Thursday, January 31, 2008
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
"A federal investigation into looted Asian antiquities at Southland museums has broadened to include a prominent Chicago industrialist and art collector who purchased hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of allegedly stolen artifacts from a Cerritos arts dealer. On Thursday, the same day federal agents raided four Southern California museums suspected of displaying stolen art, authorities also searched the private museum of Barry MacLean, a trustee of the prestigious Art Institute of Chicago. The newly revealed allegations have significantly raised the stakes of the ongoing investigation, suggesting that a suspected network of illegal art dealers extended far beyond Southern California and included objects far more valuable than those previously revealed."
UPDATE: More from Richard Lacayo and Lee Rosenbaum, who says the story "keeps getting worse."
David Nishimura makes an interesting point: "eBay has become thieves' best friend and their worst enemy -- not due to any initiative on eBay's part, but rather because how it empowers investigators, official and unofficial."
Monday, January 28, 2008
"RFR Realty LLC, controlled by developer and art collector Aby Rosen, has asked [the Salander] bankruptcy judge to give it possession of the 1922 neo-Italian Renaissance mansion that Salander-O'Reilly leases. In court papers, RFR said the gallery's late rent payments triggered the landlord's option to terminate the lease. RFR also seeks immediate payment of $795,698 in rent that it says has accrued since Salander- O'Reilly filed for bankruptcy protection in November. Joseph Sarachek, the chief restructuring officer that Salander-O'Reilly hired in November, said the gallery will contest the motion."
Sunday, January 27, 2008
Saturday, January 26, 2008
"The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, has turned to the courts to validate its claim to a 1913 Oskar Kokoschka painting sought by Claudia Seger-Thomschitz, an Austrian woman who says it was sold under duress during the Nazi occupation of Austria .... Lawyers for Ms. Seger-Thomschitz contend that there is no doubt that the Kokoschka painting, 'Two Nudes (Lovers),' was sold under duress by Oskar Reichel, a physician who ran an art gallery in Vienna. The Museum of Fine Arts, citing months of research, maintained that the sale in 1939 was voluntary and to another Jew, the Viennese art dealer Otto Kallir."
JL from Modern Kicks comments: "Obviously one wants to know more before deciding definitively, but forced sales are often a tricky thing to determine, and they are not the same as sales stemming from a tragic situation. One might say that the owner was forced by circumstances to do something, but to consider that to rise to the level of what typically has been understood as a forced sale would expand the range of potential claims in a way that I don't believe has previously been accepted or, in my view, should be accepted. That doesn't mean it's a happy situation, but at some point there are limits."
Well, today's New York Times has a story headlined "Museum Workers are Called Complicit," which says: "Affidavits related to search warrants executed at four Southern California museums on Thursday say that staff members at two of the four museums worked closely with the main targets of the investigation, visiting a storage locker maintained by a smuggler of stolen antiquities and meeting with the sellers of stolen goods — even while acknowledging that the artifacts headed for the museums might be tainted."
Friday, January 25, 2008
Lee Rosenbaum cautions that "the degree of intentional complicity by museums in this mess is not yet known."
It's indeed early, but Derek Fincham starts drawing some lessons:
"First, the alleged objects were of limited value. These aren't comparable to the Euphronios Krater for example. They are smaller objects, but were bought and sold in greater quantities. ...
"Second, I think this is compelling evidence of a systemic problem with the antiquities trade. ... The lack of provenance, and the ease with which smugglers can elude customs agents makes policing the trade difficult. However, it would seem now that those who would buy and sell objects can no longer afford to cut corners, and must now conduct far more detailed investigations into how objects came to market.
"Finally, I think this investigation reminds us that Roman and Greek objects are not the only classes of antiquities that are smuggled, despite the attention the recent returns from US institutions have indicated. Clearly, the question now is how many indictments or convictions will ensue, and how will the individual art institutions and the relevant industry codes of practice evolve to prevent this kind of criminal activity in the future."
Richard Lacayo discussed the story at his blog today, and also has a piece in the current issue of TIME magazine's international edition on "the exceptionally large arts-related base of the New York City economy," which is well worth reading in its entirety.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
"Federal agents carried out coordinated raids on four Southern California museums and a Los Angeles art gallery early today, the first public move in a five-year investigation of an alleged smuggling pipeline that authorities say funneled looted Southeast Asian and Native American artifacts into local museums. Shortly after 7:30 a.m., search warrants were served on the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Pasadena's Pacific Asia Museum, the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana and the Mingei International Museum in San Diego. The warrants gave agents broad authority to search the museums' galleries, offices, storage areas and computer archives for objects and records related to the primary targets of the investigation: an alleged art smuggler, Robert Olson, and the owner of a Los Angeles Asian art gallery, Jonathan Markell. Markell's Silk Roads Gallery on La Brea Avenue was also raided."
Derek Fincham of the Illicit Cultural Property Blog says "this could be the first major antiquities prosecution in the United States since the conviction of antiquities dealer Fred Schultz. It goes without saying though that this kind of massive investigation is unprecedented."
JL at Modern Kicks has a one word reaction: "Wow."
Richard Lacayo sees this as the "money quote": "The alleged crimes described in the warrants continued amid and after the Getty scandal became public, suggesting some American museums have not changed collecting habits known to be illegal or at least questionable. The new allegations could also carry much more serious consequences for those implicated because they are being investigated by U.S. authorities on American soil."
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
You can see Frank here.
"'You can do it within your own borders if your own laws permit you to do it,' Patry said of copyrighting property thousands of years old. 'But it's pretty unlikely that it's going to be enforced in other countries. Copyright is a pretty territorial thing.'"
I had a similar reaction here ("the real issue is going to be enforcement: it's hard to imagine other countries (including the US) enforcing the law for acts that occur outside of Egypt").
Monday, January 21, 2008
"[S]tate authorities have filed a court request calling for the museum to be shut down because it has been operating over the past 40 years without formal permission from the city, police and fire services. 'There is an imminent risk to the life and health of museum visitors, as well as to the priceless historic and cultural heritage that the institution's collection represents,' a state official in charge of health and safety ... said.
"...Earlier this month police recovered Portrait of Suzanne Bloch by Pablo Picasso and The Coffee Worker by Brazil's Candido Portinari, which were stolen in a brazen robbery just before Christmas. Both works are back on display, but the robbery revealed the lack of security at the museum as well as the lack of insurance. An inspection of the building by city officials, a consequence of the robbery, showed the fire system was not operating, extinguishers were missing and exits were not clearly marked.
"... [O]n Dec. 20, a gang of thieves, using only a car jack and a crowbar, broke into the building and stole the two paintings, reportedly worth more than $50 million US in total. The building has no alarm and was relying on unarmed guards who patrol inside 24 hours a day."
Norm Geras wonders: "Could [Nabokov] have spared his son this problem by destroying the work himself before he died? For how long, if for any time at all, did he know he was dying? If he could have destroyed it himself and didn't, does that tell us anything about how resolutely set he was on having it destroyed?"
"The company’s main selling point is the licensing of high-quality images from professional photographers around the world"
"Getty Images, the world’s biggest supplier of pictures and video to media and advertising companies, has put itself on the auction block and could fetch more than $1.5 billion …. Final bids are due by the end of the month …. Getty, founded in 1995 …, has grown through a series of acquisitions into a go-to source for visual media ...."
Saturday, January 19, 2008
Friday, January 18, 2008
Boroff adds that lawyers involved in the case say "selling art in the homes or gallery to pay creditors isn't imminent. The bankruptcy court has yet to sort out who owns what among the collectors, artists, heirs and museums that have sued Salander and his gallery to recover money and art they claim they're owed."
Thursday, January 17, 2008
"As part of an effort to expand access to its photograph collections and tap the collective knowledge of user-generated content, the Library of Congress Wednesday launched a pilot project with photo-sharing site Flickr to publish some 3,000 photos. The library's new Flickr page includes collections from the Great Depression and of life in New York City during the early 1900s for which no copyright restrictions are known to exist, said Matt Raymond, the library's director of communications."
The Flickr page is here.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
"The point about the Greenhalgh case ... is that what seems to be a rock solid provenance can distract the expert’s eye from careful assessment"
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
"Police in Brazil have issued an arrest warrant for a television chef who is accused of ordering the theft of the country's most valuable paintings. The works were stolen in a raid on a San Paulo gallery, but were recovered in perfect condition last week. Moises Manoel de Lima Sobrinho is used to appearing in the media - the 25-year-old chef has a cookery show on a local television channel in Brazil. But now his photograph has been circulated by police who suspect him of masterminding the audacious theft of two paintings."
"Salander and his wife owe about $17 million to First Republic Bank, a unit of Merrill Lynch & Co., secured by the 82nd Street town house, according to their bankruptcy filing. In addition, Lawrence Salander personally guaranteed about $40 million of debt that the gallery owes First Republic. The gallery has also filed for bankruptcy protection. Court papers filed by Salander say he owns a 'significant' collection of art that he can sell. But that's in dispute. The chief restructuring officer of the gallery has maintained that 231 artworks in the town house and the Salanders' Millbrook home belong to Salander-O'Reilly and should be stored in its 71st Street town house or in a warehouse for safekeeping. The Salanders countered in a filing that the art is theirs."
UPDATE: More from the New York Times.
Monday, January 14, 2008
For background on the dispute, see here and here.
Saturday, January 12, 2008
"The Norwegian Supreme Court has increased the sentences of two men found guilty of stealing Edvard Munch's 'The Scream' and 'Madonna'' paintings, and ordered a retrial for a third man originally found guilty. The sentences were increased by six and 12 months to six years and 10 1/2 years, respectively."
Why the retrial for the third guy?
"One of the men found guilty ... should be given a retrial, as one of the policemen investigating the crime had agreed to write a book about the Norwegian criminal milieu with one of the prosecution's main witnesses, an informant, the Supreme Court said. The original trial court was not notified of this, and this constituted grounds for a retrial, it was ruled."
Friday, January 11, 2008
Thursday, January 10, 2008
You can read the The Technical Corrections Act of 2007 here.
Wednesday, January 09, 2008
"Russia gave official approval yesterday for a landmark exhibition of paintings to travel to London for display at the Royal Academy. The state culture agency ... announced that four museums had received licences to send the artworks to Britain, ending a row that had threatened to wreck the show. ... The Royal Academy now faces a race against time to open the From Russia exhibition on schedule. The first shipments of artworks originally had been due to arrive in Britain yesterday."
The scheduled opening date has been Jan. 26.
Tuesday, January 08, 2008
"Buying art shifts money from one set of hands to another and it doesn't discourage investment in factories or elsewhere"
On the other hand:
"There is a good argument for the higher tax rate on art, namely that art yields otherwise non-taxable pleasures -- the pleasure of hanging it on your wall -- unlike say holding Chrysler stock. Or you might think taxing art is another way to hike the tax burden on the rich. But the cited argument just doesn't fly."
In somewhat related news, the Art Newspaper reports on a new tax that could affect collectors in the U.K.
UPDATE: More from Derek Fincham, who says "it seems like [the police] are investigating this as a theft-to-order, and are still going after the buyer who ordered the theft."
Monday, January 07, 2008
"Just when digital reproduction makes it possible to create a 'Rembrandt' good enough to fool the eye, the 'real' Rembrandt becomes more expensive than ever. Why? Because the same free flow that makes information cheap and reproducible helps us treasure the sight of information that is not. A story gains power from its attachment, however tenuous, to a physical object. The object gains power from the story."
Sunday, January 06, 2008
"In another matter raised during the [Dec. 21] conference call, Judge Ott noted the Barnes Foundation attorneys have asked for the [opponents] to pay the Foundation's legal fees if it is found The Friends filed a frivolous petition. He left open the issue of whether [their former attorney] Mr. Schwartz could be held partially liable for those fees if the appeal is found to be frivolous."
- The college has apparently moved to dismiss, and a hearing on that motion is scheduled for Feb. 5
- The plaintiffs have until Feb. 15 to post the second half of the $1 million b0nd required to keep the temporary injunction in place.
- If the case is not dismissed (and don't rule dismissal out), the trial is scheduled to begin Apr. 29.
- The next relevant Christie's auction dates are May 21 and 28.
Friday, January 04, 2008
Ed Winkleman comments: "The thieves were not, I'm guessing, connected enough to hawk the work as 'art,' which could have brought them a much greater return for their efforts. ... Strong [the three thieves] must have been ('some of the sculptures weighed up to 800 pounds'), but underworld masterminds, not so much. Had they known either Fisher (or his reputation) or someone within the segments of organized crime who can unload a stolen artwork, they might have managed better than 0.4% of the market value."
Thursday, January 03, 2008
Grant seems to like things where they are:
"Reducing capital-gains taxes on art to the same 15% as real estate and securities makes sense only if one believes that art is just one more and equally important investment realm. 'The government is interested in encouraging people to invest in businesses and the housing market and other areas of risk-taking that stimulate job growth and generate tax revenues, and art doesn't really do that,' said Joseph Cordes, professor of economics, public policy and public administration at George Washington University. ... 'The government isn't trying to encourage or discourage the sale of art; rather, it looks to encourage entrepreneurship.' (On the public-policy side, he added, reducing the capital gains on art sales might have the 'unintended effect' of dissuading certain collectors from donating to museums.)"
Tuesday, January 01, 2008
In the Boston Globe, Cate McQuaid's year-end review led with (1) Mass MoCA's lawsuit against Christoph Büchel ("There's no merit and only embarrassment in showing unfinished contemporary art. ... Too bad the museum hadn't quietly taken it down and moved on months before [it finally did]") and (2) the "Matter Pollocks: "Last month, forensic scientist James Martin added to a growing weight of evidence when he reported his findings that many of the pigments used in the paintings weren't yet available at the time of Pollock's death in 1956, and one work he examined was on a board that was not produced earlier than the late 1970s or early '80s."
Geoff Edgers mentioned both stories in his overview in the Globe as well (including a good six-word summary of the Mass MoCA story: "The museum sued. Art critics railed.").
Also in the Globe, architecture critic Robert Campbell's year-in-review included MIT's lawsuit against Frank Gehry: "[MIT] sued Gehry and the builder over alleged flaws in the construction of the 2004 Stata Center. Insurers and lawyers traded charges, and as usual in such cases, it was impossible to sort out yet who, if anyone, was to blame. Some argued that when MIT demanded an innovative building - which it certainly got - it should have expected the unexpected." The South Florida Sun-Sentinel also listed it among the art stories of the year: "The $300 million Strata Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, much ballyhooed when it opened in 2004, is now (according to the school) oozing mold, sporting cracked lobby floors, spouting leaks and beset with drainage problems. MIT is mad. Gehry, the mind behind the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and the explosive Pritzker bandshell in Chicago's Millennium Park, is incredulous. Tune in to see what the Boston courts figure out."
Daniel Grant looked at the year in museums and touched on a number of the issues we've been following here.
The AP gave a year-end status report on Fisk's attempt to sell off part of its art collection: "Despite two years of trying, Fisk University has not been able to turn any of the valuable art donated by painter Georgia O'Keeffe into cash. Although a legal fight over the latest $30 million proposal to share the 101-piece art collection with an Arkansas museum is scheduled for trial in February, leaders of the struggling historically black university acknowledge that it could be years before any money changes hands."
And last but not least, Time magazine's Richard Lacayo gave his list of the ten most important stories of the year, including The Endless Tug of War Over Antiquities; major deaccessionings (and attempted deaccessionings) at The Albright-Knox Gallery, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Randolph College, and Fisk ("the difficulties [Randolph and Fisk have] encountered on the way to market — lawsuits, bad publicity, objections from the state attorney general in Tennessee — should give pause to other schools thinking of treating their art collections as piggy banks"); The Continuing Saga of the Barnes Foundation; MASS MoCA taking Buchel to court; The Matter "Pollocks" ("by this year it was looking ever less likely that they could possibly be the real thing. In January the Harvard University Art Museums announced that tests on three of the paintings showed that they contained pigments that weren't available commercially until the 1960s and '70s, years after Pollock's death. Then last month, James Martin, a forensic scientist who had studied a different and larger sampling of the paintings, told a forum in New York sponsored by the International Foundation for Art Research that some of the pigments were not available until even later — the 1980s. Could Pollock have obtained the paints many years before they were available on the market? Sounds like a very long shot to me."); and Alice Walton ("This year Walton quietly offered Fisk University ... $30 million for a sharing arrangement for all 101 works in their Alfred Steiglitz Collection. (That deal is presently tied up in legal challenges.) She flew out to Randolph College to take a look at the art in its Maier Museum. (Backed away from that one.) Though she failed to get The Gross Clinic from Jefferson University, she picked up a lesser but still estimable Eakins from them, Portrait of Professor Banjamin H. Rand. Her Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is scheduled to open in Bentonville, Ark. in 2009. I will not be surprised if by that time she's bought the Statue of Liberty.").