Art Law Report

Nicholas O'Donnell

Nick’s practice focuses primarily on complex civil litigation. He represents manufacturers, individuals, investment advisers, banks, and others around the world in contract, securities, consumer protection, tort and domestic relations cases, with particular experience in the German-speaking world. He is also the editor of the Art Law Report, a blog that provides timely updates and commentary on legal issues in the museum and visual arts communities, one of his areas of expertise. Nick is a member of the Art Law Committee of the New York City Bar Association. Additionally, Nick has authored and contributed to several books on art law: — A Tragic Fate—Law and Ethics in the Battle Over Nazi-Looted Art, (Ankerwyke/ABA Publishing, 2017) — “Public Trust or Private Business? Deaccessioning Law and Ethics in the United States,” in Éthique et Patrimoine Culturel - Regard Croisés, G. Goffaux, ed., (L’Harmattan, 2016) — “Vergangenheit als Zukunft? Restitutionsstreitigkeiten in den Vereinigten Staaen,” in Ersessene Kunst—Der Fall Gurlitt, J. Heil and A. Weber, eds., (Metropol, 2015) — “Nazi-Looted Art—Risks and Best Practices for Museums,” in The Legal Guide for Museum Professionals, Julia Courtney, ed., (2015, Rowman & Littlefield)

Recent Posts

Art disputes and how to avoid them--presented by the IBA Art, Cultural Institutions and Heritage Law Committee

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on March 24, 2021 at 7:35 AM

It has been a great source of pride that in the last year, the Art, Cultural Institutions and Heritage Law Committee of the International Bar Association has remained active and engaged with issues of art and cultural property law despite the pandemic. We had a very exciting in-person program organized and ready to go for June, 2020 at the Ecole du Louvre, where I snapped this picture in February 2020 expecting to be back just four months later. Fate intervened, of course, but with thanks to my co-chair last year Giuseppe Calabi, and my co-chair starting January 1 of this year Anne-Sophie Nardon, we have held a webinar in June, a panel at the IBA’s Virtually Together conference, and stayed active in our publications and newsletter. Cultural property and commercial art law certainly hasn’t taken a break for the pandemic, and while I very much miss our in-person gatherings, it has allowed us to reach new members and grow the ranks of our officer team. We are ever larger and more diverse, with officer representation from every continent except Australia (and Antarctica--so far!).

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Topics: Karen Sanig, Anne Laure Bandle, Sullivan & Worcester LLP, Nicholas M. O'Donnell, Mishcon de Reya, Art Loss Register, Court of Arbitration for Art, Sharon Hecker, Anne-Sophie Nardon, Borel & Barbey, Olivier de Baecque, Giuseppe Calabi, Davina Given, Armstrong Teasdale LLP, Stan Putter, Angell Xi, Jingtian & Gongcheng, Reynolds Porter Chamberlain, James Ratcliffe, CBM & Partners Studio, Klaus-Jürgen Kraatz, Kraatz & Kraatz, Noor Kadhim, Smallegange, Steve Schindler, Schindler Cohen & Hochman

FinCEN Signals Suspicion of Art Market Even Before AML Study Begins

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on March 23, 2021 at 9:52 AM

In connection with the late-2020 amendment to the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) to include “dealers in antiquities” as a result of its inclusion in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) has issued a notice of “Efforts Related to Trade in Antiquities and Art.” The notice is a combination of guidance to entities now covered by the BSA, but it is also a potential backdoor around the entities that Congress chose not to regulate with respect to potential or perceived money laundering risks: art dealers. It also raises concerns about the objectivity of the forthcoming study of the art market that Congress instructed FinCEN to conduct. In either event, it is further evidence that momentum continues to gather for stricter oversight and regulation of the U.S. art market, and the importance of the art trade demonstrating more transparency and diligence if it hopes to modify or mitigate that regulation.

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Topics: The Art Newspaper, Nazi-looted art, Antiquities, Terrorist financing, Responsible Art Market initiative, Money laundering, FinCEN, A Tragic Fate, Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, Illicit Art and Antiquities Trafficking Protection, suspicious activity reports, Corporate Transparency Act of 2019, Bank Secrecy Act, National Defense Authorization Act

Event-“Legal and Ethical Challenges in Art Collection Stewardship.”

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on March 10, 2021 at 6:05 PM

I will be speaking next Tuesday March 16, 2021 at a virtual event co-sponsored by the University of Denver's Center for Art Collecting Ethics and hosted and the Holocaust Museum Houston entitled “Legal and Ethical Challenges in Art Collection Stewardship.” Readers of the Art Law Report or of A Tragic Fate--Law and Ethics in the Battle over Nazi Looted Art (2017) will of course know that this is a topic of great personal and professional interest, and I'm pleased to join an august panel led by the University of Denver's Elizabeth Campbell, a scholar and author of Defending National Treasures: French Art and Heritage Under Vichy (2011), a wonderful study of its subject. I first met Dr. Campbell in 2017 at the conference in Cambridge “From Refugees to Restitution: The History of Nazi Looted Art in the UK in Transnational Perspective” at which we both spoke. She started the Center for Art Collecting Ethics, which has hosted and organized in-depth study.

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Topics: Sullivan and Worcester LLP, Nicholas M. O'Donnell, Elizabeth Campbell, University of Denver, Renée Albiston, Kirkland Museum, Denver Art Museum, Gus Kopriva, Redbud Gallery

Syracuse to Host “Deaccessioning After 2020” March 17-19, 2021

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on March 1, 2021 at 4:08 PM
I am pleased to be a presenter and panelist at an event later this month on a topic of evergreen currency: museums and deaccessioning. As we’ve covered here, the pandemic has put pressure on museums in ways that were hard to foresee only 12 months ago. The response by museums, museum associations, and attorneys general has taken a variety of approaches. Just in the last year alone from Brooklyn, to Baltimore, to Syracuse, and most recently the Metropolitan Museum of Art, whether, when, and how museums should handle sales of their collections remains a volatile subject. 
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Topics: Donn Zaretsky, Dallas Museum of Art, New York University, Deaccessioning, Williams College, Christie's, Sullivan & Worcester LLP, Sotheby's, 17 U.S.C. § 106A(a)(3)(A)-(B), Nicholas M. O'Donnell, ARTnews, Jakob Dupont, Sarah Douglas, Brooklyn Museum, Syracuse University, Anne Pasternak, Stephanie Johnson-Cunningham, Museum Hue, Dean Craig M. Boise, Andrew Saluti, Agustín Arteaga, Joseph Thompson, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, Courtney Aladro, Mark Gold, James Sheehan, Steven Lubar, Brown University, Everson Museum of Art, Emily Stokes-Rees, Cara Starke, Sally Yerkovich, Brian Frye, University of Kentucky College of Law, Silberman Zaretsky, PC, Peter Dean, Randolph College, Andria Derstine, Oberlin College, William Eiland, Carl Van Vechten Art Gallery, Christy Coleman, Ken Turino, Nina del Rio, Hindman Auctions, Michael Shapiro, Allison Whiting, Julia Courtney, Christopher Bedford, The Baltimore Museum of Art, Julia Pelta, Fisher Museum, Thomas Campbell, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Linda Harrison, Glenn D. Lowry, The Museum of Modern Art, Tracey Riese, Melody Kanschat, Museum Leadership Institute, Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Betsy Bradley, Mississippi Museum of Art, Michael O’Hare, Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California at Berkeley, Erin Richardson, Frank & Glory, Smith Green & Gold LLP, New York State Department of Law, Michael Conforti, Amy Whitaker, Stefanie Jandl, Deborah Kass, Amalia Mesa-Bains, Meleko Mokgosi, Wendy Red Star, Carrie Mae Weems, Pulitzer Arts Foundation, Roxana Velásquez, The San Diego Museum of Art, University of Georgia Museum of Art, Jamaal Sheats, Fisk University, Kristina Durocher, Association of Academic Museums and Galleries, Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, Historic New England, Lawrence Yerdon, Strawbery Banke Museum, Scott Wands, American Association for State and Local History, When is it Okay to Sell the Monet?, Glenn Adamson, Bern University of the Arts, Michelle Millar, The Newark Museum of Art

Event—Innovation and change in a Responsible Art Market

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on January 8, 2021 at 9:59 AM

As potential regulation of the art market gathers in the United States, the increasing relevance of the Responsible Art Market Initiative is ever clearer. And while we will miss gathering in Geneva for the first time in several years, RAM is undeterred. Join us on Friday January 29, 2021 for a virtual edition of the annual RAM event, this year entitled “Innovation and change in a Responsible Art Market.” The program follows below (including a virtual networking opportunity), and registration by 27 January 2021 can be accomplished using the following link: www.responsibleartmarket.org/event-registration

See you then. Until next year, this will have to suffice for ein Stückchen der Schweiz from last February:


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Topics: Anne Laure Bandle, Reibpartie, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Art Law Foundation, New York University, TEFAF, Geneva, Sandrine Giroud, Lalive, Albert Martin Wolffson, Eugene Driker, Sullivan & Worcester LLP, Henry Zacharias, Copyright, EPA Victory, Sullivan and Worcester LLP, Bonhams, Nicholas M. O'Donnell, Elmyr de Hory, Mathilde Heaton, RAM, Responsible Art Market initiative, Phillips, Stephenson Harwood, Sullivan, Jonathan Petropoulos, Nanne Dekking, Artory, National Defense Authorization Act, Nicolas Galley, Borel & Barbey, Valentina Volshkova, Masterworks, Tom Christopherson, Melanie Damani, Pace Gallery, University of Zurich, Masha Golovina, Hottinger Group, Freya Simms, LAPADA, The Association of Art and Antiques Dealers, Audry Li, Zhong Lun Law Firm, Shanghai

Congress Steps up Oversight of Art and Antiquities Markets

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on January 4, 2021 at 4:16 PM

On January 1, 2021, the U.S. Senate overrode President Trump’s veto of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2021 (NDAA), a bill that (perhaps surprisingly) included rules affecting the art market. Specifically, the new law subjects antiquities dealers to the provisions of the Bank Secrecy Act, requires registration of the ultimate beneficial ownership of limited liability companies, and directs the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) at the Department of the Treasury to conduct a study of money laundering in the art market. Long considered but only now passed, the bill is a significant step into regulating the U.S. art and antiquities market, though still far less invasive than the European Union’s current approach. The new regulations raise questions about the cost benefit balance of compliance, but leave no doubt after last year’s Senate report that regulators have the art market in their sights and the market must respond if it wants to have a say in the oversight that is sure to come.

Readers here will be familiar with our support for and participation in the Responsible Art Market Initiative’s common-sense approach to diligence and responsible practices, and this development is no exception. As I tried to spotlight in the RAM New York webinar we hosted last fall, whatever one thinks of the regulations or the regulators, these things are happening. And while we expressed skepticism that FinCEN is the right body to conduct a study of the art market, the market has a choice here. We can complain, or we can get involved in the dialogue. I would rather be at the table in the discussion than outside the room. The FinCEN study may not be ideal, but it is an opportunity that responsible actors will ignore at their peril.

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Topics: OFAC, European Union, Terrorist financing, Responsible Art Market initiative, Money laundering, FinCEN, Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, Office of Foreign Assets Control, Bank Secrecy Act, Department of the Treasury, 31 U.S.C. § 5312(a), limited liability companies, National Defense Authorization Act, President Trump

At U.S. Supreme Court, Jewish Heirs Lay Claim to Treasure Taken by Nazi Agents in 1935

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on October 22, 2020 at 4:05 PM

(WASHINGTON-October 22, 2020) The heirs to the Jewish art dealers who were forced to sell the medieval devotional art collection known as the Welfenschatz (in English, the Guelph Treasure) to agents of Hermann Goering in 1935 filed their brief today in the Supreme Court of the United States. It can be viewed at this link. The Supreme Court is set to hear argument on December 7, 2020, on whether the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) and its “takings clause” create jurisdiction over the heirs’ claims for restitution of the Welfenschatz—as all reviewing courts so far have held. The Welfenschatz is held by the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz (in English, the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation).

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Topics: Third Reich, Guelph Treasure, Gestapo, Z.M. Hackenbroch, Prussia, Germany, Nazi-looted art, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, Markus Stoetzel, Supreme Court, Mel Urbach, SPK, Nuremberg race laws, Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Hermann Goering, FSIA, NS Raubkunst, Sullivan & Worcester LLP, J.S. Goldschmidt, Gerald Stiebel, Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, Adolf Hitler, Nicholas M. O'Donnell, Alan Philipp, Welfenschatz, I. Rosenbaum, Paul Körner, Wannsee Conference, Jed Leiber, House of Brunswick (Braunschweig)-Lüneberg, Emily Haber, Wilhelm Stuckart, Final Solution

Responsible Art Market Initiative (New York) to Hold Webinar Series on Money Laundering and Corporate Transparency

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on October 21, 2020 at 4:09 PM
Longtime readers of the Art Law Report will know of the remarkable success over the last several years of the Responsible Art Market Initiative in Geneva. RAM began initially in connection with a collaboration by the Art Law Centre at the University of Geneva and the Art Law Foundation (Fondation pour le droit de d’art), also in Geneva. RAM has held annual events in Geneva at artgeneve for several years. Indeed, the RAM event this past January was one of the last times I was able to visit Europe before the world shut down.
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Topics: sanctions, Pryor Cashman LLP, Pippa Loengard, Irina Tarsis, Sullivan & Worcester LLP, Suzanne Gyorgy, Megan Noh, Center for Art Law, RAM, Responsible Art Market initiative, Money laundering, CitiBank, Birgit Kurtz, Nanne Dekking, Artory, Lockton Companies, Andrew Schoelkopf, Elaine Wood, Charles River Associates, Jill Arnold Bull

A Deaccessioning Decision Tree Grows in Brooklyn—Selling Museum Art in Hard Times

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on September 23, 2020 at 7:49 AM

Robin Pogrebin at the New York Times has written an excellent piece on the news that the Brooklyn Museum intends to sell several works from its collection to raise money. The museum explicitly relies on the pandemic-inspired announcement in April by the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) relaxing its industry guidance (and pausing sanctions) with regard to the proceeds of the sale of art and how the resulting proceeds should or should not be used. The parallel announcement by a Syracuse museum that it intends to sell a Jackson Pollock painting in a manner more consistent with the old rules provides an instructive moment to consider what has really changed in six months of a new era.

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Topics: The Art Newspaper, Jackson Pollock, Deaccessioning, Boston Globe, Association of Art Museum Directors, Lucas Cranach the Elder, New York Times, AAMD, Berkshire Museum, Apollo Magazine, Brooklyn Museum, Robin Pogrebin, Syracuse University, Anne Pasternak, Lucretia, Courbet, Corot, Red Composition, Lisa Simpson, Donato de’ Bardi, NY Board of Regents, Jeff Jacoby, C. Montgomery Burns, Royal Academy of Arts

“Moralistic Preening” and Broken Commitments Under the Washington Principles—Ninth Circuit Chastises Spain for Keeping Nazi-looted Pissarro but Rules Painting Will not Return to Cassirer Family

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on August 18, 2020 at 1:12 PM

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit yesterday affirmed the 2019 judgment that allowed the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Museum in Madrid to retain Camille Pissarro’s Rue St. Honoré, après-midi, effet de pluie (Rue St. Honoré, Afternoon, Rain Effect) (1892), a painting sold under duress by Lilly Cassirer to a Nazi in 1939. Absent rehearing by the full Ninth Circuit or Supreme Court review, the decision may bring to an end the Cassirers decades-old effort to win restitution of a painting that no one disputes is Nazi-looted art, yet the museum refuses to return. The result turns on the highly deferential standard of review for findings of fact by the trial court about the state of knowledge by Baron Hans-Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza when he acquired the painting in 1976. Yet the Ninth Circuit’s lack of enthusiasm for this result fairly leaps off the page, however, first with its decision to issue an unsigned opinion not for publication, and by seconding the District Court’s disappointment in the ruling under review “that Spain and TBC’s refusal to return the Painting to the Cassirers is inconsistent with Spain’s moral commitments under the Washington Principles [on Nazi-Confiscated Art] and Terezin Declaration.” The Court of Appeals’ statement about Spain and the museum that “It is perhaps unfortunate that a country and a government can preen as moralistic in its declarations, yet not be bound by those declarations” is a reminder of the limitations of these moral imperatives that, ironically, many current possessors argue are sufficient to address the problem of Nazi-looted art. It is absolutely true that moral principles often do not have the force of law. It is equally true, however, that flouting moral principles warrants moral sanction. And as multiple judges of the United States have found, Spain deserves just that.

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Topics: Terezin Declaration, Guelph Treasure, Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Rue St. Honoré après-midi êffet de pluie, Claude Cassirer, Cassirer, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art, Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, FSIA, expropriation exception”, Baron Hans-Heinrich Thyssen- Bornemisza, Welfenschatz, A Tragic Fate, Reichskammer der bildenden Künste, Jakob Scheidwimmer, Reich Chamber of the Visual Arts, Madrid

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About the Blog


The Art Law Report provides timely updates and commentary on legal issues in the museum and visual arts communities. It is authored by Nicholas M. O'Donnell, partner in our Art & Museum Law Practice.

The material on this site is for general information only and is not legal advice. No liability is accepted for any loss or damage which may result from reliance on it. Always consult a qualified lawyer about a specific legal problem.

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