Center for Art Law

At the crossroads of visual arts and the law.

In Brief – 2019

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 were first published in our monthly newsletter.

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.

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. Ukranian Police have recovered the painting in Kiev at the home of a Ukranian man who is wanted on suspicion of murdering a jeweler. Ukranian 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.”

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

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

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. 

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.”

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