Monday, May 31, 2010

Rose News

The other story I didn't get to before the long weekend was Geoff Edgers's report in the Boston Globe that Brandeis "plans to hire Sotheby’s auction house as a broker to raise money by loaning out artworks."

As Edgers points out, this is nothing new:

"In the 1990s, the Whitney Museum of American Art was paid $4.4 million to provide works to the San Jose Museum of Art, and Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts signed a 20-year deal to provide exhibitions to an MFA branch in Nagoya, Japan, for $50 million. More recently, the High Museum in Atlanta paid $7 million to borrow works from the Louvre in Paris for a three-year period ending in 2009."

(There was also this: "From 1993 to 1995, Glanton took the Barnes Collection on tour .... The tour was highly profitable; it earned Glanton accolades and helped defray the costs of an expensive renovation of the Barnes buildings.")

My immediate reaction to the story was to nominate Peter Marzio of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston to my Museum Directors Hall of Fame. Edgers quotes him as saying "They" -- i.e., the anti-deaccession crowd, the hand-wringers, the purity police -- "will be against anything except the status quo." (For example.) He makes the crazy suggestion that "Brandeis has to set its priorities and decide how the museum fits into the long-term purpose of the university" and adds: "They would be fools not to explore this."

I see this evening that Judith Dobrzynski had a similar reaction. She says that the views attributed to Marzio are "the most interesting part of the story," that he's "a breath of fresh air, in a community that doesn't tend to welcome new ideas that go against the 'museum culture.'"

"Whether it’s sooner or later, The Associated Press is going to win"

That's a quote from Alvin Hellerstein, the judge in the Shepard Fairey-AP lawsuit, that I meant to mention before the holiday weekend.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Moveable Feast

The Art Market Monitor points to a "learned, perceptive and moving" essay by Lance Esplund in The Weekly Standard on the Barnes move. Esplund describes at great length the special-ness of the Barnes, but, as the Monitor points out, he "seems to ignore one central feature of the debate. The Barnes ran out of money" (my emphasis). The "ideal solution" would have been to find another benefactor to donate the money needed to keep the collection where it was. But as it happened, no one stepped forward to write that check.

There was another solution, but something tells me Esplund (and his allies) wouldn't hear of it.

I also wonder exactly what the special-ness of the Barnes consists in. Towards the end of his long piece, Esplund finally gets around to conceding that "almost all of the artworks are to be reinstalled as they were in Merion," and that the new galleries will "replicate the scale, proportion, and configuration of the existing galleries." The artworks, the way they are installed, the scale, proportion, and configuration of the galleries -- what else is there? If we keep all of that, what have we lost?

If we airlifted the whole building and moved it, contents fully intact, the 4.6 miles from Merion to Philadelphia, would that still be objectionable? My guess is we'd still be hearing the same complaints that something ineffable has been lost in the move etc. You don't understand: these works can only be fully appreciated at 300 North Latch's Lane. It's just not the same experience anywhere else. It's a heist. It's a tragedy.

But as Roberta Smith put it:

"The Barnes collection is not the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Barnes didn't make the art; he bought it, one movable object at a time. Very few things remain the same forever .... Our perceptions of artworks shift when the setting changes .... But that is one of the exhilarating things about art objects: different things can be learned from them as they move from one context to another. And most of them, after all, were originally built to move."

"The important thing is just that the artwork is accessible. It's not about legal or illegal. It's not better if it's illegal."

An interview with Shepard Fairey in The Atlantic.

"That's at least debatable, but the film has little interest in debate"

The Art of the Steal is still making its way around the country. Here's a recent review from The Columbus Dispatch:

"Yet it's hard to get worked up over The Art of the Steal. ... Ultimately, the art isn't disappearing; it's being moved a short distance away. The fact that people won't be able to view the masterworks in the carefully arranged setting that Barnes intended is sad, but does it qualify as 'the greatest act of cultural vandalism since World War II,' as one commentator suggests?"


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

More on the Paris Art Theft

There's been lots of coverage of the big art theft from a Paris museum last week. Derek Fincham collects some of it here. Some of the more interesting commentary, there and elsewhere:

ARCA's Noah Charney tells Time: "The theft has all the markings of organized crime, which, since the 1960s, has been responsible for most art crime worldwide. There is no market for such works, and they are most likely to either be ransomed, or to be used for trade or collateral on a closed black market, traded for other illicit goods such as drugs or arms between criminal groups."

Tom Flynn: "Regrettably, art thefts offer yet another illustration of how fundamentally unsustainable the encyclopedic museum has become in the twenty-first century."

Jori Finkel in the LA Times: Do you blame the thief who snagged the paintings or the Paris museum that let them go?

NY Times: Seeking clues.

Washington Post: "Why doesn't thievery of this magnitude occur as often in the United States?"

"Gardner Heist" author Ulrich Boser in the Wall Street Journal: "No criminal mastermind was required here. It turns out that the museum had been about as secure as a woodshed. The alarm system had been malfunctioning for almost two months, and while the museum had ordered replacement parts, they had not yet arrived. It also appears that the museum's guards may have been napping-or at least were remarkably inattentive. While cameras filmed the thief pilfering the works, it wasn't until the next morning that someone actually discovered the theft."

Gardner Museum security chief: "It can happen here."

BBC News looks at the five works, which Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones says "together add up to a better choice of the best art of the 20th century than you could find in most modern art museums."

Monday, May 24, 2010

Minor Victory

Score one for collector Halsey Minor:

"Halsey Minor won a victory in his tangled dispute with Christie's ... on Friday when a San Francisco jury found that the auction house had waited too long to return some of Mr. Minor's art after failing to sell the art on his behalf. The jury's verdict in U.S. District Court led Judge William Alsup to order Christie's to pay $8.57 million in damages to Mr. Minor .... That amount represents the perceived drop in the resale value of Mr. Minor's artworks during the five months that Christie's kept the pieces."

Kelly Crow has the story in the WSJ. For background on this suit, see here. For another recent decision involving Minor (this time on the losing end), see here.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Major Art Theft in Paris

Forbes: "A thief stole five paintings valued at more than $100 million, including major works by Picasso and Matisse, in an overnight heist Thursday at a Paris modern art museum with a broken alarm system."

New York magazine: "The Museum of Modern Art in Paris Should Probably Invest in a Better Alarm System."

Derek Fincham: "Why were the works stolen? There are many reasons, but the simplest one may be the the most likely. It is really not that hard, despite the loss we all suffer when works are damaged or lost forever."

"I will assume they tried to contact Christo by calling him on his iPhone, but they got cut off"

Greg Allen: "No Artists Were Paid In The Making Of This Commercial."

Related post from a while back here.

"Would you prefer that a public university use its limited funds to educate students or maintain an art collection that’s been dumped upon it?"

The Art Market Monitor on "a new wrinkle to the de-accessioning debate."

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Jail Sentence for Dangerous Art

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "A retired art teacher ... was sentenced to 20 days in jail Monday after he refused to make changes to art pieces in his front yard that the court and city officials have deemed dangerous."

Ann Althouse: "And it was political too. Lewis Greenberg was trying to say something about the Holocaust with his pointy front-yard sculpture. But think of the poor children who might be impaled. And the adults who think it’s really ugly."

Monday, May 17, 2010

Louis Vuitton Suit Update

There was a decision a couple of weeks ago on Louis Vuitton's motion for summary judgment in Clint Arthur's lawsuit over some prints he bought at a shop that was set up in connection with a Takashi Murakami exhibition at L.A. MOCA in 2008. The case survived, but large chunks of it were knocked out.

Arthur claimed the following statements by LV supported his claims of "fraud":
  • The prints are genuine Murakami artworks.
  • The prints are original artworks.
  • Murakami personally signed them.
And he claimed LV "concealed" these "material facts":
  • That the prints were made of the same material that LV had used to make handbags.
  • That Murakami "had no personal involvment" in making the prints.
  • That his signature was applied by someone else.
  • That the prints were "Louis Vuitton merchandise" rather than Murakami artworks.
The court dismissed all of these "amorphous" claims . . . with the single exception of the allegation that Murakami did not personally sign each print. (And that seemed to be more a question of putting in the right kind of proof than anything else.) But all the silly claims that it was somehow "fraudulent" to use leftover material from LV handbags to create these prints, or that they were somehow not works of art -- those are all now out of the case.

We're left, then, with a "gotcha" claim: that LV violated the technical requirements of the California Fine Prints Act. There really isn't any question that they did so. So Arthur is entitled to a refund; that's the remedy for a violation of the statute -- and Arthur could have had one at any point during this process. The only remaining issue would seem to be whether or not it's fair to charge LV -- not generally in the art gallery business -- with willfully violating what the LA Times called "an obscure chapter of the California Civil Code," such that Arthur (and, perhaps, anyone else who wants to trade in their print) is entitled to treble damages. So, at best, Arthur would be entitled to $18,000 per print instead of $6,000. It all seems so pointless to me.

Poster Boy Free

On bail. (Background here.)

Friday, May 14, 2010

Linkage (falling hopelessly behind edition)

  • FBI arrests three, including a Seattle art dealer, in connection with long-running art theft ring.
  • "A glaring problem in our current copyright registration system."
  • Nonprofit doomsday approaches.
  • What does Elena Kagan have against art?
  • A tax deduction for returning Nazi-looted art?
  • The art pawnbroker.
  • Book cover not artwork for right of publicity purposes.
  • Another fake show.
  • Martha Lufkin on the annual US conference on Legal Issues in Museum Administration.
  • More on Edelman-Emigrant suit.
  • I hope to have more to say about this one later, but for now: "A Swiss woman is suing Christie's auction house in New York for failing to 'exercise due care' almost 12 years ago when it sold a drawing she consigned for less than $22,000 – a drawing that several experts now attribute to Leonardo da Vinci, and that they estimate could be worth more than $150-million."

A Deaccessioning Puzzle

An interesting story inside Carol Vogel's "Inside Art" column inside today's New York Times. It seems that MoMA recently bought a 50 percent interest in Matthew Barney's "Drawing Restraint Archive." The other half belongs to the Emanuel Hoffmann Foundation, whose collection is located in Basel. They also share ownership of a Bruce Nauman piece, and MoMA chief curator Ann Temkin says what's not to like? "Besides sharing the financial burden, having a second venue is fair to the art and to the artist, who gets more visibility."

But here's my question. What if, instead of Museum A and Museum B teaming up to buy a valuable work, Museum B buys a 50 percent interest in a work Museum A already owns? The end result is the same -- the two museums each own a 50 percent interest in the work, they share the financial burden, and having a second venue is fair to the art and to the artist, who gets more visibility. So why is one a non-controversial occasion for celebration, and the other an occasion for the usual rending of garments?

Tepper Galleries Folds

NYT story here. They face at least one claim already -- from their landlord: "Tepper’s lease still had eight years left when the gallery owners packed their goods into a few trucks, said Myles Schwartz, an executive managing director at Colliers International .... Colliers will pursue legal action against the auction house, he said, 'whatever we can do to recoup.'"

Minor Sale

Bloomberg's Katya Kazakina and Lindsay Pollock report that a sale last night at Phillips of works from the collection of Halsey Minor "raised $21.1 million to pay his creditors": "Proceeds from the sale ... will go toward a $21.6 million judgment obtained in October by ML Private Finance, a Bank of America affiliate, on a delinquent loan to Minor."

In the NYT, Carol Vogel adds the interesting detail that, in order "to compete with Christie’s, which also tried to get the property for sale, Phillips agreed to give 8 percent of the buyer’s premium back to ML Private Finance, according to court papers."

Kazakina and Pollock also sum up the state of play regarding Minor's other collection (i.e., auction house-related litigation):

"Minor has existing litigation with Sotheby’s and Christie’s International. In April, Sotheby’s won a $6.6 million judgment against Minor in connection with three artworks he had purchased at auction and later refused to pay for. 'Sotheby’s has a judgment lien on any sales proceeds in excess of the amounts payable to Phillips and Merrill Lynch as a result of an order entered by the court in Merrill Lynch’s action against Mr. Minor,' said Diana Phillips, Sotheby’s spokeswoman, in an emailed statement. Minor and Christie’s remain embroiled in several lawsuits, with a jury trial underway in California this week. Minor sued Christie’s for an alleged mishandling of a consignment involving art by [Richard] Prince; Christie’s sued Minor over default on payments for $13 million worth of art bought at auction."

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Hoffman Suit

Bloomberg's Lindsay Pollock reports that "Marguerite Hoffman, a prominent Dallas art collector, filed suit this week against Mexican financier David Martinez for failing to keep her 2007 sale of a star Mark Rothko painting a secret." (The work sold for $31.4 million at Sotheby's last night.)

The Art Market Monitor says the lawsuit is "self-defeating": "Caught between her desire for secrecy and the lost value of a foregone public sale, [Hoffman] seems determined to have neither." Lee Rosenbaum has more.

I took a look at the complaint, and the claim seems to be that, because Martinez agreed to keep the transaction confidential, he could never re-sell the work. That is, he is said to have breached the confidentiality clause not in the usual way such clauses are breached -- i.e., by blabbing about it -- but by the mere act of selling.

Barnes Update

The Philadelphia Inquirer's Stephan Salisbury reports that things remain on track for the Barnes Foundation's move to downtown Philadelphia. I like his hysteria-free description of what led to the move:

"In the 1990s, ... the foundation fell into serious financial difficulties and faced the possibility of closure. The Barnes board proposed a move to a more accessible and visitor-friendly location in Philadelphia as a way out of the fiscal mess. The three foundations [Annenberg, Pew, Lenfest] strongly supported the plan, and Montgomery County Orphans Court approved modification of the trust indenture to allow the change."

Gee, when you say it like that, it almost sounds kind of non-controversial, huh?

Salander News

Bloomberg's Philip Boroff reports that a group of works from the bankrupt Salander-O'Reilly Galleries will be sold at Christie's on June 9. The works are ones "that creditors haven’t claimed or for which claims have been resolved by [the] bankruptcy court" and each comes with title insurance supplied by ARIS Title. Under a settlement approved by the bankruptcy court in January, "unsecured creditors will receive the first $2.5 million from the sale, minus back taxes the gallery owed." Salander himself remains free on $1 million bail but faces up to 18 years in prison.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

"Last year, ... the lead guitarist for Metallica bought Mr. Frazetta’s cover artwork for ... 'Conan the Conqueror' for $1 million"

Comic book artist Frank Frazetta died on Monday, and Bruce Weber's NYT obituary includes, at the very end, an update on the family feud over his work:

"After [his wife's] death [last year], her children became embroiled in a custodial dispute over their father’s work, and in December, Frank Jr. was arrested on charges of breaking into the family museum and attempting to remove 90 paintings that had been insured for $20 million. In April, the family said the dispute over the paintings had been resolved, and the Monroe County, Pa., district attorney said he would drop the charges."

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

More on the Poster Boy Jail Sentence

The NYT's Kate Taylor explains how street artist Poster Boy turned a plea deal to perform community service into an 11-month prison sentence. Apparently the key was not showing up for a court date last Thursday. "His lawyer, Kerry Gotlib, said he got the date confused. When he went on Friday—to apologize, Mr. Gotlib said—Judge Gary had him arrested and sent to Riker’s. On Monday Judge Gary issued a one-year sentence, minus one month for the completed community service. Mr. Gotlib said that he planned to appeal."

Park West Dropped

By Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. Background here.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Artist Pension Trust Update

The Art Newspaper checks in on the Artist Pension Trust, now in its seventh year. I described it here as a kind of 401(k) plan for artists. According to the article, 1,100 artists have signed up, and it has a collection of more than 4,500 works. Each artist contributes 20 works (over 20 years), with a minimum market value of $5,000 per work. Upon sale of a work, 40% goes to the artist, 32% goes into a pool to be shared with the other artists in the same "hub," and 28% goes to the investors who are funding the plan's operations. (It's unclear whether the running expenses come out of this 28% or instead come off the top before the money is split.) As the article notes:

"The payment structure means APT artists ... share in the value of other artists’ work as a hedge against the price of their own. While this might be an attractive prospect for an emerging artist, is it so appealing for more established artists? ... In reality, ... APT is an untested novelty and one artist, who did not want to be named, said she was 'sceptical' about how the venture will pan out."


Sunday, May 09, 2010

Friday, May 07, 2010

All Your Picasso Are Belong To Us

The Guardian's Jonathan Jones thinks the $106M Picasso sale is a "tragedy." His piece is headlined "Locking our Picasso away," with a sub-head indicating that "we are robbed unless it is kept on public display" (my emphases). He says "what has happened here is a theft of world culture, art history and beauty from we, the people, by the super-rich."

But the piece was not sold by a public institution to a private collector. It was sold by one private collector -- the estate of the Los Angeles philanthropist Frances Lasker Brody, who died in November and was the wife of the real estate developer Sidney F. Brody -- to another private collector. When did "we, the people" ever own it?


Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Minor Update

In a WSJ piece on auction house "no-bid lists," Kelly Crow includes the following updates on Halsey Minor's lawsuits with Sotheby's and Christie's:

1. "[I]n March, a judge in U.S. District Court in New York City ruled in Sotheby's favor, ordering Mr. Minor to pay the auction house $6.6 million, to compensate it for costs involved in revoked agreements and related charges. Mr. Minor appealed the ruling last month and says he plans to pay the $6.6 million, expecting to get it back if the ruling is reversed."

2. "As for the Christie's case, Mr. Minor says it's scheduled for a trial next Monday in San Francisco."

Is that brushed-steel bondage machine held in the public trust?

Because its donor did get an income tax deduction.

Related thoughts (about the public trust and how something gets in it, not about bondage machines) here.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

"If no one noticed for years that these were photocopies – and no one minded – why were they any less valuable than the originals?"

Claire Berlinski on a philosophical problem raised by art forgery.

"One would think that by now Shepard Fairey would have a lawyer on retainer"

Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento on Shepard Fairey's latest legal problem, this time involving city permit requirements. More from Kate Taylor in the NYT.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Salinger Reversal

The Second Circuit has vacated and remanded the District Court's decision in the Catcher in the Rye "sequel" case because the lower court applied the wrong preliminary injunction standard. The opinion mostly stays away from the underlying merits, but, near the end (see p. 22), notes, "in the interest of judicial economy," that "there is no reason to disturb the District Court's conclusion ... that Salinger is likely to succeed on the merits of his copyright infringement claim," including that "Defendants are not likely to prevail in their fair use defense."

We Demand That You Not Close the Museum You Are Not Closing (a continuing series)

The Brandeis Hoot's Ariel Wittenberg reports that the Rose Art Museum has announced a new show for the fall, called "Atmospheric Conditions" and featuring the works of Eric Fischl, April Gornik, and Bill Viola. More here.

Related post here.