recognized stature.”  In affirming a legal standard for unsolicited street artworks, English v. BFC&R E. 11th St LLC held that VARA fails to protect illegally placed graffiti. While not all graffiti is protest art, its ongoing popularity attests to the viability of public avenues of expression. Like many of history’s most daring and thought-provoking artworks, graffiti often dares to confront directly that which would have otherwise remained hidden.

Cataloguing Chaos: Preserving the Evidence of Terrorist Attacks in Paris, New York, and the Occupy Wall Street Movement

In the wake of major terrorist attacks in New York on September 11, 2001 and Paris on November 13, 2015, archivists began the arduous process of cataloguing thousands of items compiled in makeshift memorials throughout the cities. In such events, archivists often struggle with determining the best procedure for both collecting the items and curating overwhelming collection.

In Paris, archivists prioritize letters and drawings above other artifacts, as these items seem to harness most eloquently the human dimension of tragedy. Archivists aim to preserve these artifacts’ emotional potency, what sociologists and intellectuals consider the most telling of the collective experience spurned by the event. The donative nature of these items negates legal concerns regarding ownership, however, preservation-determining the appropriate size of a state archive or who makes these determinations remains.

In contrast to the portable ephemera in Paris, New York’s post-9/11 archivist practices were decidedly more ambitious, relying on both small tokens of grief and large sections of destroyed structures. After the city’s terrorist attack, distorted masses of the World Trade Center were quickly isolated and stored with the intent to preserve. Their sublime presence in the 9/11 museum is emblematic of a cultural reluctance to let go, as if the fragments themselves carry with them a magnetic power to retell the trauma of that day’s human loss.

In addition to terrorist attacks, socio-political insurgencies in the West have catalyzed ambitious archives and databases. From the outset, attempts to document and preserve the Occupy Wall Street Movement were undertaken by sociologists, students and organizers. Archivists have to date thousands of items-posters, signs, photographs and messages-stored in physical and digital venues. The process has engendered a fascinating degree of debate from academics and movement insiders, many of whom question the legitimacy of archives’ underlying narratives.

Starting in 2011, students at New York University’s Moving Image Archive and Preservation Program (MIAP) began collecting items presenting the media coverage of the movement. With the help of MIAP director Howard Besser, the students dubbed themselves “Activist Archivists,” uniting under the principal goal of preserving “the spirit, decentralization, self-organization, playfulness, and whimsy of this protest movement [which would otherwise] be lost to history if the media that documented this did not survive.” The archive’s role as counter of ‘real’ history presents an empowering incentive for the process of collecting, and may well persuade other movements to make similar strides in the future.

Je Suis Charlie

According to the U.S. patent and trademark office, two applications were filed for “Je Suis Charlie,” Paris’ iconic rallying cry following the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack. Recently, the Washington Post proffered a commentary on the increasing frequency by which private individuals and businesses have applied for Trademarks in the wake of public tragedies.

As discussed in Dennis C. Abram’s article “Je Suis Public Domain,” opportunists see great economic potential in creative output, such as slogans that encapsulate the essence of collective spirit following great tragedy. Such attempts are rarely, if ever, legally recognized. U.S. law dictates that a trademark must have some connection to a good or service that is being promoted and visually identified so as to distinguish it from other similar products. 

First Amendment and Vandalism: The Case of the Illuminator Art Collective

While material items such as posters, sculptures and pamphlets evoke the classic definition of a political artifact, performance remains an apt medium for the dissemination of socio-political critiques. Inherently uncommodifiable, performance art often prioritizes the immediate interaction of participants involved in political protests over secondary documentation in the form of photographs or videos. Groups like the Guerilla Girls, the famed feminists whose performances spurned valuable dialogue regarding institutional racism and sexism within the art world, have put art activism on the map in recent decades.

Similarly, the New York City-based Illuminator Art Collective (IAC) stages political protests at famous sites such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the United Nations Building, where these iconic structures become the conceptual canvas upon which political critiques are projected. Using a specially designed van that holds a projector on its roof, the group projects messages and symbols meant to provoke dialogue and reveal the secrets these institutions are inclined to keep hidden. The group’s tactics reveal a curious relationship between art activism and the First Amendment, as well as how the seemingly universal definition of vandalism must be altered to adapt to new technologies and artistic visions.

The group’s work highlights this fascinating intersection between art activism and law. On September 9, 2014, three members of the group, Kyle Depew, Grayson Earle and Yates McKee, were arrested for unlawful posting of advertisements, when they projected images on the façade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The images were critical of billionaire businessman David Koch, who had recently donated $65 million dollars to the museum in exchange for the museum’s public plaza being renamed after him. IAC’s projections were critical of Koch’s environmental stances, namely his denial of climate change. While parked on a public street, the van was approached by a NYPD deputy, who later seized the group’s projector equipment and arrested the three on the charge of unlawful posting of advertisements. Before these charges were formally dropped by a criminal court, the city of New York issued criminal summonses for three members. NYPL §145.30 “forbids unauthorized individuals from posting, painting or otherwise affixing to the property of another person any advertisement, poster, notice or other matter designed to benefit a person other than the owner of the property.” The law appears to be an adequate measure in protecting businesses from becoming hosts to unwanted advertisements from third parties. In instances of political protest however, does the projection of commentary on the exterior public space fit this definition? While the city of New York seemed to think so, the charges were ultimately struck down in criminal court, with IAC’s lawyer Sam Cohen rightly pointing out that a streaming projection fails to fit the standard definition of “affixing. ”

It follows that if IAC’s political projections fail to meet the definition of unlawful posting of advertisements; they similarly fail to match the legal requirements of vandalism. Vandalism is defined as the deliberate defacing or destruction of property. While it is clear that plastering a non-affixable projection to the façade of a building fails to constitute destruction, does it deface? Defacing implies the marking of a surface-though not in a severe a fashion as destruction. Therefore, IAC’s unique brand of projector activism exists as a clever exercise of first amendment free speech.

CONCLUSION

As curators and archivists undertake the arduous process of compiling artifacts for physical and digital preservation, many questions remain about the legality and posterity of protest art. What is the optimal manner by which to preserve political or artistic ephemera? Who is best situated to protect artists’ rights to create and capitalize on their own art? What do keepers of protest art see when they preserve or trade in this kind of creative output? While political upheaval and tragedy prompt inflections from diverse global communities, museum archivists and administrators as well as art dealers and collectors look to preserve the artifacts for entirely different reasons. Due to the changing and often unsettled landscape of political protest art, artists and collectors alike may find themselves in need of legal advice to obtain information about available protections and defenses.

Note: This article is reprinted with permission from Entertainment, Arts and Sports Law Journal, Summer 2016, Vol. 27, No. 2, published by the New York State Bar Association, One Elk Street, Albany, New York 12207.

About the Author: Scotti Hill is a J.D. Candidate, 2018 from the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah. She served as a summer 2016 intern for the Center for Art Law, and she can be reached at scottiaustinhill@gmail.com.

Spotlight: The Max Stern Art Restitution Project

By Ryan Igel*

screen-shot-2016-09-15-at-5-25-14-pmThe Max Stern Art Restitution Project (the “Project”),  established in 2002, is tasked with locating the paintings Jewish art dealer Max Stern (April 18, 1904 – May 30, 1987) was forced to sell during the Second World War, and return them to his heirs. The Project was established at the direction of the heirs of the Max Stern Estate. As Stern did not have children, his heirs consist of Concordia University in Montreal, McGill University also in Montreal, and Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The Project also serves an important educational and moral function, and seeks to educate both the general public and those in the art industry about art theft and the importance of provenance research in ensuring that artworks are returned to their rightful owners.  

The Project is housed at the Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec. The location of Montreal is significant, as this is where Max Stern settled once in Canada, and where he opened his Canadian gallery, the Dominion Gallery. Dr. Clarence Epstein, a Courtauld-trained art historian with experience in managing artists’ estates, was chosen by the heirs of Max Stern to be the Director of the project, and still holds this role. The project began with seed funding from the heirs of Max Stern, but is now largely self-funded through the sale of selected paintings.

The need for the Project stemmed from the cultural program aimed at confiscating and forcing the sale of art initiated by the Nazi Regime during the Second World War. The unprecedented art theft and destruction that occurred in Europe between 1933 and 1945 was a major part of the Nazi’s systematic efforts to establish a “new world order”. Works that were considered to be “degenerate” because they did not perpetuate Nazi ideals were confiscated from museums, galleries, and even from the homes of individuals. Moreover, because the Nazis believed that certain individuals, particularly those of the Jewish faith, should not participate in the creation and perpetuation of German culture, many Jewish art dealers were forced to sell or forfeit their artworks well below market prices. Many of these confiscated artworks were destroyed or purchased by German art dealers and private collectors while a number of them were sold internationally to finance the Nazi war effort.

Max Stern was one such person. Stern survived the war in Canada, but in the early years of World War Two, he lived in Düsseldorf, Germany, where he owned an art gallery and auction house that was established by his father, Julius Stern. On August 29, 1935, Max Stern received a letter from the Reich Chamber of Fine Arts – an organization tasked with ensuring that artistic endeavors within the Third Reich reflected Nazi ideals – informing him that he could no longer carry on the business of buying or selling art in Germany. Stern was given a deadline of December 15, 1937 by which to sell the 228 paintings that were in his possession. These paintings were later sold at auction at the Lempertz auction house. The extent of Stern’s involvement in the sale of his paintings is unclear as the Lempertz Auction houses records were destroyed when Cologne was bombed during the Second Word War. However, the fact that the catalogue used by the Lempertz auction house resembled those used by Galerie Stern, suggests that Stern was involved in the sale of his paintings.

After the war, individuals who were either forced to sell their art or whose art was confiscated, sought to have their property returned. Post-War restitution commissions were established by the governments of various countries to hear claims for these works, but the commissions were not always sympathetic to claims asserted by victims of the Nazis. This left a significant number of artworks in the possession of governments, state-owned museums, dealers and private collectors.

Like many, Stern began working on retrieving his paintings. On December 27, 1947, Stern filed a claim with the Central Office for Property Control to have 20 of the paintings he was forced to sell returned to him. Stern also placed advertisements in a German art magazine, Die Weltkunst, to publicize his efforts within the arts community. Through these efforts, Stern was able to recover a small number of his paintings. The Project was created to facilitate the return of the majority of paintings that were not recovered during his lifetime.

Restitution efforts call for different skills and much international cooperation between art historians, attorneys, researchers, political figures and scholars. The contentious nature of claims for restitution, and the lack of a consistent legal framework for dealing with these disputes makes relying solely on legal reasoning and other typical adversarial techniques less effective. Furthermore, the lack of proof of prior ownership makes international cooperation essential, as it is only with this cooperation that evidence of true ownership can be pieced together once again. Instances of international or trans-organizational cooperation are noteworthy.

While the Project employs both full time and part time staff, it also relies on assistance from other players in the restitution field, such as Holocaust Claims Processing Office (“HCPO”), which acts as an advocate for victims of the holocaust and seeks the return of their stolen assets. The HCPO plays a key role in the restitution process, and assists the Project by conducting provenance research, by acting as an advocate on its behalf, and by facilitating communication between the parties.

Dr. Epstein’s team also works with the National Archives in Ottawa, Canada, and lead investigator Willi Korte, a lawyer based in Washington, D.C., who is the co-founder of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project (link www.plunderedart.com). Both the team at Concordia University and the National Archives assist Dr. Epstein in the search for works that belonged to Max Stern. Lead Investigator, Willi Korte, who has worked on recovering each of the paintings recovered so far, assists with determining the provenance of paintings so that records of ownership can be established and later used in the restitution process. This task takes him all over the world.

The Project approaches the repatriation of Stern’s works through both legal and non-legal channels. However, Dr. Epstein emphasizes that the repatriation of most works is not actually achieved through legal avenues. This is because many countries do not consider forced sales to be theft and also because most countries do not have a specific legal mechanism to assist with these types of claims. Instead, moral arguments are used privately in what Dr. Epstein refers to as “a process of reconciliation” between the parties. The Project also presents more practical arguments such as pointing to the fact that a painting with tarnished provenance is not marketable. The success that has been achieved by using diplomacy and moral arguments demonstrate that shame on one hand and praise on the other are better suited to achieving the Project’s goals.

The reconciliation process utilized by the project is illustrated by the repatriation of Wilhelm Von Schadow’s Self Portrait of the Artist. This painting was discovered when a researcher from the National Archives in Ottawa, Canada found it in a catalogue for a 1967 Düsseldorf Museum Kunstplast exhibition. The catalogue for this exhibition listed the paintings location to be the Stadtmuseum. The Project contacted the museum directly, and the parties discussed the idea of returning the painting to the heirs of Max Stern. In the course of these discussions, both moral and legal arguments were presented and the museum ultimately agreed that the painting should be returned to Max Stern’s estate. However, instead of returning the painting physically, the parties agreed that the painting would remain in the Stadtmuseum Düsseldorf on the condition that the painting was acknowledged as being on loan from Stern’s estate. The parties also agreed that while on display, the painting would be used to remind those who visit the gallery of the painting’s history. As part of the educational component of the agreement, the parties agreed that the painting would be involved in two exhibitions: one on the life of Jewish people in Düsseldorf, and one specifically on Max Stern and his art collection. The museum also agreed to take on the role of providing education on provenance research.

Although reconciliation is preferred to the uncertainty and cost of litigation, the Project achieved a major legal breakthrough in the United States in the case of Vineberg v Bissonette. Vineberg v Bissonnette, 529 F.Supp.2d 300 (D.R.I 2007). Vineberg involved a claim by the Max Stern estate for the return of The Girl From Sabine Mountains by Franz-Xaver Winterhalter. At the time, the painting was owned by Maria-Louise Bissonette, the step-daughter of Dr. Karl Wilhelm, who had purchased the painting from the Lempertz Auction House in 1937. In this case, Chief District Judge Mary Lisi recognized that the forced sales of artworks under those circumstances were equivalent to theft, and ordered Bissonnette to return the painting to the Stern estate. Although the establishment of this legal principle is significant, Dr. Epstein cautions that the judgment is limited to the United States and does not assist with the repatriation of works that are in other countries such as Germany, where most looted paintings are still located.

To date, the Max Stern Art Restitution Project has recovered twelve of Max Stern’s paintings and continues to locate and negotiate the repatriation of his remaining collection . Stern’s works have been found in auction houses, a German casino, and in private collections. Some of these recovered works are now on loan to museums and foundations. Some examples being Aimee, a Young Egyptian by Emile Vernet-Lecomte which is on loan to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and  Portrait of Jan Van Everdyck by Nicolas Neufchatel which is on permanent loan to the Jakober Foundation. Other paintings, as previously mentioned, have been sold to finance the Project. Through the sponsorship of conferences and other educational events such as The Israel Museum Conference “Justice Matters: Restituting Holocaust-Era Art Artifacts” (2008), the Project has not only contributed significantly to ensuring that efforts to repatriate works of art stolen by the Nazis during the Second World War remain relevant, but has also become an important source of information and guidance for individuals and similar organizations that also seek the return of these precious works.

Sources:

*About the Author: Ryan Igel is a second year student at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law, with an interest in the intersection of art and law. Ryan is particular interested in the restitution of artworks looted during the Second World War. He can be reached at rigel064@uottawa.ca.

The author would like to thank Dr. Clarence Epstein, Director of the Max Stern Art Restitution Project, for his time during telephone interviews.

Disclaimer: This article is for educational purposes only and is not meant to provide legal advice. Readers should not construe or rely on any comment or statement in this article as legal advice. Instead, readers should seek an attorney with any legal questions.

Whose Rights? Anish Kapoor’s “Dirty Corner” Exposes A Battle Between Artists’ Moral Rights and The Rights of the Public

By Adrienne Couraud*

Screen Shot 2016-08-05 at 12.46.11 PM.png

Anish Kapoor’s Dirty Corner, before and after vandalism.

In 2008, President of the L’Établissement public du château, du musée, et du domaine  national de Versailles, Jean-Jacques Aillagon debuted a series of solo art shows and temporary art installations at the house and gardens of the Chateau de Versailles. Beginning with the summer solo retrospective of American artist Jeff Koons, the program has grown both substantively, including past artists such as Takashi Murakami (Summer 2010), Joana Vasconcelos (Summer 2012), and currently, Olafur Eliasson (Summer 2016), as well as procedurally, expanding from a seasonal to a year long program. In 2015, the contemporary art program of Versailles offered artist Anish Kapoor a solo show to integrate his sculptures within the spatial challenges the house and Versailles gardens present. As President of the Palace of Versailles Catherine Pégard states, “[Versailles] is not a museum or a gallery or an exhibition space.”

In his own words, Indian-born but British-raised artist Anish Kapoor describes his raw-material born sculptures as “talking” about himself. Kapoor’s sculptures emulate a “void” straddling the duality of  “something, even though it is really nothing.” Kapoor originally described his 2015 “Dirty Corner” installation destined for Versailles , a steel-and-rock sculpture over sixty meters long and ten meters high, as “the vagina of the queen who is taking power,” but later retracted his statements to focus on his message: “to create a dialogue between these great gardens and the sculptures”.

After the sculpture was installed it was subject to repeated vandalism attacks and Kapoor declined to remove it “to bear witness to hatred”. Following the complaint about the Kapoor’s “Corner” launched by a right-winged politician and Councilor of Versailles Fabien Bouglé, an administrative French court ordered the covering of anti-Semitic graffiti on artist Anish Kapoor’s installation, Dirty Corner, at the Palace of Versailles [“Versailles”] in September 2015. Mr. Bouglé filed a complaint with a French public prosecutor against Mr. Kapoor and Catherine Pégard, President of Versailles, for “inciting racial hatred, public insults, and complicity in these crimes,” after Kapoor decided to leave the vandalism as a public testament, “belonging to anti-Semitism that we’d rather forget.”

The Dirty Corner Court Case

Prior to the court decision, Versailles announced plans to alter Kapoor’s installation by covering the vandalism with a shiny gold foil against the faded brass structure, leaving the defacement as an obvious disruption of the work – a process that was expedited following the court decision. Despite artist’s meeting with French President François Hollande, who declared the defacements “hateful and anti-Semitic,” Kapoor explained to the French newspaper Le Figaro, “I had already questioned the wisdom of cleaning [the installation] after the first vandalism.” The French Minister of Culture, Fleur Pellerin, stated she respects Kapoor’s decision but found the public debates thus spurred “extremely interesting and raise the question of creative freedom.”

The Tribunal Administratif de Versailles released a statement about the decision deeming the vandalism a “serious and clearly illegal breach of fundamental liberty.” Though the court acknowledged the moral rights of artists, “this freedom has to be reconciled with respect for other fundamental liberties,” alluding to the requisite for public peace. The public nature of Kapoor’s installation required that the court ensure protection to “everyone from attacks on their human dignity.”

Kapoor reacted to the court’s decision in a phone interview from Moscow at the opening of his exhibition at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center, declaring the court’s decision a “perverse reversal” of his accord. “Without proper public debate and proper public exposure for culture,” Kapoor proclaimed, “we are in a fascist state.” Kapoor’s installation was vandalized once prior to the court decision and, thereafter, three additional times, to which Kapoor maintained, “I don’t want to see it on the work; I find it vile.” In his steadfast battle against racial hatred, however, Kapor has “refused to remove it and pretend it didn’t happen,” raising important questions concerning the boundaries of  aesthetic taste and artistic value.

What Are Moral Rights?

“Droit moral”, or moral rights, stem from the Kantian and Hegelian concept of transferring an artist’s personality into a work and refers to the right of an artist to control his work. Moral rights protect the personal value, rather than the monetary value, of a work. Under American Law, inalienable moral rights are have more limited jurisdictional protections than in other jurisdictions, as they are protected under judicial interpretation of copyright and trademark law, coupled with 17 U.S.C. §106A, or the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (VARA), which protect moral rights for the life of the artist.

Prior to VARA, U.S. legislative history reveals the American endeavor to define moral rights as “derivative works”, or artistic works based on the work of another artist, demonstrated within the Copyright Act and the Lanham Act, which defines trademarks and unfair competition. After VARA was passed, in the United States moral rights automatically vest within an artist but are limited to a “work of visual art,” granting two particular rights: the right of attribution and the right of integrity. The right of attribution allows an artist to associate or disassociate his name from his work of visual art. The right of integrity prevents both the intentional modification of his work of visual art if the modification is likely to harm the artist’s reputation and the destruction of any work of visual art protected by a recognized stature.

Under European Law, however, copyright law typically protects inalienable moral rights perpetually. Under French law particularly, copyright law protects four moral rights: the droit de divulgation; or the right of disclosure, the droit de repentir ou de retrait, or the right to affirm or disaffirm works previously publicized works; the droit de paternite, or the right of attribution; and the droit au respect de l’oeuvre, or the right of integrity. French courts have refined the right of integrity to allow owners of physical works the right of reasonable use and the right of reasonable adaptation without gross distortion.  For example, French moral rights do not expire, regardless of the number of created copies of a work, while American moral rights more rigidly limit works based on the number of copies created.

The Dirty Corner’s Effect on Moral Rights

The French court decision affecting Kapoor’s Dirty Corner appears to place two additional refinements on moral rights in France because of the work’s public location. First, the public installation of Kapoor’s work subjected it to a public order. Second, the public installation of Kapoor’s work subjected the public to “protections of human dignity.” Though the court recognized Kapoor’s moral rights, the moral rights could not outweigh “other fundamental liberties” of the public, alluding to the requisite for public peace over artistic scandal.

“It’s a terrible, sad thing,” Kapoor announced in his reaction to the court decision. “France is weird, I don’t understand it,” Kapoor added. “It doesn’t take in the full context. We’re going to take the case to appeal and we’ll see what happens.” Kapoor continued, “[w]e have to experiment in public, it’s our role as artists, that’s how society grows. If we stop that, we might as well live in a fascist state.” For now, however, Kapoor will have to channel his determination to test the creative and cultural limits of France outside of the Palace of Versailles.

Sources:

*About the Author: Adrienne Couraud (J.D. Candidate 2017) is a student at Brooklyn Law School. She may be reached at adrienne.couraud@brooklaw.edu.

Disclaimer: This article is intended as general information, not legal advice, and is no substitute for seeking representation.

HEAR and the Guelph Treasure Recovery Efforts: Restitution in Review

By Nina Mesfin*

On June 7, 2016, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard a bipartisan-backed piece of legislation called the Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery (HEAR) Act, S. 2763, 114th Cong. (2016). As recently reported by Center for Art Law and elsewhere, the HEAR Act aims to allow “civil claims or causes of action to recover artwork or other cultural property unlawfully lost because of the persecution during the Nazi era, or for damages for the taking or detaining of such artwork or cultural property.” In other words, the HEAR Act proposes a federal statute of limitations on restitution claims as opposed to statutes of limitation that vary by state in order to “lift unfair restrictions from heirs’ claims.” In addition to garnering support from both the Republican and Democratic parties, the HEAR Act also offers advocates outside of the political realm.

Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 11.21.25 AMFollowing the bill’s introduction, on June 7th actress Helen Mirren testified before the Senate on behalf of the bill. Mirren’s support, in part, stems from her recent portrayal of Maria Altmann in the film Woman in Gold (released in 2015). Altmann was a Jewish woman who successfully reclaimed five Nazi-looted works by Gustav Klimt from the Austrian government in the landmark case Republic of Austria v. Altmann (03-13) 541 U.S. 677 (2004) 327 F.3d 1246, affirmed. The Altmann case set a legal precedent in which the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) was applied retroactively, allowing a sovereign body to be tried in a U.S. court.

The timing of Woman in Gold, which has drawn public attention to Altmann’s success, coupled with recent congressional efforts to facilitate the restitution of Nazi-looted works, may impact the outcome of other restitution claims. One of these cases involves the Welfenschatz or Guelph Treasure– a collection of medieval art currently in the Kunstgewerbe Museum in Berlin—with an estimated value of $250 million dollars. On February 23, 2015, the heirs of the art dealers who sold the Guelph Treasure to Germany filed a civil action in a U.S. district court against Germany and the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation. The case of the Guelph Treasure will test further the limits of both the U.S. government’s dedication to Holocaust-era restitution claims and ability to broker restitution deals.

What is the Guelph Treasure?

The Guelph Treasure, consisting of 82 gold, silver and gem encrusted liturgical objects from the Church of St. Blaine in Brunswick, Germany, and according to art historian Christina Nielsen, it is considered to be “the greatest group of medieval objects ever offered for sale.” The objects range in date from the 8th to the 15th century and the majority are works of German craftsmanship while other notable pieces are Italian and Byzantine in origin. One of the most extraordinary characteristics of this collection is its indisputable authenticity; records indicate that prior to its auction, the Treasure has been in continuous care of the same noble German family for more than 800 years.

Subsequent Sales of the Treasure

Duke Ernst August was the last of his German ancestors to possess the Guelph Treasure. Due to economic hardship in 1928, the Duke was forced to put a price on what was considered a collection of “incalculable intrinsic value” because of “its antiquity and art-historical importance”(Nielsen, 442). To the dismay of many German citizens and the State itself, the Duke sold the Treasure to a consortium of Jewish art dealers in 1930: Julius F. Goldschmidt of Frankfurt, Berlin, and New York and Z.M. Hackenbroch and J. Rosenbaum of Frankfurt. Although the Duke intended for the collection to stay together, the consortium of art dealers, having failed to resell the collection in its entirety, began to sell off pieces of the Treasure.

After meticulously cataloging the collection, the dealers began selling, or rather attempting to sell, portions of the Guelph Treasure in Germany. As Germany frowned upon the sale of what it considered to be cultural patrimony, the new owners, a consortium of Jewish art dealers, then tried to sell the collection in the United States. The Guelph Treasure was first exhibited in New York in 1929, and by 1934, the consortium sold 40 of the Treasure’s 82 pieces to several museums in the United States, including the Cleveland Museum of Art (Nielsen 443). In 1935, the remaining 42 pieces of the Treasure were sold to the State of Prussia for 4.25 million Reich marks, or $1.7 million. High-ranking Nazi official Hermann Göring oversaw the acquisition and later gifted it to Adolf Hitler. It is the legality of the second sale in 1935 that the heirs of the consortium are disputing.

Appearing before the German Advisory CommissionScreen Shot 2016-08-09 at 11.27.45 AM

Before their U.S.-based lawsuit, the heirs of art dealers J. and S. Goldschmidt, I. Rosenbaum and Z.M. Hackenbroch appeared before the German Government Advisory, also called the Limbach Commission. The Commission is a joint initiative of the Federal Commissioner for Cultural and Media Affairs and the Länder and the National Association of Local Authorities; it invites claims concerning Nazi-looted property that public institutions in Germany currently possess. The Commission serves as a mediator between these public institutions and former owners as well as their heirs, hearing cases and offering resolution recommendations. The New York Times reported that the heirs’ lawyers cited the “climate of fear and uncertainty for the [dealers’] futures in which Jews in Germany found themselves in 1935,” arguing that these dire circumstances suggest that any “purchase by the state from Jewish businessmen must be considered as having taken place under duress.” The lawyers representing the heirs attempted to prove that the sale was, in fact, forced by explaining that the dealers sold the pieces for $4.3 million less than they had paid for it five years earlier. The panel attributed the ten percent market price decease to the economic downtown wrought by the Great Depression.

After contemplating this argument, in March of 2014 the Commission’s panel recommended that the 42 “jewel-encrusted, intricately wrought silver and gold crucifixes, altars and other relics of the Guelph Treasure should remain in the possession of the state-run foundation.” Bloomberg News noted that the Commission went on to state that “[f]ar from selling under duress, the consortium had been attempting to unload the Guelph Treasure for years,” pointing to the correspondence among consortium members celebrating the sale.” The Commission also noted that the Guelph Treasure is an exception to the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art, which all German museums have agreed to uphold. The Principles are a set of guidelines that maintain that “any art object sold by Jews for less than its fair value during this period (Jan. 30, 1933, through 1945) is a candidate for restitution,” a period that includes the Guelph Treasure.”

This ruling, in favor of the Kunstgewerbe Museum is one of many made by the Commission that has been met with criticism. As art journalist Catherine Hickley reports, the Limbach Commission has recently “come under fire for a lack of transparency, the length of time it takes, failure to appoint a Jewish member and the low number of cases it has mediated.” The Commission has only mediated thirteen cases since its founding in 2003, whereas its Dutch counterpart has issued more than 140 since 2002.** In July of 2016, Germany’s culture minister, Monika Gütters, actually announced plans to reform the Limbach Commission.

The Civil Lawsuit over the Treasure

Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 11.32.39 AMAlmost a year after the Commission made its non legally binding recommendation, the heirs to the Guelph Treasure, filed a civil lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Philipp et al. v. Federal Republic of Germany et al., 15-cv-00266 (D. D.C.). According to a Washington Jewish Week article, the seventy-one page complaint alleges that the consortium sold the 42 pieces to the State of Prussia “via a manipulated sham transaction spearheaded by Dresden Bank, which was acting on behalf and by order of the two most notorious Nazi leaders and war criminals,” Göring and Hitler. The complaint further notes that the heirs used the fact that the alleged forced sale was made for less than 35 percent of its actual value and that the payment “was then subjected to flight taxes that were demanded so the Jewish dealers could flee Germany,” as evidence backing their claim. One of the dealers, Hackenbrock,was able to leave Germany in 1935, although died shortly thereafter in London in 1937. Details concerning the other two dealers, Rosenbaum and Goldschmidt, are unknown.

In order to justify filing this suit in a U.S. court, attorneys for the claimants invoked the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which “provides jurisdiction over foreign states that conduct business in the U.S. via exhibitions and other museum-related activity.” According to O’Donnell, one of the attorneys representing the claimants, FSIA’s applicability to this case is straightforward, as “Jewish victims of persecution like the Plaintiffs’ ancestors are victims of takings in property in violation of international law.” He further explains, “[a]s a result, and because the Defendants are engaged in commercial activity in the United States, this case presents precisely the category of claims over which § 1605(a)(3) of the FSIA, the expropriation exception, creates jurisdiction.”

In March 2016, Germany and the Prussian Heritage Cultural Foundation responded by filing an eighty-five page motion to dismiss the case, contesting the jurisdiction of the U.S. courts. Within the motion, the defendants contend “that the persecution and expropriation of property from its Jewish residents were a sufficiently internal affair so as not to be a violation of international law.” O’Donnell has described this motion as “revisionist” and “troubling.” Most recently, on May 11, 2016, claimants filed an opposition to the motion to dismiss. The latest filing in the case was in June a reply to opposition to motion re motion to Dismiss the Plaintiffs’ First Amended Complaint. Now we are waiting for the court to review the filings.

Conclusion

The pending case involving ownership of the Guelph Treasure has brought two interesting issues into focus. The first is whether the blanket application of forced sales to an entire time period, in this case the years immediately preceding and spanning WWII, is legitimate, not taking into account the market or the profession of the seller, i.e. an art dealer who is almost always in the process of making a deal. The Guelph Treasure also tests the authority of advisory commissions with no binding power, as rulings made by the Limbach Commission are unenforceable. On the other hand, there are several other European arbitrating bodies whose opinions are binding, such as the Austrian Restitution Binding Commission and the Dutch Advisory Committee on the Assessment of Restitution Applications for Items of Cultural Value and the Second World War. As Hickley points out in her article “German minister promises to reform Limbach Commission after mounting criticism,” unlike the Limbach Commission, the Austrian and Dutch advisory committees do not require both parties to agree in order to mediate disputes.

In challenging the Limbach Commission’s clout, the case of the Guelph Treasure may bring a foreign body into conflict with the crux of the U.S. court system. It will be interesting to see if and how the U.S. judicial system, in its dealings with the Guelph Treasure, will impact the authority enjoyed by European advisory board’s ruling on contested art. As Elazar Barkan explains in The Guilt of Nations: Restitution and Negotiating Historical Injustices, restitution as a means of acknowledging gross historical injustices is a relatively novel phenomenon. Nowadays, it “is a large part of the growing attention being paid to human rights.” The question becomes: in which instances is restitution warranted and in which does it potentially exploit society’s overeagerness to atone for past atrocities? Furthermore, at what point, if at all, is it appropriate for a third party state to hear these claims and issue rulings? While the United States at times offers a venue to bring restitution claims, the outcome and the cost of these claims is unpredictable.

Select Sources:

**There are currently five restitution commissions: United Kingdom, Austria, France, Germany, and the Netherlands. In 2007, the United States government considered establishing its own restitution advisory commission, to no avail.

About the Author: Nina Mesfin is a Summer 2016 legal intern at Center for Art Law. She is a rising junior at Yale University majoring in Ethnicity, Race and Migration and concentrating in Art, Literature and Narratives of Race and Ethnicity. Nina is also a scholar in the Yale Multidisciplinary Academic Program in Human Rights.

Disclaimer: This article is intended as general information, not legal advice, and is no substitute for seeking representation.