Wednesday, October 21, 2015

What a Time to Be Alive

You may have seen the video for the rapper Drake’s latest single, “Hotline Bling,” which is clearly “inspired by” the work of my client James Turrell.  Turrell has issued the following statement in response:

“While I am truly flattered to learn that Drake f*cks with me, I nevertheless wish to make clear that neither I nor any of my woes was involved in any way in the making of the Hotline Bling video.”

"Authenticated as original"

I'm quoted in this Observer story on a mystery Basquiat in Nashville.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Deaccessioning in the NYT Ethicist Column

Sort of.

(And last one this morning, I promise.)

A few weeks ago, the great Kwame Anthony Appiah fielded a question from a librarian at a "large public university" who was upset about the library's plan to deaccession a bunch of books.

He starts his answer by declaring that "public institutions are a public trust."  Uh oh.

But it's not clear exactly what he has in mind by that.  He seems to suggest what it means is that "any citizen ... has the right to ask whether those who run them are carrying out the purposes for which they've been chartered."  Okay, if that's all it means, I can go along with that.

He then goes on to say:  "But the decisions you’re talking about don’t sound morally wrong. They reflect a judgment at odds with your own; they don’t reflect corruption, abuse or a total abandonment of the institution’s pur­poses."

I can really sign on to that.  That could work as a standard for evaluating any sale by a museum. Get rid of the silly "use of proceeds" distinction.  Instead, ask:  does this sale reflect corruption, abuse, or an abandonment of the institution's purposes?  (I'm willing to give up "total" in Appiah's formulation.)  If the answer is yes, then go ahead and raise hell.  If the answer is no, then it's just "a judgment at odds with your own."  Relax.

(Also, in response to a separate question in the same column, Appiah has some interesting things to say that bear on the question of donor intent.  He mentions the case of Franz Kafka, who had "asked his friend and executor Max Brod to destroy all his papers and manuscripts when he died, and we’re glad Brod didn’t. Yet there’s more to the story. Brod had warned Kafka that he would never do so — this, too, was a solemn vow — and believed that if Kafka really wanted this bonfire, he would have appointed another executor. That matters, too."  I agree, and have always felt that donor intent is a much more complex thing than the anti-deaccessionists like to pretend.)

"This is my painting. This is not a painting of Spain. This is not a national treasure, and I can do what I want with this painting."

Do private individuals hold works in the public trust?  If not, why not?  What's the difference between that and, say, a private college?

Are these European national cultural property laws just a natural extension of public trust/anti-deaccessioning thinking here?  Some related musings here.

Don't tell Detroit

Sticking with the theme, the Mayor of Venice is proposing to sell off some of the city's artwork -- including masterpieces by Klimt and Chagall -- to pay down municipal debt.  Repulsive?

Our research staff is currently checking to see if Venice is a member of the AAMD.

Tell me about the public trust (hundreds of donated antiques edition)

Continuing the theme this morning, the New York Times reports that "in the last few weeks, [the Met] has sold paintings and sculptures at Doyle New York auction house" and on Oct. 27 Christie's will offer "hundreds of donated antiques" for sale.

I like how, when it's an AAMD-approved sale, we hear in the first sentence that the works are being brought "out of storage."  (Why, it's like they're being "liberated"!)

We never seem to hear about their storage status when it's a sale the Deaccession Police don't like.

In the same way ...

... no one thinks it's unethical for St. Charles Borromeo Seminary near Philadelphia to sell off part of its art and book collections.  (In the same way as this, I mean.)

Again:  it's not the non-profit status.

So what is it?

"There’s a strong feeling that as board members we are responsible for protecting the club and ensuring its success in the future. The most important way to do that was through a sale."

This is a couple weeks old, but I didn't want to let it pass without mention.  The Washington Post reports that "the National Press Club and its affiliated journalism institute will sell a Norman Rockwell painting the artist gave them more than 50 years ago and bank the estimated $10- to $15-million windfall to support future programs."

You probably haven't heard anything about this, and with good reason.  This is, and ought to be, utterly noncontroversial.  As the Press Club's President says, the sale will allow them "to expand our mission and do even more for the profession of journalism and press freedom."

Now, if you're a member of the Deaccession Police, or even just a sympathizer, you may be saying:  "Who cares?  What's your point?  The National Press Club is not a museum?  What do they have to do with anything?"

The answer is that the way this connects to the general deaccessioning debate is that it shows that non-profit status alone (and the tax benefits that come with it) is not enough to give rise to a public trust.  (I don't know what kind of entity the National Press Club is exactly, but I believe "its affiliated journalism institute" is a 501(c)(3).)  One of the questions I've asked around here (repeatedly) is how do museums come to hold their work in the public trust?  Literally, how does it happen?  One answer that's sometimes given is that, as a result of their non-profit status, "we" have a claim on the works.  But the Press Club example shows that isn't right.  Non-profit status alone doesn't get you there.

I submit to you that there are lots of other institutions -- colleges and universities chief among them -- who are more like the Press Club than museums:  they have larger missions to serve, and if they conclude that selling a work of art will further that larger mission, they should be free to do so.

I would also submit to you that museums are more like the Press Club than what the Deaccession Police imagine museums to be.  They too have larger missions, and if the sale of work is in furtherance of that mission, why be so touchy about it?

Friday, October 16, 2015

This is obviously huge

A victory for Google in the Second Circuit on its book scanning project.  Fair use.  Leval.  Transformativeness.  Major implications for all sorts of copyright issues.  You can read it here.  More to come later.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

"An objective way of marking art would be particularly attractive at a time when reliance on subjective expertise, or connoisseurship, and often-incomplete provenance, seems to be waning."

Is synthetic DNA the answer to the problem of art forgery?

"It shows how even after decades it is possible for treasures such as this to be returned to their rightful homes."

The Art Newspaper:  French national treasure recovered after 32 years.

Also going to trial in January

Shepard Fairey, in Detroit.

"Plaintiffs have offered ample circumstantial evidence demonstrating that Freedman acted with fraudulent intent and understood that the Rosales Paintings were not authentic."

"This evidence includes, inter alia, the fabricated stories of provenance, which shifted dramatically over time; the efforts to concoct a 'cover story' with Rosales; Rosales’ willingness to repeatedly sell purported 'masterworks' to Knoedler for a fraction of their value on the open market; Rosales’ refusal to share any meaningful information about the purported source of the paintings, and her unwillingness to sign a statement representing that the paintings were authentic; Rosales’ inconsistent accounts of the size and scope of Mr. X’s collection, which grew over time to include more than thirty hitherto undiscovered 'masterworks'; the absence of any documentation concerning the paintings; the issues raised about the Diebenkorns Rosales brought to Knoedler early on; and the October 2003 IFAR Report – which Freedman reviewed – and which rejected the concocted provenance tale concerning Ossorio and raised serious concerns about the authenticity of the 'Green Pollock' purchased by Jack Levy."

The judge in the Knoedler lawsuits issued his written decision on the summary judgment motions last week.  Graham Bowley has a good write-up in the Times here.  The Art Market Monitor has posted the decision here.  Trial is set for January.

Lots of interest within the decision, including the way the court distinguishes (in footnote 27) the ACA Galleries case from a couple years ago, where summary judgment was granted because the purchaser "had the opportunity to fully investigate the authenticity of the painting but failed to do so."  Judge Gardephe says:

"The facts here are not comparable.  Plaintiffs do not not operate art galleries, and they are not in the business of buying and selling works of art.  Instead, they are consumers who relied on representations made by one of the most reputable and most established art galleries in New York City."

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

"At the time of the shooting, Ramos was with a group of 10 artists working on the Oakland Super Heroes Mural Project."

"The series of six murals is being produced by ArtEsteem, the art-and-literacy arm of Attitudinal Healing Connection, a West Oakland group that seeks to stop violence by inspiring people with art and education."

An artist was shot and killed while working on site in Oakland.

"Maldonado was imprisoned at the end of last year for reportedly showing 'disrespect of the leaders of the revolution'"

artnet news:  Amnesty International Calls for Release of Cuban Street Artist.

"Once you know the story, his empty frames become a lot less empty than they appear."

Noah Charney on a piece currently installed on the High Line that deals with "the most frequently stolen artwork in history" -- the Ghent Altarpiece.

"The police said they were treating it as a suspicious death."

NYT:  Art Thief's Body Found in London Canal.

Daniel Mendelsohn tweets:  "'Suspicious'? What makes them think *that*?!"

Settlement in the Tuymans copyright suit

Gareth Harris has the story in The Art Newspaper.  Background here.

"The more important question is whether there’s a rational case for any prewar creative work to still be under copyright."

"The answer is no."

Economist Tim Harford on copyright incentives.

Can you hear me now?

NYT:  Ai Weiwei Returns to Beijing to Find Listening Devices in His Studio and Home.

Thursday, October 01, 2015