Friday, March 30, 2007

Back for a visit

Asher Durand's "Kindred Spirits," the "civic landmark" "raided" (Michael Kimmelman's words) from the New York Public Library by Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton a year before she tried to buy Eakins's Gross Clinic away from Philadelphia's Thomas Jefferson University, has returned to town, at least temporarily: it's part of “Kindred Spirits: Asher B. Durand and the American Landscape,” a show of about 60 Durand works now up at the Brooklyn Museum. Grace Glueck reviews the show in today's New York Times. Kate Taylor wrote about "the Durand moment" in the New York Sun last week. More on the painting from the National Gallery here.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Here we go again

With the Gross Clinic sale in the books, Philadelphia's Thomas Jefferson University now says it plans to sell the other two Eakins paintings in its collection. The two works are here and here. Complete story in the Philadelphia Inquirer here. Expect fireworks.

A different kind of heist flick

Fans of art-theft stories (you know who you are) should check their local listings for the PBS series "Independent Lens," which is currently featuring a documentary called STOLEN, about the 1990 art heist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston:

"The $500-million heist is one of the largest fine arts thefts ever. Posing as police officers, thieves cut 13 canvases from their frames and walked off with such masterpieces as Rembrandt’s 'Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee' and Vermeer’s 'The Concert.' 'Unfortunately, the works were not insured, and 17 years later, the art world still holds out hope that they will be returned to their frames,” said Dorit Straus, vice president of [insurance company] Chubb & Son .... Directed by award-winning independent filmmaker Rebecca Dreyfus, the documentary explores the unusual, unsolved crime through the colorful cast of characters surrounding the search for the masterpieces and the culprits."

Chubb is sponsoring the show. Its full press release is here. There's lots more at the "Independent Lens" site. Here is a detailed news piece from 2002. Here is a short previous post.

Fine Art Capital

In today's New York Sun business section, Liz Peek has a story on Fine Art Capital, which makes loans against art. Here's how she makes their pitch:

"Andy Augenblick has an 89-year-old client who has, to put it politely, outlived his liquidity. He is not broke exactly, but on the other hand, he has no cash. What he does have is an important painting, valued at many millions of dollars. The client has several choices. He can sell the painting today and live off the proceeds .... Or he can borrow against the painting .... Here's why the decision is an easy one. ... The capital gains tax on art and antiques ... remains at 28%, not 15%. Throw in local taxes, and the 20% commission due an auction house, and the proceeds from selling the painting are sliced in half. ... On the other hand, the client can borrow from Mr. Augenblick's company, Fine Art Capital, and keep the painting, which will find its way into the client's estate. The heirs will pay inheritance taxes, but they would have paid them on the remaining cash proceeds in any case. They avoid the capital gains haircut, since it will have been marked to present value when taken into the estate. They can then sell the picture, incurring only the sales commission."

Here is Fine Art Capital's site. Here is a Financial Times piece from back in October on the "rapidly growing" art-based lending business generally.

"Who wants a gallery in aspic?"

SUNY-Buffalo professor and anti-anti-deaccessionist Bruce Jackson (seen earlier here) has a long piece in Buffalo's Artvoice on the last act of the Albright-Knox deaccession drama, with a particular emphasis on the members' meeting just before the sale (at which he was one of the speakers, and which resulted in a 3-to-1 vote in favor of the sale). He's convinced the museum acted responsibly:

"The series of auctions that began at Sotheby’s ... is the result of a three-year process. The Buffalo Fine Arts Academy board investigated, they hired consultants, they talked with top people in the field, they considered staff studies and reports and, when they had what they thought sufficient facts to make a responsible decision, they made it, and immediately told everybody about it."

And he's no fan of the Buffalo Art Keepers, the group that led the fight against the sale:

"The Albright-Knox Art Gallery, which is financially strapped, had to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars defending itself against [the Art Keepers'] motion and lawsuit. An average new exhibit costs the Albright-Knox $50,000, so four, six or eight new exhibits are not coming to Buffalo because [of the lawsuit]. The stripped-down staff of the gallery ... dealt with almost nothing other than this challenge for nearly four months. All the curatorial, development and exhibition work that might have taken place in that time did not take place .... Whatever justification or rationalization might have existed before the [members'] vote evaporated when that vote was tallied. When [the Art Keepers] elected to continue the lawsuit in spite of that huge loss, they left the gallery and its membership behind and went off on a jihad entirely their own."

I mentioned last week that the initial sale yielded $16 million for the museum. A second sale brought in another $7 million. The remaining items will be auctioned separately in April, May, and June. Buffalo Business First has the full story here.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


The New York Times had a special section today on museums which includes some legal issues:

  • A story on Derek Gillman, the new head of the Barnes Foundation, includes the following: "The gallery’s relocation to a new building on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, allowed by a December 2004 court decision that overruled the collector’s express mandate on the ground of financial exigency, remains controversial. The move, which is scheduled for late 2009 or 2010, is opposed by a coalition that includes Merion residents, Barnes students and alumni and suburban legislators. Many art critics have also condemned it. Still, 'you have to assume the move is a fait accompli at this point,' said Stephen K. Urice, an associate professor of law at the University of Miami."
  • A story on the rise of "personal museums" -- "created by a single vision and a single fortune" -- includes the following from Susan Frunzi of Schulte Roth & Zabel: "Some people ask if they can keep the paintings on their living room wall and get the [income tax] deduction, or in a separate building on their personal property. In the former case it is not possible, and in the latter case, it is possible if structured correctly."
  • And finally, a nice story about Herrick, Feinstein's Lawrence Kaye and Howard Spiegler and their tremendous work in the area of art restitution.

Smithsonian Resignation

If you haven't been following the controversy involving Smithsonian head Lawrence Small, Eric Gibson has a good overview in today's Wall Street Journal. He points out that the immediate cause of Small's resignation was "the fallout on Capitol Hill from an inspector general's report that showed him billing the Smithsonian for such lavish expenses as first-class air travel and home maintenance costs--albeit with the approval of the Board of Regents, the Smithsonian's governing body." But he also notes that, prior to this, Small was no stranger to legal controversy: "In 2004 he was convicted of buying art containing feathers from birds on the Endangered Species list, and then got into a tussle with the judge on what form his community-service sentence should take."

Gibson also looks at possible replacements, but thinks the real problems are more structural.

Worth reading in its entirety.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Outsider Lawsuit

Artnet reports on an "ugly court battle" in Florida between outsider artist Purvis Young and his former business manager, Martin Siskind. Young claims that Siskind "failed to account for sales or turn over profits, and alleg[es] that Siskind had even changed the locks on Young’s art warehouse and studio." In a separate action, Siskind is seeking to have Young declared incompetent and a guardian appointed to oversee his affairs, and also seeks to be declared owner of 50 percent of Young’s artwork. Young reportedly owns 1,000-2,000 paintings, which have sold for as much as $60,000 apiece.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Wynn Case Settles

In addition to the Joyce case, another high profile case settled in the last few days: Steve Wynn's lawsuit against Lloyd's of London for his torn Picasso. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed. Bloomberg has the story here. Earlier posts on the story here, here, here, and here.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Joyce Case Settles (UPDATED)

Stanford Professor Carol Schloss's copyright "misuse" lawsuit against the James Joyce estate has been settled. The AP report is here. Lawprof Alfred Yen is disappointed: "the lack of final judgment preserves the ambiguity that copyright holders sometimes exploit to stifle criticism they don't like."

My most recent post on the case, after the complaint survived a motion to dismiss last month, is here.

UPDATE: More disappointment from lawprof William McGeveran: "This case was exciting precisely because it seemed like a good prospect to get some binding case law on the books about the scope of fair use for historians and literary scholars. A settlement doesn’t count as 'the law' in the same way at all. ... This is the famous ethical quandary of all lawyers involved in 'impact litigation' — you are using one person’s problems as a vehicle to change the law, but your first and greatest duty is to the client. Often, if you can get a great settlement, then you have to forego the larger-scale legal change you’d sought."

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Mark the date

Time magazine's Richard Lacayo has a refreshing take on the Albright-Knox deaccession controversy: not knowing enough about the relevant facts (the most important of which, in his view, is "how true it is that the museum can't raise sizeable funds any other way, the position that the museum's director Louis Grachos has taken"), he decides to "stay on the sidelines on this one."

He does say the following:

"For the record, I'm not someone who thinks de-accessioning is always a bad thing. For instance, my own preferred solution for the predicament of the Barnes Foundation ... would have been for the court to permit a one time sale of one or more of its works. Put that Rose period Picasso on the block and right there you have a new endowment of over $100 million. Granted, chances are good the Picasso would end up over the commode of some Russian kleptocrat, but the Barnes would be on a solid footing."

I said the same thing in a post last March:

"I think it was agreed during the court proceeding that, at most, a $50 million endowment fund (combined with a more sensible investment policy) would have been enough to keep the museum going in its current form (which is to say, in accordance with Dr. Barnes's stated intentions). Wouldn't a combination of this sort of fundraising, the sale of non-art assets (e.g., real estate), and possibly even, as a last resort, the deaccessioning of a small part of the collection (the total collection is sometimes said to be worth $20 billion) have been preferable to violating the settlor's intent so drastically by relocating the collection?"

And, in theory, the Russian kleptocrat problem could be solved by limiting the potential buyers to other public institutions. That might reduce the amount the Barnes received on the sale, but it might be thought that $75 million with the work remaining on view at, say, the National Gallery is, on balance, a better deal than $100 million with the work in the kleptocrat's living room.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

"A Complete Defeat" (UPDATED)

Lee Rosenbaum has a post-mortem on the Albright-Knox deaccession battle.

The Buffalo News looks ahead.

UPDATE: The initial sale yielded $18 million for the museum. Randy Kennedy's New York Times story is here. [Actually, it's $16 million for the museum; the rest goes to Sotheby's. I should have looked beyond the Times headline ("Buffalo Museum Makes $18 Million in Auction").]

Gold Rush

Thieves stole a 220-pound block of gold worth more than $2 million from a Japanese museum in broad daylight on Sunday. The piece was apparently "unguarded by sensors or even a case because [the museum] wanted visitors to be able to touch it." A local police officer is quoted as saying, "I suppose they could have been a little more careful." Gee, ya think?

Monday, March 19, 2007

Heroic Infringement Claim

Professor Patry points to an "unusual suit" involving the infringement of a painting by a TV series. According to a Reuters report:

"New York-based artists Clifton Mallery and his wife Amnau Karam Eele charged in a suit filed on Thursday in Manhattan that 'Heroes' creators based their plot line -- about an artist who can paint the future -- on a short story, a painting series and a short film the couple exhibited in 2004 and 2005. . . . The artists said in the lawsuit that two people who identified themselves as writers from NBC's 'Crossing Jordan,' which also developed by 'Heroes' creator and executive producer Tim Kring, attended an April 2005 exhibition of their work at Hunter College in New York City."

This is not the first unusual suit against the show. See the Wikipedia summary of the "Emerson lawsuit" here.

Fisk Deadline Passes

The 30-day deadline for Fisk University to come up with a plan to keep two important paintings in its Stieglitz Collection expired Sunday afternoon. Presumably, the university will now go ahead with the sale of O'Keeffe's Radiator Building to the O'Keeffe Museum for $7 million and Marsden Hartley's Painting No. 3 to the highest bidder. The Nashville Tennessean story is here. An earlier post of mine on the deal is here.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

"Shifting standards in the antiquities market" (UPDATED)

The New York Times has a lengthy story today -- in the business section -- on "the new wariness of collectors, both public and private, to buy or exhibit works that do not have the most rigorously documented history." According to the story, "antiquities experts say the mood in the art world turned sharply with the 2002 conviction of the prominent New York art dealer Frederick Schultz. He was found guilty of violating the 1934 National Stolen Property Act by conspiring to receive stolen Egyptian antiquities." Archaeology magazine had a comprehensive series on the Schultz case here.

UPDATE: Lee Rosenbaum comments here.


The New York Times today has a lengthy look at the Clyfford Still estate, which art historian David Anfam calls "the last great estate of Abstract Expressionism." The story begins with these facts:

"He left behind a one-page will, nearly 95 percent of the work he ever made (he sold or gave away only 150 pieces in his lifetime) and a widow determined to follow his final testament to the letter. The demands were these: His estate could be bequeathed only to an American city, one that would build a museum to serve as a temple to his art and to nothing else. No works could ever be sold. No other artist could ever show a single piece alongside his. All Clyfford Still, all the time."

The Clyfford Still Museum is expected to open in Denver in early 2010.

Friday, March 16, 2007

More Whiter

Robert Bernstein and Robert Clarida have jointly authored a column in the New York Law Journal today [$] on the joint authorship lawsuit in the U.K. involving the hit song "A Whiter Shade of Pale," which I discussed here.

They agree with Professor Patry that the decision almost certainly would have been different under U.S. law, and they go on to say:

"So the question thus arises: does [the successful U.K. claimant] get paid for U.S. exploitation of 'A Whiter Shade of Pale'? Under the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit's ruling in Itar-Tass v. Russian Kurier, questions of ownership are to be resolved under the law of the source country of a foreign work, perhaps here the United Kingdom. Now that the United Kingdom has declared Mr. Fisher to be a joint author of the work, ... does that result govern, even though Mr. Fisher's claim would almost certainly be time-barred in the United States?.... All we know for sure is that [the case] has raised as many questions as it has answered."

The Franchise

Kate Taylor had more in yesterday's New York Sun on Thomas Kinkade's deal with Lionsgate films, mentioned earlier here. She explains:

"Mr. Kinkade is a complete outsider to the mainstream art world, as defined by museums and New York galleries .... But Mr. Kinkade has his own, large pool of admirers. His twee, cozy images adorn the walls of millions of American homes, as well as appearing on products like Hallmark Christmas cards and ornaments and Spode dinnerware. He manages a national franchise of galleries that sell his paintings ––or, rather, digital reproductions of them — and his work has inspired two housing developments, including a cluster of luxury lakefront homes in Coeur d'Alène, Idaho, designed to resemble his painting 'Beyond Autumn Gate.'"

Lionsgate's production chief says, "We see Thomas Kinkade as a franchise in the film business just like he is in the art world." He adds that Kinkade is "probably the most successful artist of all time. ... For us, it's all about reaching an audience, and Thomas Kinkade has a vast audience."

Before this deal, Kinkdade had on his own already expanded well beyond paintings:

"Thomas Kinkade Media's output also includes books, direct to-DVD productions, ... and, on the Web, a soon-to-be-launched Thomas Kinkade Network. The network, which Mr. Byrne said will be up in the next six months, will offer people 'a whole variety of lifestyle and entertainment information, that spans from artwork to cooking, to decorating your home, to interviews with celebrities ....'"

Taylor adds that Kinkade "may paint worlds of sweetness and light, but his own life and business aren't always so wonderful":

"In the last year, at least 10 former owners of 'signature' galleries, which are licensed to sell only Mr. Kinkade's work, have accused Mr. Kinkade of defrauding them, using his Christianity to persuade them to invest in moneylosing businesses. In August, the Los Angeles Times reported that the FBI was investigating the allegations and that former dealers had been contacted for documentation about their relationship with Mr. Kinkade. In one case, an arbitration panel ordered Mr. Kinkade's company to pay $860,000 to two former dealers in Virginia."

"Legal Thuggery"

The Montana Supreme Court has upheld an $11 million judgment -- including $9.9 million in punitive damages -- against the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher for acting with “actual malice” in suing an art expert who declared a painting to be inauthentic. The court found that the firm acted with a “high level of misconduct” and that its “use of the judicial system amounts to legal thuggery.”

The Great Falls Tribune has the story here. I posted about the lower court verdict -- which initially included a $20 million punitive damage award, before it was reduced by the trial judge to $9.9 million -- here. The 105-page decision is here. The appellate briefs are here.

Sale On

The lawsuit seeking to block the Albright-Knox deaccessioning has been dismissed:

"The judge ... ruled the museum's governing board of directors 'reasonably and honestly exercised their judgment to determine' the sale of the ancient artworks as 'necessary for the continued existence and notoriety of the Albright-Knox.'"

No surprise there.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Stay Tuned

The decision on the motion for preliminary injunction blocking the Albright-Knox deaccessioning will be announced tomorrow. Story here. Lindsay Pollock has a reminder in Bloomberg of what's at stake:

"Sotheby's auctions next week could raise as much as $12.1 million for Albright-Knox. One of the standout lots is a bronze Chinese ceremonial wine vessel from about the 12th century, decorated with unusual owl- like eyes, that Albright-Knox purchased for $10,000 in 1953. It is estimated to sell for as much as $3 million."

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Now This Is Interesting (UPDATED)

The Buffalo News reports this evening that a (non-binding) motion to block the Albright-Knox's scheduled sale of approximately 200 works was defeated by a nearly 3-to-1 ratio at a members-only meeting Monday. A report earlier in the day noted that four lawsuits have been filed in an attempt to prevent the sale.

UPDATE: Randy Kennedy has a piece on the sale on page 1 of the Arts section of Wednesday's New York Times. (It was apparently filed before the results of the membership vote were announced last night; no mention of the vote totals is made.) He offers this summary of the Buffalo Art Keepers' lawsuit:

"The lawsuit contends that the museum violated its bylaws in deciding to sell and that some sales would also violate the bequests that brought pieces into the collection. It also cites documents from the museum’s history to argue that it has not always seen its mission as exclusively focused on Modern and contemporary work."

The Buffalo News also has more this morning:

"Charles W. Banta, [Albright-Knox] board president, urged that the Buffalo Art Keepers withdraw a lawsuit scheduled to be heard Thursday morning before State Supreme Court Justice Diane Y. Devlin.

"'In light of the overwhelmingly favorable membership vote, we would respectfully request that the Buffalo Art Keepers withdraw this lawsuit,' Banta said in a statement.

"The gallery’s board of directors voted unanimously on Tuesday to reaffirm its earlier decision to sell the antiquities.

"Carl Dennis of Buffalo Art Keepers said the group was planning to go ahead with the court case."

The first of the sales at Sotheby's is scheduled for Tuesday.

Title Insurance Update

I've posted a couple of times in the past (see here and here) on ARIS Insurance, which has been trying to market title protection insurance for works of art, along the lines of real estate title insurance. Long Island Business News reports that they've made at least some progress: Uniondale-based Liberty Title Agency, which specializes in real estate title insurance, has started a new division, Liberty Art Title Agency. It still appears that the next policy ARIS writes will be its first, however: the article says that, "since it went live in May, ARIS has researched 20 submissions, three of which should turn into deals."

I remain concerned about the adverse selection problem. As Landes & Posner put it in the article I cited in the first of the two posts linked above:

"Insurance companies normally insure against the risk of something happening in the future rather than against the consequences of something that has already happened. The insured is more likely to know the past than the future and so more likely, in the case of insurance against the consequences of something that has already happened (such as a thief in the chain of title), to be exploiting information known to him but not to the insurer. Title insurance in real estate is only an apparent exception, since all the title insurer insures against is the risk of its having failed to conduct a thorough search of the public registry of real estate titles."

$1.7 billion

Variety reports that Lionsgate films is working on a movie based on Thomas Kinkade's painting "The Christmas Cottage" as part of an overall film-TV producing deal with the artist. According to the story:

"Kinkade's company asserts it's sold $1.7 billion of artwork at retail over the past 15 years along with $2.4 billion in licensed product sales -- such as greeting cards and calendars -- over the past decade, resulting in Kinkade art being found in one out of every 10 U.S. households."

Lionsgate production chief Michael Paseornek is quoted as saying they were "attracted to making a deal with Kinkade, partly because of the accessibility of his artwork and his massive mailing list. He noted that average retail price for a limited canvas is $1,000 while average retail for decorative art is $150."

The movie will be "partly biographical, based on how Kincade was motivated to begin his career as an artist after discovering his mother was in danger of losing the family home."

Ed Winkleman is speechless.

Here is an image of the painting. Here are some earlier posts on Kinkade's legal troubles.

"They're a piracy haven"

The Toronto Globe and Mail had a story last week on the thriving counterfeit art trade in China. According to the article, "a single town in the country's south churn[ed] out $120-million of artwork last year."

Interestingly, the day after the story appeared, the particular website it discussed pulled much of its inventory from the site, but of course the problem is much broader than one site:

"The counterfeit paintings are but one stroke on a larger canvas of artistic piracy in China, where DVDs, software and designer clothing are mimicked then sold for a fraction of their cost in Western stores. The Chinese government launched a major drive against copyright infringement last year, but the entertainment industry coalition, the International Intellectual Property Alliance, still named the country as one of the world's worst offenders in 2006 — sharing that dubious honour with Russia — for a problem costing more than $2.2-billion."

Monday, March 12, 2007

Salisbury on Deaccessioning

Stephan Salisbury, who did a great job covering the Gross Clinic affair for the Philadelphia Inquirer, had a piece in Sunday's paper on the two other big deaccessionings in the news lately, Fisk University's sale of two major paintings and the Albright-Knox's sale of about 200 works.

The 30-day "hold" on the Fisk sale -- during which the University was supposed to explore alternatives to the proposed sale -- expires next Sunday, and Salisbury reports that "no serious offers" have come in. He also gets the Tennessee Attorney General to confirm that, in structuring the settlement, "I borrowed from the experience of The Gross Clinic in Philadelphia."

Salisbury says "[u]ltimately, such delays hark back to the so-called Waverly criteria, rules governing the export of 'national treasures' from Great Britain." Derek Fincham summarized the Waverly criteria here:

"The UK has a limited export restriction scheme, which temporarily halts the export of a work if it falls under one of the three Waverley Criteria:
1. Is it so closely connected with our history and national life that its departure would be a misfortune?
2. Is it of outstanding aesthetic importance?
3. Is it of outstanding significance for the study of some particular branch of art, learning or history?
If a work can fall under any one of these three categories, export will be temporarily restricted by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) so a UK buyer can raise enough money to keep the work in the UK."

Friday, March 09, 2007

Suit Over New Jersey 9/11 Memorial

The Newark Star-Ledger reports today on a lawsuit seeking to block construction of a 9/11 memorial in Liberty State Park:

"The lawsuit, filed with the Appellate Division in Trenton on Monday ..., says the state Department of Environmental Protection authorized a permit that neither fit the project nor required public comment. 'There were no hearings, no newspaper notices, no public comment, period,' said Cynthia A. Hadjiyannis, an attorney who filed the lawsuit on behalf of The Friends of Liberty State Park, an organization of 900 volunteers. 'The DEP took some shortcuts that led to the public being excluded from this process.'"

The memorial, known as "Empty Sky," was designed by New York architect Frederic Schwartz. Here is a description, with computer-generated renderings, from Schwartz's website. Here is a 2004 piece from Art in America by David Ebony.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Bio-art Law

The AP has a report on "the growing field of bio-art, a broad term for the blend of art, technology and science that is attracting artists, scientists and controversy." Bio-artists "use live tissues, bacteria, living organisms and life processes to create works of art." Among the artists mentioned are Adam Zaretsky (no relation) and Kevin H. Jones (whose work is included in this show currently up at Montserrat College of Art, where it's referred to as "biotech art," "an emerging and diverse field that is still in the process of defining [and, apparently, naming] itself").

But the art law connection is provided by another bio-artist:

"Steven Kurtz, a professor at SUNY Buffalo, was arrested on federal terrorism charges nearly three years ago after police discovered certain types of bacteria and other biological materials in his home. Kurtz maintains that the specimens were for his bio-arts pieces and that he has been unfairly targeted for his choice of artistic expression. Kurtz's trial is still pending ...."

Here is a Washington Post story on the arrest. Here is a piece from ArtForum. Here is his Wikipedia entry, which says that "in July 2004 a grand jury refused to indict on any 'terrorism' charges, but did indict Kurtz on federal criminal mail fraud and wire fraud charges, and he faces 20 years in jail for fraudulently obtaining biological microbes."

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Today's Deaccession News

Richard Lacayo says opponents of the Barnes move to Philadelphia had better pick up the pace, because the Barnes is moving full speed ahead. Yesterday it announced that "it has issued a request for qualifications to an extensive group of leading national and international architecture firms." It plans to review the responses in April, select a short list later in the spring, and announce its selection by August 1. According to a Barnes press release, "design will begin immediately, and the site will be prepared from the end of 2007. Construction will start on completion of design work."

Lacayo is not happy with the move:

"It simply will not be possible to 'recreate' the Barnes in a much larger new building on Ben Franklin Parkway .... In an era of big box museums, the Barnes is the ultimate jewel box. The financial problems of the Foundation are real, but the snatch-and-grab solution of relocating the collection to Philadelphia is no solution at all. It isn't salvation. It isn't even euthanasia. It's death by disembowelment."

Lee Rosenbaum agrees.

Meanwhile, writing about the Albright-Knox deaccessioning, Tyler Green wonders: "Is it more important for contemporary art museums to increasingly be as they were, or for them to continue in the spirit of their mission?" The Buffalo News had a lengthy piece on the proposed sale over the weekend. The AP has a summary today: "Next up is a March 12 meeting of museum members .... The 6,000-strong membership does not have the power to override the board of directors' unanimous approval of the plan, [Director Louis] Grachos said, 'but it's an important meeting to have to listen to the broad membership.'"

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

TV Art Scam

The Los Angeles Times reports today on a married couple who face jail time after admitting to using their television auction business to defraud buyers out of more than $20 million by selling fake artworks and forging the signatures of Picasso, Chagall, and Dali, among others:

"[T]heir operation involved the television show 'Fine Arts Treasures Gallery,' shown ... on channels broadcast by Direct TV and the Dish Network. They told investigators they rigged the auctions by creating false and inflated bids for art and jewelry sold during the live auctions. The two also admitted ... that they purchased fake art and forged copies at their print shop, then sold the bogus works on the television show. Further, they admitted to sending customers false certificates of authenticity and false appraisals. In all, the government estimated the show defrauded more than 10,000 people who paid more than $20 million for the fake art and jewelry."

Bill Gusky has some advice for would-be buyers: "Now ask yourself this, in all seriousness: could there possibly be that many signed Picasso, Chagall and Dali prints laying around, and at satellite TV prices?"

Art Theft as Diversion

Michael J. Lewis catches up with the latest reporting on the Scream theft (mentioned a couple of weeks ago here) which suggests it was all a ploy to throw police off the trail of another investigation:

"[A]n armed band assaulted a government bank in the port city of Stavanger, machine-gunning a police officer in the process. The furious criminal investigation that ensued seems to have alarmed the robbers, who decided to try art theft as a diversionary tactic. It was the timing of the two crimes, only four months apart, which suggested to police that they might be related and which led them, in the end, to both the painting and the killers."

He adds:

"As the fate of The Scream shows, the rewards of art theft tend to be paltry. Hollywood notwithstanding, art thieves tend to be hapless incompetents like those who stole Goya’s Children with a Cart from a van last November as it was being shipped from the Toledo Museum of Art to the Guggenheim in New York."

For more on the hapless Goya incompetence, see here.

Monday, March 05, 2007

"The handshake-deal days are clearly over"

Kate Taylor had this story on p. 1 of today's New York Sun:

"Last week, Christie's auctioned off 74 pieces from the collection of the Swiss art dealer Pierre Huber .... The sale netted almost $17 million and set auction records for [On] Kawara, Jim Shaw, Paul McCarthy, and Albert Oehlen. But some of these artists and their dealers say that for years Mr. Huber claimed he was building a collection that would end up in a museum. On that basis, he acquired works, sometimes at discount prices, that he couldn't have otherwise. When the artists learned that, instead of going to an institution, their works would be going to auction at Christie's, they were furious."

Marc Spiegler has more over at Artworld Salon. He says "these situations always leave me a little equivocal. Granted, if someone lied to get work at a major-museum discount and then cashed in ... that’s one thing. On the other hand, if they made no such explicit promises, then from an ethical standpoint this is simply private property, purchased at a price agreed between consenting adults. So when the owner wants to sell, that’s his right." And he adds: "To me this furore makes the case for wider-spread resale agreements. Because the handshake-deal days are clearly over."

Here is a short piece on the results of the sale, which doesn't mention the controversy. Rebecca Mead also had a pre-sale Talk of the Town piece in the New Yorker about one of the works -- “Flying Rats,” by Kader Attia, which Mead describes as consisting of "a hundred-and-fifty-square-foot cage, a couple of dozen figures of children molded from birdseed, and a hundred and fifty hungry pigeons." To install the work at Christie's, it had to get permission from its landlord, Tishman Speyer, which agreed only on the condition that it be indemnified against damages. “It’s all about the shit, and the smell of the shit,” Mead quotes Amy Cappellazzo of Christie's as saying. “We said, how much can they shit in six days?” More on "Flying Rats," with photos, here.

More on Spielberg's Stolen Rockwell

Derek Fincham discusses the stolen Norman Rockwell painting that ended up in Steven Spielberg's collection (mentioned earlier here) and points to a company that's come up with a way to use cellphone cameras to check works against a database of stolen art. Says Derek:

"I imagine that the first company which figures out how to make a simple and easy database will earn a lot of money, and will do wonders for insuring the legitimacy of the art trade. My personal preference would be to have a free system similar to wikipedia, which allows anyone to use and access the site. Until there is a comprehensive database which ties together all of these various databases though, we will continue to see people unwittingly purchasing stolen works."

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal Law Blog's Peter Lattman discusses the Spielberg story here. He also recommends Jonathan Harr's "The Lost Painting," "a gripping yarn about the search for a lost Caravaggio." More reviews here (Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times), here (The New Yorker), and here (Richard Eder in The Boston Globe).

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Lowry News

The chairman and president of MoMA, Robert Menschel and Marie-Josée Kravis, had a letter to the editor in Saturday's New York Times on the Glenn Lowry story mentioned earlier. They say:

"All actions taken by the museum and the trust were legal, ethical and disclosed. All payments and compensation were reported on tax forms filed by the trust, the museum and Mr. Lowry, who paid personal income tax on compensation he received."

Also, in a recent discussion of this matter Time Magazine's Richard Lacayo said the following:

"Fractional gifts, which have been reined in recently by Congress, allow donors to give a museum a partial and gradually increasing interest in a work of art -- say 10% at first. Over a period of years that percentage can rise in increments until the work has been donated in its entirety. Meanwhile the donors can keep the work at home for a portion of each year while enjoying a tax deduction on whatever percentage they have bequeathed so far. The deduction depends on the appraised value of the painting. It increases if the value increases."

I know this doesn't go to the main point of his post, but I just want to point out that the part I've put in bold above is no longer true; that's precisely one of the ways in which fractional gifts have, as Lacayo says, been reined in recently by Congress. As I posted back in September:

"[T]the new law provides that the fair market value of any additional contributions shall be determined by using the lesser of (a) the fair market value of the work at the time of the initial contribution or (b) the fair market value of the work at the time of the additional contribution. [Thus collectors are] deprived of the benefit of any increase in the value of the artwork over time. Say I donate 25% of an artwork to a museum at a time when the work is worth $8 million and, several years later, when the work is now worth, say, $20 million, donate the remaining 75%. Under the new law, my deduction for the latter contribution will be limited to $6 million (75% of the value at the time of the initial contribution), even though what I have donated is an asset worth $15 million (75% of $20 million, the value at the time of the later contribution)."

Matter Matters

Steven Litt has a lengthy piece in the Cleveland Plain-Dealer today on the "Matter Pollocks." It includes the following piece of information:

"Matter ...won't allow the release of the most extensive analysis of the paintings so far, performed by Orion Analytical, a firm in Williamstown, Mass. Orion's principal, James Martin, revealed in early February that he completed more than 350 analyses on 23 of the paintings in October, and that his contract with ... Matter's art dealer ... permits him to share the results. But Martin held off on releasing his study after getting a written warning from Matter's lawyer, Jeremy Epstein."

NYU art historian Pepe Karmel says:

"What's very unfortunate is that the whole discussion is conducted with the threat of lawsuits hanging over people's heads. Nobody wants to speak frankly about this, because no one wants to end up in court."

An earlier piece by Litt on the Orion study is here. My most recent post on the Matter matter is here.

Must Be Something In The Water

Or the cheesesteaks. The Phildelphia Inquirer has a report today on yet another deaccessioning controversy in Philadelphia, this one involving a collection of minerals at the Academy of Natural Sciences. "The issue echoes the battle over the Barnes Foundation's move to Philadelphia and the quest to save Thomas Eakins' masterpiece, The Gross Clinic."

"Fisk needs the bread, and the Mona Lisa is not worth one kid's education"

That's New York art dealer Larry Salander, as quoted in a piece in the Sunday Tennessean that begins: "It's hard to think of a current situation that's more polarizing locally than Fisk University's proposed sale of two valuable paintings from its Alfred Stieglitz Collection, donated to the school by painter Georgia O'Keeffe in 1949."

Full story here.

"The mural is gone, it's not supposed to be gone, and someone will pay"

The LA Downtown News has an editorial on the Kent Twitchell mural dispute. Their conclusion:

"We're not sure what will happen next. No one is. A trial is scheduled for Nov. 6, but that's a long time away, and the whole prospect speaks to a big waste of money and time. The Department of Labor and the YWCA should jointly own up to the error in judgment and offer to pay for the restoration of the mural. In the end it will cost less than a zillion attorneys, their billable hours and the court costs, especially since someone will lose in the end."

A stolen Rockwell ...

... has turned up in Steven Spielberg's collection:

"Mr. Spielberg bought the painting, 'Russian Schoolroom,' in 1989 from a legitimate dealer and did not know it was stolen until his staff spotted its image last week on a Federal Bureau of Investigation Web site listing stolen works of art, the [F.B.I.] said in a statement. ... Mr. Spielberg is cooperating and will retain possession of the painting until its 'disposition can be determined,' the bureau said."

The painting, which the F.B.I. says is worth $700,000, was stolen from a Missouri gallery more than 30 years ago. You can see an image here.

Friday, March 02, 2007

More Barnes

The Philadelphia Inquirer has a story today on Montgomery County's "SOS" resolution, which I mentioned yesterday here. According to Philadelphia radio station KYW, the commissioners "denied allegations that this is a political ploy to get support from Lower Merion residents in an election year. They say they decided to jump into the fray when they saw the art community in Philadelphia pony up millions of dollars to save an Eakins painting."

The Inquirer story also quotes one of the commissioners as saying that the federal legislation sponsored by U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach (see earlier post here) "doesn't appear to have support in Congress."

Thursday, March 01, 2007

More on the Jan Christensen Theft

Over at Artworld Salon, Marc Spiegler has a very interesting interview with artist Jan Christensen, whose currency-covered canvas was stolen from an Oslo gallery over the weekend (see earlier post here). Among other things, the interview points out that, since the amount of money that made up the work was equal to its purchase price, and since his dealer was entitled to a 50% sales commission, Christensen would have been down $8,000 on the piece anyway ("and that is not even including the costs for stretchers and canvas and tools and glue"). Spiegler asks Christensen if he stole the painting himself as a publicity stunt. The response: "Considering the fact that the piece was insured and that the gallery space had a fully working alarm with an immediate response from the security company (they arrived within 12 minutes), doing something like that would have been a foolish stunt if it failed. Not to forget the serious offense such an insurance fraud would represent."

Spiegler also makes a general point about art theft:

"As so many would-be Thomas Crowns have discovered, it’s very hard to resell art once it’s stolen. (I did an Art + Auction feature on art theft a couple of years back, for those who want to know more on the topic.) With contemporary art it would be even more foolhardy, because its value is lower and the channels it moves through are less opaque than those of, say, antiquities or Old Masters."

Barnes "Resolution"

Lee Rosenbaum reports that the Montgomery County Commissioners have passed a resolution seeking "proposals from law firms to explore legal strategies and options" to keep the Barnes from moving. The full resolution can be found here. As Lee says, it looks like "a case of trying to close the Barnes door after the courts have already found that the art can escape."

The Splasher (UPDATED)

The New York Times has a story this morning on "The Splasher" -- the "unknown protagonist" who's going around splattering paint on street art pieces in Manhattan and Brooklyn. The Splasher has hit "dozens of pieces of street art created by people who may not be household names, but who have achieved the esteem of peers and some recognition from the mainstream art world."

According to The Times:

"Nobody has yet reported the splatterings to the police, perhaps because city laws say that the art that was defaced is just as unlawful as the paint splashed onto it. Street artists usually put up their work without permission, and some people consider the work itself to be vandalism."

There are a couple of photos with the Times story, and several more here. The Times says "the term street art is thought to have originated in the 1980s, when it was used to describe the work of well-known artists like Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf. Their artistic descendants work in practically any medium, from paint to stickers to carefully fashioned metal sculpture." Here is the Wikipedia entry on street art.

One of the artists mentioned by Wikipedia is Banksy, the British artist who was recently in the news when one of his pieces (of a monkey preparing to blow up a bunch of bananas) was removed by workers at London's Waterloo Station. Maintenance crews have since been given photographs of his work for future reference and instructed to "try and remove it if at all possible and auction it for charity."

UPDATE: Time magazine's Richard Lacayo comments:

"[W]hoever is doing the vandalizing -- and yes, yes, we know, there's an irony involved here in the idea of vandalizing work that already qualifies in the eyes of the law as vandalism; ok, noted -- needs to keep in mind what Herbert Marcuse explained long ago. Of course street art can be re-absorbed back into the system it supposedly resists. There is no escaping the system. There are no 'transgressive gestures' that a market economy can't turn into merchandise. Including paint splatters over somebody else's street art. Note to street art splatterer: call your agent."