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.

The New York Times recently reported on a lawsuit filed in New York State Court in which the heirs of Fritz Grunbaum are citing the recently enacted Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act (known as the HEAR Act) in an effort to claim two valuable drawings by the late Austrian artist Egon Schiele.  The HEAR Act, adopted last December, has been widely praised as a necessary tool to provide the victims of Holocaust-era persecution and their heirs a fair opportunity to recover works of art confiscated or misappropriated by the Nazis during World War II.

Grunbaum’s nearly 450 piece exquisite art collection has been the center of controversy almost since the collection was confiscated from his Vienna apartment in 1938.  Over the years, Grunbaum’s heirs have argued that the collection was stolen by the Nazis.

Others, such as collectors, dealers and some museums have countered that the artwork was inventoried by the Nazis and not stolen, and that 53 of the some 81 Schiele works were legitimately sold by Grunbaum’s sister-in-law to a Swiss art dealer in 1956.  These parties are of the view that previous courts have found that the Schiele works were not stolen and that no further claims should be considered on such works.

However, the Grunbaum heirs assert that the previous claims, in the present case and others, were determined on legal technicalities, not the merit of the argument that the works were looted by the Nazis and that this is the type of case that the new law was enacted to address.

The HEAR Act creates a federal statute of limitations for such claims that is six years from the time of “actual discovery” of the whereabouts of the work.  The new law is consistent with the “spirit of two international proclamations stating that technicalities should not be employed to prevent stolen property from being returned to rightful owners.”

The two Schiele works being sought by Grunbaum’s heirs, namely, “Woman in a Black Pinafore” (1911) and “Woman Hiding Her Face” (1912), were part of the 1956 sale to the Swiss dealer.  The attorney for Grunbaum’s heirs, however, argues that the circumstances of the 1956 sales transaction were never fully investigated and that the lost works were not discovered by the heirs until they were noticed for sale at a 2015 art fair.  The two Schiele drawings are said to be valued together at about $5 million.

The Grunbaum heirs’ suit was filed in November 2015 after learning that Richard Nagy, a London art dealer and Schiele specialist, was trying to sell the two Schiele drawings at an art fair at the Park Avenue Armory earlier that same year.  Nagy has fought the claim in court by arguing that he acquired both works “in good faith and in a commercially reasonable manner” after the United States Supreme Court declined to hear the attorney for Grunbaum’s heirs appeal of an earlier case.  Nagy’s attorneys argue that prior court rulings on the Schiele works from the Grunbaum collection were based on a finding that such works had been properly conveyed in 1956.  Specifically, Nagy’s attorneys assert that the attorney for Grunbaum’s heirs was wrong to invoke the new HEAR Act because the law does not apply to cases where a final judgment has been reached.

Agnes Peresztegi, president and legal counsel of the Commission on Art Recovery, an organization founded by billionaire art collector Ronald S. Lauder, however, sides with the position of the attorney for Grunbaum’s heirs.  She indicated that the prior case was not decided on the merits, but rather on a technical issue that too much time had passed to pursue a claim.  Peresztegi “welcomes the use of the new law in deciding whether many of the Grunbaum collection’s Schieles, including the two owned by Mr. Nagy, were stolen.”

The attorney for Grunbaum’s heirs maintains a positive attitude regarding the case in which he recently indicated that “[w]e believe that the expert report and scholarship of Dr. Jonathan Petropoulos, the world’s leading expert in this field, will persuade the court that the evidence shows that Fritz Grunbaum was a victim of Nazi art looting.”

We will continue to monitor this case and will report updates on same on the Art Law blog.