Tuesday, January 01, 2008

A Final Look Back

Before jumping into the new year, let me first mention a number of year-end wrap-ups that touched on art law issues over the last week or so.

In the Boston Globe, Cate McQuaid's year-end review led with (1) Mass MoCA's lawsuit against Christoph B├╝chel ("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.").