Friday, October 12, 2018

"In two cases testing copyright law in social media, the artist Richard Prince is asking a federal court in Manhattan to rule that two of his Instagram-based works constitute fair use of photographs taken by others."

Laura Gilbert has the story in The Art Newspaper:

"Last year a US District Court judge rejected Prince’s motion to dismiss Graham’s case. ...  This time around, in summary judgment motions filed on 5 and 9 October, Prince argues that he had to use as much of the photograph as appeared in the Instagram post to accomplish his purpose. In a 15-page statement calling his iPhone a paintbrush, Prince explains that he wanted 'to reimagine traditional portraiture and bring to a canvas and art gallery a physical representation of the virtual world of social media'. Had he altered the photographs, he says, that intent would go unseen."

Law360's Bill Donahue points to "this paragraph [from the motion papers] -- which makes tons of sense in the specific context of a fair use argument but is also, like, brutal shade":

"Not only does Prince’s work have a transformative message, meaning and purpose, but it also has in no way usurped Graham’s market – to the contrary, Graham sold his Photograph for the greatest amount after Prince’s use. This is not a case of forgery, piracy, counterfeit or plagiarism; nor is it copyright infringement. Indeed, the purchaser of the Prince painting knew the included image was not taken by Prince and has unequivocally stated that he would never have purchased the Photograph; rather, he wanted the content, context, commentary, and technique of the Prince work. Indeed, it would make no sense for someone to pay for a Richard Prince if they wanted the Graham Photograph, which they could easily purchase for a fraction of the price of a New Portrait."

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Last Berkshire Museum Appeal Rejected

On standing grounds.  Story here.  Some background here.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Preliminary injunction granted in MoMA trademark suit (UPDATED)

Against a tea place called MoMaCha.  Story here.   Background here.

UPDATE:  More from the New York Times.

Monday, October 01, 2018

"Amazon Sued Over Use of Artist’s Work in ‘Suspiria’"

The artist is Ana Mendieta; Suspiria is the new movie by Luca Guadagnino (who directed last year's Call Me By Your Name), a remake of a 1977 Dario Argento horror film.  Variety story here, which includes the following:

"The suit alleges that the 'Suspiria' trailer, which was released in June, contained two images that were derived from Mendieta’s work. One image showed a woman’s hands bound with rope across a white table, which was alleged to be derived from 'Rape Scene.' The second showed a silhouette of a body on a sheet, which the estate claimed was based on 'Silueta Series.'

"The estate sent a cease and desist letter to Amazon in July. In late August, Amazon dropped a second trailer that did not contain the images. The studio screened the film for the estate’s agent in early September, after it premiered at the Venice Film Festival.

"According to the suit, the two images had been removed from the film, but the agent flagged eight others that also bore similarities to Mendieta’s work."

Brian Frye tweets:  "The lawyers for the estate will be so sad when they learn that copyright doesn’t protect style or ideas. Will this even survive a motion to dismiss? I hope not."

But Lee Thomas-Mason posts some side-by-side comparisons and it's not at all obvious to me that these (especially the first two, which it seems have been removed from the film?) fall on the idea side of the idea-expression divide.

I predict a settlement.

Summary Judgment Denied in the G.M. Graffiti Lawsuit

Story (and copy of the decision) here.  As mentioned here, G.M. had argued that there couldn't be infringement because the graffiti was part of an "architectural work" (namely, the parking garage it was painted on).  The court rejected that argument, if anything treating it as a closer call than it actually is.  Eriq Gardner calls it a "big win for graffiti artists."

"I have been introducing the ART Act since 2011 and I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing this bipartisan, bicameral version of the legislation this congress"

The American Royalties Too Act is being reintroduced.  I'm not a fan of the Act (for reasons mentioned here), but there is a version of a resale royalty that makes sense to me (for reasons hinted at, but not adequately defended, in the same post).

"Ms. Abramovic was leaving a book signing at the Palazzo Strozzi, in Florence, which is hosting Italy’s first major retrospective of her art, when a man slammed a paper portrait he had made of Ms. Abramovic over her head."

NY Times story here.  Abramovic says she was stunned but unhurt and has not pressed charges.

"Ezra Chowaiki was sentenced Thursday in federal court in Manhattan to 18 months in prison and three years of supervised release for defrauding art dealers and collectors of millions of dollars."

"He was also ordered to give up his interest in more than 20 works of art involved in the fraud, including pieces by Picasso and Alexander Calder."

"We didn’t feel the decision was the correct one. The nature of graffiti in itself is to paint over itself constantly, and [the artists] made reference to that and it’s what happened over the 27 odd years.”

Appeal filed in the 5Pointz VARA case.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

VARA Dismissal Affirmed

The Second Circuit has affirmed the dismissal of the VARA suit over the removal of a sculpture from Trinity Church in downtown Manhattan.

In discussing the dismissal by the District Court, I said:

"The artist had the additional difficulty that he signed a contact [which said] Trinity will have the right to complete, exhibit and sell the Sculpture if it so chooses [and that the artist] understands that Trinity has not promised the public exhibition of the Sculpture, and that Trinity may loan the Sculpture to third parties as Trinity deems appropriate."

The Second Circuit noticed that too:

"Here, Tobin argues that Trinity impermissibly modified his work, in violation of VARA, when it relocated the sculpture from Trinity Church in lower Manhattan to a seminary in Connecticut. He asserts that the sculpture is site specific, and was created for its original location at Trinity Church. Thus, he argues, by moving the sculpture, Trinity has violated the integrity of the piece, However, in a written agreement signed by the parties prior to the sculpture’s installation, Tobin affirmed that Trinity 'has not promised the public exhibition of the Sculpture, and that Trinity may loan the Sculpture to third parties as Trinity deems appropriate.'  Because either of these actions would require Trinity to physically move the sculpture, we conclude that Tobin waived any right he may have held under VARA to maintain the piece specifically at Trinity churchyard. Tobin 'expressly agree[d]' to this 'use[] of [his] work,' in conformance with the waiver requirements of VARA. 17 U.S.C. § 106A(e)(1). Accordingly, dismissal of Tobin’s claims premised on the modification resulting from the relocation of the piece was appropriate."

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Due Process

An exhibition and related events, curated by Alexandra Perloff-Giles.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

"So here’s the upshot: in a resale royalties scheme, 99% of artists will likely lose, so that the top 1% can win. This reverse-Robin Hood story is not some bug in the system -- it is its main feature."

Chris Sprigman and Guy Rub make the case against resale royalties for artists:

"We collected data representing all sales at public auctions conducted by Sotheby’s and Christie’s during March and April 2018. We examined how resale royalties from those sales would have been distributed if the so-called ART Act, the last bill attempting to enact resale royalties on a national level, was in place. The results are telling.

"If the ART Act had been law, 683 transactions by Sotheby’s and Christie’s in those two months might have been subject to resale royalties payments. Those sales ... would have generated royalty payments totaling over $2.3 million. A nice sum, but for whom?

"For the rich, and, in particular, for the rich and dead. Most of the royalties (57%) would have been paid to the estates of deceased artists, typically very famous ones. That list is dominated by some of the most prominent artists of the 20th century: artists who, on top of being critical and popular favorites, were wealthy in their lifetimes and left fortunes to their heirs. ..."

"So it’s clear that top-tier artists and their heirs make out like bandits under a resale royalty scheme. It’s also clear who doesn’t: young artists. There is not a single living artist in his or her twenties in our data who receives a resale payout. Total royalties for living artists in their thirties is only $6,813, or 0.29% of all royalties. Even artists in their forties are largely shut out. The top earner under the age of 50, the 49-year-old Shahzia Sikander, would have made just $5,125. In fact, all artists under 50, together, would have made only $52,906 in those two months, which is just 2.28% of all royalties, and about one-sixth of what the Andy Warhol Foundation alone would have reaped."

It's a pretty convincing argument against the ART Act ... but I still think there's a version of a resale royalty scheme that may make sense (which one day I'll try to spell out in more detail).

Monday, August 06, 2018

The Times had a critical piece yesterday on donor-advised funds ...

... which are commonly used in the art world.  The story is here.

Harvard's Greg Mankiw (convincingly) finds it "unconvincing":

"The headline and tone of the article suggest something nefarious is going on. But unless you think that future charitable spending is less admirable than current charitable spending, nothing of the sort is the case. ... [T]he donor of the funds cannot get the money back to finance his consumption or that of his heirs. The money has to eventually go to IRS-approved charities. Putting money into a DAF is essentially a commitment to give that part of your wealth, plus all future returns on it, to charity. As such, DAFs should be applauded."

Sunday, August 05, 2018

"Split decision in lawsuit over forged paintings sold by ex-Franklin Pierce professor and her son"

Story here:

"In a detailed ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Steven McAuliffe dismissed the warranty claim Hall had brought, concluding that because the case was brought four years after the purchase of the art, that was too late.  ...  But McAuliffe declined the bid of the Gascards to dismiss the other three charges, fraud, conspiracy to defraud and unjust enrichment.  ...  'Hall, on the other hand, has pointed to sufficient facts which, if credited as true, would permit a jury to conclude by clear and convincing evidence that the Gascards knew the paintings at issue were forgeries (or, at a minimum, that they were consciously indifferent to that fact),' McAuliffe wrote.  The decision means those three remaining counts are on a path to go to trial later this year."

Background here.

"Adrian Ellis has offered what I think is one of the best ways to address the deaccessioning dilemma."

Museum consultant Bob Beatty has a piece up at Hyperallergic on "the deaccessioning debate in museums."  As evidenced by his approving citation of the Ellis Rule, he seems to be in favor of a loosening of the "ethical" prohibitions on deaccessioning, but also seems keen to avoid the ire of the tomato throwers, so he's pretty subtle about it all.

"How Robert Indiana’s Caretaker Came to Control His Artistic Legacy"

NYT story here.  Background here.

"Decision should put decade-long legal battle between museum and heirs of art dealer Jacques Goudstikker 'to rest'"

The Norton Simon-Von Saher litigation, which I wrote about for the Journal of Art Crime all the way back in 2010, appears to finally be over.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

"G.M. Used Graffiti in a Car Ad. Should the Artist Be Paid?"

The New York Times reports:

"Mr. Falkner’s case is set to turn on another unsettled question of copyright law. Last month, lawyers for G.M. sought to end his lawsuit by claiming in court papers that the company was allowed to use his parking garage mural because of a provision in the law that says images of 'architectural works' do not have copyright protections. In their papers, the lawyers argued that the parking garage was itself an architectural work and that Mr. Falkner’s mural was not protected under the law because it was 'incorporated into a building.'"

And in response:

"Last week, Mr. Gluck [the artist's lawyer] filed his own court papers, suggesting that the architectural exemption was put in place to protect the public from being sued for taking and posting photos of significant structures like the Washington Monument or the Space Needle in Seattle. If a parking garage — even one covered in art — could be construed as a significant structure, Mr. Gluck maintained, it would have widespread implications.  'If GM’s view prevailed,' he wrote, 'all graffiti art that exists on a building — that is, most graffiti art — would suddenly be unprotected by copyright.'"

Saturday, July 14, 2018

"A new criminal case was recently opened in Geneva after a fraud complaint was filed in late 2015 by an unnamed industrialist from the Baltic region, who has accused an art dealer of overcharging for works by artists such as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Alberto Giacometti."

"This may sound like a familiar story, but it has nothing to do with the battle between Yves Bouvier and Dmitry Rybolovlev."

"Monterey’s Dalí17, which displays the 500-work private collection of the Ukrainian-born real estate developer Dimitry Piterman, features the Surrealist’s face—complete with upturned moustache—on its logo."

The Art Newspaper: Dalí foundation sues California museum for use of artist’s name and image.

Brandon Butler tweets:  "This lawsuit seems crazy—if a museum full of Dali art can’t use 'Dali,' what should it be called? 'Museum of the Melting Clocks Guy—You Know, with the Weird Mustache'?"

On the other hand:

"Coblentz Patch Duffy & Bass partner Lawrence Siskind, who’s not involved in the case, said at first blush it sounds as if the foundation has a strong case. If the museum called itself 'The Museum of Surrealism' and exhibited Dali retrospectives, that probably wouldn’t break any laws. It could even create a website called DaliSucks.com and publish commentary and criticism about his artwork.  But use of 'Dali' as part of the museum’s name might imply that Dali’s heirs or owners of the rights have authorized use the name, or endorsed the museum, Siskind said."

And:

"UC Hastings School of Law civil litigation professor David Levine said Piterman 'may well have a problem' by using Dalí’s name and image to promote the museum. It’s one thing, Levine said, to display a Dalí painting on a museum wall. It’s another thing to use Dalí’s image to promote it.   To be safe, Levine said, Piterman needs a different strategy.  'If he advertises it as "Dmitry’s Museum Featuring Works of Salvador Dalí" without using Dalí’s likeness, that’s probably OK,' Levine said."

"Now Ms. Columbus, 43, has filed a complaint with the New York City Commission on Human Rights, asserting the museum discriminated against her in violation of the city’s laws on caregivers, pregnancy and women’s rights."

NYT:  Curator Says MoMA PS1 Wanted Her, Until She Had a Baby.

Paddy Johnson comments here.

"The Wayfair decision looks like a sales tax game-changer for many New York galleries."

Says Tom Danziger in this artnet piece on a recent Supreme Court decision involving the power of states to require out-of-state sellers to collect sales tax on objects shipped into the state -- say works of art, for example.  Here's the New York Times story on the decision.  More here generally, and more here as it relates specifically to the art market.

"Having determined that the face of plaintiff’s sculpture is distinct, original, and protected, we find that defendant’s use was infringing."

Here's an interesting one:  the US Postal Service owes an artist $3.5 million for using what they thought was a photo of the Statue of Liberty on a stamp but which turned out to be a photo of a variation on the actual statue that lives outside a New York-themed hotel in Las Vegas.  The decision is here.

Berkshire Update

At the Center for Art Law, Jennie Nadel has a good summary of where things stand.

The Berkshire Eagle says a "new era" for the museum has begun.

And, in case you were wondering, opponents of the sale are still opposed.  They have not changed their minds.

More on the California Resale Royalty Decision

Lots of coverage over the last week.  Nicholas O'Donnell has a very good, comprehensive overview of the twists and turns the case has taken.  His conclusion:  "Barring unexpected developments (or Supreme Court intervention and reversal), this is probably the end of the line for droit de suite in America."

The New York Times report is here:  California Tried to Give Artists a Cut. But the Judges Said No.

Brian Frye says the decision is "a big deal, but should not come as a surprise to anyone."

Jori Finkel's report in The Art Newspaper points out that "the ruling could also open the door for Christie’s and Sotheby’s to hold more contemporary auctions in Los Angeles, free of both the burden of paying the 5% royalty and the pressure of navigating and litigating this issue."  And she includes a glass half-full take from ARS's Ted Feder:  "On the bright side, the Ninth Circuit decision recognises this federal pre-emption, which in our view argues for adoption of a national right, covering all the States."

On the glass half-empty side, echoing O'Donnell's conclusion, Daniel Grant's Observer report declares that "artist resale royalties in the United States, like Old Marley in the Dickens story, are as dead as a door-nail."  I think this take may overstate things.  Yes, resale royalties are currently a little deader than they were before this case, in the sense that there used to be one state that had them and now there are (and can only be) none.  But it's at least possible that, on the national level, there may be slightly more momentum for resale royalty legislation after this decision than there was before.  It's still pretty unlikely, but I don't think we can rule it out completely.  I still think there's a version of a resale royalty law that make sense.

Friday, July 06, 2018

"Our decision today means the CRRA had a short effective life."

BREAKING:  Ninth Circuit rules that the California resale royalty law is preempted by the 1976 Copyright Act (so -- at most -- the plaintiffs can pursue claims from the period between the law's effective date of January 1, 1977 and the 1976 Act's effective date of January 1, 1978).

For background, start here.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

"Sir Anish Kapoor’s Clenched Fist of Copyright, the Battle Over Fair Use, and the NRA"

Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento, writing at Hyperallergic, on Anish Kapoor's lawsuit against the NRA.

Related:  Mike Masnick at Techdirt:

"This is so obviously fair use that it's not even worth going through the full four factor analysis. This is less than a second in a political video showing a public sculpture in a public location. It's not key to the video. It's used as part of commentary.  The nature of Kapoor's lawsuit, however, is quite obviously to stifle free speech he disagrees with."

Friday, June 22, 2018

"But the imperious demands of a multimillionaire who no longer wants to wait cannot trump the plain and unambiguous language of the Purchase Agreements, which do not require Mr. Koons to create the Works by any specified deadline."

Artnews:  Gagosian Gallery Files Motion to Dismiss Steven Tananbaum’s Jeff Koons ‘Non-Delivery’ Lawsuit.

This is the one with the ouroboros.

"Anish Kapoor Sues NRA for Copyright Infringement of Bean Sculpture"

Artnews story here.  They use it in an ad.

Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento thinks Kapoor is trying to use copyright to censor speech.

IP professor Christine Farley tweets:  "The Bean appears for just 1 second, but it takes up almost the entire frame. De minimis?"  (For a recent de minimis case, see here.)

And some interesting Twitter discussion among some law professors here (though I really don't get the doubts about copyrightability here).  Brian Frye says "surely the use of public art as a backdrop is - or should be! - a fair use."  Michael Risch wonders why we should think "people should be free to commercialize photos of sculptures when they can't commercialize a photo of a painting. Other than the fact that you have to pay to see one of them in a museum, it's unclear to me why these are different categories of art."  Several people seem to think there should be a statutory exception allowing the use of public art.

"In such a polarised climate, should auction houses and dealers not pay their dues to the artists from whom they profit?"

In The Art Newspaper last week, Anny Shaw uses P. Diddy's recent purchase at auction of a Kerry James Marshall painting for $21 million -- "Marshall didn’t receive a cent from the sale" -- as an occasion to wonder about resale royalties for artists.

And that reminds me to thank everyone who came out to Pioneer Books Monday evening for a stimulating conversation on the subject of resale royalties (where among other things I described what I don't like about the most recent proposed legislation and defended my tentative, still-developing idea for an alternative version that would apply, without a cap, in cases where there has been a massive increase in value).

Thursday, June 14, 2018

"A New York City real estate developer who demolished the famed graffiti space 5Pointz won't get a new trial, after a federal judge Wednesday issued a scathing opinion that blasted the owner for lying in court and other 'egregious behavior.'"

Law360:  No New Trial Over 5Pointz Graffiti Destruction, Judge Says:

"The ruling paves the way for Wolkoff to take the case to the Second Circuit, setting the stage for a closely watched appeal ...."

One question for that appeal will be whether statutory damages are the appropriate remedy for the kind of behavior that seemed to tick off the Judge here.

Friday, June 08, 2018

"I spent hours researching it, and I concluded that Arcis is a tax-free zone in search of a tax.”

A Longreads read on the new "freeport" in Harlem.

"This action arises from a greedy, malevolent, fraudulent, bad-faith and (unfortunately) successful scheme to financially devastate the Estate and, indirectly, Belinda, by destroying the value of the Estate’s most valuable asset — Jean-Michel Basquiat’s masterpiece, ‘Flesh and Spirit.'"

The next round in a dispute over a Basquiat sold at Sotheby's last month. For round one, see here.

The painting sold for $30.7 million.  The claim seems to be that, but for the greedy, malevolent, fraudulent, bad-faith scheme, it would have sold for more.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Because we said so, that's why

I've been meaning to link to the AAMD's statement regarding their imposition of sanctions on the Berkshire Museum and the La Salle University Art Museum.

It's a really good instance of the phenomenon Michael Rushton talked about here: it just states their policy as if it's self-evident; there's no real effort made to explain why the policy makes sense.

All the work is done (to the extent any work is done) in the second paragraph:

"AAMD has a long-standing policy that restricts the use of funds obtained through deaccessioning to the acquisition of works of art. Selling art to support any need other than to build a museum’s collection fundamentally undermines the critically important relationships between museums, donors and the public. When museums violate the trust of their donors and the public, they diminish the opportunity and responsibility to make great works of art available to the public. This hurts the individual institution and affects the museum field as a whole."

The first sentence just asserts the policy.  The second sentence is the closest we get to an explanation or defense of the policy, so let's take a close look at it.  The key move, the stolen base, the sleight of hand, is the sneaky introduction of the "other than":  Selling art to support any need other than to build a museum's collection fundamentally undermines (not just undermines, fundamentally undermines).  But where does that particular "other than" come from?  Couldn't we just as easily slip anything we want in there?  Selling art to support any need other than keeping the museum from going out of business.  Selling art to support any need other than providing expanded access to the museum's collection.  Selling art to support any need other than attracting the most talented curators.  Selling art to support any need other than changing the museum's mission.  Selling art to support any need other than paying legal fees.  Why does "to build a museum's collection" get to be the only "other than"?  How did that happen?

Again, it's just what Rushton calls attention to:  what they're really saying here, in their big, public statement on this big, public matter, is:  We have a policy.  To violate that policy fundamentally undermines.  It's just circular; it's no explanation at all.  This was the best they could do?

Nor is there any explanation of how those "critically important relationships" are (fundamentally) undermined.  It's just another empty assertion.

The third sentence pivots to talking about "violating the trust" of the donors and the public -- but where did that come from?  What trust?  How is it violated when a museum sells art for one purpose but not for the big "other than" purpose?  And what if selling art in a particular case expands the opportunity to make great works of art available to the public -- again by, for example, subsidizing or eliminating admission fees, or keeping the museum open longer hours, or keeping a financially troubled museum from closing its doors for good?

Or, what about the Ellis Rule?  What if a small museum in the Berkshires sells art to a museum in Los Angeles?  Has that diminished the opportunity to make great works of art available to the public, or expanded it?  Won't more people get to see it in Los Angeles?

Are they even trying any more?

The paragraph concludes with:  "This" -- referring, I guess, to the diminishment of the opportunity and responsibility to make great works of art available to the public -- "hurts the individual institution and affects the museum field as a whole."  Yes, we mustn't do anything that could "affect" the museum field as a whole.  That's always unethical.  You never want to affect the museum field as a whole.

I've said before that they need better talking points.  But really what they need is a better policy.

"In its present form, the AAM’s deaccessioning policy hinders—rather than facilitates—access to one of America’s greatest sources of cultural capital: the art museum."

Outdated Rules Are Killing Museums—Here’s How Things Can Change.

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.