Wednesday, August 31, 2011

New Issue of Journal of Art Crime

The Spring 2011 issue of ARCA's Journal of Art Crime is out.  I wrote about the following question:  "Can a state declare an entire subject matter off limits to photographers?"  (Short answer:  No.)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Art Dealers Behaving Badly

Part I.

Part II.


"By attempting to do an analysis of this kind but not doing it comprehensively, the real value of the exhibition gets lost amid the noise."

Bad Culture's Jon Treadway has some questions about that economic impact assessment commissioned by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts that I mentioned earlier here.

"Right now we're living off our reserves"

Another museum in danger of closing.

"At the time the fecal matter was discovered, the Gallery was open to the public."

Sperone Westwater Gallery is suing sculptor Charles Saulson, who "has been feuding with the adjacent eight-story gallery since the $20 million art house, which has a strip of black rubber butting up against Saulson's building, was erected two years ago."

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Life Goes On

At the Barnes:

"In the 2012-13 academic year, on the parkway, things will return to the way they were in Merion before the closing - with a difference: Students will again be taught in front of the ensembles of paintings, sculptures, and decorative objects, but classroom sessions will continue. Who knows? Perhaps the new order of art-plus-JPGs will prove to be more effective and popular than the old. But we won't know that until the relocated Barnes opens its doors."

Friday, August 26, 2011

"Options Dim for Museum of Folk Art"

That's the headline on a follow-up in yesterday's New York Times about the possible closing of the Folk Art Museum.

Again, one option that's not even mentioned is a sale of part of its collection.

For example:  the museum owns "the single largest public repository of works by Henry Darger."  I know I'm famously deaccession-friendly, but suppose, for the sake of argument, that a sale of that collection to another institution (thus satisfying the Ellis Rule and keeping the works in the public trust) could raise enough money to fully solve their financial problems.  Wouldn't that make sense as an option?

Would you rather have the Folk Art Museum continue to exist, minus the Darger collection?

Or would you rather it completely dissolve?  Sure, its collection could be transferred to other institutions, but as one of its curators tells the Times:

"Neither [such institution] would fulfill the function of a stand-alone folk art museum.  We are so much more than the sum of our collections. We’ve played a very pivotal role in the development of this field. The contribution in terms of the scholarship would no longer occur, and that would be a tragedy."

It would be a tragedy.  And the options are dimming.  Doesn't it make sense to at least have this conversation?

"Infringement claim smacked down"

Rebecca Tushnet has a detailed analysis of the decision in Gordon v. McGinley.  She thinks a fee award "would be well justified."  In the comments, Bruce Boyden adds, "based on the photographs I've seen, it seems a good candidate for Arnstein v. Porter's exception for a suit alleging Bolero infringes on When Irish Eyes Are Smiling."

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

More Artelligence

The Art Market Monitor has put together another great conference, Sept. 21.  Register here.

On Stealing the World's Most Famous Painting

Noah Charney's latest.

"Unfortunately, such silence is not an isolated incident but part of what seems to be a growing trend nationwide among art experts, where fear of litigation seems to be stifling open, honest and constructive debate."

William D. Cohan writes about the "deeply and profoundly disturbing" "ongoing self-censorship among a group of highly regarded art scholars" regarding "a questionable multimillion-dollar trade in sculptures supposedly by Edgar Degas" (on which, start here).  They "are keeping mum not because they have doubts about the accuracy of their opinions or their facts, but because they are afraid of being sued."

He says "one idea being bandied about ... is to convene a symposium that will allow all sides of the debate to air their views in a 'litigation-free zone,' if you will."  To which lawprof Ann Althouse responds:  "Discussion in a litigation-free zone... what a concept! As if, in some later lawsuit, a judge would exclude evidence of these statements under some new 'litigation-free zone' privilege."

Monday, August 22, 2011

Sunday, August 21, 2011

"Folk Art Museum Considers Closing"

The NYT's Kate Taylor reports that "the financial picture has grown so bleak at the American Folk Art Museum that its trustees are considering whether to shut it down."  They've been talking about donating their collection to the Smithsonian Institution, possibly in conjunction with the Brooklyn Museum.

Of course, because of the deaccessioning taboo, one possibility they can't consider is a sale of a portion of the collection to the Smithsonian, possibly in conjunction with the Brooklyn Museum.

But why not?  I have no idea if the Smithsonian would have any interest in such a sale, or whether it would solve the Folk Art Museum's financial problems.  But, if it could, would we really prefer a world in which the Folk Art Museum loses its entire collection and shuts its doors to one in which it sells a portion of the collection and stays alive?

Is that what passes for "ethical" thinking in the museum world these days?

Friday, August 19, 2011

More on the Janine Gordon Dismissal

Some reactions to the dismissal of Janine Gordon's copyright suit against Ryan McGinley:

Techdirt's Mike Masnick:  "It's a nice clean ruling. It's just too bad the court had to waste time with it at all."

Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento:  "borders on frivolous."

Artinfo's Kyle Chayka:  "Hopefully, Gordon's failed suit will prove to be a deterrent for other artists looking to cash in on the recent fad for copyright infringement accusations."

Artnet's Rachel Corbett:  "Attorneys for the defendants say they are considering motions to recoup legal fees, which McGinley’s lawyers estimate is collectively 'well north of a $100,000.'"

"The money we raise we will put in the bank."

FYI, Rotterdam's Wereldmuseum is, like the Bangor Historical Society and (possibly) the Erie Library, repulsive.

It plans to sell its African and American collections "to cover funding shortfalls made more likely by the economic crisis in Europe and a planned cut in state subsidies."

Crisis shmisis . . . who's up for some SANCTIONS?!?

"But with the society on the verge of shuttering because of lack of money, its board made the painful decision earlier this year to sell the newspapers."

The Bangor Historical Society is selling a collection of revolutionary era newspapers.

Of course now every historical society in the country will begin selling off their newspaper collections.  There will be nothing left.  Nothing.

I hereby call on the hall monitors to call on the AAM to SANCTION these OUTLAWS.

"More benefit by selling painting"

The editorial board of the Erie Times-News repulsively argues in favor of selling the town library's Childe Hassam:

"If we are so fortunate to have a painting worth at least $2.5 million or maybe more than $5 million -- and the money is indeed invested in the library's future and not 'squandered' by short-term budget solutions -- we think selling it is the wiser decision. We think it would help more people to put the library on solid financial footing than to keep the status quo and not sell the painting. We can then debate the many ways we can give proper tribute to Hassam, the painting and its enduring role in our history and the library's long-term future."

Thursday, August 18, 2011

On the other hand

I had missed it earlier in the summer, but the decision in the Janine Gordon case makes reference to David LaChapelle's infringement suit having survived a motion to dismiss.

Dismissed (UPDATED)

Janine Gordon's copyright infringement suit against Ryan McGinley has been dismissed on grounds of "utter lack of similarity."  I'll put up a link when I find one, but for now, here's an excerpt:

"Plaintiff's apparent theory of infringement would assert copyright interests in virtually any figure with outstretched arms, any interracial kiss, or any nude female torso.  Such a conception of copyright law has no basis in statute, case law, or common sense, and its application would serve to undermine rather than promote the most basic forms of artistic expression.  One might have hoped that Plaintiff -- an artist -- would have understood as much, or that her attorneys, presumably familiar with the basic tenets of copyright and intellectual property law, would have recognized the futility of this action before embarking on a long, costly, and ultimately wasteful course of litigation in a court of law."

The Court also noted that "the remedy for the instant dispute lies in the court of public or expert opinion and not the federal district court."

UPDATE:  Here's a link to the decision.

"He also has an unpleasant, Borat-like mustache, as pictured in the security camera stills"

Artinfo:  $100,000 Artwork Stolen From Mark Ecko's Office by Mustachioed Hipster Thief.

They hold it in trust for us ...

. . . but charge two hundred bucks to see it.

Oh, tartar sauce!

The NYT's Kate Taylor reports that, "according to a lawsuit filed last week in Superior Court in Los Angeles, a former lead artist on the cartoon 'SpongeBob Squarepants' hired accomplices to attack his art dealer and take over her gallery in order to gain control of the sale of his work."  The artist's lawyer says the suit is "completely ridiculous" and that he "intends to sue [the dealer] for malicious prosecution and refer this matter to the appropriate district attorney’s office."

"How can arts institutions protect cultural masterpieces without hurting the intimate viewing experience?"

The question arises after a Virginia woman, "four-and-a-half months after she was charged with trying to tear a Gauguin painting from a wall in the National Gallery of Art — and just three weeks after she was released from St. Elizabeths Hospital — ... was arrested in a similar assault on a work by Matisse at the museum."

"Apparently the police in Long Beach, California, have a policy that says if a police officer determines that a photographer is taking photos of something with 'no apparent esthetic value,' they can detain them."

Story here.  Lawprof Ann Althouse says "I understand the security concerns at the root of this, but it's just crazily overreaching."

Monday, August 08, 2011

True of all collections but one

Holland Cotter had a lengthy piece last week on the Met's plan to use the Whitney building to display its collection of modern and contemporary art, when the Whitney moves downtown in 2015.  He includes the following thoughts:

"Objects do move. They aren’t static. They never rest. Physically they’re changing, degrading, all the time. Their histories are dynamic. Under close, patient, repeated questioning by curators and conservators they unfold their stories. They reveal who made them, when, where, how, why. Curators ask certain kinds of questions, conservators other kinds. And they have to keep asking because as the objects perpetually change, so does knowledge and a sense of what matters. No case is ever closed."

No case but one:  the Barnes collection, we are repeatedly told by opponents of its five-mile move up the road, is perfect as it is.  It is static.  It has come to rest.  No further questions should be asked.  We already know everything there is to know about the works.  As I wrote last summer:

"The Barnes ... is perfect exactly how and where it is. It cannot be improved upon. Don't move a hair on its head. Don't re-think anything, ever. They got it right the first time. (What were the odds!) It was, is, and always will be . . . perfection."

"What would it mean for the U.S. art market if droit de suite was made into law?"

The Art Newspaper's Helen Stoilas reports on ARS's push for "legislation that would see droit de suite, or artists’ resale rights, become federal law."  She says "artists who support the scheme say it is only fair for the creator of a work to get a percentage of the proceeds when it is resold, considering that the seller and the middleman get a share."

But she also quotes Stanford's John Henry Merryman as follows:  "The small minority of artists whose works have a significant secondary market would get richer. The great majority of artists, who have no significant secondary market, would have fewer gallery exhibitions and decreased sales in the primary market."  Shane Ferro's story at Artinfo includes a similar point:

"Opponents of the legislation say that the tax will only really benefit established artists who command top prices without the tax. Academia, for instance, is littered with economic papers stating that droit de suite hurts the struggling artists that it is meant to protect. Victor Ginsburgh of the Universite Libre de Bruxelles argued in a 1996 paper entitled 'What Is Wrong With Droit de Suite: The Economic Arguments' that the possibility of having to pay a penalty for reselling a work will cause buyers to demand lower prices across the primary market. Since lesser-known artists generally don't see a significant amount of their works resold, they will never see any extra revenue from the secondary market."

Related post here.

"That’s a question I’ve been chewing around: why is that a conflict of interest? ... They can in fact take a position, can’t they?"

Another thing that happened while I was away was the oral arguments on the latest petition to reopen the Barnes proceeding.  The Main Line Times seems to have the most extensive summary.  The quotation above is from Judge Ott.  (See related thoughts here.)  I still don't see how the plaintiffs get around the standing problem, and won't be surprised if there are sanctions this time.

"The museum, which houses [a] 10,000-piece collection, will probably revert to bank ownership."

The Jersey Journal reports that "there seems to be no chance the financially distressed Jersey City Museum ... will regain its footing and reopen to the public."

So what happens to the art?

And we're back . . .

. . . after further refining my summer.  Lots of art law seemed to happen while I was away, including:

Another guilty plea in the Clementine Hunter forgery case.

Prosecutors seek a 10-year term for James Biear in art theft case.

Ralph Esmerian was sentenced to six years in prison and a $20 million fine.

MoMA closed on its $31 million deal to buy the Folk Art Museum building.

MoMA also raised its ticket price to $25.  Remember:  they hold the work in trust for us, but they charge us to see it.

Chapman Kelley filed a cert petition in his VARA lawsuit.

Sotheby's labor dispute with its art handlers continues.

The debate over the Erie Library Childe Hassam continues.

The tax deduction for charitable donations was not affected by the recent debt-ceiling law.

A botched Riopelle theft in Quebec.

Sarah Thornton won her UK libel suit over a review of her book Seven Days in the Art World.

More later . . .