Monday, June 29, 2009


Felix Salmon calls for "a massive increase in federal arts funding."

Another Scream Sentence

The New York Times: "A man who admitted his role in the theft of the Edvard Munch painting 'The Scream' was sentenced Monday to two and a half years in prison by a court in Oslo .... The man, Bjoern Hoen, 41, had been found guilty by a Norwegian appeals court of providing the getaway vehicle that was used in the daytime heist. ... Last year, Norway’s Supreme Court sentenced one thief, Stian Skjold, to six years in jail and the getaway driver, Petter Tharaldsen, to 10 years and 6 months."

Friday, June 26, 2009

Charitable Deductions Update

The New York Times had a story today on the possibilities for paying for President Obama's health care proposal. It includes the following:

"Limit income-tax deductions for high earners. This is Mr. Obama’s main idea for raising revenue, but Congress is not likely to pass it except in a greatly scaled-down form.

"He proposed ... making taxpayers in the top income tax brackets ... deduct their mortgage interest, state and local taxes and charitable donations at the 28 percent income tax rate. Democratic leaders immediately objected that that would hurt charities, universities and other entities dependent on tax-deductible donations ....

"Mr. Obama has not given up. He counters that a 28 percent itemized deduction rate for top earners would be the same as under President Ronald Reagan. Just 1.4 percent of households would be affected, the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center reported. The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University says charitable giving would decrease 2 percent.

"Any compromises would raise less revenue than Mr. Obama proposed. One alternative would exempt charitable contributions from the 28 percent limit. That, however, would provoke governors from high-tax states or Realtors and bankers protective of the mortgage tax break to press for exempting the other categories as well.

"Another idea would maintain the [current] rates for itemized deductions after the Bush tax cuts for the rich expire in 2011 .... That would leave the current break for deductions unchanged, but prevent it from becoming relatively more generous when income taxes rise for affluent taxpayers.

"Even that fallback hit a wall in the Senate Finance Committee. The opposition of Senator Charles E. Grassley, the panel’s senior Republican, carries weight with Senator Max Baucus, the Democratic chairman from Montana, who is determined to produce a bipartisan bill. Both men say any tax increases or cost savings should come from the health sector."

"Let museums sell art if they must"

The editors of the Schenectady Gazette come out against the Brodsky Bill:

"Indeed, cultural institutions should only turn to [deaccessioning] as a last resort. But when it comes to selling a painting or similar asset to keep the doors open or pay the curator’s salary, they — like any other business — should have the right."

The Deaccessioning Blog says it "seems like the tide is turning on the anti-deaccessionists."

Thursday, June 25, 2009

"I believe it ignores the dire realities that museums like the Albany Institute of History & Art face every day"

Move over, Hugh Davies. Move over, Richard Armstrong. Here comes Christine Miles, director of the Albany Institute of History & Art, writing in opposition to the Brodsky Bill in the Albany Times Union:

"Does it make any sense to prevent the deaccessioning of works which then won’t be enjoyed by the public because the institution that houses it can’t afford to keep its doors open? I don’t think so. Yes, the public interest in making these works available to the people must be preserved, but not at the expense of the organizations who provide the stewardship necessary to do so."

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Debating Deaccessioning II

I have a piece in the summer issue of The Art Newspaper on deaccessioning. It should all sound pretty familiar to regular readers of the blog, but it was nice to have the opportunity to lay out some of the arguments in a more sustained way and for a different audience. (Quick, somebody get Assemblyman Brodsky a subscription!) An excerpt:

"In fact, however, the best of the LACMA works were bought by a London dealer, and all 18 Orange County works went to a single unnamed private collector. Similarly, most of the Montclair works are ending up in private hands, no longer part of the 'public trust.' Nevertheless, the AAMD ultimately blessed each of these transactions on the simple grounds that the resulting proceeds will be used for acquisitions (someday). From the AAMD’s perspective, it’s perfectly fine for a museum to raid its collection and sell work, just so long as the proceeds are put into an account labeled 'acquisitions'—even if the particular acquisitions have yet to be identified, and even if it just so happens, by happy coincidence, that having the money sit in that account helps satisfy the museum’s bond covenants. But selling the same work, for other valuable museum purposes (improving education, upgrading facilities, staying open more hours, reducing admission fees, saving jobs, etc), is never, ever, under any circumstances okay. Unless you define the public interest as 'keeping ever more art in storage at more museums' it’s hard to see how the public benefits from this state of affairs."

More on the "Secret" Schoeps Settlement

A pair of posts from Mark Durney.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

"Who is this 'public' we keep hearing about?"

The Deaccessioning Blog on this morning's NYT story on the Brodsky Bill.

"A perfect mess with a long, dismal aftermath"

In this week's Time, Richard Lacayo looks back on the 20th anniversary of the "Mapplethorpe Wars," including the criminal obscenity trial in Cincinnati: "Make no mistake, the battle over Mapplethorpe resulted in sustained harm to arts funding in the U.S."

Monday, June 22, 2009

It's Back

"US Copyright Register Marybeth Peters told Intellectual Property Watch that orphan works legislation is expected to be introduced within the next 10 days."

A bunch of posts from the last go-round here.

Brodsky Bill Update

Robin Pogrebin has the latest in the New York Times. She mentions the June 1 letter from "more than a dozen major cultural institutions" (including the Met, MoMA, the Guggenheim, and the Whitney) pleading with legislators to slow down. But Brodsky is unmoved: "the problem of deaccessioning is real and growing" and "the need for action is immediate."

"Is it a crime, or is it art?"

The Christian Science Monitor on the "Barrel Monster."

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Long and short of it (UPDATED)

The big news just before the weekend was that the city of Long Beach was, according to an LA Times headline, "threatening" the Long Beach Museum of Art with the "sale of artwork."

According to the Times, the city owns the museum and 1,400 works of art acquired prior to 1985. In 1999, the museum borrowed money for construction of a new two-story exhibition pavilion. The city agreed to be responsible for the bond debt if the museum couldn't pay it back. Now, with the "chronically deficit-ridden" museum apparently unable to pay off the debt, and the city's own budget deficit at around $20 million, one city councilman was quoted as saying "all options will remain on the table until the bond is paid off."

LA Times art critic Christopher Knight zoomed right past repulsive to "Stalin-esque."

The Deaccessioning Blog says "if this doesn't prove my point I don't know what will. Any institution that is 'critically deficit-ridden' should undergo a radical evaluation and transformation, even if closure is the answer."

I want to make a different, more narrow point, and that is that it seems to me the "public trust" argument completely breaks down in a situation like this, where it is the city itself which owns the museum and therefore it is the public, acting through their democratically elected representatives, that seems to be pushing for the sale.

That's assuming anyone is really pushing for the sale. A later story in the Contra Costa Times quotes a city official as saying: "That certainly would be a last resort as far as we're concerned. What we said is that everything is on the table, but selling art is certainly the last option." The story continues:

"The solution of selling off art was the focus of an article in the Los Angeles Times on Friday. 'We're actually a little surprised by the article because we only met with [the museum's executive director] and one of his board members once,' said [the city official]. 'The building (presently owned by the museum foundation), taking over the art (half is owned by the city, half by the foundation) or replacing the foundation and bringing in another entity who can manage the museum - all of those are preferred options. ... The museum really hasn't presented us with any offers at this point. This is in part some of our frustration. We are open to any suggestions or ideas that the museum might have. It's just that they haven't been forthcoming. And so we're now kind of down to the wire where we don't have a whole lot of time left to explore these options."

UPDATE: The Art Market Monitor: "Is Long Beach a Dictatorship?"

"In fact Kinkade has — justly — won the vast majority of the lawsuits which have been brought against him"

Felix Salmon says Thomas Kinkade is "bad, not evil": "The store owners ... lost money when ... the internet made secondary-market values of Kinkade’s work much more transparent. Suddenly, the enormous growth in past Kinkade sales was no longer a good thing: there were a lot of Kinkades to go around, and many of the buyers were people who bought on the assumption that their paintings would increase in value and they could make money on their investment. Up until the arrival of the internet, that worked for Kinkade, whose company set the prices for all his paintings and would raise them steadily. After the arrival of the internet, a whole industry arose buying and selling Kinkades at market-set, rather than Kinkade-set, prices. And that was the end of the success days for the company: without monopoly pricing power, Kinkade was nothing. The stores failed, ultimately, not because Kinkade treated them badly, and not because other stores were undercutting them. The stores failed because Kinkades are a commodity, and anybody wanting to buy one could get a second-hand Kinkade online at a much lower price than that charged at retail. Buyers no longer believed that their paintings would increase in value, so they bought fewer than they used to. And when they did buy, they were likely to buy already-existing Kinkades rather than new ones."

"People can interpret them differently, but we did nothing outside the AAMD guidelines"

The LAT's Mike Boehm spoke with Orange County Museum of Art director Dennis Szakacs, who, as far as I can tell, is the first museum director to come under fire for not following the Ellis Rule.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

"Judge Slams MoMA, Guggenheim on Secret Holocaust Art Agreement"

That's a headline from Bloomberg today. A few notes:

1. The slamming in question took place in March. (Here's a NYT story at the time.) I'm not sure why it's news today. I guess the hook for the story is that the decision "has become the talk of the Holocaust restitution community."

2. I'm not sure why Judge Rakoff was so upset with the museums. The settlement, including a confidentiality provision, was reached on Feb. 2, the morning the trial was to have started. Judge Rakoff's written order notes that on March 6 he "directed the parties to submit letters stating whether they object to making the settlement agreement public and setting forth the grounds for any such objection. By letter that same day, the Museums informed the Court that they no longer had an objection to making the settlement terms public and that they were prepared to waive the confidentiality provision." It was the plaintiffs who refused.

3. It's worth pointing out that, despite the slamming, the Court left the confidentiality in place. As the order noted, "the Second Circuit strongly endorses the confidentiality of settlement agreements in virtually all cases." Allowing parties' to keep their agreements confidential encourages settlement, and there is a public interest in settlement of litigation.

4. Last, it's not clear why Judge Rakoff thinks it would be in the public interest to make this settlement (more) public. We already know the museums paid some money to the plaintiffs, and we also know the paintings will remain with the museums. Why do we need to know how much money the plaintiffs got? Why is that a matter of great public interest?

More on the Picasso Sketchbook Theft

Art Theft Central's Mark Durney on the recent theft from the Picasso Museum in Paris: "Its astonishing that given the desirability of works of art by Picasso and the tremendous sums of money the Picasso Museum has spent on sketches in the past that they would not have better security measures implemented protecting such a significant part of their collection." He's also not convinced the sketchbook would be "as difficult to sell as many have been led to believe."

Change of Heart

Back in December, U.S. District Court Judge A. Howard Matz said Clint Arthur's action against Louis Vuitton "appears to be a misguided lawsuit."

In April, a California state court judge dismissed a similar suit, calling it a "prime example" of "opportuntistic litigation."

Yesterday Matz decided that appearances can be deceiving and denied Louis Vuitton's motion to dismiss. The LAT's Mike Boehm has the details.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Kinkade Loss

The San Francisco Chronicle: "A federal appeals court has some dark news for the self-described 'Painter of Light,' Thomas Kinkade - it has restored an arbitration panel's $2.1 million award to two former gallery owners who say Kinkade's company duped them into investing their life's savings in a doomed enterprise. A federal judge in San Francisco overturned the [arbitration] panel's decision in 2007 .... On Tuesday, however, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the company 'received a fair hearing from the arbitrators' and must pay $860,000 in damages to the former gallery owners ... and more than $1.2 million in attorneys' fees and arbitration expenses."

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

"Once it's accessioned into the collection, it cannot be deaccessioned unless it does not fit the museum's defined mission" (UPDATED)

Art in America's Stephanie Cash interviews NY Assemblyman Richard Brodsky about the Brodsky Bill.

UPDATE: Picking up on Brodsky's remark that "if we don't do this, there will be institutions that cannibalize their collections in order to stay open, and you'll end up with paintings being sold to keep the doors open, and eventually institutions with open doors and no paintings," the Deaccessioning Blog says: "I suppose Mr. Brodsky would rather have paintings sitting in open air and beneath falling rain due to a forced eviction."

Monday, June 15, 2009

"Frequently these things are less than black and white" (UPDATED)

A lot of people seem very bothered by the news that the Orange County Museum of Art recently sold a group of 18 paintings. This time the trouble is not that the sales proceeds are to be used for something other than acquiring more art; rather, it's that the works were sold "to an undisclosed private collector," instead of at auction. There is also a question about whether the museum "got a good price for the works sold."

The AAMD is okay with the transaction. Its executive director says that "frequently these things are less than black and white" and that a private sale to a collector "isn’t in that level of egregious behavior" and "could easily be a very legitimate decision."

Two quick comments:

1. Does anybody know what the numbers are on deaccessioned works sold at auction vs. those sold privately? I could be wrong, but it certainly doesn't strike me as unprecedented for a museum to sell a work privately. Is there a new norm that museums must always sell at auction?

2. If the works were sold for less than full value, then that's another story. From Marie Malaro's A Legal Primer on Managing Museum Collections (2d ed. p. 227):

"Private sales, although not wrong per se, are more vulnerable to accusations of favoritism or inept bargaining by the museum. See, for instance, the complaint in Lefkowitz v. Kan, Index No. 40082/78 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. , N.Y. County, Jan. 3, 1978). (Kan, a museum curator, deaccessioned and sold certain museum objects to a dealer. Kan also collected personally and did business with the same dealer. The attorney general charged Kan with violation his fiduciary duties by not obtaining the best price for museum objects so that Kan could benefit in his personal transactions with the dealer. The case was settled in January 1983.) See M. Brenson, 'Auctions: The Museum Connection,' New York Times C17 (Jan. 6, 1984), for a discussion of disposal routes used by New York City art museums. Private sales to employees and trustees should be avoided because hey raise ethical, if not legal, problems."

UPDATE: In a follow-up story in the LAT, the director of the museum "confirm[s]" that "the buyer has had no previous contact with the museum as a past donor, supporter, board member or member of a committee of the museum. This was very important to ensure an arm's-length transaction and keep within ethical guidelines."

"We are all reviewing what we are doing and asking are we doing enough"

More from the Washington Post on museum security in the aftermath of the killing of a security guard at the Holocaust Museum last week.

Related post here.

Friday, June 12, 2009

"Well, perhaps no retirement account, but at least the faculty and staff will have an art collection!"

The Deaccessioning Blog listens to a podcast interview with Jonathan Lee, chair of The Rose Art Museum's Board of Directors, and says:

"When asked if there are any situations in which selling of artworks by a museum are warranted, Lee retreats into a familiar emotional response lacking any substantive rationale. 'It's not allowed in the museum world' and 'it goes against the ethics of the art museum world,' and 'as soon as they sell one of these paintings and scoop the cash they will be shuned' pretty much sum up his reasoning."

Thursday, June 11, 2009


Ulrich Boser on the Holocaust Museum shooting and museum security: "Museums are, after all, museums. They suffer from a Catch 22. On one side, they have to show their treasures. On the other side, they have to protect them. ... Keep in mind that a museum can't pat down people before they come inside. Ultimately, if people want to kill and they have access to weapons, it's hard to defend oneself. Not impossible. But very hard."

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

More Opportunity Cost

The LAT's David Ng: "Eight museum exhibitions you won't be seeing in L.A. anytime soon."

Related post here.

In Contempt

From Courthouse News Service: "The 5th Circuit upheld a civil contempt order against an attorney who helped his client evade an asset freeze by selling a Picasso painting for $431,161."

Sketchbook Stolen (UPDATED)

From BBC News: "A sketchbook of 33 drawings by Pablo Picasso worth about [$11m] has been stolen from a museum in Paris, police have said. The theft from the Picasso Museum was discovered on Tuesday afternoon but the exact time and circumstances have yet to be determined."

UPDATE: More from the New York Times. The Art Marker Monitor has a roundup. Derek Fincham comments.

Monday, June 08, 2009

"We can't save all our treasures"

Harry Themal -- Delaware News Journal columnist since 1959 -- started out to write "a column deploring the decision by the Wilmington Library to deaccession ... its marvelous portfolio of 14 N. C. Wyeth paintings for 'Robinson Crusoe' and its 20 volumes of Edward Curtis photographs." But his "exploration of how the sales could have been prevented" led him "to the reluctant conclusion" that the decision is "inevitable and correct":

"The sale would provide much needed money for repairs and endowment for the 86-year-old building on Rodney Square; no Santa Claus is around to stop the sale and give the library its needed money."

I wrote about the sale last month here.

"Taking photographs of objects or people in plain view is not a crime"


"The City of Snohomish has settled with a University of Washington fine art professor arrested shortly after she was seen photographing power lines, the ACLU reports. According to a statement from the [ACLU], Shirley Scheier was driving home in October 2005 when Snohomish police stopped her car on state Route 9 and began questioning her about her 'suspicious' photography. ... Police handcuffed and frisked Scheier, placing her in the backseat of a patrol car for about 25 minutes, the ACLU contends. Scheier later sued the city in U.S. District Court, alleging that she was wrongfully detained. On Monday, an ACLU spokesman announced that the suit had been settled for $8,000."

A different kind of "fake"

From the New York Times: "A former payroll manager for the Brooklyn Museum stole more than $620,000 from the institution by issuing fake paychecks that were directly deposited into his bank account, according to court papers made public on Thursday. The former employee, Dwight Newton, 40, faces up to 20 years in prison for wire fraud if convicted."

Friday, June 05, 2009

"If deaccessioning does occur, let's hope that we do not have to follow the well-meaning but problematic practices of A6959"

Peter Hirtle has the latest on the Brodsky Bill:

"The good news: I assume in reaction to the concern expressed by museums, zoos, and libraries, the bill governing deaccessioning from museums was pulled from the Ways and Means committee's calendar on Tuesday. I gather that staff from Assemblyman Brodsky's and Senator Serrano's offices have begun discussions with some concerned community representatives. The bad news: An amended version of the bill is circulating in Albany. This bill makes it crystal-clear that it does not just cover museum deaccessioning, but would cover deaccessioning from 'collecting institutions' - meaning libraries, archives, historical societies, zoos, and private foundations."

"What does the bar owner owe the artist?"

I'm quoted in this story by Jen Graves in The Stranger posing the above question.

Know when to fold 'em

There've been some developments in Gregory Callimanopulos's suit against Christie’s over the reopening of the bidding for a Sam Francis painting last month. I discussed the suit here.

On May 15, the court granted a TRO preventing Christie's from going ahead with the sale to the ultimate buyer (Eli Broad). Callimanopulos's lawyers had argued that "to resolve this dispute the Court may need not look further than the recordings of the auction .... It is clear that these recordings are critical to the determination of this matter -- indeed, they may be dispositive." According to papers filed by Broad, "the recordings of the auction were shown to Callimanopulos, his curator, his assistant, and his numerous lawyers on May 21." The next day Callimanopulos got new lawyers.

On June 2 the court denied Callimanopulos's motion for a preliminary injunction. It notes that it "has reviewed a video of the relevant portion of the Auction. In the video, a woman seated in the front row can be seen raising her paddle to chest-height as [auctioneer] Burge calls 'fair warning' and then raising it above her head as Burge is bringing down the hammer. Burge recognizes the woman's bid a few seconds after striking the hammer." It goes on to say that "under the U.C.C." -- which "the parties agree governs this action" -- "it is clear that while the fall of the hammer concludes a sale, where a bid is made while the hammer is falling, the auctioneer has the discretion to recognize that bid even after the hammer has fallen. ... Here, Burge exercised his discretion and re-opened the bidding, seconds after striking the hammer. The videotape ... confirm[s] that [the competing bidder] raised her paddle as Burge said 'fair warning' and then raised it even higher as he brought down the hammer."

The court then brought the hammer down on Callimanopulos, concluding that he "fails to raise sufficiently serious questions going to the merits to make them a fair ground for litigation, let alone a likelihood of success" (emphasis added).

Callimanopulos is appealing the decision -- his argument now seems to be that "the auctioneer must act in good faith in relying on spotters to reopen the bidding," but in this case he "could not possibly have exercised his discretion in good faith unless the spotters informed him that [the new bidder] made her bid before the hammer fell (otherwise, there would be no basis for the auctioneer to reopen the bid)" -- but it's hard to escape the conclusion that, as Christie's put it in their most recent filing, "undisputed video evidence in this case conclusively demonstrates that another bidder placed a bid for the Artwork prior to the fall of the hammer and therefore there is no question for litigation" (emphasis in the original this time).

Additional coverage from Philip Boroff in Bloomberg and from American Lawyer, which helpfully provides a link to a transcript of the preliminary injunction hearing as well.

Thursday, June 04, 2009


The Deaccessioning Blog notes "at least three other reasons why anti-deaccessionists are wrong."

Relatedly, The Art Newspaper has "identified over 20 important shows that have been axed (or, in a few cases, postponed) later this year or in 2010," which, they add, "almost certainly represents the tip of the iceberg."

It's a question of opportunity cost. As economist Bruno Frey has said, "at a (real) rate of interest of 5 percent per year for instance, a painting held by a museum and worth one million Euros means a steady flow of income of 50,000 Euros forgone each year, i.e. which could have been used in a different way. Thus, the painting under consideration could be 'transformed' into a permanent flow of 50,000 Euros, which could be spent on" -- well, lots of things, including not axing important shows.

One example The Art Newspaper mentions is a Gorky retrospective that had been scheduled for LACMA in June 2010, but has now been canceled.

So maybe it's more important to have that 220th Eakins sitting in storage year after year than it is to have that Gorky show.

But maybe it isn't.

More on the Wildflower Suit

The Art Newspaper's Martha Lufkin on Chapman Kelley's 7th Circuit VARA appeal, discussed here last month.

"We are united in our belief that the public interest will be best served if the proposed measure is tabled at this time"

A group of nonprofits -- including MoMA, the Guggenheim, the Whitney, and the Met -- urge Assemblyman Brodsky to slow down. You can read their (brief) letter here (courtesy of The Deaccessioning Blog).

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

"Many art theft cases take years, decades, even more than a century, to crack" (UPDATED)

Ulrich Boser, author of a recent book on the Gardner theft, has a good piece in U.S. News on art crime more generally. It focuses mainly on the FBI's art theft team, but William Kingsland, Melvyn Kohn, and Dr. No all make appearances.

UPDATE: Boser is blogging here.

"This lack of transparency translates into the potential for illegal transactions"

The ARCAblog is running a series of papers by students in Noah Charney's art crime class at Yale. Here's Elizabeth Sebesky, on How Lending Fuels Art Crime.

"Wark said prosecutors are still going forward with the other charges"

Boston prosecutors have dropped 13 (or 14, depending on who you ask) vandalism charges against Shepard Fairey. Story here. "Prosecutors said Fairey still faces charges for 13 similar offenses, 10 in Boston Municipal Court’s Central Division and another three in the Brighton Division. The charges stem from an incident on Sept. 16, 2000 where Fairey allegedly pasted a poster onto a Brighton Avenue electrical box."

"Too Important to Decide Immediately"

Ed Winkleman "want[s] to know ... where [Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor] comes down on issues of free speech and in particular where that meets art." He discusses one case, "involv[ing] a sex offender on parole who was found with porn (a violation of his parole terms)."

Here's another data point, from 1999:

"The Giuliani administration won a round yesterday in its legal fight to keep a Brooklyn artist from assembling 100 naked people in lower Manhattan for a photograph.

"Responding to an emergency appeal by the city, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued a temporary stay of a Federal District Court judge's decision that would have allowed the session by the artist, [Spencer] Tunick. ...

"The stay, issued by a three-judge panel convened for an unusual Saturday session, effectively put Mr. Tunick's plan to photograph the 100 nude people on hold ....

"The ruling superseded Friday's decision by Judge Harold Baer Jr. of United States District Court in Manhattan, who ruled in favor of Mr. Tunick, finding that artistic nude photography is a form of expression protected by the First Amendment as well by state law. ... But the three judges for the Second Circuit -- Judge Sonia Sotomayor, Judge Robert D. Sack and Judge Ralph K. Winter Jr. ... -- told [the parties' lawyers] the case was too important to decide immediately."

Tunick eventually prevailed, though Sotomayor was not on the Second Circuit panel that ended up deciding the case.

ALR on a roll

Last week it was some Egyptian artifacts. Now, "U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) today seized a Pompeii wall panel fresco from a Manhattan auction house that was reported stolen in Italy 12 years ago. The fresco panel, which was the subject of an international search by INTERPOL, was located by the Art Loss Register of New York and brought to the attention of ICE and Italian Authorities."

Derek Fincham says the stories highlight the fact that "the Art Loss Register—though not a cure-all for what ails the antiquities trade—is an invaluable tool for the recovery of stolen objects so long as they have been documented and reported. ... Though it cannot help aid the recovery of antiquities which have never been documented, it can help in the recovery of stolen antiquities which have been documented and reported missing, underscoring the need I think for museums and nations of origin to do a better job documenting and reporting the stores of objects which they currently have."

Monday, June 01, 2009

"While ostensibly about museums, the law could have a major impact on how libraries function"

Cornell's Peter Hirtle is concerned with the potential impact of the Brodsky bill on libraries and archives:

"The problem is that while the bill discusses the issue surrounding collecting in museums, it defines museums so broadly that most libraries and archives would fall under its sway. Here is the definition:

'MUSEUM' means any institution having collecting as a stated purpose in its charter, certificate of incorporation, or other organizing documents, or owning or holding collections, or intending to own or hold collections that is a governmental entity, education corporation, not-for-profit corporation, or charitable trust.

"Since almost every library in the state owns or holds collections, for the purposes of the law they would be museums. The law would sharply limit their ability to dispose of any material .... [I]nstead of throwing unwanted items into the trash or putting them in the local library book sale, a library would first have to offer the material to other 'museums' in New York state and then the rest of the country. Proceeds from any sale could only be used to support further acquisitions."

Second Try

From the LA Times Culture Monster blog: "Frank Romero, a noted muralist and pioneering Chicano painter, is suing Caltrans for painting over a mural he created along the Hollywood Freeway downtown in conjunction with the 1984 Olympics. ... Romero's suit, filed Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court, contends that sometime after June 1, 2007, a Caltrans work crew painted over his 102-foot-long, 20-foot-high mural, 'Going to the Olympics,' erasing it from a wall at Alameda Street."

A similar federal lawsuit by Romero (mentioned here back in December) was recently dismissed, on sovereign immunity grounds.

Kokoschka Decision

The New York Times: "A Massachusetts judge has ruled that the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, is the rightful owner of a 1913 Oskar Kokoschka painting being sought by a woman who said it was sold under duress during the Nazi occupation of Austria. In 2008 the museum filed suit to assert its ownership rights to the painting ... after a restitution request by the woman, Claudia Seger-Thomschitz, who said she was an heir to Oskar Reichel, who in 1939 sold the painting to the Viennese art dealer Otto Kallir."

The court held that "the evidence is undisputed that the members of the Reichel family had sufficient knowledge of [the] transfer of the Painting to put them on notice of possible injury long before defendant contacted the MFA" and therefore the three-year statute of limitations under Massachusetts law had expired.

I mentioned the suit back in January 2008 here.

More on the Warhol Decision

Rebecca Tushnet has a good summary of the Warhol/Simon-Whelan decision mentioned here last week. More here from the Class Action Defense Blog. You can read the decision here.

Egyptian Artifacts Recovered

"U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recovered seven artifacts of Egyptian origin that were found at a Manhattan auction house. The ... items were stolen from the Bijbels Museum in Amsterdam on July 29, 2007 in the middle of the afternoon. ... The investigation received significant help from the Art Loss Register (ALR) of New York, an organization that maintains a database of stolen works of art. The ALR discovered the artifacts at the Manhattan auction house, which turned the artifacts over to the Register and ICE agents."


Richard Lacayo has a good piece in the current Time on how the recession is affecting museums and other arts organizations. The whole thing is worth reading, but some highlights:
  • "Endowments have shrunk everywhere, and sizable budget cuts have been the rule at museums in Atlanta, Baltimore, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and San Diego."
  • "In Michigan, where the struggling Detroit Institute of Arts recently laid off 20% of its staff, the 2010 budget proposed by Governor Jennifer Granholm would cut arts funding to exactly nothing."
  • "In April the [Art Institute of Chicago] ... announced plans to increase admission for adults from $12 to $18 .... In response, Chicago alderman Edward Burke threatened to end the museum's city-supplied free water. Eventually a compromise was reached: the institute would charge out-of-town visitors the full amount, but Chicagoans would get a $2 discount." (I mentioned this controversy here.)
  • The federal stimulus package includes $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). "President Obama has also proposed increasing the NEA budget next year by $6 million, to $161.3 million. ... But at the same time, arts groups are worried about what they see as a serious threat to their donor base: the White House proposal to reduce as much as 20% the tax deduction that higher-income families can take for charitable contributions." (I've mentioned that serious threat a number of times, including here.)