Art Law Report

No Buried Nazi Gold Train After All?

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on December 17, 2015 at 10:46 AM

Back in September, we voiced curious skepticism about breathless reports of a buried train near Wrocław, formerly Breslau, in Poland.  Rumors of this “Nazi gold train” supposedly concealed at the end of World War II and filled with either gold, art, or both, had an odd mixture of plausibility and absurdity.  Yet Polish officials went on record confirming…something.  On August 28, 2015, Deputy Culture Minister Piotr Zuchowski stated at a press conference that he is “99 percent sure” that the government had located the train allegedly loaded with gold, gems, and perhaps artwork that was buried as the Soviet Red Army encircled Breslau in the last months of World War II.  “The train is 100 meters long and is protected,” Zuchowski said.

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Topics: Soviet, Breslau, Wrocław, Piotr Koper, Red Army, Nazi Gold Train, Walbrzych, Deputy Culture Minister Piotr Zuchowski, World War II, Poland, Washington Post, Janusz Madej, Andreas Richter, New York Times

Detroit and Deaccessioning—the Museum Responds

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on May 11, 2015 at 8:24 AM

We mused recently about (and tried to clarify) the possible tension between the Detroit Institute of Arts’ successful scuttling of any plans to consider selling its collection to satisfy the city’s debts in the Detroit Bankruptcy. The purpose of the post was not guileful: it seemed likely that many readers might be confused about how Detroit could propose to sell artwork when so much coverage had been addressed to the idea of not selling artwork. In fact, the two ideas are entirely consistent with the consensus of museum governance ethics, but we thought it was an occasion to prompt discussion about the policy behind those ethical guidelines. After all, apart from New York, the rules of deaccessioning are not actually law, they are enforced essentially through collective opprobrium. To facilate that discussion, I quoted Donn Zaretsky, a prominent critic of the status quo, for readers to consider on the one hand, against the guidelines themselves on the other hand.

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Topics: Donn Zaretsky, Deaccession, Detroit bank, Graham W. J. Beal, Randy Kennedy, Deaccessioning, Van Gogh, Detroit Institute of Arts, DIA, Museums, New York Times, Chagall, Detroit Bankruptcy, Art Law Report

Like-Kind Exchanges—Art and Collectibles’ Tax Deferral in the Crosshairs

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on April 29, 2015 at 7:56 AM

There has been considerable coverage in the last week about so-called “like-kind” exchanges of art, and federal tax. This has been driven by two factors: President Obama’s 2016 proposed budget, which would eliminate the tax deferral on these “1031 exchanges” for art and collectibles, and a recent New York Times article entitled “Tax Break Used by Investors in Flipping Art Faces Scrutiny.” The prospect of actual change is dubious, but there is no question that the prospect of the elimination of this tax deferral means anyone who is considering such an exchange for their art and collectible collection should be paying attention.

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Topics: 1031 Exchange, Jay Darby, Tax and Sports Update, Ernst & Young, New York Times, Like-Kind Exchange, Tax

Annual Gardner Heist Coverage Is More Constructive This Year

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on March 18, 2015 at 7:37 AM

Last year we called shenanigans on the seemingly-random, but actually predictable “updates” about March 18 1990 theft of paintings by Rembrandt, Manet, and others from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Our point last year was simple: the manufactured stories about what the FBI claims to know (“confirmed sightings” and the supposed identity of the supposed thief) are worse than no news. The FBI has no idea where those paintings are, and I am highly skeptical of the FBI’s claims to know who did it. It’s theoretically possible that protecting the identity of a dead thief would be important to an ongoing investigation, but that presupposes that there is anything going on. I am unpersuaded that anything new has happened in years.

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Topics: Gardner Heist, Zodiac, Degas, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Rembrandt, Tom Mashberg, Vermeer, Museums, New York Times, Manet, Storm on the Sea of Galilee

Glass Half Full or Half Empty? Detailed Report Published on Worldwide Efforts to Restitute Nazi-Looted Art Since the 1998 Washington Conference

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on September 11, 2014 at 6:35 AM

After the 1998 Washington Conference on Holocaust Era Assets and the eponymous Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Stolen Art that came out of it, it is hardly surprising that a recurring theme has been to assess the progress of those nations that participated and signed on. Equally unsurprisingly, those assessments are usually more anecdotal than empirical, and usually arise out of a particular case or cases in the context of that country’s response.

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Topics: Graham Bowley, Macedonia, Netherlands, Terezin Declaration, Mussolini, Latvia, Dr. Wesley A. Fisher, Hungary, ICOM, Bulgaria, Commission for the Compensation of Victims of Spol, Germany, Bavarian Minister of Culture, Nazi-looted art, Die Welt, Belarus, Lex Gurlitt, Washington Conference on Holocaust Era Assets, France, Dr. Ruth Weinberger, Romania, Baron Mor Lipot Herzog, Winfried Bausbeck, Belgium, Slovakia, Vichy, World Jewish Restitution Organization, Bundesrat, Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Stolen Ar, Gurlitt, WJRO, NS Raubkunst, Restitution, International Council of Museums, Norway, United States, Luxembourg, Looted Art, World War II, St. Petersburg, Poland, beschlagnahmte Kunst, Ukraine, Austria, Serbia, Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germa, Italy, Bosnia, New York Times, Monika Grütters, Slovenia, Estonia, Museum and Politics Conference, National Gallery, Museum of Fine Arts, entzogogene Kunst, Czech Republic

Corcoran Merger Approved, Cy Prés Ruling Treats Deaccession as Non-Starter in Concluding that Status Quo is Untenable

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on August 19, 2014 at 8:05 AM

As reported initially, Judge Robert Okun of the District of Columbia Superior Court allowed yesterday the cy prés petition by the trustees of the Corcoran Gallery and the Corcoran College of Art + Design. The full opinion can be read here. The petition asked to reform the trust of William Corcoran to permit a merger with the National Gallery of Art and George Washington University, a merger that will now proceed. The ruling addresses the financial condition of the Corcoran at length, but what is perhaps most interesting is the court’s acceptance of a central argument made by the Corcoran that selling its artwork to shore up its finances was an unacceptable way to proceed. This adopts the view, espoused most prominently by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) and the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), that deaccessioning for anything other than the purchase or care of art is anathema. Right or wrong, that acceptance in this opinion should have long lasting effects. Framing the question in this way was a work of skilled lawyering by the Corcoran’s attorneys, and kudos must go as well to the interveners and their counsel, without whom the other side of the story would have had no advocates at the trial. Those interveners have stated that they do not intend to appeal, meaning the case is over. Jayme McLellan, founder of Save the Corcoran, issued a statement after the ruling that “The Corcoran as we know it is gone. We fought the good fight." Incidentally, in response to our earlier reporting of McLellan’s role, I received an e-mail yesterday from Mimi Carter, the Corcoran’s Vice President, Marketing & Communication. Ms. Carter stated “Jayme McLellan was not fired from the Corcoran. She resigned in 2012, as mentioned on the first day of court hearings, citing differences with leadership. While there was a miscommunication with Ms. McLellan because of a lack of internal systems, due to a diminished staff and finances, she was not offered a contract to teach this coming Fall. Statements of retaliation are simply false.”

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Topics: Donn Zaretsky, Middles States Commission on Higher Education, Harry Hopper III, Anne Smith, Deaccession, Kathy Raffa, National Gallery of Art, Chiara Trabucchi, Industrial Economics, Jayme McLellan, William Corcoran, Save the Corcoran, George Washington University, sanctions, Corcoran Merger, University of Maryland, Deaccessioning, Cy Pres, Judge Robert Okun, Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento, District of Columbia Superior Court, AAM Code of Ethics, Corcoran College of Art + Design, Lauren Stack, Alexander Haas, Paul Johnson, Trusts, Art Institute of Chicago, Dr. Steven Knapp, Corcoran Gallery, Museums, New York Times, Sean O’Connor, Caroline Lacey, MSCHE, Dr. Wallach Loh, Deaccessioning Blog, Art Law Report, Mimi Carter, National Public Radio

Lauder Editorial on Stolen Art and Museums Fails the Glass House Test

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on June 30, 2014 at 11:11 AM

The Wall Street Journal published an editorial today by Ronald S. Lauder entitled “Time to Evict Nazi-Looted Art From Museums.” Lauder, the one-time U.S. Ambassador to Austria, current President of the World Jewish Congress, and Honorary Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, is a frequent commentator on questions of stolen art. He was, for example, a reliably-available quote on the Gurlitt affair: on Germany’s steps to deal with it (or criticism for Germany’s action) and the question of stolen art in German museums. But a prominent case several years ago involving a museum with which Lauder himself is involved suggests that perhaps over-simplification is not the answer.

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Topics: Ronald S. Lauder, La bérgère, Norton Simon Museum, Gurlitt affair, Paul Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Florence Kesselstatt, Judge Jed Rakoff, Julius Schoeps, Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscat, Germany, University of Oklahoma, Monuments Men, David Findlay Jr. Gallery, MoMA, Adam, Museum of Modern Art, Edelgard von Lavergne-Peguilhen, World Jewish Congress, Boy Leading a Horse, Restitution, Marei Von Saher, Wall Street Journal, World War II, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Portrait of Wally, Camille Pissarro, Le Moulin de la Galette, U.S. Ambassador to Austria, Pablo Picasso, Museums, New York Times, 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

Gurlitt Can’t Get His Story Straight About Salzburg Trove

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on March 27, 2014 at 6:30 AM

As confusion swirls around Cornelius Gurlitt’s actual plans, one of the issues is that his team is not speaking consistently with one voice. In particular, there are odd developments about the artworks that Gurlitt himself had removed from his Salzburg home in February—oddities that are worth weighing when considering the recent public statements about his supposed willingness to return some of the art. The fact that Gurlitt’s team itself has undergone a shakeup is also worthy of note.

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Topics: Schwabinger Kunstfund, Hannes Hartung, Hildebrand Gurlitt, Cornelius Gurlitt, Stefan Edel, www.Gurlitt.Info, Mary Lane, Fall Gurlitt, Gurlitt Collection, Sitting Woman, stolen art, Meike Hoffmann, Salzburg, Restitution, Wall Street Journal, World War II, Süddeutsche Zeitung, New York Times, Raubkunst, Münchner Kunstfund, Limbach Commission, Henri Matisse, Paul Rosenberg

Gurlitt Art Return Click-Bait and Switch—Don’t Get Fooled by Headlines

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on March 27, 2014 at 6:17 AM

It was hardly surprising that news that Cornelius Gurlitt was willing to return artworks taken from his apartment in 2012 that had once been taken from Jews spread quickly. What is regrettable is how quickly the headlines seem to have gone viral that he is going—or even willing—to return all of the paintings. Nothing that he or his representatives have said supports that contention. From the New York Times, for example:

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Topics: Schwabinger Kunstfund, Hannes Hartung, Hildebrand Gurlitt, Cornelius Gurlitt, www.Gurlitt.Info, Mary Lane, Fall Gurlitt, Gurlitt Collection, Sitting Woman, stolen art, Meike Hoffmann, Salzburg, Restitution, Wall Street Journal, World War II, Süddeutsche Zeitung, New York Times, Raubkunst, Münchner Kunstfund, Limbach Commission, Henri Matisse, Paul Rosenberg

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