Friday, 22 February 2013

No Longer Ironic? Taking another look at Charles Krafft

In the United States, the creation of artistic works goes hand-in-hand with the First Amendment rights of individuals to speak.  That is, the First Amendment protects the creative freedom of artists to make pieces that may be shocking or politically critical and to openly discuss their works with others.

Seattle artist Charles Krafft is well known for his postmodern ceramics, which often incorporated delicately painted Nazi imagery such as his ceramic Hitler bust tea pots.  Common thinking on Krafft's work was that it was ironic, provocative, absurdist, and darkly satirical.  Krafft's pieces are held by museums and private collectors alike.

However, more recently, Krafft's public remarks and participation on a white nationalist podcast have led some to conclude that Krafft is a Holocaust denier and Nazi sympathizer.  While coverage of the issue began with local Seattle paper The Stranger, larger publications and art blogs also picked up the story.  These events have changed the manner in which his works are perceived by some and will likely affect how Krafft's pieces are valued and resold (creating taxation and estate planning issues for collectors).  As Phil Campbell wrote in the HuffPost Arts & Culture Blog, "We should be able to judge art apart from the personal politics of the artist, but Krafft's work doesn't allow for that."  While the First Amendment protects Krafft's controversial speech, Krafft's exercise of his rights may have a lasting, if not devastating, impact on his artistic legacy.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Inept thief charged with stealing Dali

Cartel de Don Juan Tenorio by Salvador Dali
There are widespread reports this week of the case brought by the New York authorities against a Greek man in relation to a bungled attempt to steal this DalĂ­ painting from New York gallery, Venus Over Manhattan.

Last June, in broad daylight, Phivos Istavrioglou walked into the gallery, pulled the painting off the wall and put it in his shopping bag – in front of security cameras and leaving fingerprints in the process. Once photos of him from the security cameras started to circulate, Istavrioglou was scared into removing the picture from its frame, rolling it up and sending it back to New York.
Unfortunately for Istavrioglou, New York detectives were able to lift his fingerprints from the package, which they then matched to those taken from another shoplifting incident, and were thus able to identify Istavrioglou. As a final step, an undercover policeman posed as an art gallery owner and convinced Istavrioglou to return to New York with the offer of a consultant position. Upon his touch down at JFK, Istavrioglou was arrested.

Istavrioglou has pleaded not guilty to grand larceny. Bail has been set at $100,000 (£65,000).

Source: New York Post, 19 February 2013, The Guardian, 20 February 2013

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

The Cheapest Caravaggio: Sotheby's sued by former client

Sotheby's is being sued in the High Court by a former client over a painting attribution, the Art Newspaper reported last week.

The painting in question is very similar to Caravaggio's The Cardsharps, on display in the Kimbell Art Museum, Texas. But Sotheby's considered it to be of lower quality than the Kimbell version and, when it sold the painting in 2006, the auction house described it as being the work of a "follower" of Caravaggio. Imagine the chagrin of its former owner Lancelot Thwaytes when it was bought for a measly £50,400 by eminent scholar and collector Sir Denis Mahon, who then announced it to be a genuine Caravaggio worth an estimated £10m for export licence purposes. Some reports even estimate its worth at up to £50m. Why, Thwaytes must have asked himself, did Sotheby's not realise that my painting was the real thing, thus leaving me over £9.9m out of pocket? It is perhaps understandable that father thinking the matter over in the intervening years, he has decided to sue for damages which, given the discrepancy between even the modest valuation for a Caravaggio and the price Mahon actually paid, could be substantial. 

The attribution of a painting is often a matter of expert opinion rather than fact. The identity of an artist may be impossible to prove or disprove. In this case there are Caravaggio experts on both sides of the argument. Sotheby's itself sticks to its original view that "the painting is a copy and not an autograph work by Caravaggio". Thwyates on the other hand is arguing that the auction house did not carry our adequate research to back this position up, and his claim lists several art experts who like Mahon believe the painting to be an original Caravaggio. 

The case is one of several in recent years which demonstrate the potential dangers of offering a professional view on the attribution of artworks. "Auction houses have pages of small print and teams of lawyers," the Art Newspaper said in its article The Law vs Scholarship on scholars who fear giving opinions on attribution. "None of this has prevented  number of high profile lawsuits". 

Whether the painting is a Caravaggio or not, and whether Sotheby's had adequate reason to say it was the work only of a follower in 2006, are not necessarily the same questions.However it may be that the court is required to answer both the latter question when considering liability, and the former questioned determining damages (if liability is established). As always when a court is required to judge the status of an artwork,  will be very interesting to see the approach taken when answering both questions. 

Read the Art Newspaper's report here

An examination of protection for opinions on the authenticity of art

Protection From Legal Claims For Opinions About The Authenticity Of Art is the title of an excellent article by Ronald D. Spencer, the author of The Expert Versus the Object: Judging Fakes and False Attributions in the Visual Arts (Oxford University Press, New York 2004), on legal protection for expert opinions on the authenticity of art.

The article examines the nature of the opinion about authenticity to be protected, the problem of art authentication bodies ceasing their authentication activities due to concerns about incurring legal liability for their opinions, and the protection available to experts and their opinions. It is well worth a read.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Beatles' first single "Love me do" into the public domain in Europe?

The Beatles' first single" Love Me Do / P.S. I Love You" has entered the public domain in Europe.

Under European copyright law, the copyright on recorded music lasted 50 years since a song or an album is first released, while the songwriter's publishing copyright lasts 70 years after the composer's death.

Since "Love Me Do" and its B-side, "P.S. I Love You," were released in 1962, protection for the tracks expired on December 31st, 2012.

To prevent many songs from slipping into the public domain, in the 2000's Cliff Richard, the British pop icon, and others campaigned for a copyright extensions for performers who performed on a sound recording. Then, the European Union passed the so-called "Sir Cliff's Law" i.e. the EC Directive 2011/77, granting an extension  from 50 to 70 years of the term of protection for a sound recording.

Such law hasn't yet come into effect since the changes are still being implemented into the laws of each member state across the European Union. The process of implementation  will set to be complete by November of this year.

Then, for everything recorded before 1963, they technically fall within the public domain in Europe: the copyright for the song remains, but the licensing fees usually provided to publishers has lapsed, meaning that anyone can distribute the original recordings without permission for the record labels.

In another twist, the EU Term Extension conditions include a 'use it or lose it' clause for anything recorded before 1963, so that labels will have to cede control over its copyright to performers, if it does not market the sound recording containing the performance. Labels and performers shall prove that they were still invested in bringing them to new audiences in the following years.

Then, Sony Music and Legacy recordings are doing that for Bob Dylan's song, since the recording copyright are beginning to expire. For instance, Sony released late last year a very limited, 100-copy, of 50th Anniversary Collection box set, including 86 unreleased Dylan tracks dating back to 1962 and 1963 - or, better said, 50 and 51 years.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Voina recognises the virtues of the law?

Our favourite Russian art group is in the news again – but this time it seems they are not protesting the law. Art Info reports that:
Voina (translating to “war” in English) openly rejects the rule of law, yet they have recently taken to the Moscow courts to sue filmmaker Andrey Gryazev for his 2012 documentary about the group, “Tomorrow.”
The film, which reportedly cost just $2,000 to make, follows the everyday lives of the artists as they plot future protests, pee on cars, and shoplift diapers for their youngest member, Kasper, son of Voina leader Oleg Vorotnikov and his wife, Natalia Sokol. The members clearly granted Gryazev broad access, but their lawsuit, filed in a Moscow court in November, claims they were led to believe that the footage was intended for archival use only and that distributing it violates their right to privacy. Voina is seeking about $33,000 in damages.
Voina had sought to prevent distribution of the film in a number all of ways, which were all unsuccessful. Indeed, Gryazev is said to have a contract and on-camera permission from Vortnikov and Sokol. It remains to be seen what the Moscow courts think of Voina's case.

Source: ArtInfo, 13 February 2013

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Iconic artwork, graffiti tags and a distorting Lens

"Delacroix Liberty painting defaced in Louvre" was the headline of a recent BBC news item. The painting in question is portrayed above.  According to the article:
"French police have detained a woman accused of defacing an iconic Delacroix painting, Liberty Leading The People, at a branch of the Louvre Museum.She was held after being seen scrawling a graffiti tag on the painting, a Romantic masterpiece painted in 1830 to celebrate a French uprising. The museum in the northern town of Lens said the work might easily be cleaned but would be examined by a restorer. ...

The painting by Eugene Delacroix, which featured on the pre-euro, 100-franc French banknote and reportedly inspired the Statue of Liberty in New York, is being exhibited in Lens for a year.French media quoted unnamed legal sources as saying the graffito was a clear reference to a 9/11 conspiracy theory. ...

Just before closing time the previous day, a 28-year-old woman scrawled the 30cm (12in) graffito on the bottom of the painting and was immediately detained by a museum guard, France's 20 Minutes news website reported.

The work itself, which commemorates the July Revolution of 1830, measures 325cm by 260cm.

The mark may be "easily cleaned" but a restoration expert was being sent from the parent museum in Paris, the museum said in a statement.

No decision has yet been taken on whether the painting will have to be removed, the museum was quoted as saying by French broadcaster France 3.

The local prosecutor, Philippe Peyroux, told AFP news agency that the woman in custody appeared to be "unstable" and that he had requested a psychiatric examination. He added that the woman, whose identity has not been released, had a "French-sounding name ..."

Iconic? The parodic effect can be seen as far away
as Australia. See Saddami's Graffiti here
The painting's iconic status may have made it an attractive target for anyone wanting to publicise a 9/11 conspiracy theory, but there are better ways of getting a message across than defacing the original.  The painting is out of copyright and can thus be modified or otherwise exploited without the need to prevent others enjoying the original, as the examples above and below show:

Here's another contemporary take, this time
from Still Full of It
Exercises like this not only strengthen the ability of the original to serve as a reference point but attract copyright in their own right as original artistic works or emanations of the author's own intellectual creation. If the lady with the French-sounding name had imposed her graffiti tag on a copy and pushed it out on to the social media, with some prospect of it going viral, she might have achieved not only more publicity but more positive publicity too.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Tax avoidance for all

With David Beckham being lauded for his savvy tax dodging you may be forgiven for thinking that famous footballers have a monopoly on tax avoidance. Not so.

Also reported today is the news that artist Lucian Freud, who died in July 2011, bequeathed artworks by Corot and Degas in his will to the state under the government's 'acceptance in lieu' (AiL) scheme. Under the scheme, people can offer items of cultural and historical importance to the state in full or part payment of their inheritance tax, capital transfer tax or estate duty. The scheme is said to offer clear tax benefits to owners as items are generally worth 17 percent more if offered in lieu of tax than if sold on the open market at the same price, because tax must be paid on the amount an object is sold for. Once accepted, the works are distributed to museums, galleries and public archival depositories throughout the UK. Thus, in this instance, the Corot works are said to be going to the National Gallery, while the Degas works are to be displayed at The Courtauld Gallery.

So, you don't have to be a famous footballer to get a tax break....being a famous artist is just as good.

More details of the AiL scheme can be found here.

Source: BBC, 4 February 2013