Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Picasso's alarm installer

Another really interesting story from over the weekend: a 71-year old retired electrician seems to have ended up with nearly 300 works by Picasso. He claims they were a gift from the artist. The Picasso estate has filed a lawsuit in France, claiming the works were stolen.

The New York Times story is here.

Tyler Cowen headlined his post: How willing are you to believe another human being?

The Village Voice went with: Pablo Picasso's Electrician Was Either Very Lucky or Very Sneaky.

New York magazine says: "maybe Picasso just really, really valued his electrician?"

Tom Flynn: "how many Picasso drawings does it take to change a light bulb?" (Nice one!)

And lawprof Jonathan Turley sizes up the legal claims:

"The man worked for Picasso in the 1970s and this could create a fascinating contest over credibility if [he] has no written record. The absence of any prior disclosure certainly makes the claim somewhat suspicious. Such cases can become the ultimate jury question — with members looking at the practices of the artist. It is quite common for many artists to give away their works, even as payment for services. This number of paintings, however, would represent a lot of work or a lot of friendship. . . . Picasso died a few years later and was already an international superstar in the art field. This was not some starving painter trading paintings for baguettes. Moreover, it is hard to see how much of a friendship could have developed over the course of the installation of a security system. Of course, there is always the possibility that Picasso was simply eccentric and a bit daffy in his final years. Anyway it goes, it should make for an interesting tort or criminal case or both."

Monday, November 29, 2010

"The basic principle of museums in exceptional circumstances liquidating their collections is a principle that we have embraced since 2007 ..."

". . . and the world hasn’t come to an end."

Lots to catch up on after the holiday weekend -- most interesting, from my point of view, this article in The Art Newspaper. The lede is that "leading international museum directors" have "restated their opposition" to sales from public collections "when the proceeds are used for 'anything other than acquisitions or the direct care of the collection.'" But the really interesting news is further down:

1. First, we learn that "the UK Museums Association (MA) has relaxed its ethical stance from a hard-line presumption against disposal to one that accepts that works of art might be sacrificed for the greater good of a collection. 'The basic principle of museums in exceptional circumstances liquidating their collections is a principle that we have embraced since 2007,' said Maurice Davies, the MA’s head of policy, 'and the world hasn’t come to an end.'"

This strikes me as enormously important, for at least two reasons.

One, the anti-deaccessionists in the U.S. have turned the debate into a moral crusade. The idea that "works of art might be sacrificed for the greater good of a collection" is not just mistaken, it's repulsive. Stalinist. An egregious violation of public trust.

But are we really willing to say the UK Museums Association is repulsive?

Or might it be the case that this is a difficult issue and reasonable people (or reasonable museum associations) might have different views as to what is or isn't appropriate?

In other words: can we take it down a notch, please?

The other reason it's important is that the anti-deaccessionists are always telling us that, if we allow sales in exceptional circumstances, the sky will fall. Letting one museum sell off one or two paintings paves the way for dozens of museums to sell off thousands of artworks, perhaps routinely. If we let even one go, even to keep a museum from closing its doors, there will be nothing left. They'll sell them all.

But here we have a natural experiment: the UK has allowed operating expense deaccessioning since 2007, and what's the verdict?

"The world hasn’t come to an end." Thousands of artworks haven't been sold off. There are still one or two left.

It's worth keeping an eye on.

2. The other thing worth mentioning is that one of the proposals floating around out there is "to create an expert panel that would review proposed deaccessions." Judith Dobrzynski made a similar proposal not too long ago.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

"The fate of the museum's permanent collection ... remains unclear."

The Wall Street Journal reports that the end is near for the Chelsea Art Museum.

"The ability of San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum to avoid bankruptcy may be decided this week"

The WSJ's "Bankruptcy Beat" has the details. The artwork appears to be safe:

"San Francisco owns the ... collection of more than 17,000 pieces of art .... As a result, such assets would be exempted from a bankruptcy filing by the museum foundation. The museum foundation owns minor assets as well as $70 million in endowment money."

Monday, November 22, 2010

Donor Friendly

More on how New York's version of UPMIFA is more donor-favorable than most other states':

"In most enactments of UPMIFA, all existing donor-restricted endowments become subject to the new requirements enabling spending below [historic dollar value]. This is not the case under NYPMIFA. Each organization is required by the law to give notice to prior donors giving them the option of applying the new law. Once the donor has responded, or the donor’s right to respond has lapsed (after 90 days), the organization will need to maintain records of which endowments follow the new law, which have HDV restrictions under the old law, and which have specific donor restrictions. The notice to donors must follow specific requirements set out in the law."

Related posts here and here.

Esmerian Arrested

Ralph Esmerian, Chairman Emeritus of the American Folk Art Museum, charged with fraud.

Background here.

"It really is about ... helping artists and musicians who are contributing to society find health care at affordable rates."

Bloomberg Businessweek on an event at which artists could barter their work in exchange for medical care.

These stories always leave out one important detail.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Small and ad hoc

The New York Board of Regents is establishing "a small ad hoc committee of leaders of museums" to help produce a set of deaccessioning regulations "compatible with the accepted ethical and legal standards of the national accrediting organizations."

Those accepted ethical standards were summarized here by the NYT -- under "the code of ethics of the American Association of Museums, the proceeds should be 'used only for the acquisition, preservation, protection or care of collections,'" while the "code of the Association of Art Museum Directors is even stricter, specifying that funds should not be used 'for purposes other than acquisitions of works of art for the collection'" -- and, as I've said before, it seems to me the current Board of Regents regulations are already fully "compatible" with those standards. But let's see what the small ad hoc committee comes up with.

"All of the works on view are unattributed and unsigned."

Interesting sounding show at MCA Denver: Orphan Paintings: Unauthenticated Art of the Russian Avant-Garde:

"Orphan Paintings explores questions about the status of art. What is an authentic art experience? What precisely are we appreciating when we look at a work of art? Are we appreciating what is visible to us, or is it a range of invisible factors, such as the belief that it was made by a master artist or the opinion of experts about its authenticity? This collection of unauthenticated Russian avant-garde paintings asks: can an art experience be authentic even if the status of the work of art remains questionable? Are there other forms of authenticity aside from its attribution to an artist?"

Thanks to a loyal Art Law Blog reader for the tip.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

In the public trust

In the midst of a post on the announcement of the opening date of the Crystal Bridges Museum, Lee Rosenbaum mentions that one of the works in its collection used to belong to the Corcoran:

"The D.C. museum had included it in several special exhibitions (scroll down)---most recently in its 2004-2005 show of 'The Human Form in American Art'---before deeming it expendable."

But that must be a misprint. After all, it's a very core principle that museums hold their works in trust for our community. You know, once an object falls under the aegis of a museum, it is held in the public trust, to be accessible to present and future generations. Everyone knows that.

So I'm sure it's all just a big misunderstanding and Lee will be running another major correction in the coming days.

"The proposal would essentially eliminate the charitable tax deduction."

"In its place, all donations made by federal taxpayers would qualify for a 15-percent tax credit. But instead of that credit going to the taxpayer, it would be given to the charity receiving the donation in the form of a matching grant from the Internal Revenue Service."

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Gives new meaning to the phrase "photographic memory"

Artist and NYU professor Wafaa Bilal is having a camera surgically implanted in the back of his head for several months for an art project. Kate Taylor's NYT story is here. More from the WSJ's Erica Orden here. Jonathan Turley notes a legal issue that has arisen: "Does he need the consent of students in class who will be captured by his head camera? As a result of objections, Bilal has agreed to cover the camera with a black lens cap while on university property."

It's not Bilal's first campus controversy.


"After much fretting over the loss of three art collections to the dispersal effect of the art market last week . . ."

". . . Los Angeles is now celebrating the endowment-enhancing power of the self-same art market."

"A picture is emerging of one of the most bizarre cases of deception in art history."

The Guardian explains.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

"If the Met and Brooklyn had nothing to hide, they shouldn't have hidden it."

Lee Rosenbaum issues "a major correction" regarding the transfer of the Brooklyn Museum's costume collection to the Met a couple of years ago. I wrote about the deal here. (See also here.)

Perhaps it wasn't what it initially seemed, but so long as any sales proceeds aren't used for operating expenses, it shouldn't be controversial under the Standard View on deaccessioning.

From my point of view, it's just another example of how the hypocrisy built into that Standard View -- sales to buy more art, totally fine; sales for any other reason, repulsive -- leads people to do a lot of funny things.

Monday, November 15, 2010

NOW the Warhol litigation is done with Joe Simon (UPDATED)

The New York Law Journal reports (but I can't find a free link at the moment) that the Warhol Foundation antitrust litigation is over. The plaintiffs drop their claims against the Foundation, and the Foundation drops its counterclaims and request for sanctions. Background here.

UPDATE: Businessweek: Warhol Foundation Wins Lawsuit With $7 Million Defense.

Admission fees for the Smithsonian?

The NYT's Kate Taylor reports that the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction proposal includes a recommendation that the Smithsonian begin charging admission fees. More here from DCist.

Matthew Yglesias says it's "a great example of a kind of pennywise and pound-foolish thinking about spending that often afflicts the political system":

"What you would ideally do with these kind of public services—be it a museum or a subway or whatever—is take a good hard look at whether or not you really believe in providing the service. And if you do, you provide it for free so that as many people as possible can benefit."

"Tax uncertainty could hurt charitable giving"

USA Today reports. One of the issues is "the uncertain outlook for the estate tax." The article notes that "a 2004 study by the Congressional Budget Office estimated that permanent repeal of the estate tax would reduce donations to charity by up to 12%."


Thursday, November 11, 2010

More on Art Title Insurance

The NYT's Kate Taylor reports that the publicly-traded Argo Group (total assets: $6.7 billion) has bought art title insurer ARIS.

The Art Market Monitor says the move "legitimize[s]" art title insurance.

I remain a skeptic.

Dealer Ed Winkleman's "first response was to agree with the dealers who noted that it seemed a bit unnecessary," but news reports of a recently-discovered forgery ring have him rethinking that view. I'm pretty sure, however, that ARIS doesn't cover forgery claims. See here.

"This is not an art gallery; this is completely illegal."

Twenty people have been arrested for visiting the Underbelly Project.

"Let me say this clearly for the record: the Board of Trustees is fully committed to President O'Leary's leadership of Fisk University."

In response to calls for her ouster, the President of Fisk's board of trustees released a statement defending her record:

"For those upset by the fact that Fisk runs an almost $2 million annual budget deficit, he pointed out that the deficit has improved — it topped $10 million in 2006. He also noted that the school's debt has dropped by $1.4 million.

"For those who criticize O'Leary's fundraising skills — she has raised $26 million for the university in six years — he said the $4.3 million she raises each year is better than the national average for historically black colleges."

"Charities Wrestle With Tax Uncertainty"

The NYT's David Cay Johnston reports.

The Debt Panel and Charities

"With tax reform as one of the five basic recommendations made, and no apparent sacred cows, it is not surprising that the current tax benefits enjoyed by charities are among the many targeted tax provisions. Here is how the three proposed tax reform options would affect those benefits."

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

"If the greater good would provide more dollars for a better library or to help in other ways, you have to look at that."

There's a $5 million Childe Hassam in a library in Erie, Pennsylvania.

Would it be repulsive to consider selling it?

Costco-Omega Oral Argument

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday in Costco v. Omega, a hugely important first sale doctrine case. Courthouse News Service has a summary. More here. Background here.

Monday, November 08, 2010

"That’s the problem when you chase your tail trying to ascertain a dead donor’s intent."

The Charity Governance Blog's Jack Siegel is not impressed with Judge Lyle's latest ruling in the Fisk case: "[T]he reader sees a judge’s heavy hand at work unsupported by the law or facts. Toto has pulled the curtain back and we see that the Wizard of Oz is just a mere mortal." He calls the decision "a compromise that achieves less than nothing. She should have just made the hard choice. Give Fisk the money or give the collection to the Frist Center." And though the decision notes that "the case is in its last phase," he "suspect[s] the appeals court will take a new approach, resulting in a remand with instructions and an entirely new round of proceedings."

Cristina del Rivero isn't a fan of the decision either: "The problem of donor intent is a recurring theme in this kind of litigation but this week's ruling apportioning actual percentages between the donor's intended beneficiaries is pure guess work."

Friday, November 05, 2010

More on the Rivers Controversy

Vanity Fair has a long article on the controversy involving the films Larry Rivers made of his adolesencent daughters in the 1970s. Kate Taylor wrote about it in the New York Times this summer.

One of the daughters wants the films turned over to her: "Emma declares her father guilty of nothing less than child pornography." The Rivers Foundation is refusing: ["They say] the film must be preserved, both as source material for a large Rivers painting of 1981, which incorporates still images from the movie, and as art in itself."

The article also notes that Emma has given a copy of the material "to an assistant Manhattan district attorney, Emily Logue. According to Emma, Logue has viewed it with alarm and is considering confiscating all copies as obscene material. (Logue would not comment on what the D.A.’s office considers an open investigation.)"

Thursday, November 04, 2010

"The Court adopts none of the proposals outright. Instead, the Court orders a different plan." (UPDATED)

Judge Lyle issues what Lee Rosenbaum calls her "latest astonishing" ruling in the Fisk case: she will let the Crystal Bridges deal go through, but Fisk can keep only $10 million of the sales proceeds. The other $20 million has to go into an endowment fund outside of Fisk's control, to ensure that, even if Fisk were to someday close, the collection could remain (partially) in Nashville. The ruling is here. Robin Pogrebin's New York Times story is here. The Nashville Tennessean story -- "Fisk art ruling upsets both sides" -- is here.

Why the 10/20 split? Because "allocating Fisk $30 million from the sale ... is out of proportion to the role Ms. O'Keeffe designed for Fisk." I'm not sure what that means. Was the "role" O'Keeffe "designed" for Fisk equal to one-third of the, um, total "roles" involved in the gift? Or that helping Fisk was (exactly) half as important to O'Keeffe (as measured by the old intent-o-meter) as making sure the work never left Nashville? It seems a little arbitrary to me.

Lee calls it a "lose-lose decision" and calls on the AAMD to punish Crystal Bridges (because collection sharing among museums is, of course, verboten). She also refers to "some additional Walton largesse [that] may be in offing" -- i.e., an agreement to fund a $1 million endowment to care for the collection -- but I believe that was always part of the deal. See, e.g., this 2007 NYT article noting that Walton "also pledged $1 million to renovate and maintain the Fisk gallery that houses the collection and to finance an art internship."

UPDATE: Derek Fincham weighs in:

"I just do not see the injustice [in the Crystal Bridges transaction]. A financially troubled and storied institution, whom O'Keeffe wanted to support decades ago, can receive a much-needed benefit with the partial sale of works of art that can be better preserved and seen by a wider audience."

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Easy, Cowboy (UPDATED)

Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento flags news that "a photographer has sued Texas alleging a cowboy image on millions of vehicle inspection stickers is being used without his permission." The first hurdle, of course, is sovereign immunity.

UPDATE: My friend, and copyright guru, Bob Clarida emails the following:

"Donn, you’re right about sovereign immunity – if the state chooses to assert the defense. Not very good optics, though, and the state might well decide to settle quietly rather than claim it is above the law that applies to everybody else. Especially at a time when ‘elitism’ has such a bad name, and the state taking someone’s property would play into a very visceral narrative. That’s why you don't see too many flagrant abuses like university labs selling patented drugs, etc. I think it's largely because it just looks bad. There are circumstances, though, like some of the libraries digitizing their books in connection with the Google project, in which the stakes might be high enough to make it worth a little bad citizenship."

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

"The initial stories were all saying that museums could start selling and use their art for operating expenses. That is not true at all."

The Maine Antique Digest has a story on the expiration of the "emergency" deaccessioning regulations in New York. You have to slog through lots of sky-is-falling spin, until, finally, in the next to last paragraph, there is this, from Clifford Siegfried, deputy chancellor at the board of regents:

"[Much of what has been written is] just absolutely wrong. The initial stories were all saying that museums could start selling and use their art for operating expenses. That is not true at all. What happened was that the emergency regulations which we had for two years are no longer in effect. But all they did was try to clarify some of the rationale, the reasons, for deaccessioning. The prohibition of deaccessioning for using funds for operating expenses is still in place. That didn't change" (emphasis added).

As I've said before, that is exactly right. There is no ambiguity about this.

"The exhibition has been mounted, illegally, in a long-abandoned subway station"

The New York Times on the Underbelly Project.

Monday, November 01, 2010

More on the Copyright Principles Project

Terry Hart looks at the subset of recommendations in the Copyright Principles Project report (mentioned earlier here) that "call for an increased role for the US Copyright Office within copyright law."