In recent art news, Trinity Church in Lower Manhattan is being sued by a sculptor for relocating his bronze sculpture of the stump and root system of a very large sycamore tree entitled “The Trinity Root” that was formally installed on the church grounds.

In September 2005, the 18-foot-tall work was installed by sculptor Steve Tobin in the church courtyard in the same location where the original 70-year old sycamore tree stood until it was damaged and ripped out of the ground by the seismic impact of the collapse of the twin towers of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

In late 2015, the sculptor discovered that the church had relocated the sculpture to a church-owned site in Connecticut without his consent.  The sculptor had received photographs from the church showing the sculpture with “significant damage” after being told that the sculpture had arrived to the new location in good condition.

The recently filed lawsuit in the Federal District Court in Manhattan alleges that the church violated a law known as the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA) that gives visual artists rights over their works even when no longer owed by them.  The sculptor’s attorney said that the law “prohibits the removal of sculptures” created to be permanently installed at a specific site.  “This is about the solemn promise the church gave to Steve Tobin when he offered to create that sculpture” and “[h]e offered to create it if the church would give it a permanent place in the courtyard.  The church agreed.”

According to the lawsuit, after the church’s new leader was installed in 2015, he moved “to send ‘The Trinity Root’ away because he did not want non[-]parishioners and ‘hordes of strangers’ to continue to crowd the church’s courtyard.”

The church released the following statement:  “While we have no comment on this litigation, Trinity is pleased to have the sculpture at Trinity’s retreat center, where it will be among a collection of planned sites that will encourage prayerful reflection, remembrance and spiritual transformation.”

For additional information in connection with this suit, see “Fate Of The ‘Trinity Root’ 9.11 Memorial By Steve Tobin To Be Decided In Federal District Court.”

 

The US. District Court for the District of Columbia recently denied a preliminary injunction seeking the reinstallation of a controversial “anti-police” painting at the U.S Capitol complex.

David Pulphus, a student artist from Missouri’s First Congressional District, and William Lacy Clay, the congressional representative for that district, filed a lawsuit claiming that their First Amendment rights to free speech were infringed upon when the Architect of the Capitol, Stephen T. Ayers, removed Pulphus’s painting from a display of student art.

Pulphus’s painting was selected to represent Clay’s congressional district in the 2016 Congressional Art Competition, and was hung in the Cannon Tunnel in the U.S. Capitol complex in June 2016 with the other winning artwork.  The painting was removed several months later by the Architect of the Capitol (who oversees the competition), after receiving several complaints that the painting was “anti-police.”

The Court prefaced its opinion stating that “[a]lthough the Court is sympathetic to plaintiffs given the treatment afforded Pulphus’s art, under controlling authority this case involves government speech, and hence plaintiffs have no First Amendment rights at stake.”

Read the Court’s opinion here.

The “Fearless Girl” was created by sculptor Kristen Visbal and erected in Bowling Green in honor of International Women’s Day in March.  The statue has become wildly popular.  Although set to be removed next week, it will remain in place until early 2018.  However, not everyone is supportive of the artwork.

Fearless Girl Statue by Kristen Visbal New York City
Photo by Anthony Quintano, used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license (unaltered)

“Fearless Girl” defiantly faces Wall Street’s famous “Charging Bull” statue, which was created by sculptor Arturo Di Modica, who copyrighted and trademarked his creation.  Di Modica believes “Fearless Girl” subverts the meaning of his artwork, and his lawyers have accused the company that commissioned the statue of improperly commercializing D. Modica’s bull in violation of the copyright.

Read more here and here.

The New York Times recently reported that its readers are divided on the issue of whether the original intent of the artwork should be able to stand over time and how much public art is protected.  Read the article and NYT’s readers’ comments here.

 

As recently reported by ArtNews, Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, The Last Supper (1495-1498), one of the world’s most famous paintings, will be protected by an “advanced air filtration system” backed by Eataly that is expected to extend the life of the work for 500 years beginning in 2019.

To save this important piece of Italian heritage, the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism designed an air-filtration system in collaboration with top Italian research institutes (ISCR, CNR, Polytechnic Institute of Milan, and the University of Milano Bicocca).  The cutting-edge system will filter in approximately 10,000 cubic meters of clean air into the convent every day (compared to the current 3,500 cubic meters), breathing five centuries of life into The Last Supper and allowing many more visitors to admire it.”

The impetus behind the move to save The Last Supper is that the famed work is deteriorating quickly, primarily due to the “factors of time, humidity, wartime bombs, and the fact that it was once housed in a prison.”  Without taking any action to save this significant work, the masterpiece may “one day be destroyed beyond repair.”

Thanks to Eataly’s efforts to save one of the world’s greatest masterpieces, no longer will The Last Supper “disappear more each day and with each visitor’s microscopic dust.”

ArtNet news recently reported that the painting of a slumbering child painted by American illustrator Norman Rockwell (pictured below) has been returned to its rightful owners by the FBI.  The recently recovered work has been known by various titles over the years including Taking a Break, Lazybones, and Boy Asleep with Hoe.

The painting was owned by the Grant family for nearly 20 years before it was stolen in 1976.  Last year, the FBI issued a press release marking the 40th anniversary of the theft of the painting.  In response to the press release, an antiques dealer contacted the Bureau’s art crimes division to say he thought he might be in possession of the work in question. The anonymous dealer handed over the Rockwell and is not believed to have been involved in the theft or subject to any charges.

The painting sold in the 1950s for $100, but the current fair market value of the work could be as much as $1 million.

Read more here.

In recent art world news, Poland’s Museum of the Second World War, said to be the “most comprehensive public exhibition in Europe about the greatest cataclysm of the 20th century,” opened last month.  The new museum, situated in the seaside city of Gdansk, has drawn around 14,000 visitors in its first two weeks of being open.  Among those in attendance included former prisoners of German Nazi concentration camps and Soviet labor camps.

Earlier this week, Poland’s Supreme Administrative Court cleared the path for the country’s right-wing government, which came to power in 2015, to take control of the museum and merge it with a smaller, yet to be built museum that would take a more narrow focus on the conflict and provide a nationalistic perspective.  It is believed that the merger will likely result in the dismissal of the museum’s director, historian Pawel Machcewicz.

Controversy surrounding the new museum has been occurring for months, but the Polish Court’s decision this week is a strong signal that the government will get its way.  According to the country’s culture ministry, the merger is effective immediately.

Under Machcewicz’s direction, the new museum’s permanent exhibition spanning three floors offers an “expansive and international view of the conflict, focusing on the wartime experiences of civilians in Poland and Eastern Europe, which suffered from both Nazi and Soviet repression.”

The country’s right-wing government, however, argues that the new museum does not give enough focus on the Polish perspective.  Poland’s culture minister would like to absorb the museum within a planned institution dedicated to the Battle of Westerplatte, which was the first battle of the war in September 1939, when Germany began its invasion of Poland.  The institution would focus on the “Polish narrative of sacrifice and suffering, and take what skeptics see as a more nationalistic perspective.”

The museum’s permanent exhibition has received enthusiastic reviews from around the world, including from international museum experts, journalists and historians.

Although Machcewicz is uncertain what the culture ministry will do about the permanent exhibition, he expressed hope that the culture minister would keep the exhibition in its present form and “[l]et tourists from all around the world judge the exhibition first[.]”

For further information on Poland’s Museum of the Second World War and its mission and purpose, see the museum’s website.

 

U.S. Trust, Bank of America Private Wealth Management, will host a panel discussion at the JAMES A. MICHENER ART MUSEUM in Doylestown, PA on “Effectively Managing A Fine Art Collection” on May 17, 2017 from 5:30 P.M. to 7:30 P.M.

The panel will be hosted by ERIC J. ABEL, Private Client Advisor at U.S. Trust and feature EVAN BEARD, National Art Services Executive, U.S. Trust; RAMSAY H. SLUGG, National Wealth Planning Strategist, U.S. Trust; and CINDY CHARLESTON-ROSENBERG, Founder and President, Art Appraisal Firm, LLC. The panelists will provide updates on trends in the art industry, the importance of appraisals and proper planning for collections, and how to address issues related to conservation and restoration of fine art.

The event is by invitation only. Interested parties should contact Eric Abel at 610-567-4735 or at eric.abel@ustrust.com.

The James A. Michener Art Museum is located at 138 South Pine Street, Doylestown, PA 18901. This event is a great opportunity to learn about art connoisseurship while enjoying the Michener Art Museum and its wonderful collection of Bucks County gems.

In recent art news, longtime collaborators and respected art scholars, Emma C. Bunker and Douglas A. J. Latchford, who had become authorities on Southeast Asian antiquities in which their approval could virtually guarantee an ancient object’s value and legitimacy, have become entangled in a criminal lawsuit filed by the Manhattan district attorney last December in New York as “Co-Conspirator No. 1” and “Co-Conspirator No. 2.”  Although neither expert has been charged and neither is named in the complaint, it was reported that people familiar with the case have confirmed their identities.

The collaborators and longtime friends authored three seminal volumes, namely, “Adoration and Glory:  The Golden Age of Khmer Art,” “Khmer Gold” and “Khmer Bronzes,” which are regarded as core reference works for other experts.

The complaint alleges that “over a period of years the co-conspirators and others helped a prominent New York gallery owner, Nancy Wiener, falsify the documentary history of looted Cambodian relics, making them easier to market.”  A federal agent said in the complaint that “[m]isrepresenting the true provenance of an antiquity is essential for selling stolen items in the market.”

In the criminal suit, Wiener, who has pleaded not guilty, is accused of using her business “to buy, smuggle, launder and sell millions of dollars worth of antiquities stolen from Afghanistan, Cambodia, China, India, Pakistan and Thailand.”

While the accusations in this case are hardly new in the history of art fraud, experts comment that this case

highlights the vulnerabilities of the art world, where authenticity and ownership disputes are common and where scholarship, and the people who can wield it, often provide the imprimatur that dealers need to close sales.”

Neither Bunker nor Latchford have responded to news media requests for an interview.  However, Latchford has denied any wrongdoing in previous interviews and defended his collecting practices as the “norm for an era when far less rigor was attached to provenance and sales documents.”

For additional information regarding this intriguing case, see “Expert Opinion or Elaborate Ruse?  Scrutiny for Scholars’ Role in Art Sales,” published online by the New York Times on March 30, 2017.

 

In recent art news, the New York Times ran a story on this week’s opening of the “Mummies” exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.  In the exhibition, more than a dozen specimens are on display, some of which have not been on public view in more than 100 years since the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.  The new exhibition explores how and why two ancient civilizations, ancient Egypt and pre-Columbian Peru, separated by a distance of about 7,500 miles, practiced mummification.

One of the mummies known as Mummy No. 30007 or the “Gilded Lady” did not assume her name by accident – her coffin is intricately decorated with linen, has a golden headdress and facial features, and possesses an air of divinity.

She’s so well preserved that she looks exactly how the people of her time hoped she would appear for eternity.”  To modern scientists, however, it is what they do not see that is just as intriguing, that is “[w]ho was this ancient woman, and what did she look like when she was alive?”

The icon of today’s mummy investigations is the CT scanner, which provides archaeologists with an inside view of the millenniums-old specimens without damaging them.  This is in stark contrast to just a century ago when scientists would typically unwrap their finds or specimens often harming them in the process.

The Gilded Lady was never unwrapped as archaeologists instead used state of the art CT scanning to create a 3-D print of her skull that helped a forensic artist with the reconstruction of her features.  Scientists were even able to determine her potential cause of death from tuberculosis about 2,000 years ago, and age (in her 40s) dating back to Roman-era Egypt.

The exhibition was organized by David Hurst Thomas, curator of North American archaeology, and John J. Flynn, a curator of fossil mammals, both at the American Museum of Natural History.  The exhibition is scheduled to run through January 7, 2018.

For an overview of the exhibition, see “Unraveling the Mystery of Who Lies Beneath the Cloth” published by the New York Times on March 23, 2017 and the American Museum of Natural History website.

 

In recent art news, the Frick Collection is among a distinguished group of art institutions around the world that is taking its antiquated system of photography archives and digitizing it such that the photography archives are part of a “mega-size, searchable scholarly database and web portal that will eventually hold 22 million images, 17 million of them artworks and the rest supplemental material.”

This collaborative effort of the participating art institutions is known as Pharos, which is an international consortium of fourteen European and North American art historical photo archives committed to creating a digital research platform allowing for comprehensive consolidated access to photo archive images and their associated scholarly documentation.”

Although Pharos’ intended audience is art historians, anyone will be able to use it.  It is anticipated that Pharos could have broad implications for genealogical research and art restitution as well as other unforeseen applications.  Pharos provides many advantages in that users will be able to “search the restoration history of the works, including different states of the same piece over time . . . ; past ownership; and even background on related works that have been lost or destroyed.”

As the Pharos consortium is committed to scholarly depth, it is currently working on image-recognition technology so that there will be no language barriers from the scholars’ searches.

For further information and recent developments of the Pharos consortium, visit the Pharos website.