Tuesday, December 30, 2014

"As a professor specializing in art crime, I’ve studied the cases of dozens of forgers whose careers span thousands of years, and I can conclude that Re is the first to have used his ill-gotten gains to buy a submarine."

Noah Charney in The AtlanticWhy So Many Art Forgers Want to Get Caught.  Re Re (the submarine buyer), see here.

"It marks the second time in two weeks that the American artist has been called out for copyright infringement for a work related to the Pompidou exhibition."

Koons again.  Mike Madison wondered if Koons is "using the copyright system itself as a canvas," though it's worth noting that the works at issue in these latest cases are nearly 30 years old.

"What the AAMD did, it does affect our students. ... Why they want to hurt our students is unclear to me."

The Lynchburg News & Advance:  Ten months after 'Men of the Docks' sale, Randolph College says benefits outweigh costs.

The AAMD's answer to the question why they had to hurt Randolph's students is that the sale "erode[d]" the "trust" the public puts in museums.

Why this sale eroded that trust when (to pick one of dozens of examples I've cited here at the blog over the last few years) a sale by the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum of a classic O'Keeffe flower painting for $44 million does not, is one of life's great mysteries.

"Cuba’s Art Scene Awaits a Travel Boom"

From today's New York Times.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

"Bums had been sleeping inside the sculpture, and it reeked of feces. Tempest had been transformed into a shit storm."

More on the disgraceful treatment of Brian Tolle's public artwork in Miami Beach.  Background here.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Another Koons copyright dispute

New York Times story here.  Hyperallergic here.

How will the policy shift on Cuba affect the arts? (UPDATED)

Nicholas O'Donnell takes a look.

UPDATE:  Much more on this subject.  Kelly Crow in the WSJ:  Art Collectors Predict "Stampede" to Cuba.  David Ebony:  Is Cuba the Next Art-World Hot Spot?  New York Times:  For Cuban Artists, Bigger World Awaits After Restoration of Ties.

Because they said so?

My friend Peter Dean emails:

“I am sure you have seen this story by Mark Stryker on the $100M sale of a Cezanne by the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House by now.

“I await someone’s lucid explanation of why this is OK, but Randolph College’s sale of Men of the Docks in order to raise funds for the college’s endowment puts us in Dante’s Ninth Circle of Hell.  Could we have a full explanation of the hierarchy of permissible and impermissible deaccessions?  I think we should be told.”

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Update on the California Resale Royalty Lawsuit

The en banc hearing in the California resale royalty case took place yesterday.  Story here.  You can watch the argument here.  With the usual caveat that it's dangerous to read too much into these things, I came away with the strong impression that the commerce clause aspect of the decision (i.e., that California can't regulate sales that take place in New York) would be affirmed, but the severability aspect would not (i.e., that, unlike the lower court, the Court would leave the statute in place as it pertains to sales within California).  That would remain a big win for the auction houses.  (I'm not even sure why they're bothering to fight so hard on severability.)

Monday, December 15, 2014

Thursday, December 11, 2014

"Interestingly, a significantly more expensive Picasso ceramic valued at $365,000 was hung below the stolen Picasso silver plate and was not touched."

A theft at Art Miami.

More Monkey Business

Interesting exchange of emails regarding the famous "monkey selfie."

If this is a viable claim, a lot of contemporary artists are in big trouble

The New York Post has a report on a lawsuit filed against artist Peter Max that includes the following:

"[The plaintiffs] also helped sell Max's famous 'Statue of Liberty' painting to a collector for $500,000 -- but when she learned the artist had not 'painted in year's she was infuriated . . . . [One of the plaintiffs] learn[ed] from [Max's representative] that Max has a team of 'ghost-painters' who work near his W. 65th Street studio, the suit says.  Max merely signs 'his name on the artwork when it's completed,' the court papers allege."

It's a scandal!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

“Why the City would allow this to happen to a work of art is beyond comprehension …”

The Art Newspaper had a story last week on the mistreatment of my client Brian Tolle (best known in New York for his Irish Hunger Memorial downtown) by the Miami Beach public art authorities.  Long story short, first they were unable to maintain the work, letting it be used as an outdoor toilet (see photo here), and then they decided the best way to deal with the problem was to just remove the work and stick it in storage, where it remains today.

The Art Market Monitor sums it up:  Miami Removes $400k Work Without Consulting Artist.

And Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento has lots more here, including the following excellent series of questions:

“Did the City not seek out recommendations for the care and maintenance of Tolle’s art work? Did City officials really think that removing (and possibly damaging or destroying) Tolle’s art work without Tolle’s consent would be cheaper than cleaning and maintaining the art work? In essence what we’re asking is, did the City just think that it could do as it pleased with a legally protected work of art, and with complete disregard to the artist’s wishes?”

And, in the comments to his post:  “Hopefully the City of Miami will find a … way to not only respect Brian Tolle’s work, but to reinstall it the way that the taxpayers have paid for it.”

Let’s hope.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Perelman’s Lawsuit Against Gagosian Dismissed

New York Times story here.  First Department decision here.  The case had been on life support for some time (although not everyone noticed):  everything but the fraud claim had been thrown out earlier this year, and this decision got rid of that claim too, on the grounds that (a) Perelman, a "sophisticated" plaintiff, could not demonstrate reasonable reliance on the alleged fraud, because he "conducted no due diligence" of his own, and (b) statements about the value of art (which is what the fraud claim was about in this case) "constitute non-actionable opinion."  Felix Salmon nailed this one from the start.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Monday, December 01, 2014

"For better or worse, fine art is now firmly planted alongside equities, bonds, commodities and real estate as an asset class."

James Stewart in the NYT on the state of the art market.

Felix Salmon can't even.

Related:  Is anyone really creating art loan CDOs?

There ought to be a law

Michael Rushton notices something missing in Lee Rosenbaum's latest call for "legislation or government regulations" to enforce the AAMD position on deaccessioning.

Monday, November 24, 2014

"[M]ore likely, the Supreme Court will eventually choose to take this question on directly to clarify the line between fair use and the derivative work right ..."

"... a line which, for now at least, appears precariously subject to the whims of whichever court is tasked to draw it."

Speaking of appropriation and fair use, Steven Schindler and Katherine Wilson-Milne had a piece in the New York Law Journal last week on the Kienitz decision.

"If a visual artist can appropriate for whatever reason, under the guise that any form of appropriation is, per se, fair use, why can’t a corporation do the same?"

Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento has some more thoughts on appropriation and fair use -- and it's always great when he and Alfred Steiner get into it in the comments.  I think the real value in Sergio's shoe-on-the-other-foot examples is that they point up a problem with the emphasis on "different purpose" in the fair use analysis.  That is, imagine a corporation uses an artist's work in a major ad campaign to sell their widgets.  Couldn't they argue that their use had a completely different purpose (selling widgets) than the artist's ... and thus was transformative ... and thus fair use?

I wonder if they understand it means their collections now belong to the "public trust"

The New York Times:  A New Status Symbol for Billionaires:  Art Museum.

(Related post on a puzzle these museums present here.)

Because it's the coin of the realm?

Or maybe it's just common sense.

BBC arts editor Will Gompertz wonders:  Why is the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum selling her work?

It's a good question, for which the Deaccession Police will give their usual answer (i.e., shut up).

But this sale really is a good example of why it's silly to think of what the AAMD does as anything resembling "ethical" reasoning.  They have no way of grappling with a sale like this, no standpoint from which to evaluate it.  They just ask a simple question:  are you using the sales proceeds to buy more art?  If the answer is yes, there ends the "ethical" inquiry.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Tell me again about the public trust ($44.4 million edition)

The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum sold one of O'Keeffe's "classic flower paintings" for $44.4 million at Sotheby's this morning.

The painting had of course been Held In The Public Trust but, when reached for comment, a spokesperson for the Deaccession Police said:  Nothing to see here, move along.

I covered the particular absurdity of this example, with an assist from Peter Dean, here.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

"If Artists Need to Know About VARA, So do Judges"

Daniel Grant on a "baffling" decision in the Southern District.

Friday, November 07, 2014

"All eyes on Detroit for bankruptcy ruling" (UPDATED 2X)

1 p.m. today.  Approval "widely expected."

UPDATE:  Approved.

UPDATE 2:  Tons of coverage of the news, including:  Mark Stryker: DIA supporters elated by bankruptcy decision.  Wall Street Journal: Art Was Key to the Deal. Randy Kennedy: "Grand Bargain" Saves the Detroit Institute of Arts. (And more from the Times.)  Jillian Steinhauer at Hyperallergic.  The museum applauds.  Slate's Jordan Weissmann: "So Detroit gets to keep its art collection. Pensioners get to keep a little more of their income. And the museum never has to worry about municipal finances ever again. A nice bargain all around."  Nathan Bomey: "With one sentence -- 'The market value of the art, therefore, is irrelevant in this case' -- Rhodes squashed 16 months of debate."  Kriston Capps: "One way to think about Detroit's art collection: Love for it inspired foundations to help rescue pensions."

Friday, October 31, 2014

What the heck is going on in the Ninth Circuit on the resale royalty case?

I'm the first to admit I'm not a commerce clause expert (dormant or otherwise), but it has always seemed to me that the resale royalty case was pretty simple and straightforward.  That's certainly how it seemed in the recent oral argument on the appeal.  Now, however, it seems the Ninth Circuit has ordered an en banc review, on account of "a potential conflict in circuit precedent on Commerce Clause applicability to state actions."  Nicholas O'Donnell has some thoughts here.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Thursday, October 23, 2014

More on my deaccessioning puzzle

Michael Rushton offers up a speculative, tentative, cautious, possible answer to the deaccessioning puzzle I presented last week.

It's basically a "capture" theory -- that, as with all large, complex nonprofit organizations, the general direction of major art museums is determined by their "knowledge workers" (i.e., the curatorial staff), and the deaccession policy that we see is the one they prefer.  Like anything Rushton writes, it's worth thinking about, and I will do so, but in the meantime, let me offer two quick reactions:  (1) I'm not sure it's true.  I've linked before to a number of curator-types who have publicly questioned the wisdom of the standard view on deaccessioning; I've heard many others do the same in private conversations.  And (2) even if true, all this would do is explain where the rule came from; it wouldn't tell us whether we ought to give it any weight.  So curators want more and more art.  Big surprise.  Why is that the end of the discussion?

But more importantly, notice how nuanced ... subtle ... creative Rushton's answer is.  This is in stark contrast to the way the AAMD and its accomplices among the Deaccession Police talk about it.  For them, it's a simple, black and white issue.  There is no puzzle, there is nothing to be explained or defended.  It's a simple matter of "common sense."  It's the "coin of the realm."

In fact, the Deaccession Police don't have an answer at all.  What they do, instead, is pretend the question doesn't exist.

Ain't it grand!

The Atlantic: One-Fifth of Detroit's Population Could Lose Their Homes.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Inching Closer

The hedge funds are on board in Detroit.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"Detroit could make $25M selling copper from old streetlights"

Are streetlights held in the public trust?

If not, why not?

Is everything valuable a city owns held in the public trust and therefore not permitted to be sold?  If not, why not?  What makes art different?  When does the magic fairy dust get sprinkled on?

Monday, October 20, 2014

"The Feud That’s Shaking Gallery Walls"

Robert Frank had a piece in the Times this weekend on the Perelman-Gagosian lawsuit.

The story leaves out that the bulk of the case was thrown out earlier this year.

Felix Salmon boils it down:  "I really don't understand what the Perelman beef is here.  Larry set a price, Ron voluntarily paid it."

"He was taken into custody by police after he struggled with the museum’s security guards."

New York Times:  Vandal Strikes Koons Exhibit.

Breaking non-news: Banksy has not been arrested

Artnet doesn't have the news.

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Deaccessioning Puzzle

Reading about Mitch Rales's Glenstone collection in Carol Vogel's column today got me thinking about how museums come to be bound by the "ethical" rules regarding deaccessioning.  I mean in the most literal sense:  how does it happen?

Imagine a wealthy collector -- Rales, Stevie Cohen, somebody like that -- decides to buy a building in Chelsea and open his collection up to public view.  I don't think anyone would say that, having done so, he forfeits his right to sell works from his collection.  It's his property.  If he wants to sell his Film Stills, he can sell his Film Stills.  And I think we would all also agree that, if he does so, he should be able to use the sales proceeds however he wants.  He can use them to buy more art, or help pay for the building he's using to make his amazing collection available to all of us, or to pay the curators and guards he's employing to further enhance our experience.  Since we are lovers of art, we may think the best thing he can do with the sales proceeds is plow them into buying more art, but certainly he's under no ethical or other obligation to do so.  Again, it's his property, he's doing us a great favor by sharing it with us, he can do anything he wants with the money, including using it to put his kids through college.  Right?

Next, imagine the same scenario except now the collector decides to take the formal legal step of becoming a "museum."   It's still his collection, he's still doing us the amazing favor of giving us access to it.  Has it now become "unethical" (repulsive etc.) to use sales proceeds for anything but the purchase of more art?  How did that happen?  Really:  how?

One answer some might be tempted to give is that becoming a museum carries with it certain tax benefits, which in turn brings the ethics rules into play.  But that seems odd to me.  I can understand the argument that those tax benefits carry with them certain obligations -- the museum must be generally open to the public, everything it does must be for the public benefit (so using sales proceeds to pay for the founder's kids to go to college would no longer be possible), and so on.  But how do you get from there to a commitment to the deaccesioning-to-buy-more-art-good, deaccessioning-for-any-other-reason-bad museum "ethics" rules.  Those rules are the rules of a private organization (the AAMD) that seems to think they make sense for some reason.  They don't flow naturally from the fact that an institution is tax-exempt.  (Tax-exempt artist foundations like the Warhol Foundation, for example, sell work and use the proceeds to fund their operations all the time, and no one thinks there's anything wrong with that, nor should they.)  So how is it that calling yourself a museum automatically brings them into play?  I've never seen a good answer to that question.

30 months

Prison time for foundry owner who sold Jasper Johns fakes.

Family Squabble

NYT:   Charges of Looting as Heirs Dispute C.C. Wang Collection.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

"With the advances in 3D scanning and other digital technologies, I suspect it is easier than ever to duplicate work and create copies."

Daniel Grant:  "An epidemic of sculpture knock-offs is plaguing the art world."

"Are copyright laws too strict?"

Louis Menand in The New Yorker.  Interesting throughout.

"Deal Is Said to Be Close in Detroit’s Bankruptcy" (UPDATED)

New York Times story here.

In other DIA news, "a pair of Oakland County politicians are poised to take action against the Detroit Institute of Arts after it was revealed last week that the taxpayer-supported museum handed out double-digit raises to DIA leaders in 2012."

UPDATE:  Judith Dobrzynski on the raises issue:  "Optics matter in cases like this. It’s going to be sticky no matter what happens, but I think the DIA board should reconsider–and either make its case publicly or find another solution."

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

"In a ruling handed down late last week by the United States Tax Court and seen by many as an important victory for artists ..."

The New York Times had a story yesterday on a recent Tax Court decision regarding the deductibility of art-related expenses.  Sam Brunson puts the story in proper perspective.  (Summary:  not a big deal.)

A note on Elkins (UPDATED 2X)

Michael Rushton has a post on the Elkins decision which closes with the following:  "If art was previously being treated inequitably in the tax code, and the inequity was rectified, great. But if the result is to give special privileges to collectors not available to others, it needs a close and critical look."

Without addressing the larger point he raises, let me just say:  Art was previously being treated inequitably in the tax code, and the inequity was rectified.

In a nutshell, the issue is as follows.  Suppose I have a $10 million Picasso and I want to sell you a 40% ownership share.  What is that 40% share worth?  You might say $4 million (40% of the $10 million total value), but if you think about it, that isn't right because then you'd be stuck co-owning the piece with me, so there would be all sorts of hassles and complications involved (who gets to hang it on their wall and for how long, shipping and insurance issues, etc.) and, most important of all, you might not be able to sell it when you want or need to (because I might not agree).  So while you would certainly pay something for that 40% interest, you wouldn't pay $4 million.  You would demand a ("fractional interest") discount.  There's nothing controversial about that, it's well-established with other sorts of assets (e.g., real estate).  But for some reason the IRS insisted on treating art differently.  That inequity has now been rectified.

UPDATE:  Rushton responds here.  He's troubled by the tax avoidance motive behind the transaction, which is fair enough (though as Learned Hand said:  "Any one may so arrange his affairs that is taxes shall be as low as possible; ... there is [no] patriotic duty to increase one's taxes").  But if that's a problem, it's a problem across the board for fractional discounts.  There was no reason for the IRS to single out fractional discounts for art for different treatment.

UPDATE 2:  Rushton once more.

Does fair use doctrine favor the rich? (UPDATED)

Sergio seems to think so.  I'm not sure about that, but I do agree completely with this, from my co-teacher Amy Adler:

"One of the worries that I think we should all have about the extremely chaotic and uncertain area of fair use law is it will force artists to steer clear of engaging in work they should otherwise be able to do for fear of getting sued, and that applies to all artists rich or poor."

UPDATE:  Sergio responds here.  I'm still not convinced.  What we haven't seen, I think, is a "reverse Cariou" -- that is, a case where a "rich" artist sues a "poor" appropriation artist and, unlike Cariou, wins.  I agree with Sergio that what we have now is a clusterfuck.  I just don't think it has much to do with the relative financial standing of the artists.

"The temptation to view art as another capital asset has been especially intense this year across the country."

Another article on deaccessioning that neglects to mention that museums sell art (i.e., "treat it as a capital asset") all the time.  What was the Art Institute of Chicago doing, to take just one recent example, when it sold 117 works from its photo collection last month, if not viewing them as capital assets?

Monday, October 06, 2014

"This is the first Circuit court to expressly reject transformative use, and it has done so rather emphatically."

Barry Werbin, at NYSBA's Entertainment, Arts and Sports Law Blog, on Kientiz v. Sconnie Nation, discussed earlier here.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

"Chapter 9 is not a privilege; it is a political failure"

Kristi Culpepper, excellent on Detroit.

And on the Grand Bargain in particular:  "One of the concerns I have expressed about the so-called grand bargain that emerged from mediation is how biased and path-dependent the case became after it was announced. It effectively cut off the court’s ability (or desire?) to entertain any alternative proposal from creditors or other stakeholders. It also promoted a toxic 'us versus them' mentality, where anyone who suggested an alternative was construed as working contrary to the court itself and could not defend themselves publicly."

"A Potential Game Changer for Estate Taxes on Art"

The Elkins decision I mentioned last week makes it to the New York Times.

"After Merger, Corcoran Gallery of Art Faces Uncertain Future"

Blair Murphy at Hyperallergic.

They used the forbidden word again.

"Judge Steven Rhodes today pressed Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr to provide a better explanation for why he chose not to sell Detroit Institute of Arts property."

That was from Friday, and I assume, based on everything we've heard about Judge Rhodes and the art, that the point of the questioning was less to challenge the conclusion than to build a better record in the bankruptcy case.

The Art Market Monitor summarizes Orr's responses as "reveal[ing] that he put DIA in play enough to see what the museum might be able to come up with.  The resulting 'Grand Bargain' was effectively found money to Orr."  Nicholas O'Donnell agrees:  "We may indeed look back on this as pulling a rabbit out of a hat, when all is said and done."

Saturday, September 27, 2014

And people say we monkey around

Nicholas O'Donnell is with me on the pressing issue of monkeys and copyright.

We shall fight in the courtrooms

The New York Post:  Winston Churchill's artist granddaughter sues gallery.

2015 National Cultural Heritage Law Moot Court Competition

February in Chicago.  Details here.

Reminder from Detroit: the fight over DIA's art isn't over

Mark Stryker summarizes the state of play.

Meanwhile, Detroit Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley asks:  Where's the grand bargain for Detroit's kids?

"How should we subsidize charitable giving to the arts?"

Some thoughts from IU's Michael Rushton.

Copyright and Graffiti (UPDATED)

The Atlantic asks whether graffiti can by copyrighted.  The answer given seems to be "why not?"

This post, from a couple years back, drills a little deeper into the question.

UPDATE:  Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento:  "The more interesting question, to me, is whether the same graffiti (not commissioned murals) also garners moral rights protection."

Idea vs. Expression

Artist's copyright infringement suit against Avatar director James Cameron thrown out, on a motion to dismiss (rather than summary judgment).  Story here.  Opinion here.

"It’s a huge affirmation that opens the door to help art owners reduce their estates." (UPDATED)

Was distracted this week, including by thinking about who shall be deaccessioned and who shall not in the coming year, and still catching up.  For my money the most important art law story of the week was the Fifth Circuit's decision in the Estate of James Elkins affirming the use of fractional interest discounts for works of art.  Forbes has a story here.  The decision is here.

UPDATE:  Eileen Kinsella has more here.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Judge Easterbrook Is Not A Fan Of The Prince-Cariou Decision Either (UPDATED 2X)

An interesting fair use decision in the Seventh Circuit, with echoes of Prince-Cariou and, even more so, the Shepard Fairey "Hope" poster case.  The defendants used a photo of the Mayor of Madison, Wisconsin on some t-shirts and tank tops; the photographer sued.

Judge Easterbrook begins by declining to follow the Second Circuit's approach in Prince-Cariou:

"We’re skeptical of Cariou’s approach, because asking exclusively whether something is 'transformative' not only replaces the list in §107 but also could override 17 U.S.C. §106(2), which protects derivative works. To say that a new use transforms the work is precisely to say that it is derivative and thus, one might suppose, protected under §106(2).  Cariou and its predecessors in the Second Circuit do not explain how every 'transformative use' can be 'fair use' without extinguishing the author’s rights under §106(2)."

Later, he provides a very clear statement of the Cariou, get-your-hands-off-my-work position:

"[D]efendants did not need to use the copyrighted work. ... There’s no good reason why defendants should be allowed to appropriate someone else’s copyrighted efforts as the starting point in their [work], when so many non-­copyrighted alternatives (including snapshots they could have taken themselves) were available. The fair-­use privilege under §107 is not designed to protect lazy appropriators. Its goal instead is to facilitate a class of uses that would not be possible if users always had to negotiate with copyright proprietors. (Many copyright owners would block all parodies, for example, and the administrative costs of finding and obtaining consent from copyright holders would frustrate many academic uses.)"

Having said that, however, he concludes that it's "not enough to offset the fact that, by the time defendants were done, almost none of the copyrighted work remained," and therefore affirms the district court's ruling of fair use.

UPDATE:  Copyright guru Bob Clarida emails:  "The Seventh Circuit continues to pretend that transformative use is some sort of Second Circuit aberration that merely got a 'mention' in Campbell."

UPDATE 2:  Fierce Prince-Cariou critic Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento responds here.  Nicholas O'Donnell says "it is hard to see yet how long a shadow this case will case relative to Prince."

"Detroit reaches bankruptcy deal with fiercest creditor"

Story here.

Nicholas O'Donnell:  "This does not completely put an end to discussion about the role of the DIA collection, but for all intents and purposes it will likely be the last of any proposal to collateralize or sell the artwork."

Saturday, September 13, 2014

More animal copyright

Remember my hypothetical about the artist who intentionally leaves a camera out for a monkey to use?

Well, Agnieszka Kurant's show up at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery includes the following work:

"The sculptural installation A.A.I. (whose title references the concept of 'artificial artificial intelligence') is the product of the collective intelligence of termites to which Kurant outsourced her art production. ... Working with entomologists in laboratories at the University of Florida, Kurant employed an entirely unaware worker society of millions of termite specimens to produce sculptural mounds. The artist supplied the termites with alternative building materials such as vividly colored sands, gold, and glitter resulting in the creation of hybrid forms hovering between nature and culture."

Does anyone doubt that Kurant holds (and deserves) the copyright in the work?

"No case in recent history more clearly illustrates the subjective nature of pricing art than the disparate expert opinions of value of the Detroit Institute of Art collection." (UPDATED)

Appraiser Cindy Charleston-Rosenberg:  Warning For Collectors.

UPDATE:  Related thoughts from Jay Grimm.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Tell me again about the public trust (one of O’Keeffe’s best-known paintings edition) (UPDATED)

The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum is selling three paintings, including "Jimson Weed (White Flower No. 1)" from 1932, which is estimated at $10 million to $15 million.

Three paintings which, having fallen under the aegis of a museum, are held in the public trust, to be accessible to present and future generations.

Three paintings whose sale will certainly cause potential future donors to ask, Why should I give this to you? What guarantee do I have that you're not going to sell it?

UPDATE:  My friend Peter Dean emails:

"I understand that the museum police have a self-created exception to their self-created rules about de-accessioning, but it does seem a bit odd for an O’Keeffe museum to sell O’Keeffe paintings with the proceeds to be placed in the museum’s acquisitions fund, which will be used to purchase  . . what? More O’Keeffe paintings?  To fill gaps?  We are going in circles.

"Even if one tries to follow the logic of allowing sales to 'refine' a collection, in this case one of the three paintings seems to have especial provenance (display in the White House), value and merit.  How does that fit with 'refinement'?"

Put a bird on it (UPDATED)

Willamette Week has a story up about how some people are bothered by the fact that the artist who created the Portlandia sculpture retains the copyright to it.  It starts off sort of suggesting that this is something out of the ordinary, though later in the story it concedes that "actually, it's not that uncommon" (I would say it's not uncommon period).  Cities can negotiate for the copyright to public art pieces if they want, but then that's going to severely limit the pool of artists interested in working with them.

UPDATE:  Michael Rushton argues that it makes more sense for the city to acquire the copyright upfront. He says that "greatly reduces the transaction and other costs of anyone wishing to create an image that includes the statue having to negotiate individually with the artist."  I'm not sure I agree.  First, it only reduces the transaction costs if the city agrees to put the copyrights in the public domain (which I've never seen happen) -- otherwise instead of having to negotiate individually with the artist, anyone wishing to use the work will have to negotiate individually with the city.  Six of one, half dozen of the other.  In addition, suppose it would cost the city $100 to get the work without the copyright, and $150 if the copyright is included.  Why should "we all" (that is, the general citizenry of the city) pay that extra $50, rather than letting people who want to sell posters and other tchotchkes depicting the work pay for it directly?  Last, as I mentioned in my initial post, as a general matter, the best artists won't even consider such an arrangement. Rushton says "if the artist under consideration won't take such a deal, find another artist who will" -- but I think he understates the severity of that aspect of the problem.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The strange, self-defeating breach of confidentiality lawsuit brought by Marguerite Hoffman took another turn last week (UPDATED)

The background is here.  A news story on the latest developments is here.  The judge threw out the jury verdict against the buyer of the work (David Martinez) on the grounds that the gallery was not his agent when it entered into the contract that contained the confidentiality clause.  (So the court viewed the sale as a two-step transaction -- Hoffman to the gallery to Martinez -- rather than a sale from Hoffman to Martinez through the gallery.)  The $500,000 verdict against the gallery remains, and that's another strange aspect of the case:  the theory is that that's the amount Hoffman gave up by selling the work privately (with a confidentiality clause) rather than at auction, as if sales at auction always do better than private sales.  One wonders why anyone would ever sell anything privately if that's the case.

UPDATE:  Art and Artifice:  "Four year of litigation and no additional millions to show for it....distressing."

Tell me again about the public trust (collection of over 30 Tiffany objects edition)

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is selling.

Remember, having fallen under the aegis of a museum, those objects are held in the public trust, to be accessible to present and future generations.

And potential future donors will certainly being asking, Why should I give this to you? What guarantee do I have that you're not going to sell it, just like you sold off those 30+ Tiffany objects?

That's the coin of the realm folks.  Use your common sense.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

"Detroit Clears Crucial Hurdle on Bankruptcy"

A settlement with bond insurer Syncora.  Nicholas O'Donnell tweets:  "Huge. Would resolve biggest opponent to Grand Bargain."

Monday, September 08, 2014

Moral rights for monkeys?

Philosopher Mike LaBossiere considers the question.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

"None of these guys have legal copyright. What they’re doing is breaking federal law.”

The NYT's Randy Kennedy reports on a lawsuit over the work of Vivian Maier.

I've wondered about this from the moment I heard they were making prints from the found negatives.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

"They are arguing [the] grand bargain is a de facto asset sale, that it is mispricing the asset, and that it should not benefit only one creditor."

That's Kristi Culpepper's summary of the argument so far, and it's exactly what I predicted would happen back in June:

"The grand bargain, you'll recall, 'brings together the equivalent of $816 million from national and local foundations, the DIA and the state of Michigan to spare the museum’s collection from a possible sale.'  In essence, it's a sale of the museum's collection to a new, independent nonprofit for $816 million.  But what makes that the right number?  We know that the collection is actually worth a great deal more than thatDoesn't the existence of the grand bargain make it easier for the creditors to come in and say, "Look, everyone -- even the museum itself -- acknowledges that the art isn't really held in any sort of legally cognizable trust, it cannot simply be removed from the bankruptcy process, there has to be a price to the removal ... and this price is too low.  There are people out there who will pay twice that amount and the bankruptcy trustees have an obligation to explore those higher offers."

Sunday, August 31, 2014

"Under the plan the city hopes Judge Rhodes will confirm, Detroit’s more than 100,000 creditors would get a wide range of returns on their claims."

The New York Times tees up the Detroit bankruptcy trial, beginning Tuesday.

Related:  10 key questions to watch for at Detroit's historic bankruptcy trial.

"The company has doubled the 'maximum permissible amount of net outstanding auction guarantees' from $300m to $600m"

The Art Newspaper's Charlotte Burns:  Sotheby's comes out fighting ahead of auction season.

Tim Schneider tweets in response:  "Much as I hate guarantees this may be their only hope. Reality is most people sell at auction because they want/need capital fast. Guaranteed money talks loudest to consignors in that situation. So it Christie's is offering big guarantees, only way for Sotheby's to keep pace and get quality work is to fight fire with fire."

Sanction Portugal!

Artnet News:  Portugal Will Sell Those 85 Joan Miro Paintings After All.

Background here.

And do not call it a "merger."

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Hall Monitors' new Very Important Cause ...

... is to insist that we never ever call what happened to the Corcoran a "merger."  In other words, these news reports --

The Art Newspaper:  Corcoran merger gets DC court approval -- 

all get it wrong, but what do they know?

Why this issue is so important to the Hall Monitors I couldn't tell you (they move in mysterious ways), but, rather than get hung up on semantics, it's good to be reminded one more time what actually is happening. From the decision approving the merger takeover partnership arrangement:

"[U]nder the proposal, GW will: 1) renovate the Flagg Building so that it can continue to host both a gallery and a college of art and design in the District of Columbia; 2) establish a Corcoran School within GW that will seek to 'preserve and maintain the mission, reputation and brand' of the Corcoran, that will incorporate the Corcoran name, and that will remain in the Flagg Building in perpetuity; 3) continue to maintain gallery space in the Flagg Building even if the agreement between NGA and GW is terminated; and 4) continue to ensure that the works of art displayed in the Flagg Building remain open to the public. ... Under the proposal, the NGA will: 1) operate a Legacy Gallery at the Flagg Building, consisting of works from the Corcoran collection that are 'intrinsically identified' with the Flagg Building and the history of the Gallery; and 2) operate a contemporary art gallery at the Flagg Building, consisting of works of art from both the Corcoran collection and the NGA’s collection.... In sum, under the GW/NGA proposal, the Flagg Building will be renovated, the school will continue and be strengthened by its partnership with a financially sound university, both the school and a significant portion of the collection will remain in the Flagg Building, and a gallery, although smaller, will remain open to the public in the Flagg Building."

Call it what you will, but that's what it is.

Is GPS technology the answer for stolen art?

The Atlantic takes a look.  Apparently, only 1.5% of stolen art is ever recovered.

"Study Finds Increase in Charitable Donations by Puerto Rican Taxpayers after Charitable Contribution Deduction Limitations Were Removed"


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Monkey (c)

In a blow to monkey photographers everywhere, the US Copyright Office has declared that photos taken by monkeys cannot in fact be copyrighted.

All joking aside, however, the more I've thought about this issue, the less obvious the conclusion has seemed. The problem with the actual case under discussion is that the photographer admitted it was an accident; the monkey just picked up his equipment and started snapping the shutter.  But imagine a photographer whose work is to leave a camera in a room with various animals and waits for them to press the shutter, or perhaps sets up tripwires in the room that causes the camera to shoot.  It's not so obvious to me that the photographer shouldn't own the copyright in the resulting photos in that situation.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

"This is a significant ruling that will have an effect on museum management beyond cy prés petitions, which are relatively rare."

"The court’s treatment of deaccession as a non-starter is a judicial adoption of a principle that is codified only in the regulations of the New York Board of Regents.  That is notable in and of itself."

 Nicholas O'Donnell on the Corcoran decision.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Tell me again about the public trust (selections from The Art Institute of Chicago’s renowned photo collection edition)

Speaking of the inviolable principle that museums hold their works for future generations and they therefore must never be sold, even should the heavens fall, Phillips is about to sell 117 works from the Art Institute of Chicago's photo collection.

One.  Hundred.  Seventeen.

How can that be?

Weren't those 117 objects that, having fallen under the aegis of a museum, were held in the public trust, to be accessible to present and future generations?

Isn't this 117 opportunities -- 117!! -- for 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?"

How can this be okay -- not even worthy of a mention in the press aside from the auction house's own press release -- but it's not okay for the Corcoran to sell work in order to keep from disappearing?

It can't be a matter of the public trust -- or else both sales would be wrong.  And it can't be a concern about future donors -- or else, again, both sales would be wrong.

So what is it (setting aside as possible answers "common sense" and "the coin of the realm")?  It has to be a value judgment that adding a few more works to the Art Institute's already enormous collection is more important than keeping the Corcoran (or the National Academy, or Fisk University, etc.) in existence.

But what sense does that make?

Did the Deaccession Police Kill the Corcoran?

In his decision today, the Judge noted that, "throughout this proceeding, [opponents of the plan] have argued that the Corcoran can address this [financial] shortfall by selling some of the more than 17,000 pieces in the Corcoran's collection."  But he said he was "less optimistic ... about the likelihood of success" of this proposal.

Why?  Because SANCTIONS.  "This proposal," he wrote, "has a serious downside.  It is undisputed that the AAM and the AAMD can impose, and have imposed, sanctions on museums that have sold art to pay for operating expenses."  He quotes the Director of the National Academy Museum as describing the effect of these policies as:  "sanctions, and you're dead."  "Thus," he wrote, "this Court believes there are substantial risks associated with the Intervenors' proposal to de-accession art to pay for the renovation of the Flagg Building and to pay some of the Corcoran's other operating expenses."

I hope they're happy at Deaccession Police headquarters.

BREAKING: Corcoran Cy Pres Relief Granted

Story here.  More later, after I've had a chance to review the opinion.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

"In a complaint filed in federal court in Illinois ..."

". . . the three artists seek damages for the 'blatant misappropriation' of a piece they painted collaboratively in Buenos Aires in 2010."

Street artists sue filmmaker Terry Gilliam.

"Our job is to advance the best interests of the foundation and its charitable mission."

"The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation has appealed a decision by a Florida court to award $24.6 million to three trustees who had administered the artist’s estate."

"The suggestion that the art was ever at imminent risk of being liquidated without the city’s consent was merely a political expedient."

"The city used this narrative to build an artificial sense of urgency around adopting this particular solution to the exclusion of more thoughtful approaches."

Kristi Culpepper on what's really happening in Detroit.

"I think about what I did every day, and I find it hard to live with what I did because it still haunts me."

A plea deal in the Ai Weiwei broken vase case:

"Maximo Caminero, a 51-year-old artist from the Dominican Republic, will be on probation for 18 months and serve 100 hours of community service by teaching children how to paint. Mr. Caminero also must pay restitution of $10,000, the appraised value of the vase he dropped on the floor of the Pérez Art Museum Miami on Feb. 16 in what he said was a political act."

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Under Fire (UPDATED)

Deborah Solomon had a big piece in Sunday's Times on the Delaware Museum deaccessioning.  Unlike some previous efforts in the paper, this one just assumes the sale is the Worst Thing Ever, adopts the AAMD point of view completely, and then proceeds from there.  (You guys, the new director of the museum can't name a work he likes in the collection.  LOL!!!!)

But when it comes to explaining why the sale is the Worst Thing Ever, we get just one paragraph: 

"Selling artwork to fund operations (as opposed to acquisitions) is widely viewed as self-defeating, like burning down your house to heat the kitchen. Museums are supposed to safeguard art for future generations, not cash in or out. And as the sale of the Holman Hunt proved, it doesn’t always go as hoped."

The third point is neither here nor there, and the second I've dealt with hundreds of times (museums do not safeguard (all) art for future generations; they sell work all the time and it's nothing to be so touchy about). But I want to focus here on the first one -- selling artwork to fund operations is like burning down your house to heat the kitchen -- because that's a talking point the Deaccession Police love to trot out but, like a lot of their other talking points, it doesn't stand up to the slightest bit of scrutiny. Selling a work of art from a museum's vast collection is not like burning down your house at all. It's more like selling, say, a fork from your kitchen drawer, or an old blanket that has been up in the attic for years, or maybe even in some cases your 52-inch flat screen television: it might really hurt, and you'd hate to part with it, but if that's what it took to keep you from losing the house, then you'd do it in a heartbeat. In none of these cases -- Randolph College, Delaware, the National Academy, etc. -- is anyone's house in danger of burning down.

But for my money, the big news came in a related interview Solomon gave with WNYC Radio in which she (a) fully endorsed the Ellis Rule and (b) came out in favor of the Randolph College deaccessioning. At around the 3-minute mark, she says:

"To me deaccessioning does make sense, though, when a museum is able to sell a painting to another museum, so that the picture stays on public view.  We had that this year when a George Bellows sold by Randolph College in Lynchburg, Virginia to the National Gallery of Art in London. It's the first time that an American painting entered the collection of the National Gallery in London. So that strikes me as a win-win situation."

Yes, it is.

UPDATE: In my haste this morning, I forgot to include the link to the radio piece. Fixed now.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

If a monkey takes a selfie ... (UPDATED 2X)

... who owns the copyright?

UPDATE:  AFC comments: "Yes, this is silly, but it actually seems like this could have far-reaching impact on other photographers; after all, Gregory Crewdson, for one, doesn't press the shutter for any of his photographs."

UPDATE 2:  Ann Althouse:  "Give it up, Slater, and embrace the publicity you're getting at this, your moment of greatest fame. Move on, photograph something else, and let us like you at this point — perhaps the only point — when we know you. Surrender gracefully to the Mona Lisa of Macaques and and let everyone... everyone... smile."

Sarah Jeong:  "
How is an aspiring monkey photographer supposed to make it if she can’t stop the rampant internet piracy of monkey works?"

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Maybe we should try sanctioning somebody

I mentioned a couple weeks ago that the Hall Monitors didn't know how to feel about the Corcoran matter. Now, along comes Lee Rosenbaum in the WSJ to argue that the Judge should reject the Corcoran's proposal ... but at the same time she doesn't seem too impressed with the alternate plan suggested by those opposing the petition.  Or, as Hall of Famer Kriston Capps put it on Twitter: "[Rosenbaum's] Corcoran takeway:  Don't go with the NGA-GWU plan, but also don't go with the alternative?  So ... what?"

Sunday, August 03, 2014

A Decision in the Rauschenberg Foundation Fee Dispute

$24.6 million to the three trustees.  Story here.  Background here.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

"Anyone who thought that the Corcoran’s dissolution was a foregone conclusion would think again after yesterday’s court proceedings."

A report on day one of the Corcoran cy pres hearing.

I guess it wasn't grand enough

An interesting scoop from Nathan Bomey and Mark Stryker in the Detroit Free Press this morning:  "[C]ity officials quietly formulated a proposal in late 2011 to sell the city-owned Detroit Institute of Arts to nonprofit foundations for $550 million to create cash flow for the city, fund museum operations and transfer ownership so the art could never be sold to pay city debt.  The plan — according to records obtained by the Free Press and never publicly revealed — bears a striking resemblance to this year’s grand bargain designed to protect the DI."

Here's my question.  The collection is worth somewhere between $2.7 and $8.5 billion.  What makes $816 million the "right" number rather than $550 million?  Why not $943 million?  Or $286 million?  Or $1.35 billion (half the low end estimate)?  Where did the "grand bargain" number (816) come from?

The problem with the public trust ...

... is the public.  Why do they have to be so damn interested in seeing the works?

Michael Rushton tweets:  "If only there existed some sort of mechanism for allocating scarce goods with excess demand."

Sunday, July 27, 2014

$8.5 billion (UPDATED)

That's the value of the Detroit Institute's collection according to an appraisal commissioned by one of the City's largest creditors.

UPDATE:   More from Randy Kennedy in the NYT.   Look, at this point the work could be worth $85 billion and it wouldn't make a difference to those opposed to any sale.