Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Still in the Public Trust

ARTnews:  Lucas Museum to Begin Loan of ‘Shuffleton’s Barbershop’—Painting at Center of Berkshire Museum Firestorm—to Norman Rockwell Museum in June.

The loan runs until 2020.

It's so, so awful that this painting went from that one museum to this other museum down the road and then will go to another, new museum.  That's such a totally unethical situation.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Found One

I've mentioned a couple times that, so far as I was aware, no member of the Deaccession Police had had anything negative to say about the Baltimore Museum deaccessioning (to the point that I had to post my own tongue-in-cheek version of a response).

But according to this Hyperallergic post, there was one:

"Tyler Green, the producer and host of the Modern Art Notes Podcast, tweeted his concern that the BMA was not following AAM guidelines regarding deaccessioning, writing: 'It’s by a man, so we’ll sell it even tho it’s a great artwork.'  A subsequent tweet read: 'I’d like to know where in AAM’s guidelines it says that deaccessioning motivated by gender is a best or even sanctioned practice.'"

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Monday, May 07, 2018

Are dealers about to be regulated?

Eileen Kinsella reports that they might be.

Tim Schneider has some concerns:

"To be perfectly honest, I’m not that worried about whether the richest sellers have to implement some annoying bureaucratic compliance measures. For one thing, they have the resources. ... More importantly, they’re also the sellers that could realistically be used in money laundering schemes.  Neither of the above is true for most galleries and dealers. They are already stretched too thin from a staff and expenses standpoint .... Having to bolt on a heavy, federally approved monitoring arm could tip some of these struggling small businesses over into the abyss."

This is something some people have been calling for for a long time.

Guilty Plea in Chowaiki Case

One count of wire fraud.  "The prosecution and defense have agreed to ask the judge for a sentence of between four years and three months and five years and three months, which is what sentencing guidelines recommend."

The Art Market Monitor says the case "may continue to have consequences as the details and market histories of [the works involved] are better understood."

Background here.

"Collector Sues Sotheby’s to Block Basquiat Auction, Exposing Ugly Family Dispute" (UPDATED)

New York Times story here.

UPDATE:  Dismissed.

"Aspen judge issues arrest warrant for suspect in 2017 art slashing"

He's the owner of the painting's son.

"Never wear synthetic fibers while making a forgery."

Advice from Jamie Martin, profiled in the New York Times here.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

A Highly Ethical Post

Since the Deaccession Police all seem to be on vacation or busy at the art fairs, I thought I would do them a favor and make the case against the Baltimore Museum's planned deaccessioning:

The museum's decision fails to consider the essential point of museum collections: 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 the public’s trust is the coin of the realm for museums.  It's also common sense.  You don't cut out the heart to cure the patient.  The director seems not to have understood his broader responsibility to care for all of the museum's assets.  Instead of selling these works, the museum should have embraced furious fundraising.  The sale also sends a terrible message to potential donors:  why wouldn't somebody say, "Why should I give this to you? What guarantee do I have that you're not going to sell this tomorrow?"

Also keep in mind that the museum's permanent collection belongs to all of us. The public has paid for these works through the tax deductions given to private donors. And those donors bestow such works on the public expecting them to be valued for their aesthetic, not financial worth. If a museum doesn’t regard a particular gift as worthy of display or study, it shouldn’t accept the gift in the first place.

There you have it.  Where do I pick up my badge?

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

In fairness to the museum, the other half appear to be real

NYT:  French Museum Discovers More Than Half Its Collection Is Fake.

Another VARA mural suit

This one in Pittsburgh.

Earlier this week it was Memphis.

Related.

Another Koons-Gagosian Lawsuit

This one brought by film producer Joel Silver.

No mention of ouroboros in this one, so far as I'm aware.

Monday, April 30, 2018

More on the Utterly Noncontroversial Baltimore Museum Deaccessioning

Artnet's Julia Halperin has more on the Baltimore Museum's decision to sell works by Warhol, Rauschenberg, "and other 20th-century titans" in order to "fund future acquisitions of cutting-edge contemporary art, specifically by women and artists of color."

I haven't seen any criticism of the move at all -- and indeed Halperin's piece fails to cite any actual opposition.

We here in the anti-anti-deaccessioning crowd see it as standing for the following very sensible proposition:

It's okay to deaccession when you have a good reason to do so.

In this case the good reason is to diversify the collection.  But there can be other good reasons; buying more art is not the only conceivable good reason across all cases.

So can we please stop talking about an imaginary "public trust" that doesn't exist?  Clearly the works Baltimore is selling are not now and never have been held in the public trust.  They're just owned by the museum, and it's free to do with them whatever it thinks best.

And can we please stop pretending to (selectively) worry about hypothetical future donors who will be scared off from donating to museums if they understand their works can be sold?

All that matters is whether there is a good reason for the sale, whether, on balance, given all the relevant circumstances, the benefits outweigh the costs.  No more "ethics" lessons, no more moral outrage from the Deaccession Police.

Pretty please?

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Tell me again about the public trust (Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority edition)

One of my favorite bits of nonsense in the whole web of nonsense that makes up the discussion around "the public trust" is that when museums (which are, for the most part, private actors who happen to get some tax benefits) go to sell some work, we hear endlessly about how problematic that is because the work is (in some unspecified way) held in the public trust ... but when work is sold by, you know, the public, somehow the public trust doesn't enter into the discussion.

Latest case in point:  the Illinois Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority is selling a Kerry James Marshall painting that it purchased for $25,000 in 1997, "with public money raised through project-expansion bonds," at Sotheby's next month for an estimated $8-12 million.  And of course, not a peep from the Deaccession Police.

So to review:  works held by an Illinois municipal authority, purchased with public money:  not held in the public trust.  Works held by, say, the Art Institute of Chicago, purchased with money they raised from donors, so extremely held in the public trust.

Now, if there were an Association of Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority Directors and they happened to have adopted a "Code of Ethics" on the subject, then we can be sure the Deaccession Police (aka Random Code of Ethics Enforcers) would be all over it.  But without that Code of Ethics, this work, though held by the public, is obviously not held in the public trust.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Ann Althouse has questions about the new Koons-Gagosian lawsuit

And they are:

"What were the terms of the contract you signed, you rich knucklehead? And: Is the complaint a work of art? And: Why can I never remember what an ouroboros is and have to look it up every damned time?"

Saturday, April 21, 2018

MoMA sues a matcha cafe

Called MoMaCha.

Fearless Girl Update (UPDATED)

The Fearless Girl sculpture (background here) is moving, but there are conflicting reports about whether the Charging Bull is going with it.  The New York Law Journal says "the Fearless Girl is getting out of the path of the Charging Bull, which may also allow the New York City government and the owner of the Fearless Girl to sidestep a lawsuit."  But the New York Times says "if the city has its way, the bull will eventually go with her":  "A spokesman for [Mayor] de Blasio said that it was important to the mayor ... to keep the two works together."

UPDATE:  Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento:  "NYC should move both the Fearless Girl and the Bull to Albany. After all, what better place for bull?"

Thursday, April 19, 2018

"In a case that is bound to rock the art world, a prominent New York collector and art patron has sued two giants of the art market in New York Supreme Court this morning ..."

". . . charging the Gagosian Gallery, Inc. and Jeff Koons, LLC for the 'non-delivery' of three multimillion-dollar Jeff Koons sculptures for which the collector has paid more than $13 million."

"The Berkshire Museum saga is headed toward a happy ending"

The Boston Globe's Jeff Jacoby (seen earlier here) cheers the outcome of the Berkshire Museum dispute, saying "it looks as though the Berkshire will weather the storm and remain a lively presence in Pittsfield for years to come" and adding: "Yet the art snobs seem, if anything, even more outraged."

Deaccession Police Captain Christopher Knight (who had been singled out in Jacoby's earlier column on the subject) responds on Twitter:  "Calling art lovers 'snobs' is a familiar redoubt for the ignorant."

To which Jacoby responds:  "Your advice for the Berkshire Museum, Christopher Knight, was that it close down & be cannibalized by other museums. The pain that would cause Pittsfield you shrugged off: 'If its community cannot sustain the museum, not much can be done.' I'd say 'snobs' is putting it mildly."

Here's a link to the Knight column in question (which I discussed earlier here), which includes the following:

"Here's an idea: Don't sell the art. Do close the museum.

"Start behaving like the charitable institution you are supposed to be. Spend the next several years responsibly overseeing the dispersal of the collection.

"Donate the art to other museums that would benefit most from having it. ... Because the state gives the Berkshire Museum a subsidy through tax breaks, in addition to its federal one, Massachusetts has a priority stake; so its many other museums should get the first (but not the only) consideration for gifts.

"Shields [the museum's director] has said that, without the sale, the institution can't survive beyond the next eight years. That affords plenty of time to unwind the Berkshire Museum, an honorable task at least as hard as conceiving a last-ditch overhaul with no guarantee of success.

"Drastic, I know. And a sad loss for Pittsfield. It would be a psychic blow to a city that still struggles economically.

"But the hard truth is that if its community cannot sustain the museum, not much can be done."

Monday, April 16, 2018

Tell me again about the public trust (Baltimore Museum of Art edition)

The Baltimore Museum of Art is selling works by five artists you might have heard of:

Andy Warhol
Robert Rauschenberg
Franz Kline
Kenneth Noland
Jules Olitski

That's a pretty good list.

I checked with Deaccession Police headquarters and here's what you need to know about these sales:

Relax.  It's no big deal.  Don't be so touchy.  Yawn.

Now, you may have heard 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."  But that is a damn lie.  Just think about it:  if these seven works were held in the public trust, then they couldn't be sold.  And clearly they can be sold, so obviously they are not held in the public trust and never were.  Pay attention people.

You may also be wondering if potential future donors to the museum might, upon hearing this news, ask themselves "Why should I give this to you? What guarantee do I have that you're not going to sell this tomorrow?"  But that's a ridiculous question.  The answer is, no, they won't ask themselves that.  Why would they ask themselves that?  What is wrong with you?  Don't you know anything about the way ethics work?

So, just to review:

A sale of seven works -- by Warhol, Rauschenberg, Kline, Noland, and Olitski -- to who knows where:  totally fine, no big deal, just shut up.

A sale of one work by a museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts to another museum in Los Angeles, California:  a tragedy.  Months and months of protests and non-stop press coverage and lawsuits and anguish and tears.

Yeah, that all makes sense.

The monkey selfie case is back on

The Ninth Circuit plans to issue its ruling, despite the parties' settlement.  Story here.  Background here.

At PrawfsBlawg, Howard Wasserman says "now we will get to see if Naruto loses on the merits (as he should, because the scope of a statute is a merits issue) or on standing grounds (as the argument sounded the court was heading)."

"The crime has remained unsolved since it occurred in 1988; no arrests have been made, and none of the artworks have surfaced"

"Until now."

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Ellis Rule in Action

Those who are deeply, deeply concerned that works, once held in the public trust, remain held in the public trust must have been happy to have it confirmed this week that the Lucas Museum was the buyer of Rockwell's "Shuffleton's Barbershop" from the Berkshire Museum.

I kid, of course.  They're not happy at all.  But imagine this one sale was all the museum needed to solve its serious financial trouble.  (Not too big a stretch, actually:  the purchase price was not disclosed, but Sotheby's had previously estimated it at $20-30 million.)  It's hard to see how anybody could object to that.  The museum solves its problem, and the work stays in the public domain.  Sure, maybe the people of the Berkshires "lose" one of "their" many Rockwells, but that's offset by the fact that the (many more) people of Los Angeles gain a Rockwell.  It's a win-win, isn't it?

But you just know that, if that were the whole transaction, the Deaccession Police would be just as outraged as they always are.  It would be unethical.  It would be repulsive.   It would be Stalinesque.  The whole usual drill.

Their utter inability to distinguish between cases -- to see any relevant ethical difference between a sale by a struggling museum to another, better funded museum, on the one hand, and a sale by a flush museum to a private collector to raise funds for day-to-day operating expenses, for example -- suggests that there is something deeply wrong with their approach.  But they're oblivious to it, or at least pretend to be.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Oral argument in the California Resale Royalties Case

Story here.  You can watch it here (if you're a big preemption fan).

Background here.  Remember this is just about sales within California.  The Ninth Circuit has already ruled that sales outside the state aren't covered by the statute.

Saturday, April 07, 2018

"The copy is the original"

"In China and Japan, temples may be rebuilt and ancient warriors cast again. There is nothing sacred about the ‘original’"

"Biggest Fake Native American Art Conspiracy Revealed"

National Geographic has a detailed look.

"H&M’s battle with the artist Revok shows how street art is being taken seriously"

Good piece (though a couple weeks old) from the Washington Post on the case I mentioned here, including this from NYU's Jeanne Fromer:

"There has been this shift in accepting street art as part of the artistic canon. … As street art has become more and more acceptable, a lot of people are inclined to look past the trespassing aspect in a way they might not have decades ago."

"If a building owner finds itself in a position where it must remove art protected by VARA and no written VARA waiver was obtained, the owner should proceed cautiously and in good faith in the destruction or removal of the art."

"For example, notice should be provided to the artist of the landlord’s intention to remove the art, ample time should be provided for its removal (no less than 90 days), and other accommodations should be made to facilitate the art’s preservation and removal. Though an action for injunction may still ensue if the work cannot be safely removed without destruction, the hope is that any damage award would, at the very least, be mitigated in light of the owner’s good faith efforts. In 5Pointz, maximum statutory damages were awarded because of the landlord’s aggressive actions, which were held to be an insult to the artists."

The latest from the New York Law Journal on the 5Pointz decision.

"Art Dealers Strike Back at Artist Cady Noland in an Increasingly Philosophical Legal Dispute About a Restored Sculpture" (UPDATED)

Julia Halperin has the story here.  Background here.  Apparently one issue in the case is whether the sculpture -- Log Cabin (1990) -- can be copyrighted at all:  "The defendants say that the artistry of the work lies in the idea behind it, not the physical expression .... In fact, they contend, the actual construction of the work is so generic that Log Cabin is impossible to copyright."

Flavin Judd tweets:  "Cady Noland is right, the art dealers are wrong. They are just arguing their 'philosophical' position for profit, not out of any kind of actual conviction."

Postmasters' Magda Sawon agrees:  "This is a no brainer. Team Cady Noland."

UPDATE:  Brian Frye "respectfully disagree[s] in part. The dealers may be 'wrong' in some 'ethical' sense, but their legal argument is pretty solid. The Copyright Office doesn't see any 'original' elements protectable by copyright & neither do I. No VARA rights without copyrightable subject matter."

Agnes Martin Authentication Suit Dismissed

Story here.  Background here.

Artnet's Eileen Kinsella says "that exhalation you just heard is the sound of art authentication boards and catalogue raisonné authors across the country breathing a sigh of relief."  Yale's Will Goetzmann tweets:  "Landmark decision granting art historians freedom of speech!!!!! Finally some rationality."

While it's certainly good news for artist foundations, keep in mind it's one decision by one lower court (which will probably be appealed).  The best part of the decision for those folks is that the court enforced the legal fees provision in the plaintiff's agreement with the authentication committee:  the next person contemplating bringing such a suit will have to think about not just the possibility of losing, but also of having to pay the foundation's legal fees if they do.  (But given the existence of these clauses in the first place, that's probably something they should have been thinking about all along.)

Saturday, March 24, 2018

A surprise addition to the anti-anti-deaccessioning crowd

Martin Gammon (mentioned recently here), who now says (see comments):

"I have no complaint with the marketplace, and in fact think it is an important part of the equation. I also do not doubt that a case remains for Berkshire to deaccession some works to salve their chronic deficits. I just think that the wholesale decimation of all of the highpoints in the collection is simply not justified on that premise alone, and that a) there is a more narrowly focused selection that can be justified on curatorial grounds, and b) there is no reason why these could not be offered to other museums first, if the sale is proven necessary by an independent financial review."

There's room for that view in our crowd.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Tell me again about the public trust (foreign museums edition)

Rio de Janeiro's Modern Art Museum is selling a Jackson Pollock.

The National Gallery of Canada is selling a Chagall.

Are these sales "ethical"?  How should a member in good standing of the Deaccession Police feel about them?

Well, first she would need to know if Brazil and Canada have their own versions of the AAMD and AAM and, if so, whether they have "codes of ethics" and, if so, what they say about the sales.

Once she has all of that information, then our Deaccession Police officer can have an opinion on the matter.

It's an interesting kind of ethics.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

"Is there an ethical case against deaccessioning by museums?"

Asks Michael Rushton on Twitter, after succintly capturing the nature of most anti-deaccessioning arguments:

"These arguments seem to me to beg the question: if one assumes from the outset that deaccessioning is unethical and unprofessional, then of course it's all dire and urgent. But I've yet to see a coherent argument about *why* an institution selling some assets is unethical. It certainly might be the case that the sales of assets are a result of poor management and board oversight, but that's just bad management and oversight, and doesn't make every case of asset sales a moral failure."

I think that's exactly right:  the Deaccession Police merely assume (why? because it violates the self-invented rules of a couple of museum guilds) that the practice is unethical, and all the hysteria simply follows from that assumption.

Rushton goes on to ask for "suggestions for an article that strongly presents a moral case against deaccessioning," and only Lee Rosenbaum (who so far as I can tell is the only member of the Deaccession Police at all willing to engage with critics) takes up the challenge, pointing him to her 2005 New York Times piece on the subject.

Rushton takes it apart here.

Rosenbaum's core argument is the following:

"Museums’ permanent collections belong to all of us. The public has, in most instances, paid for these works through the tax deductions given to private donors. And those donors bestow such works on the public expecting them to be valued for their aesthetic, not financial worth. If a museum doesn’t regard a particular gift as worthy of display or study, it shouldn’t accept the gift in the first place."

Rushton responds:

"There’s a lot in this paragraph; let’s break it down:

"'Museums’ permanent collections belong to all of us' is not true in any meaningful sense. Nonprofit museums are independent entities, and I have no claim on their works, any more than I have claims on the assets of any other organization. It is sentiment, but nothing more than that.

"That there were tax deductions to the donors does not change matters. All donations, cash or in kind, to registered nonprofits receive a tax deduction, but that doesn’t mean the organization surrenders the control of its assets to 'all of us.' The tax policy in place with respect to charitable donations is designed to encourage donations to charity, but does not imply any general public say in the management of assets.

"Do donors expect works to be valued for their aesthetic, not financial worth? Sometimes, maybe. A couple of years ago I was moving house, and ended up donating a couple of van-loads worth of books to my school library and local public library. They might put some on the shelf, and they might sell some where they think they could use the money to acquire books better suited to the library’s purpose. I don’t care – I just want to help out my library, and they can use my donation as it best benefits the library mission. I don’t see a moral difference between a gift of $500,000 cash to a museum and the gift of a work of art that doesn’t really fit its mission or collection but could yield $500,000 at sale that could be used on other purchases that would fit its mission. A donor could say 'I insist that you never sell this work, for any reason', I suppose. But I would want to ask that donor: Why?

"And as to the final point: my impression in most deaccessioning cases is not that a gift was accepted that the museum didn’t find worthy, but rather that it was once worthy but that circumstances have changed. Must any work accepted be held in perpetuity?

"And so in the end my ask for an article that gives a persuasive moral case that 'certain kinds of deaccessioning is unethical' has not been met. I don’t see it in the Berkshire case she is now covering."

I've made similar arguments in the past, including that Rosenbaum's argument can't possibly support opposition to sales between museums:

"Put aside the question whether this ownership principle applies to all non-profits, or just to museums (do 'we' own everything in every school and hospital and church and other non-profit by virtue of the tax deductions that help support them?), and go along with the assumption that everything every museum owns is 'our stuff.' Suppose Museum A has two paintings and has $100 in the bank (it's a very small museum). And suppose Museum B has one painting and $200 in the bank. So 'we,' 'the public,' 'Americans,' have three paintings (Museum A's two plus Museum B's one) and $300 ($100 from Museum A and $200 from Museum B). That's our stuff. Now Museum A sells one of its paintings to Museum B for $100. That leaves Museum A with one painting and now $200 in the bank, and Museum B now with two paintings but just $100 in the bank. What do 'we' have now? Three paintings and $300. Just as before. It's like moving money from one of my bank accounts (called, say, the 'National Academy Account') to another of my accounts (called, say, the 'Crystal Bridges Account'). I just don't see how 'Americans' are harmed when a work moves from one of their museums to another."

And here:

"It is sometimes suggested that this is a function of the favorable tax treatment museums receive: because museums are exempt from property and income taxes, and donors get tax deductions for contributing to them, the 'public' therefore is the true owner of the art. I've never really understood that argument. There are lots of other entities that get the same tax benefits -- churches. private schools and universities, hospitals, etc. Does the public own the MRI machines at the hospital? If a university decides to shut down the sociology department, should we step in and say, 'Hey, wait a minute. That department was held in trust for us. You can't just get rid of it like that'? Does every asset ostensibly held by every non-profit really belong to us? And if not, what makes art different? How does it come to be 'held in trust' when other, similarly-owned assets are not?"

And one more:

"Note that this argument would apply not just to the art, but to all the other assets of the museum -- computers, chairs, and holiday decorations. More importantly, it's just not the case that being granted nonprofit status means you agree your 'assets are public.' Think of every church, hospital, private school, etc. Their assets do not 'belong' to the public."

In the comments to Rushton's piece, Gail Obenreder points out that:

"Not every work of art in a museum has been acquired in the same manner. Some, certainly, were donated to be cared for and (probably periodically) displayed. Those may or may not have been given with the legal caveat to be a permanent part of the collection; many aren’t. ... And some are purchased by museums. These purchases may increase in value, perhaps greatly. And in any other type of organization (profit or non-) making a smart purchase and then monetizing that asset when it accrues more value would be lauded."

Thursday, March 15, 2018

"The notion that museums could simply liquidate the bottom 1% of their collections for a cash windfall that would solve most fiduciary challenges is simply a canard."

That's from this piece by Martin Gammon in The Art Newspaper, and I suspect it will quickly be adopted as a talking point by the Deaccession Police.  Not only is deaccessioning repulsive and unethical and Stalin-esque, it also doesn't work!!

But is that really the right way to frame the issue?  Isn't the real question whether this particular museum can liquidate (just liquidate, as opposed to "simply" liquidate) some portion of its collection (maybe it's the bottom 1%, maybe it's 22-24% from the bottom) for some funding (as opposed to a far more repulsive-sounding "cash windfall") that would help solve the particular challenge that this particular museum finds itself currently facing (as opposed to solving "most fiduciary challenges")?

This is interesting

According to The Fashion Law blog, a street artist complained to retailer H&M about their use of his work in an ad campaign ... H&M responded by filing a lawsuit seeking a declaration that unauthorized graffiti is not protected by copyright ... but then immediately realized they had made a big mistake and issued the following statement:

"H&M respects the creativity and uniqueness of artists, no matter the medium. We should have acted differently in our approach to this matter. It was never our intention to set a precedent concerning public art or to influence the debate on the legality of street art.  As a result, we are withdrawing the complaint filed in court. We are currently reaching out directly to the artist in question to come up with a solution. We thank everyone for their comments and concerns, as always, all voices matter to us."

"According to the Association of Art Museum Directors, nationwide 59 percent of museums charge admission, 34 percent are free and 7 percent suggest a donation amount"

That's from this NYT story.

As far as I can tell, only one museum from that 59 percent is the object of protests over the policy.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

More on the Shagalov case

Mentioned earlier here.  Georgina Adam and Anny Shaw have lots more detail in the Art Newspaper, including this from New York Judge Charles Ramos during a January court hearing:

"“I have never seen an industry more ripe with fraud and misconduct than the art business. To say there’s such a thing as artistic ethics is an oxymoron. Most of the cases I’ve had involving art dealers involve fraud outright. Just plain old fraud. This is not a nice business."

"France’s highest appeals court has now ordered a retrial on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence that the goods held by the suspects had been stolen."

The saga of Picasso's electrician goes on.  Background here.

"We want to keep admission fees low, keep the state role to a minimum, and, in terms of donors, insist on clean hands. But if we want to do *all* that, something has to give."

Michael Rushton on the question of "tainted money."

"But it’s the Copyright Act not the court that’s blocking the road, and [artists] have an easy way around. All they’re required to do is share their profits with the creators of the content they seek to exploit."

Stephen Carter on the Second Circuit's TVEyes decision, but maybe also on the visual art appropriation wars?

5Pointz Lessonz

Eileen Kinsella rounds them up.

Monday, February 12, 2018

$6.7 million in damages in the 5Pointz case (UPDATED)

Story here.  I've got to say I did not see that one coming.

From the opinion (reproduced here):  "If not for Wolkoff's insolence, these damages would not have been assessed. ... Given the degree of difficulty in proving actual damages, a modest amount of statutory damages would probably have been more in order."

UPDATE:  Brian Frye:  "Thankfully, this is why we have appellate courts. VARA is a stupid law, but not even VARA is this stupid."

Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento:  "[I]t wouldn’t surprise me if this case grabs Congress’s or the Trump Administration’s attention. Otherwise, my bet is that this case is appealed."

Friday, February 09, 2018

BREAKING: "Berkshire Museum Victory" (UPDATED 3X)

Andrew Russeth:  "Berkshire Museum Victory: Massachusetts Attorney General Agrees to Art Sales, With Rockwell Going to Public Institution, Some Conditions."

More later.

UPDATE:  Immediate reaction from Deaccession Police Headquarters:  "Floodgates opened."  "Once again, an attorney general has been a lapdog, not a watchdog."  "An ethical travesty."

On the other side, Brian Frye tweets: "MA AG finally knuckles under & tacitly admits it has no legal authority to stop the Berkshire Museum from selling art."

UPDATE 2:  Yale's Will Goetzmann, assuming that the buying public institution is Crystal Bridges, says: "A move from MA to AK makes both better off. Why not?"

Yeah, why not?  Remember there are two ways to look at these situations. One is to weigh the actual costs and actual benefits and try to determine whether, on balance, all things considered, the sale is a good idea. The other is to take it as a given that the guidelines of certain professional organizations carry serious moral weight, such that their violation is an "ethical travesty."  (And "pity" if you don't see it that way.)

Another example of the latter approach is San Francisco Chronicle art critic Charles Desmarais, who says the settlement "looks like complete capitulation to" the museum, and then adds: "I am sorry for your loss, Pittsfield."  But why aren't we also happy for your gain, Bentonville, Arkansas, or Los Angeles, or wherever the Rockwell ends up?  Why don't they cancel each other out?  Why do only the losses count?

UPDATE 3:  "Debacle."

Monday, January 29, 2018

"Museum industry standards on deaccessioning are inflexible and antiquated."

Nina Simon, executive director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art, has an interesting piece in the Berkshire Eagle arguing against "clinging to outdated deaccessioning policies" and suggesting that "instead of fighting to protect an imperfect and antiquated rule, we could create new rules — rules that put the public trust, not objects, first."

She's a little vague about exactly what those new rules would be, but they seem to include a version of the Ellis Rule:

"Other nonprofit industries have done this. Accredited American zoos, for example, have a strict policy that governs how animals move from one institution to another. If your zoo no longer plans to exhibit giraffes, those giraffes don't suddenly become fungible assets on the open market. They become tradable assets within a controlled market — with other accredited zoos, who will care for the giraffes as well as you once did."

Is the tide turning? I think the tide may be turning.

AG requests one-week extension of Berkshire Museum injunction

Reports the Berkshire Eagle, which adds that "because the museum does not oppose the request for an extension of the injunction, it is expected to be approved."

And a reminder from the Eagle about the AG's role in the dispute:

"In his Nov. 7 decision to deny the first request for an injunction against the art sales, Judge John A. Agostini questioned whether [AG] Healey's office was committed to its probe, citing what he saw as its 'initial indifference to this litigation.'

"The judge used 15 pages in his 25-page ruling to fault work by the Attorney General's Office on the case, suggesting it was 'dragged into' the case, exhibited 'faintheartedness' and didn't seem to think it would find grounds to support its objections to the sales.

"'In this litigation, the AGO is a reluctant warrior,' Agostini wrote."

Saturday, January 27, 2018

"But in the supercilious guild of museum elitists, deaccessioning items from a collection for any purpose other than acquiring more important items is a hanging offense."

Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby writes about "the dogmatic world of the deaccession police, [where] the Berkshire [Museum] would be better off dead if the price of staying alive for decades to come is to sell some artworks today."

He singles out captain Christopher Knight, who "sneered that the museum’s board had 'lost their minds' for not realizing that they had a duty to go out of business":

"'Don’t sell the art. Do close the museum,' he commanded. 'Spend the next several years responsibly overseeing the dispersal of the collection.' Elizabeth McGraw, the museum’s chairman, tells me people have said the same thing to her face. A Berkshire socialite confronted her at a reception: 'I think the museum should close, and the art should stay in the public.'

"But does anyone believe that culture and the arts in Pittsfield will be better off if the Berkshire Museum agreed to commit a genteel suicide and let its treasures be parceled out to other institutions? When the American Textile History Museum in Lowell, facing a similar financial crisis, closed its doors in 2016, its collections were dispersed to venues in North Carolina, upstate New York, and Washington, D.C. Almost nothing remained in the Massachusetts community .... Is that really what the condescending pooh-bahs of museum propriety wish for Pittsfield — not the loss of 40 items, but of all 40,000?"

And he has this to say about the Massachusetts AG:

"Attorney General Maura Healey, whose office oversees nonprofits and charities, was notified of the museum’s deaccessioning plans in June, weeks before it was announced publicly. She rightly raised no objection. Not until four months later, did Healey’s office act. ... [I]t’s hard to escape the conclusion that Healey’s investigation became a quest to find something, anything, to justify her belated opposition to the Berkshire’s plan. It isn’t only museum partisans who say so. Ruling on the initial request for an injunction in November, Superior Court Judge John Agostini pronounced it 'bewildering' that Healey would try to stop the sale when her office 'has uncovered no evidence of bad faith, no conflict of interest, [and] no breach of loyalty.'"

He concludes:

"The injunction expires Jan. 29. What happens next is anyone’s guess. But this much is clear: Each additional delay brings the Berkshire’s demise closer. Nothing is going to hurt Norman Rockwell’s paintings. But the museum he loved enough to give them to is fighting for its life, and time is running out."

Monday, January 22, 2018

Missing the Forest

San Francisco Chronicle art critic Charles Desmarais has a rebuttal to Michael O'Hare's recent piece on deaccessioning, which I discussed here.  It begins:

"Here’s an idea: Let’s make admission free to certain national parks. We’ll just sell off other parks, perhaps the ones with the lowest attendance, and use the proceeds to fund the popular spots for a while."

But isn't deaccessioning more like selling some of the trees within the park to pay for things like free admission, better upkeep and conservation, more staff, more and better public programs, etc.?

When a museum sells some artwork, it doesn't cease to exist as a museum.  It just has a few less trees than it did before.

And isn't it worth noting that parks already sell trees all the time and nobody seems to care (don't be so touchy about it), so long as they use the proceeds to buy other, different trees?

Desmarais includes a concession that "a certain amount of prudent trimming can make sense." But he doesn't explain why the proceeds from such trimming can only be used to buy more trees and not for other valuable purposes (such as free admission).

Friday, January 19, 2018

BREAKING NEWS: The Ellis Rule Is Back

Brought back by the eponym himself.

The recent run of deaccessioning sanity continues.  Glenn Lowry, Michael O'Hare, Tim Schneider, and now Adrian Ellis line up against the tomato throwers.  Is the tide finally turning?

Saturday, January 13, 2018

"This is really bad for U.S. collectors"

The NYT Wealth Matters column this week:  How the Tax Code Rewrite Favors Real Estate Over Art.

It's about the elimination of 1031 exchanges for art in the new tax law, mentioned earlier here.

Friday, January 12, 2018

"This happens from time to time when a minor museum can’t fix the roof or keep the heat on, and the moral outrage machine goes into high gear, wailing that the sold works will be 'lost' to humanity forever!"

A very good day for sanity in the deaccessioning debate.

First, MoMA's Glenn Lowry joined me -- and Felix Salmon -- in the anti-anti-deaccessioning crowd.

And now, this great piece by Berkeley's Michael O'Hare in the San Francisco Chronicle. He starts off talking about the hysteria around the proposed Berkshire Museum sale, and says:

"Let’s get a grip. Selling major works to save a museum, or revise its overall mission, is rare, and not a matter of art getting 'lost'; they go to museums that want to show them, or to wealthy collectors who take good care of them, show them privately and almost always bequeath or give them — to museums."

He then pivots to another issue that's in the air these days -- museums charging admission fees:

"I have estimated ... the monetary value of the collection of one of my favorite museums, the Art Institute of Chicago: It’s about $35 billion. Absurd to think the institute would just sell the collection, or sell any of its best works, but what about all that stuff in the basement that has no prospect of ever being displayed? Well, if the institute sold 1 percent off the bottom ... the institute could endow free admission forever (currently general admission is $25; $20 for Chicago residents)."  (Along these lines:  9 Works the Met Should Sell Right Now to Avoid Charging Tourists Forever.)

Most museums, he points out, "have warehouses of art that are not creating any cultural value now and could be sold, especially to regional museums and collectors who would show it. They could free up funds for more space to show what they have, and more curators and educators to amplify the value of the visitors’ experience."  Or, as Lowry put it, "more programs that engage more people across a broader platform."

I know, really scandalous, repulsive, unethical stuff, right?

For more by O'Hare, see here, here (where he pointed out that "the Met has a collection worth at least $60 billion, thousands and thousands of objects almost none of which (by object count or square feet of picture) is ever shown or ever will be.  ... Selling just two percent ..., for example, could endow free admission forever"), here, here, and here.

Glenn Lowry Just Joined My Deaccessioning Hall of Fame

From an interview with Charlotte Burns:

"Charlotte Burns: Do you find that the current de-accession policies need adapting?

"Glenn Lowry: Well, I have very strong opinions about de-accessioning, and I don’t pretend for a moment to be aligned with many of my colleagues. I don’t believe you should de-accession to fund operating costs. I think that is a categoric mistake.

"But I do believe that one should de-accession rigorously in order to either acquire more important works of art or build endowments to support programming. Because for me, in the end, it’s all about being sufficiently well-capitalized to program intelligently and to have as few works of art in storage as possible. It doesn’t benefit anyone when there are millions of works of art that are languishing in storage. A— there’s a huge capital cost to that that has a drag on operations. But more importantly, we would be far better off, in my opinion, allowing others to have those works of art that might enjoy them, but even more importantly, converting that to endowed funds that could support public programs, exhibitions, publications.

"So, I have no issue with the anxiety about selling works of art to support daily operations. That’s not an intelligent use of those funds. But I do think we need to re-examine fundamentally how we improve the quality of what we do and what the role of collections are in that context.

"I’m an outlier in that respect. I’ve come to terms with the fact that many of my colleagues see it differently. But I also think I’m right that we are woefully under-capitalized, and there isn’t a single museum in this country—and I put The Museum of Modern Art in that—that is doing a great job of programming, because we don’t have the resources to do that. What we should be doing should be ten times what we’re currently doing.

"Charlotte Burns: What do you think you should be doing?

"Glenn Lowry: More programs that engage more people across a broader platform.

"Charlotte Burns: Right."

Right.

Wow.

Let me re-phrase that:  Wow.

It sure is refreshing to stumble across a little sanity in the deaccessioning debate.

One thing I think Lowry may be wrong about is that he's probably not as much of an outlier as he thinks. I've got at least a half dozen museum directors in my hall of fame (including, most recently, MASS MoCA's Joe Thompson), and I bet if you spoke to people privately, away from the watchful eye of the Deaccession Police and their informants, you'd find most of them would be in complete agreement with the position he lays out here.

"The $10 million offer was to have expired Jan. 1, but the museum board has voted to extend it indefinitely."

If you have information that would lead to the recovery of the stolen Gardner works, and didn't get around to disclosing it by the end of the year, you're in luck.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

"What seems to be lost in this discussion is due consideration of the specious assumption at its core: That free admission actually engages low income audiences."

Colleen Dilenschneider:  "Data indicate that free admission has little to no correlation with how well museums – including the Met – welcome or satisfy income-qualified audiences."

In other Met-admission related news today, Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry and History Museum -- both of which which sit on parkland -- announced admission fee increases. "The admission-fee hikes were approved Wednesday by the Chicago Park District Board to help offset increased costs in building maintenance and operations for both museums," and the Board's Commissioner noted: "If you look at all the other forms of entertainment, whether it’s professional teams or movie theaters or concerts, this ticket-price increase pales compared to what’s happened in the truly private sector."

"Why Mickey Mouse’s 1998 copyright extension probably won’t happen again"

Copyrights from the 1920s will start expiring next year if Congress doesn’t act.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

"No one likes to sell art. But if there is a higher purpose to better serve the students that we serve, we will."

Philadelphia Magazine: La Salle’s President Defends Her Controversial Plan to Auction Artwork.

What makes her think better serving her students is more important than the "ethical" guidelines of the museum trade organizations? Such a repulsive, deplorable thing for a college president to do -- put the interests of the students first.

Don't worry, the art world is "pushing back" against this crime.

"What is it about art that it shouldn’t be paid for?" (UPDATED 2X)

That's a question attributed to former Met Director Philippe de Montebello, in this Observer piece by Daniel Grant on the Met's new admission policy.

Jillian Steinhauer is at cnn.com arguing against the change, and at least tries to make the case that "the Met isn't quite like" all the other museums that charge for admission without anyone batting an eye. She mentions two differences. First, that the Met is "the largest art museum in the country." But I don't see what follows from that. Should the largest dance company in the country not charge for tickets?  And where does this "largest must be free" rule come from?  Why not "the top three must be free"?  Or the top 10?

Second, she says "the Met is a public institution in many senses of the word." One sense she mentions is that "New York City owns its main building on Fifth Avenue and the land that building sits on in Central Park." But to the extent that matters, isn't it adequately dealt with by the fact that the museum remains free for New York City residents?

And the Philadelphia Inquirer runs an opinion piece headed "Museums should be free to everyone, regardless of where they live or how much they earn." That's a position I can at least understand. (I may not be convinced by it, but I can understand it.) What I don't understand is the position that this museum, alone among all the others, should be free.

UPDATE:  9 Works the Met Should Sell Right Now to Avoid Charging Tourists Forever.

UPDATE 2:  More Than 200 U.S. Art Museums by Admission Price. (Spoiler alert: the great majority are not free.)

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Breaking News: Museums Charge Admission Fees (UPDATED)

Who knew?!

Just a couple of quick notes on the uproar over the Met announcing that it's going to start doing what every other museum already does (except less so -- their admission fee will only apply to out-of-state visitors).

1.  First, the argument that, as Roberta Smith put it in the Times, "we shouldn't have to pay to see art in museums whose nonprofit status is supported by our taxes" obviously applies with equal force to all museums, not just the Met.  So where are the protests against MoMA, the Guggenheim, the Whitney, etc. etc.?

2.  A similar claim sometimes pops up in the deaccessioning debate, but nonprofit status simply doesn't do the work its meant to do in arguments like that.  Most theater companies and dance companies have nonprofit status.  Should their performances be free?  Private schools have nonprofit status.  Is it improper for them to charge tuition?  Hospitals have nonprofit status.  And on and on.  There may be good arguments against the Met's decision here, but its nonprofit status is not one of them.

The NYT editorial board points out that the "the new system is in line with prices charged at some other institutions, like the Museum of Modern Art" and says the new policy "is as understandable as it is regrettable."

The Art Market Monitor is not impressed with Smith's (and Holland Cotter's) piece (he calls it "a contradictory set of emotionally-driven politically-naive opinions").

UPDATE:  Brian Frye points out (correctly, I think) that there is a kind of "endowment effect" in play here.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Here We Go Again

La Salle University in Philadelphia is planning to sell some art, hoping to raise "as much as $7 million, or more, which would be used to 'to help fund teaching and learning initiatives in its new strategic plan.'"

The debate (if you can call it that) will follow its usual form.

The Deaccession Police will cite the guidelines of the various museum organizations as if they were the word of God.

The university will point out in response that it is a university not a museum and (as a school official tells Lee Rosenbaum here) its "Board of Trustees has fiduciary responsibility for the University, and their decisions supersede those of the ... the guidelines established by museum trade associations."

The Deaccession Police will respond with their usual tactic of throwing rotten tomatoes and saying how dare you? and well, I never a lot.  They will compete with one another to see who can seem the most devastated by the trimming of a collection that, until five minutes ago, they didn't know existed.

For a more rational perspective, I recommend the law review article mentioned here.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

"5 Lawsuits That Could Reshape the Art World in 2018" (UPDATED)

From Isaac Kaplan at Artsy.  The list includes the Masterpiece Cakeshop Supreme Court case, Graham v. Prince, the Berkshire Museum lawsuits, the Guelph Treasure case, and the long-running Von Saher v. Norton Simon Museum.

UPDATE:  Brian Frye tweets:  "Interesting list. But I’m a little skeptical that Masterpiece Bakeshop will have much effect on the artworld, no matter how it is decided."  Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento responds:  "Agree on Masterpiece, but SCOTUS may do what art historians and critics do not--opine on what is and isn't art and expression. I hope."