Friday, December 24, 2010

"Police said the burglars must have known they’d be on film because they also stole a video recorder attached to surveillance cameras."

Major art theft from a West Village apartment.

"A motion to dismiss should be denied if it is properly pled that these aren't Ansel Adams negatives . . ."

". . . But that's the only issue, and the fact that the case law apparently led the court to think that anything else mattered is evidence that our trademark and right of publicity doctrines have lost all connection to common sense."

Rebecca Tushnet on the recent district court decision in the Ansel Adams case.

Better to poach the non-malicious clients

Art dealer Edward Tyler Nahem is suing ex-gallery director Lance Goldsmith, "alleging the former staffer stole trade secrets and mailing lists and conducted 'malicious' client poaching." Lindsay Pollock has the details.

$1.4 million

That's how much the University of Alabama says it has spent so far in its lawsuit against artist Daniel Moore.

Madrid Theft Update

ARCA has an exclusive. (Background here.)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Smithsonian Footnote (UPDATED)

I haven't written about the Smithsonian controversy because it isn't really a legal dispute, but here's a small legal angle: last week artist AA Bronson asked the museum to remove his work from the show in protest. They refused. Today he follows up with an email saying:

"My lawyer suggests that, according to my moral rights under copyright law in both Canada and the U.S.A., I have the right to withdraw my work from ‘Hide/Seek.'"

I don't know anything about Canadian moral rights law (or why it would apply to an exhibition in Washington), but under U.S. law, the obvious stumbling block is VARA's "public presentation" exception ("The modification of a work of visual art which is the result of ... the public presentation, including lighting and placement, of the work is not a destruction, distortion, mutilation, or other modification" under the statute).

UPDATE: Sergio agrees: "We’re not sure about the Canadian moral rights law, but it does not seem to us that under the 1990 Visual Artists Rights Act the NPG would be violating Bronson’s moral rights simply by exhibiting the work within a context and/or exhibition that Bronson did not like or approve of. If this were the case, artists could dictate–and ironically–censor the speech of individuals whom they did not identify with ideologically. Interesting move though."

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Friday, December 10, 2010

John Richardson on Picasso's Electrician


"Picasso was exceedingly generous with his work, but he never gave away anything from earlier periods, always from whatever he was working on at the time and available in the studio. Also, when he gave someone a drawing or a print, he always signed and also inscribed it. Of the 271 works said to be in Le Guennec’s cache, reportedly only one of them bears the artist’s signature, and none of them is inscribed."


"The Le Guennec affair puts me in mind of the large collection of works, mostly on paper and mostly executed at the end of the artist’s life, belonging to the heir of his driver, Maurice Bresnu, which appeared on the market in the 1990s. Bresnu (nicknamed 'Nounours') and his wife endeared themselves to the Picassos. At first mistakenly thought to have been fakes and, later, to have been stolen—only a fraction had been inscribed—they were ultimately O.K.’d by the Picasso administration and put up for sale at Christie’s (November 19, 1998). It will be interesting to see how the Picasso administration, not to mention the French judiciary, reacts in this new, far graver case."

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

It's really not so slippery

One further thought prompted by the story earlier this week about deaccessioning at the Philadelphia History Museum. As I mentioned, one museum director is quoted as making the usual slippery slope argument against deaccessioning: "if we go down this road, we end up paying our gas, electric and water bills — classic operations costs — with deaccessioning proceeds."

Can I make a suggestion?

If you're worried about paying your gas, electric, and water bills with deaccessioning proceeds ... don't pay your gas, electric, and water bills with deaccessioning proceeds. That is, we can easily have a rule that says you can use deaccessioning proceeds to pay for educational programs or building renovations or major capital projects or any number of things, but at the same time say (if we want to) that you can't use deaccessioning proceeds to pay for gas, electric, and water bills.

Problem solved. The slope really isn't that slippery. You just have to plow the roads now and then.

In fact, that's pretty close to the situation we have now. Works can be (and quite frequently are) sold for one purpose -- to raise acquisition funds -- and no one goes around worrying that, if we go down this road, we'll end up paying our gas, electric and water bills with deaccessioning proceeds. People understand that you don't have to slide down the slope. You can just stop. There's no reason we couldn't add other acceptable reasons (like, for example, keeping from having to close your doors) to the list.


Another case of art vs. signs that are not art. A previous example here.

Monday, December 06, 2010

"We’re a history museum, not an art museum. It’s a picture of a fish."

The New York Times had another front page story on deaccessioning today -- this time involving the Philadelphia History Museum, which has "quietly" sold more than 2,000 objects "over the last several years," to help raise money for a big renovation of its 1826 building.

You get the usual staking out of positions. The director of the Institute of Museum Ethics at Seton Hall University says: "Museums really cannot continue to accumulate and accumulate and accumulate ad infinitum. What does one do with former acquisitions policies that did not make sense, or not having an acquisitions policy, or having so many objects they can’t care for or don’t really fit within their purpose?" While, on the other side, the director of another local museum says it "rapidly" (rapidly!) becomes a slippery slope: "if we go down this road, we end up paying our gas, electric and water bills — classic operations costs — with deaccessioning proceeds."

I would just note that the Deaccession Police have no way of distinguishing this case from sales by the National Academy or the Rose or any other art museum. If museums hold their collections in "the public trust" (albeit a trust museums feel themselves completely free to invade any time they want to use the proceeds to buy more work -- but leave that aside for the moment), then it's every bit as wrong for this museum to sell its cigar store Indians as it is for the Rose to sell its Warhol. They have no theory to distinguish the one case from the other. But if they allow that these particular sales aren't so bad, then the whole argument for the repulsiveness of deaccessioning falls apart. We might have to start trusting the people who run our museums to make the hard choices and do what's best for their institutions, all things considered. A shocking thought, I know, but I think they just might be up to it.

"James Biear preyed upon an elderly man and robbed him of artwork it took him a lifetime to collect."

There was a conviction in the case of the chauffeur charged with stealing from his employer, a grandson of Joseph Pulitzer. The U.S. Attorney's press release is here. News coverage here and here.

Court Orders Seven Sculptures Returned to Calder Estate

"The works, which include a variety of mobiles and stabiles made between 1941 and 1970, are worth about $6.25 million, according to Alexander S. C. Rower, a grandson of the artist and president of the Calder Foundation."

"Picasso kept copious notes and diaries of his life and yet nowhere is M Le Guennec mentioned as a friend."

"And yet he gives him not one, not two, but 271 works of art. Does this sound likely? We have to wait for the police to finish their inquiry, but what can I say: I think not."

More on the collection of 271 works a retired electrician claims were given to him by Picasso.

Call for Applications

The Association for Research into Crimes against Art (ARCA) is now accepting applications for its MA Program in the Study of Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection. Applications are due Jan. 3, so get on it. For more details, see here.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Minor Appeal

Halsey Minor is appealing the summary judgment ruling in favor of Sotheby's in their breach of contract action against him. You can read the appellate brief here. I discussed the lower court ruling here. Further background here and here.

"There's an absolute privilege made for statements made in discharge of an official duty. It's pretty clear."

"A judge has thrown out a defamation lawsuit filed by two Pebble Beach men whom deputies accused of faking a multimillion-dollar art heist last year."

The county's lawyer says he will next go after them for attorney's fees.

For background, see here and here.

"The saga of Fisk University's art collection goes on."

Fisk is appealing the latest ruling in the litigation concerning the Stieglitz Collection. Jennifer Brooks has the story in the Nashville Tennessean. The New York Times is here. (As an aside, the Times story states, as a fact, almost in passing, that the Collection was "given to [Fisk] as a public trust by the artist Georgia O’Keeffe." What does that even mean? How do you give something "as a public trust"? Doesn't that assume an answer to a central issue in the case?)

You will recall that Judge Lyle allowed the Crystal Bridges deal to go through, but ruled that Fisk could keep only $10 million of the $30 million in sales proceeds. The other $20 million had to go to an endowment fund dedicated to support of the Collection. Fisk President Hazel O'Leary says the annual cost of maintaining the Collection is $130,000 and, if you assume $1 million in income from the $20 million endowment, that's $870,000 that could be used "for educational purposes, to attract high quality scholars and researchers to the faculty, to provide scholarships to [students], or to maintain the many historic buildings which require constant repairs on our campus."

school adds that in 2008 they spent about $1 million to upgrade the gallery that houses the works and that Crystal Bridges's Alice Walton "has contractually agreed ... to establish a million dollar endowment" to care for the Collection. (The sharing agreement, in and of itself, also provides Crystal Bridges with great incentive to make sure the works are properly cared for.)

The Tennessee AG's office says bring it on ("We welcome the opportunity to urge the court of appeals to fashion a solution … that will fulfill the donor's intent and keep the Stieglitz Collection in Nashville and available to Fisk students full-time"), which points up the risk Fisk is taking in filing the appeal. They could lose the $10 million and end up with nothing.

And We're Back

Lots of art law happened while I was away, including the theft of 28 works (including a Picasso) from a parked truck outside a Madrid warehouse.

Good analysis from Noah Charney here (including that "the necessary a priori knowledge required of this crime suggests that it was particularly well-organized").

Further thoughts from Mark Durney.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010


I'm taking my talents to South Beach this afternoon (I can't believe I actually got to use that line on the blog!), where I will be part of this panel tomorrow, so blogging will be light (or non-existent) through the weekend. Hopefully, British museums won't sell off thousands of works while I'm gone. (There's nothing stopping them from doing so, you know.)

"Most of the people in the art world, and the museum world, regard the de-accessioning of possessions from museums and galleries with horror."

"But it’s a horror that has no real base to it."

British art critic Brian Sewell is not a member of the Deaccession Police.