In August 2023, the New York District Attorney’s (NYDA) Antiquities Trafficking Unit, which specializes in investigating looted artifacts, seized a headless statue valued at $20 million from the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) under a search warrant issued by a New York court. The NYDA announced that the seizure was linked to a criminal investigation targeting a smuggling ring that trafficked antiquities looted from Turkey through Manhattan. It further asserted that since the alleged traffickers were primarily based in New York, it provided them with the legal authority to seize the statue from another state, deeming New York as the central hub of the conspiracy.
In 1966, an ancient bronze bust found its way to the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts. Believed to depict the daughter of the Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius, it was titled “Portrait of a Lady (A Daughter of Marcus Aurelius?),” and sat on display in its new home for decades – until now.…
The artworks stolen by the Nazis are the last prisoners of World War II.
– Ronald Lauder, Woman in Gold
Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer was a wealthy sugar magnate in Vienna, Austria where his six Gustav Klimt paintings were housed. His wife, Adele Bloch-Bauer, was the subject of two of the paintings. On March 12, 1938, the Nazis invaded and claimed to annex Austria. Ferdinand, who was Jewish and had supported efforts to resist annexation, fled the country ahead of the Nazis, ultimately settling in Zurich. In his absence, the Nazis took over his home and seized his artworks, which included the Klimt paintings. Adele Bloch-Bauer I is one of them and ended up at the Austrian Gallery.…
In 1999, the estate and family of founding partner, Gordon F. Hampton, gifted his extraordinary collection of contemporary art to the University Art Museum — now known as the Carolyn Campagna Kleefeld Contemporary Art Museum — at California State University, Long Beach. In keeping with Gordon Hampton’s promotion of the arts and support of the Museum, Sheppard Mullin is pleased to introduce you to a virtual three-part artist lecture series emphasizing material innovation. The Museum offers this series as a fundraiser for collection acquisitions. Please see the attached brochure for more information.
Continue Reading Fundraiser for Collection Acquisition Material Concerns Three-Part Artist Lecture Series
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 for providing financial support to terrorist organizations.
Continue Reading Crime Doesn’t Pay (as much as it used to) – FBI Cracks Down on Trade of Looted Syrian and Iraqi Cultural Artifacts
With the June passage of New York Senate bill S7890 and Assembly bill A10143, the Empire State’s elephant and mammoth ivory and rhino horn trade may be approaching extinction.
Continue Reading The Elephant in the Room: Ivory Ban Seeks to Curb Poaching
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.
Continue Reading Last Wishes, First Impression: Potential legal issues arise after Munich recluse passes away, bequeathing Nazi-looted art to a Swiss museum
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.
Continue Reading Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing: Despite Forgery Scandals, the Fine Art Market is Booming
When public institutions are suffering from financial deficits, one question is usually raised: can they sell art to survive? In the museum world it is generally understood that you are to deaccession art only if the work is duplicative of another work in the collection, or for similar collections-related reasons, and the sale proceeds are used exclusively for collections activities. Therefore, for example, you cannot seek to sell art to obtain sufficient liquidity to meet any financial obligation, or make debt service payments. There is little government regulation on deaccessioning (for example, the NY Board of Regents has the power to provide limitations on deaccessioning on New York museums chartered after 1890). However, private institutions such as the American Alliance of Museums (“AAM”) and the Association of Art Museum Directors (“AAMD”) have adopted for their members certain policy guidelines on deaccessioning. Their members are subject to sanctions such as censure, suspension and/or expulsion in the event they do not follow these guidelines.…
Last post discussed the legal issues surrounding museum loan agreements. This post continues the discussion of museum loans with a look at loans coming into the U.S. from abroad. When exhibition descriptions use the phrase “supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities,” or similar language, the organizers have taken advantage of the laws that provide immunity from seizure and indemnification in the context of international loans.…
Museum loans have many benefits. Generous lenders serve the public good by making works available for display and exhibition both here and abroad. Lenders should have a passing familiarity with legal issues surrounding museum loan agreements because the agreement is designed to govern all aspects of the loan throughout the specified term. What follows is a brief description of the basic provisions of loan agreements and some issues collectors should consider when lending art to museums.…