Thursday, October 28, 2010


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"The art world's Bernie Madoff . . ."

". . . and his deceptions."

"Here’s my prayer for greater understanding of the truth behind the Barnes Foundation move"

Philadelphia native Bob Duggan:

"I admire Dr. Barnes’s original intent. He wanted to bring modern art to the masses by putting his money where the mouth of aesthetic and educational philosopher John Dewey was. Somewhere along the way, however, that democratic ideal became lost in a web of visitor restrictions and zoning laws that threatened to bury the foundation alive. ... The new location will copy much of the bucolic nature of the original setting with the advantage of bringing the art to the people—all the people. Again, that’s what seems to be bothering those who continue to object to the move."

That, and the fact that they are moving a painting from a stairwell to its own room.

Lively debate in the comments to Duggan's post too.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Joe Simon may be done with the Warhol litigation . . . (UPDATED)

. . . but the Warhol litigation isn't done with him.

The Foundation's attorneys issued a statement today which closed as follows:

"The resources Mr. Simon forced the Foundation to expend litigating against these meritless claims would have otherwise gone to funding its charitable mission of promoting the visual arts and preserving the legacy of Andy Warhol. While Mr. Simon may now prefer not to face Defendants’ legitimate counterclaims, the Warhol Foundation is fully committed to pursuing all its legal rights and claims against Mr. Simon to recover the funds it has been forced to waste and give them back to the charitable causes to which they always belonged."

UPDATE: Here's Randy Kennedy's report in the NYT.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Fisk Fund (UPDATED 2X)

The chess match between the judge in the Fisk case and the Tennessee Attorney General continues. The AG has now submitted a new proposal that "clearly would most closely approximate Ms. O'Keeffe's intent," namely the establishment of a fund that has already "received commitments" that would ensure a permanent endowment "sufficient to generate the proceeds needed to pay the costs of keeping the Collection full-time at Fisk." The brief from which those quotes are taken is here. A second, related brief (opposing the revised Crystal Bridges deal) is here. AP story here.

I've long given up trying to predict how Judge Lyle will rule in this case, but I doubt this latest plan will fly with her. In her ruling rejecting the AG's last plan (for a relocation of the Collection to the Frist Center until Fisk's financial situation had improved), she said: "It would not be in keeping ... with the donor's intent to keep the Collection in Nashville at the cost of sacrificing the existence of Fisk University" (my emphasis). The new proposal relieves Fisk of the approximately $130,000 a year that it takes to maintain the Collection, but it does nothing to help with Fisk's larger financial problems. (She found that it was "on the brink of closing.") I suspect it will be rejected.

UPDATE: Fisk issues a statement opposing the plan, on the grounds I mentioned in the main post: it "does not address Fisk's fundamental financial challenge which is that without a large infusion of cash Fisk cannot continue to operate." It's "another scheme which fails to address Fisk’s survival," and "the Court has already ruled that any proposal must address Fisk University’s overall financial health." They even quote the line I emphasized above ("It would not be in keeping ...").

UPDATE 2: The NYT's Robin Pogrebin has a brief story on the development here.

"The case is done. I can't do it anymore."

Big news over the weekend that Joe Simon is dropping his lawsuit against the Warhol Foundation. Jason Edward Kaufman has all the details. Background here.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

"We actually had to read the judge's decree and agree to the project constraints"

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting piece today on the design of the new Barnes building, and the architects' efforts to ensure that "the Philadelphia gallery would replicate the Merion layout, and that Barnes's distinctive ensembles, which juxtapose Old Masters with Impressionists, and African masks, Pennsylvania Dutch furniture, ceramics, hardware and other objects with paintings, would remain unchanged."

Remember: for all the moaning and groaning about the move, there is no way for us to predict exactly how adversely the experience of the Barnes’s art will be affected by its new home.

And coincidentally, a great quote from MoMA director Glenn Lowry showed up on Judith Dobrzynski's blog this afternoon. He says: "For any museum to thrive, it needs to grow and change and constantly rethink itself."

On the flip side, some people get upset when a painting is moved from a stairwell to, get this, its own room. Philistines! How could they?! Very "alarming." No growth, no change, no re-thinking allowed. Everything is perfect exactly as it is.

"Also unclear is the status of the museum's permanent collection"

The Chelsea Art Museum is in danger of closing. The Wall Street Journal reports:

"In August, [the museum's director] said she had pledged the museum's entire collection as collateral for a ... loan to make an interest payment on the mortgage. That move appears to violate regulations of the state Department of Education's Board of Regents, which supervises and grants charters to museums. The department has been gathering information about the museum's actions for review."

When an insurance company pays a stolen art claim . . .

. . . and the work is later found, who gets it -- the victim of the theft or the insurer?

Here's a case out of Massachusetts that comes down in favor of the theft victim, relying on the "plain and unambiguous language" of an agreement between the parties.

"It's a bizarre situation, to say the least"

A $1 million Gris painting, stolen in St. Louis six years ago, has been found in Florida.

"It’s not common for important philanthropic prizes to go to people whose work involves criminal trespass"

The NYT's Randy Kennedy reports that the TED conference has given its 2011 annual prize to French street artist J R.

"One expert describes the forgeries as 'gold standard'"

The Guardian reports that "panic is spreading through the art world following the discovery of forgeries among major 20th-century paintings sold in recent years by leading auctioneers and dealers worldwide, including Christie's in London."

Art Theft Central: "Unfortunately, this art forgery case underscores the need for art connoisseurship and authentication to utilize the current scientific technologies to confirm a work's provenance and history. Otherwise, buyers and sellers as well as art experts and historians will continue to play what can at times be comparable to a game of Russian roulette."

"One thing’s for sure: I’ll have a captive audience."

The New Yorker on Faith Ringgold's Rikers Island mural.

We Demand That You Not Close the Museum You Are Not Closing (a continuing series) Rose Art Museum Mounts Major Exhibition.

Even though they are not fungible assets, we deaccession artworks all the time

WNYC did a piece on the suspension of sanctions against the National Academy Museum (mentioned yesterday here). They talk to Lee Rosenbaum (who says "museum quality works are the public's patrimony"), Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento (who points out that one of the things we're talking about when we talk about the dreaded "operating expenses" is people's livelihoods), and Kaywin Feldman, president of the AAMD. Feldman's statement is, as AAMD pronouncements on this subject always are, amusingly self-contradictory: She says it's "common" for museums to deaccession for "a whole variety of reasons," but that museum works "are not fungible assets." Huh? If they are not fungible assets, then how can it be common to sell them? Similarly, she says it's "a very core principle" (not just a core principle, but a very core principle) that museums "conserve" their works "in trust for our community" -- but again: if that's the case, then how in the world can they be commonly sold, for a whole variety of reasons?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Please, sir, may I have another?

I've been distracted the last couple of days by some important -- though, as it turned out, utterly depressing -- business up in the Bronx. So I'm late getting to the news that the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad (not to mention repulsive and Stalinist) National Academy Museum, having been duly punished, and having publicly repented for its sins ("Never again," says the museum's director), has had the sanctions against it lifted by the AAMD. "On Oct. 4 the [AAMD's] board voted unanimously to suspend its sanctions in recognition of the academy’s actions over the last 20 months toward better financial planning and management."

Its horrible sin, you may recall, was selling a couple of works (they still have 7,000 others!), to keep from having to close its doors. The scoundrels!

This was a horrible sin because, although it may seem that museums own the works of art in their collections, the works are actually "held in trust" for the public and so cannot be sold under any circumstances. Never never never. Unless of course the museum wants to use the proceeds to acquire other, different works of art, or even just put them in an account labeled Acquisition Fund and let them sit there, in which case the discarded works are somehow no longer held in the public trust -- go mind your own damn business, public! -- and can be freely sold. It's a funny kind of public trust, you see. Don't ask so many questions. Move along or we will sanction you.

Judith Dobrzynski thinks the outcome is "fair," but reiterates her (repulsive Stalinist) view that "there ought to be a process through which museums in true danger of closing, which have exhausted all other possibilities, might petition a state attorney general or an AAMD-sanctioned arbiter or some other adjudicator for permission to deaccession some works to raise money to remain open." The Art Market Monitor notes the New York Times's "odd obsession with the State legislature’s attempts to make law out of the [AAMD's] sanctions against selling works for operating expenses," and says the National Academy "is now only on double secret probation."

Monday, October 18, 2010

Barnes Update

The Philadelphia Inquirer's Stephan Salisbury tells us that construction of the new Barnes museum is "proceeding at a rapid clip."

I always appreciate his non-melodramatic way of describing the move:

"Wealthy collector Albert C. Barnes installed the work in the Merion gallery almost a century ago and stipulated that it could not be moved. But the Merion gallery was sinking into penury in the 1990s and the board of directors eventually saw no way of continuing as an independent institution if a move did not take place. Many former students of the Barnes ... opposed any move, as did numerous denizens of the art world and Merion residents. But Montgomery County Orphan's Court finally approved the plan in 2004."

Sinking into penury . . . board decided a move was necessary . . . many opposed . . . Court approval. That's one way to say what happened. On the other hand: Theft!!! Conspiracy!!! Eleventy!!$!?!

"He eventually confessed . . ."

". . . saying his motivation for the theft was to exact revenge against the university for his perceived mistreatment while an employee there."

The former director of LIU's Hillwood Museum was sentenced to a year in prison for stealing Egyptian artifacts from the museum. NY Post here. Background here.

Friday, October 15, 2010

"A chorus of confusion"

Merryl Tisch, the chancellor of the New York Board of Regents, was on the Brian Lehrer show last week, trying to clear up the confusion around the expiration of the Regents' "emergency regulations," which press reports are incorrectly characterizing as now allowing museums to use sales proceeds to cover operating expenses. (The show's site, in describing her segment, says she "talks about the Board of Regents' decision to allow the ban on 'deaccessioning' ... to expire today, in order to help museums to cover their operating expenses.") Tisch says, at around the four minute mark:

"The emergency regulation is what is expiring on October 8, reverting back to the old regulation. And in that old regulation, there is a clear prohibition against selling art for any reason other than to acquire, to preserve, or to protect your collection. And that will absolutely be in place, that does not change."

She's right about that.

"An eclectic reader's dream" (UPDATED)

A nice review for Noah Charney's "Stealing the Mystic Lamb" in the Cleveland Plain Dealer: "Well-written and thorough, this book reminds us of the influence and fragility of art, our veniality and heroism, and the delights found in both the beautiful and the strange."

UPDATE: And here's an interview with Charney on the Leonard Lopate show.

"I was painting with watercolors on my own store-bought paper that I had taped to a temporary wall surrounding a construction site."

Artist Julie Torres is arrested on graffiti charges.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"Because of the sharing arrangement, more people in the South can enjoy and study the Stieglitz Collection, which was the donor’s intent"

I'm a bit late getting to this, but Fisk has submitted a revised version of its agreement with the Crystal Bridges Museum, to address some concerns the court had with an earlier version. As the NYT reports, "the university, which has longstanding financial difficulties, is seeking to share ownership of the collection with [Crystal Bridges]."

Fisk president Hazel O'Leary is quoted as saying: "In the 21st century, museums have adopted the practice of sharing artwork to reduce the cost of acquisition and to ensure that a broader segment of the population can view and study collections."

(Or, put another way: Besides sharing the financial burden, having a second venue is fair to the art and to the artists, who get more visibility.)

You can read Fisk's latest court filing here. On the Tennessee Attorney General's proposal (that the collection be given to Nashville's Frist Center), it says:

"[The AG's proposal] would guarantee only one thing: that the Collection would never again be displayed at Fisk. This would contravene the one aspect of O'Keeffe's intent that no party can dispute: that O'Keeffe chose Fisk to display the Collection. There is only one proposal on the table that provides for Fisk to continue to display the Collection. In fashioning cy pres relief, Fisk asks the Court to consider the stark difference between 50% of the time and never again" (my emphasis).

I made a similar point here. How anyone can be certain (to the point of being, as usual, outrageously outraged) that the AG plan is closer to O'Keeffe's intent than the Crystal Bridges sharing arrangement is, is beyond me. Consider the stark difference between 50% of the time and never again.

Finally, the AAMD jumps into the fray, with a letter to Fisk that seems to miss the point entirely. The letter is filled with the usual cliches about the public trust and works of art not being "fungible assets" (except when they are sold to raise money to buy more art, when they magically become the very definition of fungible assets!) and on and on. They "sympathize" with the financial "challenges" Fisk faces (recall that the court recently found that Fisk was "on the brink of closing" -- I guess you could call that a "challenge"), but they have come to inform us that the collection's "greatest value is as a tool for learning and teaching." Ah, so that's its greatest value. I bet Hazel O'Leary and the others at Fisk had never thought of that. So good that the AAMD roused itself, after five years of litigation, to clear that up. I'm sure Fisk will withdraw the lawsuit and call the whole thing off straight away.

While we wait for that to happen, I have the following question. If the collection's greatest value is as a tool for learning and teaching, why can't that value be realized at Crystal Bridges (or more precisely: half the time at Crystal Bridges and half the time at Fisk)? Won't there actually be more learning and teaching going on under the proposed sharing arrangement than there is now? Doesn't the Crystal Bridges plan greatly increase the number of people who can learn from the collection?

And what about the $30 million Fisk will receive? How much learning and teaching will that support? Does that not factor in at all?

I think the AAMD would have been better off staying out of this one.

"At what point did acquiring performance art switch from owning objects associated with the actions, such as videos and photographs . . ."

" . . . to possessing the 'idea' behind the piece?"

The Financial Times on the market for performance art. Tino Sehgal gets a mention:

"Berlin-based artist Tino Sehgal has evidently turned collecting criteria on their heads. He sells his performance art pieces by means of verbal transactions in the presence of a lawyer with no written contract. Instructions on how to re-enact his works are delivered literally by word-of-mouth, with collectors under strict orders never to photograph or video his 'constructed situations'. Yet they sell in editions of four to six for $85,000 to $145,000 each, according to The Art Newspaper."

Linkage (catch-up edition)

Prison Sentences in Egyptian Van Gogh Theft

But not for the thieves:

"Eleven employees of Egypt’s cultural ministry were sentenced to three years in prison for negligence that led to the theft of a valuable van Gogh painting from a Giza museum in August, Reuters reported. Among those employees whose sentences were announced Tuesday was Mohsen Shaalan, a deputy culture minister who heads the fine arts division of the ministry."

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

"The whole game of finding support just started to seem so childish. So I decided to grow up and became a marijuana farmer."

The NYT's Randy Kennedy reports on a California art foundation that plans to support its activities through the sale of (medical) marijuana. The Nonprofit Law Prof Blog notes that the "article mentions drug-crime concerns as a possible problem, but does not talk about whether the pot-growing operation will generate unrelated business taxable income" (on which see here).

Monday, October 11, 2010

"It seems to me that museums, whether public or private, ought to take a stand against thuggery, and ought not surrender to the thugs’ demands"

I mentioned last week the story of a woman who was arrested for destroying an artwork at a Colorado museum "that some observers say depicts Jesus engaged in a sex act."

Now comes news that the museum will not re-hang the work, citing safety concerns. Eugene Volokh is disappointed -- "behavior that is rewarded is repeated, and I would hope that museums would see the costs of providing further encouragement to those who would vandalize museums (or for that matter threaten to vandalize them) -- and adds this bit of constitutional commentary:

"[T]he Establishment Clause doesn’t prohibit the display of allegedly blasphemous or antireligious works in government museums, just like it doesn’t prohibit the display of pro-religious works in government museums. See, e.g., the various opinions’ mentions of museums in County of Allegheny v. ACLU (as well as Justice O’Connor’s dissent in Van Orden v. Texas). An entire government museum devoted to Christian painting or to anti-Christian blasphemy might violate the Establishment Clause 'endorsement test' (which still seems to be part of the law). But occasional artworks in such museums would not be seen as sending a message of government endorsement of religion."

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Critics Say A Lot Of Things

A few weeks ago, I mentioned a New York Times article that misleadingly suggested that the expiration of New York's "emergency" deaccessioning regulations would allow museums "to sell art to cover operating costs." As I said then: "The expiration of the emergency regulations just means that we go back to the existing, non-emergency regulations, which also prohibit the sale of art to cover operating expenses."

See also here and here.

The Times is back today, ratcheting up the confusion, with a story on the front page of the Arts section headlined "Criticism Flies After State Eases Ban on Art Sales." It begins: "When the New York State Board of Regents met last month to consider making permanent a set of temporary regulations that bar the sale of artwork by museums to cover expenses, approval was widely considered a fait accompli." And it goes on to give the distinct impression that, by letting the regulations expire, "such sales" -- i.e., sales "to cover expenses" -- are now allowed.

Again: that is not true.

The existing rules will still prohibit art sales to cover operating expenses.

You know how I know that?

I read it in the New York Times.

In the same article, but on the jump page, in the twenty-first paragraph (of a 24-paragraph story), we are finally told the following:

"In the absence of the regulations the Regents policy will revert back to a set of guidelines on the books since 1971 and amended in 1998 to address collections management, including deaccessioning. While the guidelines prohibit the use of proceeds from art sales for operating expenses . . . ."

Let me stop there for a moment. We are going back to guidelines that have been in place since 1971. Those guidelines PROHIBIT THE USE OF PROCEEDS FROM ART SALES FOR OPERATING EXPENSES.

I think it's probably safe to conclude, based on that, that proceeds from art sales may not be used for operating expenses. Wouldn't you?

So what is going on here? What is the source of the concern? What justifies two major stories on this in the New York Times in the span of three weeks? Let's go back to paragraph 21 again:

"While the guidelines prohibit the use of proceeds from art sales for operating expenses, they also require that such sales be consistent with an institution’s 'corporate purposes and mission statement.' This leaves open the possibility, critics said, that museums could amend their mission statements to suit their deaccessioning interests or argue that selling artworks fit within their 'corporate purposes.'"

I dealt with this supposed "loophole," which "critics say" opens the possibility for sales to cover operating expenses, here. There is no such loophole. Look at the very language of the Times article: the guidelines prohibit use of sales proceeds for operating expenses and they also must be consistent with the museum's mission statement. Get it? It's a two-part test. If you want to sell art,

(1) you can't use the proceeds for operating expenses


(2) the sale must be consistent with your mission statement.

You can change your mission statement all you want -- yet that only helps with condition (2). No matter what, you still can't use the proceeds for operating expenses.

This is, or should be, a non-story.

Monday, October 04, 2010

"How could Jefferson sell its heritage?"

The Cherry Hill Courier Post has more on the tragic deaccessioning of The Gross Clinic: "Dr. Warren V. Harrer of Haddonfield, ... a Jefferson alumnus, admitted that he was 'initially sad since "The Gross Clinic" has been an integral part of Jefferson lore.'"

But now he is "delighted that the painting is taken care of and seen by a much larger audience."

What's more, "he is pleased that the University is using the funds to generate medical education."

Why, it's almost as if the sale was a good thing!

More on this tragedy, if you can stand to read it, here and here.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Pebble Beach Update

"Two men who said they had a world-class collection of artwork stolen from their rented Pebble Beach home are accusing the Monterey County Sheriff's Office and its chief spokesman in a new lawsuit of publicly defaming them."


The "Zaretskians" on the LA MOCA board seem to have gotten their act together: "The Museum of Contemporary Art announced Thursday that it finished its fiscal year with a $5.5-million surplus and has used most of it to continue replenishing the endowment it had illegally raided during nearly a decade of overspending. . . . The decision to put $4 million of the surplus into the endowment brings the fund to $18.5 million, less than two years after the museum's meltdown, coupled with the 2008 stock market collapse, had reduced it to $5 million."

"Copyright law needs to be simpler, understandable, and more flexible to change with the times"

The report of the Copyright Principles Project, led by Berkeley's Pamela Samuelson, is out. Press release here. You can read the full report here. Mike Madison comments here. Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento here.

"Art College President's Compensation Reached Nearly $2-Million in 2008"

The Chronicle of Higher Ed: "The college paid Ms. Wallace’s current husband, Glenn E. Wallace, $289,235 in 2008 for his role as senior vice president for college resources. Also on the payroll was her son John Paul Rowan ($233,843 for consulting; he is now a vice president who oversees the college’s Hong Kong campus), daughter Marisa Rowan ($101,493; director of the equestrian programs), daughter-in-law Elizabeth Rowan ($85,494; director of external relations at the Hong Kong campus), and mother, May L. Poetter, a member of the Board of Trustees, who earned $61,767 in consulting fees."