Monday 28 November 2011

Scam Alert!

The Guardian reports that art dealers have become the victims of the latest online scam. The article explains:

"Thousands of art and antiques dealers, fair organisers and auction houses have been targeted in a global extortion scam that involves victims being subjected to months – and even years – of threatening demands for money.

Unsuspecting British and foreign traders have been conned by what appear to be bona fide forms – either sent by email or posted – merely purporting to check whether their business details in a "free" international trade listing guide are correct. Only after sending off the form do victims discover that the small print commits them to paying thousands of pounds for placing an "advertising order" in the guide.
Those who are caught out are pursued relentlessly, enduring intimidating threats by letters or phone calls to pay up or face prosecution and debt collectors…

The fraudsters trade under different company names in different countries and, if the authorities catch up with them, they pop up again somewhere else. Many victims do not realise there is no legal basis for paying or are reluctant to incur legal advice, and are embarrassed into silence. Most recently, the art trade has been targeted by companies apparently based in Spain and Mexico."

Those who have been caught out included Ivan Macquisten, editor of industry newspaper the Antiques Trade Gazette, who said: "It has affected, personally, thousands of lives. It is a huge problem, but one that lots of people have never heard of…. They are banking on enough people being scared into paying."

Another victim, Ian Butchoff, an antique furniture dealer said he received one of the official-looking forms, followed by a letter "confirming" his annual €700(£600) payment, which he ignored. He then continued to receive menacing solicitors' letters from Switzerland. Butchoff's wife, who has a framing business, was also targeted, and ended up paying the sum demanded because, says Butchoff, they were threatening her.

I would be interested to hear from anyone who has come across this problem – either an art dealer who has received demands, or a legal adviser who has been asked for advice in respect of such a demand – and how they dealt with it.

Clearly we need to get the word out to watch out for this scam. Perhaps the best advice to avoid the situation is the old adage "Always read the fine print!"

Source: The Guardian, 27 November 2011

Tuesday 22 November 2011

What's the opposite of stolen art?

Free to a good home? The Burghers of Calais
The Art Newspaper reports that Rodin's monumental Burghers of Calais, standing near the Houses of Parliament, does not have a legal owner - or at least not one who'll admit to it.

While most people would probably be quite keen to own a sculpture valued in the millions, the candidates for owning for this one are denying everything.

The statues tell a story from the Hundred Years War, when Edward III besieged Calais. Edward declared that if six citizens of Calais would come out to give him their keys and their lives, he would spare the rest of the city. Rodin's six Burghers are represented on their way to meet the king, expecting to be beheaded.

Bought in 1911 by the National Art Collections Fund and donated to the nation, the statues now stand in Victoria Tower Gardens. The gardens are run by Royal Parks, and they are responsible for looking after the Rodin, but they say it's not actually theirs - even though when the Burghers were lent to exhibitions in years past, Royal Parks were credited as the lender. The Parliamentary Art Committee likewise disclaims ownership. The Art Fund notes the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) as owner, but the DCMS thinks otherwise.

The story was the same with another sculpture nearby - Henry Moore's Knife Edge Two Piece. It was also donated to the nation, this time by the artist himself in 1967. The Telegraph reports that the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the DCMS, English Heritage, the Government Art Collection, Westminster Council and the Greater London Authority have all confirmed it isn't theirs.

The Henry Moore Foundation recently announced that Knife Edge, in urgent need of restoration, was to be adopted by the House of Commons. Conservation is due to begin in early 2012.

As for the Burghers, anyone with house space for six life size Rodins may want to put their hand up now.

Read more in the Art Newspaper here and here.
Read more in the Telegraph.

Monday 21 November 2011

Street Artists Fight Back

A Los Angeles based arts organistion, L.A. Art Machine, and three California artists, Mear One, Chor Boogie, and Shark Toof, are reported to have brought a claim in the US federal court against Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) and the Ritz-Carlton Residences at L.A. Live, owned by AEG, for destroying $100,000 of their artwork.

In a press release from Zohar Law Firm, P.C., representing the claimants, it is said that the artwork had been loaned to AEG and the Ritz-Carlton Residences for a high-end promotional event held by AEG at the luxury condos located at L.A. Live in conjunction with the 2011 Los Angeles Art Show, but instead of being returned to the artists, the work was dismantled and discarded.

The release continues:

"Part of the event was curated by Bryson Strauss, an internationally-recognized gallery and museum curator and director of the L.A. Art Machine, a community-based arts organization. Mr. Strauss was to supply fine artwork for the real estate marketing event on January 19, 2011, designed to attract potential buyers to the Ritz-Carlton Residences’ multi-million dollar penthouse suite, which remained unsold at the time. Mr. Strauss brought in several famed artists who provided their works for display at the event, including Shepard Fairey, creator of the Barack Obama "Hope" poster, and three critically-acclaimed street artists: Mear One, Chor Boogie and Shark Toof. Other featured artworks at the event were by legendary photojournalist Henri Cartier-Bresson, David LaChapelle, and Garret Suhrie. Following the successful party and the sale of Mr. Fairey's works (which were then removed), AEG asked that Mear One, Chor Boogie and Shark Toof continue displaying their artwork because the penthouse would be shown to more potential buyers in the future. The artists agreed, but on condition that their multiple pieces of artwork eventually had to be returned, and had to be professionally de-installed under the supervision of L.A. Art Machine.

However, several months later, after Mr. Strauss and the artists had already made arrangements with AEG to retrieve the artwork, they were told that the artwork had been ordered removed by AEG and then disposed of as part of a routine cleanup."
Daniel Y. Zohar from Zohar Law says:

"What AEG did was in violation not only of my clients’ economic rights, but a violation of their moral rights as defined by federal and state law…

These renowned artists had agreed to show their artwork at the Ritz-Carlton Residences to help AEG attract affluent potential clientele to their vacant, multi-million dollar condos. Yet in return, their valuable art was coldly destroyed…

My clients were shocked by this admission and expected an apology, as well as payment for their artwork. AEG offered neither…

Apparently they thought my clients lacked the resources and courage to take on such an influential and powerful business. They were wrong."

It will be interesting to get hold of the Complaint and see what the defendants' response will be. If the facts are indeed as stated, it seems outrageous that artworks from these well-known artists were so thoughtlessly destroyed.

Source: Enhanced Online News, 14 November 2011

Friday 18 November 2011

Online art: a new business model?

You can access s[edition]'s
website and make your
purchases here
An article on the BBC this morning, "Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst design artwork for mobiles", reports that limited edition contemporary art for mobile phones, designed by contemporary artists such as Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin, is being made available for purchase for online use. The article explains:
"... The original authenticated artwork can be downloaded for display on phones, tablets, computers and TVs. Works will be created in limited runs of between 2,000 and 10,000 and will cost between £5 and £500.

"I like the idea of original pieces of art going to people directly for a low price," Emin said. "When you are an artist and you get to a certain level, it means that you have forced yourself out of the market for a lot of people, and this makes pure art available" [This rather suggests that the artist has no control over the pricing of his or her works, though one imagines that there is some control over the price at which the work is first sold ...]

The website, called s[edition], launched on Thursday. By Friday morning, 18 people had already purchased the most expensive item - Damien Hirst's For Heaven's Sake.

The piece, priced at £500, is a high definition video displaying one of the artist's famous diamond-encrusted skulls.

Purchasers store their copy of the artwork, which is numbered and authenticated, in an online "vault" which is accessible from connected devices such as iPads and internet-enabled televisions.

The site's terms and conditions [which you can read here] suggest that, in the future, collectors will be able to trade their collections with other members of the website via an internal marketplace ...".
The site's software is already geared for record-keeping for the purposes of the artist's resale right.

Of note are the site's Intellectual Property provisions:
"Intellectual Property

By posting, contributing, distributing, communicating or transmitting any Member Content, a Member expressly grants to us a non-exclusive, royalty-free, irrevocable licence (including the right to grant sub-licences through multiple tiers) to use, reproduce, adapt and distribute that material worldwide through s[edition] and any other interactive services through which we make s[edition] (or a service based on s[edition]) available. For the avoidance of doubt, the licence under this Clause 8 will survive any termination of these Conditions or any cancellation, suspension or lapse of the relevant Account. Note that we may modify any material associated with a Member or an Account in order to conform it to s[edition] (such as by cropping images).

Artists should note that the above paragraph does not apply to the artworks that they license to s[edition], which are governed by the terms of the separate Artist Agreement that they enter into with s[edition].

You acknowledge that all copyright, trade marks, and other intellectual property rights in and relating to s[edition] (including, without limitation, Member Content associated Members other than you) are owned by, or licensed to, us. You may use and access s[edition] and that Member Content only to the extent required for the use of the Services in accordance with these Conditions, and for the purpose that we make them available.

No-one may copy, distribute, show in public or create any derivative work from s[edition], or any of the material which is found on s[edition] unless properly licensed to do so by us.

Members agree not to use any robot, spider, scraper or other automated means to access s[edition] for any purpose without our prior express written permission".
Interesting ...

Tuesday 8 November 2011

The Church and the Getty fight over the Armenian Zey'tun Gospels

The Getty is in hot water again.

In 1994 it paid US$950,000 for eight illuminated pages which once formed part of the Zeyt'un Gospels, an Armenian manuscript dating to 1256. Since June 2010, the Armenian Orthodox Church has been suing for their return.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the Getty's application to have the Church's claim dismissed was denied last week by the Los Angeles Superior Court. The museum had argued that the six year limitation period allowed under California law for the church to bring its claim had long since expired but that, said the judge, was unclear.

The beginning of the Gospel of St Mark
It's no surprise that the Getty has come in for criticism that it should not be relying on legal arguments that it holds good title to the Gospel pages, but instead should consider the matter ethically and academically.

According to the church's suit the pages were separated from the rest of the volume and vanished in mysterious circumstances in 1916, during the Armenian genocide in the then Ottoman Empire. 78 years later an American Armenian family in Massachusetts sold them to the Getty. The church contends that the pages were stolen in 1916 and that the Getty had not adequately investigated their provenance before purchasing them in 1994.

Now the Church wants the pages reunited with the rest of the volume in the city of Yerevan, capital of Armenia, so the Gospels will be whole again and can be studied by scholars in its original state. It also points out that the Gospels were revered in Armenia and were believed to grant physical protection; as significant cultural patrimony for the twenty-year-old republic, the Church believes Armenia is where the Gospel pages should be.

But not all Armenians agree. 'I personally think that these 8 pages do much greater good to Armenians if they remain at the Getty,' one Armenian blogger commented last week. 'So many people can be exposed to them at the Getty who would never otherwise see an Armenian manuscript. This includes many Armenians in LA.' Los Angeles has the second largest community of Armenians outside the Republic of Armenia.

A four-month mediation period has been ordered, with the case to resume on 2 March 2012 if the matter is still unresolved.

Read more at the Los Angeles Times.

Sunday 6 November 2011

Don't be a mug: Yet another reason to avoid arrest

Lenora's eyebrow always gave the game away under interrogation

This blogger is the first to admit that she is a bit behind in her blogging efforts. However, behind the scenes she has been gathering a variety of art law updates from the summer months for your edification. The favourite of these untold stories comes from an August edition of the New York Times.

Larken Design, A US based company has discovered a surprisingly lucrative trade in selling reproductions of 1955 California police mug shots.

But have the owners of Larken design got permission to use these images? Do they even need it? According to the New York Times, the origins of the prints are as follows:

“Ms. Finke [one of the founders of Larken Design] found the original photos nearly two years ago at an antiques store in … Nevada. They were thrown out more than a decade earlier by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department in California, when it went to an automated jail-information system. The Nevada store owner had bought about 200 of them, for $50, from an unknown local flea-market seller.”

The Larken Design website says “This poster was created from the original Police Department negative we own. Awesome, right?”

The images are indeed pretty awesome but the copyright presumably belongs to the US Government (with moral rights attaching to the police photographer). This presumption was put to the test by Casey Nice, assistant sheriff for Alameda County (the County from which the mugshots originated), who told the New York Times that “since arrest records in California are public information, dissemination does not appear to be a crime. Nor did they have copyright protection.” This blogger does not pretend to understand the nuances of US copyright law but is surprised by the above verdict. Readers who have a greater understanding of such nuances – please comment below.

The photos have also been touched up to highlight physical features and, in some instances, they have been tinted. There may have been sufficient creative input by Larken Design to create a new copyright protected work in the retouched images.

Jeff liked the Larken tinting - better than Just for Men gel

In addition to the cloud of uncertainty which surrounds the copyright in these images there is the possibility of a claim for breach of privacy. Although the individuals are not named and 55 years on they have no doubt changed in appearance they are nevertheless potentially identifiable. As the company’s success increases, the potential for an individual or class action for breach of privacy must be something the owners have considered. The New York Times looked into this issue in particular detail and obtained the opinion of Peter Swire, a law and judicial administration professor at the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University. He believed that Larken Design would have a strong defence on the basis that “they’re not telling the names of anybody, so they’re not harming any individual, and that under the First Amendment they’re allowed to publish truthful old photos… The fact they’re making money doesn’t change the analysis.”

If you have an alternative opinion please get in touch.

Larken Design is by no means the only company to use police mugshots for commercial gain. The Smoking Gun divides its mugshots collection into civilians and celebrities. Bad and Busted is an online magazine of “ALL AVAILABLE arrest records, sex offenders, and most wanted mugshots weekly!! Now for sale in Baldwin, Greene, Morgan, Putnam & Walton counties, [Georgia, USA]”. Both sites use the mugshots for entertainment/vigilantism rather than art.

Significantly, the images on these websites are all fairly contemporary. Unlike the anonymous and gentle artistic approach of Larken Design, these images are designed to maximise the embarrassment factor for the individuals concerned.

Feeling a mug? Buy your own mug book here.

[Update: Clearly Simone and I have similar interests...! For an alternative take on the issues in these photos, please see Simone's earlier post here. Apologies to readers for the duplicated material].

Friday 4 November 2011

UK bars export of Francesco Guardi's View of the Rialto Bridge

The UK's rules on exporting works of art (also discussed in Art and Artifice last year) stormed into action recently when Francesco Guardi's magnificent eighteenth century painting Venice, a View of the Rialto Bridge, Looking North, from the Fondamenta del Carbon went on sale at Sotheby's in London.

Going nowhere: View of the Rialto Bridge
The huge work, originally purchased in 1768 by an English Grand Tourist and sold into the Guinness family in 1891, has now been bought by an anonymous bidder for almost £26.7m. But the painting is currently going nowhere; it has been temporarily barred from export by the arts minister, Ed Vaizey.

Owners wishing to export a work of art out of the UK must have a licence to do so where that work is over a certain age and value. An oil painting to be exported from the UK to another EU member state, for example, must have an export licence if it is over 50 years of age and valued at over £180,000.

Applications for such licences go to the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, who may refer them on to expert advisers. These experts will consider whether the work fulfills any of the three 'Waverley Criteria' (is the work so closely connected to the country's history that its removal would be a misfortune? Is the work of outstanding aesthetic significance? And lastly, is it of outstanding significance for the study of some branch of art, learning or history?). If any of the criteria apply, the adviser may object to the work's export and a licence can be delayed, typically by two to six months.

The purpose of the delay is to allow time for a UK buyer to step in, find funds and retain the work for the nation. This system has allowed UK collections to retain many art objects which would otherwise have left the country. Perhaps most famously, Raphael's Madonna of the Pinks was bought by the National Gallery in 2004 following a long campaign to raise its £22m price tag, preventing its departure to the Getty in Los Angeles.

But not everybody is in favour of the process. It has been suggested that it could damage the London art market, leaving buyers frustrated when their purchases are prevented from leaving the UK. For sellers it can also be frustrating: if they refuse an offer from a UK buyer because they could get more from an overseas purchaser, an export licence may be refused entirely. Is it fair that the rightful owner is not free to sell where he can get the best price?

And what about instances where an object has little connection with the UK? It is easy to see a case for retaining works such as the collection of Thomas Hardy papers, recently saved from export and now in Dorset County Museum, Hardy's own county. But is there any reason that a painting of eighteenth century Venice should be in the UK rather than, say, the USA? And is it better that a work should remain in a private collection in the UK than go to a public collection in another country?

Amongst those who disapprove of the bars must surely be numbered the buyer of View of the Rialto, gazing sadly at his Guardi-less walls. We look forward to seeing whether the painting's new home will eventually be here in the UK.

Read more at the Guardian here.

Thursday 3 November 2011

Is Ai Weiwei risking freedom again because of his art?

A poster is seen on a work at Tate Modern
 entitled "Sunflower Seeds" by Ai WeiWei, in
central London April 9, 2011 during artist's detention. 
Ai Weiwei, the world famous Chinese artist, has now only two weeks to pay an enormous tax bill served by Chinese authorities of  $ 2.4 millions for unpaid taxes and fines, otherwise he will face seven years in jail.

Ai Weiwei is known worldwide as a conceptual artist, an architect and a film maker, whose aim is to denounce - through his art - Chinese society's corruption and injustice.

When he was released on bail last June by Chinese police, after 81 days detention for presumed fiscal fraud, he was banned from speaking publicly: he could not use Twitter, give interviews and leave Peking for at least one year. But the artist started soon to use Twitter again, to communicate with his followers and, during an interview, he denounced that, during imprisonment, police was not interested at all in his alleged tax evasion, but rather to prevent him from speaking out thanks to his art.

The artist and his lawyers are now rejecting all tax claims, declaring these accusations are used to silence out one of the strongest moral opponent of the Chinese regime. Ai Weiwei is trying to defend himself saying the company which produces his works - the Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd - is run from his wife rather than from him. Nevertheless, Chinese authorities found him guilty for unpaid taxes as "actual controller" of this company, more than as legal owner.

Finally, introducing his 2010 exhibition at the Tate Modern, Mr Ai said with regard to his art " I spend very little time just doing 'art as art'. From a very young age I started to sense that an individual has to set an example in society. Your own act of behaviour tell the world who you are and at the same time what kind of society it should be".

Read more on NY Times here
Read more on Aljazeera here
Read Ai Wewei's quotes  released during the interview for the 2010 Tate Modern exhibition  here