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In Brief – 2020

Believe it or not, there is so much happening in the art law world. This page is dedicated to the stories that deserve your attention, which EITHER first published in our monthly newsletter OR NEVER made it into the Newsletter. Happy reading!

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Spring 2022

Cancel Culture: Russian edition. Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Bonhams have cancelled sales of Russian art in London, in compliance with the art market’s response to the sanctions imposed on Russia. The auction houses typically hold sales of Russian art in June and November in what is known as “Russian art week,” where wealthy Russians are often buyers– the London Russian art auction is also one of the most popular among the Russian oligarchs. The last Russian art auction held by Sotheby’s in London in November 2021 made a total of £17.7m, which is described as the higher total than that of all other auction houses holding Russian sales combined. The uncertainty of the war and complex logistical and legal requirements related to sanctions were cited as a few reasons for the auction houses to cancel the sales of Russian art in June.

UNESCO Statement Through out the full-scale invasion of Ukraine UNESCO has been providing aid and raising awareness to the threats faced by cultural centers, heritge and human lives. Follow the measures offered and aid provided HERE.

Summer 2022

Coming Home. The Natural History Museum of Vienna (NHM) is returning two skulls, which belonged to a Hawaiian man and woman from the colonial era to the United States. An English adventurer, William Green, had stolen them from a grave in the 19th century, after which the skulls were sold and were part of a collection in the U.K. They then made their way to Vienna and were donated to NHM at the time. With the returning of the skulls, NHM aims at recognizing the moral and ethical injustices in the colonial period caused by their ruthless collecting practices.

Museums to label Nazi looted art in New York. In summer of 2022, New York passed a legislation that requires museums in the state of New York to disclose whether objects in their collections were looted by Nazis in Europe during the Second World War. Any exhibited artwork that changed hands due to “theft, seizure, confiscation, forced sale, or other involuntary means” during World War II and the run-up to that conflict must be accompanied by a wall label or placard detailing its history. Anna Kaplan, the state senator who sponsored the legislation stated that the law would “empower” the art community to be more accountable. The regulation, signed into law by Governor Hochul is a part of a trifecta of legislation to educate New York on the Holocaust and support survivors.

Fall 2022

Odesa, Ukraine: An Appeal to Save A City’s Cultural Heritage, and Perhaps the City Too In a pre-recorded video presented to UNESCO’s executive board this October 11, 2022, President Volodynyr Zelensky of Ukraine made a formal application for the organization to recognize the Ukrainian port-city of Odesa as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Odesa, home to the historic Odesa Opera House, a stairway to the harbor featured in 1925 film Battleship Potemkin, and a controversial statue of Catherine the Great, has been bombed several times by Russia since its initial invasion of Ukraine this year, posing a threat not only to residents of Odesa, but to several cultural and historical landmarks in the city. In his message to UNESCO, Zelensky asked two things of the organization: to fast-track the process of granting Odesa World Heritage status, and to expel Russia from Unesco as a means of denouncing Russian actions towards Ukraine.

UNESCO representatives have stated that Zelensky’s appeal “marks confidence in UNESCO’s protection mechanisms.” Indeed, once a site is declared part of the World Heritage Site list, the site becomes protected under Geneva convention against destruction during a war. There are currently 1154 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, seven of which are in Ukraine. If Odesa were added to the list, it would mark the eighth site of cultural history in Ukraine protected by UNESCO against Russian attacks.

Is AI really art? Getty Images has banned the upload and sale of images generated by using AI art tools such as DALL-E, stating that there are pressing copyright concerns and unaddressed rights issues related to imagery, metadata and subjects contained within the illustrations. While the creators of AI image generators state that the technology is legal, there is no guarantee that this status won’t be contested. AI and machine learning applications sample other artists’ and therefore reference thousands of pieces of work from other artists to create AI-derivative images. Getty images will rely on users to identify and report such images generated by AI to remove them, though there it will be challenging to enforce the ban.

UK clearing out money laundered property? Labour-run Westminster Council in London is exploring whether compulsory purchase powers can be used against the owners of luxury houses who fall behind on their council tax. Westminster’s suggestion is that these multi-million pound properties could be turned into affordable housing to reduce the 4,000 person waiting list. There is the suggestion that Westminster could expand this power if property was bought with so called ‘dirty money’ as part of a crackdown on money laundering. Since 2016, Russian oligarchs accused of corruption have purchased property in Westminster worth £430 million. The council is currently examining this avenue in relation to a property registered in Seychelles which is in council tax arrears. However, there are transparency issues with regard to property ownership as some such properties appear to be held by untraceable’ shell’ companies and whether they have authority to use compulsory purchase powers in this context at all. Thus, limiting this potential route’s practical impact and how close to realisation it is.

Let’s get physical… or digital? Artist Damien Hirst in collaboration with HENI, an international art services business launched a project to understand the relationships between property and NFTs. Hirst offered 10,000 NFTs from his collection of famous dot paintings for sale. Buyers had the option to either retain the artwork in NFT form or swap it for the physical work. If the choice was to retain the NFT, then the physical work was burned, and if they chose to swap it for physical artwork then the NFT was destroyed. 5,149 buyers chose the physical work and 4,851 retained the NFT. Hirst stated that this might indicate the steady attachment for physical work over digital art, and that he himself found it tougher to burn the paper as opposed to the NFT.

(Not) Getting back the Guelph Treasure. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed a lawsuit filed by the heirs of Nazi-era Jewish art-dealers against a German museum foundation over valuable medieval relics known as Welfenschatz or Guelph Treasure. The heirs state that the Guelph Treasure was sold under duress and at a drastic discount in Nazi-era Frankfurt. 42 of the pieces that were sold ended up in the Museum of Decorative Arts in Berlin. In 2014, a German arbitration commission ruled that the museum had acquired the collection legitimately and did not need to return the artifacts. As a result, the heirs sued the foundation in the United States. The U.S. District Court stated it lacked jurisdiction to hear the lawsuit and granted the foundation’s motion to dismiss the case, barring an appeal by the plaintiffs.

January 2020

Portrait in “Wall-y”. The missing Gustav Klimt masterpiece “Portrait of a Lady,” was found in the walls of an Italian villa. This painting went missing in 1997 from the Ricci Oddi gallery in the northern city of Piacenza. If the piece is authentic it’s recovery will offer some objectively good news to the art world.

Name Sacked. The Smithsonian Institution’s Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, DC rebrands itself as the National Museum of Asian Art. The institutions denied that the new name was related to the opioid controversy.  Fighting Words. Troubled by comments from the White House? Here is a link to The 1954 Hague Convention, to which the US is a state party, that outlines principles concerning the protection of cultural property during armed conflict. Also as a reminder, in 2017, the International Criminal Court ordered prison sentence and reparations against Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, an individual convicted of war crimes for destroying cultural property in Timbuktu, Mali.

We have no Words. Maurizio Cattelan’s banana sculpture, “Comedian,” which drew huge crowds at the Miami Basel, is entering a museum collection. According to Miami collectors William and Beatrice Cox, they aim to loan the sculpture to a major institution to attract new generations and then gift it at a later date. Read our opinion on the art market going bananas.

Calls for Return. Egyptian archaeologist and a former antiquities minister, Zahi Hawass, is launching a private campaign for the restitution of treasures from Europe’s leading museums. After being denied his request for the loan of three treasures––the Nefertiti painted limestone bust (1345BC), the Rosetta Stone (196BC), and the sandstone Zodiac ceiling with its map of the stars (50BC)––in 2007, Hawass now seeks the permanent return of them.

Axe Job. The 2017 Russian avant-guarde exhibit in Ghent that was not because more than 20 loaned paintings were  branded as forgeries continues to make the news. In December 2019, the husband and wife collector-duo that loaned forgeries to Ghent were arrested on charges of fraud and money laundering. A complaint against Mr. and Mrs. Toporovski from a group of international dealers and art historians was filed by Geert Lenssens in Ghent. The couple is represented by a Brussels-based attorney, Sébastien Watelet.

Holy Trade. Spanish police are investigating a wooden sculpture of Saint Margaret of Cortona that turned up at TEFAF New York last November. It is suspected that it was illegally sold by a convent in Corona, who claim they still have it in their possession (although no one has seen it).

Science of Art. Computer scientists from the U. of California are claiming that they solved the mystery of the orb held by the Christ in Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi.” Virtual rendering of the painting suggests that the orb is hollow, which would explain why the fabric behind it is distorted the way that it is––a feature that art experts have previously pointed to when arguing that the painting is not a genuine da Vinci, as the artist had studied optics and would not have made such a mistake. The abscence of Salvator Mundi from the da Vinci show in Paris is harder to explain.

Public Domain Day. January 1, 2020 marked the day when artworks dating back to 1924 entered the public domain and became free to reproduce in the United States. Among those: Georgia O’Keeffe’s “Flower Abstraction,” Edward Hopper’s “New York Pavements,” and Lyonel Feininger’s “Gaberndorf II.”

February 2020

Dark Humor. On November 25, 2019, four thieves stole approximately €1 billion worth of priceless jewels from the Dresden Green Vault in Germany. “Experts,” who purport to have been hired by the Museum, claim to have searched the dark web and that they received an offer to buy two sets of Dresden’s stolen jewels from an anonymous buyer for €9 million each in bitcoin. However, the Dresden museum denied hiring them and is offering a reward for information.

Walled-in Update. 23 years after the 1997 theft of Gustav Klimt’s “Portrait of a lady” (1916-17) from a gallery in Piacenza, Italy, the painting was recently recovered inside a garbage bag placed within a wall of the garden of the gallery, and experts have confirmed its authenticity.

Franco-German Relations. German minister Monika Grütters returned three paintings that were looted by the Nazis and acquired by Hildebrand Gurlitt, Adolf Hitler’s art dealer, to the heirs of Armand Dorville, a Jewish lawyer and art collector who fled during the German occupation of Paris and died in 1941. This was made possible through the research performed by French art historian Emmanuelle Pollack, who has recently joined the Louvre to investigate its wartime acquisitions.

Impressionist Auction. On February 4th, Sotheby’s will auction three Impressionist paintings with a joint estimated value of £20 million that were restituted to the heirs of Gaston Prosper Levy, namely Camille Pissarro’s “Gelée blanche, jeune paysanne faisant du feu” (1888), Paul Signac’s “La Corne d’Or” (1907) and “Quai de Clichy. Temps gris” (1887). The latter had been discovered in possession of Cornelius Gurlitt.

Messian Tableware. The Dutch government will return part of an 18th Century Meissen tableware set to the heirs of German-Jewish banker Herbert Gutmann. This is in response to the Dutch Restitution Commission’s findings that while the pieces were purchased legally, they were sold under duress from the Nazi government in 1934.

Yet Another Database. The German Lost Arts foundation has launchedProveana, Germany’s most comprehensive database for provenance research. The database focuses on the theft of cultural property between 1933 and 1945 resulting from Nazi rule, World War II and from the subsequent Soviet occupation of Germany. It is intended to benefit collectors, museums and descendants of deprived parties as well as provenance researchers.

Great Plans. Paris gallery owners plan to return looted antiques taken from Benin more than 120 years ago during colonial occupation. The cultural artifacts are expected to be returned to Abomey, Benin once the museum is completed in 2021. The gallery owners are financing the construction of the Benin museum, with plans to transform the region into a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

New Museum Ha(a)cked. Hans Haacke’s New Museum Visitors Poll project in New York City has been hacked by Parson’s Professor Grayson Earle and an anonymous partner (“M”). The Poll was part of a body of work intended to raise political awareness. The hackers claimed to critique the museum’s “capitalist agenda,” specifically how the museum dealt with its staff’s recent efforts to unionize.

Brexit in time. On January 10, 2020, the 5th EU Anti-Money Laundering Directive went into force, requiring art dealers to conduct added due diligence on clients in transactions in excess of EUR 10,000. Query: are UK dealers still subject to this requirement?

Not A Gauguin. In 2002, the J. Paul Getty Museum bought a sculpture, attributed to Paul Gauguin, “Head with Horns” from Wildenstein & Company for $3-5 million; it was recently deemed inauthentic. The sculpture was never signed by Gauguin and photographs show it on a pedestal not carved in any of Gauguin’s known styles.

Suffrage Celebration. On January 16, 2020, the Park Avenue Armory and National Black Theater announced its “100 Years | 100 Women” initiative in recognition of the centennial of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution giving women the right to vote. ten New York City institutions, including the Apollo Theater, the Juilliard School, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and New York University are invited to work together to elect 100 women artists to mark the milestone anniversary.

That’s Settled. A claim for for millions in damages and 18 causes of action alleged on 55-pages, for nondelivery of works of art by Jeff Koons, and filed in April of 2018, has been discontinued, a/k/a settled between an art collector Steven Tananbaum and Gagosian Gallery. Complaint and accompanying filings make for an interesting read regardless.

March 2020

UNESCO Goes Digital. Google Arts & Culture launched a new digital visualization platform that calls attention to five UNESCO World Heritage sites under threat from climate change. It documents the threat to each site, including rising sea levels, coastal erosion, and extreme weather patterns.

Antiquities Seized. Bulgarian authorities have authorized the Bulgarian National Museum of History (NIM) to seize the antiquities collection of Vasil Bozhkov, who was indicted in absentia for charges that include leading an organized crime group, extortion, and blackmail. Bozhkov is currently being held in the U.A.E., pending an agreement on extradition. The Bozhkov collection includes more than 3,000 pieces from across Europe and covers almost 4,000 years of history.

Bordering on Illegal. A burial site of the Tohono O’odham Nation has been destroyed in an effort to build a border wall between the United States and Mexico. Under the authority of the 2005 REAL ID Act, the Trump administration waived dozens of laws, including the Native Graves Protection Act and numerous environmental regulations, in order to build on this site.

Vandals in Melbourne. On February 9, 2020, a dozen masked individuals destroyed Melbourne’s Hosier Lane, a street art outdoor gallery that attracts 5,000 visitors per day, by covering its iconic graffiti walls with pink, blue, yellow and blue paint. The City of Melbourne has filed a complaint with the police, calling the destruction “self-centered…damaging and creates no value for anyone.”

Top Three. The estate of Donald Marron unconventionally decided to sell Marron’s art collection privately through top three galleries: Pace, Gagosian, and Acquavella. Marron’s art collection is some 300 works, reportedly worth upwards of $450 million, including paintings from prominent modern artists such as Pablo Picasso, Mark Rothko, and Cy Twombly. Reportedly one of Marron pieces already sold for about $70 million. You do the math.

Self-Exploding Art or Sabotage? Gabriel Rico’s “Nimbre and Sinister Tricks (To Be Preserved Without Scandal and Corruption)” was destroyed while it was on exhibit at Galería OMR in Mexico City. Avelina Lésper, an art critic, allegedly placed an empty can of Coke on a stone element of Rico’s $19,000 contemporary glass sculpture, which subsequently exploded.

Restitutions:– Ethiopia. The Dutch government recently returned a stolen 18th-century ceremonial crown to the Ethiopian government. The artifact went missing from a church 21 years ago. Sirak Asfaw, a Dutch civil servant born in Ethiopia, claimed he found the crown in a suitcase left behind by a guest in his apartment and kept the priceless object hidden for 21 years. He later approached the Dutch Ministry of Foreign affairs to let them know he was in possession of the object.

– India. The Indian government is requesting that the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford return a 15th-century bronze idol of Saint Tirumankai Alvar. The idol was stolen from a temple in the Tamil Nadu province of India in the early 1960s and replaced with a forgery. Sotheby’s bought the idol for £850 in 1967 from Dr. J.R. Belmont, an art collector specializing in Indian sculpture.

– Haiti. The U.S. conducted its first repatriation of artifacts to the nation of Haiti. The 479 cultural and historical artifacts represent the FBI’s single largest recovery of cultural property, as part of the US commitment to protecting Haitian heritage.

– Nigeria. Mexico returned an ancient bronze statue to Nigeria after it was seized by customs officers in Mexico City as smugglers attempted to bring it illegally into the country. The art world is not immune to the Coronavirus outbreak: fairs have been cancelled, such as Art Basel Hong Kong, and museums such as the Louvre and many institutions in Northern Italyhave closed their doors to the public due to public health concerns.

Scouting for Money. The Boy Scouts of America may be forced to sell its fine art collection, including 65 pieces by Norman Rockwell. The Boy Scouts filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy this month in response to hundreds of lawsuits alleging sexual abuse. The artworks may be the Boy Scouts’ most valuable assets, as the current record for the sale of a Rockwell painting was set at $46 million dollars in 2013.

DIY Art. Artist Ai Weiwei collaborated with the German home improvement store, Hornbach DIY, to sell a work of art which buyers can assemble themselves. The work, entitled “Safety Jackets Zipped the Other Way” costs between €150 and €500 depending on the model and comes with all of the necessary parts, instructions from the artist and a certificate of authenticity.

Paying Irish Artists. Ireland’s Arts Council developed a three-year plan to create a policy that will improve the living and working conditions of artists in Ireland. The plan seeks to acquire data on equitable pay for artists and organizations willing to contract fairly with artists for future projects.

April 2020

Labor Law. Many in the arts industry are facing layoffs and furloughs, including employees at Sotheby’sMass MoCA, the MFA, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the Metropolitan Opera. Workers at the Met Museum of Art negotiated being paid through May 2, 2020.

Nonprofit Law. While arts-related employers, employees, and freelancers are learning to navigate the reality of employment law and union negotiation, many art funds and charitable at heart are stepping up their support of the arts, including J. Paul Getty Trust.

Contract Law. Working Artists and the Greater Economy (W.A.G.E) published a set of guidelines for the postponement or cancelation of work to help artists and nonprofit institutions navigate the effects of COVID-19 on artists’ contracts and work agreements.

Happy Birthday. On Vincent Van Gogh’s birthday, one of his paintings titled “The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring 1884” (1884) was stolen from the Singer Laren museum in the Netherlands, which has been closed to the public due to the coronavirus outbreak. Unsurprisingly, the museum Director is “unbelievably pissed off.”

New Restitution Guidelines. Arts Council England (ACE) has asked The Institute of Art and Law to develop new guidelines for UK museums on restitution. These new recommendations are planned for publication in Fall 2020 and will replace the outdated guidelines that were published in 2000.

Fake Australian Art. Australian First Nations people have been dealing with an influx of counterfeit art with up to 80% of pieces of supposedly aboriginal origin in tourist shops being either fake or not traceable to a First Nations artist. Arts Law Australia has attempted to provide First Nations artists with assistance in protecting their work but have run into difficulty as Australian copyright law protects individual pieces but cannot be used to prevent non-First Nations people from creating works in the style of First Nations art.

Stone-Cold Thieves. Since the devastating fire last April, Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral has been undergoing restoration. However, intensifying COVID-19 quarantine measures in France has halted the restoration efforts indefinitely. Two men were apprehended by guards after allegedly breaking into the construction site and attempting to sack several fallen stones from inside the cathedral. Despite the construction pause, the Notre Dame Cathedral remains guarded 24-hours per day.

#MuseumChallenge. While museums are closed, institutions such as the Getty and the Met challenged their social media followers to let their creativity speak by restaging famous paintings from their collections.

Forged Dead Sea Scrolls. All 16 of the fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls which are currently part of the Museum of the Bible’s collection have been confirmed as forgeries. The Dead Sea Scrolls include the oldest known surviving copies of the Old Testament and these fragments were one of the most valuable elements of the Washington DC museum’s collection. A team of researchers found that while the fragments were made of ancient leather, they were inked in modern times. These forgeries draw attention to the museum’s questionable and often unethical collection practices during its formation.

Wake Up, Digital Art Galleries! Due to increases in fraud and theft on the digital marketplace, Nederob is asking digital art galleries to unify their efforts to establish a foundation, create a legal framework capable of identifying fraud and theft, and build a protocol to prosecute criminals where needed.

Turning a Blind Eye. German researcher Sibylle Ehringhaus has resigned from the Georg Schäfer Museum in Bavaria after identifying several artworks with tainted provenance, which, to this date, the museum does not plan to return. Her research shows that at least 20 artworks belonged to Jewish owners, but the museum claims that “the art was bought legally and in good faith” and that compensating the victims of the Nazi occupation is a state function. Ms. Ehringhaus has claimed that the museum denied her access to historical documents vital to her research and has forbidden her from contacting other museums with research inquiries.

May 2020

Open With Caution. After China lifted its social distancing rules, the UNESCO world heritage site of the Huangshan mountains in Anhui province was flooded with visitors and was eventually closed back temporarily in March. Meanwhile, the Forbidden City has been reopened but visitor numbers are restricted to 5,000 a day.

Museums Take the Hit. As Singapore was hit by a second wave of coronavirus, its museums have been closed since beginning of March. On April 22, 2020, The Metropolitan Museum of Art laid off more than 80 employees, after it revised its budget to address the pandemic, expecting its losses to reach $150 million. Meanwhile, in Germany, museums are preparing to reopen with strict social and hygiene measures in early May. In France, “small museums” will be reopened starting May 11.

Rent! While landlords in Dubai’s Alserkal Avenue arts district waived rent for the next three months, New York galleries which closed amidst the COVID-19 pandemic now seek rent relief and started petitions to #cancelrent.

Going Online. As the British Museum launched its newly revamped online catalogue, it mistakenly credited “Her Hakki Mahfuzdur”, the Turkish term for “all rights reserved”, as Turkey’s largest producer of postcards. This week, the Museum also launched its new platform CircArt, identifying possible provenance issues regarding pre-Islamic antiquities from Egypt and Sudan.

Surveying the Arts. According to an early survey by Americans for the Arts, financial losses to the US nonprofit arts sector are estimated to be $4.5 billion as of April 6. More recently, Artist Relief estimates that 95 percent of artists reported loss of income due to the pandemic.

Moral Rights, Anyone? A Brooklyn-based art collective purchased a Damien Hirst print for $30,000 and cut out its dots to sell them for $480 each, along with its hollowed-out frame “88 Holes,” as an act of protest against fractionalized art investments.

Smugglers Go Online. The Antiquities Trafficking and Heritage Anthropology Research (ATHAR) Project reported a surge in offers for looted antiquities over Facebook in the wake of COVID-19, pointing to the vulnerability of cultural sites during times of crisis.

Thou Shall Not Steal. Mid-April, Oxford papyrologist Dirk Obbink was arrested for allegedly selling 13 fragments of biblical fragments excavated from Egypt to Steve Green, President of the arts and crafts chain Hobby Lobby and Chairman of the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC. The Museum has announced that it will return 11,500 pieces with dubious provenance to Iraq and Egypt.

Please Don’t Stop The Music. The London police stopped Sotheby’s auctioneer Helena Newman from playing concerts with her family’s string quartet in front of their West London home, fearing that the concert encourages neighbors to break the lockdown to watch from the street. Andrew Lloyd Webber started screening his musicals to keep people at home and mesmerized.

Russian Lore Trove. Art historian Andrey Sarabyanov discovered dozens of works by avant-garde Russian artists such as Kandinsky,  Rodchenko, and others in the basement of the Yaransk Museum of Local Lore in Russia.

Save the murals.Battle to save concrete Picasso muralsin Oslo intensifies after MoMA steps in. “Workers at the Y-Block site have started drilling, but it’s worrying as once they start moving the mural, it will crack,” says co-creator’s daughter.

Webcam Photos. An artist used screenshots from a video feed to document Italy’s deserted streets. Now the webcam company responsible is demanding payment. The company, SkylineWebcams,is seeking €2,100 after Radisic used 40 of its images.

June 2020

What Do You Figure? DespiteProfessor Chika Okeke-Agulu (Princeton University) arguing that Christie’s should not sell a pair of Igbo sculptures taken by a French collector during the Nigerian Civil War, the figurines sold for under the estimate at the Christie’s sale in late June.

No Silence Aloud. Hong Kong-based artists living in Europe are launching a platform called Silence is Compliance, featuring live-streamed performances and an online gallery, in response to China’s new national security law. Artists worry the law will restrict artistic freedom and expression. The program is spearheaded by the Young Blood Initiative, whose founder Candy Choi publicly questions if she and other artists will ever be able to return to Hong Kong after the show.

Vive les Artistes. The Paris Bar Association created the Barreau des Arts, a pro-bono initiative dedicated to helping French artists, inspired by the model of the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts (US) and the Arts Law Center (Australia).

Innovation in Iraq. The Cultural Protection Fund of the British Council released a report outlining their recent project to help protect artifacts in two museums in Iraq. The project placed SmartWater forensic traceable liquid on to 273,000 non-organic artifacts and trained dozens of local museum officials to continue applying the innovative trackers.

Galleries Getting On. Galleries in London’s West End reopened on June 15th after months of coronavirus-related closures as non-essential businesses. Galleries collectively decided to open by appointment only, and require all patrons to wear masks and follow proper social distancing requirements.

Letter for Liberty. A group of artists in the Philippines have banned together to protest a new anti-terror bill that will allow the government to infringe on their civil liberties. They launched an #ArtistsFightBack campaign and wrote a letter condemning the new legislation that has been signed by more than 1,500 people.

Spotlight on Museums: 

On June 12th, a group of demonstrators stormed into the Musée du Quai Branly Jacques Chirac in Paris to attempt to seize an African artifact. They wanted to “bring to Africa what was taken”. The five protesters were arrested and are due to appear in a Paris court on September 30th for charges of attempted theft.

On June 10th, the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art pledged not to engage in future contracts with the Chicago Police Department until they see “meaningful changes that respect black communities.”

The Toledo Museum of Art’s director Adam Levine released an apathetic statement condemning the protests following the killing of George Floyd, before claiming the museum is nonpartisan and apolitical. Artists organized a protest at the steps of the museum, demanding the museum do better to use its platform to end police brutality and racial injustice. The museum has since released two new statements outlining plans to increase representation in its collection.

Must Come Down. Over 200 monuments have been toppled or removed across America. Most notably:

  1. San Francisco’s Asian Art Museumhas removed a bust of the institution’s founding patron, Avery Brundage, a twentieth-century sports administrator with an eight-thousand-work collection who developed a reputation as a Nazi sympathizer and white supremacist.
  2. The Museum of Natural History has decided to remove the bronze statue of Theodore Roosevelt, on horseback and flanked by a Native American man and an African man, from the entrance of the museum.
  3. While the announced removal of the Robert E. Lee statue has been stalled by two lawsuits, the city of Richmond, VA removed the confederate statues of Gen. Stonewall Jackson and officer Fontaine Maury.
  4. Russian art collector Andrei Filatov offered to purchase the statues of Roosevelt in NYC and Alexander Baranov in Alaska, in an effort to preserve the memory of their efforts to advance Russian interests.

 

On the other side of the pond: The Oxford University council is debating the future of the Cecil Rhodes statue due to demands for its removal. Rhodes was a 19th-century imperialist, and the funder of the Rhodes Scholarship. Meanwhile, in Bristol, the statue of slave trader Edward Colston was thrown into the harbor. The mayor intends to display the toppled statue in a museum alongside Black Lives Matter placards, to educate visitors on the need for racial equality.

Botched. Conservation experts in Spain call for stricter laws concerning restoration work after a copy of a famous painting by the baroque artist Bartolomé Esteban Murillo became the latest in a long line of artworks to suffer a damaging and disfiguring repair. The painting was “restored” by a furniture restorer, and comparisons have been made to the botched restoration of a 16th-century polychrome statue of Saint George eight years ago.

Lost and Found. An obscure piece of US history was discovered from a cove off the coast of Manhattan. A crane salvaged what is believed to be the wreckage of the PT-59, a Navy patrol boat commanded by former president John F. Kennedy during his time in the military. The remnants of the World War II boat could wind up at a museum.

Facing the (Arti)Facts.  Facebook explicitly banned the sale of historical artifacts in its marketplaces. This announcement came in response to calls from watchdog groups including the ATHAR Project to regulate the online exchange platform. Read the Center’s spotlight.

Time’s Up. Staff at the Philadelphia Museum of Art announced in late May they are launching a union drive, following recent criticism of the museum’s deficient harassment policies in a New York Times report, which named former museum manager Joshua Helmer as a repeat offender.

New Twist On Resale Royalties. The foundation Kadist, based in San Francisco and Paris, developed a new sales agreement that artists can use to make sure profits derived from their works go to a charitable cause, which the Foundation hopes will be an extra incentive for buyers.

Conceptional Art Tour. Conceptual artist Gregor Schneider is holding tours for people in his hometown, Rheydt, Germany. Stops on the tour include the birthplace of Joseph Goebbels, a top figure in the Nazi regime. Schneider is a conceptual artist who typically transforms buildings and home to create a narrative.

Decommissioning. The Guggenheim decommissioned a Donald Judd work created by collector Count Giuseppe Panza di Biumo. A certificate to create the unconstructed Judd work was sold to Panza in the 1970s, but when Panza constructed the piece, Judd argued it was not exactly how he intended. Therefore, the museums are decommissioning, or retiring, claiming the piece is no longer recognized as art. This is different than deaccessioning, as the museum will not be selling the piece.

Podcast Episode: Art Scoping on Museum Decolonization. Dr. Victoria S. Reed discusses museum decolonizationand how it relates to recent calls to remove statues representing hate and racism. She contextualizes this topical issue with references to museums collections containing colonial plunder from abroad, Nazi loot, and objects caught up in the illicit trade.

Safety in the UK’s Law Society. The UK’s Law Society outlines how firms and professionals are keeping staff safe, abiding with regulations in uncertain circumstances and the broader (and not inconsiderable) challenge of keeping “the justice system functioning”. Virtual hearings and ‘e-bundles’ are showing how remote justice is being served in art cases during the pandemic. A focus on long-term planning and contract law are among the chief lockdown concerns.

January 2019

Pablo Pranked. Picasso’s “Harlequin Head” was among paintings looted from the Rotterdam’s Kunsthal museum in 2012. The painting was reported found in a Romanian forest in the fall of 2019, but it turns out that a replica was planted there to publicize the movie “True Copy” (2018), a documentary on the forger Geert Jan Jansen, which premiered just days before the mysterious “recovery” stunt.

Here We Go Again? The anti-money laundering bill proposed in U.S. Congress last May has been stalled by mid-term elections…but will it be re-introduced in January? Questions about the severity of this crime in the art market highlight the tradeoff between burdening dealers with unnecessary regulations and preventing money laundering through the movement of artwork. Stay tuned for an article on the blog.

Help Wanted. An exhibit featuring work by Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo – now open in Moscow – shows more than 90 works, some of which were previously unpublished from the Russian State archives. The curator hopes this exhibition will raise awareness for some of the artists’ missing works; most notably, Kahlo’s “The Wounded Table” (1940), which was the artist’s largest painting, has been lost since 1955 and, as of today, only exists in photographs.

He Said, They Said. The Danish Aros Aarhus Art Museum’s claim that they pay artists in an interview did not fall upon deaf ears. Artist duo Sofie Hesselholdt and Vibeke Mejlvang both participated in a group exhibition and gave lectures at the museum, without receiving pay. The artists spoke out to correct this claim, to which the museum responded that it spent “plenty of resources” on the artists, but failed to provide an exact description of these “resources”.

If Lost, Please Return. The chief of the Uffizi Galleries in Florence, Eike Schmidt, released a video asking German authorities for the return of the painting “Vase of Flowers” by 18th-century Dutch artist Jan van Huysum, which was stolen by the Nazis in 1943.

No Place Like Home. The UK is pushingformal legal agreements to ensure that their institutions have a shot at keeping the country’s national cultural treasures within its borders. The major impediment to this initiative are international buyers who are willing to pay the right price. This change would be the first in 65 years and prevent the reneging of sales to matching UK buyers.

The Case is Closed, and the Exhibition Opens.The 2015 UK lawsuit brought by the companion of artist Derek Jarman against art dealer Richard Salmon was settled last June, which sparked the return of all of Jarman’s works to the original owner of the Wilkinson Gallery, who first showed the artist’s work. This was apparently instrumental in the ongoing Jarman retrospective at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin.

Beauty Kills. An Italian tourist visiting the Uffizi Galleries in Florence on 15 December had a heart attack while admiring Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” (c. 1485), depicting the goddess of love, beauty, and desire. A little too stunning perhaps?

More Transparency for Less Controversy. In the wake of colonial countries asking for the restitution of looted art, major UK museums are finally taking on the challenge to be more transparent. The British Museum audio guides, tours, and labels now provide information about controversial collections, while others are hiring dedicated staff to conduct better provenance research.

Lead the Legal Way. Artist Tania Bruguera filed a defamation lawsuitagainst the Cuban government after being released from imprisonment for protesting Decree 349. The Decree allows censorship of artistic expression in Cuba and Bruguera hopes this suit, which she believes is unprecedented in Cuba, will serve to empower other artists against the government’s intimidation tactics.

Homeless Sam. The University of North Carolina still debates where to house its statue of Confederate soldier, “Silent Sam,” that was toppled by protesters in August 2018. The proposal for a History and Education Center, which would display the sculpture in its context, was recently rejected. Chancellor to the University, Carol Folt views the monument as a “burden” and a concern to public safety.

Back to Amman. The Jordanian Antiquities Department announced the return to Amman of 58 Jordanian smuggled artifacts that were confiscated by the Canadian authorities in 2016 and 2017. These include potteries, small statues, and some colored jars and glass containers.

Dutch Principles. The Dutch Restitutions Committee favored a Dutch institution in a claim for a Nazi-era looted Kandinsky – and this is not the first time. According to the Committee’s record of rulings since its establishment in response to the Washington Principles, the Committee has a history of favoring Dutch institutions and emphasizing the importance of retaining artworks in these museums. This seemingly biased track record worries professionals in the field who feel it will deter future claimants.

*Erratum: in our last newsletter, we mentioned the Israeli “Loyalty in Culture Bill”, and erroneously stated that it had been passed – when in fact, the vote has been postponed. Artists’ protests were instrumental in delaying the vote “indefinitely.”

February 2019

Shutdown of Space Art. The government shutdown, which affected multiple art entities, had also stalled the deployment of Trevor Paglen’s space sculpture. Now that the shutdown has ended, hopefully the deployment will be scheduled.

No More Brazilian Ministry of Culture. Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro has dissolved Brazil’s culture ministry, after stating that Brazil’s Rouanet law, which allows organizations to use up to 1% of income tax to fund cultural activities, was a “waste of resources.” Members of the artistic community worry about the effects of the new president’s policies on the arts.

A One-Sided Report? French antique dealers react after the Savoy-Sarr report on restitution of cultural property was released without having been consulted. They claim that the report, commissioned by French president Emmanuel Macron, has not fully realized the overreaching ramifications of the report. In response, Felwine Sarr and Bénédicte Savoy claim the report has been misconstrued and oversimplified by the media and other critics to create fear.

The Cost of Provenance. Bern’s Kunstmuseum is seeking funding from the Swiss government for a provenance audit, after a connection between Georges F. Keller, who donated the works, and Etienne Bignou, a French art dealer and known Nazi collaborator, is reexamined. Keller’s donated artworks include pieces by Matisse, Dali, Picasso, and Modigliani, which came to the museum with little documentation. Accordingly, the museum determined that further investigation is imperative.

Diktats of Authenticity. Berlin police have seized three watercolor paintings, purportedly painted by Adolf Hitler, from the Kloss Auction House. Police received a tip questioning the paintings’ authenticity and the works are now being examined.

Artifacts Task Force. The British Museum has established an elite task force to combat the illicit trade of Egyptian and Nubian artifacts. The task force’s sole purpose will be to detect suspicious objects and falsified provenance documents.

Back to MandelGermany returned a painting stolen by the Nazis to the heirs of French Jewish politician Georges Mandel. The nineteenth-century painting by Thomas Couture, entitled “Portrait of a Sitting Young Woman,” was discovered in a collection bequeathed to the Kunstmuseum by Cornelius Gurlitt, son of Hildebrand Gurlitt, Hitler’s art dealer.

The Art of the Steal. On January 10th a man and woman entered Team Gallery in SoHo and stole an Ann Pibal painting titled “CBLT” worth $12,000. This echoes another heist in a Russian gallery, where a man was caught on camera casually taking a painting off the wall of a major Moscow art gallery and calmly walking out with it under his arm.

Briefly Understanding Tax Laws. Section 1031 of the old tax code allowed investors to use the sale of one piece of property (or, in this case, art) directly toward the purchase of another and get a tax break. After Section 1031 was repealed in 2017, the Trump administration replaced it with “Opportunity Zones.” This allows art collectors to invest the profits of their sales in opportunity funds, thereby lowering the collector’s taxes.

Robots Are Taking Over. Koons has continued to lay off employees, in an attempt to create a decentralized, automated production. In 2015 Koons had roughly 100 assistants working in his New York studio, but as of the start of 2019, only about 20 remain. Meanwhile, Koons continues venturing towards offsite businesses, such as his stone-cutting facility,  called Antiquity Stone in Pennsylvania, as well as hiring advisers and subcontractors internationally.

Love in the Baden-Baden. A German museum in Baden-Baden will be the first to exhibit Banksy’s Love in the Bin, the work which was shredded when sold at auction in London. The work will be displayed from February 3 to March 3, in an exhibit exploring the act of imploding the art market while simultaneously advancing it.

Deaccession & Revelations. The controversial deaccession of a Sekhemka statue by the Northampton Museum & Art Gallery reappears in the news with a new twist. It appears that the 7th marquess of Northampton, whose predecessor had donated the statue to the museum, attempted to purchase the statue before it was controversially sold at auction to an unknown buyer.

Leonard-NO. In commemoration of the 500th anniversary of Leonardo Da Vinci’s death, the Louvre is creating an exhibition, for which the Italian government had agreed in 2017 to loan the Louvre a number of the artist’s works. However, Italy is now blocking the loan. The dispute is steeped in the cultural tension, as Leonardo lived his life in Italy, but died in France. This tension echoes Vincenzo Perugia, who stole the Mona Lisa in 1911 and tried to sell it to an Italian gallery, under the mistaken belief that it had been stolen from Florence.

Conflict Over Stella. Art dealer, Anatole Shagalov has issued a summons against the Paul Kasmin Gallery for “defamation, negligence, and rescission of contract.” Shagalov claims that the suit arose from a 2017 publication in which Kasmin falsely claimed an ownership interest in a Frank Stella work owned entirely by Shagalov. Complaint has yet to be made available online.

Conflict of Interests. Charles C. Bergman, chairman and chief executive director of the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, died in February of 2018. Now, Stuart Levy, Bergman’s widower, is accusing their lawyers, Ronald and Janet Spencer, of forcing his late husband to give them the right as executors over his estate. Levy’s court filings NY Surrogate’s Court include a list of the Spencers’ manipulative actions, in hopes of disqualifying them from serving as successors.

March 2019

Old Gold. A new legal dispute over ancient gold artifacts has erupted between Ukraine and Russia. The works were on loan to the Netherlands by a handful of Crimean museums when Russian annexed Crimea from Ukraine. Some 572 disputed artifacts are still in Amsterdam where they were on display when the dispute began, in 2016. A Dutch court ruled the artifacts must be returned to Ukraine, but the Crimean museums are now appealing the decision.

Copy-Verda. Gallery Sakura in France canceled an upcoming exhibition citing “public safety” concerns after it received threats that works of Guillaume Verda too closely resembled the works by Jean-Michel Basquiat. Users on Twitter were enraged claiming that the white artist appropriated the famous style of an African American artist and failed to acknowledge any influence Basquiat may have had on Verda’s work.

Holy Treasures. Papers have been found under the floorboards of the London home where Vincent Van Gogh lived as a young art dealer. One of the items found was a book of prayers and hymns. While in London, Van Gogh became a devout Christian – interestingly, Van Gogh turned to art after he failed his entrance exam to study theology.

It’s Mummifying. Customs officials at the Cairo International Airport found several mummified limbs hidden in a hollowed-out loudspeaker. The vestiges included feet, legs, hands, and arms. Officials were able to spot the limbs before they left Egypt by x-raying the package that was headed to Belgium.

Beat It. In response to the release of the HBO documentary Leaving Neverland (2019), which focuses on two adults who describe their alleged abuse by music-icon Michael Jackson, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis has removed three items related to the artist: a poster “Power of Children,” Jackson’s iconic fedora hat, and a white sequined glove.

It’s Good to be Banksy. In 2018, ten years after its incorporation, Pest Control, the “handling service” for Banksy’s art, filed suit against an Italian company responsible for an exhibition titled “The Art of Banksy: A Visual Protest” at the Mudec Museum in Milan. According to its website, Pest Control “deals only with legitimate works of art and has no involvement with any kind of illegal activity.” In 2019, a Milan court ruled the museum should stop selling merchandise which copies Banky’s art. So much for Banksy not enforcing copyright.

The Italian Job. When thieves went to steal “The Crucifixion” by Pieter Brueghel the Younger, valued at €3m, they unknowingly stole a copy. The church, Santa Maria Maddalena in Castelnuovo Magra secretly removed the real painting for safekeeping a month before the heist. In fact, the police and the town’s mayor carefully concocted the plan and set up surveillance cameras as they were aware of the thieves’ intentions and waited for them to strike.

Laborious Dispute. Per the employment tribunal’s ruling, guest lecturers at the London National Gallery are finally being acknowledged as employees, rather than freelance contractors. Previously, these freelancers were unable to receive employment benefits, such as paid vacation, sick pay, and maternity leave. The suit began when the employees were suddenly fired in October of 2017.

No April Fool. On March 29, 2018, Sotheby’s was still suing London-based art dealer, Mark Weiss, in London’s Commercial Court, over the authenticity of a small portrait purportedly by Frans Hals. Sotheby’s sold the work to an American dealer, Richard Hedreen for $11.2m. Subsequently, Sotheby’s director of scientific research determined that the painting was a modern forgery. In 2016, the auction house returned Hedreen’s payment and reimbursement from Weiss. On April 1, 2019, the dealer “agreed to pay $4.2m” to the auction house. The case seems to be proceeding against another defendant.

Truth in Oklahoma. The 1974 amended law, Oklahoma Indian Arts and Crafts Sales Act, had been found to violate the U.S. Constitution due to its narrow definition of Native American. Unless reversed, the decision will stand for the proposition that an artist does not need to be a member of a federally recognized tribe in order for their work to be labeled as “Native American.”

Polonaise Proficiency. Poland is continuing its efforts to retrieve a Rococo painting entitled “Girl with a Dove” (1754), stolen from a Polish museum in 1943. The current owner, New York art dealer Alexander Khochinsky, has refused to return the work despite Poland’s attempts to extradite him from the US and subsequently from France. Khochinsky claims to have acquired the painting in good faith but extended an offer to the Polish government asking, in exchange for the painting, for the return of property belonging to his Polish-Jewish relatives (which was lost when they fled Poland during WWII). Poland refused and is now attempting to extradite the dealer again and is threatening to jail him for 10 years. On March 6, Khochinsky was allowed to leave France for a hearing in Poland, which was continued to June 5 to allow for the translation into French of the documents from the various court cases. In the meantime, Mr. Khochinsky may travel within the E.U., but not outside of it. Meanwhile, his attorney Nicholas O’Donnell successfully asked the D.C. District Court to have Poland defaulted in the lawsuit.

Yemen Cultural Heritage. Yemen’s ongoing civil war, which started in 2015, has resulted not only in the loss of human life but also destruction and looting of cultural and historical artifacts. In order to recover missing tangible property and to prevent continued smuggling, the Yemenite government has requested that the US and the United Nations issue an order which denies Yemenite artifacts from being transported into the US without special permission. US and Yemen do not have a bilateral agreement regarding cultural import restrictions at this time. A Red List for Yemen cultural property was launched by ICOM, in February of 2018.

Gurlitt Update. In December 2018, another painting which was bequeathed by Cornelius Gurlitt (German art collector and heir of controversial art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt) to the Swiss Museum of Fine Art in Bern had been identified as Nazi-looted artwork. “Quai de Clichy” (1887) by Paul Signac belonged to a French Jewish art collector, Gaston Prosper Lévy. In 1940, Gaston and his wife fled Paris for Tunis and their collection was looted.

That’s New. Iranian artist Rokni Haerizadeh is accusing the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art (TMoCA) of buying his work and selling it at a premium at auction. Sami Azar, former director of TMoCA stated that the works were not actually accessioned into the museum’s collection but were bought by a separate government-funded institution.

Modiglia-no. Italian police are investigating six suspects connected to an exhibition of twenty fake Modigliani artworks at a museum in Genoa in 2017. The exhibition had been touring smaller venues when an art collector Carlo Pepi contacted police with concerns that the exhibited works were forgeries. Since a report prepared by Isabella Quatrocchi, a fine arts expert, showed that the pigments were inconsistent with authentic works, the paintings might be destroyed.

Joint Efforts. Germany’s Cultural Ministers are in the process of formulating procedures to repatriate artifacts taken from former German colonies and dedicated €1.9m to the provenance research of artifacts acquired by museums during its colonial era. The French government announced the launch of a task force, dedicated to researching and returning Nazi-Era looted art that is part of its national collections.

April 2019

Old Gold. A new legal dispute over ancient gold artifacts has erupted between Ukraine and Russia. The works were on loan to the Netherlands by a handful of Crimean museums when Russian annexed Crimea from Ukraine. Some 572 disputed artifacts are still in Amsterdam where they were on display when the dispute began, in 2016. A Dutch court ruled the artifacts must be returned to Ukraine, but the Crimean museums are now appealing the decision.

Copy-Verda. Gallery Sakura in France canceled an upcoming exhibition citing “public safety” concerns after it received threats that works of Guillaume Verda too closely resembled the works by Jean-Michel Basquiat. Users on Twitter were enraged claiming that the white artist appropriated the famous style of an African American artist and failed to acknowledge any influence Basquiat may have had on Verda’s work.

Holy Treasures. Papers have been found under the floorboards of the London home where Vincent Van Gogh lived as a young art dealer. One of the items found was a book of prayers and hymns. While in London, Van Gogh became a devout Christian – interestingly, Van Gogh turned to art after he failed his entrance exam to study theology.

The Italian Job. When thieves went to steal “The Crucifixion” by Pieter Brueghel the Younger, valued at €3m, they unknowingly stole a copy. The church, Santa Maria Maddalena in Castelnuovo Magra secretly removed the real painting for safekeeping a month before the heist. In fact, the police and the town’s mayor carefully concocted the plan and set up surveillance cameras as they were aware of the thieves’ intentions and waited for them to strike.

Laborious Dispute. Per the employment tribunal’s ruling, guest lecturers at the London National Gallery are finally being acknowledged as employees, rather than freelance contractors. Previously, these freelancers were unable to receive employment benefits, such as paid vacation, sick pay, and maternity leave. The suit began when the employees were suddenly fired in October of 2017.

No April Fool. On March 29, 2018, Sotheby’s was still suing London-based art dealer, Mark Weiss, in London’s Commercial Court, over the authenticity of a small portrait purportedly by Frans Hals. Sotheby’s sold the work to an American dealer, Richard Hedreen for $11.2m. Subsequently, Sotheby’s director of scientific research determined that the painting was a modern forgery. In 2016, the auction house returned Hedreen’s payment and reimbursement from Weiss. On April 1, 2019, the dealer “agreed to pay $4.2m” to the auction house. The case seems to be proceeding against another defendant.

Truth in Oklahoma The 1974 amended law, Oklahoma Indian Arts and Crafts Sales Act, had been found to violate the U.S. Constitution due to its narrow definition of Native American. Unless reversed, the decision will stand for the proposition that an artist does not need to be a member of a federally recognized tribe in order for their work to be labeled as “Native American.”

Gurlitt Update. In December 2018, another painting which was bequeathed by Cornelius Gurlitt (German art collector and heir of controversial art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt) to the Swiss Museum of Fine Art in Bern had been identified as Nazi-looted artwork. “Quai de Clichy” (1887) by Paul Signac belonged to a French Jewish art collector, Gaston Prosper Lévy. In 1940, Gaston and his wife fled Paris for Tunis and their collection was looted.

That’s New. Iranian artist Rokni Haerizadeh is accusing the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art (TMoCA) of buying his work and selling it at a premium at auction. Sami Azar, former director of TMoCA stated that the works were not actually accessioned into the museum’s collection but were bought by a separate government-funded institution.

It’s Mummifying. Customs officials at the Cairo International Airport found several mummified limbs hidden in a hollowed-out loudspeaker. The vestiges included feet, legs, hands, and arms. Officials were able to spot the limbs before they left Egypt by x-raying the package that was headed to Belgium.

Beat It. In response to the release of the HBO documentary Leaving Neverland (2019), which focuses on two adults who describe their alleged abuse by music-icon Michael Jackson, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis has removed three items related to the artist: a poster “Power of Children,” Jackson’s iconic fedora hat, and a white sequined glove.

It’s Good to be Banksy. In 2018, ten years after its incorporation, Pest Control, the “handling service” for Banksy’s art, filed suit against an Italian company responsible for an exhibition titled “The Art of Banksy: A Visual Protest” at the Mudec Museum in Milan. According to its website, Pest Control “deals only with legitimate works of art and has no involvement with any kind of illegal activity.” In 2019, a Milan court ruled the museum should stop selling merchandise which copies Banky’s art. So much for Banksy not enforcing copyright.

Polonaise Proficiency. Poland is continuing its efforts to retrieve a Rococo painting entitled “Girl with a Dove” (1754), stolen from a Polish museum in 1943. The current owner, New York art dealer Alexander Khochinsky, has refused to return the work despite Poland’s attempts to extradite him from the US and subsequently from France. Khochinsky claims to have acquired the painting in good faith but extended an offer to the Polish government asking, in exchange for the painting, for the return of property belonging to his Polish-Jewish relatives (which was lost when they fled Poland during WWII). Poland refused and is now attempting to extradite the dealer again and is threatening to jail him for 10 years. On March 6, Khochinsky was allowed to leave France for a hearing in Poland, which was continued to June 5 to allow for the translation into French of the documents from the various court cases. In the meantime, Mr. Khochinsky may travel within the E.U., but not outside of it. Meanwhile, his attorney Nicholas O’Donnell successfully asked the D.C. District Court to have Poland defaulted in the lawsuit.

Yemen Cultural Heritage. Yemen’s ongoing civil war, which started in 2015, has resulted not only in the loss of human life but also destruction and looting of cultural and historical artifacts. In order to recover missing tangible property and to prevent continued smuggling, the Yemenite government has requested that the US and the United Nations issue an order which denies Yemenite artifacts from being transported into the US without special permission. US and Yemen do not have a bilateral agreement regarding cultural import restrictions at this time. A Red List for Yemen cultural property was launched by ICOM, in February of 2018.

Modiglia-no. Italian police are investigating six suspects connected to an exhibition of twenty fake Modigliani artworks at a museum in Genoa in 2017. The exhibition had been touring smaller venues when an art collector Carlo Pepi contacted police with concerns that the exhibited works were forgeries. Since a report prepared by Isabella Quatrocchi, a fine arts expert, showed that the pigments were inconsistent with authentic works, the paintings might be destroyed.

Joint Efforts. Germany’s Cultural Ministers are in the process of formulating procedures to repatriate artifacts taken from former German colonies and dedicated €1.9m to the provenance research of artifacts acquired by museums during its colonial era. The French government announced the launch of a task force, dedicated to researching and returning Nazi-Era looted art that is part of its national collections.

May 2019

What a Journey. In 2018, a Paul Signac painting entitled “Port de la Rochelle” (1915) was stolen from Museum of Fine Arts in Nancy, France. Ukrainian Police have recovered the painting in Kiev at the home of a Ukrainian man who is wanted on suspicion of murdering a jeweler. Ukrainian officials are working with Austrian authorities to see if there is a link between the stolen Signac and the theft of a Pierre-Auguste Renoir in Vienna in 2018.

There’s No Coming Back from the UK. The UK’s Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Jeremy Wright told the Times that he believes it is more important for the UK to display cultural artifacts in one location than repatriate them to their home countries. Accordingly, he stated that the UK will not introduce any primary legislation forcing national museums to restitute cultural artifacts. This contrasts with France’s 2018 commitment to return looted objects to Africa.

International Cooperation Peak. Italy announced the return of 796 artifacts to China, representing the largest repatriation of Chinese artifacts in the past two decades. This agreement between the two countries is meant to strengthen their cultural and political alliances and was signed by Chinese Minister of Culture, Luo Shugang and the Italian Minister of Culture, Alberto Bonisoli. The works will then go on display in China to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the diplomatic relations between the two countries.

An American Criminal in Paris. Last month, the Paris criminal court found American art dealer Gary Snell guilty of selling illegal Rodin reproductions. Additionally, Snell’s business associate and Parisian art dealer, Robert Crouzet, received a four-month prison sentence. Both Snell and Crouzet were also ordered to pay a fine of $5.5K, in damages and interest, to the Muséee Rodin.

Department Store Feud. The heirs of Jewish department store owner Max James Emden have been fighting for 15 years to recover two paintings purchased by Adolf Hitler during World War II. Emden was forced to flee Hamburg and his property was seized by the Nazis between 1934-35. In 1937, he sold his art collection for far below market value including two paintings by Belotto to art dealer Karl Haberstock who purchased the works for Hitler in 1938.

Book Return Past Due. Around 150 books, originally from the Bonn’s Library, were discovered when a Belgian woman tried to consign them to Sotheby’s. She had inherited some 600 books from her father, but specialists noticed that library stamps and title pages were removed, leading them to believe they had been purposefully concealed. The consignor then revealed she had 450 more books in her garage. The library is working to conserve the returned property.

Life in Prison. Mehdi Nemmouche, who shot four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels in 2014, has been sentenced to life in prison. Nacer Bendrer, the man who provided weapons to Nemmouche, received a 15-year sentence.

Life out of Prison. Kurdish Artist Zehra Dogan, who was arrested in Turkey in 2017, was released in late February 2019. Dogan was a journalist who painted a watercolor of Turkish security forces setting fire to a Kurdish district. The Turkish government claimed the watercolor linked her to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey considers a terrorist organization. Following Dogan’s arrest, Banksy painted a tribute to the artist in New York, on Houston street.

Bottom Line: Don’t Keep Art on Your Boat. Dutch investigator and “art world Indiana Jones,” Arthur Brand, recovered Pablo Picasso’s “Buste de Femme” (1938), a portrait of Dora Maar, which was stolen in 1999 from the yacht of Saudi Prince, Sheikh Abdul Mohsen Abdulmalik Al-Sheikh. The painting disappeared while the boat was docked in Antibes, France. The work has been used as collateral on the black market and had changed hands many times.

What’s in Storage. The laboratories of Scientific Analysis of Fine Art (SAFA) are moving to ARCIS’s storage facilities. SAFA was founded in 2007 to answer critical questions about authentication, attribution, provenance, state of preservation, and mechanisms of degradation in works of art.

Say “Aloha” to Trademarking “Aloha”. In 2018, a string of Native Hawaiian restaurants in Hawaii and Alaska received cease-and-desist letters from a Chicago based chain-food restaurant, the Aloha Poke Co. The letters claimed the chain had trademarked “Aloha Poke” and insisted the restaurants cease their use. In response, the Hawaii legislature passed a resolution, creating a task-force which will develop legal protections for Native Hawaiian intellectual property, in order to combat the misappropriation of their cultural knowledge.

Art Market Monopoly. Larry Gagosian stretches further into the art market as he launches his first art advisory firm in New York with the help of former Christie’s employee, Laura Paulson. Gagosian also promoted his director, Andrew Fabricant to the new position of chief operating officer. Ultimately, Gagosian hopes the advisory branch will enhance client relations and extend the gallery’s global reach.

Losing Their Marbles. In a speech at the Acropolis Museum in April, the Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos called the British Museum a “murky prison,”  referencing the British Museum’s refusal to return the Parthenon marbles to Greece. Throughout the decade-long battle, Greece has maintained that it is the rightful owner and protector of this invaluable cultural heritage.

The Treasure Under the Flames. Over 30,000 artifacts have been discovered at the RioZoo in Rio de Janiero’s Quinta da Boa Vista park in São Cristóvão. The park is also the site where the National Museum caught flames in September 2018 due to a faulty air conditioning system. Archaeologists are eager to uncover more and piece together how these artifacts are related to the location. The objects will be given to the National Museum, which lost over 20,000 pieces from its collection in the 2018 fire.

A Win for the Streets. Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events has launched an official mural registry to protect street artists’ artwork, on both private and public property. The Department’s team is comprised of three people, who review applications and ensure that the murals are commissioned or sanctioned by the property owner. On the affiliated public database, visitors can learn more about the artwork and the artist. So far, 150 murals have been approved by the registry.

Freeport Troubles. Jean-Claude Juncker, European Commission President, rejects allegations of fraud concerning Le Freeport Luxembourg. German Member of European Parliament (MEP), Wolf Klinz, highlighted suspicious activity stemming from the storage facility, which may allow for money laundering and tax evasion. New anti-money laundering laws from 2015 require Le Freeport’s users to identify the owner of the goods, rather than allowing them to remain anonymous as they had before.

Van Gogh-ing Back. Two of Van Gogh’s paintings were returned to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam on April 17th. According to Martin Bailey, “View of the Sea at Scheveningen” (1882) and “Congregation leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen” (1884-5) were stolenin 2002 and recovered in 2016. After the works were stolen, the broken paint fragments were flushed down a toilet and their original canvases were thrown into the canal. They were smuggled across Europe to the outskirts of Naples, where they ended up in the possession of Raffaele Imperiale, leader of the Neapolitan Camorra crime family. A story worthy of a movie…

FBI Investigation. The FBI’s art crime team is currently investigating thousands of objects seized from a farm in Indiana in 2014. More than 40,000 objects were discovered and approximately 8,000 were confiscated, including human remains. These artifacts came from various countries, including China, Colombia, Mexico, Cambodia, and Iraq.

Yemen Artifacts at Risk. In March, Yemeni officials visited Washington, D.C. and New York to ask for help from the Trump Administration in preventing looted cultural heritage from leaving the country. Specifically, they asked that the United States put an emergency order to prevent the import of Yemeni artifacts without special documentation.

Sacrebleu. The heirs of Jewish art collector and Resistance hero René Gimpel are suing the French Museum Authority to retrieve his paintings seized during the Second World War. They are arguing that the Service des Musées de France has refused to return the paintings.

Italy Seeking Missal. Italian prosecutor, Giovanni Giorgio, claims that the Morgan Library & Museum in New York is harboring an 11th-century missal that was stolen in 1925 from a church in Apiro, Italy. The missal has been in the Morgan’s collection since 1963 and was gifted to the museum in 1984 by William S. Glazier, who acquired it in good faith. Giorgio believes that if the work were to return to Italy, it would help boost tourism.

Notre-iously Injured. As the world watched the Paris Notre Dame Cathedral burst into flames, most of the cathedral’s artifacts were saved from the fire, preserving centuries of history. However, the fire also raises questions of liability, as the cathedral was under construction, and was not insured.

Priceless Garbage. Artist Gerhard Richter discovered that a man was scavenging his rejected sketches from the trash outside his home in Cologne in 2016. A judge in Cologne ruled that, even though the works were discarded, they still belonged to the artist. The man was found guilty of theft and fined. The thief had aroused suspicion when he approached the director of the Gerhard Richter Archive,  Dietmar Elger.  Elger authenticated the works but observed that the sketches were unsigned and unframed, which was uncharacteristic of Richter.

AiWeiWei Sues Volkswagen. Famous Chinese artist AiWeiWei announced on his Instagram account that he will be suing Volkswagen in Denmark for creating an advertisement using his art without his permission. AiWeiWei says he “was astonished by Volkwagens’s brazen violations of [his] intellectual property and moral rights.”

June 2019

Secrets on Sale. A large selection of Vivian Maier’s photographs went on sale  at Photo London in Somerset House for the first time in May, with the most expensive print being sold for $6,500. The secretive artist’s estate was once the subject of a two-year copyright dispute between the Howard Greenberg Gallery and lawyer/photographer David C. Deal, who represented Maier’s cousin.

Pumpkin Thief. German art collector Angela Gulbenkian was charged with two counts of theft, totaling $1.4 million, by the London High Court for charges dating back to 2017 and 2018. Hong Kong-based art advisor, Mathieu Ticolat, is suing Gulbenkian for the purchase of a famous pumpkin sculpture by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, which never arrived.

Long-Overdue Book Return. Over 600 books, including a number of medieval manuscripts, were returned to the University and Regional Library of Bonn, Germany in April. The books had been looted by Allied troops following the immediate aftermath of World War II, and resurfaced after a Belgian woman attempted to auction them off at Sotheby’s. After some examination, the auction house’s experts were able to match the books with the Bonn Library’s inventory of losses and soon thereafter contacted the library.

Arrivederci to Resale Royalties. In Italy, primary market galleries no longer have to pay the artist’s royalties following a six-year negotiation between the Italian Association of Modern and Contemporary Art Galleries and the Italian Society of Authors and Publishers (SIAE), which serves as the royalties collecting agency. Furthermore, the transaction must amount to more than €3,000 to qualify for resale royalties.

Worlds Colliding. Craig Gilmore and his partner, David Crocker, became unlikely figures in Poland’s fight for gay rights after agreeing to return Melchior Geldorp’s Nazi-looted “Portrait of a Lady” (1628) to the National Museum of Warsaw back in 2016. The painting returned home in 2018, accompanied by Gilmore and Crocker, where the couple was met with a cold reception from the Polish government, headed by the right-wing anti-LGBTQ+ Law and Justice party. The couple soon became heavily active in the promotion of LGBTQ+ rights in Poland.

Smutty Fruit Snatchers. A contingent of artists, including German artist Marius Sperlich, is accusing Chris Brown of ripping off their work in his new music video, “Wobble Up.” The video contains images of fruit, dressed up as various body parts. The artists claim that the suggestive fruits were taken from their own body of work. Several comparisons between Brown’s video and the works in question can be found on Sperlich’s Instagram account.

Leonard-NO. Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi made headlines again in May when its owner announced that the painting would not be exhibited at the Louvre’s upcoming da Vinci exhibition in October. The Louvre curators decided not to include the painting in the exhibition unless it was listed as a work by the famed artist and inventor’s workshop. Its dubious attribution has been the subject of controversy since 2011.

Tiananmen Tweet Troubles. Chinese authorities detained filmmaker and activist Deng Chuanbin after he tweeted a photo that made reference to the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. Authorities purportedly arrived at his home only hours after the tweet with an arrest warrant. Deng, also known as Huang Huang, was last detained by the Chinese government in 2015 as he attempted to attend the International Service for Human Rights training in Geneva, Switzerland.

Crimes from the Kitchen Cabinet. Seattle resident and artist David Young came to the startling realization  that he was the owner of over 70 lost Weegee photos after pulling them out of his kitchen cabinet earlier this year; Young had initially acquired the photos in the 1970s. Weegee (real name Arthur Felig) was active from about 1935 to 1947, and was well-known for his crime photography and his ability to appear on scene with almost supernatural speed.

Art Worth Fighting For. President Donald Trump announced last month that Chinese paintings, drawings, sculpture, and antiquities will be included on the list of imported goods produced in China that could be subject to a 25 percent tariff. This announcement comes nine months after art and antique dealers successfully lobbied to have the goods exempt from the tariffs. On June 17, lawyers lobbyists representing dealers and cultural institutions will fight the new policy at the US International Trade Commission hearing.

Facebook’s Black Market. Is the dark side of the art market thriving through social media? The BBC released a report following investigations on private Facebook groups where looted Middle Eastern Artefacts have been posted for sale. So far, Facebook has removed 49 groups, but more remain active.

Golden Age Restitutions. The Dutch Restitutions Committee recommended the return of two 17th century paintings to the heirs of Jacob Lierens, a Jewish art collector whose paintings were sold and then acquired by the Nazi regime in 1941. Both paintings were returned to the Netherlands after the war, but remained in possession of the Dutch government.

Saving Face. The Museum of East Asian Art in Bath, England received several artifacts that were taken in April 2018, from a collection of 40 stolen items during a disastrous heist. Thus far, 18 objects have been returned to the museum and more than half still remain missing. Fortunately, the museum launched a new temporary exhibition of the returned items on May 28, titled East Asian Life, which will be on view until November 10.

Banning the Bannon. On May 31, the Italian minister of culture declared that it would begin proceedings to evict far-right conservative Steve Bannon from a Carthusian monastery in Collepardo, Italy. The decision follows year-long protests staged by villagers at Collepardo and neighboring towns. Bannon and his associate Benjamin Hartwell, a British conservative, signed a lease (now revoked) on the monastery in 2018, and planned to use it as a school for nationalists. A leading factor in Italy’s decision was the “safeguarding of national cultural heritage,” as the monastery, built in 1204, is currently listed as a national monument.

The Rent Is Too Darn High. 25 London-based artists were locked out of Stewkley House Studios after lease-providers Association for Cultural Advancement through Visual Art failed to make rent payment in March. This triggered a clause in the lease agreement permitting the landlords to re-occupy the property. The affected artists have not been able to access their works and tools and may suffer loss of earnings.

All That Glitters is Gould. Australian art dealer Robert Gould is being sued by a Sydney collector over the sale of a Howard Arkley painting, “Well Suited Brick Veneer” dated 1991, which is now suspected of being a fake. The painting was purchased from Gould Galleries for $205,000 back in 2002. The collector’s legal team allege that Gould did not provide adequate provenance documents. Since legal proceedings began, Arkley’s estate has refused to grant copyright for the reproduction of the painting’s image, preventing Gould from selling the painting as an authentic work.

Blood and Iron(y) at the Whitney. Forensic Architecture’s video project for the 2019 Whitney Biennial revealed that the use of tear gas and bullets manufactured by Warren Kanders, Vice-chair of the Whitney, may have been used to perpetuate war crimes. The video, directed by the award-winning Laura Poitras and narrated by musician David Byrne, and the rest of the Whitney Biennial exhibition are on view from May 17 to September 22.

Sow Long. The façade of the Wittenberg Church in Germany where Martin Luther preached has a sandstone relief that  depicts Jewish people drinking from a sow’s teats while a rabbi lifts her tail to inspect her hindquarters. Following a court complaint from the German Jewish community, the Evangelical Church is now discussing the removal of this “Judensau” image. Plaintiff Michael Düllman presented the complaint on May 24, but it was rejected by a regional court. Düllman and his lawyer, Hubertus Benecke, now plan to appeal.

July 2019

Returned. Dutch landscape artist Jan van Goyen’s “The Ferry” (1625) was returned to the heirs of its rightful owner, Czech-born Erwin Langweil. The painting, which Nazis stole after its owners fled to Kenya, is worth an estimated $320,000 to $440,000. Langweil’s heirs hired the Toronto-based Mondex Corp. in 2015 and the restitution was complete on October 29, 2019. The family viewed the painting for the first time in June.

Another one. Five-hundred stolen ancient artifacts that had been confiscated by French authorities at Charles de Gaulle Airport in 2006 were returned to Pakistan in early July. These pots will help archaeologists studying the Balochistan region fill in gaps in knowledge. The French gallery that had purchased them, which has not been publicly named, will receive a fine between $112,000 and $226,000 for trafficking stolen goods.

Stolen, Restituted, Sold. Heinrich Iselin’s “Christ as the Man of Sorrows”, which had been seized by the Nazis in 1937, was returned to its previous owners, the Fuld estate, earlier this year and subsequently sold for £60,000 at an auction. The money will go to Magen David Adom UK, the British branch of the Israeli medical services charity. Although both Henry Fuld Sr and Henry Fuld Jr are deceased, their art collection continues to grow as more items have been returned to the estate.

AI-ming at Culture. Microsoft announced a $125 million program on July 11 as part of its two-year effort to use artificial intelligence (“AI”) for altruistic purposes. Its cultural heritage initiative will celebrate people, language, places, and relevant artefacts. Microsoft will especially focus on using AI to protect extinct languages, such as Maya and Otomi. It will also continue to collaborate with museums and other organizations in the future.

When the Saints Go Marching HomeSotheby’s returned a 1450s French sculpture depicting Saint Michael slaying a dragon after British Museum curator, Dr. Lloyd de Beer, discovered the work was stolen from a church in 1969. It was promptly repatriated to France when the owner, who had purchased the piece from Sotheby’s, returned it to the auction house.

Homeward Bound. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) identified nearly 100 stolen artifacts seized in the U.S., some from the collection of Indian art dealer Subhash Kapoor, as original antiquities of substantial value. Among the seized artifacts include statues stolen from the Suttamali and Sripurantan temples of Tamil Nadu. Alongside these items were also a series of terracotta objects that the Toledo Museum in Ohio voluntarily returned.

Homeward Bound (Part II). Germany agreed to repatriate Dutch master Jan van Huysum’s Vase of Flowers to the Uffizi, following the Italian museum’s call for its return. The painting has remained in the possession of an unidentified German family since a German soldier looted it in 1943. German authorities were initially hesitant to intervene, given the 30-year statute of limitation on crimes, leading Uffizi head Eike Schmidt to call for the end of statute of limitations on Nazi-looted artwork.

Angling for Angela. warrant was issued for the arrest of German art collector and heiress, Angela Gulbenkian, after she failed to appear at the Westminster Magistrates Court in London on June 26. Gulbenkian faces two charges of theft totaling $1.38 million, one of which relates to the sale of a Yayoi Kusama pumpkin sculpture.

Art You Sure These Belong to You? A study conducted by the German Lost Art Foundation found that up to eight percent of acquisitions from four German museums in Brandenberg were probably acquired through state-sanctioned seizures and thefts instigated by the East German state. The museums examined in the study included the Viadrina Museum in Frankfurt, and several local museums in the towns of Strausberg, Eberswalde, and Neruppin.

Qui Tacet (Non) Consentire Videtur. Art Basel removed a panel from Andrea Bowers’ Open Secret installation when digital media strategist and writer Helen Donohue discovered that it included photos depicting her physical abuse at the hands of Michael Hafford, a Vice contributor. Donohue demanded that the piece be removed, leading Bowers to issue an apology and to concede that she should have asked for Donohue’s consent.

 

Judith Will Not Be-Heading to Auction. The Caravaggio-attributed Judith and Holofernes, famously discovered in a Toulouse attic in 2014, was sold to billionaire J. Tomilson Hill ahead of its widely-anticipated auction in June at Marc Labarbe. The painting, valued at $170 million, was expected to set a new auction record for the Italian painter. However, there are still doubts about the painting’s attribution.

A Little More Privacy. International auction house, Sotheby’s, was taken private in June after French billionaire Patrick Drahi acquired it for $3.7 billion through his U.S.-based company, BidFair USA. The 275-year-old institution’s return to private ownership after 31 years as a public company is likely to have a ripple effect on the rest of the auction industry. Per the agreement, Sotheby’s shareholders are to receive $57 a share.

Strength in Numbers. The newly-established International Catalogue Raisonné Association (ICRA), which promotes preserving an artist’s body of works, was created in response to recent high-profile lawsuits regarding art authenticity. Membership to ICRA is open to creators of an artist’s catalogue raisonné, and includes access to legal panels, conferences, and networking events. Art lawyer Pierre Valentin, a partner at Constantine Cannon LLP, chairs IRCA’s board.

Dealing with New-Deal Era Murals. The San Francisco school board unanimously voted to cover a 13-panel mural at George Washington High School depicting slaves and European colonists at Mount Vernon walking across the body of a Native American. The mural was painted by Russian-American artist Victor Arnautoff, who sought to provide a critical perspective on American history. Efforts to cover up the mural are expected to exceed $600,000. [We wrote a two-part series of article on that topic: Part I and Part II.]

They Didn’t Start the Fire (But They Have to Put it Out). The reconstruction of Notre Dame will not be a topic for discussion at the UNESCO World Heritage Committee’s 42nd annual meeting in Baku, Azerbaijan. France failed to produce a full report on the fire that ravaged the landmark cathedral in time for the meeting, which runs from June 30 to July 10. The French state has pledged to produce a report by December 2019, which is likely to be discussed by the UNESCO committee in June 2020.

No More Hiding. French curator Nicholas Bourriaud’s latest project, the MoCo Hôtel des Collections, seeks to be the solution to several persistent problems by displaying artworks from private collectors, preventing collectors who buy artwork as investments from hiding these “investments” in storage. MoCo also managed to amass a collection without its own fortune.

 

August 2019

What a Piet-y. The Kaiser Wilhelm Museum, located in the city of Krefeld, has refused to return Dutch abstract artist Piet Mondrian’s four paintings to Mondrian’s heirs. The heirs claim that he lent the work to the museum before fleeing Europe in 1938. The city’s research suggests that the works could have been donated to the city, but no definitive proof of either side exists. Although the heirs have not yet filed suit against the museum, it would likely be third-barred in Germany. Mondrian’s heirs alluded that they might take their case to the U.S. instead.

Lost and Found. Velázquez’s portrait of Olimpia Maidalchini Pamphilj, Pope Innocent X’s reputed lover and sister-in-law, sold for $3 million in a July 3 auction at Sotheby’s in London. The painting had been lost for almost 300 years until it appeared at an auction in 1980. The sale makes “Portrait of Olimpia Maidalchini Pamphilj” (1591-1657) the third highest purchased Old Master piece in London.

Wright on. Eight of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most notable buildings, including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, have been named UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Guggenheim was one of Wright’s last completed works. It opened in 1959. It is the only UNESCO heritage site in New York City other than the Statue of Liberty, although he has another extant building, Crimson Beech, on Staten Island.

The Cézanne Compromise. Although the ownership of Paul Cézanne’s painting La Montagne Sainte-Victoire was contested, the various parties were able to compromise. The painting will usually stay at the Kunstmuseum Bern but will also be shown in Aix-en-Provence, Cézanne’s hometown, for part of each year. The arrangement satisfies both the inheritor, Cornelius Gurlitt, and the Cézanne family, creating a new way of approaching ownership disputes.

Volkswagen drives away. Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei will receive $260,000 from Volkwagen as a result of their legal battle. Ai sued Dutch distributor Skandinavisk Motor after learning that they had used his image Soleil Levant for a campaign to promote Volkswagen Polo without his permission. The image showed thousands of refugee life jackets and appeared on the building of Kunsthal Charlottenborg.

Karma. Riza Aziz, a generous LACMA donor and the producer of the film Wolf of Wall Street has been charged with money laundering in Malaysia. The funds have allegedly been misappropriated from the Malaysian government as part of an embezzlement scandal involving artworks attributed to van Gogh, Picasso, and Monet. Riza’s production company, Red Granite Films, paid $60 million to the U.S. Department of Justice settle civil lawsuits in the scandal. Low Taek Jho, the alleged mastermind behind the fraud and friend of Aziz, is believed to be hiding in China.

Ooh la la. The Paris Brigade for the Suppression of Banditry (BRP) is trying to discover what happened to stolen artwork from the Élysée Palace, the President’s official residence. More than 50,000 items total are thought to have been stolen between November 2012 and January 2013. Authorities blame both careless record-keeping and “sticky-fingered” government employees. Righting Wrongs. The Salzburg Museum will return three amphorae that an Austrian army officer took at the end of the Second World War to the Temryuk Historical Archaeological Museum. Although Russia does not return items that the Soviet Union’s troops looted because they consider them “reparations for Russian heritage losses at the hands of German troops,” director of the Salzburg Museum, Martin Hochleitner believes he is righting a past wrong by returning them.

Au temps pour moi (“my mistake”). A French antique dealer was sued for selling fake silver light fixtures, the purchaser asking to void the sale based on the theory of mistake relating to the substance. The Paris Court of appeals declared that the mistake was substantial, as it related to the historical time period of the antique, and although the purchaser was a professional held to a higher standard, that the mistake was excusable as other experts had shared the same conclusions and that only a scientific analysis proved the contrary. The case is Cour d’appel de Paris, Pôle 2 – chambre 1, 14 mai 2019 n°17/ 10601.

September 2019

The other French-Canadian Crusade. After a long legal battle, Gustave Caillebotte’s “Iris Bleus, Jardin du Petit Gennevilliers” (1892) has found a new home at the Art Gallery of Ontario. The painting was at the heart of a dispute between an auction house and a consortium of Canadian art museums, who sought to bar its export to Europe, arguing the “national importance” of the French painting to Canadian heritage. In April 2019, the Canadian Federal Court of Appeal barred the painting from leaving Canada.

No thank you. The survivors and family members of the victims of the Pulse nightclub 2016 shooting in Orlando are opposing plans for a museum on the site. The protestors are afraid that the site will turn into a tourist attraction rather than a memorial for the lives that were lost.

Poisoned Flowers. Amid public outcry, the installation of Jeff Koons’ “Bouquet of Tulips” has begun in Paris. The artist is donating the 40-feet tall sculpture in honor of the 2015 terrorist attacks, to be installed behind the Petit Palais. It will be unveiled on October 5th, 2019.

Not So Marvelous. Cartoonist and Pulitzer Prize winner Art Spiegelman pulled the essay he wrote for publisher The Folio Society’s new Marvel comics collection after the company insisted he remove a description of Donald Trump as “Orange Skull” from the series’ introduction. The essay was nonetheless published by The Guardian on August 17, 2019.

Strings Attached. The estate of Jewish dealer Max Stern was reunited with Hans von Marées’s “Ulanen auf dem Marsch” (1859), after the Max Stern Art Restitution Project claimed that it had been looted during the war. While  Germany’s advisory panel on Nazi-looted art claims recommended conditional restitution, it also published a dissenting minority opinion and stipulated that the heirs cannot sell it for ten years in case new evidence emerges.

Repatriated. On India’s Independence Day, the UK returned two ancient artifacts stolen from India thousands of years ago, following joint-efforts by the US and Scotland Yard in the investigations into art dealer Subhash Kapoor. In related news, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is studying Indian artifacts in its collection to ensure that they are not the result of Kapoor’s wrongdoing.

In Other International News. Operation Pandora III resulted in the seizure of 18,000 illegally trafficked cultural artifacts and the arrest of 59 individuals. The operation is the product of international cooperation between the Spanish Civil Guard, Interpol, Europol and the World Customs Organization.

Cross-Returned. A cross taken from a Nagasaki cathedral after the 1945 atomic bombing was returned to Japan after spending 75 years at Wilmington College, OH. The artifact had been gifted by a US Marine in the 1980s, before visitors started to question what it represented: “It’s an issue of humanity––the use of nuclear weapons,” said Tanya Haus, the college director who orchestrated the return.

Nine Danke. The Davidsohn Family was reunited with nine Nazi-looted artworks, restituted by three Munich museums, the Bavarian State Painting Collections, the Bavarian National Museum, and the State Graphics Collection. Extensive provenance research revealed that five paintings, one wooden panel with ivory reliefs and three engravings had been stolen from the Davidsohns in 1938 and found their ways to the Munich museums in 1955.
Annunciation. The conservation department at the National Gallery made known hidden composition and fingerprint marks in Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Virgin of the Rocks” thanks to scientific technology.

How to Steal a Banksy. The Centre Pompidou in Paris is mourning the theft of a piece by Banksy, which had appeared in June 2018 on a road sign in front of the museum and which was protected behind glass. The Museum has announced that they are filing a legal complaint.

Sadly. In mid-July 2019, Sadie Roberts-Joseph, the beloved founder of Baton Rouge African-American Museum, was found dead in the trunk of a car. Shortly thereafter, the police arrested a tenant of Robert-Joseph properties. Exactly one month after the founder’s death, the Museum was the target of vandalism; the police are investigating the connection.

FaceTech. The Liverpool World Museum is under attack for using facial recognition technology on visitors of the Terracotta Warriors exhibition without their knowledge. The museum is claiming that this was purely for security reasons.

Swiss-French Find. Long-lost drawings by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry turned up in a Swiss storage facility; they had been bought by real estate magnate Bruno Stefanini, who died in December 2018. His foundation is sorting through his archives and collection (some 60,000 objects, artworks and artifacts) and found these early sketches from Le Petit Prince.

Framing Museums. The International Council of Museums (“ICOM”) has proposed a new definition of museums to include language about “social justice, global equality and planetary wellbeing.” Critics argue that the new wording is “too political and too vague” and could very well define other cultural institutions. A vote is scheduled in September.

October 2019

An Unhappy Portrait. Joshua Reynolds’s “Portrait of Miss Mathew” (c. 1780), stolen in 1984 from the Sussex home of philanthropist Sir Henry Price and believed to be auctioned by Sotheby’s in 1988, showed up this year at the Fuji Art Museum in Tokyo, which claims it acquired the painting in good faith.

Halted. On September 17, the Mexican government called for an auction of pre-Columbian art in Paris to be halted, claiming that 95 of the works included are a part of its cultural heritage. The cancellation of the sale is considered a first step towards the restitution of Mexico’s cultural property. Gone to Sh*t. This September, just a few days after it went on view at the Blenheim Palace in London, Maurizio Cattelan’s 18-karat golden toilet, a sculpture titled “America,” was stolen.

Generous Getty. On September 17, the J. Paul Getty Trust announced a ten-year $100 million initiative to promote the world’s cultural heritage, planning projects including exhibitions, conservation, excavation and the publication of a book.

Freeport Mania. The UK government is initiating plans to build a series of freeports around the country, which can be used to store valuable works of art, cars, and jewelry without incurring customs or sales tax.

!Uros. !Uros, a tortoise-shell used by the women of the #Nu-Khoen people in Namibia, was returned to Namikoa from Berlin by a research team for closer examination. The permanent restitution of these artifacts, which were acquired under dubious circumstances is said to be the ultimate goal of these efforts.

Closing the Loophole. On September 12, the City Council voted to extend NYC’s anti-discrimination law to protect freelancers, independent contractors, and interns, aiming to “close the loophole that left independent contractors without sufficient recourse for discrimination or harassment,” according to the bill sponsor Councilman Brad Lander.

Rembrandt Relic. A clay pot excavated from the cesspit below Rembrandt’s house, now on display in Amsterdam’s Rembrandt House Museum, has been declared to be the pot that Rembrandt used to prepare the grounds for his canvases.

Speaking of Climate Change. Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson was appointed UN Goodwill Ambassador to advocate for urgent action on climate change and sustainable development goals. Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis will be submitting a proposal calling for coordinated action to protect the country’s cultural heritage from the impact of climate change, at the UN Summit in New York.

Forger Jailed. This September, soon after Lino Frongia was jailed for forging of Old Master paintings, an arrest warrant was issued against Giuliano Ruffini, who is suspected of selling the works in question. The arrests are connected to a high-profile string of forgeries, embroiling prominent museums and dealers.

Going Home. Last summer, the Metropolitan Museum of Art showcased a golden coffin from the 1st century BC dedicated to Nedjemankh, which turned out to have been looted from Egypt in 2011 and sold to the Museum using false ownership history and fake documentation. Following an investigation from the Manhattan DA’s Office and seizure of the coffin in February, the sarcophagus was returned to Egypt this month.

Tossed Up. Following the conviction of the notorious Anna Sorokina, who pretended to be a wealthy German heiress named Anna Delvey, artist Cynthia Talmadge created an installation, Four Courtroom Outfits of Anna Delvey, consisting of a dressing screen behind which a rotating windmill-like mechanism tosses up replicas of outfits that Sorokina wore during her trial.

Not a Pretty Picture. ImageNet, an AI-based database of images, will remove 600,000 pictures of people from its system after an art project revealed its racial biases.

Last-Minute Deal. The French and Italian Ministers of Culture struck a last-minute deal over the loan of Leonardo da Vinci works for the upcoming exhibition at the Louvre, including the famous “Vitruvian Man.” In return, France will lend four works by Raphael to the 2020 show at Rome’s Scuderie del Quirinale.

Yes, They Ken(ya). As the 2019 Kenya Copyright (Amendment) Act was just signed into law, Kenyan artists will be entitled to resale royalties for up until 50 years after their death.

November 2019

Machiavelli by Da Vinci? An unsigned portrait, after lying largely unnoticed in the collection of a historic chateau in central France for decades, has piqued the interest of historians who believe its subject may be Niccolò Machiavelli and the artist who painted it may have been Leonardo da Vinci.

Project Reset. A new Brooklyn program Project Reset allows lawbreakers of minor nonviolent offenses to waive court appearance by taking art classes. The purpose of this project is “to promote human dignity” by transforming “low-level arrests into meaningful opportunities for justice-involved individuals to improve their lives and avoid future arrests and entanglement with our justice system.”

Dealer Arrested. The prominent German dealer Michael Schultz was arrested on suspicion that he may have been selling counterfeit artworks for high prices. Forensic Photography. The British photographer Jack Latham created Sugar Paper Theories, an exhibition of “forensic photography” that revisits Iceland’s most notorious murders dating to 1974. As a criminal investigation reopened during the exhibition, Latham will publish an expanded second edition incorporating new developments of the case.

One Step Closer. The U.S. House of Representatives passed HR 2514, a/k/a the Coordinating Oversight, Upgrading and Innovating Technology, and Examiner Reform Act, a/k/a the Counter Act, which intends to reform anti-money laundering laws to include art market transactions. Dealers would be required to report transactions exceeding $15,000, which many fear is an “unnecessary burden.”

Fire Bystander. Wildfires may be raging in Sonoma, California, but the Getty Museum is not worried about the art collection, as the building being fire-proof. A lesson for art collectors out there…
Banksy’s GDP. Banksy took action against the unauthorized copying of his work. Not a legal action this time, though: Banksy recently opened “Gross Domestic Product,” an online store where people can buy items inspired by his work. This new venture is the result of a greeting card company pointing to Banksy’s unused trademark but this shop now shows that he uses his trademark in connection with the sale of goods.

Monuments Men. The Pentagon announced a new initiative, in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution, to support US military personnel working to protect cultural property during armed conflicts. The next generation of Monuments Men will focus on the Middle East.

We’ll Take ’em. With more than 1.7 million funerary objects and more than 67,000 human remains being returned since a 1990 law took effect, Richard M. Begay, director of the Navajo Nation Historic Preservation Department, urges that people to continue to return artifacts to tribes whenever there is uncertainty regarding their origins. 5Pointz Towers. While the 5Pointz case is currently on appeal before the Second Circuit, a Queens community board reversed its opposition to a new proposal for “5Pointz Towers,” a luxury complex planned at the site of the famous former Long Island City graffiti art mecca, partly because the developer proposed to set aside 5,000 square feet for a library.

Crack is Back. After being hidden for four years due to adjacent construction, Keith Haring’s East Harlem mural “Crack is Wack” was refurbished and repainted by two commissioned artists and is now back on view.

Help Desk. With the imminent opening of the Humboldt Forum, which includes over 50,000 artifacts removed from Africa during the colonial era, German states will establish a help desk to handle artifacts acquired during the colonial era.

Kitchen Art. A medieval painting hung in an elderly Frenchwoman’s kitchen for years before being recognized as a work by the Italian artist Cimabue. It was recently auctioned in France for $26.8 million.

Golden Age in the Gulf. With the plethora of expensively-designed museums that have been opened in recent years in the Gulf, Saudi Arabia is to build a modern art museum, joining the Gulf’s culture race on the international stage.

Dali Stolen. A brazen thief stole a Salvador Dali etching valued at $20,000 from a San Francisco gallery. The surveillance video from another business showed the man strolling down the street with the artwork in his hand. Another Rembrandt Painting. A newly discovered biblical painting by Rembrandt is to be shown in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford in the UK for the first time, as part of the largest ever exhibition exploring the artist’s early years.

More on Climate Change. The World Monuments Fund’s list of cultural heritage sites threatened by climate change was released at the end of November and includes Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, the Machu Pichu, and Bears Ears––the latter of which is also at the heart of a legal battle in the U.S. Read our case review.

Remove the Trustee. Protesters call for the removal of MOMA trustee Steven Tananbaum, who benefited from the Puerto Rican debt crisis, although he is not the only trustee with financial interests in the island.

December 2019

Titian’s Epic Series. The Wallace Collection has agreed to lend Titian’s Perseus and Andromeda to the National Gallery in London next year, after loan restrictions were lifted following a reinterpretation of Lady Wallace’s 1897 will.

Trove. American philanthropist Jayne Wrightsman left more than 375 works to the Met, along with $80 million for acquisitions. The bequest includes 22 European paintings “of the absolute finest quality,” including Delacroix’s Rebecca and the Wounded Ivanhoe.

$15 Million for Repatriation. The Open Society Foundation, an international grantmaking organization founded by George Soros, has launched a four-year, $15 million initiative to aid in restitution efforts, aiming to support African organizations campaigning for the return of artifacts taken during the colonial era.

Lost Masterpieces. Bendor Grosvenor, broadcaster of the hit detective TV series Britain’s Lost Masterpieces, has discovered that two paintings, one considered a mere copy and the other attributed to an anonymous Flemish artist, are authentic pieces by Botticelli and Pieter Brueghel the Younger, respectively.

Stolen Rembrandts Recovered. Two Rembrandt paintings were recovered by the police and security staff after it was stolen from a London gallery and later abandoned by the thief as he triggered the alarm. Police suspect that the thief targeted works in order to claim a ransom from insurers.

Stolen Banksy’s? Just an hour before Sotheby’s was going to auction Banksy’s The Drinker for £1 million, the sculpture was pulled from the sale, as Andy Link, leader of the art movement Art Kieda, claimed that the sculpture was mysteriously taken from his property. Sotheby’s has so far declined to specify whether Link’s claim influenced the consigner’s decision.

Axe To Grind. In the “largest post-war art theft in history”, diamond jewelry was stolen from the Grünes Gewölbe in Dresden. The perpetrators used axes to break through museum cases and stole three out of ten diamond sets. A German newspaper has valued these diamonds at up to 1 Billion Euros.

National Medal of the Arts (Except Visual Arts). The National Medal of Arts will be presented for the first time since President Donald Trump took office, honor the folk singer Alison Krauss, the actor Jon Voight, the philanthropist Sharon Percy Rockefeller, and the musicians of the US military. No visual artist are in the mix…

The Art of Data. After many years of battling against the German authorities and citing freedom of information laws, artist Cosmo Wenman announced that the Berlin’s Neues Museum has sent him a flash drive containing full-color scans of the bust of Nefertiti. Wenman made these scans freely available online on November 13.

Happy Anniversary. One year after the Sarr-Savoy Report,France returned to Senegal an 18th-century saber that it looted during the colonial period, making a symbolic move in restitution. Similarly, Manchester Museum returned 43 sacred and ceremonial objects to Indigenous Australians, signaling a major move forward for Britain’s colonial museums.

Marcia-NO. Los Angeles labor organizers have filed a complaint against the Marciano Art Foundation following its recent and abrupt closure. According to the complaint, the foundation “has illegally discriminated against its employees” through mass laying-off and the closing of its facility.

Shifting Gears. Christie’s Education has announced its current plan to refocus its business on online and non-degree education courses, and to end traditional higher education graduate degree programs in New York and London.

Storage Wars. Alerted by an unnamed source who found nearly 1,300 prints in a deceased relative’s storage unit, LA police have recovered a stolen trove of signed prints by the late Scottish abstract artist Benjamin Creme. Similarly, hundreds of paintings and rare books missing from the museum of Alexei Ananyev, a Russian banker and billionaire accused of financial crimes, have been found in a storage facility near Moscow.

Royal Art Scandal. British businessman James Stunt lent 17 works––supposedly by Monet, Picasso, and Salvador Dali––to Dumfries House, the historic Scottish property owned by Prince Charles’ charity foundation. But Los Angeles artist and convicted forger Tony Tetro claimed he painted them, putting Prince Charles at the center of a $136 million fake art scandal.

Palmyra Will Rise. Russia and Syria have signed an agreement to “revive” the ancient city of Palmyra through the National Museum of Palmyra. Long-term goals of this agreement include restoring twenty Syrian antiquities, forming an international campaign for the restoration of Palmyra and an international group of experts under UNESCO and DGAM.

Art Disappeared. A collection of 342 works by Markuz Lüpertz, Anselm Kiefer, and Renate Graf worth €300 million has disappeared in China, where the art was on loan from a collector based in Germany.

From Sales to Scholarship. The 80-year-old Galerie St. Etienne is transitioning over the course of next year from a gallery into a nonprofit foundation to pursue scholarship instead of sales because, according to gallery and foundation director Jane Kallir, “we don’t feel that we can combine commerce and scholarship as we once did.”

Making Its Way Back. Dr. Oetker, a German company manufacturing food products, has returned a painting by Carl Spitzweg to the heirs of a Jewish collector murdered by the Nazis. Since 2015, the company had been conducting provenance research for its collection and, after a diligent effort to identify the original owner, the painting was finally restituted.

Cultural Capital Fund. The UK Labour Party election manifesto, launched by Jeremy Corbyn, pledges to establish a £1billion Cultural Capital Fund “to transform libraries, museums and galleries” across UK.

March 2018

Portrait in “Wall-y”. The missing Gustav Klimt masterpiece “Portrait of a Lady,” was found in the walls of an Italian villa. This painting went missing in 1997 from the Ricci Oddi gallery in the northern city of Piacenza. If the piece is authentic it’s recovery will offer some objectively good news to the art world.

Name Sacked. The Smithsonian Institution’s Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, DC rebrands itself as the National Museum of Asian Art. The institutions denied that the new name was related to the opioid controversy. Fighting Words. Troubled by comments from the White House? Here is a link to The 1954 Hague Convention, to which the US is a state party, that outlines principles concerning the protection of cultural property during armed conflict. Also as a reminder, in 2017, the International Criminal Court ordered prison sentence and reparations against Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, an individual convicted of war crimes for destroying cultural property in Timbuktu, Mali.

We have no Words. Maurizio Cattelan’s banana sculpture, “Comedian,” which drew huge crowds at the Miami Basel, is entering a museum collection. According to Miami collectors William and Beatrice Cox, they aim to loan the sculpture to a major institution to attract new generations and then gift it at a later date. Read our opinion on the art market going bananas.

Calls for Return. Egyptian archaeologist and a former antiquities minister, Zahi Hawass, is launching a private campaign for the restitution of treasures from Europe’s leading museums. After being denied his request for the loan of three treasures––the Nefertiti painted limestone bust (1345BC), the Rosetta Stone (196BC), and the sandstone Zodiac ceiling with its map of the stars (50BC)––in 2007, Hawass now seeks the permanent return of them.

Axe Job. The 2017 Russian avant-guarde exhibit in Ghent that was not because more than 20 loaned paintings were branded as forgeries continues to make the news. In December 2019, the husband and wife collector-duo that loaned forgeries to Ghent were arrested on charges of fraud and money laundering. A complaint against Mr. and Mrs. Toporovski from a group of international dealers and art historians was filed by Geert Lenssens in Ghent. The couple is represented by a Brussels-based attorney, Sébastien Watelet.

Holy Trade. Spanish police are investigating a wooden sculpture of Saint Margaret of Cortona that turned up at TEFAF New York last November. It is suspected that it was illegally sold by a convent in Corona, who claim they still have it in their possession (although no one has seen it).

Science of Art. Computer scientists from the U. of California are claiming that they solved the mystery of the orb held by the Christ in Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi.” Virtual rendering of the painting suggests that the orb is hollow, which would explain why the fabric behind it is distorted the way that it is––a feature that art experts have previously pointed to when arguing that the painting is not a genuine da Vinci, as the artist had studied optics and would not have made such a mistake. The abscence of Salvator Mundi from the da Vinci show in Paris is harder to explain.

Public Domain Day. January 1, 2020 marked the day when artworks dating back to 1924 entered the public domain and became free to reproduce in the United States. Among those: Georgia O’Keeffe’s “Flower Abstraction,” Edward Hopper’s “New York Pavements,” and Lyonel Feininger’s “Gaberndorf II.”

April 2017

Portrait in “Wall-y”. The missing Gustav Klimt masterpiece “Portrait of a Lady,” was found in the walls of an Italian villa. This painting went missing in 1997 from the Ricci Oddi gallery in the northern city of Piacenza. If the piece is authentic it’s recovery will offer some objectively good news to the art world.

Name Sacked. The Smithsonian Institution’s Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, DC rebrands itself as the National Museum of Asian Art. The institutions denied that the new name was related to the opioid controversy. Fighting Words. Troubled by comments from the White House? Here is a link to The 1954 Hague Convention, to which the US is a state party, that outlines principles concerning the protection of cultural property during armed conflict. Also as a reminder, in 2017, the International Criminal Court ordered prison sentence and reparations against Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, an individual convicted of war crimes for destroying cultural property in Timbuktu, Mali.

We have no Words. Maurizio Cattelan’s banana sculpture, “Comedian,” which drew huge crowds at the Miami Basel, is entering a museum collection. According to Miami collectors William and Beatrice Cox, they aim to loan the sculpture to a major institution to attract new generations and then gift it at a later date. Read our opinion on the art market going bananas.

Calls for Return. Egyptian archaeologist and a former antiquities minister, Zahi Hawass, is launching a private campaign for the restitution of treasures from Europe’s leading museums. After being denied his request for the loan of three treasures––the Nefertiti painted limestone bust (1345BC), the Rosetta Stone (196BC), and the sandstone Zodiac ceiling with its map of the stars (50BC)––in 2007, Hawass now seeks the permanent return of them.

Axe Job. The 2017 Russian avant-guarde exhibit in Ghent that was not because more than 20 loaned paintings were branded as forgeries continues to make the news. In December 2019, the husband and wife collector-duo that loaned forgeries to Ghent were arrested on charges of fraud and money laundering. A complaint against Mr. and Mrs. Toporovski from a group of international dealers and art historians was filed by Geert Lenssens in Ghent. The couple is represented by a Brussels-based attorney, Sébastien Watelet.

Holy Trade. Spanish police are investigating a wooden sculpture of Saint Margaret of Cortona that turned up at TEFAF New York last November. It is suspected that it was illegally sold by a convent in Corona, who claim they still have it in their possession (although no one has seen it).

Science of Art. Computer scientists from the U. of California are claiming that they solved the mystery of the orb held by the Christ in Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi.” Virtual rendering of the painting suggests that the orb is hollow, which would explain why the fabric behind it is distorted the way that it is––a feature that art experts have previously pointed to when arguing that the painting is not a genuine da Vinci, as the artist had studied optics and would not have made such a mistake. The abscence of Salvator Mundi from the da Vinci show in Paris is harder to explain.

Public Domain Day. January 1, 2020 marked the day when artworks dating back to 1924 entered the public domain and became free to reproduce in the United States. Among those: Georgia O’Keeffe’s “Flower Abstraction,” Edward Hopper’s “New York Pavements,” and Lyonel Feininger’s “Gaberndorf II.”

January 2016

Gurlitt Provenance Research/Project “Provenienzrecherche Gurlitt” The German Lost Art Foundation is taking over the provenance investigations of the Gurlitt Art Collection. The “Schwabinger Kunstfund” task force failed to investigate the entire collection in the period allotted, and there is much work still do to analyze the true origins and ownership of artworks in the Cornelius Gurlitt’s possession. More than three years after the discovery of the trove, ongoing “research efforts will focus on determining the provenance of works which have not yet been conclusively clarified. Of primary interest are works for which there is a suspicion that they went missing as a result of Nazi persecution or for which such claims have been made.” The project team is headed by Dr. Andrea Baresel-Brand, and funded by the German Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media. One day the research findings are expected to “be published in German and English following their evaluation by the review experts.”

February 2016

Museum Asks Federal Court to Determine Rightful Owner of Loaned Work On behalf of the Birmingham Museum of Art, the City of Birmingham, AL (the “City”) has asked the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, Southern Division to determine the rightful owner of a loaned work of art. The Museum seeks to return “Shinnecock Hills” by William Merritt Chase to the work’s rightful owner – however, the Museum cannot do so until the court determines exactly who that party is out of the six alleged part-owners of the piece, who are also co-defendants in the action.

The work has been in possession of the Museum since August 2006 and is taking up valuable space in climate-controlled Museum storage. The complaint states that the museum has limited storage space and resources to store art and, further, that “[c]ontinued storage of the Painting is negatively impacting the ongoing operations of the Museum as the space in which the Painting currently is stored is required for other uses.” Accordingly, the City also seeks $11,000 from the defendants as compensation for storing the painting from August 2006-February 2016.

March 2016

Five Charged with Selling Non-Genuine Alaskan Native Artworks On March 3, 2016, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Alaska charged five individuals with violating the Indian Arts and Crafts Act. Four business owners and an employee were accused of selling fraudulent native artworks at shops in Juneau, Ketchikan, and Skagway, Alaska. The whale and walrus bone carvings were misrepresented as artworks carved by Alaska Natives artists. Not only were these items produced by non-Native Alaskan artists, but one of the works at issue was allegedly manufactured in Cambodia. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jack Schmidt noted that “Congress adopted the [Indian Arts and Crafts Act] as a “truth-in-marketing law” and such misrepresentations and practices are unacceptable. The maximum penalty for violating the Indian Arts and Crafts Act is one year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation Seventh Annual Conference On March 25, 2016, the Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation (LCCHP) co-sponsored its Seventh Annual Conference with the Fordham Art Law Society. The conference, titled Looted Art and Cultural Property; Current Controversies, Future Resolutions was held at the Fordham University School of Law in New York, NY. The conference featured the following panels:

  • The Parthenon/Elgin Marbles: New Perspectives on a Centuries-Old Dispute, moderated by Leila Amineddoleh;
  • Recent Developments in Cultural Heritage Restitution Cases: Where Are We and Where Are We Going?, moderated by Elizabeth Varner;
  • Conflict-Related Looting and Destruction of Cultural Property: Is Current Policy Working?, moderated by Channah Norman; and
  • What is Digital Cultural Heritage and What Can It Do?, moderated by Thomas Kline.
    More information about the event, including speaker names and short bios, may be found on the conference website.

Blockchain – So Contemporary! On March 8, 2016 the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine LLP hosted a panel about Blockchain and the arts. For those of you haven’t read David Honig’s article on digital art, blockchain is a decentralized ledger hosted on multiple servers. Blockchain has many different applications when it comes to the artistic world and the panelists discussed how it could impact the music and visual arts world.

While most of the panelists discussed the implications of blockchain to digital media Robert Norton of Verisart discussed how blockchain can be used in conjunction with physical art. This led to a question by a member of the audience, who happened to be a wine collector, about whether other technology was better suited to insure authentication in physical media since the blockchain ledger and the object are not integrated.

If you want to learn more about blockchain the event organizers host a blog, Creative Block (chain), where they report on news surrounding the blockchain and even have a primer to educated the uninitiated. DH

Door to Door Performing Art or Fake Art Scam Move over eBay, according to Malvern police in the United Kingdom, an Eastern European female has scamming people in the Pickersleigh area by knocking on doors, selling artwork (photocopies) between 10 and 15 Euros each. The Pickersleigh Safer Neighbourhood Team is advising people to remain on guard, specifically elderly or vulnerable individuals.

The crime fighters in the region are being vigilant. They want to find the predators preying on the vulnerable community members and achieve justice. The spokesperson urged, “If you have any doubt who is at your door, don’t answer it.” JP

April 2016

Ace is Low On April 6, 2016 Sam Leslie, a bankruptcy trustee, took over control of the day-to-day operations of the Los Angeles based Ace Gallery when Douglas Chrismas, the founder of the Gallery, failed to comply with a court order to pay $17.5 million to settle debts. After taking over Leslie began sorting out ownership of  artworks so the gallery could satisfy debts by selling what it owned. According to the New York Times one of the issues Leslie had to deal with was the fact that a computerized inventory does not seem to exist for the Ace Gallery collection which is estimated to contain around 2,750 pieces.

About a month after taking over the day-to-day operations of Ace Gallery Leslie has kicked Chrismas out. The catalyst for this was the discovery that Chrismas diverted around $17 million to Ace New York and the Ace Museum – according to The Art Newspaper Ace New York closed “over a decade ago” and Ace Museum has a “spotty exhibition history.” To make matters worse, The Art Newspaper is also reporting that Leslie said Chrismas directed his assistants to place 60 artworks from Ace Gallery into private storage. Because Chrismas has declared bankruptcy so many times even if these works are personal property he might still be in trouble.

Panama Papers & Ganz Sale The Panama Papers — the leak of 11.5 million files from Mossack Fonseca, a Panamanian law firm — revealed that there may have been something nefarious behind the infamous Ganz sale at Christie’s. The Ganz collection, which was auctioned for $206.5 million at Christie’s in 1997, was seen as a catalyst for today’s art market and owed its success in part to being auctioned as a single collection with each pieces most recent provenance listing the famed art collector Victor Ganz. The collection was advertised as “fresh” meaning “no other collector or dealer had been offered these works.” Yet, the Panama Papers reveal that the ownership may have passed briefly to British billionaire Joe Lewis, who entered into a secretive agreement with Christie’s and acted as a third party guarantee, thereby ensuring the auction’s success and benefiting Lewis and the auction house. SE

Hidden Idol hits Asia Week This spring New York Times reported about multiple law enforcement’s efforts to quash illegal sales of looted artworks offered for sale during the Asia Week New York. The efforts were a result of the Operation Hidden Idol, a nine year investigation into antiquities smuggling. The Manhattan district attorney’s office led by Cyrus R. Vance has collaborated with federal officials to orchestrate warranted raids and seizures to reobtain illegally smuggled antiquities from abroad. Many items have been returned to their home countries. In the past, prosecution of art dealer smugglers was rather rare, however Mr. Vance hopes to implement sterner policy and has stated, “If you don’t send the message, you don’t deter others…Antiquites raiding is not an acceptable business model.”

May 2016

Can’t Hide from the Taxman As reported by the New York Times New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced a $7 million settlement with real estate developer Aby Rosen for back taxes on $80 million worth of art. Rosen failed to pay taxes accruing since 2002 by claiming the works were purchased for resale when in actuality he kept them in his personal collection – New York allows the purchaser of art to avoid taxes if the purpose of the purchase is to resell the art. DH

Stop Taxing Death and Disability Act Keegan Brennen was born in 1990 with an immune deficiency coupled with learning disabilities. Despite these health-related obstacles, Brennen won his high school’s Excellence in Visual Arts award and went on to attend the New Hampshire Institute for Art. After graduating cum laude in 2012 Brennen’s health issues caught up to him. Less than a year after graduating college, and accumulating $78,000 in student loans, he died due to a brain aneurysm. Brennen’s parents applied for loan forgiveness – death is one reason for federal loan forgiveness. Unfortunately this tragic story didn’t end there.

The discharged student loan debt is taxable income and thus Brennen’s parents had to pay both Federal and State income tax, $27,000 and $6,300 respectively. In September 2014 Angus King, Junior United States Senator from Brennen’s home state of Maine, introduced a bill “Stop Taxing Death and Disability Act” that would no longer require the recipients of loan forgiveness, due to death or permanent disability, to pay taxes on the forgiven loan.

More about Brennen’s case can be found at the Portland Press Herald. Senator King’s bill can be found in its entirety here. Additionally Senator King wrote an opinion piece about the bill for the Portland Press Herald in 2014. DH

June 2016

Portrait in “Wall-y”. The missing Gustav Klimt masterpiece “Portrait of a Lady,” was found in the walls of an Italian villa. This painting went missing in 1997 from the Ricci Oddi gallery in the northern city of Piacenza. If the piece is authentic it’s recovery will offer some objectively good news to the art world.

Name Sacked. The Smithsonian Institution’s Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, DC rebrands itself as the National Museum of Asian Art. The institutions denied that the new name was related to the opioid controversy. Fighting Words. Troubled by comments from the White House? Here is a link to The 1954 Hague Convention, to which the US is a state party, that outlines principles concerning the protection of cultural property during armed conflict. Also as a reminder, in 2017, the International Criminal Court ordered prison sentence and reparations against Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, an individual convicted of war crimes for destroying cultural property in Timbuktu, Mali.

We have no Words. Maurizio Cattelan’s banana sculpture, “Comedian,” which drew huge crowds at the Miami Basel, is entering a museum collection. According to Miami collectors William and Beatrice Cox, they aim to loan the sculpture to a major institution to attract new generations and then gift it at a later date. Read our opinion on the art market going bananas.

Calls for Return. Egyptian archaeologist and a former antiquities minister, Zahi Hawass, is launching a private campaign for the restitution of treasures from Europe’s leading museums. After being denied his request for the loan of three treasures––the Nefertiti painted limestone bust (1345BC), the Rosetta Stone (196BC), and the sandstone Zodiac ceiling with its map of the stars (50BC)––in 2007, Hawass now seeks the permanent return of them.

Axe Job. The 2017 Russian avant-guarde exhibit in Ghent that was not because more than 20 loaned paintings were branded as forgeries continues to make the news. In December 2019, the husband and wife collector-duo that loaned forgeries to Ghent were arrested on charges of fraud and money laundering. A complaint against Mr. and Mrs. Toporovski from a group of international dealers and art historians was filed by Geert Lenssens in Ghent. The couple is represented by a Brussels-based attorney, Sébastien Watelet.

Holy Trade. Spanish police are investigating a wooden sculpture of Saint Margaret of Cortona that turned up at TEFAF New York last November. It is suspected that it was illegally sold by a convent in Corona, who claim they still have it in their possession (although no one has seen it).

Science of Art. Computer scientists from the U. of California are claiming that they solved the mystery of the orb held by the Christ in Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi.” Virtual rendering of the painting suggests that the orb is hollow, which would explain why the fabric behind it is distorted the way that it is––a feature that art experts have previously pointed to when arguing that the painting is not a genuine da Vinci, as the artist had studied optics and would not have made such a mistake. The abscence of Salvator Mundi from the da Vinci show in Paris is harder to explain.

Public Domain Day. January 1, 2020 marked the day when artworks dating back to 1924 entered the public domain and became free to reproduce in the United States. Among those: Georgia O’Keeffe’s “Flower Abstraction,” Edward Hopper’s “New York Pavements,” and Lyonel Feininger’s “Gaberndorf II.”

Fall 2016

Money, Elections and Taxes Make the Head Spin NYTimes reports that Eric T. Schneiderman and his office are looking into presumptive presidential candidate Donald J. Trump’s nonprofit foundation. While Trump’s tax returns remain locked up, his nonprofit, the Donald J Trump Foundation INC, est. 1988 and is in operation out of Woodbury, New York has some answering to do. The Foundation was originally founded to give away proceeds from the book Trump: The Art of the Deal (1987). Decades later Trump remains the Foundation’s president. The New York Attorney General’s Charities Bureau, which oversees regulating nonprofits in the state, has asked about a $25,000 donation the Trump Foundation made in September 2013 to “And Justice for All” — a political group connected to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. Other questions raised by The WashingtonPost, more directly related to #artlaw and #noprofitgovernance have to do with the Trump Foundation supposedly paying $20,000 for a six-foot-tall portrait of Trump, by Michael Israel. More recently four separate charities -the Giving Back Fund, Children’s Medical Center in Omaha, the Latino Commission on AIDS, and Friends of Veterans- reportedly claimed they never received donations that the foundation said it gifted them. (MP)

Select sources:

  • Steve Eder, “New York Attorney General to Investigate Donald Trump’s Nonprofit,” The New York Times (Sep.13, 2016);
  • David A. Fahrenthold, “Trump bought a 6-foot-tall portrait of himself with charity money. We may have found it,” The Washington Post (Sep.14, 2016);
    David A. Fahrenthold, “Three of the mysteries in the files of the Donald J. Trump Foundation have been solved. Here’s what we know,” The Washington Post (Sep.13, 2016).

 

HEAR Act. A bipartisan groups of senators, Sens.Ted Cruz (R., Texas), Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), John Cornyn (R., Texas), and Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.) are currently spearheading a new piece of legislation that will facilitate the restitution of Nazi looted artworks to Holocaust survivors in an expedited manner. The bill is titled the Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act (HEAR Act) and will allow “civil claims or causes of action to recover artwork or other cultural property unlawfully lost because of persecution during the Nazi era, or for damages for the taking or detaining of such artwork or cultural property.” Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act, S. 2763, 114th Cong. (2016). The Hear Act estimates that the Nazis confiscated as many as 650,000 works of art as a part of their genocidal campaign and works to  build on existing efforts on the part of the U.S. government to review and rule upon claims made by survivors.

According to one of the sponsors of the HEAR Act, Senator Cruz, this piece of legislation would also draw attention to current cultural crimes, particularly ISIS’s destruction of cultural sites and artifacts throughout the Middle East. Support for the bill extends beyond Congressional walls. On June 7th, actress Helen Mirren testified before the Senate in a judiciary subcommittee hearing on the HEAR Act. Having recently portrayed  Maria Altmann, a jewish woman who successfully reclaimed five works by Gustav Klimt which were  looted by the Nazis, in Women in Gold, Mirren has asserted her commitment to supporting this cause. In closing, Mirren both thanked and urged Congress to take action, explaining that Congress has the power, through its actions, to rejuvenate the lives of many people.