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December 2018

The Klimt always hits twice. Austria’s attempts to research and restitute a Klimt to an Austrian Jewish family reveal that the government mistakenly returned the work “Apple Tree II” to the wrong family 18 years ago – confusing it with a similar Klimt painting, “Roses Under Trees.” The work was supposed to be shown at the Leopold Museum for the centennial of the artist’s death, but thankfully the exhibition sparked renewed investigation into the case before its opening.

Cuba recoils. Cuban Decree 349, which is supposed to become active in December will legalize the censorship of any art that is not sponsored by the government. It delineates fines and seizures for any artworks that fall under this category and has received backlash from independent Cuban artists who see this as a huge step backward by the Cuban Culture Ministry.

While we’re on the topic. Israel passes a “loyalty in culture bill” which many artists see as a form of censorship because it allows the government to cut funding for art that is in conflict with the state’s “principles.” In protest, artists gathered in a square in Tel Aviv and burned their artwork publicly.

Uber and artists alike. A group of 27 artists, art historians, and lecturers have raised over £70,000 to sue the National Gallery in London for compensation after they were laid off in October of last year. The case could become an important precedent in the current debate on “gig economy” employment terms and currently awaits the decision of an employment tribunal.

Renoir goes running. Renoir’s “Golfe, Mer, Falaises Vertes” (1895) painting was stolen from Dorotheum’s auction house in Vienna on November 26th by three suspects who are still at large. It is assumed that two of the thieves distracted the security staff while the third removed the canvas from its frame.

Restitution is contagious. French President Emmanuel Macron holds true to his declaration last year that France will repatriate artefacts to African countries by agreeing to return 26 Benin works at the Élysée Palace conference. In light of the recent government report, French museums wonder how far this deaccessioning could go – and other countries with a colonial history in Africa are also in the spotlight. Officials from Senegal and Ivory Coast have already started to make lists of items they expect to be returned.

Buyer beware. In a case brought by Christie’s, the French highest court decided that resale royalties (droit de suite) can be imputed onto the purchaser of the artwork (Assemblée plénière de la Cour de cassation, arrêt n° 639 du 9 novembre 2018, pourvoi n° 17-16.335.)

Moroccan oasis sued. The grandson of Jacques Majorelle takes Moroccan-based company Jardin Majorelle to court for disputes over the French Painter’s name against the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent, which responsible for a Moroccan garden named after the painter.

Street artists unite. Street artist Ron English bought “Slave Labour (Bunting Boy)”, a Banksy piece originally spraypainted on the wall of a north-London shop, for $730,000 (£561,000) at auction. He promises to whitewash it in protest of the commercialization of street art.

Rotten meat. A Banksy exhibition in Brussels put on by non-profit Strokar Inside falls victim to a shady deal with a German meat seller. A Banksy gallerist, Steve Lazarides, claimed that the works were uninsured and unlawfully transported. A Belgium court ruled in favor of Lazarides and Banksy warned his fans online of recent fake Banksy exhibits cropping up.

Promises, promises. In the wake of the Berlin conference on the 20th anniversary of the Washington Principles on Nazi-era looted art, Stuart E. Eizenstat, the man who negotiated the principles on behalf of the U.S., gave five countries a dressing-down for their inadequate policy and poor response to restitution claims, namely Hungary, Poland, Spain, Russia, and Italy. The conference was dominated by pride in the ongoing efforts, and a new declaration of commitments was signed; however, some reports perceive it as a pat on the back, and point at how little the unsuccessful victims were heard.

Another brick in the wall. The Berlin Wall Foundation took control of an art-covered part of the Berlin Wall, bringing a halt to further real estate development around it, which threatened to close in on the historic monument.

Bad credit. After the Paris lower court ordered Koons to pay photographer Franck Davidovici for misappropriating one of his photographs, it appears that the latter did not give proper credit to art director Elisabeth Bonamy, who conceived and executed the ad.

Modigliani-ness pending. Twenty-nine Modiglianis are being subject to forensic analysis at the Centre for Research and Restoration of the Museums of France. The project, which is dividing scholars and catalogue raisonnés experts, is due to end in December 2019, followed by a publication and a symposium.

“La confisca dell’opera è definitiva”. The Italian highest court rejected the Getty Museum’s appeal against the lower court ruling ordering the seizure of the “Statue of a Victorious Youth”, based on the bronze’s illegal exportation and smuggling in the 1960s.