Bridging the law and the visual arts.

In Brief – 2019

Believe it or not, there is so much happening in the art law world. This page is dedicated to the stories that deserve your attention, which were first published in our monthly newsletter.

February 2019

Shutdown of Space Art. The government shutdown, which affected multiple art entities, had also stalled the deployment of Trevor Paglen’s space sculpture. Now that the shutdown has ended, hopefully the deployment will be scheduled.

No More Brazilian Ministry of Culture. Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro has dissolved Brazil’s culture ministry, after stating that Brazil’s Rouanet law, which allows organizations to use up to 1% of income tax to fund cultural activities, was a “waste of resources.” Members of the artistic community worry about the effects of the new president’s policies on the arts.

A One-Sided Report? French antique dealers react after the Savoy-Sarr report on restitution of cultural property was released without having been consulted. They claim that the report, commissioned by French president Emmanuel Macron, has not fully realized the overreaching ramifications of the report. In response, Felwine Sarr and Bénédicte Savoy claim the report has been misconstrued and oversimplified by the media and other critics to create fear.

The Cost of Provenance. Bern’s Kunstmuseum is seeking funding from the Swiss government for a provenance audit, after a connection between Georges F. Keller, who donated the works, and Etienne Bignou, a French art dealer and known Nazi collaborator, is reexamined. Keller’s donated artworks include pieces by Matisse, Dali, Picasso, and Modigliani, which came to the museum with little documentation. Accordingly, the museum determined that further investigation is imperative.

Diktats of Authenticity. Berlin police have seized three watercolor paintings, purportedly painted by Adolf Hitler, from the Kloss Auction House. Police received a tip questioning the paintings’ authenticity and the works are now being examined.

Artifacts Task Force. The British Museum has established an elite task force to combat the illicit trade of Egyptian and Nubian artifacts. The task force’s sole purpose will be to detect suspicious objects and falsified provenance documents.

Back to MandelGermany returned a painting stolen by the Nazis to the heirs of French Jewish politician Georges Mandel. The nineteenth-century painting by Thomas Couture, entitled “Portrait of a Sitting Young Woman,” was discovered in a collection bequeathed to the Kunstmuseum by Cornelius Gurlitt, son of Hildebrand Gurlitt, Hitler’s art dealer. 

The Art of the Steal. On January 10th a man and woman entered Team Gallery in SoHo and stole an Ann Pibal painting titled “CBLT” worth $12,000. This echoes another heist in a Russian gallery, where a man was caught on camera casually taking a painting off the wall of a major Moscow art gallery and calmly walking out with it under his arm. 

Briefly Understanding Tax Laws. Section 1031 of the old tax code allowed investors to use the sale of one piece of property (or, in this case, art) directly toward the purchase of another and get a tax break. After Section 1031 was repealed in 2017, the Trump administration replaced it with “Opportunity Zones.” This allows art collectors to invest the profits of their sales in opportunity funds, thereby lowering the collector’s taxes.

Robots Are Taking Over. Koons has continued to lay off employees, in an attempt to create a decentralized, automated production. In 2015 Koons had roughly 100 assistants working in his New York studio, but as of the start of 2019, only about 20 remain. Meanwhile, Koons continues venturing towards offsite businesses, such as his stone-cutting facility,  called Antiquity Stone in Pennsylvania, as well as hiring advisers and subcontractors internationally.

Love in the Baden-Baden. A German museum in Baden-Baden will be the first to exhibit Banksy’s Love in the Bin, the work which was shredded when sold at auction in London. The work will be displayed from February 3 to March 3, in an exhibit exploring the act of imploding the art market while simultaneously advancing it.

Deaccession & Revelations. The controversial deaccession of a Sekhemka statue by the Northampton Museum & Art Gallery reappears in the news with a new twist. It appears that the 7th marquess of Northampton, whose predecessor had donated the statue to the museum, attempted to purchase the statue before it was controversially sold at auction to an unknown buyer.

Leonard-NO. In commemoration of the 500th anniversary of Leonardo Da Vinci’s death, the Louvre is creating an exhibition, for which the Italian government had agreed in 2017 to loan the Louvre a number of the artist’s works. However, Italy is now blocking the loan. The dispute is steeped in the cultural tension, as Leonardo lived his life in Italy, but died in France. This tension echoes Vincenzo Perugia, who stole the Mona Lisa in 1911 and tried to sell it to an Italian gallery, under the mistaken belief that it had been stolen from Florence. 

Conflict Over Stella. Art dealer, Anatole Shagalov has issued a summons against the Paul Kasmin Gallery for “defamation, negligence, and rescission of contract.” Shagalov claims that the suit arose from a 2017 publication in which Kasmin falsely claimed an ownership interest in a Frank Stella work owned entirely by Shagalov. Complaint has yet to be made available online.

Conflict of Interests. Charles C. Bergman, chairman and chief executive director of the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, died in February of 2018. Now, Stuart Levy, Bergman’s widower, is accusing their lawyers, Ronald and Janet Spencer, of forcing his late husband to give them the right as executors over his estate. Levy’s court filings NY Surrogate’s Court include a list of the Spencers’ manipulative actions, in hopes of disqualifying them from serving as successors. 

January 2019

Pablo Pranked. Picasso’s “Harlequin Head” was among paintings looted from the Rotterdam’s Kunsthal museum in 2012. The painting was reported found in a Romanian forest in the fall of 2019, but it turns out that a replica was planted there to publicize the movie “True Copy” (2018), a documentary on the forger Geert Jan Jansen, which premiered just days before the mysterious “recovery” stunt.

Here We Go Again? The anti-money laundering bill proposed in U.S. Congress last May has been stalled by mid-term elections…but will it be re-introduced in January? Questions about the severity of this crime in the art market highlight the tradeoff between burdening dealers with unnecessary regulations and preventing money laundering through the movement of artwork. Stay tuned for an article on the blog.

Help Wanted. An exhibit featuring work by Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo – now open in Moscow – shows more than 90 works, some of which were previously unpublished from the Russian State archives. The curator hopes this exhibition will raise awareness for some of the artists’ missing works; most notably, Kahlo’s “The Wounded Table” (1940), which was the artist’s largest painting, has been lost since 1955 and, as of today, only exists in photographs.

He Said, They Said. The Danish Aros Aarhus Art Museum’s claim that they pay artists in an interview did not fall upon deaf ears. Artist duo Sofie Hesselholdt and Vibeke Mejlvang both participated in a group exhibition and gave lectures at the museum, without receiving pay. The artists spoke out to correct this claim, to which the museum responded that it spent “plenty of resources” on the artists, but failed to provide an exact description of these “resources”.

If Lost, Please Return. The chief of the Uffizi Galleries in Florence, Eike Schmidt, released a video asking German authorities for the return of the painting “Vase of Flowers” by 18th-century Dutch artist Jan van Huysum, which was stolen by the Nazis in 1943. 

No Place Like Home. The UK is pushingformal legal agreements to ensure that their institutions have a shot at keeping the country’s national cultural treasures within its borders. The major impediment to this initiative are international buyers who are willing to pay the right price. This change would be the first in 65 years and prevent the reneging of sales to matching UK buyers.

The Case is Closed, and the Exhibition Opens.The 2015 UK lawsuit brought by the companion of artist Derek Jarman against art dealer Richard Salmon was settled last June, which sparked the return of all of Jarman’s works to the original owner of the Wilkinson Gallery, who first showed the artist’s work. This was apparently instrumental in the ongoing Jarman retrospective at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin. 

Beauty Kills. An Italian tourist visiting the Uffizi Galleries in Florence on 15 December had a heart attack while admiring Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” (c. 1485), depicting the goddess of love, beauty, and desire. A little too stunning perhaps? 

More Transparency for Less Controversy. In the wake of colonial countries asking for the restitution of looted art, major UK museums are finally taking on the challenge to be more transparent. The British Museum audio guides, tours, and labels now provide information about controversial collections, while others are hiring dedicated staff to conduct better provenance research. 

Lead the Legal Way. Artist Tania Bruguera filed a defamation lawsuitagainst the Cuban government after being released from imprisonment for protesting Decree 349. The Decree allows censorship of artistic expression in Cuba and Bruguera hopes this suit, which she believes is unprecedented in Cuba, will serve to empower other artists against the government’s intimidation tactics.

Homeless Sam. The University of North Carolina still debates where to house its statue of Confederate soldier, “Silent Sam,” that was toppled by protesters in August 2018. The proposal for a History and Education Center, which would display the sculpture in its context, was recently rejected. Chancellor to the University, Carol Folt views the monument as a “burden” and a concern to public safety.

Back to Amman. The Jordanian Antiquities Department announced the return to Amman of 58 Jordanian smuggled artifacts that were confiscated by the Canadian authorities in 2016 and 2017. These include potteries, small statues, and some colored jars and glass containers. 

Dutch Principles. The Dutch Restitutions Committee favored a Dutch institution in a claim for a Nazi-era looted Kandinsky – and this is not the first time. According to the Committee’s record of rulings since its establishment in response to the Washington Principles, the Committee has a history of favoring Dutch institutions and emphasizing the importance of retaining artworks in these museums. This seemingly biased track record worries professionals in the field who feel it will deter future claimants. 

*Erratum: in our last newsletter, we mentioned the Israeli “Loyalty in Culture Bill”, and erroneously stated that it had been passed – when in fact, the vote has been postponed. Artists’ protests were instrumental in delaying the vote “indefinitely.”

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