20 July 2014

Book Review: Risk and Uncertainty in the Art World

co-posted with ARCAblog

Detail of Mark Wagner's Currency College of the Mona Lisa
Source: DesignBoom

Risk and Uncertainty in the Art World (ISBN: 9781472902924) is a notable attempt at compiling into cohesive curricula research by scholars such as Marina Bianchi, Tom Christopherson, Neil De Marchi, Elroy Dimson, Tom Flynn, Daiva Jurevičieně, Arjo Klamer, Roman Kräussl, Javier Lumbreras, Fleur Maijs, Benjamin Mandel, Clare McAndrew, Jianping Mei, Michael Moses, Laurent Noel, Anders Peterson, Rachel Pownall, Olivia Ralevski, Steve Satchell, Jaketrina Savičenko, Aylin Seçkin, Kyle Sommer, Christophe Spaenjers, Nandini Srivastava, Hans Van Miegroet, Thorstein Veblen, Olav Velthuis, and Luca Zan.

Published by Bloomsbury, it is edited by Anne Dempster (Sotheby's Institute of Art). Contributors include Tom Christopherson (Sotheby's Europe), Anders Petterson (ArtTactic), Olav Velthuis (University of Amsterdam), Hans J. Van Miegroet and Neil DeMarchi (Duke University), Marina Bianchi (University of Cassino), Rachel Pownall (University of Tilburg/University of Maastricht), Elroy Dimson (London Business School), Steve Satchell and Nandini Srivastava (Cambridge University), Christophe Spaenjers (HEC Paris), Laurent Noel (Audencia Nantes School of Management), and Arjo Klamer (Erasmus University).

The book takes a multidisciplinary approach, through alternative investments, art history, behavioral economics, cross-cultural studies, due diligence, macro- and microeconomics, Modern Portfolio Theory, emerging markets, provenance research and many other topics. It is highly recommended to anyone with an interest in the international art market.

Petterson’s discussion of how the Internet has changed the art market was robust. His description of the art market ecosystem and how it is adapting in light of online galleries, artist portals, social media, blogs, online auction/art fairs, online inventory management, price databases, indices, investors, art funds and wealth management, showed that there is both a new audience and desire for transparency. In creating a more educated consumer, both traditional and upcoming entities have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Petterson’s article is a treatise against all those that desire not to adapt to provenance standards in the market.

Flynn’s discussion of the role of government and private corporations in art commissioning showed that more needs to be done in regards to authentication of art in the public space. What was striking about the article was that it showed a dissonance between corporate views on art and the industry, itself. A clear conclusion was that, in desiring to imagine itself as an ‘exception’ to business, the art world has only done itself more harm. As both a lecturer with the Association for Research into Crimes against Art and also in hosting a blog titled ArtKnows, Flynn, continues to be frontier of these discussions.

Satchell and Srivastava’s derivations about wealth and utility, adding upon Pownall’s essay, showed that there is still much more to connect between mathematical models, financial markets, and the art world. Integration of Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class, the price and wealth effects of Marshallian demand, attempts at indexation – whether through the Financial Times All Shares (FTAS) and the London All Art price index or the Mei-Moses index – the Miller-Modigliani capital structure theorem, and the aesthetic dividend, make the reader wonder if the time is here for further data integration with the Standard & Poor’s and Thomson Reuters of the financial world.

The most disappointing was Christopherson’s essay that showed some dissonance against “testosterone-fuelled bond traders” (Risk and Uncertainty 65). The main discussion on legal title, authenticity, issues of attribution comparisons, condition, and valuation was vague. In discussing the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, Artists Resale Rights, and Bribery Act, Christopherson described a desire to return to an imaginary past. The ultimate lesson learned appeared that he merely seems unsatisfied with changing business models in the art market.

The book leaves much to build upon; taking the theory to reality is clearly the next step forward.

12 July 2014

Should museums stop using technical defenses to prevent restitution of looted art? The debate rages...

Nicholas O’Donnell’s article on Ronald Lauder’s Editorial on Stolen Art and Museums Fails the Common Sense Test

By Pierre Ciric*

In his article titled “Lauder Editorial on Stolen Art and Museums Fails the Glass House Test,”[1] Nicholas O’Donnell attempts to respond to Ronald S. Lauder’s editorial published in the Wall Street Journal on June 30, 2014, titled “Time to Evict Nazi-Looted Art From Museums.”[2]

O’Donnell attempts to find legal shortcomings in Lauder’s editorial, which simply expresses the need for art museums to act responsibly by returning Nazi-looted artwork instead of raising technical defenses and mere pretexts to deny the rights of the claimants.

Fred Jones, Jr. Museum of Art
In his article, O’Donnell refers to the ongoing case brought by Léone Meyer against the University of Oklahoma, among other defendants, to obtain the restitution of “La bergère rentrant des moutons” (Camille Pissarro, 1886), currently on permanent display at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art in Norman, Oklahoma.

Although O’Donnell—counsel to David Findlay, Jr. Gallery, a defendant no longer involved in the case—recognizes that the recent court decision is limited to whether the Oklahoma defendants could be sued in New York, he repeatedly brings up a 1953 Swiss court decision involving Camille Pissarro’s La Bergère as grounds for why Léone Meyer’s claim should fail, and why Mr. Lauder’s argument is baseless.

O’Donnell’s argument fails the common sense test. First, no one disputes that the Nazis stole La Bergère from Léone Meyer’s family.

"La Bergère rentrant des moutons," Camille Pissarro
Second, the 1953 Swiss court decision was not decided based on a late claim, as O’Donnell argues, but was decided against Léone Meyer’s father because he could not prove the “bad faith” of the art dealer who acquired La Bergère after it crossed the Swiss border from France.

Third, prior Swiss decisions involving looted art have long been held as doubtful or baseless in several U.S. jurisdictions. Even the Swiss government itself recognized in 1998 that the deck was stacked against claimants who wanted to file art restitution claims in Switzerland after World War II. New York courts have found/determined that “Swiss law places significant hurdles to the recovery of stolen art, and almost ‘insurmountable’ obstacles to the recovery of artwork stolen by the Nazis from Jews and others during World War II and the years preceding it." See for instance, Bakalar v. Vavra.[3]

Finally, O’Donnell misses the point of Mr. Lauder’s editorial. As French government officials have recently stated in a public forum dedicated to France’s efforts to track and restitute looted art, the time for “clean museums” has come. Hiding behind technicalities and procedural loopholes to delay basic justice, i.e. restitution of looted property, is not morally appropriate, even less so when public institutions are involved.

Ronald Lauder is right. It is time for museums to do the responsible thing. It is time for museums to “clean” their collections of any tainted artwork by returning Nazi-looted artwork.


* Pierre Ciric is a New York attorney, the founder of the Ciric Law Firm, PLLC, and a board member of both the French–American Bar Association and the New York Law School Alumni Association.  He currently represents Léone Meyer against the Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma in her quest to obtain the restitution of “La bergère rentrant des moutons” (Camille Pissarro, 1886), currently on permanent display at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art in Norman, Oklahoma.

[3] Bakalar v. Vavra, 619 F.3d 136, 140 (2d Cir. 2010); see also In re Holocaust Victim Assets Litigation, 105 F. Supp. 2d 139, 159 (E.D.N.Y. 2000)

27 June 2014

THE HOLOCAUST ART RESTITUTION PROJECT DENOUNCES A “SHAMEFUL” AND “TRAGIC” DECISION BY THE FRENCH GOVERNMENT TO REFUSE THE SUSPENSION OF AN AUCTION SALE OF SACRED HOPI AND NAVAJO MASKS TO BE HELD AT PARIS’ HOTEL DROUOT ON JUNE 27, 2014.

Press Contacts:

In Washington, DC: Marc Masurovsky, (00) 1 202 255 1602 , plunderedart@gmail.com
In New York, NY: Pierre Ciric (00) 1 212 260 6090, pciric@ciriclawfirm.com

For Immediate Release
Washington, DC, USA – June 27, 2014 - The Holocaust Art Restitution Project ( “HARP”), based in Washington, DC, chaired by Ori Z. Soltes, is denouncing a “shameful” and “tragic” decision by the French “Conseil des Ventes” (“Board of Auction Sales”), an administrative body in charge of regulating and supervising auction sales on the French market, which is refusing to suspend an auction sale of sacred masks owned by the Hopi and Navajo tribes, scheduled for Friday, June 27, 2014.

On June 22, 2014, HARP, through its President, Ori Z. Soltes, wrote to the Conseil des Ventes, to request an administrative suspension of an auction sale scheduled for Friday, June 27, 2014, which involved sacred objects of both the Hopi and the Navajo tribes, and for which title never vested with subsequent possessors due to the sacred nature of these objects. Following a special hearing held in Paris on June 25, 2014, the Conseil des Ventes, which has the power to suspend such sales, just issued its decision, refusing to impose a suspension.

“The decision by the Conseil des Ventes is both tragic and shameful. The Conseil has refused to consider the provenance information for these objects in its decision, when everyone agrees in the United States that title for these sacred masks could have never vested with subsequent possessors. Furthermore, adding insult to injury, the Conseil held that the Hopi tribe, in fact ANY Indian tribe, has no legal existence or standing to pursue any cultural claim in France. This dismissive denial of access to justice flies in the face of the progress made in international law by all tribes and indigenous peoples, as the French government had expressed its support for the legal status of indigenous peoples by its endorsement in the UN General Assembly in support of the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP),” said Soltes.

HARP is a not-for-profit group based in Washington, DC, and chaired by Ori Z. Soltes, dedicated to the identification and restitution of looted artworks require detailed research and analysis of public and private archives in North America. HARP has worked for 16 years on the restitution of artworks looted by the Nazi regime.

16 June 2014

Provenance research—now and later (Third Installment)

In the spirit of an on-going "think-aloud" pertaining to the nature of provenance research and the art restitution movement, here are some additional thoughts for discussion.

There are no official statistics regarding:

a/ the total number of art objects claimed, b/ the total number of art objects restituted, c/ the total value of art objects sold after restitution, and d/ the total value of so-called “art restitution litigation.”

a/ the total number of art objects claimed:

By May 1945, somewhere between 15 and 20 million art objects of all sorts, from masterpieces to portraits of your favorite saints and relatives, had been misplaced due to civil unrest, persecution, war, genocide, and theft.

Of those misplaced cultural objects, a small number fit the moniker of “culturally-significant” or “national treasure” or both, depending on who was defining those two very odd expressions. For the sake of the argument, let’s just say 1 to 5 per cent of the misplaced objects fit those categories, or 100,000 (lowest number) to 1 million (highest number). The rest fell into the general bucket of culturally not so significant or insignificant, again, depending on who is expounding on this odd categorization.

Postwar Allied restitution policy ended up focusing on the 1 to 5 percent of objects lost or missing due to State-sponsored mischief between 1933 and 1945. For the rest, compensation schemes were foisted onto shell-shocked survivors and their kin due to an institutional absence of interest amongst postwar governments to aid those victims in locating and recovering their missing cultural property for reasons mentioned above. Many of the culturally significant objects and those earning the label of “national treasure” came from State collections plundered by the Axis and from private collections owned by wealthy individuals with close ties to State museums in countries dominated by the Axis. Those items received favored treatment in the eyes of the Allies and their representatives, referred to as “Monuments Men”.

The Allied powers’ prime directive was the economic, political, social and cultural rehabilitation of Europe (read that part of Europe not occupied or influenced by the Soviet Army and its government) especially as the incipient Cold War became a full-fledged game of geopolitical antipathy between former wartime allies.

As a consequence of the aforementioned factors and those tied to the inevitable human condition—people over property—most survivors did not file claims in the immediate postwar period and only did so after deadlines had passed and the only chance of physically recovering most if not all of their lost property was close to 0.

By 1956, the US State Department had estimated that approximately several hundred thousand cultural objects of all kinds and shapes and value were still being claimed through its good offices by individuals from more than 30 nations.

From the mid-1990s to today, in the absence of any concerted international effort to tally the total number of claimed objects registered as such with national governments, we can only guess that, perhaps, the aggregate total figure of claimed cultural objects is in excess of the number declared by the State Department in 1956.

Moreover, there is no available as to the number of claims filed against museums and other institutions that hold or trade in art objects.  The number of objects claimed might well be in the thousands but proof being in the pudding no one can be sure of anything at this point in time.

Recommendation: nations that are signatory to international compacts known as the Washington conference of 1998 and the Terezin Declaration of June 2009 should conduct a census of all outstanding claimed cultural objects registered as of now in their care and publish those results for public consumption and analysis.  The same appeal can be made to the members of the art market and ask that it provide figures representing the number of objects in their custody which are subject to claims without giving out names out of a concern for data privacy.

b/ the total number of art objects that have been restituted since the Washington Conference:

Historically, the most accessible statistics are repatriation figures from various postwar governments and official statistics regarding actual physical restitutions up to the early 1950s. Since then, there is very little public information that can be found about how many art objects were returned to rightful owners between the mid-1950s and the beginning of the 21st century.

Those nations that have established restitution committees (the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France, Germany, and Austria) have compiled figures regarding the number of objects that have been claimed through their auspices. But no statistics are tallied pertaining to the number of objects returned through direct negotiations with museums, auction houses, institutions, corporations, and private individuals.

c/ the total value of restituted art objects is directly dependent on the answer to the aforementioned.

The recipients of restituted art objects are usually driven to sell them because they cannot afford to keep them in their possession as a result of their inflated value and the ensuing insurance and other expenses that accompany their maintenance as one's newly found property. Other successful claimants part with the restituted objects because there are a multitude of individuals who have a rightful claim to a share of the value of the restituted object(s). There can be as many 50 or 60 individuals who can benefit from the monetization of restituted objects, thus significanly diluting the actual amount earned from the sale of the restituted object(s).  And then, there are those folks out there who have recovered their objects and prefer to sell them for their own personal reasons which are theirs only to be treated as a private matter, free of outside commentary.

The only indication of value comes from press reports about items being auctioned after restitution. It can safely be assumed that the objects with an Austrian provenance—mostly oil paintings by Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele—have fetched the highest prices at auction following their restitution, mostly due to the infatuation by the upper tiers of the global art market for such works, regardless of their inherent and implicit esthetic value. Those works alone have fetched in toto more than half a billion dollars. It might be safe to conservatively estimate the total value of restituted objects at slightly more than a billion dollars since the late 1990s. But that figure needs to be carefully verified through an elaborate survey of the field of art restitution.

d/ the total value of so-called “art restitution litigation”:

Although this question is unfair and unjust, it still needs to be answered out of a desire for transparency.  We can only surmise how costly litigation efforts can be once we fuse the fees earned from those seeking restitution and those working to prevent restitution. Usually, museums and art dealers will recruit fairly well-heeled law firms as outside counsel in order to safeguard the integrity of their collections and rebuff attempts by claimants to assert title. On the plaintiffs’ side, there is an odd mix of solo practitioners and small and large firms involved in art restitution. All told, there are not more than 100 or so attorneys—yes, you read it!—who work on art restitution cases as an integral part of their legal practice if we combine North America, Europe and Israel. Since most plaintiffs cases are adopted on a contingency fee basis, usually 30 per cent, you should take the estimated value of restituted objects and divide that figure by three in order to get an idea of the estimated value of the litigation for plaintiffs’ lawyers since the late 1990s. Likewise, for those lawyers defending their clients against outside claims, the fees can easily rise into the millions of dollars for each claimed object. Most of the claimed objects that are subject to intense years-long litigation hold values in excess of 1 million dollars.

Where does all of this leave the bewildered field of provenance research?

The two main incentives underlying provenance research since the late 1990s are to 1/ safeguard art objects which are part of a private or public collection or held by an individual collector or 2/ obtain the restitution of such an art object.

What does this mean in terms of the objective and empirical integrity of the research being conducted on the history of an object? How do these legal undertakings affect the very nature of provenance research as distinct from its initial intent as an art-historical practice?

What is the future of provenance research and can it be salvaged as an objective, scientific field of inquiry?