Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Reuniting J.M.W. Turner's bequest: the search for justice continues

Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, J.M.W. Turner (1823).
Oil on canvas. Tate Gallery, London
LONDON. When J.M.W. Turner died in 1851, he bequeathed "about 300 paintings and 30,000 drawings as well as a large sum of money" to the nation of Great Britain on two conditions: (i) that the works be displayed in a "Turner Gallery" at the National Gallery in London and (ii) that the money be used "for the foundation of an almshouse for elderly artists in the South London suburb of Twickenham." However, after the artist's death, his descendants were successful in challenging his will on the grounds of the absurd "Mortmain law" of 1736 and, despite the House of Lords' Select Committee holding in 1861 that the conditions had to be fulfilled, Turner's wishes have never been met.

The concept of donor intent is riddled with problems, the most notable being the issue of courts having to decipher -- invariably many decades after the donation was made -- what the donor's intent was, and, assuming a court is able to come up with a formulation, whether or not the intent can in fact be fulfilled. Then, of course, there are the public policy concerns related to limiting the scope of a person's right to tie-up property (personal or real) from their grave balanced against the need to incentivize charitable donations. Setting aside my own misgivings about the notion of "donor intent", why it is that the Select Committee's decision of 1861 -- the highest court in England and Wales -- was and continues to be ignored is uncertain and wholly unsatisfactory. It would appear that the artist's intent was pretty clear (the Royal Academy arguing otherwise) and there has been no attempt whatsoever to honor it even though this would still be possible today with respect to the artworks and the underlying reason for the condition (not that this should really matter, legally-speaking at least) was precisely to display the paintings in a cohesive manner for the very benefit of the recipients of the Turner Bequest.

Today Ray Turner (descendent of the artist) and Selby Whittingham (Turner scholar and founder of the Turner Foundation) continue the quest for justice on behalf of the late artist. Next they will meet with the House of Lords' All-Party Arts & Heritage Group to discuss the 1861 Select Committee decision. I personally agree with Whittingham in that "[Turner's] bequested pictures would gain a lot in coherence and interest if shown together" and Turner being one of my favorite painters of all time, I very much hope a "Turner Gallery" is opened one day soon, whether at the National Gallery or another museum.

Monday, November 14, 2011


  • BENTONVILLE, ARKANSAS. Alice Walton’s long-awaited Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art finally opened its doors to the public on Friday. The museum is "endowed with $800 million from the Walton Family Foundation" -- much to the dismay of the disenfranchised Wal-Mart employees who are teaming up with Occupy Wall Street to protest the construction of the museum -- and admission will be free. The collection is said to be "far from comprehensive" with American impressionism in particular needing "beefing up." You may recall that last year the Chancery Court for the State of Tennessee rejected (twice) the deal struck between Fisk University and Walton to share the Stieglitz Collection because it did not "closely approximate" O'Keeffe's intent for making the charitable gift. The college and the museum did, however, come up with a ("donor-friendly," of course) arrangement "whereby the two institutions will host the collection in alternate years."
  • NEW YORK. For those not able to make their way to Bentonville, the "fiercely political" Diego Rivera exhibition opened at MOMA today. The highlight of this "small, jewel-box exhibition" are the five portable murals created by Rivera for his retrospective at MOMA in 1931 are reunited in the exhibition.
  • FRANCE. Remember the story about Picasso's electrician being charged with stealing 271 never-before-seen works by the artist? Artinfo has now reported that the Calder Foundation is accusing a "retired French fabricator of forging the artist's mobiles." In light of the unfortunate incident back in 1999, let's hope they don't destroy the nine mobiles until they've been conclusively proven to be fakes (though it's also not the first time a fabricator is accused of ).
  • LONDON. The hunt for missing government art continues in London. I suppose the fact that the department responsible for maintaining proper records had "woefully inadequate" funding would likely absolve it and the government of any legal liability for lost art. "Outrageous news" nonetheless.
I'll be posting on last week's contemporary sales in New York in a couple of days but for now, I leave you with an excellent op piece in The Art Newspaper about the art buyers of tomorrow and how "of all the forces that will affect the [art] market, demographic change is probably the most important."

    Sunday, November 13, 2011

    NYCLA 4th Annual Art Litigation and Dispute Resolution Institute

    NEW YORK. Next Friday, November 18 the New York County Lawyers' Association (the "NYCLA") will host the 4th Annual Art Litigation and Dispute Resolution Institute. The day-long event promises to be an unrivalled opportunity for lawyers and non-lawyers to discuss some of the most pertinent legal issues affecting the art world today. The experts attending include Lawrence M. Kaye (of Herrick, Feinstein), Judith Bresler (of Withers Worldwide and co-author of the art law treatise, "Art Law: The Guide for Collectors, Investors, Dealers and Artists" (3rd ed.)), Sandra Cobden (SVP and General Counsel of Christie's and adjunct professor at Cardozo Law School) and Andrea Crane (curator at Gagosian Gallery). One of the highlights no doubt will be the unique opportunity to examine recent litigation involving works by the artist Kazimir Malevich as the event brings together some of the key people tied to the Russian modernist artist today: Lawrence Kaye represented the heirs of the artist in their litigation against the City of Amsterdam (as well as MOMA and Harvard University) to reclaim artworks by their ancestor (he is also the current Secretary of the Malevich Society); Andrea Crane curated the exhibition "Malevich and the American Legacy" at Gagosian Gallery earlier this year and Clemens Toussaint is the current Treasurer of the Malevich Society.

    To enroll, click here. NYCLA members get a discounted rate.

    Saturday, November 12, 2011

    Jodi Endicott: art for our "tumultuous times"

    HAWAII. The worlds of art and finance have been inextricably linked since the ancient world though the phenomenon is most strongly associated with the golden age of art patronage in pre-modern medieval and Renaissance Europe. Wealthy royals, aristocrats and merchants not only financed the arts but also played an important role in shaping the form and subject matter of the art they sponsored. Fast forward several centuries and the seemingly polar opposite worlds of art and finance continue to inform each other -- though with the recent explosion of prices for blue-chip works, the rise of art funds and art securitization, the establishment of two art exchanges and the use of art as collateral for finance, it is the financial market that is mostly impacting the art market rather than vice versa.

    Following several posts concerning art finance and in light of the ongoing "Occupy Wall Street" protests, it seemed only fitting to publish the works of the artist Jodi Endicott whose "Stock Market Series" was inspired by the bear and bull markets of downtown Manhattan. Here are some of my personal favorites among the series and some brief words from the artist herself.

    "In 1996, the year I received an MFA, my artwork and the financial world merged. I saw the stock market as a metaphor for life's universal emotions - those of faith, hope, despair and greed. As a result, I began to pain the symbols of the market... the bears, the bulls, the traders." (Jodi Endicott)

    "Bear and Bull 2011" (mixed media work of found objects recently exhibited at ArtPrize in Grand Rapids).  

    "When you look at this painting, several things may resonate such as how the universal emotions in the market mimic those in life. How the bear and bull, good and bad, ying and yang are all about finding balance. And how much depends on whether one sees the glass half-empty or half-full."

    "Eventually my art work took a completely different turn; a direction that I thought was unrelated to the stock market. I created a series of highly-energetic and emotive water paintings, only to later realize that these paintings captured the market's tumultuous movements prior to the impending crash. First convergence. Finally the downturn impacted the world."

    "The World"

    " The Color of Money"

    "I have seen how the market can separate and encompass us...
    just as the oceans that surround us are in constant change."

    "The Scream"

    To find out more about the artist, check out "The Creativity Salon" as this week they visit Jodi at her studio in O'ahu to offer "a glimpse into the life of a well-known working artist." The interview discusses questions such as how does an artist know when a work is finished and what is the intersection between art and commentary.

    Sunday, November 06, 2011

    Who owns Henry Moore's "Knife Edge Two Piece"?

    LONDON. In 1967, Henry Moore and the Contemporary Art Society donated Knife Edge Two Piece (1962-65) to the United Kingdom. The bronze sculpture has since stood directly opposite the Houses of Parliament, admired by millions either in person or through its televised appearances in the background of news programs and becoming somewhat of a national emblem. However, the work is "badly discloured and covered with incised graffiti" and because to date it has not been possible to establish its legal owner, no one will assume responsibility for the restoration of the work. Another unfortunate consequence of this apparent legal loophole is the inability of the British Council to loan Knife Edge Two Piece for display in international exhibitions such as the Moore retrospective at the Kremlin in Moscow. According to The Art Newspaper, the British Council could not determine to whom the loan request should be addressed "though it now seems that there might have been no legal impediment to prevent the Council from simply sending the sculpture to Russia." The trade publication meticulously followed the "paper trail" in an attempt to reveal who owned the sculpture but to no avail.

    At this point, it's imperative that legal advice be sought (question is, by whom) to put this matter to rest and restore the work to its intended state. But could it be the case that no one in fact owns the work? When a person owns property, whether real or personal, his/her testament or, if the person dies intestate, the relevant jurisdiction's intestacy laws (the Intestacy Rules in England and Wales), establish who the successor owner is or owners are. Yet when it's a non-human legal person that owns property, the situation is arguably quite different. Perhaps the Crown is the residuary taker as under intestacy though that likely wouldn't solve the question of which public body is ultimately responsible. Despite Moore's seemingly erroneous recordation of the City of London as the owner of the gifted sculpture, much of the evidence points to the City of Westminster as being the recipient and caretaker of the work: "both the Contemporary Art Society and the Henry Moore Foundation said that their records showed that it is owned by the City of Westminster (which is recorded in the official Moore catalogue raisonnĂ©)" and Abingdon Street Gardens -- where the work has stood since 1967 -- are owned by the City of Westminster. Why it is that Westminster Council refuted ownership is unclear but surely that must be the starting point of the next forensic expedition to establish who owns Knife Edge Two Piece.