Wednesday, October 28, 2009
But if tax benefits are not enough, what about a bailout? The New York Times ran a little piece earlier this week that began:
"Many of the world’s biggest banks — and biggest recipients of government bailouts — have some of the largest collections of art. Some of the works, including abstract pieces and old masters, are hanging in hallways or boardrooms. But much of it is packed away in storage. The art owned by financial institutions should get out more — at the least to give the taxpayers, who have been so generous with the financial sector, an aesthetic return."
"There are legal means that have been in place for a long time to ask courts to determine whether or not funds that have been contributed for one purpose can be utilized ... for another purpose. There are legal mechanisms and a significant body of law that leads to this.
"Secondly, I should say that the board of the Cleveland Museum of Art is a tremendously responsible and resourceful group of people who are fiduciaries for the institution. And it's their responsibility to make thoughtful and prudent fiscal decisions on behalf of the institution. I think the trustees discharged their responsibilities extremely well. I really do."
"I don’t regard copyright as a property right, but rather as a government program, a social program"
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
But now comes a story in the Brandeis Justice that suggests that the only part of the suit the judge let stand is the part that Brandeis agreed could stand -- i.e., the plaintiffs could sue over their own donations to the museum, but they have no standing to challenge the university's decision to sell art generally, or to close the museum. The university's lawyer says "the case is now limited to the plaintiffs' ability to control their own donations or those of their ancestors to the Rose. 'The court ruled that the plaintiffs have no right and standing to represent any donors other than themselves or their ancestors, and that is all that's left now for the plaintiffs,' he said." He added that "Brandeis never had any intention of selling any artwork donated by any of the plaintiffs or the estates that they represent."
Friday, October 23, 2009
"[W]ith quite special exceptions, I see a very small pedagogic function for colleges and universities to own works of art, especially given the current cost and value of so many of them. ... To be sure, the provisions of deeds of gift must be scrupulously observed; but assuming that to be the case, let them sell their works of art if the funds thus gained will better serve the institutions’ educational mission."
Referring to the "task force formed by arts groups to figure out ways to avoid the next Brandeis," he also notes that such studies tend to turn into preaching-to-the-converted affairs:
"Members of the task force, make sure, ... that you are not just talking to yourselves. You are looking for ways to relate A to B; there must thus be strong representation from both poles. As announced, the organizations participating in the task force are mostly from the Category A: the art museum community. I strongly recommend that it also include not only representation from the art history and studio art departments, but knowledgeable people who have thoughts about how to involve art museums in educating students who are not primarily concerned with the arts."
Thursday, October 22, 2009
"The Board of Regents and Education Department should stop trying to micromanage cultural institutions in the state and instead simply require that the governing boards of those institutions operate according to best professional practice and with the mission of the institution in mind."
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
"Fairey now seems to have committed himself to a version of events that could be taken to suggest he didn't spend much time on the poster"
"By claiming to have forgotten at first which photo he had worked from, did Fairey undercut his case in his own suit against AP? Fairey argues that he transformed the original image sufficiently to qualify for fair use protection .... But if the transformative process didn't leave enough of an impression on him for him to recall what picture he was working from, how transformative could it be? How long did it actually take? A few minutes? A few days? Surely if you work with a photo for a few days you remember it. But if the changes you made to the image only took a few easily forgotten minutes, or even an hour, then does that really qualify as a transformation?"
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
"Barnes’ original bequest might have forbidden the move, but the result of his restriction, 60 years after his death, was the closing off of a multi-billion dollar collection of art to the wider public, strife between the Foundation and its neighbors, and a threat to the very existence of the Foundation itself. Isn’t it at least arguable that satisfying much of Barnes’ obvious intent — precisely how the art is housed and shown — while making it accessible to the world in a location where it is welcome is a reasonable effort to accommodate what he would have wanted? And isn’t it appropriate that we have institutions like courts to decide [between] that reasonable argument [and] the opposing one (Barnes stated in his bequest the collection should never be moved, so it should never be moved, even if there are circumstances now that he did not anticipate and we could not predict his reaction to)?"
Saturday, October 17, 2009
The AP's general counsel also says "Fairey’s counsel informed the AP that they intended to seek the Court's permission to withdraw as counsel for Fairey."
Remember that in their answer to Fairey's complaint, the AP argued that he "deliberately misrepresent[ed] the source of the Infringing Works in [the] Complaint" in a "misguided effort to argue that Fairey made more substantial changes to the photograph ... than he actually did." Related post here.
As Bruce Boyden said way back in February, when this issue first came up, "it just plain looks bad to have a misstatement like this in the complaint."
UPDATE: Boyden reacts here: "It looks even worse if you destroy evidence to cover it up. And it looks even worse than that if you manufacture evidence. All for very little benefit. Fairey’s behavior here reminds me of insider trading cases where some billionaire risks prison in order to avoid a loss of $20,000. It’s also too bad for us copyright professors who were interested in the doctrinal issues here. I can’t see this case going much farther, and even if it does, the chances we’ll get a clean holding on fair use, copyrightability, or substantial similarity seem thin."
Ann Althouse says: "The copyright issue itself should remain the same, and it's an important one indeed. It's a damned shame that the banner for expansive fair use is being carried by someone who was dishonest and who tried to play the legal system. Why is he admitting his deception now? Presumably, he knew the manipulations would come to light one way or the other, and it was a strategic decision to reveal it this way."
Jim Johnson: "I still think that Fairey - without the lies - might well have won the fair use case .... After all, it was not even clear that [the AP] controlled rights to the relevant image, since it was taken by a free-lance photographer. Maybe Fairey thought some bluster might keep the whole mess out of court. Who knows? The lesson? Don't try this at home. I suspect, and HOPE, that the judge in this case will throw the book at Fairey for his shenanigans."
Daryl Lang of Photo District News: "Fairey’s admission resolves one of the strangest elements in the suit. Despite obvious evidence to the contrary, Fairey repeatedly cited the wrong AP photo as the one he used ...."
UPDATE 2: Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento: "Aside from the fact that he only strengthened the image of artists as clowns and buffoons in the eyes of judges and lawyers, Fairey’s recent actions could earn him serious consequences."
Thursday, October 15, 2009
"... a gesture that acknowledges that this collection has moved, been shifted like a tectonic plate and thrust into a new future — of whatever kind"
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
"He had an excellent eye and a sharp mind, but unlike other private collectors who founded their own museums—Isabella Stewart Gardner, J. P. Morgan, Duncan Phillips—he was not a good institution builder. As a result, only 50 years after his death, the Barnes stood at the brink of insolvency. It was saved only by the intervention of the Philadelphia establishment ..., on the understanding that the collection, whose worth is estimated at more than $6 billion, would be moved to new premises in the city's museum district."
Philadelphia Inquirer culture reporter Stephan Salisbury told a similar story last week -- the Barnes was saved, not stolen.
Monday, October 12, 2009
The Art Market Monitor says that seems "unlikely": "Given what is known about the art, the theft and the behavior of the victims, it would seem logical to conclude that this was a fairly straightforward burglary that gained dimension in the telling and re-telling. We’re left with a stalemate as a face-saving measure."
Mark Durney sees a teachable moment.
Thursday, October 08, 2009
What if Barnes's Will had provided that the works were to be exhibited in Merion for exactly 50 years -- and then were to be burned in a big bonfire?
Should we honor donor intent in that case?
Or can we agree that sometimes the public interest trumps the donor's intent?
(The Art Market Monitor has been asking a version of this question for some time now.)
"How confident are you that Barnes intended his collection to stay where it was come what may, hell or highwater?"
"I guess you want an utterly rigid interpretation, entirely void of context, of words written by a guy who died 60 years ago to control what’s to be done with several billion dollars worth of art even if that means serious restrictions on access to the art.
"Me? I’ll take a pragmatic solution that preserves a heck of a lot of Barnes’ stated desires, takes into account the interests of art lovers, the public, the neighbors of the Barnes Foundation, and the fact that it really isn’t entirely clear what the guy would’ve intended under present circumstances.
"And did I mention that the guy has maintained almost exclusive control from the grave of several billion dollars worth of the world’s culture that he’d keep people away from during his life by denying their requests to see the art with letters signed by his dog?"
"In a substantially larger building ..., the paintings of Renoir, Cézanne, Matisse, and other masters will be accessible to millions of visitors. That would be impossible at the Barnes' leafy suburban location, where visitors were limited by court orders resulting from battles with neighbors over traffic concerns.
"Since it was the Barnes' isolation that helped trigger money woes that led museum leaders to explore moving, the city location should bode well for the museum as a going concern.
" . . . At the same time, there is no mistaking the aim of architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien to re-create Albert C. Barnes' former mansion. That's in keeping with pledges to preserve the unique artwork displays dictated by Barnes . . . .
"Will the design silence critics of the move, who objected to a Montgomery County judge's ruling in favor of a more flexible interpretation of Barnes' bequest? That's probably asking too much. But the plan's obvious respect for Barnes' legacy - for his idiosyncratic view of how art should be displayed and appreciated - should reassure supporters of the move."
Wednesday, October 07, 2009
You can watch the sheriff's press conference here.
Greg Allen asks "did I call it or what?" (He called it.)
"The forces leading to [the move] are far more human, contradictory, and mundane than any Manichean conspiracy theory would have it"
"Ultimately, it was Lincoln [University]'s control, not greedy city elites, that led to the fateful 1990 decision to install prominent attorney Richard Glanton as foundation president, which launched the series of events leading to the Parkway move. . . .
"By the late 1990s Glanton was out and the foundation was bleeding money. The trust indenture barred most investments; Glanton's litigious excesses took a spectacular toll on the dwindling endowment. The Barnes ... cast a wide net seeking solutions.
"Beginning in the Glanton era, when financial issues began to press sharply, casual talk of a possible move to Philadelphia ... was discussed by many interested parties. In early 2001, [Raymond] Perelman, then chair of the [Philadelphia] art museum, openly speculated about it in the New York Times and The Inquirer, as did former Mayor Ed Rendell - now Pennsylvania's governor - and others.
"That political and cultural leaders welcomed the notion of the Barnes in Philadelphia was no secret at all, and three major foundations, the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Lenfest and Annenberg foundations, ultimately devised a plan to make it happen. Their proposal was announced in September 2002.
"Virtually simultaneously, the state legislature authorized use of up to $107 million in capital funds for move-related construction - if the state money ever became available, and if state lawmakers decided to spend any of it.
"At the time of the authorization, no Barnes move had been approved by the courts. But then again, no money was appropriated. The authorization/appropriation distinction seems lost on those whose criticism of supposedly secret funding has supplied grist for the conspiracy mill.
"Yet it was Barnes himself who set the highly restrictive terms of the trust indenture; who incorporated no penalties for the foundation should trustees violate the indenture's terms; who failed to resolve tension between a supposedly public facility and exclusionary admissions practices; who staffed the board and foundation with apostles to ensure his will in perpetuity.
"Instead, for nearly 20 years the Barnes has been the subject of rancorous dispute and litigation, leading to what some would call farce and others, tragedy. No conspiracy has been necessary."
Tuesday, October 06, 2009
"What has happened to the Barnes is a tragedy, and as with all tragedies, many deserve blame: the neighbors, Lower Merion Township, Lincoln University, the Barnes' management under Richard Glanton. Together this unlikely cabal drove the Barnes into insolvency, necessitating a rescue from Philadelphia's philanthropists.
"Is it any wonder that, when those donors agreed to bail out the Barnes, for the better part of $200 million, they demanded to call the shots?
"Shipping the entire collection to Philadelphia wasn't the only way to save the Barnes. But it was the way chosen by the people paying the freight. The public pay-off is that four times as many people - some 250,000 visitors a year are projected - will see the art because the gallery's hours will no longer be restricted.
"To their credit, the donors - the Pew, Annenberg and Lenfest foundations - recognize that the Barnes is greater than the sum of its paintings. The collection derives its power from the unusual, some might say nutty, system that Barnes devised for hanging paintings in the '20s. That arrangement will be replicated exactly in the Philadelphia galleries, with the notable exception of Matisse's 'Joy of Life,' which will be hung in its own alcove."
UPDATE: A different view from NYT architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff:
"[T]he biggest problem with the design is not the fault of the architects: it has to do with the public the museum will serve. Part of the beauty of the Barnes Foundation is that it is so far removed from the tourist economy that drives major cities today. To get to it, visitors have to make an appointment, then take a train or a car to Merion, a half-hour from Philadelphia. These steps put you in a certain frame of mind by the time you arrive: they build anticipation and demand a certain commitment. They also serve as a kind of screening system, discouraging the kind of visitors who are just looking for a way to kill time.
"The new Barnes is after a different kind of audience. Although museum officials say that the existing limits on crowd size will be kept (albeit with extended hours), it is clearly meant to draw bigger numbers and more tourist dollars. For most visitors the relationship to the art will feel less immediate."And this, alas, is a problem no architect could have solved."
Monday, October 05, 2009
"Possible solutions: dipping into its reserve fund, but that would only take the university through 2013. The other alternative: 'the sale of artwork from the Rose Art Museum.' According to The Hoot, even if Brandeis increases enrollment by 400 students (impacting class size and professorial teaching loads) and lays off 35 staff members, Brandeis will still face a budget gap."
This is another illustration of a point I've made here before, which is that it's all well and good to oppose the sale of art -- no one wants to see the art sold -- but anti-deaccessioning absolutists should acknowledge that there are costs to that stance. You can't sell the art and you can't raise admission fees and you can't move to Philadelphia. But something has to give.
So maybe you eliminate the volleyball team (or perhaps all athletic programs).
Or do you drop the philosophy department?
Or do a bunch of people lose their jobs?
Or maybe you close the museum another day each week.
Now it may be that keeping that 220th Eakins you have in storage is more important than any of those things. I'm not arguing here that it's not. I'm merely suggesting that you can't really evaluate whether a sale is justified until you fully come to grips with the costs of not selling.
Among those he talked to is Art Theft Central's Mark Durney, who says "says the experts he's talked with see a number of curious aspects to the case":
"Durney points out that it's unusual, though not inconceivable, that a collection worth as much as $80 million would have been as little known as this one was. He also notes that the Pollock ... has never been put up for auction or public sale, so it's hard to judge its value. And last, he joins ex-FBI agent McShane in noting that it wouldn't make sense for collectors of this caliber to go without insurance, particularly when they are moving art."
"If arming guards is too hotly contested a solution, then what can be done to thwart violent art thefts?"
Saturday, October 03, 2009
"Nine years after the Barnes Foundation stunned the art world with a high-risk proposal to escape its litigious Merion neighbors ..."
Philadelphia Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron previews this Wednesday's presentation to the Philadelphia Art Commission:
"People in art and architectural circles have been especially keen to know how the designers would resolve the challenging problem of re-creating the Barnes' distinctive gallery experience in a modern building in an urban setting. The sequence of the Barnes' Merion galleries and the arrangement for hanging the artwork have long been considered nearly as important as the artwork itself. They reflect the theories that the patent-medicine mogul Albert Barnes developed in the 1920s as he amassed the world's greatest assemblage of works by Cezanne, Matisse, and Renoir. Barnes considered the 'hang,' as museum experts call it, so fundamental that he stipulated in his will ... that the artwork could never be reorganized or moved. The foundation's battles with its Merion neighbors and the resulting financial insolvency caused the Barnes to reassess that clause. When foundation officials petitioned Montgomery County Orphans Court in 2004 to break Barnes' will and move the collection to Philadelphia, they did, however, promise to replicate the Merion building's floor plan and the hanging scheme."
Friday, October 02, 2009
"That conviction centers on one specific thing: the absence of a list of items to be sold. When [the philanthropist] asked to see one, he reportedly was rebuffed. 'Miss Skove [the museum's Director] refused to tell me what was going to be sold,' he said. Skove responded Thursday: 'There is a list. It's 371 items exactly.' She said there is no reason to publish a list of the items being sold because her experience and education - she has a master's degree in art history - qualify her to make the culling decisions. 'The list will not be published before the auction,' she said."
"But about halfway through the Q&A, many [in the audience] began to express their displeasure with the film. They saw a measure of condescension to, perhaps even contempt for, the museumgoing public in the film, which features a talking head referring to a Barnes Foundation relocated more centrally to Philadelphia as a 'McBarnes,' and another chastising a young man who spent only an hour amid the masterworks at the foundation once it was opened to the public."
And Howard Feinstein concedes that "the topic is so compelling," but says "formally, the film is nothing."
UPDATE: More on the "vibrant" Q&A from indieWIRE's Brian Brooks: "'If you want to be spoonfed your art, then that’s fine,' said executive producer Lenny Feinberg. 'But there’s something to be said about understanding and viewing art on a higher level.'"