Art Law Report

Art Advisors are Not Always Fiduciaries—Lawsuit over Cady Noland "Log Cabin" Dismissed

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on December 14, 2016 at 2:25 PM

The ongoing saga between Yves Bouvier and Dmitri Rybolovlev over Bouvier’s sale to the Russian billionaire of Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi (and a recent preemptive suit by Sotheby’s against the original sellers of the work to Bouvier) has cast unusual scrutiny over the often-private relationships between art dealers, art advisors, and their clients.  Chief among the issues between Bouvier and Rybolovlev is whether Bouvier’s resale to Rybolovlev at an allegedly markedly higher price than Bouvier purchased it for constitutes self-dealing by a trusted agent, or the time-tested adage of buy low, sell high.  This is a question of great significant for obvious reasons: in private sales the collector is often relying on the expertise of the art professional.  In any fiduciary relationship, however, it is axiomatic that the fiduciary agent (like an attorney or a trustee) cannot enrich himself at the expense of the beneficiary.  Whether Bouvier is indeed a fiduciary is a fiercely debated question for another day.

A recent dismissal in New York of a case about Cady Noland’s Log Cabin provides some welcome guidance on the contours of these relationships in the eyes of the law.  The finding that the defendant owed no exceptional duty to the plaintiff is a significant pushback against the expansive view of agency that Rybolovlev, among others, has advocated.  The decision clarifies that interaction with an expert does not elevate that expert to a position of undivided loyalty.  Rather, the terms of the relationship must be on of special trust and confidence.  The duties of actual fiduciaries are not changed by this decision, but it will help professionals and collectors understand who is, and who is not, filling that role. 

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Topics: Cady Noland, Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990, VARA, conversion, breach of fiduciary duty, Yves Bouvier, Log Cabin, Dimitry Ryobolovlev, unjust enrichment, 17 U.S.C. 106A, Brett Shaheen, Janssen Gallery, Michael Janssen, Scott Mueller, Marisa Newman Projects, Wilhelm Schurmann

Change to New York Art Consignment Statute Adds Protections, Risks

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on September 27, 2012 at 9:46 AM

New York has passed an amendment to its Arts & Cultural Affairs law, N.Y. Arts & Cult. Aff. Law §12.01(2012), that is important for artist, galleries, and dealers alike. It affects the consignment relationship and creates critical new duties—and liabilities, for the dealer on consignment. Most importantly, it makes using any form of agreement drafted under the old law risky, particularly for the gallery or consignee. Signed by Governor Cuomo this week, the law takes effect November 6, 2012.

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Topics: Legislation, consignment, N.Y. Arts & Cult. Aff. Law §12.01, Governor Cuomo, Arts & Cultural Affairs law, attorneys' fees, Collections, breach of fiduciary duty, Trusts, Salander O'Reilly

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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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