Center for Art Law

At the crossroads of visual arts and the law.

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 were first published in our monthly newsletter.

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July 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:

  • 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. 
  • 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. 
  • 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.
  • 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. 

June 2020

Sketching the Invisible. Courtroom artists are struggling to readjust to the new circumstances surrounding hearings and trials. Now that our justice system is conducted over the phone, courtroom artists no longer have facial expressions and body language to rely on, as expressed by Supreme Court courtroom artist Art Lien.

Taking the Funding Out of Philly. Philadelphia’s mayor announced devastating budget cuts in early May, including reducing the city’s Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy budget from $4.4 million to zero. This strips cultural institutions all over the city of any city funding, including the African American Museum in Philadelphia, which was founded and is still funded by the city.

That’s A Big Deal. 103 countries collaborated to recover over 19,000 artifacts in early May. Over 100 suspects were arrested and 300 individual investigations opened as a result fo the recovery mission. Law enforcement focused on online illicit trade platforms and trading stemming from conflict zones.

Icy Roads. The first discovered ice site in Northern Europe, the Lomseggen ridge has been melting rapidly since 2011. As a result, a trove of about 800 Viking artifacts emerged from this icy mountain range, indicating that the mountain pass served as a trade network. 

Protect the Picassos. Two Picasso murals located on the exterior concrete slab of an empty government building in Oslo are at risk of destruction. The Norwegian government approved the demolition of the building, promising to protect the murals but giving no indication as to how. The Museum of Modern Art in New York reached out to the prime minister and minister for the environment, encouraging them to reconsider their plans for demolition.

Portraits on Pause. While it is customary for U.S. presidents to reveal their predecessor’s portrait during a ceremony where the current and former administrations mingle in the White House, President Trump announced that he will not unveil Barack and Michelle Obama’s portraits, which may not be on display until after he leaves office.

Hold Your Breath. Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” (1910) is deteriorating due to excess humidity, likely resulting from viewers breathing on the painting. In addition, the artist used a non-pure tube of yellow paint, making the painting vulnerable to excess flaking. Curators and conversationists at the Munch Museum in Oslo are working to preserve and protect the painting.

Can’t Boost the Banksy. Hospital security guards apprehended a burglar who was trying to steal a Banksy work. The piece was donated in early May by the artist and is scheduled to be auctioned off (once quarantine measures are lifted) to raise money for the UK National Health Service. The burglar entered the hospital with a cordless drill and walked past the artwork several times before guards noticed confronted him, leaving the artwork untouched. 

No Alterations. Ukranian lawmakers passed a law ratifying the Second Protocol to the Hague Convention of 1954 for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict 1999. This allows Ukraine to lobby UNESCO for assistance in protecting cultural heritage locations. The protocol has deemed it illegal to alter any culturally significant location or destroy its historical value. This is relevant in Crimea, part of Russian-occupied Ukraine, where Russian officials have begun renovations of a cultural landmark.

Not this Year. The 59th edition of the Venice Biennale, formerly scheduled for 2021, has been postponed to the following year. The international art show’s next iteration will now run for seven months, from April 23 to November 27, 2022, exemplifying the setbacks the art world will increasingly have to face due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Cute (and Risky). The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Missouri gave a guided tour to penguins from the Kansas City Zoo. The penguins even showed preferences for certain artworks and were particularly drawn to Baroque paintings. While an interesting exercise, this event does raise concerns regarding the liability the museum and its board would have faced if artworks had been damaged by the penguins.

Heavy Losses. The Art Dealers Association of America (ADAA) released a report indicating that art galleries across the U.S. expect to lose 73% of revenue during the second fiscal quarter this year. The ADAA projects that over a third of galleries worldwide will not reopen after the pandemic is over. Concurrently, new research by UNESCO and the International Council of Museums (ICOM) revealed that the pandemic forced nearly 90% of all museums worldwide to close and that 13% of museums worldwide may never reopen after the COVID-19 shutdown.

Deaccessioning Loosened. The ADAA decided not to penalize museums that take restricted income from endowment funds or donations and use it instead for general operating expenses for the next two years. Additionally, ADAA member museums may use deaccessioning funds to help maintain their current collections. 

Preparing To Reopen. ICOM also published a list of recommended measures, concluding with the suggestion that any museum unable to follow all public health measures should extend their temporary closing. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, one of the first museums to close its doors in mid-March, will not open until at least mid-August, projecting a loss of $150 million for the current and next fiscal year. 

ATHENA II/ PANDORA IV. Last month, in a massive international consorted effort to curb illicit traffic in cultural objects 101 people were arrested, 103 countries recovered looted cultural property, 300 new investigations were opened and over 19,000 artifacts seized. But who’s counting?! Good job  INTERPOL and all!

Secret stories behind works. Alice Procteron her uncomfortable art tours and the case for restitution. The art historian is ruffling feathers by uncovering stories behind works that museums are not telling the public.

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.

April 2020

Labor Law. Many in the arts industry are facing layoffs and furloughs, including employees at Sotheby’s, Mass 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.

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. 

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.

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.”

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