Art Law Report

My column in Apollo Magazine on museums and deaccessioning in crisis

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on April 27, 2020 at 11:59 AM

Continuing our ongoing tracking of the effect of the Covid-19 lockdown on museums and arts organizations, I penned a column in Apollo magazine today. You can read the full article here (subscription required for more than three articles), the first paragraph is reprinted here as a teaser:

One key question for museums boards, management, and their supporters to ask right now is this: what do they actually want to accomplish when the Covid-19 crisis subsides and the lockdowns end? Is a museum its collection, its location, its staff or its visitors? Until recently we had the comparative luxury of asking these questions one museum crisis at a time. Should a small museum (for example, the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts) survive at all costs without the collection that created its very importance? Should it seek a better home for its collection but perhaps lose some of its unique character or even its individual existence (see the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s merger with the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.)? Or should it evolve in a way that is perhaps contrary to its founders’ specific desires (the Barnes Foundation’s move to Philadelphia from the truly sui generis yet remote home in Lower Merion created by Dr Barnes)?

Now, with [read more here]

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Topics: National Academy Museum, National Gallery of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, ICOM, American Alliance of Museums, Philadelphia, AAM, Association of Art Museum Directors, International Council of Museums, Corcoran Gallery of Art, AAMD, Barnes Foundation, Pittsfield, Berkshire Museum, Apollo Magazine, UPMIFA, endowment, Uniform Prudent Management of Institutional Funds

Rich Man/Poor Man?  The Berkshire Museum and Why Deaccessioning is so Frustrating

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on August 23, 2017 at 6:11 PM

Two wonderful museums recently announced plans to sell major works of art.  In one case, some 40 paintings, American masterpieces among them, will be sold at auction.  In another, more than 400 photographs will also be sold.  The former case has prompted a nationwide outcry, the latter…effectively nothing.  The differences and similarities between the two underscore the aspirational rules that govern what is known as “deaccessioning,” but also remind us that principles and the goals they are meant to reach are not always the same thing. 

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Topics: Metropolitan Museum of Art, Delaware Museum of Art, American Alliance of Museums, Lee Rosenbaum, MoMA, Deaccessioning, AAM, Norman Rockwell, Association of Art Museum Directors, Alexander Calder, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, AAMD, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Pittsfield, General Electric, Waconah Park, Berkshire Museum, Housatonic, Lake Onota, Frederic Church, Albert Bierstadt, Zenas Crane, Williamstown, Lenox, North Adams, Mass MoCA, Felix Salmon

Deaccessioning in Detroit?

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on April 14, 2015 at 11:30 AM

Readers will no doubt be puzzled by the news this week that the Detroit Institute of Arts—fresh off of the Grand Bargain, in which an infusion of donations and fundraising led to the transfer of the collection’s ownership back to the museum and off the table in the context of the Detroit Bankruptcyis moving ahead with plans to deaccession works of art in its collection, a Van Gogh in particular. There are a number of things going on in this latest development, which need to be distinguished.

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Topics: Graham Beal, Deaccession, Delaware Museum of Art, American Alliance of Museums, Donn Zaretzky, Deaccessioning, AAM, Van Gogh, Detroit, Detroit Institute of Arts, Association of Art Museum Directors, Museums, Detroit Bankruptcy, AAMD, grand bargain

Léone Meyer’s Claims for Pissarro Transferred to Oklahoma

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on April 7, 2015 at 10:42 AM

A U.S. District Court judge has taken the recent invitation of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, and transferred to Oklahoma a lawsuit by Léone Meyer over ownership of a Camille Pissarro painting at the Fred Jones, Jr. Museum at the University of Oklahoma. The case will now proceed in Oklahoma, where the museum seems likely to assert both sovereign immunity under Oklahoma law, as well as an argument that transfers in Switzerland conferred legal title to the museum as a successor to those transfers. However counterintuitive it seems, it may yet be that a court could agree with Meyer that the painting was stolen, but agree with Oklahoma that a Swiss litigation in the 1950s about whether it was sold to a good faith buyer means that Oklahoma holds full title and ownership.

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Topics: David Findlay Jr. Inc., due process, third party beneficiary, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Raoul Meyer, Nazi Occupation, American Alliance of Museums, University of Oklahoma, Aaron and Clara Weitzenhofer, Judge Colleen McMahon, Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, AAM, Vichy, La bergère rentrent des moutons, Association of Art Museum Directors, Restitution, David Findlay Galleries, World War II, CPLR 301, Switzerland, Leone Meyer, long art statute, Camille Pissarro, Museums, personal jurisdiction, AAMD, Christoph Bernoulli, Swiss judgment, Rep. Mike Reynolds

Remaining Claims Against AAM, AAMD Related to Pissarro “La Bergere” in Oklahoma Are Dismissed

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on May 23, 2014 at 5:34 AM

As we reported last week, the U.S. District Court dismissed claims against the Fred Jones, Jr. Museum of Art, the University of Oklahoma, and associated Oklahoma defendants, over title to the Camille Pissarro painting La bergère rentrent des moutons (a case in which I represented the David Findlay Jr. Gallery).

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Topics: David Findlay Jr. Inc., due process, third party beneficiary, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Raoul Meyer, Nazi Occupation, American Alliance of Museums, University of Oklahoma, Aaron and Clara Weitzenhofer, Judge Colleen McMahon, Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, AAM, Vichy, La bergère rentrent des moutons, Association of Art Museum Directors, Restitution, David Findlay Galleries, World War II, CPLR 301, Switzerland, Leone Meyer, long art statute, Camille Pissarro, Museums, personal jurisdiction, AAMD, Christoph Bernoulli, Swiss judgment

Claims Against University of Oklahoma Over Pissarro "La bergère" Dismissed on Jurisdictional Grounds

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on May 15, 2014 at 11:09 AM

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York has dismissed the much-publicized claims by Leone Meyer against the University of Oklahoma and related Oklahoma public officials and insitutions for the return of La bergère rentrent des moutons by Camille Pissarro, currently in the Fred Jones, Jr. Museum of Art. In full disclosure: I represented David Findlay, Jr., Inc. in the action, who was dismissed from the action last year by agreement.

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Topics: David Findlay Jr. Inc., due process, third party beneficiary, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Raoul Meyer, Nazi Occupation, American Alliance of Museums, University of Oklahoma, Aaron and Clara Weitzenhofer, Judge Colleen McMahon, Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, AAM, Vichy, La bergère rentrent des moutons, Association of Art Museum Directors, Restitution, David Findlay Galleries, World War II, CPLR 301, Switzerland, Leone Meyer, long art statute, Camille Pissarro, personal jurisdiction, AAMD, Christoph Bernoulli, Swiss judgment

Detroit Institute of Arts and Motor City Bankruptcy: Deaccessioning Fact and Fiction, Hope and Reality

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on August 1, 2013 at 12:27 PM

The recent filing by the City of Detroit for bankruptcy—the largest such municipal filing in history—has brought with it an unexpected art law twist. Namely: to what extent can, or should the collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts be used to satisfy the city’s creditors. As one might expect, the differences between what the city can do, what it should do, and what others can do to influence that decision have become hard to distinguish as the volume is raised. A review of some of the issues involved and the governing principles is in order. As rumors of the city’s bankruptcy circulated, speculation began about what would happen to the collection of DIA. And thus the dreaded “deaccession” debate began. This debate is essentially as follows: is art a fungible commodity that can and/or should be used in whatever way advances the mission of the institution (including selling it and using the proceeds to finance the museum’s operations), or do museums hold art in a public trust that must prioritize the collection and display of art? The latter view certainly holds sway among many in the museum community as an aspirational mattter, but its enforceability is often far less than they think.

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Topics: National Academy Museum, Brandeis, Deaccession, American Alliance of Museums, Rose Art Museum, AAM, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Detroit Institute of Arts, Collections, Association of Art Museum Directors, Motor City, and the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Cleveland Museum of Art, Detroit Bankruptcy, AAMD, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts

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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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