Center for Art Law

At the crossroads of visual arts and the law.

In Brief – 2021/2022

Fall 2022

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. 

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.

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. 

The Center for Art Law is a New York State non-profit fully qualified under provision 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. The Center does not provide legal representation. Information available on this website is purely for education purposes and should not be construed as legal advice.