Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Monday, April 28, 2014

Is inequality good for art?

From Tyler Cowen's review of Piketty:

"Piketty fears the stasis and sluggishness of the rentier, but what might appear to be static blocks of wealth have done a great deal to boost dynamic productivity. Piketty’s own book was published by the Belknap Press imprint of Harvard University Press, which received its initial funding in the form of a 1949 bequest from Waldron Phoenix Belknap, Jr., an architect and art historian who inherited a good deal of money from his father, a vice president of Bankers Trust. (The imprint’s funds were later supplemented by a grant from Belknap’s mother.) And consider Piketty’s native France, where the scores of artists who relied on bequests or family support to further their careers included painters such as Corot, Delacroix, Courbet, Manet, Degas, Cézanne, Monet, and Toulouse-Lautrec and writers such as Baudelaire, Flaubert, Verlaine, and Proust, among others."

Friday, April 25, 2014

An International Perspective

My friend Massimo Sterpi has co-edited a new title, The Art Collecting Legal Handbook.  Check it out.

"Protecting collectors, it's not our job. I don't think putting the burden of that due diligence on an artist estate, especially in the absence of sufficient legal protections, is appropriate."

That's Michael Straus, chairman of the Warhol foundation, making good sense in this Wall Street Journal piece on "the deep freeze in art authentication."

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

"The artist is outside the state, the buyer's outside state, the property's outside the state."

It's always risky to read too much into oral arguments, but things did not seem to go well for the plaintiffs in the Ninth Circuit in the California resale royalty case.  Courthouse News Service has a summary here.  You can listen for yourself here.

Monday, April 14, 2014

"The tax strategy is 100 percent legal, experts say, as long as all stages of the museum transfer are handled correctly."

There was a terrific piece by Graham Bowley and Patricia Cohen in the Times over the weekend on a "lucrative, little-known" maneuver for avoiding state use taxes on art.

Doesn't work in New York -- as the story notes, "collectors who live in states that don’t recognize a first-use exemption are out of luck. New York, for example, typically imposes a use tax — 8.875 percent in Manhattan — on art brought into the state by a resident, even if it is first publicly displayed elsewhere" -- but well worth reading.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

"According to court documents filed Wednesday, investors are willing to pay or make loans of close to $2 billion for the masterpieces inside the Detroit Institute of Arts" (UPDATED)

Emergency manager Kevyn Orr says it isn't going to happen -- he says "we have no intention of selling art" and also correctly points out that "in a Chapter 9 [bankruptcy] you cannot compel the city to sell anything, not a park, not a zoo, not the DIA."

But here's a question:  at what point would such an offer become not disgusting?  Ten billion? Twenty billion?  Is there literally no amount of money where we would have to say "you know what, the money could do more for the city than the art"?

UPDATE:  Michael Rushton tweets:  "Detroit's violence, failed schools, decrepit public services, poverty: disgusting. Arts 'advocates' need perspective."

Monday, April 07, 2014

Shades of grey (UPDATED)

Let me recommend this really good piece on the situation in Delaware, by Timothy Rub of the AAMD.

Instead of the usual approach of this-is-an-easy-question-and-anyone-who-disagrees-is-a-repulsive-Stalinist-philistine-hater-of-art, he begins be acknowledging that "this was a difficult -- indeed, agonizing -- decision."

That alone seems to me to be a huge concession from the usual AAMD position on these things.

He goes on:  "Was it, however, the right decision?"  Some, he says, "accepting the argument that the only alternative was to close the Museum's doors, would agree that it was."  Others would "emphatically" disagree.

Again, a rare concession that there are two sides to this debate.

He asks whether there were "other options that the [Museum] might have explored?"  He says the answer is yes, though doesn't bother to "map these out" -- though the important point, to my mind, is that in doing so he concedes that "such problems do not admit of easy solutions."

He closes by saying that "whatever your opinion on this subject may be, I hope that you'll agree that it is worthy of a spirited public debate."  (I do!  I do!)

This seems to me exactly how these things should be discussed:

First, no one gets to shut down the debate by appealing to some magical "ethics" rules.

The question is always:  was it the right decision in the circumstances?

What will happen if the work isn't sold?

Have all other options been sufficiently explored?

Is it, all things considered, the right thing to do?

It's very similar to how people think about deaccessioning in cases where the sales proceeds are used to buy more art.  Sometimes it seems to make a lot of sense.   Sometimes it doesn't.   But the important thing is that each case is considered on its own merits.  There is no bright line rule.   Nobody gets sanctioned.

If that's the AAMD's new approach to the problem, sign me up.

UPDATE:  Here is a timely overview of deaccessioning issues from Charles and Tom Danziger.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

"A recent decision in New York’s Supreme Court could cause chaos in art forgery cases."

I'm quoted in this Art Newspaper story on the (weird) authentication decision mentioned earlier here.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

"If a museum’s collection is deemed fungible, why should private donors or government agencies fund its operations?"

LA Times art critic Christopher Knight reacts to the shocking news that the Met sold off more than 3,000 objects last year.

Three thousand little units of fungibility.  No wonder everyone is so upset with them!

I say we form a human circle around the building and, in one voice, just say no.

Down with fungibility!

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Detroit Cuts Pensions Further

New York Times story here.

I checked with the spokesperson for the Deaccession Police, who issued the following statement: Not. Our. Problem.

Still Restrained

Dan Duray has the latest on the Four Seasons Picasso lawsuit.

Art law in the galleries

ARCA's Catherine Sezgin on an art-law related show at the D'Amour Museum in Massachusetts.

Art law in the movies

Derek Fincham on The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Tell me again about the public trust (it's a fire sale at the Metropolitan Museum of Art edition)

Speaking of the repulsive practice of deaccessioning artworks, the NY Post notices that the Met sold more than 3,000 objects last year alone.

That's 3,000 objects that, having fallen under the aegis of a museum, were held in the public trust, to be accessible to present and future generations.

I'm surprised it hasn't led to the dissolution of the museum.

The most interesting thing about the Post article is that we often hear from the Deaccession Police that one reason museums can't sell art is that it upsets donors, who will then be reluctant to give in the future (as I often point out, they never explain why donors don't mind when their works are sold when the proceeds are used to buy more art ... but leave that be for now).  Well, the Post tracked down the great-grandson of a donor of one of the pieces the Met sold ... and he was all for it!  "I would rather think of this being in a private collection or another museum where people can enjoy it," he said, "than in the basement of the Met where no one is going to see it."  Imagine that.

"Yes, communities benefit from famous paintings, but they also benefit from safer roads and better schools."

Cornell economist Robert H. Frank had a piece in Sunday's New York Times on Detroit and its art collection.

He urges us to look at both costs and benefits.  Take Pieter Bruegel the Elder's "The Wedding Dance," which could be worth $200 million by itself.  At a 6 percent interest rate (after rates "return to normal levels"), "the foregone interest on that amount would be approximately $12 million a year."  If the museum is open 2,000 hours a year, "the costs of keeping the painting on display would be more than $6,000 an hour."  If five people view it per hour, that's $1,200 an hour per visitor.  He guesses that "most taxpayers [would] think the same money could deliver much greater value if spent in other ways."

Michael Rushton, Director of Indiana University's Arts Administration Programs, says "those firmly against DIA selling art need to be able to respond to the arguments Robert Frank makes" -- but of course they'll do no such thing.  To the extent they even acknowledge the existence of his arguments (unlikely), they're more apt to call him names (repulsive Stalinist trickle down philistine) and try to figure out a way to sanction him.

"Proponents of the bill believe that it is necessary to incentivize experts to continue to authenticate works in light of the chilling effect of recent litigation."

Frankfurt Kurnit summarizes the proposed NY legislation protecting "authenticators," mentioned earlier here.

Via Sergio Munoz Sarmiento, who wonders if the bill "give[s] authenticators too much power?"

"But Mr. Parsons said Mr. Loeb ... faces 'an uphill battle' to show the pill actually puts him at a disadvantage."

The Wall Street Journal has the latest on Daniel Loeb's poison pill lawsuit against Sotheby's.

Should "assisting the truly needy be the central focus of the charitable contribution deduction"?

The Nonprofit Law Prof Blog thinks so.

How is the Artist Pension Trust doing?

Daniel Grant takes a look on its tenth birthday.

How is Amazon Art Doing?

Not so well, according to this Bloomberg News story.