At the crossroads of visual arts and the law.

In Brief

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.

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.

November 2018

AI art, Ai Weiwei price. The first auction of an artwork made through Artificial Intelligence ended with a hammer price more than 400% the estimated price. Stay tuned for an article on the blog!

Buon compleanno. Twenty artifacts recovered by US authorities will be returned to Italy, after the two countries cooperated to seize them. This marks 15 years of cooperation between Italy and the United States in fighting art crime.

Swedish exit. The Swedish Crown Jewels were stolen and returned thanks to an anonymous tip off, leading the police to find them a garbage bag. “Two men escaped from the crime scene on bicycles before taking off on jet skies into Stockholm’s archipelago, leaving in dramatic style with the priceless set of royal jewels.”

No comment. President Donald Trump appointed Mary Anne Carter as the new Chair of the National Endowment for Arts. While Mrs. Carter was holding the post as an interim Chair since June 2018, as opposed to all her predecessors, she has little to none background in the arts.

Art is the cure. Doctors in Canada will start prescribing trips to the museum, as a cure to depression, diabetes or even chronic illnesses.

Pumpkin Season. The Gulbenkian family, one of the biggest names in the art market, is currently being sued before the High Court in London over the claim that they received almost $1.4 million for a Yayoi Kusama sculpture that never materialized.

Dark and Starry. Secret Vincent Van Gogh’s sketches for “Starry Night” subsist in a secret Russian storage facility, the location of which is only known by the government. “Yet one more victim of the Second World War,” say art historians.

After Silence Censorship. It seems that Bal Harbour’s (pop. 2513) Mayor is concerned about public display of two photographs and references to adult magazine in a Florida art exhibition. Pacifico Silano, a New York photographer, was invited to showcase his works in the Unscripted Bal Harbourexhibition for the benefit of that sea-side community. The ‘offensive’ images reportedly come from the gay pornography collection of the former and now deceased Whitney curator Richard Marshall. The future of swimming suits and nude beaches is in limbo in Bar Harbour.

Twice-looted, finally returned. A year after the seizure of a Persian artefact from the TEFAF New York fair, the London-based dealer finally returns the twice-looted work to Iran by New York Supreme Court orders. More on twice-looted art on the blog!

My downstairs Nazi neighbor. The search for a looted Schiele in Vienna revealed that its owner, Elsa Koditschek, of Jewish faith during WWII, lived under the same roof as German officials, and recounted her story in letters found in a relative’s basement. She explains how she spied on the SS officer, how her painting was expropriated from her, and how she escaped deportation.

Cultural troubles. The Met‘s new exhibition “Art of Native America: the Charles and Valerie Diker Collection” is getting negative publicity for failure to consult with the Native American tribes regarding the objects it displayed.

No (Fair) Use for Koons. Jeff Koons lost before the Paris lower court, where he was defending against a claim of plagiarizing brought by the fashion brand Naf Naf for his “Fait d’Hiver” (1988) sculpture. Artist’s company, along with the Centre Pompidou which exhibited his work, are ordered to pay 135.000 euros in damages to the creative director of the advertising campaign which “inspired” Koons’ work. This comes at a time where the government announced that his “Bouquet of Tulips” will be installed in front of the Petit Palais, following public outcry, as it is perceived as a controversial homage to the victims of the 2015 and 2016 attacks.

Spilling the ink. A 17th-century painting, “A Scholar Sharpening His Quill,” by Salomon Koninck was looted from Nazi-occupied France and taken to Adolf Hitler’s personal headquarters in Munich. It resurfaced in 2017 when a Chilean art dealer tried to sell it through Christie’s in New York. The FBI seized the painting,but a court order is required to return it to the original owner’s family.

The elusive Degas. The heirs of Parisian art dealer Paul Rosenberg have been working to reconstitute his collection, which was dispersed during WWII. Although they know its location, one of them in impossible to retrieve, as the owners of “Portrait of Mlle. Gabrielle Diot” (1890) refuse to cooperate. But the Rosenberg are not keen on pursuing the matter in court because “German law is not restitution-friendly.”

October 2018

Banksy Strikes Again. Banksy’s “Love is in the Bin” formerly known as “Girl with a Balloon” piece sold at Sotheby’s auction only to be shredded inside its frame in front of the crowd’s eyes seconds later. He broadcasted the event on his Instagram account, which only leaves one wondering: was Banksy at the event to preform this stunt? Was the auction house in on it? Will the value of the piece now increase?

Paris Ruled. The Paris court of appeals confirmed the restitution of Camille Pissarro’s “Peas Harvest” (1887) to the heirs of Simon Bauer, a Jewish dealer who escaped Nazi-occupied Paris, leaving behind a sumptuous collection. Its blurry provenance reveal that it was acquired at auction by an American couple, who lent the piece to a Parisian museum in 2017. The restitution order comes as a final blow against pre-Washington bona fide  purchasers. See also our article investigating into the painting’s blurry provenance.

Typical Koons. Jeff Koons is once again under fire of copyright infringement for his use another’s images and symbols. This time, the suit concerns his “Fair D’Hiver” sculpture, which is essentially a 3D creation of the advertisement ran by French clothing company Naf Naf in the 1980’s. Is this the harmless age-old cycle of artists getting inspiration from previous genius, or is it illegal stealing of intellectual property? The French lower court is expected to rule on November 8.

From Guggenheim to FlechtheimGerman Expressionist painting “Artillerymen” (1915) by Ernest Ludwig is returned to the heirs of persecuted German Jewish art dealer Alfred Flechtheim. This is accomplished through the efforts of the Guggenheim foundation and is just one of many works the heirs are seeking reclamation for.

Art Goes on Birthright. Restitution of Nazi looted art goes on exhibit as the collection of Hitler’s art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt is brought to Israel through a bilateral agreement between Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel and German Culture Minister Monika Grütters. Although there are approximately 1,500 works in the collection, only four Jewish owners of the works have been identified so far.

September 2018

Deli-cious News. Sylvie Sulitzer, the owner of a delicatessen shop in the south of France and heir of French art collector and maquisard Alfred Weinberger, was finally reunited with her great grandfather’s looted Renoir, “Two Women in a Garden” (1919). The ceremony took place in New York, and symbolizes the cooperation between France and US law enforcement.

Return to Sender. The Metropolitan Museum of Art will be returning two Indian sculptures, which were donated in 2015, as it turns out that they had been extracted from an Indian archeological site. This is part of the Met’s provenance and collaboration efforts to restitute pieces which do not belong in an American museum.

Failed Promise. Before Barney Ebsworth died last April, the art collector and “travel magnate” promised to donate “Chop Suey” (1929), one of Edward Hopper’s most famous paintings, to the Seattle Art Museum. But today the piece is scheduled to be sold at auction, despite the museums’s attempts to stop the sale. Binding promise or gratuitous gift?

Love and Hate. The estate of pop artist Robert Indiana is facing two lawsuits, involving Jamie Thomas, the artist’s former caretaker, and the Morgan Art Foundation (“MAF”) which owns the artist’s intellectual property.

Andra Goda Nyheter.* The Swedish museum Moderna Museet returned a painting by Oskar Kokoschka to the heirs of Alfred Flechtheim, a Jewish art dealer who had to flee Nazi Germany in 1933. To further their restitution efforts, the museum submitted a proposal to the government for the appointment of an advisory panel dedicated to keeping with the museum’s commitments under the Washington Principles. *Swedish for “another great news.”

Spring 2018

German Justice: Good News Bad News In 2013, German police seized 1,800 paintings from art collector Itzhak Zarug, alleging claims of forgery and involvement in an international art forgery ring. Following an investigation by German police and over ten experts, all but three paintings have been declared authentic and returned to Zarug. However, while Zarug was cleared of the main charges, he was sentenced to almost three years of time already served for falsifying the provenance of certain paintings and selling a forgery, together with his business partner Moez Ben Hazaz. They were also ordered to pay €1 million in damages from the sale of forged pieces.

You Might Want to Sit Down for This  New York State judge denied a motion by the Nahmad family to dismiss a case concerning Modigliani’s “Seated Man with a Cane.” The piece was purchased from Christie’s in 1996, but while consigned to Sotheby’s more recently the possibility was raised that it was looted during the Holocaust. In 2014 Artlyst reported that the painting “was allegedly stolen by the Nazis from Oscar Stettiner, a prominent Paris gallerist” after he escaped Paris in 1939. The Nahmad family has previously denied connection to the paintings, but this has since been disproven.

New Efforts to Protect Cultural Heritage in MENA A few countries in the Middle East and North Africa have been considering new laws and enforcement efforts to protect their heritage. Egypt is debating a bill that would increase penalties for “illegally excavating, stealing, damaging or smuggling” artifacts, according to Arab Weekly. The bill would also replace an existing law that “allows individuals to maintain possession of antiquities they obtained through inheritance”. In Morocco, meanwhile, Morocco World News reported that the Ministry of Culture is promoting a recent decree that designated the important archaeological site of Jebel Irhoud “as an official national heritage site”, as well as a draft decree that seeks to add a variety of other sites to the country’s national heritage list. Finally, the Department of Antiquities in Jordan is poised to create a new unit that will combat antiquities smuggling. The division’s responsibilities, according to Jordan Times, will include “organising archaeological excavations, documenting and registering antiquities…, operating ticket offices at sites and museums”, and “issuing licences for local and international scientific institutions and archaeological missions”.

Another Guilty Art Dealer Early this month art dealer Ezra Chowaiki pled guilty to a count of wire fraud and was ordered to forfeit over $16 million dollars, as well as works of art by Picasso, Chagall, Degas, and many others. In December 2017, Chowaiki was charged not only with wire fraud, but also with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and interstate transport of stolen goods. He was accused of defrauding clients in a variety of ways: selling shares in art he didn’t own, overselling shares, and refusing to return work on consignment. He also owed Sotheby’s almost $3 million for a painting that sold for less than expected.

I Know Him Recent reports by artnet and The Art Newspaper inquire whether the House Financial Services Committee may be working on new legislation that would add art and antiquities dealers to the types of institutions regulated by the Bank Secrecy Act. A memo (seen by @itsartlaw and artnet) sent out by the firm of Pearlstein, McCullough & Lederman states that this would “require dealers to establish Bank Secrecy Act compliance programs and customer due diligence and monitoring programs”, “screen for potential problems or clients against a list generated by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)”, and establish “anti-money laundering programs…suspicious activity monitoring programs and reporting processes”. These types of measures are generally referred to as “Know Your Client” (KYC) and aim to prevent money laundering. Any proposed regulations are bound to controversial: an opinion piece in artnet already argues that they would be detrimental for many smaller galleries struggling to stay afloat. That can’t be… fake news?

News in Art ADR Founded by the Netherlands Arbitration Institute in partnership with the nonprofit organization Authentication in Art, the Court of Arbitration for Art (CAA) will be devoted to the variety of art disputes and will launch in June 2018. William Charron, partner with Pryor Cashman, originally conceived of the CAA, having observed how “traditional litigation in art law disputes can be unnecessarily lengthy and costly, and in the end can yield uncertain results that the market simply will not accept”, particularly when it comes to authenticity disputes. He also explained that the point of the CAA is to try to “’flatten the learning curve’ in these – and similar – kinds of cases by having experienced art lawyers be the deciders.” Among the new rules for the CAA are a few key provisions: the default is to have three arbitrators, experts will be appointed by the tribunal itself for “issues of forensic science or…provenance”, and decisions will be made public while maintaining appropriate confidentiality.

Winter 2018

Malaysian Corruption Case Settlement In a postscript to our story Rights: Investigating and Prosecuting Kleptocracy in Malaysia, Red Granite, the film production company founded by Riza Aziz, the stepson of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, will pay the U.S. Government a settlement fee of $60 million. This payment will put to rest allegations that it used funds money diverted from Malaysia’s state owned fund, 1 Malaysia Development Berhad, or 1MDB. (KM)

Police Recover 2,200-Year-Old Crown and Other Artifacts from Smugglers in Istanbul Police in Istanbul have successfully carried out an anti-smuggling operation against a group that was attempted to sell a 2,200-year-old gold crown and other Hellenistic gold artifacts. Police members posed as potential buyers and arranged to meet the smugglers at a hotel, where they then carried out the operation. It is suspected that the artifacts were illegally excavated from the tomb of a “prominent military officer, king or a queen” in Turkey’s Thrace region. 

Comments welcomed

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: