Thursday, December 28, 2006

Today in Hermitage Law

David Nishimura rounds up the latest legal news regarding the Hermitage.

Rockwell Dispute(s)

The New York Times has a front-page story today on a family squabble involving the estate of Kenneth Stuart, the longtime art director of The Saturday Evening Post and close friend of Norman Rockwell. The value of the estate primarily lies in three Rockwell paintings Stuart's sons "say are worth about $25 million." (A Rockwell painting sold at Sotheby's last month for $15.4 million.) In 2004 a Connecticut court ordered one of the sons, Ken Jr., to pay $2.3 million to the estate; he has since filed for bankruptcy protection.

Near the end, the story mentions that "the parties agree that Ken Jr. did perform one valuable service. When Curtis Publishing [which publishes The Saturday Evening Post] claimed in 2001 that the paintings belonged to the magazine and not to the brothers, Ken Jr. sued on behalf of the family partnership. In September, a federal judge said that Curtis had waited too long to cry foul, clearing the way for any future sale."

That decision, Stuart & Sons, L.P. v. Curtis Publishing Company, is at 456 F.Supp.2d 336 (D. Conn. 2006). The court noted that "since at least 1962, Stuart, Sr. held himself out, and was publicly recognized as the owner of the Paintings in numerous publications, including books about Rockwell and gallery and museum catalogues." Curtis also wrote to Stuart in 1986 asking about the paintings, and his lawyer wrote back asserting his ownership. And, in 1994 Stuart loaned the paintings to the Norman Rockwell Museum, and the museum "has always identified the Paintings as the property of the Stuart family, both at the Museum and on its web site." (While the works were on loan, a member of the family that owns Curtis was on the museum's board of directors.) All in all, the court found, Stuart and his family "repeatedly, and for the better part of ... four decades ..., publicly asserted that they were 'owned' by Stuart, Sr., or were 'the property of,' or belonged to 'the collection of' Stuart, Sr., and his wife." Accordingly, Curtis's ownership claim was barred, both by Connecticut's three-year statute of limitations for conversion claims and by the looser equitable doctine of laches. I assume the decision is on appeal, but it's a pretty tightly reasoned opinion and a reversal seems like a real longshot.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Art Stolen for Scrap Metal

The UPI reports:

"Thieves in New Orleans dismantled and stole thousands of dollars' worth of sculptures by artist John T. Scott, apparently for the metal more than the art. The Times Picayune newspaper reported that the thieves were apparently after the bronze Scott worked with and they'll likely sell it for hundreds of dollars."

Scott received a MacArthur "genius" grant in 1992. He had a career retrospective at the New Orleans Museum of Art last year, which you can read about here.

I wonder what Noah Charney would say about this one.

Philanthropy News

Citing the Dec. 2006 Art Newspaper, Tyler Cowen reports:

"The British Museum is one of the world's premier arts institutions. But last year it spent less than a million pounds on new acquisitions. Compare this to the more than 55 million pounds spent by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, or the more than 20 million pounds spent by MOMA. The Met figure is inflated above normal levels because of the purchase of an expensive Duccio painting but the comparison remains. The Louvre spent 16.8 million pounds in the same year, coming in third internationally. The Getty was fourth and the Rijksmuseum fifth."

Earlier post relating to the Duccio here. Cowen also points to this article on "a Frenchman who has realized the power of decentralized philanthropy" and this one on "NYU's obsession with philanthropy."

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Hula Decision

I mentioned last month a copyright lawsuit in Hawaii by photographer Kim Taylor Reece over a stained-glass artwork he thought infringed one of his photographs of a hula dancer. Round one has now gone to the defendants: on Friday, the District Court denied Reece's request for a preliminary injunction.

According to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin:

"[District Court Judge Michael] Seabright said that while the dancers in both pieces appear to have the same poses, they are depicting a traditional hula movement that is in the public domain and cannot be copyrighted. ... Seabright said the backgrounds of the two pieces are different, and because they are in different media, the feelings they evoke are also different. He also found that the dancers' body positions, even though they are performing the same movement, are not identical. Their hair and attire, including their leis, are also not identical, Seabright said."

I was skeptical of the claim, on just these grounds, in my earlier post.

The Year in Mural Destruction

The destruction of Kent Twitchell's Ed Ruscha mural in downtown Los Angeles gets a mention in a couple of year-in-review pieces this weekend in the LA Downtown News and the Los Angeles Times.

First, from the Downtown News:

"Art lovers across the city were aghast on June 2 when a work crew painted over Kent Twitchell's 11,000-square-foot mural 'Ed Ruscha Monument.' In just a few hours, the 19-year-old creation on the side of YWCA Job Corps' new building at 1016 S. Olive St. was obliterated. Twitchell was stunned, and people clammed up when asked how such a disgrace occurred. A Twitchell lawsuit is pending."

And from the Times (which actually includes some news, highlighted in bold below, that I haven't seen reported before):

"Kent Twitchell's 'Ed Ruscha Monument,' a six-story portrait of artist Ruscha completed over the course of nine years, disappeared from the side of a Job Corps training center in downtown Los Angeles in June, sparking public outrage and a legal battle between building owners, contractors and the artist. In August, Twitchell, filed suit against several 'nongovernmental entities' that 'willfully and intentionally desecrated, distorted, mutilated and otherwise modified' the work by painting over it. The defendants have agreed to hire a consultant to determine whether the paint can be removed without damaging the mural."

The Times article also has good year-end summaries of the Klimt restitution and various Getty museum issues.

Kimmelman on the Year in Art (and Law)

Quite a bit of law in Michael Kimmelman's year-in-review piece in Sunday's New York Times:

"The legal and public relations struggle over the return of antiquities to Italy and Greece by American museums like the Metropolitan and the Getty became an occasion this year for much thoughtful hand-wringing, raising the big question: Where, as a society, will we stand on the issue of cultural property? ...

"Restitution is obligatory when international laws are broken. But evidence is frequently vague. Ethics can be too. Ask the archaeologists who have been trying to piece together what’s left of the Bamiyan Buddhas, blown up by the Taliban in 2001 in Afghanistan, whether objects necessarily “belong” to the people who now occupy the land where the art comes from.

"The Met transferred title of a famous Greek vase and 20 other objects to Italy this year: the booty of a long-dead empire heading back to the modern state that happens to be on its soil. The law was served, and the gesture seemed savvy.

"At the same time American museums retained, and continue to retain, art dubiously collected from countries in Africa and Southeast Asia .... How far should we go to purge our museums? At the heart of the patrimony issue is American self-identity: capitalism, free trade and the democratic ideal.

"And is there any way to describe the escalating orgy of spending on art this year but as obscene? Collectors were paying upward of $130 million for Pollocks and Klimts, sums that make a skeptic ponder the other uses to which such fortunes could be put. The art world seems content, damn the potential long-term cost of being reduced to a mere investment vehicle.

"A few years back a lawyer for Jewish families seeking restitution from Swiss banks provoked a scandal when it became known that he took as a fee some $4 million. This year when members of a Jewish family sold the Klimts that Austria had finally returned to them, the family’s lawyer is said to have pocketed 40 percent of the $300 million they fetched. (Who knows how his contingency fee influenced the family’s decision to sell the art?) Almost nobody blinked."

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Morning After

When I was on WHYY in Philadelphia when news of the pending Gross Clinic sale first broke, my last word was a prediction that the offer would, in fact, be matched (hey, even a stopped clock ...). Stephan Salisbury has further details in The Philadelphia Inquirer today on just how it was accomplished:

"In total, over the last several weeks, about $30 million has been raised ..., officials said. Wachovia Bank has agreed to provide the backup financing that allowed the museums to sign an agreement of sale yesterday with Jefferson. No city or other government money is involved in the purchase. ... Museum officials likened Wachovia's role to the provision of bridge financing.
Fund-raising for the painting continues, the officials emphasized. Jefferson had set a Dec. 26 deadline for local institutions to put their money on the table. Now, however, the university has extended that deadline to Jan. 31. If a gap exists between contributions and sale price at the end of January, Wachovia will cover it, the officials said. Herbert Riband, vice chairman of the [Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts] board, said it is possible that some works might be sold from museum collections to help cover the costs of the transaction. But he said that was only a possibility."

The Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts will share ownership of the painting. The Inquirer also has a sidebar story on the five biggest donors. Carol Vogel's piece in today's New York Times is here.

I mentioned on the radio, and in my first post on the sale, that the parties here had adhered to the procedures New York Times art critic Michael Kimmelman had proposed in the wake of the New York Public Library's sale last year of Durand's "Kindred Spirits":

"[W]henever art is sold by a public institution -- which, receiving tax breaks, can be expected to make some sacrifice toward the public good -- local museums should be given a reasonable period of time to match the sale price. That's it. Just a shot at preserving the public's heritage for the public."

A lot of folks thought that wasn't good enough in this case because coming up with $68 million in 45 days was too tall an order. I pointed out on the WHYY appearance that, in the case of the Durand sale, Philippe de Montebello, director of the Met, was quoted as saying he would have preferred a live auction (rather than the sealed bid procedure used in that case), because then "I could have gone to the auction with a donor who could, on the spur of the moment, cover a higher bid." In any event, the end result here proved the doomsayers wrong. It's amazing what can be accomplished when people are sufficiently motivated.

Derek Fincham at the Illicit Cultural Property blog says "it seems all the parties involved, with the exception the original purchasers, have come out looking good. The University gets its funds, the work has received a great deal of publicity and should be visited a great deal in the coming months, and Philadelphia has kept one of its prized local works." (Not everyone is happy, though.)

Fincham also notes that "at the heart of the decision to sell the work lies a question which often plagues cultural property. Do very beautiful works have a single home, or can they be enjoyed and appreciated anywhere? That's a question without an easy answer."

In that connection, Salisbury's Inquirer story includes the following piece of news:

"[Philadelphia Mayor] Street said he is sending legislation to City Council that would 'establish a registry of all important' objects and works of art in the city. Such a registry, he said, would serve as an alarm system if a work is threatened with sale or removal. He offered no further details yesterday."

This issue also came up in the Michael Kimmelman piece mentioned above:

"From time to time, American museum directors talk about following the lead of other countries by drawing up lists of objects so important to the nation that they should never be sold. But the idea never goes anywhere. We're a rich country. We're capitalists. Our museums are stuffed with treasures bought and plundered from elsewhere. We benefit from a free market. Our museums are our argument for the values of dispersing global riches, for spreading multiculturalism. Being diverse, we are uncomfortable with talk about a 'shared history,' which is the basis for lists of cultural treasures. Lists are accounts of collective patrimony. 'Who is going to create such a list here?' Mr. de Montebello asked. 'The great strength of the United States is that it's not burdened by the regulations that cause entrepreneurial sclerosis in other countries. Our system is opportunistic, but on the whole it works.'''

(In fact, the above Kimmelman quote, proposing the "opportunity-to-match" rule, actually begins: "So here's a modest proposal. Forget lists. Instead, whenever art is sold by a public institution ....")

Further reaction to all of this from Lee Rosenbaum here.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

BREAKING: Gross Clinic Offer Matched

From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

"At a news conference today, Mayor Street announced that Thomas Eakins' masterpiece The Gross Clinic would remain in Philadelphia. The local fund-raising effort to buy the painting has received more than 2,000 contributions from more than 30 states, sources at the Philadelphia Museum of Art said. Among them were $10 million from Leonore Annenberg, and $3 million each from H.F. (Gerry) Lenfest, Joseph Neubauer, and the Pew Charitable Trusts. ... Officials said the [painting] would be on view at the Art Museum in the near future."

More later.

Skip the Light Fandango

The original keyboardist with 60's rock band Procol Harum has won his joint authorship lawsuit against his former bandmates over the hit "A Whiter Shade of Pale." The New York Times story is here (second item). A London court awarded him 40 percent of the song’s copyright -- going forward (the court dismissed his claims for past royalties because he had “sat back” for 40 years before asserting his rights).

Professor Patry has a great post up on the decision. Among other things, he runs through the differences between U.S. and U.K. law when it comes to joint authorship, including the following:
  • The concept of a "40% author" doesn't apply in the U.S. "In the U.S., joint authors own an undivided interest in the whole according to the number of co-authors: two own 50%, three 33 1/3%, etc. This is without regard to the respective qualitative or quantitative contributions: with two co-authors each own a 50% interest even if one contributed only 10% to the work." (He adds that "because of this, one would think that the threshold for being a joint author would be high [under U.S. law], but it really isn’t, aside from having to contribute expression and having an intent to be a joint author.")
  • "Another difference between the two countries’ laws ... is that in the U.K., joint authors cannot license a work without the others’ permission, whereas in the U.S., joint authors can unilaterally license the work on a non-exclusive basis."
  • "But the biggest difference is that in the U.S., [the] case would have been dismissed at the outset on statute of limitations grounds; the song was, after all, written and performed and credit taken in 1967."

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


Apparently there's an art law connection in the Yoko Ono blackmail case:

"The prosecutor also said Karsan spoke about other crimes he could have done, such as stealing Ono's artworks. She said investigators found a DVD at his home with photos of every piece of art in Ono's home in the Dakota ...."

That's from the story. More from The New York Times here.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Big Eakins News

In the Philadelphia Inquirer this morning, Stephan Salisbury reports that Mayor John Street has withdrawn his nomination of The Gross Clinic for designation as a historic object. "In a one-sentence Dec. 14 letter to ... the Philadelphia Historical Commission, Street wrote that he was acting 'in accordance' with a Dec. 4 'settlement agreement' between the city and [Jefferson] university." The commission has canceled the two meetings that had been scheduled this week to review the nomination.

So it's down to the matching process now -- one week left to raise the $68 million required to match the sales price. Salisbury quotes Anne d'Harnoncourt, director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, as saying: "I'm optimistic. I can't really go into any more detail. Things are moving very fast." Lee Rosenbaum talked to the major gifts officer of the museum, who says they are "well over 50% there" and that the museum is in the process of "closing some gifts" with "a lot of our nearest and dearest."

Lee adds that "the larger fundraising issue" is "whether the 'nearest and dearest,' feeling they've done their bit for art with this emergency rescue, may be less generous towards less high-profile but equally urgent cultural needs in the coming year."

Chihuly Lawsuit Settled

From the Seattle Times this morning:

"Glass artist Dale Chihuly and a rival artist he sued for copyright violations announced Monday that they have settled their 14-month-old court battle .... In a terse announcement Monday afternoon, Chihuly and Redmond glass artist/entrepreneur Robert Kaindl announced that their dispute 'has been resolved to their mutual satisfaction.' Neither side would discuss the settlement or claim victory. But the art works being offered on Kaindl's Web sites — including styles disputed in the suit — remain unchanged."

Chihuly had settled with the other of the two defendants -- one of his former studio assistants -- over the summer.

Monday, December 18, 2006

“The art trade is the least transparent and least regulated commercial activity in the world”

Interesting piece in the New York Times Magazine yesterday on Noah Charney, who's getting a doctorate at Cambridge University "in a field he appears to have invented: the use of art history, combined with the more conventional tools of criminology, psychology and deductive logic, to help solve modern-day art thefts and to prevent future art crimes."

The story reports that "the stolen-art trade is now an international industry valued as high as $6 billion per year, the third-largest black market behind drugs and arms trafficking. Yet the solution rate in art crime is reported to be a startlingly low 10 percent. Investigations are hampered by the cult of secrecy within the art world itself — museums sometimes don’t report thefts, fearing to reveal their vulnerability to future crimes and thereby hurt their chances of receiving new donations."

Charney's idea is "to apply to art thefts the techniques of criminal profiling that forensic psychologists use to help solve serial rapes and murders. To supply the necessary raw materials for this analysis, he has begun to compile a database of art thefts that records salient details: the way the work was stolen, for instance, along with biographical information about everyone involved, including thieves, fences and the collectors who eventually bought the purloined artwork." He wants to "establish a clearer, more empirically rigorous understanding of art crime."

The article gives his views on several high-profile art thefts: the 1990 roberry at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston (arranged by a wealthy connoisseur with his eye on specific works); the 2004 theft of “Scream” from the Munch Museum in Oslo ( “Russian Mafia types”); and the December 2005 theft of Henry Moore’s 2-ton bronze “Reclining Figure,” which was accomplished using a flatbed Mercedes truck with a crane attached (melted down to make small forged antiquities).

The next step for Charney is the establishment of a "nonprofit consultancy based in Rome that will employ the same international, interdisciplinary approach to art crime that he has used in his scholarship, with a staff trained in criminology, statistics, museum security and art history." He has applied to the Getty and Ford Foundations to raise the $1.7 million he thinks he'll need for the first three years.

Derek Fincham thinks it's an interesting idea, but wonders how effective it will be: "The article is pretty slim on the details for how exactly his research tackles the problem. .... At the end of the day, the driving force behind art theft is the high value of these objects, and the expense of providing adequate security, especially in museums and houses which receive fewer visitors, and cannot afford adequate security."

Friday, December 15, 2006

Christopher Knight on the Eakins Kerfuffle

Christopher Knight's art-year-in-review for the L.A. Times includes the following:

"Philadelphia's Thomas Jefferson University announced the joint sale of Thomas Eakins' monumental 1875 'The Gross Clinic,' arguably America's greatest 19th-century painting, to Washington's National Gallery and a not-yet-built Arkansas museum planned by a Wal-Mart heiress. 'Foul!' squealed the local art establishment — the same folks who are busily enabling destruction of America's greatest privately assembled Modern art collection, the nearby Barnes Foundation. The spectacle of rank hypocrisy is — well, gross."

11 Days To Go

Carol Vogel has a very good piece in tomorrow's New York Times on The Gross Clinic saga.

She says the city has raised "substantially" more than the $23 million that had reportedly been pledged as of Nov. 29. (Local institutions have until Dec. 26 to match the $68 million offer for the painting.) She also discusses the historic designation process that's now underway (and which I posted about most recently here):

"Mayor John Street proposed last month that the painting be designated a 'historic object' under the city’s historic preservation ordinance. That designation would put 'The Gross Clinic' under the jurisdiction of the Philadelphia Historical Commission and could prevent its removal from the city. It might also mean that if Philadelphia is unable to raise the money, the sale to the National Gallery and Crystal Bridges could be tied up in court for years. Jefferson University officials ... responded to the mayor’s proposal in a terse statement calling it 'not appropriate' and 'inconsistent with applicable law.' The university asserted that it would mandate an 'artificially low sale price' for the work and 'restrict the university’s control over its own property.'"

NPR's All Things Considered had a piece on the sale today, which made no mention of the historic designation procedures.

The Mysteries of Kingsland

The New York Sun has the latest on William M.V. Kingsland, the "bon vivant boulevardier of the Upper East Side who died last March" intestate and in possession of a bunch of stolen art:

"Since Kingsland's death, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has also been investigating Kingsland. Artwork found stacked in his apartment after his death turned out to be missing or stolen, including a bust of Giacometti and two paintings from Harvard, one by the famous Colonial portraitist John Singleton Copley. ... [Online filings] at the New York County Surrogate's Court listed the value of his estate as $501,000."

Earlier posts on Kingsland (and Melvyn Kohn too) here and here.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Hermitage Theft Attempt (UPDATED)

Someone smashed a glass display case and tried to steal an antique silver ladle from the Hermitage Museum late last week. According to a Reuters report: "'He first tried to break the glass with his elbow, and then his knee,' the Hermitage said in a statement. The museum's electronic security systems were triggered and the man was detained by guards and museum staff, the statement said." As the story points out,

"the Hermitage is still reeling from the disappearance of [221] silverware items that emerged in August. The theft of the items is believed to have happened over several years but was only discovered when staff carried out an audit of one of the vast museum's vaults. Larisa Zavadskaya, the curator of the section where the thefts were found, died suddenly at work when the audit began. Zavadskaya's husband has been charged with theft."

UPDATE: Lee Rosenbaum catches the Hermitage director criticizing journalists for their role in the attempted theft ("The more people write about how you can make off with everything in the Hermitage, the more you are going to get unhinged people trying to steal things"). Says Lee:

"This a case of blaming the messenger. Publicizing evident security problems---like the recent Hermitage theft scandal ... is not irresponsibly divulging security secrets; it's exposing glaring lapses, in the hope of spurring needed action to correct them."

Monday, December 11, 2006

Six Degrees of Thomas Eakins

Kevin Bacon has joined The Committee to Keep Eakins' Masterpiece in Philadelphia. According to the Associated Press:

"'This masterpiece and this artist are so intertwined and connected to this city that it should and must remain where it was created,' Bacon, a Philadelphia native, said in a statement released by the group Monday."

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Important Fractional Gift News

There's a long story on the front page of the Arts & Leisure section of today's New York Times on the change in the fractional gift rules. The big scoop comes toward the end:

"[Senate Finance Committee chairman Grassley's] staff says he is now amenable to one technical adjustment in the new rules to address an inequity. While the rules no longer allow deductions to increase as a work gains in value, the Internal Revenue Service requires heirs to pay taxes on the fair market value should any portion of the work remain in a donor’s possession when he dies. ... The Treasury Department ... will be directed to forbid the I.R.S. to collect taxes on any artwork that remains partly in an estate so long as the work is contractually intended for a museum, Mr. Grassley’s aides said."

This refers to what I've been calling the "mismatch problem," and it's huge news. The other changes the article discusses should result in a decrease in fractional gifts, but it was this problem that would have led to their complete disappearance.

The article also sheds some light on another issue about which there has been some confusion. Several weeks ago I cited a Minneapolis Star Tribune story that reported that "museum officials are troubled by the new law's requirement that they take possession each year." I noted at the time that there was no such requirement in the new law, and the Times story confirms that reading:

"The original proposals would have required a museum to take possession of the artwork every year for a period of time corresponding to its stake in it. In a letter to [the Finance Committee], Anita Difanis, director of government affairs at the Association of Art Museum Directors, argued that moving valuable artwork was costly and risky. She argued that many works also require special exhibition space that is too expensive to recreate year after year. Mr. Grassley agreed to a looser standard, saying the work must be handed over permanently within 10 years and the museum be given access at some point in the interim. 'I did hear that there was a complaint about the requirement that the museums take possession every year, but I thought we did what we could to compromise with them,' he said."

For more on the latter issue, see my earlier post here.

"Because personal fidelity is more important than art"

Back in April, I mentioned poetry critic Helen Vendler in connection with the issue of an artist's right to destroy his own work. Vendler had been very critical of the decision to posthumously publish poems by Elizabeth Bishop. There's a profile of Vendler in today's New York Times Book Review, and she's sticking to her guns:

"'If you make people promise to burn your manuscripts' — as Kafka and (by legend) Virgil did — 'they should,' Vendler insisted. 'I think the "Aeneid" should have been burned and Kafka’s works should have been burned, because personal fidelity is more important than art,' she said in her quiet, direct manner. 'If I had asked somebody to promise to destroy something of mine and they didn’t do it I would feel it to be a grave personal betrayal. I wouldn’t care what I had left behind. It could have been the "Mona Lisa.""

Friday, December 08, 2006

More Trouble for Natsoulas Gallery

Back in October I posted about a lawsuit by artist Henry Villierme against the John Natsoulas Gallery in Davis, CA. It seemed that Villierme had consigned some paintings to the gallery that ended up being sold as work by Richard Diebenkorn. Now the daughters of the late David Park are claiming that an unsigned work attributed to their father and sold by the gallery in 1997 is not authentic. (The painting also appeared, as did the disputed Villiermes, in "San Francisco and The Second Wave," published by the Crocker Museum in 2004.) Story in the Sacramento Bee here.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Title Insurance for Art has a piece, in their new "Collectors Guide," on title insurance for art. At the moment, it's available from two companies:

"Hiscox, a syndicate at Lloyd's of London, has for 20 years sold policies that cover everything from paintings to antiquities and require an annual renewal and premium payment. Hiscox prices on a case-by-case basis, with premiums in the 0.5% to 2.5% range, depending on risk. A $10 million policy on a Monet with a troubled provenance, for example, could cost $250,000 a year.

"In June Aris Title Insurance of New York launched a competing policy. ... Its policies cover only visual art and sculpture--not cultural artifacts or antiquities. But unlike Hiscox's, they charge a one-time-only premium, have no deductible and cover a work for as long as the policyholder (or an heir) owns it. If your ownership is challenged, Aris will either pay whatever it takes to successfully defend you or will refund what you paid for the piece. ... Aris reckons its one-time premium will run 5% or so of the value of the artwork, which may be higher or lower depending on risks associated with its provenance."

I previously posted about Aris, and the issue of adverse selection, here.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

"Whether art is hanging in a museum or on a beer label, it is protected speech"

So says the Maine Civil Liberties Union attorney who recently filed a First Amendment lawsuit against the state’s Bureau of Liquor Enforcement over its rejection of three beer labels, including one for “Santa’s Butt Winter Porter” that depicts Mr. Clause from behind, drinking a beer, his ample rear end resting on a wooden barrel. has the story, including a picture of the offending label. The New York Times had a brief story over the weekend.

Law professor Heidi Kitrosser uses the case as a jumping off point to consider the appropriate level of protection for commercial speech.

Another Philadelphia Art Controversy

This one involves the public school system. Seems that, over the years, a number of schools had acquired some quite valuable artworks, including an Eakins found in a boiler room. Three years ago the Philadelphia School District gathered up about 1,200 artworks from more than 260 schools. One appraisal put the value of the collection at $30 million. The works have all been in storage since 2003, "but now that the School Reform Commission is struggling to resolve a $73.3 million budget deficit, art experts, along with members of various school communities, are worried that district officials could be tempted to sell the artworks." Full story in the Philadelphia Daily News here. Earlier story, from 2003, in the Washington Post here.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Robert Volpe

The New York Times has an obituary this morning of Robert Volpe, who functioned as "the New York City Police Department’s one-man art-theft squad" in the 1970s. "Before Mr. Volpe was unleashed in 1971 as the city’s first and only art detective, art crimes were handled by the burglary division and other units. After his retirement in 1983, regular details took them up again." He was also the father of Justin Volpe, who was convicted in the Abner Louima case.

Monday, December 04, 2006

"In a move which could transform art publishing ..."

... the Victoria and Albert Museum in London will no longer charge reproduction fees for scholarly books and magazines. The new scheme will take effect early next year. The Art Newspaper has the story here. It says "the V&A is believed to be the first museum anywhere in the world which is to offer images free of copyright and administrative charges."

This also provides me with a good opportunity to recommend Susan Bielstein's terrific Permissions, A Survival Guide: Blunt Talk about Art as Intellectual Property.

Latest on the Matter Matter

The New York Times had an update over the weekend on the so-called "Matter Pollocks":

"In an article published this week in the prestigious science journal Nature, two physicists contend that a method intended to identify complex geometric patterns in the seemingly chaotic drip paintings of Jackson Pollock is flawed and may be useless in the increasingly convoluted world of authenticating Pollock’s work."

The full story (including a color photo of Matter and three of the works) is here. An earlier post on the "fractal" study the Nature article purports to debunk is here.

Not unrelatedly, Carol Vogel's most recent Inside Art column in the New York Times discussed how technology is playing a larger and larger role in the world of Rembrandt authentications.

The tension between science and connoisseurship when it comes to authenticating art plays a role in Malcolm Gladwell's best-selling Blink, where he discusses the case of a supposedly ancient Greek statue that was offered to the Getty for $10 million in 1983. Relying on months of careful study by a geologist (to determine the age of the piece), the museum concluded that it was authentic and went ahead with the purchase. When art historians looked at it, though, they experienced an immediate, "intuitive revulsion"-- and they turned out to be correct: the piece was eventually proven a fake, and the sale rescinded.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Eakins Ideas

Several commentaries in today's Philadelphia Inquirer. First, lawyer Dan Larkin suggests a compromise:

"Philadelphia supporters should offer to contribute a negotiated portion of the $68 million purchase price for these terms:
"Philadelphia ends legal efforts to prohibit the painting's move, efforts that would absorb large sums, earn the enmity of a major medical school at the heart of our major economic growth engine (health care), delay the 'transformational' benefit promised from the sale's proceeds, and raise awkward questions for museums that acquire works of art that also 'resonate' in their home cultures.
"In return, The Gross Clinic is displayed at the National Gallery and in Arkansas in a setting designed to ensure the painting powerfully proclaims its Philadelphia provenance to millions of national and international viewers annually. Text and photographs would complement the painting's illumination of the city's technical and cultural preeminence. Evidence of the city's leading role in 19th-century medicine would be placed in the context of the continuing preeminence of our medical schools, hospitals, and pharmaceutical and biotech firms.
"The painting returns home as honored guest and centerpiece for festive occasions marking major events central to the city or Eakins."

Art historian Marie Naples Maber says let it go: "I lament that this masterpiece may leave the city where I trained and have enjoyed the arts for more than 30 years. But I also understand that a broader perspective can be revealing. This painting has hung at Thomas Jefferson University since 1878. It was accessible to art-lovers through a telephone call and a reserved visit. If 500 people per year is all the audience such a world-famous work could muster, what meaningful difference does it make to Philadelphians if it's removed?"

And David Traub says the city should build a new "Museum of the Health Sciences" and put the painting there.