Mo Rocca on Repatriation

mummyThis is a slow time of the year for original reporting, and one popular set of stories for editors near the holidays are reports on art theft, Museums, and repatriation. This video rises above the usual and gives some serious discussion to a wide audience: Mo Rocca reports for CBS on repatriation and repatriation claims. Of particular interest will be the comments of Max Anderson at the Dallas Museum of Art. It must be said that he does not appear to be very sympathetic to most claims, and he seems to suggest repatriation is useful mainly as a tool to help museums collect.

New York’s highest court preserves art trade anonymity

New York’s highest court has issued its opinion in the dispute between the Jenack auction house and Albert Rabizadeh. At issue was whether Rabizadeh would be required to follow through with his winning auction bid for this 19th century Russian box ornamented with silver and enamel. The intermediate appellate court had earlier left a small window open which might use the statute of frauds to compel auction houses to reveal more information about consignors, buyers and sellers. That will not be happening any time soon, at least via this case.

The Court held:

We agree with the Appellate Division that the absentee bidder form, along with the clerking sheet, provide the necessary information to establish the name of Rabizadeh as the buyer. This conclusion is inescapable given that each of the documents contained information pertaining to the terms of the sale as required by the Statute. Both contain the item number, the bidder number, the auctioneer, and a detailed description of the item.

So essentially there are enough details in auction house practice to preclude a possible fraud being committed on a buyer or seller. And the underlying bad behavior by Mr. Rabizadeh of bidding up to $400,000 and then refusing to pay had much to do with the decision by New York’s highest court.

The 18th century Russian decorative box that Mr. Rabizadeh bid at $400,000
The 18th century Russian decorative box that Mr. Rabizadeh bid at $400,000

Nicholas O’Donnell agrees:

So where does this leave all the upheaval of the past year?  It resolves the question conclusively in the most important art market in the United States, no small thing: an auctioneer is the person on whose account the sale is made as a matter of agency, and they need not disclose the actual consignor or owner.  The uncertainty of the past year in which a winning bidder could have forced the disclosure of the actual consignment owner is finished for good.  Auction houses to whom these practices are important will no doubt breathe a sigh of relief.

Is all this a good thing?  The fact remains that no one makes an auction purchase at gunpoint, and if anonymity drives the availability of art, then it is hard to quarrel with.  Those more focused on smuggled antiquities or looted art may be concerned that it will keep what they view as important provenance information unavailable.  There too, however, the fact is that without anonymity any object with issues wouldn’t even appear on the market.  Indeed, that visibility may (ironically, from the smugglers’ perspective) pull more out of the shadows.

Call for Presenters: Socio-Legal Studies Association

IMG_2402In April in my old haunting  stomping grounds in Aberdeen there looks to be a promising Annual conference of the Socio-Legal Studies Association. Aberdeen can be a chilly place to visit, but April is often sunny, and the countryside (and whisky) are spectacular.

From the announcement: Continue reading “Call for Presenters: Socio-Legal Studies Association”

Human Remains and the Law, Friday Dec. 13 in London

The Institute of Art and Law has put together a programme on Human Remains and the Law on Friday Dec. 13, 2013 at the Natural History Museum in

From the announcement:

An afternoon seminar with the generous support of the Natural History Museum

The treatment of human remains, whether contained in museum collections or discovered during the course of building or other works, gives rise to a host of moral, ethical, religious and legal issues. Should all remains be treated in the same way? If not where are the boundaries and are all the boundaries for how museums use remains (exhibition, teaching and scientific research) the same? Do we treat cultures that have disappeared (e.g. the Sumerians or ancient Egyptians) differently from living cultures and why do museums take the approach they do?

The seminar will be chaired by Dr Margaret Clegg and Sarah Long (both from the NHM), and speakers include Jelena Bekvalac (Museum of London), Caroline Browne (Human Tissue Authority), Dr Joseph Elders (Church of England), Professor Norman Palmer QC (3 Stone Buildings) and Carolyn Shelbourn (Sheffield University).

The conference is Law Society CPD accredited.

Places may be reserved here.

Sicily says 23 works won’t travel

A depiction of Scylla, one of the objects from the "Morgantina Silver" collection recently repatriated
A depiction of Scylla, one of the objects from the “Morgantina Silver” collection recently repatriated

A good reminder that even when loan agreements are crafted, they don’t always produce a good deal for the source of this art. Sicily’s regional government has declared that 23 works of art should not go abroad for loans unless there are ‘extraordinary circumstances’. The list includes important paintings by Caravaggio, but also some antiquities, many of which have been the subject of recent disputes, including the Morgantina Silver, La dea di Aidone, the Gold Phiale, and other objects.

The reason for the ban? Loans are only going one way. When these objects are loaned abroad there is not sufficient art sent to Sicily. In essence it’s a one-way exchange, at least from Sicily’s point of view. If art is to be a good ambassador, the transfer should go both ways.

Hugh Eakin reports in the NYT that:

In recent years, Sicily, long a victim of looting, has gained back some of the most prized ancient art in the world, including a seven-foot limestone and marble Greek goddess from the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. But many of the works reside in small regional museums that struggle to draw visitors. According to a report this year in the Corriere della Sera, a leading Italian daily, the museum in Aidone, which houses the silver and the cult statue, received 13,410 visitors in 2012.

A new administration that took power in Sicily in the last year has expressed disappointment with existing loan practices. In 2005, for example, the Sicilian region sent, on its own initiative, three Antonello paintings to the Met for a much publicized exhibition. Now, those three paintings are on the “immovable” list.

“It’s perfectly understandable,” said Philippe de Montebello, the former director of the Met who negotiated the museum’s 2006 restitution accord with Italy. “Sicily doesn’t have the depth. If you take away one of these top pieces, you’ve created a big gap.”

  1. Hugh Eakin, Citing Inequity, Sicily Bans Loans of 23 Artworks, N.Y. Times, Nov. 26, 2013.