Tuesday, January 30, 2007

There's Something The Matter With These "Pollocks"

Randy Kennedy reports in today's New York Times:

"A yearlong scientific analysis by the Harvard University Art Museums of three paintings discovered in 2003 and considered to be possible works by Jackson Pollock has found that some of the pigments used in the paints were not patented or commercially available until long after Pollock died in 1956."

The New York Sun put it on the front page. The Boston Globe story is here. And Lee Rosenbaum has lots of good coverage, including a link to the report itself. Here is an earlier post of mine on this matter.

Monday, January 29, 2007

"The strangest art story of the year grows stranger yet"

Art historian Michael J. Lewis has some questions about Steve Wynn's insurance claim for his damaged Picasso. He first wonders about "the peculiar sequence of events":

"[O]ne day the purchase agreement for the painting is signed, establishing its market value, and the next day the painting is mutilated before a large gathering of witnesses, instantly reducing its value and—in Wynn’s view—earning him a check for the difference.

"Equally strange are the mechanics of the damage to the painting. An elbow thrust, however fierce or well-aimed, is not likely puncture a linen canvas. Paintings are not stretched tight as a drum and have a certain degree of give, and the tendency of the fabric when struck by a blunt instrument is to dent or else to give way where it is nailed to the stretcher. In order to confirm this, I asked a painter friend to take a taut canvas and see if he could pierce it with his elbow. Working with heavy cotton duck canvas (a weaker fabric than the Belgian linen that Picasso likely used), he was only able to put a bowl-shaped depression into the canvas, despite repeated attempts."

He concludes: "The insurers will be investigating this case carefully. Perhaps they’ll ask to take a cast of Mr. Wynn’s elbow."

Earlier posts on this story here, here, and here.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Criminal Charges for Astor Son?

Bloomberg reports that Brooke Astor's son Anthony Marshall faces possible criminal charges over the income tax reporting of the sale of a $10 million painting by Childe Hassam in 2002:

"Marshall told his mother's tax preparer the painting, purchased by Astor in March 1970 for $172,000, was bought for $5 million, according to Alan Pollack, a lawyer for Samuel Cohen & Company, which prepared the returns. The higher purchase price would significantly reduce the capital gains tax on the $10 million sale by Marshall. Samuel Cohen & Company has received a subpoena from [Manhattan District Attorney Robert] Morgenthau's office, Pollack said."

Earlier news reports said the cost basis for the painting on the 2002 tax return was close to $7.5 million. See earlier post here.

A guardianship proceeding brought this summer against Marshall by his son was settled in October. See here.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Still Le Rêve

Marc Spiegler has a good piece on Steve Wynn's insurance claim for his damaged Picasso, including the complete complaint, over at artnet. Before the accident, Wynn had a deal to sell the painting for $139 million. He now claims it's worth $85 million. Spiegler's advice to Lloyd's:

"Perhaps rather than haggling over the claim they should just outright offer to buy Le Rêve and then sell it immediately. If they truly believe the market value is higher than $85 million, this would cut their losses substantially. Or they could hold onto it as an investment. Because, as Amy Cappellazzo of Christie's points out, the incident may have little long-term impact on the portrait’s value: 'It’s still Picasso’s Le Rêve. If you blocked off the windows at the Met and turned on a UV light, you would see all kinds of tears and patches and varnishes in the masterpieces.'"

Lots more Spiegler here.

That's Cold

The New York Daily News has the latest move in Karl Kemp's battle to evict the homeless from outside his gallery:

"Antiques dealer Karl Kemp - who made headlines after slapping 64-year-old vagrant Roger Greenlee with a $1 million lawsuit last week - cut off the hot air to a steam grate yesterday in a bid to drive away the homeless from the front of his store. Contractors hauled away large metal heating ducts yesterday morning .... The once-toasty grate beneath Kemp's window - a mainstay for Greenlee and at least three other homeless people named in the lawsuit - had cooled to a near-freezing 38.9 degrees when the Daily News measured it yesterday."

Kari Milchman at the New York Press Blog "wonders why he didn’t just do this quietly before filing a lawsuit that launched him to instant bad guy stardom."

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Hermitage Theft Trial Opens

The Guardian has the story. Prosecutors say the curator responsible for the theft "simply walked out of the staff exit, apparently unchallenged by security guards." She and her husband sold the works to antique dealers and pawnshops.

Lee Rosenbaum, who calls it "one of the sorriest episodes in museum history," has more.

Monday, January 22, 2007


This may be too good to be true, but . . .

". . . [a] press release making the rounds on the web (here and here, for instance) claims that a conceptual artist named Jonathon Keats has made Cage's 4'33" into a ringtone."

Here is more on Keats, from Wikipedia.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Rodin Recovered

Though not completely intact. From DutchNews.nl:

"The thieves who took seven sculptures - including a cast of Rodin’s Thinker - from the gardens of the Singer Museum in Laren appear to have been after bronze, director Ineke Middag said on Saturday. The Rodin sculpture has been recovered but is missing one leg and efforts appear to have been made to cut it into pieces, Middag said. She said thieves appear to have been so shocked by the media attention for the theft that they abandoned their efforts. Two men have been arrested but the other six works of art have not yet been recovered."

Earlier post here.

Friday, January 19, 2007

"Stop with the million-dollar suit"

Karl Kemp Antiques' lawsuit against four homeless people (see here) makes it onto the front page of the New York Daily News today.

The case provides another litigation lesson: before you bring a lawsuit, think about any potential ridicule it will open you up to. In that regard, the decision to ask for $1 million in damages would seem to have been a tactical mistake here. See, for example, yesterday's Wall Street Journal Best of the Web (last item) ("[T]here's something ridiculous about ... suing street vagrants and demanding monetary damages. Most of the homeless, we'd venture to say, do not carry liability insurance").

Anorexic Copyrights

Robert Bernstein and Robert Clarida have a piece [$] in today's New York Law Journal on the Kim Taylor Reece hula case discussed recently here and here, as well as a quite similar case out of Montana involving a photo of a mountain lion. Their conclusion:

"One lesson that can be learned from these cases is that copyrightholders of realistic photographs of humans and animals, particularly in traditional or naturally occurring settings and postures, face uphill battles, and even more so when the plaintiff's work has been translated into a different medium. Dissimilarities that flow from the difference in genre, as well as other differences, even minor ones, may provide sufficient ground for a holding of noninfringement when a court considers plaintiff's copyright to be 'thin.'"

I don't think I've linked to the court's decision in the hula case before; here it is. Bill Patry discussed the mountain lion case back in October here.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Gross Clinic "Commentary"

At the Commentary blog, "Contentions," Williams College art historian Michael J. Lewis weighs in on the Gross Clinic matter:

"[N]agging questions remain. One is the involvement of the National Gallery, which might be expected to defend the cause of American art as a whole, and not to act as a predatory corporation, aggrandizing itself at the cost of the cultural patrimony of another city. Another is the increasing tendency of private institutions to sell their cultural assets, declaring them, on the basis of narrowly formulated mission statements, to be 'outside the scope of our central mission.' Such was the case two years ago when the New York Public Library sold Asher Durand’s Kindred Spirits (1849), the iconic Hudson River School landscape, to the Crystal Bridges Museum. And finally, there is the Philadelphia Art Museum itself, which has eloquently defended the idea that the physical location of a work of art has much to do with its aesthetic force and social significance; it is striking that this is the same museum that has worked so assiduously to pry the collection of the Barnes Foundation from the building and site that have given it its meaning for three quarters of a century."

The latter point was also made by Christopher Knight in the LA Times a few days ago (see point 1).

Stolen Goya Update

The Goya painting that was stolen in November while parked outside a Howard Johnson’s on the way to the Guggenheim (see here) has been returned to the Toledo Museum of Art and will soon go on display "for a limited time." Still no arrests made. Story here.

More Bronzes Stolen

Bloomberg reports:

"Thieves stole seven bronze sculptures, including a cast of Auguste Rodin's 'The Thinker,' from a Dutch museum's garden, the police said. The crime may be connected with recent bronze thefts as the iron sculptures weren't touched, the Dutch police said ... The police asked smelters and foundries 'to keep their ears and eyes open.'''

The museum, the Singer Laren, was founded in 1956 by the wife of William Singer, an art collector and artist and the son of a steel magnate from Pittsburgh.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Kounellis Lawsuit Update

I see from the Dec. 26 ARTnewsletter (article not online) that Jannis Kounellis's lawsuit against his former dealer, Ace Gallery (discussed earlier here), is slated for mediation this month in New York.

Knight on De-accessioning

Christopher Knight had a very thoughtful piece over the weekend in the Los Angeles Times on two recent high profile de-accessionings, the Gross Clinic sale in Philadelphia and the Albright-Knox museum's decision to sell off more than 170 works, which he says "together ... represent the range of of issues surrounding art's disposal" and "demonstrate why every instance is unique." The whole thing is worth reading, but some highlights relating to The Gross Clinic:

1. He says the "moral objections" of the Philadelphia art establishment "were blurred by the fact that they were already heartily engaged in 'the rape of the Barnes' — a shady maneuver by which the city managed to snag from a neighboring county the greatest privately assembled collection of Post-Impressionist and early Modern art. The local establishment is wrecking the Barnes' irreplaceable value as a cultural monument, while squandering $200 million in charitable funds to move it downtown."

2. He says Alice Walton should "reconsider the quality of the advice [she] was getting. Yes, $68 million is a lot of money. ... Still, my first thought on hearing of the sale was, 'What a steal!' The caliber of the masterpiece, coupled with the state of today's art market, made the price seem low. ... The neophyte collector, with a fortune estimated by Forbes at $18 billion, could easily have put the picture beyond competitive reach while feeling no pain. She didn't, and the prize was lost."

3. "Likewise, Jefferson trustees must now be wondering whether the sale did in fact maximize the monetary value of their asset."

4. He says "we all owe the university a deep debt of gratitude. By negotiating only with public art museums, an irreplaceable masterpiece was kept from disappearing into a private collection. That counts for a lot."

5. His conclusion: "The Assn. of Art Museum Directors requires that de-accessioning be governed by a member institution's written collection management policy. ... It should strengthen that constraint by requiring that objects of substantial value be offered to other museums first."

Dealer Sues The Homeless (UPDATED)

The New York Sun reports today on a lawsuit by Upper East Side antiques dealer Karl Kemp Antiques against four homeless people for driving away customers by loitering on the sidewalk in "old, warn, and unsanitary clothing and cardboard boxes and old blankets which they convert into sleeping accommodations." The suit seeks $1 million (which is kind of funny), but the real relief sought is an injunction "to force the homeless defendants to stay at least 100 feet away from the store."

UPDATE: More from The New York Times.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Momart Settlement

The Guardian reports that Momart Ltd, the London art storage outfit that went up in flames in 2004, destroying hundreds of artworks, has settled claims against it for "tens of millions of pounds." A class action lawsuit alleged that the warehouse was "wholly unsuitable for high-value fine art, had inadequate fire detection and was a disaster waiting to happen." Estimates at the time of the fire put the losses to artists, collectors, galleries, and insurance companies at £30-50m.

An earlier, exhaustive Guardian story is here. There's a good Wikipedia entry here.

Wynn Update

The Insurance Journal reports:

"The casino magnate who accidentally poked a hole in a Picasso painting said insurer Lloyd's of London has offered to settle his $54 million claim of lost value, but the talks aren't going the way he'd like. 'Their offer is ridiculous,' owner Steve Wynn said. He declined to give specifics, and Lloyd's declined to comment."

Earlier post here.

Wynn sounds angry:

"Wynn ... attacked the insurance industry as a whole, accusing insurance companies of 'irresponsible, careless, inconsiderate and deliberate evasive behavior'' that too often works for them. He said insurers play 'dirty tricks' and habitually delay responding to claims, hoping to wear down those making claims and get them to settle for much less than what they are owed. 'Most folks that have insurance can't afford the legal fees, so they take what they get,' Wynn said in a telephone interview. 'There's only one way to stop this kind of thing, and that is to go to court.'''

Broad Bid?

The New York Times reports today that Eli Broad is considering a bid for the Tribune Company, which owns two dozen TV stations, the Chicago Cubs, and 11 daily newspapers, including The Chicago Tribune, Newsday, and The Los Angeles Times.

Broad is one of the world's leading art collectors:

"Avid supporters of contemporary art, Mr. Broad and his wife, Edythe, have created one of the world's finest collections. Since 1984, The Broad Art Foundation has operated an active "lending library" of its extensive collection to more than 400 museums and university galleries worldwide. In 2001-2003, an exhibition of the Broads' collection was shown at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC; the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston; and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. Mr. Broad was the founding chairman and is a life trustee of The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, and is currently a trustee of The Museum of Modern Art in New York, and vice chairman of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where the Broads recently announced a major gift to build The Broad Contemporary Art Museum."

Here is a link to the Broad Art Foundation. Here is a Bloomberg story from 2003; it said that he had put together a collection that "curators and dealers estimate at $500 million, a figure Broad says is about right. His collection includes work by about 175 artists and is dominated by works of Pop Art by Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, abstract pieces by Jasper Johns and Cy Twombly and work by 1980s artists such as Cindy Sherman, Jeff Koons and Jean-Michel Basquiat."

Friday, January 12, 2007

"Stealing on the job is not a fringe benefit"

This is going to make a great movie someday.

The latest twist in the William Kingsland/Melvyn Kohn saga:

"[T]he authorities said yesterday that a moving contractor from Queens whom public officials had hired to help clean out [Kingsland's] apartment had been charged with making off with two precious works: drawings by Pablo Picasso. The mover’s mother-in-law has also been charged."

These particular drawings, unlike some of the other works in the apartment, are not thought to have been in Kingsland's possession illegally.

The New York Sun's Gary Shapiro, who's been a one-man Kingsland beat, has more here. Earlier posts here, here, and here.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

"Few great American artists are more inextricably linked to a particular place than Eakins is with Philadelphia"

New York Times art critic Michael Kimmelman does an Eakins tour in and around Philadelphia. He warms up by giving his take on the recent controversy, starting with a reference to Alice Walton's 2005 purchase of Durand's "Kindred Spirits" from the New York Public Library (mentioned earlier here):

"Having learned from that debacle for the library, Thomas Jefferson University insisted on offering Philadelphians a way to keep the Eakins. Snobs who argued that Arkansas was itself a travesty as the destination for great art ignored how great American museums, including Philadelphia’s, were put together in the first place. Robber barons have always propelled the dispersion of cultural treasures. Capitalism is ruthless.

"But in this case it all worked out. The escape clause of matching the price imitated how nations like Britain save their patrimony. Philadelphians, their pride challenged, rallied, notwithstanding that they seemed to take the painting for granted for years (few people went to see it) ..."

$54 million elbow?

Remember the story last fall of Steve Wynn accidentally putting his elbow through a Picasso he was about to sell for $139 million? The sale was called off, without a fight, but you knew a lawsuit couldn't be entirely avoided:

"Casino mogul Steve Wynn sued Lloyd's of London Thursday, saying the insurance company failed to act properly on his demands to pay $54 million in lost value for a Picasso that was damaged when Wynn accidentally poked a hole in the canvas with his elbow. The lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Manhattan sought an order to force Lloyd's to expedite Wynn's claims for reimbursement and restoration costs for Picasso's 1932 work 'Le Reve' by providing him with an appraisal report or initial damages assessment. Wynn's representatives told Lloyd's in November that the painting was worth $139 million the day before Wynn damaged the painting in his Las Vegas office on Sept. 30, but was believed to be worth no more than $85 million afterward."

Full story here. Earlier post here. The complaint can be found here.

Broken Angel

Robin Pogrebin has a story in today's New York Times about Arthur Wood's "Broken Angel," his family home/work of art in Clinton Hill. Wood and his wife were evicted in October after a rooftop fire led city inspectors to discover several building code violations. Yesterday in Brooklyn Supreme Court

"the Woods agreed to submit engineering plans by next Wednesday to dismantle the building’s 40-foot rooftop structure, the main violation. The Woods have also entered into a tentative agreement to share ownership with a local developer, Shahn Andersen, who would turn most of the building into condominiums .... The Broken Angel, as the house is known, would include some form of community space, along with living and studio space for the Woods."

There's a great slideshow of images at the Times link. Here is a set of photos by Woods's son, Christopher. Wikipedia page here. The house was recently featured in the movie Dave Chappelle's Block Party. Here is an earlier piece from the Times.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Duccio Dust-Up

Lee Rosenbaum has the latest on Columbia University art history professor James Beck and his doubts about the authenticity of the Duccio painting the Met paid $50 million for not too long ago.

Earlier post here.

Nathan Decision (UPDATED)

Via Terry Martin, I see that a Federal court in Ohio has rejected a claim by the heirs of Martha Nathan who were seeking to recover a Gauguin painting she sold in 1938 after fleeing Nazi Germany. He's posted the decision here.

UPDATE: More from Derek Fincham at his Illicit Cultural Property blog: "Whether the claimants will seek an appeal remains to be seen, but it seems likely given the value of the work. However, they do not have a great set of facts to work with here. Their ultimate success seems quite unlikely."

Monday, January 08, 2007

"Can a painting really be so connected to the cultural life of a city that it should never move?"

Interesting take on the Gross Clinic affair by Daniel Brook in yesterday's Boston Globe. It begins:

"Thomas Eakins's masterpiece, 'The Gross Clinic,' is housed in a locked gallery bearing the sign: 'To arrange entry see security at front counter.' Having notified the security desk at Thomas Jefferson University, ... I was escorted into the Eakins Gallery by a silent, suited attendant. Eakins's depiction of a surgery course at Jefferson, widely considered the greatest American painting of the 19th century -- and, by some scholars, the greatest American painting, period -- attracts just 500 visitors a year. Surprising, then, the outcry in November, when Jefferson announced that it was selling the painting for $68 million ..."

He continues:

"Claims of cultural patrimony have become more and more common in the art world in recent decades .... Yet such claims are generally made for ancient works or works made by indigenous peoples that have been stolen from their country of origin -- not for ones created in major cities in the contemporary West and purchased at auction. Should the outrage of residents of America's richest cultural cities over the sale of a painting on the open market be given the same weight as that of indigenous Peruvians deprived of ancestral Inca artifacts by tomb-raiders? While there is broad acceptance that art should not move because of shifts in military power (art seized by the Nazis, for example, has been repatriated), the idea that art should be protected from swings in economic power is far more radical."

And, picking up the thread of his opening paragraph, he adds:

"[E]ven the most vocal advocates for keeping 'The Gross Clinic' in Philadelphia would likely concede that the painting has lately been taken for granted at best and ignored at worst. Indeed, Robert Workman, executive director of Alice Walton's museum, cited making Eakins's painting 'more widely accessible to the public' as a key reason for the attempted acquisition. But accessible to which public? ... Walton's new museum, far from the cosmopolitan coasts, will surely make fine art accessible to a different group of Americans. Major museums are rare outside of large metropolitan areas, and those that do exist are often located in popular vacation locales (the Clark Museum and Mass MoCA in the Berkshires, for example). Such museums don't expand access to art as broadly as the Crystal Bridges Museum likely will."

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Santa's Butt Okay

The State of Maine has rescinded its ban on the sale of "Santa's Butt Winter Porter" beer because of its "undignified" label (mentioned earlier here). "Assistant Attorney General Chris Taub said the state decided to reverse its rejection of the labels after reviewing similar cases from other states and deciding that a court would likely find the labels protected by the First Amendment." The Maine Civil Liberties Union is moving ahead with a First Amendment lawsuit anyway.

Besides Santa's rear, the state had barred two other labels, including one depicting Delacroix's "Liberty Leading the People."

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Not Appropriate

Strange story in today's New York Times involving a Farifield County Historic District Commission's insistence that the owners of a large sculpture by Anselm Kiefer obtain a "certificate of appropriateness" in order to display the work on their front lawn. A lower court ruled in favor of the town but stayed enforcement pending appeal. The Connecticut Supreme Court will hear the case next month. The article doesn't really explain why the owners have refused to apply for the certificate -- did they object on principle, or is there a real likelihood that they would have been turned down? All it says is that "the couple had initially sought a certificate of appropriateness but withdrew the application after consulting a lawyer and went ahead and installed the [work] in August 2003."

I think this is an image of the work, before installation. The owners of the work, Christine and Andrew Hall, are very serious collectors.

Friday, January 05, 2007

An Opportunity To See What All The Fuss Is About (UPDATED)

The Gross Clinic goes on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art today at 4 p.m. “It’s a thank you to donors who have already given and an inspiration for future gifts,” according to Anne d’Harnoncourt, the museum’s director. The New York Times story is here (scroll down). Much more from Stephan Salisbury in the Philadelphia Inquirer here. And more from the museum here, including a podcast by curator Kathy Foster.

UPDATE: Stephan Salisbury was there.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Curator Constables

The Art Newspaper reports that the London police are looking to recruit curators and art historians to volunteer to join their Art and Antiquities Unit:

"Special Constables are being recruited from museums such as the Victoria & Albert and the British Museum, universities, insurance companies and other cultural organisations. After four weeks training in police procedure as well as specialist art squad techniques, volunteers will be sponsored by their employers to work as Special Constables for 200 hours a year or one day a fortnight. They will be uniformed and will have full police powers."

The program is set to begin in April. Derek Fincham is skeptical: "What self-respecting art dealer would risk damage to his reputation by putting on a police uniform and patrolling the streets of London, looking for stolen masterpieces ...? The measure seems a bit bizarre, and if authorities in London are actually serious about limiting the trade in illicit cultural property, there are much better, more practical ways to proceed."

Edward Winkleman sees a possible upside: "There's a possible post-prison career option for the high-profile curators in danger of being convicted of smuggling antiquities out of Europe's ancient sites (you know, the 'it takes one to know one' line of reasoning), no?"

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Catching Up

Happy New Year everyone. To start off the new year, a couple of links you may have missed from Sunday's New York Times.

First, Simon Cole, author of Suspect Identities: A History of Fingerprinting and Criminal Identification, had a very interesting piece on the use of fingerprint analysis in art authentication:

"[F]ingerprinting and art connoisseurship may not be all that different. There is no such thing as a 'perfect' fingerprint match. All fingerprint impressions, even those from the same finger, are at least slightly different. What there is, is a subjective judgment by a fingerprint examiner that two prints come from the same source finger. This of course sounds a lot like art authentication, which seeks to determine whether a disputed work derives from the same 'hand' as an undisputed one. Contrary to myth, fingerprint examiners do not base their attributions on scientific measurements. Rather they are subjective visual assessments of whether or not the features in the prints appear 'consistent.' Like art connoisseurs, fingerprint examiners’ basis for making these judgments is experience: a lot of time spent studying and looking at fingerprints. Most art connoisseurs, however, supplement their experience with extensive training in art history, whereas many fingerprint examiners lack formal training in science."

There was also this story, in the business section, on the importance of properly insuring one's art. It reports that "a typical policy may now provide 150 percent of the insured value, to provide an inflation guard" and the "typical rate for such insurance is about $1.20 per $1,000 in value." It adds that "insurance companies typically request appraisals every one to three years on pieces valued at more than $75,000, but some collectors get appraisals every six months because of the market’s volatility."