Politics – The Invisible Force Behind China Artist and Art Market

After a period of significant growth from 2009 to 2014, the Chinese art market has experienced a drastic decline in the first half of 2015 with reports that the fine art auction turnover contracted at 30% less than the 2014 period. Interestingly, Ai Weiwei, one of China’s most well-known and most controversial contemporary artists, has not been affected by this turn in the market. The divergence between the general downward trend in the Chinese art market and the increasing value of Ai Weiwei’s work illustrates how politics in China continues to have a substantial impact on the trajectory of the market and the artists in seemingly contradictory ways. Continue Reading

Crime Doesn’t Pay (as much as it used to) – FBI Cracks Down on Trade of Looted Syrian and Iraqi Cultural Artifacts

In support of the international crackdown on the black market trade of looted cultural artifacts, the FBI recently announced that art dealers may be prosecuted for engaging in the trade of stolen Iraqi and Syrian antiquities. Terrorist organizations such as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (“ISIL”) have pillaged these countries of their cultural relics for sale on the black market. Many find their way into the hands of art dealers and collectors in the Europe or even United States. In response, the FBI released an alert titled “ISIL Antiquities Trafficking” on August 25, 2015. Perhaps most strikingly, this alert warns that engaging in the purchase of these looted artifacts may constitute a violation of 18 U.S. Code § 2339A[1] for providing financial support to terrorist organizations. Continue Reading

The Artist’s Legacy – Business and Legal Planning Issues

Sheppard Mullin attorneys Christine Steiner and Lauren Liebes recently joined Weston Naef, Getty Photography Curator Emeritus, and ASA appraiser Jennifer Stoots for “What Will Become of Your Legacy”, a panel discussion at Los Angeles Center of Photography.  The panel addressed business and estate planning issues for photographers.

Below is the text of a handout on business and legal planning issues prepared by Christine Steiner.  In our next post, Lauren Liebes will address the myriad estate planning issues to consider.

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Last Wishes, First Impression: Potential legal issues arise after Munich recluse passes away, bequeathing Nazi-looted art to a Swiss museum

Cornelius Gurlitt’s notarized will, which did not surface until after his unexpected death this past May, lists the Kunstmuseum Bern in Switzerland as the heir to his vast art collection, which included works by Matisse, Dix, and Chagall. The unusual legal issue here: one month before his death, Conelius Gurlitt agreed to return all Nazi-looted artworks in his possession to the offspring of the rightful owners.

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French Court Supports Freedom of Authentication: A Win for Art Experts

Recently, the high court of appeals in Paris upheld an art expert’s right to refuse to authenticate a work of art.  While this decision took nine years to come to fruition, it validates an art expert’s freedom to make an authenticity determination that he or she sees fit, free from the pressures of legal liability for that decision.

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Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing: Despite Forgery Scandals, the Fine Art Market is Booming

On January 23rd, in a rare public appearance, Jasper Johns testified against a New York foundry owner, Brian Ramnarine, who was charged with creating unauthorized sculptures, including a fraudulent Johns “Flag” sculpture which Ramnarine allegedly made from the original mold and attempted to sell for $11 million.  Johns testified that the sculpture was not authorized, the signature was forged and the certificate of authenticity was a fake.  Ramnarine pled guilty to three counts of wire fraud in Manhattan federal court, admitting that he had tried to sell unauthorized sculptures of Johns and other artists.

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Mum’s the Word: New York’s Highest Court Maintains Anonymity in Auction Sales

In late 2012, we reported on a New York Appellate Division order that sent shockwaves and fear of instability through the auction house world.  Late last month, the New York Court Appeals issued its opinion in the case of William J. Jenack Estate Appraisers and Auctioneers, Inc. v. Rabizadeh, overturning the Appellate Division and ruling that an auctioneer need not disclose the actual name of the owner who has consigned the work.  The Court ruled that only disclosure of the name of the auctioneer would satisfy New York’s Statute of Frauds.  The decision reverses the earlier opinion and re-permits the long-established practice of anonymity with regard to the names of owners of auctioned works.

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