Arts and cultural heritage law research nonprofit.

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.

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work by Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo – now open in Moscow – shows more than 90 works, some of which were previously unpublished from the Russian State archives.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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