Monday, October 23, 2006

Steve Wynn's Elbow

I'm a little late getting to the story of how Steve Wynn put his elbow through Picasso's "Le Reve," which he was about to sell to collector Steven Cohen for $139 million. Nick Paumgarten had an amusing piece about it in last week's New Yorker. Nora Ephron, who was an eyewitness, wrote about it at the Huffington Post. Artnet covered it here (second item).

Problem is, as law prof Miriam Cherry says in the comments here (scroll down), there really aren't any interesting legal issues here. One possibility is the contract angle (before the accident Wynn had agreed to sell the work to Cohen) -- but he willingly rescinded the sale. As Cherry says at her own blog, "it would have made for a more interesting contracts problem if Wynn hadn’t done the honorable thing and agreed to keep and repair the painting!" The Wall Street Journal's law blog calls it "The Greatest Contract Dispute That Never Was."

Nor are there any moral rights issues: Wynn could have intentionally put his elbow through the painting for all the law cares. (Cherry titles her post, "The Right to Destroy," which was also the title of an earlier post of mine; and her fellow law prof Avi Bell is put in mind of Joseph Sax's Playing Darts with a Rembrandt, also mentioned in my earlier post. He says,"I'm not sure quite how this story fits in, but it has to say something.")

Maybe the real takeaway lesson here, if there is one, is: Anything can happen. As a commenter at the Wall Street Journal blog says, it's "a good example to use the next time a client dings me for worrying too much about 'unlikely' events when negotiating indemnities and other 'what if' contract provisions."

Here is an image of "Le Reve." Here is a Wikipedia entry on Wynn's art collection (already updated, of course, to include these developments). And here is Wikipedia on Cohen as collector (also right up to date).