Art Law Report

U.S. Museums and Looted Art—Is it Whether you Win or How you Play?

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on July 9, 2015 at 7:26 AM

A recent report by the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) has made strong criticisms of American museums with respect to their handling of Nazi-looted art claims. In particular, the report criticizes the assertion of timeliness defenses such as statutes of limitations. The report focuses in particular on cases involving the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, the Toledo Museum of Art, and the Fred Jones, Jr. Museum at the University of Oklahoma. There is no state control over the vast proportion of art in America the way there is in most European countries, and thus, no possibility of singular, nationalized approaches. In response to the report, some of the museums mentioned have defended their strategies, though in some cases the players are talking past each other. What is undeniable is that whether as a function of the nature of U.S. museums (largely private, rather than public), it is hard to say there is a coordinated approach to the issue, good or bad. The report is lengthy and detailed, and well worth a read in depth that space here does not permit. In some ways, the question it poses boils down to this: is determining the historical truth the obligation of everyone involved or is there some room to prevail without addressing the larger issues?

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Topics: Toledo Museum of Art, Street Scene in Tahiti, Léone Meyer’s, American Association of Museums, Two Nudes, La bérgère, AAMD Task Force on the Spoliation of Art during th, Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Rue St. Honoré après-midi êffet de pluie, University of Oklahoma, Cassirer, Nazi-looted art, Washington Conference on Holocaust Era Assets, Fred Jones Jr. Museum, Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art, World Jewish Restitution Organization, WJRO, Association of Art Museum Directors, Restitution, American Alliance of Museums AAM, World War II, Paul Gaugin, Camille Pissarro, Oskar Kokoschka, Museums, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, AAMD, Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena

Deaccessioning in Detroit?

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on April 14, 2015 at 11:30 AM

Readers will no doubt be puzzled by the news this week that the Detroit Institute of Arts—fresh off of the Grand Bargain, in which an infusion of donations and fundraising led to the transfer of the collection’s ownership back to the museum and off the table in the context of the Detroit Bankruptcyis moving ahead with plans to deaccession works of art in its collection, a Van Gogh in particular. There are a number of things going on in this latest development, which need to be distinguished.

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Topics: Graham Beal, Deaccession, Delaware Museum of Art, American Alliance of Museums, Donn Zaretzky, Deaccessioning, AAM, Van Gogh, Detroit, Detroit Institute of Arts, Association of Art Museum Directors, Museums, Detroit Bankruptcy, AAMD, grand bargain

Léone Meyer’s Claims for Pissarro Transferred to Oklahoma

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on April 7, 2015 at 10:42 AM

A U.S. District Court judge has taken the recent invitation of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, and transferred to Oklahoma a lawsuit by Léone Meyer over ownership of a Camille Pissarro painting at the Fred Jones, Jr. Museum at the University of Oklahoma. The case will now proceed in Oklahoma, where the museum seems likely to assert both sovereign immunity under Oklahoma law, as well as an argument that transfers in Switzerland conferred legal title to the museum as a successor to those transfers. However counterintuitive it seems, it may yet be that a court could agree with Meyer that the painting was stolen, but agree with Oklahoma that a Swiss litigation in the 1950s about whether it was sold to a good faith buyer means that Oklahoma holds full title and ownership.

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Topics: David Findlay Jr. Inc., due process, third party beneficiary, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Raoul Meyer, Nazi Occupation, American Alliance of Museums, University of Oklahoma, Aaron and Clara Weitzenhofer, Judge Colleen McMahon, Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, AAM, Vichy, La bergère rentrent des moutons, Association of Art Museum Directors, Restitution, David Findlay Galleries, World War II, CPLR 301, Switzerland, Leone Meyer, long art statute, Camille Pissarro, Museums, personal jurisdiction, AAMD, Christoph Bernoulli, Swiss judgment, Rep. Mike Reynolds

Lauder Wall Street Journal Nazi-Looted Art Editorial, Art Law Report Post, and the Response: Some Clarification and Context

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on July 18, 2014 at 5:32 AM

Two weeks ago, we posted an article entitled “Lauder Editorial on Stolen Art Fails the Glass House Test.” The metaphor was not intended to be complicated: it seemed inconsistent, to put it politely, for the honorary board chairman of a museum that has resisted restitution claims by asserting, for example, the statute of limitations and the laches defense, now to say that museums that do just that are “immoral.” Ultimately, we posited that restitution decisions are complicated and hard. It seemed an open question for example as to what, exactly, Ronald S. Lauder’s editorial "Time to Evict Nazi-Looted Art From Museums" was designed to draw attention. Right on cue, another article appeared calling for the return of the Camille Pissarro in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Foundation museum in Madrid (Rue St. Honoré, effet de pluie) claimed by the heirs of Lilly Cassirer. It is clear that the June 30, 2014 Art Law Report raised more than a few hackles, but we welcome discussion and criticism. An exchange of ideas is what we are here to foster, after all. In the end, however, some clarification shows that there is not really a disagreement here, but rather that the response highlights frustration with civil law countries' treatment of stolen art.

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Topics: Cristoph Bernoulli, Ronald S. Lauder, La bérgère, Norton Simon Museum, Paul Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Jr. Museum of Art, Holocaust Art Restitution Project, Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscat, American Alliance of Museums, Fred Jones, University of Oklahoma, David Findlay Jr. Gallery, Judge Colleen McMahon, MoMA, Plundered Art, specific jurisdiction, Madame Soler, N.Y. Civ. P. Law & Rules § 301, Adam, general jurisdiction, AAM, Museum of Modern Art, World Jewish Congress, Restitution, Marei Von Saher, Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, David Findlay Galleries, N.Y. Civ. P. Law & Rules § 302, Free State of Bavaria, Wall Street Journal, World War II, Switzerland, Pinakothek der Moderne, Leone Meyer, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Portrait of Wally, Freistaat Bayern, Weitzenhoffer, Camille Pissarro, Pablo Picasso, AAMD, Association of Museum Directors, Eve, New York, Time to Evict Nazi-Looted Art From Museums

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

Remaining Claims Against AAM, AAMD Related to Pissarro “La Bergere” in Oklahoma Are Dismissed

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on May 23, 2014 at 5:34 AM

As we reported last week, the U.S. District Court dismissed claims against the Fred Jones, Jr. Museum of Art, the University of Oklahoma, and associated Oklahoma defendants, over title to the Camille Pissarro painting La bergère rentrent des moutons (a case in which I represented the David Findlay Jr. Gallery).

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Topics: David Findlay Jr. Inc., due process, third party beneficiary, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Raoul Meyer, Nazi Occupation, American Alliance of Museums, University of Oklahoma, Aaron and Clara Weitzenhofer, Judge Colleen McMahon, Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, AAM, Vichy, La bergère rentrent des moutons, Association of Art Museum Directors, Restitution, David Findlay Galleries, World War II, CPLR 301, Switzerland, Leone Meyer, long art statute, Camille Pissarro, Museums, personal jurisdiction, AAMD, Christoph Bernoulli, Swiss judgment

Claims Against University of Oklahoma Over Pissarro "La bergère" Dismissed on Jurisdictional Grounds

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on May 15, 2014 at 11:09 AM

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York has dismissed the much-publicized claims by Leone Meyer against the University of Oklahoma and related Oklahoma public officials and insitutions for the return of La bergère rentrent des moutons by Camille Pissarro, currently in the Fred Jones, Jr. Museum of Art. In full disclosure: I represented David Findlay, Jr., Inc. in the action, who was dismissed from the action last year by agreement.

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Topics: David Findlay Jr. Inc., due process, third party beneficiary, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Raoul Meyer, Nazi Occupation, American Alliance of Museums, University of Oklahoma, Aaron and Clara Weitzenhofer, Judge Colleen McMahon, Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, AAM, Vichy, La bergère rentrent des moutons, Association of Art Museum Directors, Restitution, David Findlay Galleries, World War II, CPLR 301, Switzerland, Leone Meyer, long art statute, Camille Pissarro, personal jurisdiction, AAMD, Christoph Bernoulli, Swiss judgment

Detroit Institute of Arts Deaccessioning: Municipal Bankruptcy, Existing and Proposed Changes to Michigan Law Affect Debate

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on August 5, 2013 at 6:20 AM

An important qualifier to the discussion about deaccessioning and the Detroit Institute of Arts is that although DIA is a subdivision of the bankruptcy debtor (Detroit), that debtor is not any old commercial entity. Rather, Detroit is a municipality, and municipal and state debtors are governed by slightly different rules than private parties.

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Topics: Legislation, Tenth Amendment, Donn Zaretsky, Deaccession, Chapter 9, 11 U.S.C. § 904, Public Trust, Attorney General of Michigan, Detroit, Detroit Institute of Arts, Bankruptcy, Collections, Bankruptcy Code, Association of Art Museum Directors, Bill Schuette, Detroit Emergency City Manager, Kevyn Orr, Museums, Detroit Bankruptcy, AAMD

Detroit Institute of Arts and Motor City Bankruptcy: Deaccessioning Fact and Fiction, Hope and Reality

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on August 1, 2013 at 12:27 PM

The recent filing by the City of Detroit for bankruptcy—the largest such municipal filing in history—has brought with it an unexpected art law twist. Namely: to what extent can, or should the collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts be used to satisfy the city’s creditors. As one might expect, the differences between what the city can do, what it should do, and what others can do to influence that decision have become hard to distinguish as the volume is raised. A review of some of the issues involved and the governing principles is in order. As rumors of the city’s bankruptcy circulated, speculation began about what would happen to the collection of DIA. And thus the dreaded “deaccession” debate began. This debate is essentially as follows: is art a fungible commodity that can and/or should be used in whatever way advances the mission of the institution (including selling it and using the proceeds to finance the museum’s operations), or do museums hold art in a public trust that must prioritize the collection and display of art? The latter view certainly holds sway among many in the museum community as an aspirational mattter, but its enforceability is often far less than they think.

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Topics: National Academy Museum, Brandeis, Deaccession, American Alliance of Museums, Rose Art Museum, AAM, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Detroit Institute of Arts, Collections, Association of Art Museum Directors, Motor City, and the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Cleveland Museum of Art, Detroit Bankruptcy, AAMD, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts

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