Wednesday, August 27, 2008


The Boston Globe's Geoff Edgers reports that a Leger painting "has been lost - perhaps unintentionally thrown out - by Wellesley College's Davis Museum and Cultural Center."

The school has already collected on an insurance claim for the work, "in the area" of $2.8 million.

Derek Fincham cuts to the chase: "Perhaps a little more care is required of multi-million dollar masterworks."

"The central legal issue, obviously, is who owns the work today"


This week's Village Voice has more on the Martín Ramirez lawsuits:

"The Ramirez family argues that because the artist had been institutionalized, he didn't have the capacity to administer his affairs, including giving away his work. And [Dr. Tarmo Pasto, the psychology professor who worked with Ramirez while he was institutionalized], they claim, had no right to act as he did. 'The position of the estate is that that person had no authority whatsoever to take any of those works for any purpose,' [the family's lawyer] says, 'and . . . the institution had no such authority either.'

"Hammond's lawyers recently moved to dismiss the New York case, arguing that it's properly a California dispute. And that's where things stand at the moment. Meanwhile, the 17 Ramirez paintings sit in a vault at Sotheby's, awaiting a final resolution."

(The article refers to the works throughout, I think mistakenly, as paintings. This earlier LA Times story says they are drawings.)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Oh Gee

The Gee's Bend lawsuits have apparently been resolved. Terms of the settlement have not been disclosed.

See here for the background.

Into the Woods

In today's New York Times, Nicolai Ouroussoff profiles architect Lebbeus Woods.

The article doesn't mention it, but Woods was involved in one of the more high profile copyright infringement lawsuits of recent years:

"Consider the case of Lebbeus Woods vs. Universal Studios, in which Woods ... alleged that the 1995 movie '12 Monkeys' had copied his drawing of a wall-mounted chair with a sphere suspended in front of it. A judge found the drawing’s resemblance to one of the movie’s props 'striking' and, though the movie had been in release for 29 days, issued a preliminary injunction barring further distribution. (The studio hastily settled with Woods for an undisclosed sum.)"

Tattoos and Copyright

Everything you ever wanted to know, via Rebecca Tushnet's 43(B)log.

Friday, August 22, 2008


I was flipping through the Fisk University appellate brief, and this passage caught my eye (p. 26):

"It is with bitter irony that Fisk notes that the proposal by Crystal Bridges, which the Chancellor found in September 2007 to be clearly superior to the pending settlement agreement ..., was, in February 2008, roundly condemned by the Chancellor ...."

Yeah, I never got that either.

Today's Iowa Pollock Commentary

Wall Street Journal leisure and arts page editor Eric Gibson in today's paper: "With luck, the chorus of condemnation will forestall any Pollock sale by the University of Iowa."

Lee Rosenbaum cheers him on.

Responding to this post of mine yesterday, Richard Lacayo agrees that "some sales are justifiable" -- but thinks this is not one of them. He adds: "For the record, I even proposed last year that, as a way to avoid the calamitous relocation of the Barnes collection to a new home in Philadelphia, the Barnes would be better off to take the otherwise unjustifiable step of selling off a major canvas, one that would bring in enough money to replenish its endowment." (For the record, I made a similar proposal in 2006.)

Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento is not impressed with Felix Salmon's argument in favor of a sale: "The problem with this perverse argument is that it rests not only on class-centrist notions of culture, access, and appreciation, but more so on an artwork's monetary value (not to mention a complete disavowal of a donor's intent)."

Sergio also announces the imminent launch of a new blog. Can't wait!

"To me, he is a living legend"

In today's Wall Street Journal, Kelly Crow profiles FBI undercover art-crime investigator Robert Wittman, who's retiring later this year after "two decades impersonating shady dealers and befriending thieves."

Dan Kois says "there's everything you need for a movie: guns, danger, sexy naked paintings, and institutional dismissal — the FBI apparently ignored Wittman's requests for more agents for years."

Don't Mention It

The Washington Post: "Managers of a downtown office building yanked a sculpture called 'Unmentionables . . . then and now' from an exhibition last week after tenants complained that the art was inappropriate. The offending art, by Joyce Zipperer, ... consists of 10 styles of women's underwear -- from old-fashioned bloomers to a skimpy thong -- all made out of metal and strung along a clothesline."

You can see images of the work at the link.

There doesn't seem to by any legal issue: the building owner apparently required participating artists to sign a contract which provides that "The work may be withdrawn from the exhibition by [the building owner] at its discretion at any time."

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Rule Utilitarianism in Iowa City

Responding to this Felix Salmon post, Richard Lacayo makes a more sophisticated case for the no-no-never position on deaccessioning:

"[T]he problem with selling the Pollock ... is that it would represent a further worsening of the (so far limited) trend by colleges to look at their campus art collections as assets that can be stripped and sold off to pay for other needs. If that practice ever becomes legitimized, no campus collection is safe. That is the main thing at issue in the fight to prevent the Pollock from being sold. ... And it trumps any and all other benefits that a sale might bring."

My question is: how do we know that? How do we know that it trumps all the other benefits a sale might bring without a close examination of what those benefits are? Imagine a case where a college has suffered hundreds of millions of dollars in flood damage that isn't covered by insurance (nor is there any FEMA aid available) and, if it doesn't figure out a way to come up with a hundred million dollars or two, it's going to have to cut lots of academic and sports programs, fire a bunch of employees, eliminate several scholarship programs for needy students, etc. And imagine too that there happens to be an art museum directly across the street that is willing to pay $200 million for the work, and to promise never to charge admission to members of the college community, and, for good measure, to agree that the work can be hung back in its original location for three months out of every year. Now, of course, in many ways this is a completely unrealistic example, but do we really want to say that, in those circumstances, it would still be wrong for the college to go ahead with the sale, because to do so would increase, in some vague, unquantifiable way, the odds that some other school with some other valuable painting would look to sell it?

The bottom line for me is that there is no way of avoiding the hard work of examining the specific circumstances of each individual proposed sale. How many people get to see the work now? Is the school able to properly maintain the work? What needs is the sale intended to address? What are the alternatives to a sale? Are there other sources of funds available? What would the consequences be of not selling? And on and on. It may well be that, after thinking about these questions, the great majority of proposed deaccessionings will seem to be a bad idea. But I don't think the questions can just be ignored.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

"The prospect of drilling in the lake requires more than the usual attention to the sensitivities of the site" reports that "the Utah Division of Oil, Gas, & Mining has refused a request from the Pearl Montana Exploration company to drill for oil near Robert Smithson's earthwork sculpture Spiral Jetty, constructed in 1970. In a letter from the State of Utah's Department of Natural Resources to the company, obtained by the community group the Friends of Great Salt Lake, it states inadequacies in the application and notes, 'The prospect of drilling in the lake requires more than the usual attention to the sensitivities of the site.'"

If you're interested in this issue, a young man named Serge Paul runs a terrific blog called Spiral Jetty vs. Oilzilla. Kirk Johnson also wrote about the issue in the New York Times a few months ago.

(In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that Smithson's widow, Nancy Holt, is a client.)


"Brazilian police have recovered the second of two Pablo Picasso works stolen from São Paulo's Pinacoteca do Estado museum on June 12."

"A terrible idea"

Richard Lacayo is back, and has some thoughts on the Iowa-Pollock controversy: "All the same, the Board of Regents is still going forward with its effort to determine the painting's market value. There's no deadline set for when it has to report back with the magic number, but we should all be watching. This attempt to 'monetize' a university collection should stop right where it started."

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Guilty (UPDATED)

Robert Mardirosian has been found guilty of possessing stolen property. "The 74-year-old Mardirosian faces a maximum of 10 years in prison at sentencing, scheduled for Nov. 18."

UPDATE: More from the Boston Globe here.

The View From London

The U.K. Independent had a story this weekend on the Barnes saga: "Horror at the move stretches far beyond Latch's Lane. To the New York Times's Nicolai Ouroussoff, it is 'a crime', while the New Republic critic Jed Perl describes the pro-Parkway regime as 'cultural commissars'. Outside the offices of Philadelphia's great and good – the very people Barnes set up his Foundation to defend against – you will be hard pressed to find anyone who approves it. But the move will go ahead, and much will be lost."

Monday, August 18, 2008

One Charge Dismissed

The Boston Globe reports that the judge has thrown out the "transportation of stolen property" charge against lawyer Robert Mardirosian. He still faces a charge of possessing or concealing stolen property. The case was scheduled to go to the jury today.

Political Question

Lee Rosenbaum cheers on PA Attorney General candidate John Morganelli.

You can read Morganelli's full statement about the Barnes situation here.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Today's Iowa News (UPDATED)

The latest from the Des Moines Register on the possible Pollock deacessioning. Two interesting things, I thought:

1. U of I Regent Michael Gartner responds to Tyler Green's conflict of interest concerns: "Gartner called Green's blog post 'bizarre' and said he and his wife aren't conspiring to bring the Pollock painting to Des Moines. ... 'My wife, like probably 2.9 million other Iowans, didn't even know the university owned a $150 million painting (if that's what it's worth) until it was in the news in recent weeks.'"

2. The Director of the Des Moines Art Center says "the museum could not afford to buy 'Mural' even if it were for sale."

The paper also editorializes against the sale: "'Mural' belongs to the people of Iowa - those alive today and future generations. It's one of Iowa's gems, the same way public land, artifacts, monuments and rare documents are pieces of this state's history. Sure, museums and individuals would probably buy many of the rare items owned by the public. But Iowa leaders should recognize the value of these items and places - beyond what they could bring at an auction."

UPDATE: Tyler responds to Gartner's response here.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Broken Glass

Yesterday I mentioned Noah Charney's four categories of art crime, the first of which is vandalism. Today's New York Times has news of a stained-glass window by Marc Chagall that was shattered by vandals in France over the weekend at the Saint-Étienne Cathedral.

More Iowa Reactions

Derek Fincham: "I find it very interesting that many of the calls for anti-deaccessioning are very contrary to the kind of art cosmopolitanism and sharing of art and culture that many have advocated, notably James Cuno."

The Art Market Monitor: "One of their proposals was a sale to another institution with rights to display the work. The art may end up being better served by this approach, or another one; civic pride might be enhanced by it too. They’ll never know until they explore the idea."

Thursday, August 14, 2008

"Art crime now funds, and is funded by, organized crime’s other enterprises, from the drug and arms trades to terrorism" (UPDATED)

Noah Charney on "how the four main categories of art crime influence the art market."

UPDATE: Derek Fincham comments: "I think we can apply some pressure to one of his assertions, that is often mentioned in the press. I don't think there's any way to state with confidence that art theft is the third-largest grossing criminal activity, as I've argued before. Something like automobile theft surely cracks the top 3 in terms of mere monetary value. But I do think if we incorporate the intangible or cultural value of works, then perhaps art theft (including antiquities looting) may in fact be near the third-largest."

"Mural doesn't belong to 'the people of Iowa' -- it belongs to nobody, or to everybody"

Felix Salmon weighs in on the Iowa Pollock:

"Some paintings belong not to 'the people of Iowa' so much as to the people of the world, and belong in a world-class collection. Which, frankly, the University of Iowa Museum of Art isn't. Remember that the idea was never to simply sell Mural off to the highest bidder; it was to sell it to another museum. And I'm pretty sure there's more than one major US institution which could rustle up a nine-figure sum pretty much overnight if the painting were to come on the market. One of the reasons that contemporary art goes for such huge sums at auction is that nearly all the major art of the past is now in museums and therefore can't be bought for any sum. But there's a corollary to that well-known fact, which is that some of the greatest paintings of all time have washed up in relative backwaters which don't and can't do them justice. . . . [N]ot all museums are equal, and there's surely a case to be made that the greatest of the great masterworks belong in museums which are worthy of them, rather than in small university collections. Mural will, in fact, be arriving at MoMA in 2010, on temporary loan from Iowa. It will consort there with its peers, and take its rightful place in the art-historical pantheon. And then it will go back to the midwest, whence it came, out of sight and far off the beaten track."

He closes:

"Maybe the critics of a sale should stop thinking in terms of 'forced deaccessioning' and start thinking in terms of a great donation by the people of Iowa to the people of America more generally. And as a gesture of thanks I'm sure it would be quite easy to help out the people of Iowa with a couple of hundred million dollars to put towards fixing their flood damage."

Ramírez Lawsuit

The Los Angeles Times's Mike Boehm reports on a fascinating dispute involving the work of artist Martín Ramírez:

"A bicoastal legal battle has erupted over who owns 17 drawings by Martín Ramírez, whose artworks, created while he lived in California state mental institutions until his death in 1963, now fetch six-figure sums. Is Maureen Hammond, a widowed, retired schoolteacher living in Needles, Calif., a multimillion-dollar art thief who tried to dispose of ill-gotten gains through a Sotheby's auction? Or was Hammond, 69, the appreciative and legitimate recipient of a gift of Ramírez's drawings from a psychologist who befriended the artist and was the first person to arrange for their display during the 1950s?"

More here from the New York Sun, which adds that Sotheby's is holding onto the drawings until the litigation is resolved.

Here is Roberta Smith's review of Ramírez's 2007 exhibition at the American Folk Art Museum ("simply one of the greatest artists of the 20th century"). Here is Peter Schjeldahl on the same show.

Fisk Appeal

Nashville Public Radio has a brief summary of the appeal just filed by Fisk University in the O'Keeffe case: "Among other arguments in the appeal briefing, Fisk says O’Keeffe always wanted to see the collection in a major museum. That’s why if she were alive, attorney say, she wouldn’t mind the school selling a 50-percent stake in the collection to the Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas."

For background, start here and here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

"Opponents to monetizing the Pollock have been forcefully vocal"

I like Lee Rosenbaum's one-line description of the general reaction to the news that the University of Iowa was considering maybe, possibly, perhaps finding out what it could get for its Pollock in a sale to a public institution that would agree to lend it back to the school from time to time: "bemoaners of the lost art have been noisily catastrophizing."

Tyler Green has been referring to it as a potential "forced deaccessioning," but I'm not sure how that's any different from a regular old unforced deaccessioning. He also gets a statement from the governor's office -- and buries the lede! It seems the governor supports a sale to the Des Moines Art Center ("Governor Culver believes the University of Iowa's Jackson Pollock 1943 Mural is a treasure that belongs to the people of Iowa, for the people of Iowa, and should be preserved for future generations of Iowans"). Just kidding, though I think it's fair to say it's not the most unequivocal statement anyone ever issued (they should "seek insurance payments and federal [flooding] recovery dollars to which they are entitled first before it's even necessary to consider selling off irreplaceable assets" -- presumably after that, then it's okay).

Barnesstorming (UPDATED)

The battle over the Barnes has apparently become an issue in the Pennsylvania Attorney General campaign. Democratic candidate John Morganelli says, by not opposing the move, incumbent Tom Corbett "failed to represent the wishes of Dr. Barnes and this community. ... The failure of Attorney General Corbett to protect Dr. Barnes, and thereby the public interest, undermines the likelihood that generous individuals will do good things with confidence that their wishes will be respected."

He says that, if he is elected, he'll move to (re)reopen the case.

UPDATE: More today from the Philadelphia Inquirer. Corbett's defense: "The foundation's move has been thoroughly vetted and judicially determined to be the best available alternative. It will actually enable the foundation to increase its exposure to the common people Dr. Barnes intended to reach while retaining its existing facilities to display additional artifacts that have been in storage due to a lack of gallery space."

"Methodology can devolve into mind mush"

András Szántó has some thoughts on the "Galenson Ranking," discussed last week here: "This exercise in solipsistic reductionism is a bit like mistaking the warped reflection in a fun-house mirror with reality itself. Even that may be giving too much credit to the theory. A fun-house mirror does reflect all that is placed in front of it, whereas the mirror of institutional art history has some conspicuous blind spots."

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

More Iowa

Tyler Green has more today on the brewing deaccessioning controversy at the University of Iowa. (He refers to the current proposal to find out what the painting at issue might be worth as an "assessment/possible forced deaccessioning.")

Among other things, Tyler is concerned about conflicts of interest in that the wife of the regent "who first called for the university to explore a forced deaccessioning" is on the board of the Des Moines Art Center: "Gartner's position with the university's board of regents and his wife's at DMAC raises serious questions about whether Gartner is trying to leverage a forced deaccessioning of the UIMA Pollock to a museum in which his wife is active."

Look, I know I seem to lack the deaccessioning-outrage gene, but my first reaction to hearing about a possible deal with the DMAC is, "What's so bad about that?" If $100 million or so could go to the University to help it deal with its flood-related problems, with the Pollock moving a mere 115 miles down the road (plus a promise to "allow UIMA to show the painting occasionally"), how exactly does that amount to a catastrophe? Even if you buy the argument that "this collection belongs to the people of Iowa," a deal between two Iowa institutions wouldn't seem to be a problem. Or does this collection really belong to the people of Iowa City? Hard to keep track sometimes.

Trial Starts

A criminal trial began today relating to the 1978 theft of seven paintings from a Massachusetts collector, mentioned earlier here and here. Seventy-three year old retired lawyer Robert Mardirosian faces federal charges of possessing and transporting stolen goods.

"He advocates a new type of economy that allows both market competition and people to freely share their art"

Larry Lessig's new book, Remix, coming this fall, "argues that the legal system is making criminals out of young people who produce entertaining or informative videos, music, and other art works through piecing together parts of others’ works."

The Kingsland Saga (UPDATED)

The FBI is now saying that "at least 20 pieces" from the collection William Kingsland left behind are stolen, including a million dollar Giacometti bust. They've gone ahead and posted photos online "in the hope that the rightful owners will come forward and claim the works."

Jim Wynne of the FBI art crimes unit is quoted as saying, "Whether he was a thief or a good-faith purchaser, we couldn't come to a conclusion on that. All we know is he ended up with this stuff." It certainly matters to potential buyers: if Kingsland was a thief, he (and his estate) can't transfer good title to the works; if he was a good-faith buyer in the ordinary course of business, on the other hand, it's possible that, under certain circumstances, he could.

UPDATE: Much more from the New York Times today. "If nobody comes forward who can make an ironclad claim to any of these works, said the [Manhattan public administrator, who oversees intestate estates], they will indeed be auctioned off and the proceeds turned over to Mr. Kingsland’s estate. And as it happens, four first cousins of Mr. Kingsland’s and an uncle have contacted her office to declare themselves his rightful heirs."

The Cranky Professor doesn't know if "they'll ever work it out - [Kingsland] didn't leave much paper trail. On a guess, he seems to have been willing to buy things that weren't well-documented."

"It's not a can of peas. We get into these very strange situations when we start thinking about our museum in an asset- or economic-oriented way"

Tyler Green interviews the director of the University of Iowa Museum of Art about the school's recent announcement that it would look into what a (certain kind of) sale of the Jackson Pollock it owns might bring.

They value the work for insurance purposes at $100 million.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

0.14% for art

Felix Salmon says artists are being shortchanged at the new US embassy in Beijing.

"Selling art can be a tempting proposition for colleges in financial woe"

The Des Moines Register has more on the possible Pollock deaccessioning at the University of Iowa (mentioned a couple days ago here).

I thought this bit was interesting:

"Gartner said the regents should determine the value of the painting if sold to a museum - not a private collector - that would agree to occasional viewings at the U of I. Gartner also wants to know how much the U of I spends to insure the painting and how much is spent on security around the work."

So, from the very beginning, the proponents of a sale (or I guess we should say, for now, proponents of the possibility of a sale) are being very careful to talk about a very narrow transaction -- one that keeps the work in the public domain, and maintains at least some access to it for the university community.

The article closes by noting that "for all the debate, the painting won't even be back in Iowa for some time. It's slated for a spring 2010 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City."

Friday, August 08, 2008

On the move

Inga Saffron says the relocation of the Barnes is picking up steam.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Here we go again?

Tyler Green spots what may be the next great university deaccessioning battle: the University of Iowa has authorized a study to determine the value of its 1943 Pollock mural. Story here. "Regent Michael Gartner [who requested the study] ... said the painting was estimated to be worth more than $150 million several years ago. ... Gartner said he is 'not proposing the painting be sold,' but that it would be good for the regents and the university to be aware of what options are out there as UI faces major expenses in flood recovery. The proposal came at the end of a UI presentation of its flood recovery efforts. Damages have been estimated at more than $231 million with much of that on the arts campus."

Lee Rosenbaum says "appraising the painting can only mean that the university is thinking of monetizing it, whatever is now being said for public consumption."

Michael Judge wrote about the piece, and its rescue from the flood, in the Wall Street Journal last month.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Pledge

The New York Sun's Kate Taylor has a short piece on the ADAA's 50-artist pledge in support of the pending Artist-Museum Partnership Act: "In the hope of spurring Congress to pass a bill allowing artists to take fair market-value tax deductions on works they donate to public institutions, the Art Dealers Association of America is promising to secure donations by 50 artists to museums in 50 states upon the bill's passage."

Taylor has a good succinct summary of the current state of play:

"Since 1969, artists, composers, and writers have only been able to deduct the value of the materials in a work or, in the case of writers and composers, a manuscript or set of papers, that they donate to a museum, university, or library. Collectors and heirs, by contrast, can deduct the fair market value of their donations. The bill's advocates argue that this acts as a disincentive to artists considering donating works and puts museums at a disadvantage in the skyrocketing Contemporary art market."

As I mentioned here, I find the idea a little strange. In some ways, it undercuts the logic of the proposed legislation: if the point of the legislation is that it will increase donations by artists to museums, what do you need the pledge for? Wouldn't the same result happen naturally upon passage of the bill? It's a little like proposing a law making gains from sales of a home tax-free, and then obtaining a pledge from 50 home-owners that, if the law passes, they'll sell their houses. If the law does what you claim it will do, the pledge is really redundant.

In any case, a spokesman for Senator Leahy, who introduced the legislation, said "it was not likely that the bill would be passed in the current term, which comes to a close at the end of 2008."

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Chrismas Suit

A reader calls to my attention a story I missed from a few weeks ago:

"Doug Chrismas, a veteran Manhattan and Los Angeles art gallery owner, found himself in the middle of a $1 billion international fraud case last week after federal agents seized a $1.3 million Lichtenstein painting he sold last year - claiming title to the work of art was 'free and clear.' It turns out the 41-year-old painting ... had been smuggled into the country by a Brazilian money launderer, Edemar Cid Ferreira, the former owner of Banco Santos."

The buyer has sued Chrismas and his Ace Gallery "for selling him the pricey work of modern art - and claiming it was free and clear of any claims."

Monday, August 04, 2008

"Quantification has been almost totally absent from art history"

Today's New York Times has a story on University of Chicago economist David Galenson and his attempts to import "quantitative methods" to the study of art history.

Among his ideas is a ranking of 20th century artworks by the number of times they're reproduced in art history textbooks (mentioned once before here). Picasso's “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon" comes in at no. 1. Vladimir Tatlin’s “Monument to the Third International” is no. 2. Philosopher Arthur Danto is quoted as saying "I don’t see the method as anything except circular."

Felix Salmon says Galenson gives too much weight to "one-hit wonders": "If you want to represent a Johns flag or a Warhol Marilyn, you have a few to choose from, so no one painting is likely to make the Galenson list. On the other hand, if you want to represent Tatlin, you're basically forced to go with that model: there's nothing else."

More here from lawprof Larry Ribstein.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Caravaggio Theft

There are reports of a Caravaggio having been stolen from a museum in Odessa this week. "Authorities believe that the thief or thieves bypassed the outdated alarm system by removing panes of glass to enter the facility." Story here.