Art Law Report

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

U.S. Senate Report Takes a Swing at Money Laundering in the Art Market But Strikes Out on Substance

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on August 12, 2020 at 2:41 PM

A recent report by the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (headlined by Chairman Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, and Ranking Member Tom Carper, Democrat of Delaware) has drawn widespread attention for its damning statements about the international art market. Focusing on purchases of art from major auction houses by Arkady and Boris Rotenberg, two Russian nationals described as “oligarchs” by the report, the Subcommittee makes a series of pronouncements about the supposed prevalence of money laundering in the art market, and the need for regulation to address this perceived problem. Yet upon closer read, the report is a recycling of clichés about the art market, a detailed description about the considerable diligence by the auction houses far beyond what any even theoretical regulation would require (thus begging the question of what lesser regulation would accomplish), and no discussion or empathy at all for the vast majority of small art businesses that could not possibly comply with such regulation and stay in business, let alone actually combat money laundering. In other words, in concluding that two men laundered money, the Senate committee deduces that the practice is rampant. This hardly follows as a matter of logic. Far from supporting the case for sweeping financial regulation of the art market, the report unintentionally makes the opposite point.

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Topics: OFAC, Vladimir Putin, Uniform Commercial Code, House of Representatives, New York Times, Responsible Art Market initiative, Money laundering, FinCEN, Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, Boris Rotenberg, oligarch, shell companies, suspicious activity reports, Banking Secrecy Act, Politically Exposed Persons, Arkady Rotenberg, Treasury, ultimate beneficial owner, UBO, Corporate Transparency Act of 2019, Tom Carper, Office of Foreign Assets Control, Rob Portman

Deletion of Grünbaum Works from Lost Art Database Shows Again How German Government Has Lost Its Way on Nazi-Looted Art

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on August 27, 2018 at 1:03 PM

The New York Times reported yesterday that the German Lost Art Foundation had removed several paintings once owned by the Viennese cabaret actor Fritz Grünbaum from the Lost Art database.  While the history of these objects is hotly contested, it was a particularly strange choice given that Grünbaum’s heirs just won a judgment earlier this year that the works by Schiele must be returned to them—by reason of Nazi duress.  For a database that has never been suggested as an adjudication of rights but rather as a repository of notice to the world of possible title issues, it was a perplexing choice.  Against the backdrop of the party that the German government and the foundation are throwing themselves in November for which few outsiders have been able to register, the explanation appears much less benign particularly against the backdrop of the government’s historical revisionism in U.S. federal court litigation.

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Topics: Guelph Treasure, laches, Cornelius Gurlitt, Germany, Nazi-looted art, res judicata, Die Koordinierungsstelle für Kulturgutverluste, Holocaust, Magdeburg, Fritz Grünbaum, NS Raubkunst, Bavaria, Egon Schiele, Mathilde Lukacs, Task Force, New York Times, National Gallery, A Tragic Fate, German Lost Art Foundation, Kieslinger, Woman in a Black Pinafore, Woman Hiding her Face, Charles E. Ramos, Seated Woman With Bent Left Leg (Torso)

No Buried Nazi Gold Train After All?

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on December 17, 2015 at 10:46 AM

Back in September, we voiced curious skepticism about breathless reports of a buried train near Wrocław, formerly Breslau, in Poland.  Rumors of this “Nazi gold train” supposedly concealed at the end of World War II and filled with either gold, art, or both, had an odd mixture of plausibility and absurdity.  Yet Polish officials went on record confirming…something.  On August 28, 2015, Deputy Culture Minister Piotr Zuchowski stated at a press conference that he is “99 percent sure” that the government had located the train allegedly loaded with gold, gems, and perhaps artwork that was buried as the Soviet Red Army encircled Breslau in the last months of World War II.  “The train is 100 meters long and is protected,” Zuchowski said.

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Topics: Soviet, Breslau, Wrocław, Piotr Koper, Red Army, Nazi Gold Train, Walbrzych, Deputy Culture Minister Piotr Zuchowski, World War II, Poland, Washington Post, Janusz Madej, Andreas Richter, New York Times

Detroit and Deaccessioning—the Museum Responds

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on May 11, 2015 at 8:24 AM

We mused recently about (and tried to clarify) the possible tension between the Detroit Institute of Arts’ successful scuttling of any plans to consider selling its collection to satisfy the city’s debts in the Detroit Bankruptcy. The purpose of the post was not guileful: it seemed likely that many readers might be confused about how Detroit could propose to sell artwork when so much coverage had been addressed to the idea of not selling artwork. In fact, the two ideas are entirely consistent with the consensus of museum governance ethics, but we thought it was an occasion to prompt discussion about the policy behind those ethical guidelines. After all, apart from New York, the rules of deaccessioning are not actually law, they are enforced essentially through collective opprobrium. To facilate that discussion, I quoted Donn Zaretsky, a prominent critic of the status quo, for readers to consider on the one hand, against the guidelines themselves on the other hand.

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Topics: Donn Zaretsky, Deaccession, Detroit bank, Graham W. J. Beal, Randy Kennedy, Deaccessioning, Van Gogh, Detroit Institute of Arts, DIA, Museums, New York Times, Chagall, Detroit Bankruptcy, Art Law Report

Like-Kind Exchanges—Art and Collectibles’ Tax Deferral in the Crosshairs

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on April 29, 2015 at 7:56 AM

There has been considerable coverage in the last week about so-called “like-kind” exchanges of art, and federal tax. This has been driven by two factors: President Obama’s 2016 proposed budget, which would eliminate the tax deferral on these “1031 exchanges” for art and collectibles, and a recent New York Times article entitled “Tax Break Used by Investors in Flipping Art Faces Scrutiny.” The prospect of actual change is dubious, but there is no question that the prospect of the elimination of this tax deferral means anyone who is considering such an exchange for their art and collectible collection should be paying attention.

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Topics: 1031 Exchange, Jay Darby, Tax and Sports Update, Ernst & Young, New York Times, Like-Kind Exchange, Tax

Annual Gardner Heist Coverage Is More Constructive This Year

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on March 18, 2015 at 7:37 AM

Last year we called shenanigans on the seemingly-random, but actually predictable “updates” about March 18 1990 theft of paintings by Rembrandt, Manet, and others from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Our point last year was simple: the manufactured stories about what the FBI claims to know (“confirmed sightings” and the supposed identity of the supposed thief) are worse than no news. The FBI has no idea where those paintings are, and I am highly skeptical of the FBI’s claims to know who did it. It’s theoretically possible that protecting the identity of a dead thief would be important to an ongoing investigation, but that presupposes that there is anything going on. I am unpersuaded that anything new has happened in years.

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Topics: Gardner Heist, Zodiac, Degas, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Rembrandt, Tom Mashberg, Vermeer, Museums, New York Times, Manet, Storm on the Sea of Galilee

Glass Half Full or Half Empty? Detailed Report Published on Worldwide Efforts to Restitute Nazi-Looted Art Since the 1998 Washington Conference

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on September 11, 2014 at 6:35 AM

After the 1998 Washington Conference on Holocaust Era Assets and the eponymous Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Stolen Art that came out of it, it is hardly surprising that a recurring theme has been to assess the progress of those nations that participated and signed on. Equally unsurprisingly, those assessments are usually more anecdotal than empirical, and usually arise out of a particular case or cases in the context of that country’s response.

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Topics: Graham Bowley, Macedonia, Netherlands, Terezin Declaration, Mussolini, Latvia, Dr. Wesley A. Fisher, Hungary, ICOM, Bulgaria, Commission for the Compensation of Victims of Spol, Germany, Bavarian Minister of Culture, Nazi-looted art, Die Welt, Belarus, Lex Gurlitt, Washington Conference on Holocaust Era Assets, France, Dr. Ruth Weinberger, Romania, Baron Mor Lipot Herzog, Winfried Bausbeck, Belgium, Slovakia, Vichy, World Jewish Restitution Organization, Bundesrat, Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Stolen Ar, Gurlitt, WJRO, NS Raubkunst, Restitution, International Council of Museums, Norway, United States, Luxembourg, Looted Art, World War II, St. Petersburg, Poland, beschlagnahmte Kunst, Ukraine, Austria, Serbia, Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germa, Italy, Bosnia, New York Times, Monika Grütters, Slovenia, Estonia, Museum and Politics Conference, National Gallery, Museum of Fine Arts, entzogogene Kunst, Czech Republic

Corcoran Merger Approved, Cy Prés Ruling Treats Deaccession as Non-Starter in Concluding that Status Quo is Untenable

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on August 19, 2014 at 8:05 AM

As reported initially, Judge Robert Okun of the District of Columbia Superior Court allowed yesterday the cy prés petition by the trustees of the Corcoran Gallery and the Corcoran College of Art + Design. The full opinion can be read here. The petition asked to reform the trust of William Corcoran to permit a merger with the National Gallery of Art and George Washington University, a merger that will now proceed. The ruling addresses the financial condition of the Corcoran at length, but what is perhaps most interesting is the court’s acceptance of a central argument made by the Corcoran that selling its artwork to shore up its finances was an unacceptable way to proceed. This adopts the view, espoused most prominently by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) and the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), that deaccessioning for anything other than the purchase or care of art is anathema. Right or wrong, that acceptance in this opinion should have long lasting effects. Framing the question in this way was a work of skilled lawyering by the Corcoran’s attorneys, and kudos must go as well to the interveners and their counsel, without whom the other side of the story would have had no advocates at the trial. Those interveners have stated that they do not intend to appeal, meaning the case is over. Jayme McLellan, founder of Save the Corcoran, issued a statement after the ruling that “The Corcoran as we know it is gone. We fought the good fight." Incidentally, in response to our earlier reporting of McLellan’s role, I received an e-mail yesterday from Mimi Carter, the Corcoran’s Vice President, Marketing & Communication. Ms. Carter stated “Jayme McLellan was not fired from the Corcoran. She resigned in 2012, as mentioned on the first day of court hearings, citing differences with leadership. While there was a miscommunication with Ms. McLellan because of a lack of internal systems, due to a diminished staff and finances, she was not offered a contract to teach this coming Fall. Statements of retaliation are simply false.”

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Topics: Donn Zaretsky, Middles States Commission on Higher Education, Harry Hopper III, Anne Smith, Deaccession, Kathy Raffa, National Gallery of Art, Chiara Trabucchi, Industrial Economics, Jayme McLellan, William Corcoran, Save the Corcoran, George Washington University, sanctions, Corcoran Merger, University of Maryland, Deaccessioning, Cy Pres, Judge Robert Okun, Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento, District of Columbia Superior Court, AAM Code of Ethics, Corcoran College of Art + Design, Lauren Stack, Alexander Haas, Paul Johnson, Trusts, Art Institute of Chicago, Dr. Steven Knapp, Corcoran Gallery, Museums, New York Times, Sean O’Connor, Caroline Lacey, MSCHE, Dr. Wallach Loh, Deaccessioning Blog, Art Law Report, Mimi Carter, National Public Radio

A Trust For The Benefit of the Public is Not “the Public Trust”—The Deaccessioning Debate and the Detroit Institute of Arts

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on June 4, 2014 at 6:30 AM

Reflecting on the recent argument by the Detroit Institute of Arts that the city of Detroit cannot legally sell, let alone be forced to sell, the artwork in the museum to satisfy creditor, some overlapping terminology creates the possibility of an important confusion. Particularly in the realm of deaccessioning, this distinctions are quite important. Meanwhile, the state of Michigan today approved its part of the “Grand Bargain” to subsidize the bankruptcy to avoid sale or encumbrance of the artwork.

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Topics: Donn Zaretsky, Roberta Smith, Rose Art Museum, Lee Rosenbaum, Columbia University, Deaccessioning, Detroit Institute of Arts, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Association of Art Museum Directors, Michigan, Albright-Knox Gallery, New York Times, Detroit Bankruptcy, AAMD, Edward Hopper, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, grand bargain, Brandeis University, Barnes Foundation

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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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