Friday, February 25, 2011

"The Getty will get its Turner"

Modern Rome -- Campo Vaccino, J.M.W. Turner (1839)
Last year, the Getty Museum bought the Turner "Modern Rome" at auction for £29.7m (setting a new record for the artist which was not surprising given the work had only come to market once in its 171 history and experts considered it to be Turner's finest landscape of an Italian city). The painting had resided on loan in the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh since 1978 before being transferred to Sotheby's in London for the auction. However, following the sale, its export to LA was delayed in an attempt to find a UK buyer able to match the hefty price tag and prevent the national loss, a practise previously discussed on this blog (see here and here).

No buyer was found and the export license was finally granted earlier this month with the Getty now preparing to celebrate the arrival of its "new pride and joy," due to go on display March 8. But is it ok for the Getty to "celebrate"? Donn Zaretsky has posted on the hypocrisy of "celebrating" a foreign museum's loss while fiercely opposing deaccessioning by national institutions such as Fisk University or the University of Iowa (the former resulting in extensive and ongoing litigation over the fate of the Stieglitz Collection and the latter almost succeeding in the enactment of legislation to create an endowment fund for as many as 1,000 student scholarships to avoid having to sell the Pollock "Mural"). While I fully agree that the anti-deaccessioning police's stance is often ridden with double standards and contradictory arguments, in this case I don't think that their failure to denounce the ethics of the Getty's acquisition is hypocritical because the painting was only on loan at the National Galleries. In other words, no deaccessioning took place -- it was offered for sale by a private, not a public, seller: a descendant of the 5th Earl of Rosebery. So for once it seems we can all celebrate in unison without raising any eyebrows.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


Art Meets Law will be back in two weeks due to conflicting work commitments. Stay tuned!

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Russia retaliates

MOSCOW/WASHINGTON D.C. The Chabad organization (based in Brooklyn, New York) has for decades sought the restitution of the Schneerson Library, "a collection of 12,000 books and 50,000 religious documents assembled by the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement over two centuries prior to World War II, and kept since in Russia." The New York Times reports that just before the collapse of the Soviet Union, a court in Moscow ordered the return of the artifacts to the organization but the judgment was subsequently set-aside by Russian authorities. The District Court for the District of Columbia then ordered Russia to repatriate the collection in July 2010 but Russia took no part in the proceedings and contested the court's jurisdiction to adjudicate a claim based on "Russian" assets, located in Russia (I suspect the court's jurisdiction was grounded in the "expropriation exception" under the FSIA - cf the Pisarro claim on the jurisdictional question). Russia retaliated by putting pressure on state-run museums in the country (including the Hermitage and the Pushkin) to cancel scheduled loans to US museums alleging that the loaned works could be seized in the US to compel compliance with the Schneerson judgment. American diplomats insisted that was not the case and I believe that's a correct statement of the law - the loaned works would be immune from seizure under the FSIA and since title over these works is not contested, I don't think they could be attached. Nevertheless, the scheduled loans have been canceled as a result of the fallout which will now be noticeably felt in the US this year as several blockbuster shows miss out on promised loaned works.

Friday, February 04, 2011

"All bark, no bite"

SAN FRANCISCO. The New York Times has reported that Jeff Koons LLC and Park Life gallery have reached a settlement in the dispute regarding the alleged infringement of the artist's intellectual property rights by the gallery's sales of balloon dog bookends (see here for background). The artist agreed not to "pursue" the claim if the gallery didn't tie the bookends to Koons in any way, which they had not done nor had any intention of doing. As a result of the deal, the gallery will file to dismiss the declaratory judgment suit sought in federal court. The Canadian manufacturer of the bookends, Imm-Living, received a similar letter stating the artist was dropping any intellectual claims if the bookends didn't "try to tie Koons to the bookends." Done, said the bookend maker, provided they received a letter confirming that the settlement was final.