Monday, April 30, 2007

More on antiquities leasing

Derek Fincham is a fan of the idea, mentioned last week here:

"It is a pragmatic solution, and one that has as good a chance as any at pleasing the disparate interest groups that shape cultural policy. A couple potential drawbacks are the risk of transportation, problems insuring against theft, and upsetting those who feel antiquities belong in their source nation. It's an exciting idea though, and one that merits further study."

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Barnes News (UPDATED)

In her Friday "Inside Art" column, Carol Vogel reported that the Barnes Foundation has announced its short list of six architects being considered to design its new building in Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Inquirer's Inga Saffron has more, including the following on how the legal posture will affect the architecture:

"As a result of restrictions imposed by the court after a protracted legal battle, the foundation is obliged to replicate the exact arrangement of its existing galleries within the envelope of the new, larger museum. It also must hang the art collection assembled by founder Albert Barnes in the precise way he arranged it on the walls of his former Merion home. Some maintain the Barnes will even have to re-create its burlap wallpaper. Depending on how the court order is interpreted, the Barnes' new galleries could end up feeling a bit like frozen-in-time period rooms within the new museum shell."

UPDATE: Art historian Michael Lewis has some thoughts:

"According to the court decision, the new building must replicate exactly the layout, proportion, and materials of the original galleries, as well as Barnes’s famously eccentric hanging scheme. There is little scope for invention, other than in the way this simulacrum is to be enclosed. I spoke with Andrew Blanda, of the Philadelphia firm Sandvold/Blanda, who was interviewed for the Inquirer article. His prediction: 'I’m betting that the effect will be like a chunky jello salad: blocks of galleries encased in a glassy shell of nebulous public space.'"

Friday, April 27, 2007

Victory for Christie's

The Delaware Supreme Court has upheld the dismissal, on statute of limitations grounds, of a lawsuit brought by a couple who purchased a painting from Christie's in 1986 that they later learned was inauthentic. The AP story is here. The decision is here, though all it does is adopt the reasoning of the lower court decisions, here and here. That court had held that the cause of action accrued when they purchased the painting in 1986, and therefore Delaware's three-year statute of limitations expired in 1989 (though by contract Christie's extended the warranty period to six years). And it noted:

"A prudent purchaser of valuable art can readily safeguard his investment by verifying its authenticity with an independent third-party appraisal. Such prudence is especially advisable when art is purchased at auction. The sale price at auction inherently reflects a greater risk of authenticity than if the buyer purchased the work directly from the artist or from a gallery representing an artist. Truly, had they exercised reasonable due diligence, the [plaintiffs] could have discovered that the painting might not be a genuine work ... well within the limitations period and certainly within the six-year warranty period. They failed to do so and now ask Christie's to produce evidence and refresh its memory as to the sale of the painting that took place over 18 years ago. This is precisely the type of case which the statute of limitations ... seeks to prevent."

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Fifth Time a Charm?

In The Art Newspaper, Jason Edward Kaufman reports:

"For the fifth consecutive session of the US Congress, a bill has been introduced that would allow artists to deduct the fair market value of works of their own creation from their taxes, if they donate them to museums and libraries. Existing provisions enable collectors to deduct the value of donated art, but artists can deduct only the cost of supplies such as canvas and paint."

As the article notes, artists used to be able to deduct from their taxable income the full fair market value of contributed works. Since 1969, however, the deduction has been limited to the artist's "basis" in the work -- essentially, the cost of her materials.

Kaufman adds:

"The Senate has approved the bill five times since it was first introduced in 1999, but the House of Representatives never sanctioned the measure. The art museum association hopes to attach the bill to tax legislation before this session of Congress closes at the end of 2008."

You can read, and track, the bill, the Artist-Museum Partnership Act, here. A statement from Senator Leahy, co-sponsor of the bill, is here.

Antiquities Leasing?

Tyler Cowen points to a paper by Harvard economics professor Michael Kremer that makes the following argument:

"Most countries prohibit the export of certain antiquities. This practice often leads to illegal excavation and looting for the black market, which damages the items and destroys important aspects of the archaeological record. We argue that long-term leases of antiquities would raise revenue for the country of origin while preserving its long-term ownership rights. By putting the object into the hands of the highest value consumer in each period, allowing leases would generate incentives for protection of objects."

Tyler thinks it's worth a shot, but doesn't think it would make much of a difference:

"Collectors, being irrational creatures and 'completists,' wish to own rather than lease, even if the lease extends past their expected lifetimes. Museum donors wish to fund museum acquisitions more than museum borrowings. Similarly, it is much easier for a non-profit to raise money for buying a building than leasing one long-term. So the demand for leased antiquities won't be all that huge."

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Austin Theft

From the UPI:

"A Texas art museum executive and his wife face accusations that they attempted to snatch paintings from an art festival.

"Police in Austin, Texas, arrested Nathan Sheppard, 37, and his wife Alexandra, 33, Sunday. Nathan Sheppard, the Austin Museum of Art finance and operations director, was charged with burglary and evading arrest, while his wife was named in a burglary count, the Austin American-Statesman reported Wednesday.

"Alexandra Sheppard was allegedly spotted by police Cmdr. Michael Jung walking among the tents of the Austin Fine Arts Festival in Republic Square Park early Sunday. S he told the officer she was looking for her car and then allegedly said something in a foreign language that included the word 'policia,' the newspaper said.

"The officer then saw that a zipper to one of the tents had been opened and allegedly noticed Nathan Sheppard inside holding two paintings. Sheppard allegedly dropped the paintings and ran. He was arrested a short distance away."

Sheppard has since resigned from the museum. David Nishimura hopes "his misdeeds were limited to his off-work time."

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

"This is an art school. For them to censor art ... is unacceptable." (UPDATED)

So says Lori Marcus, the lawyer for Joshua Stulman, the former Penn State graduate student whose art exhibit "Portraits of Terror" was canceled last year by the university. He's now filed a lawsuit against the school (as well as Director of the School of Visual Arts Charles Garoian, art professor Robert Yarber, and President Graham Spanier). The Penn State Daily Collegian summarizes:

"In April 2006, Garoian canceled a scheduled showing of Stulman's 10-piece exhibit, which was sponsored by Penn State Hillel and featured images of conflict in Palestinian territories. According to the lawsuit, Garoian said the exhibit violated Penn State's Policy AD42: Statement on Nondiscrimination and Harassment, and did not promote 'cultural diversity' or 'opportunities for democratic dialogue.'"

According to the article, the suit seeks an order requiring that Penn State now host the canceled exhibit and pay all costs of shipping, and also seeks money damages against Garoian for defamation (he apparently said the exhibit was nothing more than a "billboard for Hillel's political agenda," and that Stulman himself was simply a "megaphone").

Lawprof David Bernstein was all over this when it was happening last year.

UPDATE: Via Eugene Volokh, here's the complaint in the lawsuit.

Scream Sentence

From this morning's New York Times:

"Sentences from five and a half to nine and a half years were imposed yesterday by an appeals court in Oslo on the gunman, the mastermind and the getaway driver in the theft of the Edvard Munch masterpieces 'The Scream' and 'Madonna,' The Associated Press reported. ... They were also ordered to pay a total of $263,000 in compensation to the city of Oslo, owner of the paintings, which were stolen in a daring daylight robbery at the Munch Museum in 2004. The paintings were recovered in August, but both were damaged."

Sunday, April 22, 2007


The New York Times reports:

"Workers for Transport of London, the government body responsible for the city’s transport systems, have painted over a mural by Banksy, the celebrated graffiti artist, BBC News reported yesterday. The work, right, near the Old Street underground station, was taken from the film 'Pulp Fiction' but showed the actors Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta clutching bananas rather than guns. It was one of Banksy’s best-known efforts, estimated by some to be worth [$600,000]. .... In March most of a Banksy mural in East London was stolen, and an early work was mistakenly painted over in the city of Bristol by graffiti-removal contractors. In February two smaller works in London were also painted over."

A spokesman for the agency says their "graffiti-removal teams are staffed by professional cleaners, not professional art critics." (Norm Geras wonders if that's a slur on the staff.)

You can see an image of the work with the BBC story here. Previous mentions of Banksy here and here.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Graffiti Charge

This morning's New York Times has a story on graffiti artist Alain Maridueña, who has been charged by city prosecutors with "14 criminal counts, including trespass, criminal mischief, and making graffiti. If convicted, he could potentially face decades in prison and huge financial penalties." The New York Press blog discussed this last month.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Chihulys Found

The Dale Chihuly sculptures stolen from an exhibit at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden last week have been found in a vacant lot less than a mile away. Story here. The original report was that "seven to 12" works were stolen, but now they're saying it was (exactly) eight and all of them have been recovered -- though unfortunately not in great shape.


In today's Nashville Tennessean, Jonathan Marx reports that the State Attorney General Bob Cooper has petitioned the Court for permission to intervene in the lawsuit between Fisk University and the O’Keeffe Museum. The motion argues that he has an interest in the case "because it involves the administration and/or disposition of a charitable trust, or in the alternative, a charitable gift." Elizabeth Ulrich has more at the Nashville Scene's blog:

"Now that Cooper's given the university another chance to get it right, he doesn't seem sure that Fisk will. ... According to the motion, Cooper wants to make sure that the university explores 'all possible strategies to preserve the collection in its entirety at Fisk.' If that's not possible, he's going to try to make sure that 'Radiator' never hits the auction block. He says the painting 'is clearly the signature piece and heart of the Stieglitz Collection.' He'd rather see Hartley's 'Painting No. 3' or another piece of the collection go."

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Cohen Speaks

Also from the Apr. 17 ARTnewsletter, and also not online, an interesting quote from Saul Cohen, president of the O'Keeffe Museum, that I don't think I've seen anywhere else, in reaction to the Tennessee Attorney General's cancellation of the Fisk University settlement on the grounds that the $7 million price the university and the museum agreed to was too low:

"We knew that an auction house could do better, and we knew that Fisk had received offers for more. But, the fact is, if Fisk breached the condition of the bequest Georgia O'Keeffe made, it was obligated to just give the work to the museum, which would have been much worse for them than selling it for $7 million. The $7 million would help Fisk to carry on, and it would give the painting to a museum, where it likely belongs."

I made a similar point here.

$40 million elbow?

It's not online, so no link, but the Apr. 17 ARTnewsletter reports that, according to a "source familiar with the case," Steve Wynn's lawsuit against Lloyd's of London over his elbow-damaged Picasso "settled for approximately $40 million." He reportedly had been seeking $54 million, so not bad.

Fernwood Suit

In the Maine Antique Digest, Daniel Grant reports that "a group of investors in Fernwood Art Investments, a multimillion-dollar art hedge fund founded in 2004, [has] filed a lawsuit .... against the company’s founder, chairman, and CEO Bruce Taub. The suit claims embezzlement of $8 million."

Taub was also sued for $1 million last year by Roy Disney's Shamrock Holdings Inc.

Grant says that "[j]ust two years ago, art investment hedge funds seemed to be an idea whose time had come. ... Between a dozen and 20 art investment funds around the world have either come into existence within the past two years or were in the process of being launched." But "[o]nly the London-based Fine Art Fund remains as a working art investment program." NYU economist Michael Moses is quoted as saying, "I think what we may be seeing is not less interest in diversifying one’s portfolio to include art but, rather, that individuals who decide to invest in art want to do it on their own. They don’t need a manager for their art investments, and that causes an art fund to have a lot of headwinds to sail into." There is also this.

Monday, April 16, 2007

You Conduit Too

In a follow-up post on the issue of internationally-targeted charitable donations, Lee Rosenbaum writes:

"There's one thing, though, that puzzles me in Zaretsky's pro-'friends' group analysis. He advises us:

"U.S.-based nonprofits may (1) engage directly in charitable activities overseas and (2) re-donate funds they receive to foreign charities (in the latter case, as long as the intermediate U.S. charity is not deemed to be a 'mere conduit').

Isn't 'mere conduit' a perfect description of these 'friends' groups, whose raison d'être is to funnel tax deductible U.S. donations to foreign institutions?"

She has every right to be puzzled; on first glance (and maybe second) "friends of" organizations do seem to violate the "conduit" restrictions. Nevertheless, the IRS has for years relied on a "control and discretion" theory to allow donations to such groups to qualify for the charitable deduction. So long as the "friends of" organization maintains sufficient control and discretion over the use of funds donated to it, the deduction remains intact. But there's no denying that the "friends of" groups push the water's edge policy almost to the breaking point. The key IRS rulings are Revenue Rulings 63-252 and 66-79.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Against Original Location Fundamentalism

The Cranky Professor pushes back (crankily) against those making a fuss over Thomas Jefferson University's Eakins sales:

"Why shouldn't it be alright to say something like 'We're a medical school, not an art museum. If we can get $100 million dollars to plow into medical education that's more important than the pious preservation in one room of three portraits of mid-19th century professors.' ... I want doctors who were trained with all the latest toys. I want a cure for cancer. Keep the art in museums. . . .

"Should the collection or any individual painting stay in Philadelphia? Why on earth - unless they raise the money for them. They did raise enough between two institutions and a public outcry to keep one of the three. Should the Elgin Marbles go back to the Acropolis? What is the painting about? The history of art? The history of medicine? Philadelphia in the mid-19th Century? Unless you're going to be an Original Location fundamentalist there's really very little justification not to move art from place to place on the basis of price."

Back On

A lot of people were disappointed last month when the news broke that Stanford Professor Carol Shloss had settled her lawsuit against the Joyce Estate. This may make it up to them: "Having obtained what she sought in her complaint (the right to publish her Electronic Supplement on the internet) and more (the right to publish it in print, too), Professor Carol Shloss has asked the Court to order the Estate to pay her attorneys' fees based on the unsubstantiated positions the Estate took for years, only to back down once finally challenged." The motion for attorneys' fees is here.

At Ars Technica, Nate Anderson says: "Essentially, this boils down to 'bullies need to be taught a lesson.'"

Chihuly Theft

The Bradenton Herald reports that "seven to 12" Dale Chihuly sculptures were stolen from an exhibition at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Florida last week. (Not sure why the uncertainty about the number of works.) It apparently was a second try -- an earlier attempt in December ended with the works recovered "thanks to an anonymous tipster." The sculptures were supposedly protected by a ''sophisticated surveillance system that includes cameras and 24-hour guards." Fairchild's chief operating officer says the works are worth "tens of thousands of dollars each, at least."

According to the Herald, these were not the first reported thefts of Chihuly's work. In 2004 a work entitled ''Moccasin Brown Desert Basket Set with Turquoise Blue Lip Wrap'' was stolen from a gallery in Oregon, and in 2003 a man walked out of a Seattle hotel with a $40,000 glass bowl. And there are "at least 25" Chihuly works listed in the Art Loss Register's stolen art database.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Wading In (UPDATED)

Lee Rosenbaum invites me to join the conversation she's been having with Tyler Green about the tax treatment of charitable donations to foreign museums. Should international and domestic donations be treated the same for tax purposes? Lee says no; Tyler takes the universalist view and says yes. (Ed Winkleman sides with Tyler.)

I think it's a complicated question, and it depends on what you think the purpose of the charitable deduction is in the first place. First, the basic structure of the law. Our tax system does in fact privilege domestic over foreign giving, at least to some extent. Since the 1930's, we've had what some call a "water's edge policy": for a charitable contribution to be deductible under section 170 of the Internal Revenue Code, the donee must be "created or organized in the United States or in any possession thereof, or under the law of the United States, any State, the District of Columbia, or any possession of the United States." (That's for income tax purposes; gift and estate tax deductions are not subject to the same limitation.) On the other hand, as the discussion between Lee and Tyler suggests, there's plenty of international philanthropy taking place, and that's because U.S.-based nonprofits may (1) engage directly in charitable activities overseas and (2) re-donate funds they receive to foreign charities (in the latter case, as long as the intermediate U.S. charity is not deemed to be a "mere conduit"). So our current tax policy does not preclude deductibility for internationally-targeted donations, but does make them a little trickier (e.g., the foreign charity has to set up, and properly maintain, a "friends of" organization to receive the donations).

Is that the right policy? Should foreign and domestic charitable donations be treated the same? I guess, to the extent you see the deduction simply as a way of encouraging people to do good things, then, yeah, there doesn't seem to be any strong reason to distinguish between doing good things here and doing good things overseas. If we're going to encourage people to support art, what's the difference between supporting art in Philadelphia and supporting art at the Hermitage? As Tyler says, it's all part of our "common cultural history."

That's certainly one way to look at the question (and, as Lee concedes, probably how most people see it). An alternative approach would be to view the charitable deduction as a kind of "substitute" for direct expenditures the government would otherwise have to make. As the legislative history of the Revenue Act of 1938 (which enacted the "water's edge" policy) put it, "the [deduction] is based upon the theory that the Government is compensated for the loss of revenue by its relief from the financial burden which would otherwise have to be met by appropriations from public funds, and by the benefits resulting from the promotion of the general welfare." To the extent you buy this rationale for the deduction (and I'm not sure I do), distinguishing between domestic and foreign donations starts to look less strange: the less money the Philadelphia Museum receives through private donations, the more the government is going to have to give to it. But the same is not true of the Hermitage or the Mauritshuis. I don't think anyone would argue that private donations to those institutions are a substitute for funding the U.S. government would otherwise feel compelled to provide.

So if one wanted to construct a defense of Lee's position, I think that's generally what it would look like. As I say above, I'm not sure how convincing it is, though. Notwithstanding that legislative history, I don't think the best way to think about the deduction is as a substitute for spending the government would otherwise be making. (To take one example, how then to explain the deductibility of gifts to religious organizations, which clearly do not provide services the government would otherwise be providing?) I think that, over time, the deduction really has come to be seen as a way of encouraging people to "do good," and it's hard to see how helping victims of the 2004 tsunami, or helping preserve the Hermitage's Matisses, doesn't qualify as doing good.

UPDATE: JL at Modern Kicks weighs in here.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Shake Suit

The Maine Antique Digest reports on a lawsuit recently filed by New York dealer Will Ameringer against a Florida dealer named Arij Gasiunasen. Ameringer claims that, at an art fair in February, he and Gasiunasen "shook hands" on the sale of a Helen Frankenthaler painting for $500,000, but Gasiunasen then backed out of the deal and refused to pay.

The obvious issue that arises is the statute of frauds, which requires that any contract for the sale of goods in excess of $500 must be in writing. See N.Y. U.C.C. § 2-102 (applicability to "transactions in goods"); § 2-201 (contract for $500 or more is unenforceable "unless there is some writing sufficient to indicate that a contract for sale has been made between the parties and signed by the party [charged]").

Deaccessioning Doubleheader

Richard Lacayo is a one-man deaccessioning beat today. Over at his blog, he looks at Thomas Jefferson University's latest Eakins sale, pointing out that "though the American Association of Museums has guidelines that discourage deaccessioning for the purpose of funneling money into a school's general revenues, as Jefferson is doing with the millions from its Eakins sales, Jefferson does not actually have a campus museum, at least not in the way that, say, Yale, Harvard or Fisk all do. Much of its collection consists of portraits of distinguished faculty hung in various hallways. (In 1982, the school's three canvases by Eakins were moved to their own gallery, however, along a with a few other pieces.)"

And in the issue of Time magazine that hits newstands tomorrow, he has a really interesting piece entitled "The Impermanent Collection" which covers all the recent deaccessioning controversies.

"Fisk Follies"

Elizabeth Ulrich has a piece in the Nashville Scene on the latest twist in the Fisk-O'Keeffe lawsuit. She has more on the baffling lack of due diligence on the part of the university before it entered into the now-cancelled settlement:

"[Fisk spokesman Ken] West wouldn’t comment on whether Fisk’s financial problems could’ve driven school officials to rush into the settlement before determining the true worth of 'Radiator Building' … [I]t’s no surprise that university officials might not have known what 'Radiator Building' would’ve actually sold for, but there’s no indication that they made any effort to figure it out. West says he isn’t sure if Fisk consulted any outside art experts about the $7 million offer. West also wouldn’t comment on what Fisk did, outside of consulting Christie’s [two-year old $8.5 million] estimate, to weigh the museum’s offer ...."

She also offers this assessment of the underlying lawsuit:

"With the case returning to court now, it seems Fisk’s chances to prevail over the O’Keeffe Museum are not so good. Fisk’s main argument in court has been that 'Radiator Building' is a personal O’Keeffe painting—not part of the Stieglitz Collection—and not subject to the no-sale condition. But the director of the university’s galleries from 1992 to ’99, Kevin Grogan, has testified that 'Radiator Building' is indeed part of the main collection. ... Fisk hasn’t got money to blow on litigation. [Fisk attorney Mike] Norton says the settlement was appealing because Fisk knew it could burn a lot of time and money in court and still get stuck not being able to sell any paintings. 'When you’re in court, even if your chances of winning are three in four, would you take $10 today instead of $20 or $30 three years from now?' he says."

This is a point that I think is overlooked by those cheering the cancellation of the deal. You can't evaluate the adequacy of the price to be paid by the museum without also considering the strength of its legal claim. Let's say there was no doubt the no-sale condition applied and the university therefore had no right to sell the paintings. And let's say that, under those circumstances, the university approached the museum and asked it to consider waiving the no-sale condition, as a way of helping it solve its overall financial difficulties. In that scenario, it wouldn't seem crazy to me for the museum to ask for the O'Keeffe painting for free, in exchange for waiving the no-sale condition on the Hartley, thereby allowing the university to raise $8 or 10 or 15 million (Christie's appraised it at $8.5 million in 2005) that, because of the no-sale condition, it would not otherwise been able to raise. Now, once you relax the assumption that there is no doubt about the no-sale condition, the picture changes a little, but that may be why the museum was also throwing $7 million into the pot. If Ulrich is right about Fisk's chances of winning the lawsuit, supporters of the university may come to regret the decision to leave twenty million on the table just because it wasn't forty.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


Alice Walton's Crystal Bridges Museum has bought one of the two additional Eakins paintings Thomas Jefferson University recently put up for sale. Carol Vogel has the story in The New York Times here. Sources tell her the price was "about $2o million." There was no matching period this time, though, according to the president of the university, local institutions were "aware that this painting was available." Vogel notes that this "is not the end to Thomas Jefferson University’s Eakins saga. It still owns an Eakins portrait of the anatomy professor William S. Forbes. 'We will entertain the possibility of selling this one too,' [university president Robert] Barchi said. 'But like the others, it is our hope to be able to keep it on public display.'"

Thursday, April 05, 2007

No Deal (UPDATED 2X)

The Tennesse Attorney General has called off the proposed deal between Fisk University and the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum. The AP report is here. Here's the basic background. Short on cash, Fisk announced it was going to sell a couple of paintings from its Stieglitz Collection, including an O'Keeffe painting called “Radiator Building – Night, New York.” The O'Keeffe Museum challenged the sale on the grounds that it was a condition of the original gift that the collection not be broken up. The case was heading towards a trial when a settlement was announced in February: the museum would drop its objections to the sale of the two paintings, in return for which it would get to be the buyer of "Radiator Building" for a bargain price of $7 million. But the deal was put on hold for 30 days in order to give the university a chance to come up with an alternative plan for solving its financial problems that didn't involve losing the paintings. No such plan emerged, but Fisk did report to the Attorney General that it had received "one or more offers at or in excess of $20 million" for the painting. This apparently convinced the Attorney General that the $7 million price was too much of a bargain -- in effect, that Fisk was "paying" too much to settle the lawsuit -- and he withdrew his approval. This does not mean, as the headline of this piece mistakenly suggests, that Fisk has won "backing to ... sell O'Keeffe painting for top dollar." All it means is the case goes back to court, where, if the museum prevails, the university won't have the right to sell the paintings at all, thereby missing out on $7 million plus however many millions the other painting would have brought 0n the open market.

You can read the Attorney General's letter here. Lee Rosenbaum reports that the Chancery Court has set a trial date for July 18. Richard Lacayo floats some alternative settlement ideas. No word yet from the museum about their next move. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: The New York Times has a good summary this morning.

UPDATE 2: Jonathan Marx has a piece in today's Nashville Tennessean headlined "Fisk can get better deal, art pros say." Well, yes, of course it could get more for the painting than the museum was going to pay under the now-scuttled settlement -- but that's the whole point of a settlement. Each side gives something up. Marx writes that "several experts have suggested that if the museum truly wants the painting, it should be ready to pay what it's worth" -- but to say that is to say that the museum should get nothing in exchange for dropping its claim. The Attorney General's position seems to amount to saying it was fine for the museum to get the painting at a discount, just not too large a discount. But then why didn't they get an up to date appraisal before signing off on the deal initially? It was obvious to lots of people at the time that the two-year old appraisal that was used was badly outdated. It was no secret when this deal was reached that the O'Keeffe was a $20 million painting.

One other odd thing about the reaction to this latest news. If the work ends up selling on the open market, there's a chance it will end up going not to the O'Keeffe Museum but to, say, Bentonville, Arkansas or, even worse, "over the commode of some Russian kleptocrat." Is that really what people want?

Ritts Gift

Geoff Edgers reports that the Herb Ritts Foundation is giving Boston's Museum of Fine Arts $2.5 million, and in return the museum is going to name a gallery after Ritts. The foundation is also giving the museum 189 Ritts photographs, making it the single largest holder of his work.


A 22-year old man with a history of mental illness put his foot through a $300,000 Old Master painting yesterday at the Milwaukee Art Museum because the image, of Goliath's severed head, "disturbed" him. The 1640 painting, "The Triumph of David" by Ottavio Vannini, was on loan to the museum from the Haukohl Family Collection. The director of the museum says its insurance company has been contacted and the painting will be examined by conservators to determine the best course of action. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has more here.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Too Late (UPDATED)

The New York Times reports this morning (second item, right below the bit about Keith Richard snorting his dad):

"The Detroit Institute of Arts has won the legal right to retain a disputed van Gogh painting after a federal district court judge ruled that a family asserting ownership had waited too long to file its claim .... A parallel case involving a Gauguin painting, brought by the same family against the Toledo Museum of Art, was dismissed by an Ohio judge in December. In the Detroit case, Martha Nathan, a member of a Jewish banking family that emigrated from Germany to France in 1938 to escape Nazi persecution, sold the van Gogh, 'Les Bêcheurs' ('The Diggers') to a consortium of three dealers in Paris in 1938 for $9,360. One of the dealers sold it in 1941 for $34,000 to Robert Tannahill, a Detroit art collector who bequeathed it to the Detroit Institute of Arts in 1969. The Nathan family asserted its claim to the painting in 2004, but United States District Court Judge Denise Page Hood, citing the expiration of Michigan’s statute of limitations, dismissed the case."

More from the Detroit Free Press here. You can see the painting here. I posted on the Ohio decision here.

UPDATE: The Michigan decision is available here, courtesy of Terry Martin.

The Residue of Design

Lee Rosenbaum notes that "sometimes deaccessioners get lucky: A work that belongs in the public domain stays in the public domain." She's talking about one the works just sold by the Albright-Knox Gallery -- an Indian sculpture of the Hindu god Shiva, which went for a little over $4 million to, it turns out, the Cleveland Museum. As Lee notes, it will now join that museum's "superlative Asian art collection, a mere 200 miles away from the sculpture's previous home." Lindsay Pollock reports for Bloomberg here. Steven Litt has a story in today's Cleveland Plain Dealer here.

Of course, on some proposals for how to deal with the deaccessioning issue, this wouldn't be a matter of luck at all.

Curiouser still! (UPDATED)

Geoff Edgers has the latest twist in the "Matter Pollocks" saga in today's Boston Globe. Alex Matter is denying a report in yesterday's New York Times that he sold some of the paintings to dealer Ronald Feldman; he says he's only promised to reimburse Feldman "for about $200,000 in expenses for insurance, conservation, and other costs" if the works ever sell.

Edgers also discusses the conflict over the report Matter commissioned from James Martin, a forensic scientist based in Williamstown. Matter has reportedly refused to authorize Martin to release the report on the grounds that it is incomplete. Martin, for his part, refuses to meet with Matter and his lawyer to discuss the report unless they first agree not to sue him. I assume the agreement by which Martin was engaged to do the study defines the conditions under which it may be released, and that Matter therefore may have the legal right to prevent its release, but it seems to me he and his team have a bigger problem to deal with. Clearly Martin wants to release the report, and clearly the Pollock-Krasner Foundation wants him to release the report (its lawyer is quoted as saying "The foundation does not believe the report is incomplete"). By appearing to be the only party who doesn't want it released, Matter creates an impression that the report is really damaging to his cause. He almost has to allow it to be released now, and figure out a way to diminish its impact.

Edgers also reports that the Pollock-Krasner Foundation plans to issue its own report on the paintings this summer, which I hadn't heard before.

UPDATE: Now Matter has retracted his denial. He tells Edgers that Feldman does own some of the works, either outright or partially. "How many pictures? How much of a stake? Matter says he doesn't know. The deal is verbal, with no contract." Frankly I think it's a mistake for Matter to continue to be evasive about this. It hurts his credibility, and needlessly -- did anyone really think there was no financial motive here?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Munch Appeals

An appellate court ruling was announced late last week in the criminal case involving the 2004 theft from Oslo's Munch Museum. It's a little confusing (apparently in Norway you get a jury at the appellate court level), but MSNBC breaks it down:

"In May, the Oslo district court convicted three men of helping the armed robbers, and sentenced them to prison terms of between four and eight years. Three others were acquitted. After about eight hours of deliberation, a 10-member jury in the Borgarting appeals court upheld the conviction of [two men] for grand theft. It also convicted [a third man] of the same charge, reversing his acquittal in the Oslo district court last year. The jury upheld the acquittals of two other men, and acquitted a third who had been sentenced to four years in prison by the lower court."

David Nishamura says: "The sentences don't seem very long, but I think I'll still stick to legitimate employment."

I guess it's curiouser and curiouser

In today's New York Times, Randy Kennedy reports that Alex Matter has sold some of his disputed Pollocks to dealer Ronald Feldman. According to the story, Feldman bought some of the works outright and shares ownership of others with Matter. It isn't clear from the story exactly when the sales took place, only that it was sometime before January 2006. Lee Rosenbaum pronounces the story "curiouser and curiouser." Richard Lacayo, on the other hand, says it's "curiouser and curiouser."

Lacayo also says the "important implication [is] that there is now real financial incentive, at least for some people, to legitimize the Matter discoveries as Pollocks" and wonders whether the news "means that [Feldman] knows something we don't, or merely that the art market has become even more irrational than usual." On the latter point, the sale may or may not have been so irrational, depending on the price. The works are said to be worth $40 million or more if authentic. Would it be irrational to pay, say, 10 cents on the dollar on the chance the works are ultimately accepted as genuine Pollocks? Would it have been irrational to do so before the results of the recent Harvard study cast doubt on them?