Art Law Report

New Law Requires Museums in New York to Display Information About Nazi Art Looting, May be More Complicated than it Looks

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on August 17, 2022 at 2:40 PM

New York Governor Kathy Hochul has signed into law a new requirement requiring museums to indicate publicly any object in their collection that was displaced by the Nazis as part of what Congress has rightly called the largest organized theft of art in human history. The significance of this new rule is clear: New York is the center of the art world, and its museums hold a unique place of prominence. As readers of this blog or of my book A Tragic Fate-Law and Ethics in the Battle Over Nazi-Looted Art know, my view has long been that American museums vary widely in their candor and proactive approach to the issue of Nazi-looted art in their collections. Many have shown admirable initiative in probing their collections, while others have shown a regrettable passivity in waiting to receive and then deflect claims. Whether this bill will move the needle on that balance is the question. Transparency and disclosure have been the defining goals of the modern restitution era. This new law serves many of those ideals, but some unintended consequences may follow.

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Topics: Metropolitan Museum of Art, American Alliance of Museums, Nazi-looted art, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, Washington Conference on Holocaust Era Assets, Supreme Court, Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art, AAM, Museum of Modern Art, Nuremberg race laws, Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Stolen Ar, Association of Art Museum Directors, Washington Department of Labor and Industries, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, AAMD, Military Government Law 59, State Department, Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act, HEAR Act, A Tragic Fate, Law and Ethics in the Battle Over Nazi-Looted Art, Governor Kathy Hochul, Reich Citizenship Law, Animal House, Kevin Bacon

Leonard Peltier and Public Displays of Art—The Government Taking Sides on Whose Paintings are Shown Stirs Up First Amendment Problems

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on November 17, 2015 at 3:51 PM

An exhibition in Washington (state) that included art by a number of Native Americans, including Leonard Peltier, has provoked an outcry that may have Constitutional dimensions that went unconsidered. Peltier is a controversial Native American activist who was convicted of murdering in 1975 two FBI agents, Jack R. Coler and Ronald A. Williams. His conviction has long been a Rorschach Test for responses to Native American activism and the federal government’s response—Peltier has strenuously insisted he is innocent, and the FBI has adamantly maintained he was properly convicted. This has now raised its head in the realm of the public display of art, and whether the government may, or should discriminate among artists. After an outcry about the inclusion of Peltier’s art by a number of current and retired law enforcement officials, the Washington Department of Labor and Industries has announced that it will remove Peltier’s paintings from the display that marked Native American Indian Heritage Month there, and has apologized. Yet regardless of one’s opinion if Peltier’s guilt or innocence, the government has stepped in a First Amendment quagmire when it made a public forum available for expression and then removed the expressive work of only one person because of who he is. The First Amendment, after all, acts to protect expression regardless of popularity, indeed, particularly so. It is hard to argue that his work was removed for any of the reasons that courts generally permit restrictions on speech in the various kinds of public forums. It remains to be seen whether Peltier will object on those grounds.

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Topics: Ray Lauer, Wounded Knee, Ronald A. Williams, North Dakota, Florida, South Dakota, American Indian Movement, Native American Indian Heritage Month, Pine Ridge Reservation, Native American, Coleman Federal Correctional Facility Coleman, National Retired Agents Association, Washington Department of Labor and Industries, First Amendment, Guardians of the Oglala Nation. GOON, Jack R. Coler, AIM, Leonard Peltier, Lakota Sioux Chippewa

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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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