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Art Law

Recent Developments in Art Litigation and Art Finance

Billionaire’s Vast Private Art Collection To Be Housed In New Paris Museum

Posted in Art Museums, Art Valuation

In recent art world news, it was reported that one of the world’s largest private art collections is to be housed in a new Paris museum in close proximity to the Louvre.  The art collector behind the enormous collection worth $1.4 billion is luxury goods billionaire, François Pinault, who also owns Christie’s auction house.

Pinault has amassed a vast collection of modern art work from various internationally renowned artists such as Mark Rothko and Damien Hirst.  The collection is presently displayed at Pinault’s private museums (i.e., Palazzo Grassi, Punta della Dogana, and the Teatrino di Palazzo Grassi) in Venice.  For decades up until now, the collector had been unable to locate a suitable home for his collection in Paris.

The new museum is near the Pompidou Centre, which is home to Europe’s largest contemporary art collection.

French businessman and France’s wealthiest man, Bernard Arnault, opened his own Frank Gehry-designed Louis Vuitton Foundation museum for his art collection in October 2014.  With Arnault’s museum opening and the recent announcement of Pinault’s new museum, the City of Light is transforming into an emerging contemporary art center.

Pinault’s new museum is expected to open in 2018 and will work in tandem with the collector’s other cultural institutions in Venice.


Metropolitan Museum of Art Facing $10 Million Deficit

Posted in Art Museums

The New York Times recently reported that the Metropolitan Museum of Art is facing a $10 million deficit and has planned a 24-month financial restructuring, which will include staff and programming reductions.


Image: Robert Wright for The New York Times

According to the museum, its current financial situation stems from several factors, including a decline in retail revenue, an increase in staff salaries, and the requirement that the museum pay $8.5 million a year in debt service on $250 million in bonds issued for capital infrastructure work.  Visitors are also paying less to visit the museum.

Museum officials expect the restructuring will restore financial stability to the institution.

Read full article here.

Public Funds Used as Reward Money for Stolen Art

Posted in Art Recovery/Theft

Law Street Media posted an interesting article questioning the FBI’s use of public funds as reward money for information about stolen art.  Recently, the FBI offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to the apprehension of the thieves who stole prints of Andy Warhol’s soup cans from the Springfield Art Museum.  The amount of the award seems high when you consider that a single print of Warhol’s soup cans sold last year for $30,660 at auction.

Food for thought.

Read the Law Street Media article here.

Long-Lost Painting Discovered In French Attic Is Declared A Caravaggio Valued At $136M

Posted in Art Authentication, Art Valuation

The New York Times recently reported on an intriguing story in which a long-lost painting by Caravaggio was discovered in an attic of a French family who had lived in their home for many generations.  The painting of “Judith Beheading Holofernes” was found by the owner of a house near Toulouse while investigating a water leak behind a locked door in the family’s attic.

Earlier this month French art dealer Eric Turquin presented the painting at his art gallery in Paris, where it will remain until there is a buyer of the work, which is estimated to be worth in excess of 120 million euros or $136 million.  After two years of research, Turquin declared that the painting was an authentic work by the Italian Renaissance master, Caravaggio.

The art work is thought to have been created in Rome around 1604 to 1605 by Michelangelo Merisi, known as Caravaggio.  Caravaggio is revered as one of the most revolutionary figures of European Art.

The attribution of the work to Carravaggio has caused a rift of sorts in the art world as some experts have publicly disputed the finding.  On the one hand, Nicola Spinosa, former director of the Capodimonte Museum in Naples and a Caravaggio expert, has public supported the authenticity of the painting in a written evaluation for Turquin.  In particular, Spinosa wrote that the decisive style of the painting “allows us to identify this as an original Caravaggio that we thought was lost until now.”  On the other hand, Mina Gregori, a Caravaggio expert, believes that the painting is a copy by Flemish artist Louis Finson.

While some of the research on the painting had been conducted at the Louvre, the museum has not reached a definitive conclusion on whether the painting is an authentic Caravaggio.  However, experts there requested that a government commission on national treasures grant the painting protected status so that further research can be conducted.  Last month the French Culture Ministry prohibited the export of the painting abroad for 30 months.

In the meantime, the art world will certainly be awaiting to hear whether the Louvre has reached a determination on the authenticity of this apparent long-lost art treasure.

Financing Public Art

Posted in Art Finance

Southwest Airlines’ Heart of the Community program, launched in 2014, has given a $200,000 creative place-making grant to Minneapolis’ Hennepin Theatre Trust.

Last year the Hennepin Theatre Trust spearheaded two mural projects: a five-story-high mural of Bob Dylan (corporate sponsor: Goldman Sachs) and a smaller pop art style mural (corporate sponsor: American Express). It continues to run the ongoing Made Here urban walking gallery project. The trust is seeking public input on how best to use the grant.

Is Ownership of Images Posted Online an “Outdated Fantasy”?

Posted in Litigation Issues, Uncategorized

Richard Prince continues to push the boundaries of copyright law, if not the art world.

In 2014 he exhibited dozens of inkjet prints on canvas–Instagram posts that the artist had commented on, then enlarged and printed out on canvas–at the Gagosian Gallery in New York City. Collector Daily‘s review lauded his appropriations, declaring that they break down “our new way of communicating” and rebuild it into a vehicle for social satire: “While we may think that the images we post online are ‘secure’ or ‘ours’ in some manner, his pictures quickly undermine that outdated fantasy.”

Others disagree. The photographer of one of the images quickly registered his copyright, complained and recently sued.

What do you think? Were Richard Prince’ s changes transformative and so a fair use? The changes were:

  • A comment on the Instagram feed featuring the photograph: “Canal Zinian de lam jam (emoji)”.
  • Cropping of the bottom and top portions of the photograph and adding elements of the Instagram graphic user interface (this happens automatically by using a cell phone screen print feature).
  • Enlarging the screen print and printing it on to a different medium (canvas).

(images are here)

Does your answer change if you review the Second Circuit’s 2013 decision finding that 25 out of 30 of his works qualified as non-infringing fair use? (Richard Prince argues “This lawsuit reflects an attempt to essentially re-litigate Cariou and should be dismissed with prejudice.”)

Do Irrevocable Trusts = Tax-Savings for Art Collectors?

Posted in Art Finance, Art Valuation

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the irrevocable trust, a common estate-planning tool, is increasingly being used by art owners as a tax-savings measure.

Here’s the gist.  An art owner gifts ownership of his or her painting or art collection to an irrevocable trust.  The painting is no longer part of the art owner’s estate, and so the value of the estate is reduced for tax purposes.

In addition, the painting is appraised at the time of the gift.  The amount of the appraised value above the $14,000 annual exemption from gift taxes will be deducted from the art owner’s lifetime combined federal gift-tax and estate-tax exemption (currently $5.45 million).   If that exemption has already been used up, the art owner will pay tax on the gift – however, this tax liability will likely be less than if the art owner keeps the painting in the estate.

Read more here.

Germany Extends Funding For Another Year To Establish Provenance Of Looted Art From Nazi Era

Posted in Art Authentication, Art Recovery/Theft

The New York Times recently reported that Germany will fund an additional year of research to establish the provenance of art works from the vast collection of the late Cornelius Gurlitt.  Gurlitt was a reclusive Munich art collector who had amassed a collection of 1,500 art works acquired by his father who was a dealer for the Nazis.

The Gurlitt task force appointed by Germany’s culture minister had been established after the collection surfaced in 2013.  After a nearly $2 million investigation over two years, it was announced by the task force earlier this year that it had identified the rightful owners of just five of the art works whose provenance was uncertain.

As time passes by with fewer survivors from the Nazi era, it has become increasingly difficult for Germany to carry out provenance research and restitution.  The passing of Mr. Gurlitt in May 2014 also complicated the task force’s restitution efforts.  In particular, there are two sides to a restitution claim in cases where there is a museum and a claimant, but there is only one side in the Gurlitt case because Mr. Gurlitt is no longer living.  As such, German researchers are tasked with the responsibility to conduct essentially flawless, but slow provenance work on the collection.

The task force completed its provenance and restitution work at the end of last year and its report was released in January of this year.  The complete report of the task force can be accessed online in German with a summary in English.

The Center for Lost Art in Magdeburg is now tasked with the responsibility for the Gurlitt collection in which a staff of 20 will be expanded, if there is a need.  The German culture minister’s total budget for provenance research is about $6.5 million, which is three times more than it was three years ago.

It has been reported that only 30 to 50 of the 1,500 art works from the Gurlitt collection were of exceptional quality and much of the remaining art works include works on paper, drawings, multiples, and prints, and are typically undocumented.

Germany’s culture minister intends to exhibit the works from the collection in Bonn sometime this year and later in Bern.

It should be noted that most museums have committed to the 1998 Washington conference principles on the identification and return of Nazi looted art, but private owners are not bound by the agreement.  Although there is a 30-year statute of limitations applied to stolen property in Germany, there is nothing binding private owners to restitution of Nazi looted art.  While Germany does have a board referred to as the Limbach Commission that mediates in controversial art restitution cases, the board can only issue recommendations.

It will be interesting to learn about the progress of the Center’s provenance research and restitution efforts over the next year.


Fixing in a Tangible Medium Can Be Quite Painful

Posted in Litigation Issues

Tattoo artists recently demanded more than $1.1M for infringing their copyrights.  Not from the tattoo-ees, basketball stars LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and others, but from the distributor of video games incorporating their inked avatars. The tattoos were “completed/published” in 2000-2006. The tattoo artists licensed them to the plaintiff in 2012. And, as is often the case, the copyrights were registered in 2015, just before the lawsuit was filed.

(See also Fox Rothschild’s earlier post on our Sports Law Scoreboard blog)