Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"It’s a very drastic turn of events"

Ann Liv Young is back at P.S. 1. (Background here.)

Here's a new one (UPDATED 2X)

The AP: "A man entrusted with helping to sell a $1.3 million painting said it disappeared while he was in a drunken haze, according to a lawsuit filed by a co-owner of the canvas."

UPDATE: Jessica Pressler says: "But probably it'll all work out, now that the value of the painting has been publicized and the cabbie who has the thing in his trunk knows how important it is."

UPDATE 2: The lawsuit has been withdrawn: "[C]o-owner Kristyn Trudgeon is withdrawing her suit against James Carl Haggerty after learning her co-owner - and the person who hired Haggerty - is a convicted art scammer." Josh Duboff: "If there’s anything to be learned from all this, it's that if you hear a tale involving misplaced million-dollar paintings and wasted people, it's a good bet there's more to the story. That, and it's probably a good idea to Google your business partners before going in on famous paintings with them."

"Why on earth would anyone want to change that?"

Copyright and fashion are back in the news again. Sen. Schumer has introduced a bill that would extend copyright laws to the fashion industry for the first time. Lawprofs Kal Raustiala and Chris Sprigman are against it:

"American law does not prohibit copying fashion designs. Paradoxically, the payoff from free copying has been enormous. Copying helps set trends (you can’t know it’s a trend until it’s been copied) and then helps destroy them – once a design has been widely copied, the fashion-forward hop on to the next new thing. This is the familiar fashion cycle. What’s less obvious is that the absence of copyright makes the process possible. The fashion cycle turns faster, and the industry gets richer – and creates new designs more frequently."

Writing in Newsweek, Ezra Klein takes a similar line:

"But perhaps the strongest argument is that America’s apparel industry doesn’t seem broken—so why try and fix it? 'America is the world fashion leader,' said Steven Kolb, director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, the lead trade group in support of the Schumer bill, 'and yet it is basically the only industrialized country that does not provide protection for fashion design.' Run that by me one more time? We’re the world leader in fashion, so we should change our policy to mimic our lagging competitors?"

Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento does not take a similar line.

Related post here.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Van Gogh Theft Update

The investigation into the van Gogh stolen from a museum in Egypt continues. Last week, an Egyptian billionaire offered a 1-million Egyptian pound reward for information leading to its return. Turbo Paul was not impressed -- 1-million Egyptian pounds is about $175,000. Next, Egypt’s minister of culture was questioned by prosecutors for more than three hours on Sunday night. And Derek Fincham notes that "perhaps most troubling of all were the breakdowns in technology at the museum."

"Lending for compensation is not unheard of"

What repulsive Stalinist said that?

The AAM's Dewey Blanton, who tells the Brandeis Hoot that "museums usually lend their pieces for only the charge of shipping and insurance of the pieces, but that in tough economic times lending for compensation 'can be a win-win situation for the lender, who gets money, and the borrower, who gets access to new art'" (my emphasis).

Oh the shame!

The Hoot also reports that a Dec. 12 trial date has been set in the Rose lawsuit.

"The canvas now has far more commodious digs—almost its own mini-chapel"

More on the tragic deaccessioning of "The Gross Clinic," which "until a few years ago was off-the-beaten trail at the Jefferson Memorial Hospital."

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Proposed New CA Statute of Limitations for Stolen Art Claims

In my Journal of Art Crime column last year, I wrote about the Von Saher v. Norton Simon Museum case, in which the Ninth Circuit struck down the California legislature's attempt to extend the statute of limitations on Holocaust-era art claims on the ground that it represented an impermissible infringement of the federal government’s power "to make and resolve war." I noted then that "the implication of the decision seems to be that, if California had extended its statute of limitations for all stolen property claims (or for all claims of stolen artwork in particular), then the claim would have survived."

Now comes news that they're doing just that. Assembly Bill 2765, currently making its way through the California Legislature, would extend the statute of limitations for stolen art claims -- all stolen art claims -- against museums, auctioneers, and galleries. A legislative analysis of the bill is here. I can't find any commentary online, but Simon Frankel and John Freed of Covington & Burling have a piece entitled "Statute Without Limits?" Here's how they summarize the bill:

"AB 2765 would dramatically expand the time in which claims to 'works of fine art' can be brought against museums, auctioneers, and galleries. In its current form, a party who claims to have lost such a work through theft would have six years from actual discovery of the whereabouts of the work to institute a claim. The bill also specifies that 'actual notice' requires knowledge of the identity and whereabouts of the work, and '[f]acts sufficient for the claimant to reasonably believe that he or she has a claim' to the work. So the statutory period would only begin to run when the claimant actually knew all this information, not when he or she could have learned such through reasonable diligence."

And they conclude:

"Ultimately, AB 2765 is a legislative solution in search of a problem. It will likely lead to more costly and drawn out lawsuits over works of art now held in museums, which will subject such taxpayer - and donor - funded institutions to more burdensome litigation."

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Further on Fisk (UPDATED)

Following up on my post last night, a couple of additional points re Fisk:

1. For those rooting against the Crystal Bridges deal (which would bring Fisk $30 million in exchange for a half-interest in the collection), here's what the Court found regarding Fisk's financial condition:

"[T]wo degree programs [--] dramatic speech and dance, and philosophy and religion [--] have been eliminated. In the last two years, every faculty member has taken a 5% salary reduction, and Administration salary cuts range from 7 to 15%. Fisk has suspended its contributions to pension plans and vacation accrual. All of the buildings are mortgaged. Unrestricted endowment is zero dollars. Endowment has declined from $4.27 million to $3.7 million. Accounts payable total $2 million. Fisk ... regularly runs a two million dollar deficit annually."

In short, the university is "on the brink of closing."

But who cares, right? The important thing is that the intent behind O'Keeffe's 60-year old gift -- or, more precisely, what we think her intent was; we actually have no idea what she would have wanted had she known Fisk would end up in the condition it's in -- is preserved. Obviously she would have preferred a year-round "condominium" arrangement at the Frist Center to a collection-sharing agreement with Crystal Bridges that would allow the works to remain at Fisk for six months out of every year. Who could doubt it? We're so certain that was her intention that we're prepared to let Fisk go under as a consequence.

2. The headlines reporting the decision tend to say the Court "rejected" the Crystal Bridges deal. (See, e.g., here, here, and here.) It's worth noting that that isn't entirely true. It rejected it for now, but if the Tennessee Attorney General doesn't present a better proposal (in just 20 days), then "the only available alternative is for [the] Court to attempt to rework the Crystal Bridges Agreement to more closely approximate Ms. O'Keeffe's intent." As I said last night, I fully expect the AG to come up with a plan that works (it's a pretty low bar), but, if there's one thing this case has taught us, it's that you never know.

UPDATE: Related thoughts from Lee Rosenbaum.

"Then he lowers the boom: little things don't seem quite right, and Biro is revealed as a con man"

Still more praise for David Grann's New Yorker article on Peter Paul Biro.

Is the art market unregulated?

Writing at the NY Times Opinionator Blog, William Cohan says yes, it's "utterly unregulated." The Art Market Monitor begs to differ:

"This handy art world cliche is silly. The art world is governed by all the rules and regulations of the commercial code. . . . The authenticity of art is regulated by a vast network of scholars and museums. The case of the Norsigian negatives is a terrific example of how well the system works with a hive of experts appearing instantaneously to dismantle claims and offer a convincing alternative theory."

Speaking of the Norsigian negatives, the NYT reports today that "The Ansel Adams Publishing Trust, which controls the licensing rights to Adams’s work, filed a federal trademark infringement suit Monday in San Francisco as part of an effort to block the sale of prints by Rick Norsigian, a Fresno contractor who bought the negatives 10 years ago for $45. The suit argues that Mr. Norsigian and a consulting firm run by his lawyer, Arnold Peter, have 'acted knowingly, willfully and with malice' in marketing the negatives as Adams’s work."

Finally, in related, and breaking, news: Why You Can't Always Trust Art Dealers.

The Stolen Van Gogh

The latest on the Van Gogh stolen from a Cairo museum over the weekend is . . . it's still missing. There were some reports that it had been recovered, but they seem to have been "based on faulty information." A "top official in Egypt’s culture ministry" and "several" museum guards have been arrested. For more news and commentary, Art Theft Central is a good place to start ("Why are certain national collections not as well protected as others? Who, in addition to the thief, is responsible for the theft? Is the government at fault for failing to protect and secure the public's collections?"). Turbo Paul is worth following as well.

Monday, August 23, 2010

More Fisk Follies

So Judge Lyle issued her decision in the Fisk case on Friday. She resolved one of the two remaining issues in the case; the other she kicked down the road a bit.

First, some background. Last summer, the Tennessee Court of Appeals sent the case back to Judge Lyle with instructions to perform a two-step analysis:

First, to figure out whether "the change of circumstances subsequent to the gift [has] render[ed] literal compliance with the conditions [of the gift] impossible or impracticable."

And second, if the answer to the first question is yes, then "to fashion a form of relief that most closely approximates Ms. O'Keeffe's charitable intent."

In Friday's decision, Judge Lyle ruled that the answer to the first question was in fact yes: "It is impracticable for a struggling university on the brink of closing to literally comply with Ms. O'Keeffe's plan."

So we move on to the second question -- how best to approximate O'Keeffe's intent -- and here things get a little wacky again. The Court of Appeals had already defined what that intent was: i.e., "to make the Collection available to the public in Nashville and the South" (emphasis, as I said here, importantly in the original). I had interpreted this at the time to be a nod towards the pending Crystal Bridges deal. But Judge Lyle is here to inform us that, if you think about it, Arkansas isn't really part of the South:

"Through the testimony of sociologist Dr. Amey the Attorney General established that Bentonville, Arkansas, is 555 miles driving distance from Nashville. That is the same distance as it is from Nashville to Milwaukee, Detroit, Cleveland and Pittsburgh. ... Nashville is more racially diverse and has a lower average household income [than Bentonville]. Using the U.S. Census Bureau's definition of the 'Southern' states, Nashville is closer to more Southern states than Bentonville."

With that out of the way, Judge Lyle invites the Tennessee Attorney General "to submit a proposal" (within 20 days) for "a sharing arrangement in Nashville or ... an institution in Nashville capable and willing to permanently house and maintain the Collection to replace Fisk." There's lots of talk in the decision about a "condominium" arrangement at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, but, presumably, any institution in Tennessee that steps forward and says "we'll take the work" will get it over the (non-Southern) Crystal Bridges Museum.

What's missing, of course, is any consideration of the interests of Fisk. The $30 million they would get for sending the works out of the South to Arkansas for six months each year is completely irrelevant because, as Judge Lyle states, the Court of Appeals "made no finding of a dual intention by Ms. O'Keeffe that includes perpetuating the existence of Fisk." In other words, the intent behind the gift to Fisk was not to benefit Fisk; it was simply -- and only -- to make the Collection available to the public in Nashville and the (true) South.

But, as the Charity Governance Blog's Jack Siegel says, this is ridiculous: "O'Keeffe must have believed the collection benefited Fisk and wanted those benefits to accrue to Fisk. ... We have no doubt that if she knew that the [sales proceeds] could save Fisk from closure, she would authorize the sale. ... We suspect that O'Keeffe will do a few spins in her grave if the collection is displayed in the Frist Center without any dollars accruing to Fisk."

As I've said before, I'm at a loss to understand why people would rather see Fisk hand over the entire collection to Museum A and get nothing back in return, than see it give up a half-interest in the collection to Museum B (or CB) in exchange for $30 million that it so desperately needs.

"Forget it, I'm done, they can have the image. I just want to get back to my life"

The big news in the Shepard Fairey lawsuit is that Mannie Garcia has dropped out of the case because it had "taken a toll on him personally and professionally." It's not a settlement: "the AP is pleased that Mr. Garcia voluntarily withdrew without any payment or consideration of any kind." More here from Photo District News. Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento comments here.

The NYT's Randy Kennedy also reports that the judge has set a March trial date in the remaining claims between Fairey and the AP.

I take a break from blogging for a couple of days ...

. . . and all hell breaks loose. A decision in the Fisk case. Big news in the Shepard Fairey lawsuit. A Van Gogh is stolen. More on all of these later in the day (I hope).

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

New Trial for Park West

The judge has thrown out the $500,000 jury verdict Fine Arts Registry got against Park West Galleries in April. The Detroit Free Press reports that the judge ruled that FAR "repeatedly violated his orders during a 5 1/2 -week trial ... by mentioning a supposed federal probe, critical newspaper articles and lawsuits by disgruntled customers." As I mentioned at the time of the verdict, Park West still has to deal with eight other lawsuits seeking more than $20 million in damages, most of which were consolidated into a multi-district federal lawsuit in Seattle.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"It's impractical, your honor, and it's going to become impossible unless something is done to right this ship"

The Fisk trial has wrapped up. Judge Lyle says she will issue her decision on Friday. Will there be a little joy in Fiskville?

Linkage (playing catch-up edition)

"Why is a set of photos worth millions if they were shot by Ansel Adams, and next to nothing if the photographer depressing the plunger was a nobody?"

The WSJ's Eric Felten on the art world name game.

"Mr. Streets initially denied in an interview that he was the same David W. Streets who was convicted of passing bad checks, fraud and petty theft"

NYT: Tale of Ansel Adams Negatives Grows Hazy.

"Some in the New York State Legislature thought they knew more about running museums and other cultural institutions ..."

". . . than the managements and boards of those institutions."

An excellent post by the Charity Governance Blog's Jack Siegel on the death of the Brodsky Bill. The whole thing is worth reading, but some highlights:
  • "While we assume most museums would prefer not to sell parts of their collections, that option should not be taken off the table through legislative fiat. Most organizations are not as well endowed as the likes of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Getty, or the Art Institute of Chicago. If selling an object is necessary to keep the doors open, so be it."
  • "The need for the proposed legislation rests on the faulty distinction between program and overhead expenses. ... The bill assumes that amounts spent on acquiring physical objects to be added to the collection are mission expenses and everything else is needless overhead. That is why the bill precludes expenditures of proceeds from the sale of objects from the collection for operating expenditures. By ignoring operations, the bill ignores the 'operating expenses' associated with curators, security, catalog preparation, and environmental controls."
  • "The proposed legislation places a premium on hoarding objects rather than how those objects are utilized. What exactly is wrong with a museum that has developed a first rate collection in Aboriginal artwork from selling two French Impressionistic paintings to raise funds to improve its educational programs regarding Aboriginal art? Seems to us that any limit on such sales defeats this museum’s mission. Our friends in the New York legislature might permit the sale if the funds are used to buy more Aboriginal artworks, but why is having more objects necessarily better than having an extra curator or educators who can provide the public with a greater understanding and appreciation of the Aboriginal collection?" (my emphasis).

Meanwhile, Judith Dobrzynski is also glad the bill is dead, but warns that the battle, "which is really about the control of museum governance, is not over yet."

"We are having an attorney look at the contract to figure out if we can legally do it"

"It may be a situation where they say you can’t but we can."

The New York Times on a dispute between "provocative performance artist" Ann Liv Young and P.S. 1.

Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento has some thoughts.

Grade Inflation

It used to be that selling a work of art was like selling your wedding ring.

Now we're told it's like selling your grandmother.

(Unless, of course, the proceeds are used to buy more art, in which case it's like this.)

Monday, August 16, 2010

“Although I may have suggested to you that I had paid James his portion . . .”

". . . at no time did I share with James any payments you made to me towards the purchase of a Tall Glass work."

Randy Kennedy had a report this weekend in the New York Times on the settlement of dealer Michael Hue-Williams's lawsuit against artist James Turrell. I represented Turrell in the lawsuit (along with my friends at Clarick Gueron Reisbaum).

I would just emphasize that the case was always really about the so-called Tall Glass series of work and, on that score, the resolution is a complete victory for Turrell. Recall this New York Sun article from early on, entitled Lawsuit Aims to Force Artist to Create Art. Well, not only was Turrell NOT forced to create any work, but as part of the settlement Hue-Williams "expressly relinquish[es] any rights" to the Tall Glass series. Hue-Williams was also required to take the rather extraordinary step of sending a letter to collectors making the admission I quoted in the header above. It's also important to note that under the settlement Turrell does not make any payment at all to Hue-Williams in connection with the Tall Glass works. So, as I say, we were pretty thrilled with the result.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

"The historically black school says if it can’t turn the art into $30 million cash, it may have to close its doors"

"The state Attorney General suggests Fisk is bluffing."

The Fisk trial is underway.

What I don't get is why people seem to feel that unless Fisk's condition is absolutely dire (as opposed to merely really really really bad), the Correct View of the case is to be opposed to the sale. I mean, whether or not Fisk is (as the AG suggests) "bluffing," there is no doubt that they can really use the money. (Fisk President Hazel O'Leary testified this afternoon that the school is $2 million in debt and "has no place to cut" and would need to double its annual fundraising rate "just to balance its budget.")

The deal they're trying to make inolves selling a 50% undivided interest in the collection to the Crystal Bridges Museum in Arkansas, with Fisk retaining the right to display the collection for six months out of every year.

So there's no concern about the work leaving the "public trust."

The $30 million would sure come in handy for Fisk.

And there is absolutely nothing wrong with two museums sharing certain works. That way, they can share the financial burden, and the art gets more visibility. (I think it's a pretty safe bet that many more people would see the work at Crystal Bridges each year than at Fisk.)

So what accounts for the view that Fisk is doing something wrong here? Well, it violates O'Keeffe's "intent"; she didn't want the works sold. As an initial matter, however, do we really know that? Presumably, she gave the collection to Fisk because she wanted to help them. If she knew of their financial difficulties today (even if they didn't rise to the level of imminent closure), are we really sure that she would oppose this collection-sharing arrangement?

But putting that aside, if it's good for Fisk, and it's good for the art (because they can take better care of it at the museum), and it's good for the public (because more people will have a chance to see the art if it's at two venues rather than one) . . . why would anyone be opposed to all of that in the name of "donor intent"? I understand why the donor cares about the donor's intent. But are there people out there who just go around making sure that other people's intentions are honored? Who can't sleep at night if the intent of some guy who died in New Zealand 50 years ago is violated in some way? Do they get equally worked up about violations of donors' intent in non-art contexts? It's an outrage, I tell you. His intent has been violated! This cannot stand!

If the donor's intent was that, after X number of years, the works should be destroyed one by one, would we condemn a museum that tried to save them?

I guess what I'm saying is: it wouldn't bother me too much if Fisk ends up with $30 million and Crystal Bridges gets to host the collection for six months out of the year.


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

"We all saw that a one-size-fits-all approach was not going to work"

The Brodsky Bill appears to be dead. Robin Pogrebin has the story in the NYT. I won't be shedding any tears, though, as Pogrebin reports, the New York Board of Regents plans to make permanent the "emergency regulations" it put in place in 2008, which achieve much the same effect.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Shepard Fairey is still getting sanctioned

Ben Sheffner explains here (in the comments).


Thursday, August 05, 2010

"Many nonprofit organizations pleaded with New York lawmakers to reject the proposal"

The Chronicle of Philanthropy: "Nonprofit organizations across the country are concerned that a budget plan on the verge of adoption in New York State limiting charitable deductions for 'high earners' could catch on with other cash-starved state governments—and Congress—and cause a loss of significant contributions. The New York Senate last night joined the Assembly in passing a budget plan that has a provision that would apply to the approximately 3,500 New York taxpayers who earn more than $10-million annually and limit the deduction they can claim on their state tax returns to only 25 percent of their charitable contributions, rather than the current 50 percent."

Mayor Bloomberg called the plan "'stupid,' stating that for 'a small amount of incremental revenue to the state, it will discourage subconsciously or consciously others from giving money to charity.'"

"I can’t believe it but New York finally did it!"

NY is set to pass UPMIFA. For background, see here. More here.


"[I]t still seems reasonable to conclude that Dr. Barnes would consider selling it and more to preserve the integrity of the main collection"

Friend of the Barnes Evelyn Yaari suggests the Barnes move could have been prevented by the sale of some work. She's not the first.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010


Monday, August 02, 2010

"The restoration completes a reversal of physical decline that began in 1961"

I found it amusing that Philadelphia Inquirer art critic Edward Sozanski was able to write an entire, glowing piece on the Gross Clinic conservation (it "restored the masterpiece to something close to how it looked when it left the artist's studio") without once mentioning that the whole thing was made possible by a case of deaccessioning. He says the project was "carried out by the picture's joint owners, the Art Museum and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts," but he neglects to say how they became joint owners.

Fisk Trial About to Begin

Starts Aug. 11. The AP summarizes:

"Fisk hopes to sell a 50% share in the collection, donated by the late painter Georgia O'Keeffe, with the Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Ark. The school would use the proceeds from the deal to shore up its finances."

If only it were okay for two museums to each own a 50 percent interest in a body of work, and share the financial burden, and having a second venue were fair to the art, which gets more visibility.

"What’s more vital, a dead man’s acrimony, or the relationship between classic art and the public?"

Film critic Michael Atkinson reviews The Art of the Steal:

"But the larger questions begin to nag, as it becomes clear that Argott’s position is that ... the limitations [Barnes] put on the collection’s use are by themselves pure, righteous and meaningful. They’re not, really. The undisputed legal legitimacy of the Barnes will notwithstanding, it doesn’t really matter to the art itself if it’s rarely seen in a suburban building or if it’s seen by millions in Philadelphia."

" It's an amazing and gripping article -- and totally calls into question pretty much all of Biro's work"

More praise for David Grann's recent New Yorker piece on Peter Paul Biro.

"The case was over wether Dosch reneged in 2008 over the purchase over a Picasso painting"

Josh Baer: "The Max Lang Gallery’s lawsuit against Ralph Dosch’s collection DOBE Fine Art went to trail and a jury awarded Lang a $2 million verdict."

"However, Adams said he is reluctant to claim that the sales are a copyright violation . . ."

". . . because that would require a legal acknowledgement that they are Ansel Adams images."

The LAT's Mike Boehm points to an interesting Catch-22 in the story of the newly-discovered "Ansel Adams" negatives: if they really are by Adams, then it's a copyright violation for the guy who found them to make prints from them. But to bring a copyright infringement suit, the Adams' estate would have to concede the negatives are in fact by Adams!

If you're late to this whole story, Lindsay Pollock has the Cliff Notes version.