Notre Dame de Paris & More Art World Headlines

Wilson Elser

Wilson Elser

The following are summaries of news reports (hyperlinked below) pertaining to art law and art markets, separated by geographic regions for your browsing convenience. Wilson Elser’s Art Law practice team will continue this service via our new Art Law Perspectives blog, due to launch in the near future.


Notre Dame De Paris in Flames
The world watched in horror on April 15 as Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral, built in the 13th century, suffered a devastating fire. The cathedral, one of the world’s greatest historical and architectural treasures, has been plagued by the need for repairs not just in recent years but at least since the time of Victor Hugo. Prominent collectors and institutions have pledged funds for the reconstruction of the cathedral.


Who Is the Author of AI Art?
“Neural network software” analyzes images uploaded by users and generates new images. Users can manipulate the settings to produce complex imagery that recently has been the subject of gallery shows, media coverage and art auctions. As the profile of this new medium is raised, so too are questions about authorship and ownership.

Native American Art Museum Seeks New Owner for Its Building
Founded in 1914 by Charles Fletcher Lumis, The Southwest Museum in Los Angeles, home to a vast collection of Native American art and artifacts, is actively searching for a new owner to renovate its building and grounds. The museum’s historic landmark facility is outdated and requires millions of dollars in upgrades to meet present-day standards. The museum would welcome proposals with a focus on public programming and educational opportunities.

Judge Strikes Down Oklahoma Native American Art Law as Overly Restrictive
Federal Judge Charles Goodwin, Western District of Oklahoma, ruled that the Oklahoma Indian Arts and Crafts Sales Act is unconstitutional because it defines the term “Native American” more narrowly than federal law. Oklahoma’s statute was originally passed in 1974, but was amended in 2016 to require an artist to be a member of a federally recognized tribe for his or her artwork to be considered “Native American.” According to the court, federal law allows art to be marketed as “Native American” even if the tribe is not federally recognized so long as it is recognized at the state level.

New Arts Space Opens in New York, Moving Walls and Removing Barriers
The Shed, a new nonprofit cultural facility, opened in New York’s Hudson Yards in April 2019. The building features a moveable shell that can be rolled out onto an outdoor plaza. The Shed’s mission is to commission, develop and present works of visual and performing arts and popular culture while minimizing social and economic barriers of access to art: 10 percent of the tickets for each performance are available to low-income families for $10.

Anti−Money Laundering Regulation of the Art Market: Will U.S. Follow the EU’s Example?
Last year, U.S. lawmakers proposed legislation that will add scrutiny and impose regulatory oversight on art dealers and purchasers. The legislation is meant to prevent money laundering, terrorism and fraud. However, experts disagree on the extent to which art transactions contribute to those issues. Art dealers worry that the administrative burden will have a chilling effect on the art market. Commentators expect that the bill will be reintroduced in the United States this year following the adoption of the Fifth Money Laundering Directive by the EU.

Bipartisan Bills Introduced to Create a National Women’s History Museum
Two separate bipartisan bills, both called the “Smithsonian American Women’s History Museum Act,” were introduced in Congress in an effort to commission a new Smithsonian museum dedicated to women’s history. The push to establish the museum dates back to 1996. Despite bipartisan support, financial obstacles remain.

Anna Delvey on Trial for Fraud in Connection with Proposed Art Foundation
During the criminal trial of alleged con artist Anna Sorokin, aka Anna Delvey, the prosecution introduced testimony from bank executives that Sorokin lied about her net worth as part of a scheme to secure tens of millions of dollars in loans for the creation of the Anna Delvey Art Foundation. Ms. Sorokin is facing up to 15 years if convicted.

Museum Stricken from Art Patron’s Will Sues Heir
A Portland, Maine art collector and patron, Eleanor Potter, removed the Portland Museum of Art as the primary beneficiary of her estate just months before her death in 2015. The museum is now suing her caretaker, to whom Ms. Potter bequeathed the majority of her $2 million estate, alleging “elder abuse.” The trial is scheduled for July 2019.

Lawmaker Introduced Bill to Cut Funding for Art in U.S. Embassies
In the wake of the State Department’s purchase of a sculpture during the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, Representative Tim Burchett (R-TN 2nd District) introduced a bill titled the “No Art in Embassies Act” to prevent the use of government funds “for the purchase, installation, insurance, or transport of any art for the purposes of installation or display in any embassy, consulate, or other foreign mission of the United States.” The Art in Embassies program dates back to 1953 and is intended to “advance cultural diplomacy through artist exchanges and the presentation of works by outstanding American and international artists to audiences around the world.”

Activists Call for the Removal of Warren Kanders from the Whitney’s Board
Art scholars, critics and historians signed a petition seeking the removal of Warren Kanders, the Whitney Museum’s vice chair and chief executive of Safariland, a company that produces weapons for the police and military, including tear gas used at the U.S. southern border to keep order. The basis of the petition is to allow for “a deep, and long-overdue conversation about artwashing, the role of private funding in the cultural sphere, and the accountability of institutions to the communities they claim to serve.”

FBI’s Art Crime Team Needs Help Repatriating Native American Artworks
After raiding a prominent collector’s property in 2014, the FBI’s art crime team is now seeking help to return thousands of objects, works of art and Native American human remains. The collector, Don Miller, who worked on the Manhattan Project, also conducted amateur archaeological digs, the legality of which was questionable, according to the FBI. To date, only about 12 percent of the 8,000 items have been returned, a process complicated by the diversity of the works and the need for multiple experts to identify them.

Athena Art Finance Under New Ownership
Athena Art Finance, an art-based lending company, was purchased by YieldStreet, a start-up specializing in alternative investments. The sale comes as other players in the art finance sector recently have consolidated.

A Black Hole Photographed for the First Time
A team of more than 200 researchers, working together for 10+ years, collected data from eight ground-based radio telescopes located in Chile, Mexico, Spain, Hawaii, Arizona and the Antarctic as part of the Event Horizon Telescope Project designed to capture the first-ever image of a black hole. The frightening image has drawn comparisons to “the eye of Sauron” as depicted in the Lord of the Rings movies based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy.


Artist Ordered to Pay Damages for Defamation After a Rant on Facebook
Artist Ryan Livingston accused gallery owner Ingrid Mueller of failing to pay him for the sale of a sculpture in 2014. Livingston won a $569 verdict against Mueller in small claims court, but was subsequently sued by Livingston for defamation after posting a rant questioning Mueller’s honesty and ethics on his Facebook account. The artist was ordered to pay approximately 3,000 Canadian dollars in damages, a fraction of the damages amount sought by the plaintiff.


Divers Discover a Well-Preserved Trove of Artifacts in Lake Titicaca
Marine archaeologists excavating a site in the basin of Andean Lake Titicaca uncovered a cache of well-preserved artifacts from the Tiwanaku empire six miles off-shore and under 16 feet of water. The Tiwanaku were a pre-Inca society who lived in the lake’s basin between the 8th and 10th centuries A.D. The finds included a lapis lazuli puma figurine, ceramic puma incense burners, a gold medallion, gold ornaments, and spondylus oyster shells originating in an ocean shore more than 1,200 miles away, evidencing the complexity of this early society.

Brazil in the Lead in Closing the Gender Pay Gap for Women Artists
In contrast to other sectors of their society, women artists in Brazil earn nearly the same as their male counterparts. Historically, the lack of an organized gallery and museum system allowed women to enter the market easily. Combined with a tradition that considers arts and crafts a feminine pursuit, the Brazilian art market is easier for women to break into than in other countries.

São Paulo's New Governor Proposes Steep Budget Cuts for Cultural Programs
The proposed cuts would result in a 23 percent reduction in the culture ministry’s annual budget. The cuts are expected to impact significantly the public programs and temporary exhibits at Pinacoteca, one of the most comprehensive museums in South America, resulting in large numbers of employees losing their jobs.

Cause of Fire in Brazil’s National Museum Identified
The fire that destroyed most of the Brazil National Museum’s 20 million artifacts last year was caused by air conditioning units that were receiving a stronger electrical current than they were designed to handle. In addition, the museum lacked sprinklers, fire doors and other fire protection devices. The museum, which housed Latin America’s largest collection of historical artifacts, reportedly spent only $4,000 on safety equipment during the period 2015-2017, according to the nonprofit Open Accounts.


European Council Adopts New Anti-Trafficking Rules for Cultural Heritage Imports
The EU now will require import licenses for art, antiques and books more than 250 years old that are imported from countries outside of the EU. The new rules are meant to protect against illicit trade, combat terrorist financing and money laundering and prevent the destruction of cultural valuables.

EU Applies Anti−Money Laundering Rules to Art Transactions
Pursuant to the new Fifth Directive of the European Council, art gallerists, auction houses, brokers and dealers will be required over the next year to conform to due diligence rules designed to prevent abuse in financial transactions. The requirements include identifying the customer and verifying the customer's identity; verifying that any person purporting to act on behalf of a customer is so authorized; and identifying and verifying the identity of that person. The new rules are expected to have a significant impact on the European art market, where smaller dealers and advisers may be unprepared financially or lack the resources to handle the new requirements.

EU Wants to End the Freeport System
Freeports, tax-free storage for art and other valuables, have been used by dealers and collectors to facilitate international art transactions for decades. However, following the recent high-profile tax scandals, such as the Panama Papers and LuxLeaks, the European Parliament voted 505 to 63 in favor of adopting the recommendations of its special committee’s report to close all freeports in Europe. While not binding, the vote has “political relevance” and would likely factor into the work of the EU’s Commission.

Trial of the Frans Hals Case Concludes After One Defendant Settled Out
UK dealer Mark Weiss announced an “amicable” settlement with Sotheby’s, which sold on his behalf, and subsequently rescinded the sale of, a portrait bearing Frans Hals’s signature, which was suspected of being a fake. This painting, once called a national treasure by the French ministry of culture and nearly purchased by the Louvre, was part of a major Old Masters forgeries scandal involving artworks sold by French dealer Guiliano Ruffini. Following the refund of the purchase price to the buyer, Sotheby’s sought to recoup its losses from Weiss and Fairlight Arts Venture. Weiss maintained his continued belief that the painting is real and his settlement came without admission of liability. The case against Fairlight continued to trial; judgment is expected this summer. Sotheby’s director of scientific research, James Martin, who testified during the trial, stood by his finding that the painting was a modern forgery.

A Night at the Museum, with Mona Lisa
To celebrate the 30th birthday of the courtyard Pyramids, the Louvre and Airbnb are sponsoring a contest, “The Sleepover of Your Life.” This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the lucky winner and a guest, who will get to sleep in a mini glass pyramid under the Louvre’s glass pyramids. In addition to airfare and sleeping accommodations, the winners will receive a private tour of the museum, cocktails in a living room set up at the Mona Lisa, dinner in front of the Venus de Milo and a concert in Napoleon’s chambers.

JR’s Massive Collage at the Louvre Was Destroyed in a Day
To celebrate the 30th anniversary of I.M. Pei’s pyramids in the courtyard of the Louvre museum, French artist JR and 400 volunteers installed a collage constructed from 2,000 pieces of paper that created the illusion that the pyramids reached underground. Unfortunately, the curious public hunting for souvenirs joined with the elements in destroying the fragile artwork within a day. JR, a master of optical illusion, previously wrapped the pyramids in a way that made them appear to vanish when viewed from a certain angle.

New Research Finds That Art Institutions’ Exhibition Budget Is Half That of Science Museums
New research into the finances of special museum exhibitions spearheaded by Vastari, an online service provider that connects museums to private collectors and commercial exhibition producers, finds that most art institutions have surprisingly low budgets for temporary exhibitions − less than $10,000 per show. Science institutions, by contrast, benefit from larger exhibition budgets and employ more collaborative approaches to finding cost-effective solutions.

Photographs of the Cottingley Fairies Sold at Auction
In 1917, two British schoolgirls, Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths, used paper cut-outs of fairies, traced and drawn by Elsie, to create photographs of a “fairy encounter.” The photos, known as the “Cottingley Fairies,” taken on Wright’s father’s Midg quarter-plate camera, garnered a lot of attention and debate for decades. The girls “swore each other to secrecy” and maintained that the fairy encounters were real until 1983, when they finally admitted that the photos were faked. The sale took place at Dominic Winter Auctioneers in Gloucestershire on April 11, 2019.

France Launches an Art Restitution Task Force
The French government has allocated about €200,000per year to launch a mission to find the rightful owners or heirs of some 2,000 pieces of art that the French government has possessed since after the Second World War. The new office will research and investigate claims submitted to the commission for Compensation of Victims and Spoliation, and work with museums, universities and international counterparts to return the works. While this budget is tight, the office is optimistic that it will be able to find additional financial resources to support their work.

Another Museum Will No Longer Accept Sackler Family Donations
The Jewish Museum Berlin follows the lead of several prominent museums around the world that are no longer accepting donations from the Sackler Trust, due to the Sackler family’s financial ties to Purdue Pharma, manufacturer of the drug linked to the opioid addiction crisis. However, the museum’s Sackler Staircase will not be renamed.

Young Artist Using a Metal Detector Finds a Gold Roman Coin
A 24-carat gold coin with the face of Allectus, Roman Emperor of Britannia from 286−296 A.D., was found in Kent, England, by a 30-year-old artist using a metal detector near the site of an ancient Roman road. Allectus is being touted as the first “Brexiteer,” since he removed Britain from the Roman Empire. The coin is estimated to sell for as much as $130,000 at auction on June 12, 2019, with proceeds to be split between the finder and the landowner. As only one coin was found, the find does not fall under the UK’s Treasure Act.

Museum’s “Resume Contact” with Art Dealer Following Unconfirmed Sexual Harassment Allegations
After a police investigation failed to produce “firm evidence” of sexual harassment and other inappropriate behavior by Anthony d’Offay, the prominent British art dealer, collector and curator, UK museums, including the Tate and the National Galleries of Scotland, have resumed working with d’Offay, who is one of the founders of Artist Rooms, a touring program that sends contemporary art to galleries and museums across the UK and is responsible for bringing art to some 44 million visitors.

Christo to Wrap the Arc De Triomphe
Famous for wrapping landmarks around the world, Christo will return to Paris 35 years after wrapping the Pont Neuf, this time to wrap the Arc de Triomphe in April 2020. The project, which will feature 25,000 square meters of silvery blue recyclable polypropylene fabric and 7,000 meters of red rope, will be funded entirely by the artist.


Artist’s Use of Color Creates Diplomatic Problem
British artist Mark Wallinger identified Taiwan as a sovereign entity by making it a different color than the one used for China in a public art installation called The World Turned Upside Down at the London School of Economics. The United Nations and most of its members, including the UK, do not recognize Taiwan as an independent state. Wallinger maintains that the designation was an error, but says that is it up to the LSE to require any changes to the piece.

New Twist in the Case of Stolen Peacock Idol
The Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Department of the Government of Tamil Nadu, which manages and controls the temple administration within the state, revealed during a court proceeding that the peacock idol allegedly stolen from the Kapaleeswarar Temple in Mylaport in 2004 may in fact have been a replacement for the broken idol installed the year before, meaning that the stolen idol is not of antique value.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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