Art Law Report

Berkshire Museum Tries to End-Run Pending Appeal but Member Plaintiffs Decline to be Bullied

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on August 16, 2018 at 4:58 PM

After four months of silence, the Berkshire Museum suddenly demanded last week that my clients dismiss their still-pending lawsuit over the governance of the museum by claiming that the April decision by the Single Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court that lifted the binding restrictions that the sales of its art collection would have violated somehow put an end to my clients’ case (which has been scheduled for oral argument on September 4, 2018 in Boston).  By letter on Tuesday, I explained that the museum was quite mistaken indeed.  Yesterday, the museum escalated and filed a request that Appeals Court simply dismiss the appeal, and actually accused my clients of acting in bad faith.  The museum also saw fit to put the text of the letter into a press release that it circulated widely through its public relations team. 

This afternoon we filed our response, the text of which is reproduced below.  Put simply, while the lawsuit quite explicitly sought to stop the sale of the museum’s art collection, the fact that some of the works have already been sold does not begin to answer the questions that the lawsuit raised. 

My clients look forward to the argument after Labor Day.

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Topics: Deaccession, Supreme Judicial Court, Berkshire Museum, Trustees of the Berkshire Museum, Single justice

Norton Simon Museum Wins Appeal Over Nazi-Looted Cranach Paintings

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on July 31, 2018 at 12:47 PM

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has upheld the judgment against Marei von Saher on her claims against the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena to recover Adam and Eve by Lucas Cranach the Elder.  The Cranachs belonged to Von Saher’s father-in-law Jacques Goudstikker, a renowned Dutch Jewish art dealer who fled the Netherlands.  Yesterday’s decision was the latest in a complicated case, holding that the claim could not proceed because it would conflict with a judgment made by the Dutch government—in a case about paintings that no one disputes were looted by the Nazis but which the Norton Simon refuses to return.  Notably, the Ninth Circuit upheld the dismissal entered two years ago by the District Court, but for different reasons.  Where the trial court had held in 2016 that Von Saher was not entitled to the paintings by applying substantive Dutch post-war law, the Ninth Circuit yesterday held that it could not entertain the question because it involved a so-called “Act of State,” a doctrine under which courts will decline to review certain kinds of cases that implicate sovereign acts.  It was not a complete surprise—the appeals court had hinted at the possibility of applying the doctrine back in 2014 when it remanded the case on one of its multiple trips to the appellate court—but was a curious application of it to a sale by the Dutch government, an act that is quintessentially commercial, not sovereign.  It remains to be seen what Von Saher will do next.  Von Saher is a complicated dispute that deserved its day in court, not the back of the hand out of “respect” for an “official” act that never actually happened, or an official act that this most recent decision actually contradicts. 

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Topics: Guelph Treasure, Alois Miedl, Act of State, Jacques Goudstikker, Nazi-looted art, Hermann Goering, Restitution, Marei Von Saher, Ninth Circuit, HEAR Act, A Tragic Fate, George Stroganoff, Commisssie Rechtsverkeer in oorlogstijd, Royal Decree 133, Royal Decree A6, CORVO, Royal Decree 100

Event—The Future of Nazi-Looted Art Recovery in the US and Abroad

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on July 25, 2018 at 1:20 PM

I am pleased to be taking part in a symposium at the Skirball Center in Los Angeles on September 26, 2018, “The Future of Nazi Looted Art Recovery in the US and Abroad.”  Presented by Cypress LLP and the Sotheby’s Institute of Art/Claremont Graduate University, the program assembles an impressive group of presenters in whose company I’m grateful to be included.  Registration is available here, and the schedule is below:

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Topics: Sotheby’s Institute of Art, Nazi-looted art, Simon Frankel, Commission for Looted Art in Europe, Covington & Burling LLP, Anne Webber, Sullivan & Worcester LLP, Sotheby's, Nicholas M. O'Donnell, Daniel McClean, Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act, HEAR Act, Isabel von Klitzing, The Orpheus Clock, Simon Goodman, Lucian Simmons, Eyal Dolev, Jonathan Petropolous, Claremont McKenna College, The Faustian Bargain, Laurence Eisenstein, Eisenstein Malanchuk LLP, Lothar Fremy, Rosbach & Fremy, Nixon Peabody LLP, Mark Labaton, Getty Institute, Bob Muller, René Gimpel, Cypress LLP, Jonathan Neil, Skirball Center, The Art World in Nazi Germany, Dr. Lynn Rother, Thaddeus Stauber, Stephen Clark

Court of Appeals Upholds Claims to Renowned Guelph Treasure Sold Under Duress to Nazi Agents

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on July 10, 2018 at 12:33 PM

(WASHINGTON-July 10, 2018) The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has affirmed the right of the heirs to the so-called Guelph Treasure (known in German as the Welfenschatz) to seek restitution in U.S. courts for the value of the treasured art collection. The appellate court rejected Defendants’ arguments that U.S. courts lack jurisdiction, or that Germany’s treatment of its Jews in the 1930s should be immune from judicial scrutiny.  While the Federal Republic of Germany itself was dismissed as a defendant, the actual possessor and key party in interest (the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, or SPK) must now prove that a 1935 transfer of the collection by a consortium of Jewish art dealers to Hermann Goering’s minions was a legitimate transaction if they are to retain the collection. 

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Topics: Guelph Treasure, Gestapo, Z.M. Hackenbroch, Prussia, Germany, Nazi-looted art, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, Markus Stoetzel, Mel Urbach, SPK, Hermann Goering, FSIA, NS Raubkunst, Sullivan & Worcester LLP, J.S. Goldschmidt, Adolf Hitler, Nicholas M. O'Donnell, Welfenschatz, I. Rosenbaum, D.C. Circuit, Consortium, Genocide Convention, Reichstag, flight taxes, Baltimore Sun, Luftwaffe

Au Revoir, Droit de Suite—9th Circuit Narrows California Resale Royalty Act to a Single Year’s Sales

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on July 9, 2018 at 10:33 AM

The idea of moral rights continues to be a notable difference between European and American intellectual property rights with respect to visual arts. Last week’s decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in a case brought by artist Chuck Close and others addressing the California Resale Royalty Act (the CRRA) underscores those distinctions. In holding that the CRRA is mostly preempted by federal copyright law and thus can be applied to entitle artists to secondary royalties only for sales of art in a single calendar year—1977—the 9th Circuit affirmed the skepticism with which American law continues to regard anything other than classic copyright. Given the failure of efforts to pass national legislation to provide for resale royalties, this decision is probably the end of the line for the foreseeable future in the U.S. for droit de suite, the term of art used to describe the concept.

There is, for better or worse, clearly no political constituency for resale royalties in the U.S. As I told Law360, and as we’ve opined before about the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (VARA), property rights are in many ways a quintessential American policy. We all reflected on the Declaration of Independence last week, and its proclamation of the primacy of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness—which revised John Locke’s famous statement that governments are instituted to secure “life, liberty, and property.” Copyright is and always will be a limitation on absolute ownership, but Americans guard those limitations jealously. There is little sign that will soon change.

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Topics: American Royalties Too Act, Chuck Close, Commerce Clause, Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990, Christie's, Cal. Civ. Code § 986(a), VARA, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Dormant Commerce Clause, Preemption, droit de suite, California Resale Royalty Act, U.S. Constitution, Sotheby's, eBay, CRRA, Declaration of Independence, Copyright Act of 1976, Morseburg v. Baylon, John Locke, Supremacy Clause, 1909 Copyright Act

Alexander Khochinsky Files Suit Against Poland for Retaliation Related to WW II Property Claims

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on June 27, 2018 at 1:26 PM

(WASHINGTON, D.C.-June 27, 2018) Alexander Khochinsky, the son of a Polish Jew who fled her home just steps ahead of the German invasion in 1941, has filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against Poland for that country’s efforts to extradite him after he sought restitution of his mother’s property.  Khochinsky, an art dealer, reached out to Poland about a painting, Girl with Dove by Antoine Pesne, that he had inherited from his parents and that looked similar to one that Poland was seeking, and asked to open a dialogue about what had happened to his mother’s home.  In retaliation, Poland charged him with a crime and asked the United States to extradite him for prosecution.  The U.S. District Court in Manhattan dismissed the request for extradition in 2015, but by then Khochinsky had suffered months of detention and the destruction of his business.

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Topics: Alexander Khochinsky, Nazi-looted art, Red Army, Holocaust, extradition, "Girl with Dove", Sullivan & Worcester LLP, Antoine Pesne, Poland, Nicholas M. O'Donnell, Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Przemysl, Leningrad

Sullivan & Worcester LLP Assists in Relocation of "Digital DNA" from Palo Alto to Harvard

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on June 26, 2018 at 10:47 AM

I am pleased to report on the outcome of a matter we announced in February.  After a disagreement with the City of Palo Alto (California) about her sculpture Digital DNA, Sullivan & Worcester LLP client Adriana Varella has agreed to relocate the sculpture to the campus of Harvard Business School.  The agreement is a positive outcome that ultimately did not require litigation, and a reminder of the importance of artists’ rights under the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (“VARA”).  I was honored to be able to work with this incredible artist to preserve her importance sculpture and begin an exciting new chapter for her art.

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Topics: Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990, VARA, Harvard, Boston Globe, Sullivan & Worcester LLP, 5Pointz, Digital DNA, Adriana Varella, Right of integrity, City of Palo Alto, Right of attribution, Harvard Business School

A Step Back from the Brink—Agnes Martin Authentication Board Prevails in Court

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on June 4, 2018 at 3:13 PM

Please note, a version of this article appears in the June issue of Apollo Magazine, to which I occasionally contribute.  

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Topics: Andy Warhol Foundation, Keith Haring Foundation, Mayor Gallery Ltd, United Kingdom, Agnes Martin Catalogue Raisonné, AMCR, Authentication, Abstract Expressionist, Calder Foundation, Day & Night, The Invisible

Bill Introduced in U.S. House of Representatives Would Impose Money Laundering Reporting Requirements on Art Dealers

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on May 24, 2018 at 10:00 AM

Casting aspersions about the art market is a popular pastime.  And no doubt there is much about the commercial art world that invites this criticism, not least a tendency towards secrecy (or discretion, depending whom you ask).  Sometimes these criticisms lean into suggestions of rampant criminality or money laundering, for which there is actually scant support. That is to say, there is a common suggestion that the lack of a single regulatory scheme over the art market (which is not to say it is unregulated, another misconception) is evidence of participation by dealers or collectors in illicit activity. In fact, as we have written before, the far greater risk is of being used by bad actors trying to launder money through art transactions.  For this and other reasons, we were proud to assist in drafting the Responsible Art Market initiative U.S. country guide and the more recent toolkit that was launched in January.

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Topics: OFAC, Christie's Inc., Responsible Art Market initiative, Money laundering, AML Program, Know your customer, H.R. 5886, Luke Messer, Office of Foreign Asset Control, Illicit Art and Antiquities Trafficking Protection, KYC

New Court of Arbitration for Art to Launch in June, Offers Exciting Opportunity for the Art Market

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on May 17, 2018 at 11:41 AM

 The recent announcement of the launch of the Court of Arbitration for Art (CAA) is exciting and intriguing news.  There is nothing peculiar to the art market or the art world about the existence of disputes—any businessperson in a wide variety of industries can testify to that.  But what is promising about this initiative is the opportunity it presents to streamline an important segment of art world disputes, and in so doing to create a larger body of legal guidance that will in itself be useful in and outside of formal controversies.  It does not supplant civil litigation in courts, nor does it make any pretense of doing so.  It could, however, become an important complement.  Critical will be enough buy-in from lawyers in particular to become willing to recommend its inclusion in contracts, for example.  I would certainly include myself in that group, depending on the specific circumstances. 

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Topics: Stropheus, Judith Prowda, Sotheby’s Institute of Art, London, AAA, Geneva, Pryor Cashman LLP, Tom Brady, Megan Noh, New York, HEAR Act, CAA, Authentication in Art, Arbitration, JAMS, The Hague, NAI, Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act of 2016, Quinn Emanuel Urquart & Sullivan LLP, Court of Arbitration for Art, Netherlands Arbitration Institute, William Charron, Cahill Cossu & Robinson LLP, Luke Nikas

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