Friday 30 May 2014

Detroit drama deconstructed

It's been a while since we checked in with the state of affairs in Detroit. You may remember, this time last year, we reported here and here about the city filing for bancruptcy and how there were suggestions of the Detroit Institute of Arts selling works from its collection to help pay the city's massive debt.

Despite a lot of criticism and opposition, the city's emergency financial manager, Kevyn Orr, went ahead and ordered Christie’s to appraise part of the collection, namely only artworks purchased by the city. Christie's estimated that, if sold, the works would raise between $454 million and $867 million. 

But now it is not just the city which is interested in the value of the art. Creditors of the city of Detroit have also turned their attention to the DIA collection as a source of cash. Indeed, they went so far as to file motions to allow them to remove pieces from the walls of the DIA in order to inspect and appraise them, and to access historic documents about the art, on the basis that Christie’s evaluation did not give an accurate estimate of the value of the collection

Earlier this month, the DIA were granted a bit breathing space by the Detroit court which denied these motions - reportedly telling the creditors that they could visit the museum and enjoy the art on the walls like everyone else. Although the creditors were given permission to work with DIA officials to inspect artwork which is in storage at the museum. Unfortunately, it seems that the valuation has nevertheless moved to the next level - with officials handling the bankruptcy proceedings advising the court this week that a comprehensive appraisal of the value of the collection is now underway.

Separately, the Detroit Free Press reports that: "the [DIA] moved to protect itself in court, arguing in its own filing that its artwork is legally protected from the auction block and threatened a court battle if the city pursues a sale. It said it will support the city's plan to allow the transfer of ownership of the Detroit Institute of Arts to an independent non-profit. But the museum's threat to challenge any sale in court sets up the museum as a potential obstacle for the city if the current restructuring proposal collapses."

The next major stage of this saga is the trial to determine whether the restructuring plan submitted by the city should be implemented. It is scheduled to start on 24 July.

Source: The Detroit Free Press, 15 May 2014, 27 May 2014,

Friday 23 May 2014

Cambodia to Cleveland?

Last year saw several claims by Cambodian officials in respect of art they allege was looted from Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime. One of the claims was to a statue in the Cleveland Museum of Art collection, which the Cambodian cultural authorities say was looted from Prasat Chen, a 1000-year-old temple about 75 miles northeast of the better known Angkor Wat.

This month, the Cleveland Museum announced that after lengthy investigations they have determined that the statue is not from from Prasat Chen.

The Plain Dealer reports:
During the winter, the museum sent curator Sonya Rhie Quintanilla to Prasat Chen, a site of temple ruins 180 miles northwest of Phnom Penh.  
Based on her research, the museum said it has ruled out Prasat Chen as the sculpture's original location, although it said it could not rule out the possibility that it may been removed illegally from some other site.  
To check whether the work came from Prasat Chen, Quintanilla, the museum's curator of Indian and Southeast Asian art, carried in her luggage a lightweight plastic resin facsimile of the base of the Cleveland sculpture.  
When she reached the site, where a thousand-year-old temple features sculptures that narrate Hindu legends, she said she found that the facsimile did not fit the two spots where the museum's Hanuman sculpture logically might have been located.
While perhaps some kudos to the museum for doing some homework, is it really sufficient to say that the statue was not looted because it doesn't fit onto a particular base? I would have expected the museum to concentrate on proving the statue's provenance by reference to its ownership history. Who sold it to the museum? What background checks were performed? etc.

And, granted, the museum is said to be looking into this too. Nevertheless, it seems a bit premature to say the statue is not from Cambodia based on....essentially...a base.

Source: The New York Times, 20 May 2013, The Plain Dealer, 13 May 2014

Thursday 22 May 2014

Dutch collections include art looted during World War II

It has been reported that the art collections of the Palace Het Loo, the Rijksmuseum and three other museums are thought to include pieces and artifacts that were looted from a Jewish family during World War II.

The NL Times explains that:
In total, 15 pieces of a valuable Meissen porcelain dinnerware ware set may have been stolen from the Gutmann family. The items may have been put up for auction in 1934 under coercion from the Nazis.

Now, 80 years after the fact, Amsterdam investigation bureau Artiaz was able to trace the pieces, to the museums...
Artiaz traced the dinnerware set pieces by looking through old auction documents... 
The items are part of a unique 435-piece Meissen dinnerware set depicting village scenes, which was given to Willem V around 1774 as a gift from the United East-Indian Company. The prince sold the set during exile in England.
Artiaz also said that it was controversial that the Ekkart Committee, which was appointed on 1 April 1999 to supervise the provenance research carried out on works of art confiscated during World War II and repatriated to Holland from Germany after the war (the "NK Collection"), failed to identify that the pieces had been looted. However, with the continual stream of new claims over artworks which were stolen from Jewish families during World War II, perhaps this is the least surprising aspect of the story.

Source: NL Times, 14 May 2014.

Wednesday 21 May 2014

Not an easy snatch and grab

A thief managed to make off with a piece of a copper sculpture as it was being installed in a New York park.

The piece was part of an exhibition of Vietnamese artist Danh Vo's work "We the People", organised by the Public Art Fund. We the People is a life-size replica of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s Statue of Liberty, recreated by Danh Vo in about 250 individual pieces.
One part of We the People
MyFoxNY reports that the robbery took place last week in City Hall Park - one of the locations of the exhibition, which was due to open on 17 May. The piece taken was a large, chain link section made of copper resembling a portion of the Statue of Liberty's foot. It is said to weigh about 40lbs and be worth about $6,000.

It does not appear that the theft has impacted on the opening of the exhibition, which can now be seen in both City Hall Park and Brooklyn Bridge Park. The police are investigating.

More details on the exhibition can be found here.

Tuesday 20 May 2014

“The Intersection of Art and Law": symposium ahead!

It's magnificent -- but
is it art?
The John Marshall Law School Review of Intellectual Property Law (RIPL) has chosen for its sixth annual symposium on 24 October 2014 the theme of “Art Meets Law: The Intersection of Art and Law”. Right now, RIPL is soliciting proposals for papers which will be published in its 2015 Symposium issue.

If this takes your fancy, you'd better not delay. Proposals must be received by 15 June 2014 to Symposium Editor Amy Taylor at, in Word or text file, double-spaced, in 12 point font. Accepted papers will be published and authors may be invited to present their works at the Symposium.

Rothko Restored!

Some months ago I wrote an entry regarding Art Attacks.  For lack of another term of art, an "art attack" is when a famous work of art is defaced or otherwise attacked by another artist--the act of the attack or the resulting "new" work being considered art by the attacker.  One such incident occurred late in 2012 when Mark Rothko's painting Black on Maroon was written on in graffiti pen at the Tate Modern.  After 18 months of work by conservators, the painting has been restored and is now available for viewing at the museum.  Phaidon provides an absolutely fascinating look behind the scenes at what it took to restore the piece.  While Black on Maroon is now considered back to its original condition, the implication of the attack and ensuing restoration on the painting's value is estimated to be a £5 million loss, though the Tate indicates it has no intent to sell the piece.  I certainly hope our London-based readers will take the opportunity to go view this brilliantly restored work in person.

Thursday 8 May 2014

Gurlitt dies, hoarded art works remain

Earlier this week the BBC reported the death of Cornelius Gurlitt, the German art hoarder.

A beach scene by German impressionist Max
Liebermann was one of the important discoveries
At presents, says the BBC, there is no definitive answer on what will happen to Gurlitt's secret collection, which included many Nazi-looted pieces. More than 1,400 works were found in his Munich apartment, including pieces by Picasso and Matisse. Many were feared lost or destroyed before tax investigators uncovered his priceless collection in 2012.

Gurlitt, the son of Adolf Hitler's art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt, was ordered to deal in works that had been seized from Jews, or which the Nazis considered "degenerate" and which had been removed from German museums. After initially refusing to cooperate with the authorities, he agreed to return works if it could be proved that they had been stolen.

Presumably an ancillary question remains as to the copyright in these works and as to who might be entitled to any proceeds of sale in respect of their commercial exploitation, a matter on which we can at present only speculate.

Wednesday 7 May 2014

Panis angelicus? Angel of the North helps sell bread

Via Lee Curtis and the Retail + IP LinkedIn Group comes this link to a Guardian feature, "Morrisons employs Angel of the North to sell bread" which reads, in relevant part:
"When Antony Gormley devised one of the most recognisable pieces of public art in the land – the Angel of the North – he wanted to create a work that would serve as a connection between our industrial past and the future of the information age. He had not anticipated that someone would try to use it to flog bread. But that is what the struggling supermarket chain Morrisons has done – projecting an image of a baguette on to the majestic wings of Gormley's sculpture. 
Gormley, who finished the sculpture in 1998, reacted with weary resignation to the news that his masterwork was being plastered with a giant baguette. 

"I'd rather the Angel is not used for such purposes, but it's out there," said Gormley, who does not deal with copyright matters connected to the sculpture.  
The projection is part of the supermarket's campaign to win back customers ...  It cut prices on 1,200 items by an average of 17% on 1 May.
Morrisons did not respond to requests for comment.
Is this an infringement of the right to integrity under the UK's Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, s.80?  According to the Act:
80.-(1) The author of a copyright literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work, and the director of a copyright film, has the right in the circumstances mentioned in this section not to have his work subjected to derogatory treatment [This sounds encouraging ...].  
(2) For the purposes of this section-  
(a) "treatment" of a work means any addition to, deletion from or alteration to or adaptation of the work ... [but is anything meaningfully being added or altered?],  ...  
(b) the treatment of a work is derogatory if it amounts to distortion or mutilation of the work or is otherwise prejudicial to the honour or reputation of the author or director;  
and in the following provisions of this section references to a derogatory treatment of a work shall be construed accordingly. ...  
(4) In the case of an artistic work the right is infringed by a person who-  
(a) publishes commercially or exhibits in public a derogatory treatment of the work, or communicates to the public a visual image of a derogatory treatment of the work,  
(b) shows in public a film including a visual image of a derogatory treatment of the work or issues to the public copies of such a film,  ... [So where does this leave us?]

Monday 5 May 2014

From start-up to catwalk

"Fashion IP: From start-up to catwalk: A Four City Investigation" is an exciting new project under the auspices of CREATe and Goldsmiths, University of London.
This project will seek to understand how questions of Intellectual Property impacts on the professional practices of designers and design teams across the spectrum from small graduate led start-ups, to medium-sized designer outlets and also to a handful of retailers in four cities, London, Berlin, Paris and Milan.
This project is to be conducted under the leadership of Professor Angela McRobbie with the support of  fashion law consultant and blogger Tania Phipps-Rufus.

Works of artistic craftsmanship -- or merely
prototypes to be modified for mass-production?
(Photo from Popsugar)
Given the transformation that overtakes fashion designs in legal terms, from what are often effectively quite fanciful works of artistic craftsmanship to mass-produced goods destined for the high street shops (and now, increasingly, online sale), it will be interesting to see how the project views copyright protection at the top end of the process.