Thursday, June 30, 2011

"A New Yorker spokeswoman said the magazine would fight the lawsuit."

Remember that New Yorker article on Canadian forensic art expert Peter Paul Biro that I -- and a lot of other people -- really liked?  Well, Biro has now filed a defamation suit against the magazine.

The Rose Settlement

The Brandeis-Rose Art Museum lawsuit has settled.  The initial press reports, however, misstate the nature of the agreement.

The Boston Globe headline is "Rose Art Museum will sell no art," and the lede to its story is:  "Brandeis University has agreed to put in writing that it will sell none of the Rose Art Museum's prized collection of modern art."

The LA Times says Brandeis "has stated that it won't sell pieces from the Rose Art Museum's collection."

The Chronicle of Higher Education says Brandeis announced "that it would not sell any part of its prized collection of modern art at its Rose Art Museum."

The Art Newspaper says Brandeis "promise[d] to keep the museum open without putting any of its art up for sale."

That isn't quite right.  What the settlement agreement says (you can read it here; see the last sentence of paragraph 1) is that Brandeis "has no aim, plan, design, strategy or intention to sell any artwork."

There's a big difference between saying that and saying they promise not to sell any artwork.

It's like saying I don't have any plan to have sushi for dinner tonight.  If I change my mind in a couple of hours, I haven't breached my earlier "agreement" in any way.

Similarly, if circumstances change at some point down the road and Brandeis wants to revisit the question of selling some art, there is nothing in this agreement to stop them.  It's a pretty meaningless document.

(Randy Kennedy's New York Times story gets it right -- noting that "the settlement does not say that the museum will categorically never sell works.")

The press reports also emphasize that the Rose is to remain a public museum -- as if that is some sort of major concession the plaintiff's won in the lawsuit -- but that's something Brandeis had committed to on its own long ago.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

"Our board members have a fiduciary responsibility to make the best decisions for the future of Randolph College as an educational institution."

Lee Rosenbaum has an update on the Randolph College deaccessioning dispute.  The latest is that the AAMD has written a stern letter confirming its censure of the school.

The stern letter does not explain why the AAMD's incoherent "ethical" rules should trump the interests of the college.  As lawprof Alan Feld put it recently:

"When a university rather than a museum owns artwork, ... the institutional calculus becomes more complex.  The university appropriately considers the educational value of the artworks, their relationship to the core educational mission, and the university's capacity to derive maximum educational utility from continued ownership of the work.  Other educational needs may deserve higher priority.  The public reaction to any proposed sale often fails to balance the school's multiple obligations."

It's as if, for financial reasons, a college restructures its sociology department, and the American Sociological Association steps in and "censures" the school, says it will no longer publish papers by its faculty, and so on.

Just who do these people think they are?

Monday, June 27, 2011

And We're Back

It seems that, while I was away meeting the oh-so-stringent "refinement" test, two very interesting art-related lawsuits settled.

One was the Hangover II tattoo case, but not before the Judge hearing the case had indicated that the plaintiff had a “strong likelihood of prevailing on the merits for copyright infringement” and that Warner Brothers' arguments were, for the most part, “just silly.”

The other was the Michael Werner Gallery's lawsuit against Carnegie Museum trustee James Rich over a Peter Doig painting that was supposedly promised to the museum but instead ended up consigned for sale at Christie's:  "The gallery no longer objects to the consignment, and the museum will receive the painting if it is not sold. If it is, Mr. Rich has promised to give the museum a new Doig work, and a substantial donation."

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Earlier this year I passed strict new rules about when I could go to the beach.  They include saving someone's life and a direct order from the President of the United States.  But fortunately for me, they also include "refinement of my summer," and I somehow managed to qualify under that (very very strict) standard this week.  So here I am.  Blogging will resume next week.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

""In the end, I think it's the best for the institution and the students and the artwork."

I've asked a number of times before, what if a donor gave work to a museum with the intention that it be sold?  (See, for example, here.)  The anti-deaccessionists love to appeal to "donor intent" when it's a reason to oppose a sale.  They also love to appeal to the notion of the "public trust" as a reason to oppose a sale when donor intent doesn't come into play (as, for example, where the relevant work was purchased by the museum, rather than donated).  But what if the two are in conflict?  What if the donor's intent is that the work be sold (as in Felix Salmon's Museum of Underappreciated Art)?  Do we honor that intent?  Or do we ignore the donor's intent and hold onto the work because it belongs to "the public"?

The Wichita Eagle reports this week on a real-life example of this conflict.  Kansas's Bethany College is deaccessioning a bunch of artwork, and plans to use the money to "finance student scholarships."  (I know, repulsive, right?  But leave that to the side for the moment.)  The school says "a donor gave the college a piece in 2009 with the intent that the college sell it" and that they are "not selling any items whose donors won't allow it."
This puts the Deaccession Police in a real bind.  On the one hand, we know, from the Fisk case, and the Barnes, and others, that they really really care about donor intent.  They hate to see a donor's intent ever violated.  It's just awful when that happens.  And yet . . . something tells me that, in this case, they'll be willing to make an exception,  Donor intent is not the be all and end all, you know.  Those works don't really belong to Bethany; they're simply holding them in trust for us, the public.  They must remain accessible to present and future generations.  Bethany really ought to be sanctioned, this is an outrageous breach of a very, very core principle of ethics.

That is how it will go down, isn't it?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

"But doesn’t fair use protect meaningless art, too?"

At Concurring Opinions, Brian Frye on the Mr. Brainwash decision.

"Couple Say They Were Sold Bogus Art"

Courthouse News Service reports that a "couple say they paid a New York art dealer $15,000 for a painting by French realist Rosa Bonheur 20 years ago, only to find out this year when they consigned it to Sotheby's that the painting was done by Bonheur's brother."

The obvious issue is the statute of limitations.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

"The spokesman for the federal Attorney General's Office ... said Thursday afternoon that the case was continuing."

More on the uncertain status of the legal proceedings involving a disputed group of Kahlos.  The LA Times reported last week that "a Mexican court" had "ruled" that "opponents" had "failed to prove that [the collection] was counterfeit," but, from this latest report, that does not appear to be true.

Picasso's Electrician Charged With Theft

Story here.  Background here.

Affirmed: Pole Dancing Is Not Art

Story here.  Decision here.  Background here.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Only Wrong When Brandeis Does It (a continuing series)

MoMA is lending some works to the Art Gallery of Western Australia . . . for about $6 million dollars.

I'm sure the hall monitors will raise their usual complaints, but, as Judith Dobrzynski says, "museums have to raise money, and whatever they do -- name galleries for donors, raise admission prices, deaccession art, you name it -- yields criticism nowadays."

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Who's on first?

A confusing set of reports regarding a group of disputed Frida Kahlo works.  The LAT's Christopher Knight says "a Mexican court has ruled that opponents have failed to prove their claim that the collection is bogus" (my emphasis).  But the New York Times says "the Mexican attorney general’s office has declined to bring charges against" the two art dealers who own the collection (again my emphasis).  Obviously, prosecutors declining to prosecute is not the same as a court making a ruling (for one thing, the former decision may have been affected by the fact that, as the NYT story points out, "art forgery is not a crime under Mexican law").

"He's been engaged in unlawful conduct for a quarter century."

Nine years for Chicago dealer Michael Zabrin (mentioned earlier here).

Buyer Beware

Courthouse News Service reports that "a man claims a Scottsdale art dealer sold him a Renoir sketch it claimed was worth $110,000 that was actually worth no more than $6,000."

The Art Market Monitor sums it up as "Man Sues Gallery for Making Fool of Him":  it's "yet another art buyer who seems to think the person selling him the art is working in his own interest."

I discussed a similar case here.

"The gallery seeks no money in the suit ... and only asks that Mr. Rich fulfill his supposed obligation."

Here's an interesting one.  The New York Observer reports that Michael Werner Gallery is suing collector James Rich over a painting that was allegedly supposed to have gone to the Carnegie Museum (where Rich is a trustee) but did not:

"The painting in question, 'Red Boat (Imaginary Boys)' (2004) by Peter Doig was sold to Mr. Rich for $162,000 in 2004 but is now up for auction at Christie's where it’s expected to take in between $2,289,000 and $2,943,000. In the meantime, the Carnegie Museum was meant to assume full ownership, but Mr. Rich claims to have donated a percentage of the painting and then bought it back such that he still owns it."

"No matter how you look at it, I end up the loser, period, end of story."

In the New York Times earlier this week, Kate Taylor had the latest example of you-can't-get-good-title-from-a-thief.

Derek Fincham has a copy of the decision and says:  "The case reveals the continuing preference of American Courts generally for the original owner."

They hold it in trust for us, but they charge us to see it

Randy Kennedy had a short piece in yesterday's New York Times on the issue of museum admission fees.  He quotes Philippe de Montebello as asking:  "Philosophically, what is it about a work of art that makes it mandatory that it should be available for nothing?"

It seems to me that anyone who really believes museums hold works as a "public trust" should favor free admission.  As Paddy Johnson says in the Times piece, "I’ve never thought the public should be charged to see their own belongings." Fortunately, no one really believes the works are held in trust, or else it couldn't be the case that "deaccessioning is not a dirty word."  It's just something people say when they want to express disapproval of a sale whose proceeds are not going towards buying more art.

Tattoo Erasure

Reuters reports that Warner Brothers has said in court papers in the Hangover II tattoo litigation that if the case is not resolved by the time the movie comes out on DVD, "the studio will digitally alter the controversial mark on [actor Ed] Helms' face."

Cristina del Rivero wonders about the strategy:  "Is it me or did the defendant just spend a quiver in its arrow in that litigation by voluntarily removing it from the DVD?"

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

More on the tough new deaccessioning rules in New York

From the Maine Antique Digest.  There are a number of comments from Anne Ackerson, director of the Museum Association of New York, including the following:

1.  She says that when the regents proposed criteria in the past, "they wrote a very restrictive number of criteria that were not really helpful and really did not mirror the professional practice across the country."  The new criteria -- which, as I've said, allow museums to deaccession whenever they feel like it (all they have to say is they're "refining their collection" -- and what deaccessioning doesn't do that?) -- do mirror the professional practice, and therefore "people are happy."

2.  And why did a "restrictive number of criteria" make people unhappy?  Because there's absolutely nothing wrong with deaccessioning:  "We want to make it very clear that deaccessioning is not a dirty word, that it's a legitimate activity."

So it's not that 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.

And it's not that if museums are allowed to sell works from their collections, somebody will say, Why should I give this to you? What guarantee do I have that you're not going to sell this tomorrow?

Those are not concerns at all and I don't know where you ever got the idea that they were.

The real issue is "the whole use of proceeds from the sale of deaccession material."  That's "where a lot more education needs to take place."

And what that education consists of is repeating, over and over again, that it's fine to use the proceeds to buy more art but evil, repulsive, a crime against humanity, etc. to use the proceeds for any other purpose, up to and including avoiding having to shut your doors.

Why is that the case?

Because 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.

And if you sell it, somebody will say, Why should I give this to you? What guarantee do I have that you're not going to sell this tomorrow?

Got it?

Smoke and mirrors.  Smoke and mirrors.

It's Not Funny

Photographer Glen Friedman has won his copyright infringement suit against Mr. Brainwash on summary judgment.  Background here.

"On the way out of the courthouse, he attacked a photographer with his cane."

The New York Times on "longtime forger" William Toye.  Background here.

"Gillman promised that none of these eleventh-hour tactics would pan out ..."

"... and asserted that the institution is on track to reopen in its Tod Williams Billie Tsien-designed new home in late spring 2012."

Monday, June 06, 2011

"The Barnes Foundation will spend more than $300,000 to revitalize its grounds and structures in Merion in the coming months . . ."

". . . in preparation for the continued use of the arboretum and the galleries."

Thousands!! Millions!!

Lee Rosenbaum reports that Dan Monroe, executive director of the Peabody Essex Museum, will be the next president of the AAMD.  Lee says "he has a proven track record as a leader and thinker on hot-button problems facing the museum profession."  When it comes to deaccessioning, Monroe is a committed slippery-slopist.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Wednesday, June 01, 2011