Wednesday, October 26, 2011

You can just stop

One more note on all those works flying out of the public trust in Philadelphia:

I liked this final quote from the Atwater Kent's new director, in response to those who wonder "what guarantees" are in place to ensure that there won't be additional sales "every time there's a debt."  His answer:

"I wouldn't permit that."

A great answer to the slippery slopists.  Once we sell one work, what's to stop us from selling thousands of works?  How do we keep from sliding down the slope?

The answer:  we just do.  We say:  I wouldn't permit that.

As I wrote in a related context about a year ago:

"If you're worried about paying your gas, electric, and water bills with deaccessioning proceeds ... don't pay your gas, electric, and water bills with deaccessioning proceeds.  ...  Problem solved. The slope really isn't that slippery. You just have to plow the roads now and then.  In fact, that's pretty close to the situation we have now. Works can be (and quite frequently are) sold for one purpose -- to raise acquisition funds -- and no one goes around worrying that, if we go down this road, we'll end up paying our gas, electric and water bills with deaccessioning proceeds. People understand that you don't have to slide down the slope. You can just stop."

Nine into one

I mentioned earlier this week that the Philadelphia Museum of Art is deaccessioning nine works that it holds in the public trust to be accessible to present and future generations.

What I didn't catch was that the proceeds from the sale of those nine works are being used to buy a work from another museum, the Atwater Kent Museum, which in turn is using the sales proceeds from its sale "to cover a $1.4 million construction loan."

It's a nice example of the absurdity of the Standard View on deaccessioning.

Financially stable large museum sells off nine works:  absolutely fine.

Small museum drowning in debt sells off a single work:  deplorable.  (For example.)

The only difference is the use of proceeds, but no one has ever explained why one use of proceeds (buying ever more art) is privileged over all others.

Or did I miss that?

"Until now, city laws have equated murals with commercial signs."

But "the Los Angeles City Council for the first time agreed this month to draft a new ordinance that would allow some murals."  LA Times story here.

Sentencing in Clementine Hunter Fakes Case

Two years probation, plus $400K in restitution.  Story here.  Background here.

"Charitable giving to the arts ... was up more than 5 percent last year."

NPR:  Arts Giving Is Up, But Hold The Applause.

Jim Johnson holds his:  "Yes, even during difficult times the rich often give buckets of money to charity. But it is important to keep your eye on the ball, because their philanthropy does not go to the poor, oppressed and downtrodden."

Monday, October 24, 2011

Tell me again about the public trust (a continuing series)

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is deaccessioning nine works from its collection of American art, five of which will be sold through Christie's next month.

Fortunately for the museum, those nine works just happened to be works that were somehow not held in the public trust, to be accessible to present and future generations, even though they had fallen under the aegis of a museum.  Whew.  What a lucky break.

Similarly, their sale will not cause potential donors to say, Why should I give this to you? What guarantee do I have that you're not going to sell this tomorrow?  This is not the kind of sale that will make anyone say that.  Other sales will make people say that.  But not this one.  This one clearly will not have that effect.  Don't be so touchy.

"In [the settlement], the university says it has no intentions to put any of its art up for sale, but it does not say outright that it will never sell art."

That's from Judith Dobrzynski's report in The Art Newspaper on the return of the Rose Art Museum.  The initial round of press missed this point.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

More on the California Resale Royalty Suit

Apparently there is a third suit, against eBay.

And some commentary, plus links to the complaints against Christie's and Sotheby's, from Nicholas O'Donnell here.

More on the Warhol News

More coverage on the announcement yesterday that the Warhol Foundation is shutting down its authentication board.  Charlotte Burns in the Art Newspaper.  Kelly Crow in the Wall Street Journal.  Paddy Johnson:  "Holy shit."  And Reid Singer:  "Starting in 2012, the commercial work of 'authenticators' will be separate from the scholarly work of art historians. I doubt that art history will be affected in any significant way when we find out that such-and-such an edition of fifty prints were actually made by a studio assistant and sold for something illegal. Answering these kinds of questions shouldn’t be a major part of the Warhol Foundation’s job."

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Resale Suit

The other big art law story today:   twin class-action lawsuits against Sotheby's and Christie's alleging violations of the California Resale Royalty Act.  Jori Finkel's LA Times story is here.  Kelly Crow in the Wall Street Journal is here.  Lee Rosenbaum has some thoughts here.

"In recent years, the foundation has been involved in legal disputes over its authentication process for works whose owners said they were by Warhol."

The Andy Warhol Foundation is dissolving its authentication board.  Carol Vogel's story is here.  Foundation President Joel Wachs told ARTINFO:  "I don't want to spend $7 million a year on lawyers."

Another "monetization" horror story

The New York Times:  "Barnstorming Masterpieces Move Into the Home They Helped Pay For."

So gross and icky and repulsive.

Or is it only wrong when Brandeis does it?

(Related post, from just a couple days ago, here.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

"I can tell you from my experience, large donors are very sensitive to the tax code."

The Hill has a report on today's Senate Finance Committee hearing on the charitable deduction.

Tell me again about the public trust (a continuing series)

Lee Rosenbaum:  "November is rapidly becoming Deaccession Month."

The latest:  MoMA is selling a Rufino Tamayo painting with "a distinguished exhibition history":  it's "been in the museum's collection since 1953...and has been included in exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art...and Tate Gallery."

Hey, isn't a work like that held in the public trust, to be accessible to present and future generations?

I guess not so much.

Lee explicitly connects this Tamayo to another one that was deaccessioned, by Randolph College a few years ago.  That sale, or course, was the Worst Thing That Ever Happened.  (Lee is still having "traumatic flashbacks.")

This sale of a Tamayo, on the other hand?

Come on, don't be so touchy.

How does the authenticity guarantee work in this case?

"Sotheby's to sell real drawing by fake artist."

Monday, October 17, 2011

Senate Hearing on Charitable Deduction

Tomorrow morning at 10 a.m.  You can follow it here.

Related, from Philanthropy Daily:

"Non-profit leaders understand that a reduced limit on tax deductions for charitable giving would crimp the giving of wealthy donors. While one might wish that wealthy donors might give just as much when the tax incentive was reduced, non-profit leaders recognize that this simply isn’t the case. Why? Economists have a straightforward explanation of such behavior: people buy less of something when its price goes up. Economists call this the 'price elasticity of demand,' which is a measure of how much demand for a good stretches as its price drops and how much amount demand for a good contracts as its price rises."

"Artist Can Paint Nude Models Only After Dark"

Reuters:  "An artist arrested for applying body paint to a nude model in New York's Times Square will have charges against him dropped if his models strip naked only after dark, according to a court agreement reached [last] Thursday."

"There is of course a considerable fee that the High is providing us."

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on MoMA's alliance with the High Museum.

File under:  only wrong when Brandeis does it.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Authentication Panel

Columbia Law School's Kernochan Center has organized a symposium on October 28 titled "For Real? Legal and Economic Perils of Art Authentication."  Details here.  The last panel should be particularly good, but the whole thing sounds outstanding.

"I think both parties are in a poor position to prove ownership to the exclusion of the other."

Erie County can't sell the Hassam they've been thinking about selling ... because it's not clear they own it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

More on the Barnes Dismissal

Not as much reaction as I would have thought to the dismissal of the latest challenge to the Barnes move.  Maybe it was such a non-surprise that it isn't worth commenting on (though I'm sure it came as a surprise to some).

The LAT's Mike Boehm has a report here, including that the Friends plan to appeal.

is a reminder that no matter how important a museum is to a member, donor or visitor, he or she is almost certainly not going to get through the courtroom threshold to complaint about it."

And Christopher Knight trots out the tired old argument that "a monstrous question mark now hangs over the future of charitable donations of artistic masterpieces in the U.S":  "Any number of potential living benefactors are among those watching the tragic Barnes saga unfold, and they are wondering the same thing: If his will was not sacrosanct, what about mine?"

To which I will trot out the same old responses:

1.  No one's will is sacrosanct.  Wasn't true when Barnes made his gift, isn't true today.

2.  Let's get real.   Or as lawprof Alan Feld put it:  "This disincentive should have only modest effect on rational donors who see that the modification of conditions results from the combination of changed circumstances and the passage of a long period of time."

3.  This is especially so since, as James Panero has shown, "the seeds of destruction were sown by the hands of Barnes himself" through "overly restrictive operating guidelines" and "leadership problems."  The Barnes really is a unique case.  It doesn't provide a very good precedent for a lot of future donor-intent trampling.

4.  In fact, if anything, the case sends exactly the right message to those potential living benefactors who are so intently watching the case unfold as they decide what to do with their masterpieces:  "Do we want the message to potential donors to be, no matter how poorly you structure your gift, no matter how overly restrictive your operating guidelines, no matter how ill advised your investment limitations, we will never violate your intentions?"

Thursday, October 06, 2011

BREAKING: Barnes Friends Lose

The Barnes Friends' latest challenge to the move has failed.  The decision is here.  As predicted, not only did they lose, they've also been sanctioned.  Some highlights:
  • This dismissal was, unsurprisingly, on standing grounds.  The Court said "presently, we have essentially the same party [as in the 2008 petition] making exactly the same argument.  This is well-trod ground, and we must reach the same conclusion as we did in 2008. ...  The law of standing in matters involving charities is crystal clear and forecloses the possibility of the Friends' pursuing the instant petition."
  • On the question of the Attorney General's supposed lack of "neutrality," the Friends "offered no case or other authority in support of this theory of mandatory impartiality."  The AG argues that its actions were "part and parcel of its responsibilities under the law that helped achieve a result that was in the best interest of the people of the Commonwealth.  We have no basis for finding fault in this stance."  Exactly.
  • The Court points out that the "multimillion dollar appropriation" that opponents of the move go on and on about "is not news" and was explicitly discussed in the 2008 opinion.  I made the same point here (see second update in particular).  It adds that "the perception that this appropriation is a smoking gun in this matter has always left the Court somewhat mystified.  The appropriation was earmarked to fund a new building for The Foundation in Philadelphia.  Surely, even the most vehement critics of our decision in 2004 do not believe that, had the existence of the budget item been known at the hearings, the Court could have directed the legislature to redirect the funds to the existing gallery in Merion or sent The Foundation off with instructions to accomplish this on its own."
  • A second, related petition filed by Richard Feudale "merit[ed] little discussion."  He, "as an attorney, must be cognizant of the chaos that would ensue if anyone with an opinion about The Barnes Foundation was permited to be heard.  Simply put, he lacks standing ...."
  • On the question of attorneys fees, the Court sanctions both Feudale (whose filing is "the epitome of vaxatious, arbitrary and bad faith conduct") and the Friends, whose "resurrection of the budget appropriation item as a basis for standing, which this Court rejected in 2008, renders their filing sanctionable as well."
More later.

"One thing that bankers and painters have in common is that their services are Veblen-like: the more expensive they become, the more demand there is for what they do."

Felix Salmon on the art market.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Erie Hassam Update

Erie County officials continue to repulsively discuss the sale of a Childe Hassam hanging in their public library.  The proceeds would repulsively be used to seed an endowment for library collections.

Don't they know that they can't do that because the work is held in the public trust, to be accessible to present and future generations?  I mean, just ask the Brooklyn Museum.

It's not like it's the Season of the Museum Disposals or anything.

Tell me again about the public trust (a continuing series)

Lee Rosenbaum reports that this fall "is fast becoming the Season of the Museum Disposals."  The latest to get into the game is the Brooklyn Museum, which is selling off a work by Russian artist Vasily Vereshchagin.  The museum says the work "merits greater study and exposure than it could get here."  (It's kind of a Humane Society!)

It's a good thing that it's not the case that once an object falls under the aegis of a museum, it is held in the public trust, to be accessible to present and future generations -- because, if it were, that would really be a problem for this sort of thing.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

VARA Follies

I have a piece in the new Art Newspaper on some strange recent decisions under the Visual Artists Rights Act.  It goes along with this story by Emily Sharpe about the increasing vandalism of LA's murals.