Dealer’s Suit Against Gallery Owners for Declaring Agnes Martin Works Fakes Is Dismissed
New York Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit by the London-based The Mayor Gallery (The Mayor) against the owners of the Pace Gallery based on allegations that defendants “unlawfully declared that thirteen authentic Agnes Martin artworks are fakes, resulting in a loss … of more than $7 million.” The lawsuit asserted that defendants were financially motivated to exclude the works from their catalogue raisonné. In a 16-page decision dismissing the lawsuit, Justice Andrea Masley called the claims “vague” and “speculative.” The Mayor’s initial complaint was dismissed in 2018 as lacking merit; now, the court found that the new complaint did not assert any new facts to avoid dismissal. The Mayor reportedly anticipates appealing the decision.

Jury Awards Portland Museum of Art $4.6 Million in Dispute Over Donor’s Will
Portland Museum of Art prevailed in its lawsuit against the caregiver of the museum’s longtime supporter Eleanor G. Potter, who rewrote her will shortly before her death, leaving her estate to her caregiver rather than the museum. It was claimed that Ms. Potter was isolated from her family, threatened with being placed in a nursing home, and coached during phone calls with lawyers. The caretaker, Annemarie Germain, announced plans to appeal the decision, claiming that prejudicial evidence was improperly introduced at trial.

Cady Noland’s Lawsuit Over Log Cabin Sculpture Hinges on Procedural Issues of Standing and Jurisdiction
Artist Cady Noland has filed her third complaint in a lawsuit alleging that a German collector’s unauthorized restoration of her famous Log Cabin Blank With Screw Eyes and Cafe Door (1990) sculpture “amounted to the creation of an unauthorized copy of the original.” Her lawsuit was dismissed twice before, with leave to re-plead, on the grounds that Ms. Noland’s complaint failed to state legally viable copyright infringement claims under the U.S. Copyright Act. Her latest complaint needs to demonstrate that an act of alleged infringement occurred in the United States and not abroad in order to survive another motion to dismiss. The defense has filed yet another motion to dismiss, arguing that the third complaint does not state that the alleged infringement first took place in the United States, but rather in Germany, and as such, Ms. Noland’s challenges in this case are not actionable under the U.S. Copyright Act.

Thrift Shop Sketch Is a Schiele Original
A “part time art handler” who frequents second-hand shops purchased a sketch from a New York Habitat for Humanity thrift store that he believed to be an original by the expressionist Egon Schiele. The sketch now has been authenticated by Jane Kallir, owner of the Galerie St. Etienne, leading expert on Egon Schiele and the author of his catalogue raisonné. Ms. Kallir believes that Schiele sketched the work in 1918, the same year he died. The work appears to be a study for Schiele’s final lithograph, Girl, which also was completed in 1918. The sketch is now for sale and the owner, who wishes to remain anonymous, announced plans to donate a portion of the sale proceeds to Habitat for Humanity.

British Art Dealer Jailed by New York Court for Defrauding Clients
Timothy Sammons, a British art dealer who operated from offices in London, Zurich and New York, was sentenced to up to 12 years in prison by a New York court after pleading guilty to grand larceny, a scheme to defraud and other counts. It was alleged that Sammons misappropriated the proceeds from sales of art on behalf of his clients and used art that did not belong to him as collateral to obtain personal loans. District Attorney Cyrus Vance noted that besides suffering monetary losses, victims lost “valuable pieces of artwork that had been in their families for generations.” Sammons will reportedly serve his sentence in a New York state prison.

Baltimore Museum of Art Will Devote 2020 Exhibits to Women Artists to Address Diversity Gaps
The Baltimore Museum of Art is expanding its campaign to minimize diversity gaps by focusing on women in the coming year. The program, called 2020 Vision, begins in October 2019 by focusing on American Women Modernists such as Georgia O’Keefe. The program also will include a large-scale installation by Mickalene Thomas that will transform the museum’s East Lobby into a “living room.” Other highlights reportedly include “an exploration of Candice Breitz’s socio-political video works, a Joan Mitchell retrospective, an exhibition of beaded works by 19th-century Lakota women and African Art and the Matrilineage, a show documenting the role of maternal power in African art in the 19th through mid-20th centuries.”

NYC Allocates Record $212 Million to Department of Cultural Affairs
Exceeding last year’s record-setting allocation of $198.4 million with this year’s $212 million budget, the New York Department of Cultural Affairs is poised to expand on the success of its CreateNYC Action Plan, a program with the goal of having “a vibrant, diverse, and sustainable cultural sector with access to the arts for all citizens of New York.” This year the program expanded its tenets to include commitments to increase funding to underserved communities, emphasize inclusive practices, solidify its relationship with the city government, address the affordability crisis, and improve public school art education. Since 2017, New York City has distributed more than $1.1 billion in arts and culture financing, more than any other U.S. city.


Facebook Settles “Art Censorship” Claim with French School Teacher
Frédéric Durand, a French school teacher, had his Facebook account shut down after he posted an image of Gustave Courbet’s painting L’Origine du Monde (The Origin of the World) (1866). A Paris civil court ruled earlier this year that Facebook was wrong to shut down Durand’s account. However, as Durand was able to start a new Facebook account, the court found that he did not suffer any damages. Durand had announced plans to appeal. The parties have reportedly reached a resolution, pursuant to which they will each make a donation to a French street-art group, Le MUR (The Wall).

Munich Museums Restitute Nazi-Looted Art to Collectors’ Heirs
After extensive provenance research revealed that nine artworks held by the Bavarian State Painting Collections, the Bavarian National Museum and the State Graphics Collection were at one time seized by Nazi officials from the Jewish art collectors Julius and Semaya Franziska Davidsohn, the director of the Bavarian State Painting Collection returned the works to the Davidsohns’ heirs, whom the research team tracked down in London.

Portugal Seizes Art Collection to Pay Collector’s Debts
Portugal’s culture ministry’s spokesman announced that a court ruling authorized the confiscation of José Berardo’s modern and contemporary art collection to cover his debts to three Portuguese banks. The banks were previously prevented from seizing the collateral as the artworks, including works by Picasso, Bacon and Basquiat, were on public display in museums, including the Berardo Collection Museum in Lisbon.

No Works Damaged in Fire at Frankfurt Museum of Modern Art
An elevator control room fire broke out during renovations of the Frankfurt Museum of Modern Art (Museum für Moderne Kunst (MMK)) in Germany. The museum’s director issued a statement confirming that no one was injured and no works were harmed, in part because most of the museum’s collection was in storage due to the renovations. It is not clear whether the fire will delay the museum’s previously scheduled reopening date of August 19, 2019.

Refurbished Industrial Space in Suburbs to House Five Parisian Galleries
As part of a decade-long vision to transform the Parisian suburbs, five Parisian art galleries are moving into a redesigned industrial space on the land designated for cultural use by the mayor of Paris. The space, dubbed Komunuma, also will accommodate emerging artist exhibitions as well as artists’ residences.

UK Government Considers Building Freeport Warehouses to Offset Post-Brexit Taxes
The UK’s new international trade secretary established a panel to investigate the establishment of 10 freeport zones throughout the UK to store art, jewelry and collectibles and to offset post-Brexit taxes. The Boris Johnson Administration touts the freeports as the “gateway to our future prosperity, creating thousands of jobs.” By contrast to the UK’s stance, the European Parliament is calling for freeports to be phased out across the European Union.


Masterpieces from The Courtauld Gallery’s Collection to Be Exhibited in Japan During London Gallery Renovations
In the 1860s, many French Impressionists, including Édouard Manet, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, as well as their contemporaries, became inspired by Japanese woodblock prints and incorporated Japanese motifs, techniques and even scenes of Japanese life in their art. This year, the highlights of the Impressionist collection of The Courtauld Gallery (London) will travel to Japan for an exhibition opening in Tokyo on September 10, 2019. Among the masterpieces going on tour are Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1882), Monet’s Antibes (1888), Van Gogh’s Peach Trees in Blossom (1889) and Gauguin’s Nevermore (1897). Many of the artworks will be traveling outside of Europe for the first time. The tour became possible due to The Courtauld Gallery undergoing major renovations. Meanwhile, the National Gallery (London) is also sending 60 artworks to Tokyo and Osaka this year, including Van Gogh’s Sunflowers (1888). Perhaps the two exhibitions will inspire the new generation of artists, a kind of cultural exchange across the centuries.

The following are summaries of news reports pertaining to art law and art markets, organized by geographic regions for your browsing convenience.


Andy Warhol Foundation Wins Copyright Lawsuit Over Prince Portrait
Photographer Lynn Goldsmith sued the Andy Warhol Foundation alleging that Warhol unlawfully used her photograph of Prince in a series of 1984 silkscreen works. Vanity Fair originally licensed the photograph in question in 1984 and commissioned Warhol to create an illustration for an article about Prince. Warhol then went on to create 16 more works based on Goldsmith’s photograph. Goldsmith claims that she only found out about the silkscreens in 2016 when Vanity Fair republished the article in the aftermath of Prince’s death. Judge John G. Koeltl of the Southern District of New York ruled in favor of the Warhol Foundation, holding that Warhol’s work constituted fair use of Goldsmith’s Prince photograph. Judge Koeltl noted that Warhol transformed Goldsmith’s photograph of “a vulnerable, uncomfortable person” into an “iconic, larger-than-life figure.” The silkscreens are “immediately recognizable as a ‘Warhol’ rather than as a photograph of Prince − in the same way that Warhol’s famous representations of Marilyn Monroe and Mao are recognizable as ‘Warhols,’ not as realistic photographs.” Goldsmith is planning to appeal, calling the case one of “David versus Goliath.”

Where Are All of Bob Ross’s Paintings?
Bob Ross created approximately 1,143 paintings during his PBS show “The Joy of Painting” and created nearly 30,000 paintings during his lifetime. However, there are very few of his works available on the market. The New York Times conducted an investigation to track down the missing paintings and discovered that nearly 1,165 of his paintings are stored in the Bob Ross Inc. headquarters. The facility is closed to visitors and none of the paintings is for sale. However, Bob Ross Inc. did donate several items to the Smithsonian’s Natural Museum of American History earlier this year. Whether more of the works will resurface one day remains to be seen.

Collector Sues His Lawyer Over Brancusi Bronze
An 88-year-old collector, Stuart Pivar, has filed a lawsuit against Philadelphia lawyer John McFadden claiming that McFadden tricked him into selling a Constantin Brancusi bronze for only $100,000. Pivar, acting pro se, claims that McFadden convinced him to sell the Brancusi for far less than it is worth, rather than assisting Pivar in a sale of the piece to Christie’s or the Philadelphia Museum of Art. McFadden allegedly approached Pivar with a contract of sale, which Pivar signed. Pivar later learned it was a contract selling the piece to McFadden directly for $100,000. Pivar claims that he did not realize the ramifications of the contract or that the sale was final, and is claiming $200 million in damages.

Manhattan District Attorney Presses Criminal Charges Against Subhash Kapoor
The Manhattan District Attorney charged Subhash Kapoor, a dealer in Indian art, and seven co-conspirators with 86 criminal counts arising out of Kapoor’s alleged operation of a $145 million smuggling ring. It is claimed that Kapoor’s illicit activity spanned 30 years and involved thousands of looted antiquities. In 2012, authorities reportedly seized $100 million worth of allegedly stolen artwork from Kapoor’s storage facilities. Kapoor is presently on trial in India, where he has been imprisoned for the past seven years. U.S. officials are requesting Kapoor’s extradition following the completion of his trial in India.

UNESCO Grants Frank Lloyd Wright Buildings World Heritage Status
UNESCO has designated eight Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in the United States as World Heritage sites. Among the buildings included on the list are the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Fallingwater, and Unity Temple. This is the first time that UNESCO has included modern American buildings on the list. UNESCO cited Wright’s “organic architecture” as well as his groundbreaking use of materials, including steel and concrete, as reasons why UNESCO included the buildings on the list.

Southern District Renders Decision in Contentious Robert Indiana Lawsuit
In a 47-page Order, the Southern District of New York dismissed most of the counterclaims asserted against the Morgan Art Foundation over the intellectual property of pop artist Robert Indiana’s works, including his famous LOVE and HOPE sculptures. The lawsuit initially arose in May 2018, one day before Indiana’s death, when the Morgan Art Foundation filed a lawsuit against Indiana’s caretaker, Jamie Thomas, art dealer Michael McKenzie, McKenzie’s company (AIA), and the estate’s attorney, James W. Brannan. The Morgan alleged that McKenzie and Thomas conspired to produce unauthorized works under Indiana’s name in the style of his LOVE sculpture. AIA counterclaimed that Morgan underpaid Indiana for the sales of his work. However, the court allowed one claim to proceed − that the Morgan made unauthorized reproductions of certain LOVE sculptures in semi-precious stones. The legal proceedings do not show any sign of stopping; Thomas also has filed suit in Maine against Indiana’s estate, seeking nearly $2 million to cover the cost of his legal fees.

Neil Armstrong Auction Nets More than $2.4 Million in Wake of Moon Landing Anniversary
The Armstrong Family collection Space Exploration Signature Auction has netted $2.4 million so far. The bulk of the proceeds stemmed from the sale of Armstrong’s 14-karat gold piece, which he took on his trip to the moon. Other items sold at the auction included an American flag that flew aboard Apollo 11, Armstrong’s personal copy of NASA’s “Preliminary Apollo 11 Flight Plan,” his own NASA flight suit, and his 2004 National Award for Space Achievement trophy. In a space-themed auction week, Sotheby’s also auctioned off 11 items from the personal collection of Buzz Aldrin. The Metropolitan Museum of Art also is hosting an exhibition entitled, “Apollo’s Muse: The Moon in the Age of Photography.” The exhibit displays a variety of visual media depicting the moon and space exploration.

Supreme Court to Hear Pirate Ship Copyright Lawsuit
In the late 1990s, independent producer and director Rick Allen filmed the salvaging of Blackbeard’s flagship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, in Beaufort, North Carolina. North Carolina state officials have since posted five of the videos and one still photograph on its tourism website and on its social media pages. In 2015, Allen sued North Carolina’s governor and other state officials alleging copyright infringement and failure to compensate him for his work. The same year, the state enacted new legislation, which treated all photographs, video recordings, and other documentary materials that depict a shipwreck and its contents as part of the public record. North Carolina further claimed that the state was immune from Allen’s lawsuit and other lawsuits regarding such images pursuant to the Eleventh Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, under the doctrine of sovereign immunity. Allen prevailed in the district court, but the decision was reversed at the appellate level earlier this year. This matter is now to be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court this fall, along with two other suits regarding copyright infringement and sovereign immunity.

Famed Art Historian Douglas Crimp Dies at Age 74
Long-time Art History professor at the University of Rochester, Douglas Crimp, passed away on July 5, 2019. Crimp gained notoriety in 1977 through his essay entitled “Pictures,” which accompanied an exhibition of the same name at Artists Space in New York. Crimp’s “Pictures” analyzed the effect that an image has once it is released into the world, focusing on the works of Troy Brauntuch, Jack Goldstein, Sherrie Levine, Robert Longo, Philip Smith, and later Cindy Sherman. Crimp would later explore the role of the museum in placing art forms into the realms of art history and wrote prolifically on the AIDS epidemic and queer theory.


Grave of Could-Be Asterix Found in West Sussex
The grave of a Gallic warrior who may have fought Julius Caesar was discovered on a West Sussex building site. The grave was originally discovered during the excavations for a Berkeley Homes housing development in North Bersted in 2008. However, it took archaeologists years to properly conserve and prepare the artifacts for public display. The discovery will go on display at Chichester’s Novium Museum in January 2020. Archaeologists have described the display as “the most elaborately equipped warrior grave ever found in England,” and believe that the warrior may have been a refugee French Gallic fighter who fled Julius Caesar as he conquered continental Europe in 50 BC, just like the real-life Asterix.

France Retracts from Repatriation Recommendations
The French cultural minister, Franck Riester, backtracked from a report recommending that French museums automatically restitute objects seized from African nations. At a recent conference attended by nearly 200 archaeologists, anthropologists and historians from Europe and Africa, Riester stated that France would examine all requests presented by African nations, but requested that they not “focus on the sole issue of restitution.” Despite the conservative statements, Riester indicated that France is currently working with Benin on the restitution of 26 items claimed to have been looted in a military raid in 1892 − however parliament has not set a date to discuss the move.

Mondrian Heirs Seek Restitution of Paintings from Germany
The heirs of Piet Mondrian are seeking restitution of four paintings that they claim were lent to the German city of Krefeld more than 90 years ago. The heirs attest that Mondrian initially lent at least eight works to Krefeld’s Kaiser Wilhelm Museum for an exhibition that never took place. The works then remained at the museum when Mondrian fled Europe during World War II until the museum’s postwar director sold four of the pieces in the early 1950s. The city has rebutted the claim, stating that it is the rightful owner and that the paintings came into the museum’s possession legally as a gift from Mondrian. Although the heirs’ claims are time-barred under German law, their lawyers note that the heirs could very well file a lawsuit in the United States to overcome the German statute of limitations.

Disagreements Grow Over Reconstruction Plans for Notre Dame
Members of the French Parliament passed a bill that will provide oversight for the nearly $954 million in donations pledged for the restoration of the Notre Dame cathedral. French President Emmanuel Macron attested that the Notre Dame renovations should be completed in five years, however many believe that this time frame is too short. The bill’s passage was delayed due to disagreements from members of parliament who believed that the government is rushing the reconstruction in anticipation of the 2024 Paris Olympic Games. Meanwhile, the French cultural minister claims that the “hurry” is due to the fact that there is still a risk of collapse in some areas of the iconic cathedral.

Zwirner to Open Paris Gallery in the Wake of Brexit
The famed art dealer David Zwirner is scheduled to open a gallery this fall in the center of the Paris gallery district. Although this will be Zwirner’s sixth gallery worldwide, it is his first space in continental Europe. The choice for the gallery’s location is largely the result of Brexit’s effect on the London art market. Zwirner claimed that his London outpost will now be labeled a “British” gallery, while the Paris gallery will be “European.” Zwirner also stated that many of his artists have informed him that they would like to show their work in continental Europe, post-Brexit, which further motivated him to expand in Paris. The gallery is scheduled to open on October 16, 2019, with an exhibition of U.S. artist Raymond Pettibon.


Egypt to Sue Christie’s Over King Tut Statue Sold for $6 Million
Egypt is planning to sue Christie’s in London seeking the repatriation of an 11-inch tall, brown quartzite head of King Tutankhamen. Christie’s sold the nearly 3,000-year-old artifact earlier this month for almost $6 million despite protests and previous repatriation requests from Egypt. Egypt believes the sculpture was stolen from the Karnak Temple in the 1970s. The current owner, the Resandro Collection, acquired the sculpture from art dealer Heinz Herzer in 1985. Herzer has been linked to at least one other instance of alleged antiquities looting.


Pace Beijing Gallery Closes Due to Tariff Hikes
After only a decade of operations in Beijing’s 798 art district, the Pace Gallery has closed citing the ongoing trade war between the United States and China as well as Xi Jinping’s duty on American art entering China. The Chinese art market has undergone a transformation in the past decade as Hong Kong now functions as the main market hub. According to the gallery’s founder, Arne Glimcher, since Xi Jinping came to power, individuals are hesitant to display their wealth, mainland Chinese are not buying in China, and many simply purchase from dealers in Hong Kong. For the time being, the Pace gallery will keep an office and viewing room in Beijing and may expand the gallery’s presence in Hong Kong, where it already has two spaces.

Just a few days after the Second Circuit held that New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art could keep in its collection the monumental work by Pablo Picasso entitled The Actor, New York’s Appellate Division, First Department, upheld the return to the heirs of the original owners of art allegedly looted by the Nazis during World War II. Both of these recent decisions touch upon the Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act (HEAR Act), the 2016 legislation that expanded the timeliness for actions to recover artworks lost during the Holocaust.

Two gouaches by the Viennese modern artist Egon Schiele, titled Woman in a Black Pinafore and Woman Hiding Her Face (the Artworks), were once part of the collection of a Jewish-Viennese cabaret performer named Fritz Grünbaum. In 1938, Nazi officials compelled Grünbaum and his wife to permit them to inventory Grünbaum’s property, including his art collection. Shortly after the inventory, Grünbaum’s entire art collection was deposited with a Nazi-controlled shipping company. Documentation as to its fate is sparse until in 1956, when several pieces from the collection, including the Artworks at issue, were put up for sale by Galerie Kornfeld, an art gallery in Switzerland. The subject Artworks were eventually acquired in 2013 by Richard Nagy, a London art dealer. Grünbaum’s heirs brought an action sounding in replevin and conversion, seeking return of the Artworks on the grounds that there had never been a voluntary transfer out of Grünbaum’s estate and in New York a thief cannot pass good title.

At the trial court level, Justice Ramos granted summary judgment in favor of the heirs based on his findings that the Artworks were the property of Grünbaum, who was dispossessed due to the Nazi persecution, and that Nagy had failed to establish a triable issue of fact regarding any superior claim to the Artwork. By contrast, Grünbaum’s heirs were unsuccessful in their attempt to recover another artwork from Grünbaum’s collection in Bakalar v. Vavra, 819 F. Supp. 2d 293 (S.D.N.Y. 2011) aff’d, 500 F. App’x 6 (2d Cir. 2012), where the court held that their claims were barred by the equitable defense of laches. The Second Circuit also had used laches in the dismissal of the plaintiff’s complaint in Zuckerman v. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, as discussed in our July 2, 2019, alert.

The Decision
Plaintiff’s initial burden was to prove that the Artworks were in fact originally owned by Grünbaum, a difficult task given the passage of time and the loss of many records from the World War II era. The First Department found that plaintiffs submitted sufficient proof of Grünbaum’s ownership of the Artworks through circumstantial evidence, including references in exhibition catalogues and witness testimony.

Second, the Appellate Division found that while there was no definitive documentation proving to whom, exactly, Grünbaum lost his art collection, that issue was immaterial in light of the undisputed fact that he did not voluntarily relinquish the works. The evidence showed that the Artworks were inventoried by the Nazi officials, an Aryan Trustee was appointed to administer Grünbaum’s art collection and Grünbaum was executed during the Holocaust.

With respect to laches, an equitable defense based on a lengthy period of neglect or omission to assert a right and the resulting prejudice to an adverse party, the First Department noted that Nagy acquired the Artworks in 2013 and found that he suffered no change in position and there was no evidence lost between his acquisition of the artworks and the plaintiff’s demand for their return. Nagy also was aware of the plaintiff’s claims to the Grünbaum collection, as the plaintiff had filed a brief in the Bakalar action.

In issuing its decision, the First Department took specific note of the HEAR Act and its intention to ensure that laws governing claims to Nazi-confiscated art and other property further United States policy and are not unfairly barred by statutes of limitations. It also noted New York’s strong public policy to ensure that the State of New York does not become a haven for trafficking in stolen cultural property or permit thieves to obtain and pass along legal title.

On June 26, 2019, the Second Circuit upheld the 2018 decision of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York that allowed New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Museum) to keep in its collection the monumental work by Pablo Picasso entitled The Actor, 1904−1905. The work was originally owned by Paul Friedrich Leffmann, a successful German-Jewish entrepreneur, who owned a manufacturing business and multiple properties as well as a sizable art collection. In the 1930s, after the newly adopted Nuremberg Laws deprived all German Jews of the rights and privileges of German citizenship, Leffmann was forced to sell his home and business and flee from Germany to Italy. In 1938, Leffmann and his wife sold the subject painting, The Actor, in order to escape the Nazi regime’s growing influence in Italy and to relocate to Brazil. On the grounds that the 1938 sale was under duress, Leffmann’s great-grandniece and sole heir, Laurel Zuckerman, sought replevin of the painting from the Museum, which had acquired it nearly 58 years ago.

In deciding the appeal, the Second Circuit took the unusual step of affirming on grounds not reached by the district court, which granted the Museum’s motion to dismiss based on the failure to allege duress under New York law. On Zuckerman’s appeal, the Second Circuit upheld the district court’s decision not based on failure to allege duress but on finding that the claim was time-barred by the doctrine of laches. The Second Circuit’s holding contains two main conclusions: (1) that Zuckerman’s delay was unreasonable and prejudiced the Museum and (2) that the Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act of 2016 (HEAR Act) did not, in the court’s opinion, preempt the defense of laches. This is one of the first cases to explore the boundaries of the HEAR Act.

The defense of laches protects defendants against unreasonable, prejudicial delay in commencing suit. A defendant claiming laches is required to show both unreasonable delay on the plaintiff’s part and prejudice to the defendant due to such delay. Absent the showing of such prejudice, the lapse of time alone will not bar a claim. In this instance, the Second Circuit held that both prongs of the laches test had been established. Specifically, the court noted that The Actor was a significant work by a celebrated artist, it was sold for a substantial sum to a well-known French art dealer and it had been in the Museum’s collection since 1952. Yet, neither the Leffmanns nor their heirs made any demand for the painting until 2010. The court found such delay to be unreasonable under the circumstances. The court also held that while the determination of prejudice is ordinarily fact-intensive, the record was sufficient to determine that the Museum was prejudiced by that delay, citing deceased witnesses, faded memories, disappearance of documentary evidence and hearsay of questionable value.

Of note, the Second Circuit also held that the HEAR Act did not preempt the defense of laches. The HEAR Act creates a uniform six-year statute of limitations for Holocaust era claims and was enacted to advance United States policy and ensure claimants a “full and fair” hearing “on the merits.” Typically, laches cannot be invoked to bar legal relief within a congressionally mandated statute of limitations. However, the Second Circuit held that this general rule did not apply to the HEAR Act, relying in part on its interpretation of the purpose and the legislative history of the Act, which explicitly sets aside “defenses at law relating to the passage of time.”


SCOTUS May Get a Say in the Fate of the Guelph Treasure
The Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation (Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz or SPK), which operates Berlin’s state museums, plans to seek review by the United States Supreme Court of the issue of U.S. courts’ jurisdiction to hear the case of the 1935 sale of the famed Guelph Treasure by Jewish art dealers to the Prussian government. The Guelph Treasure is a collection of 82 pieces of medieval ecclesiastical art originally housed at Brunswick Cathedral in Braunschweig, Germany. The Treasure is presently dispersed between private and museum collections, including the Bode Museum in Berlin. In 2015, the heirs of the Jewish dealers filed a lawsuit against the German government in the United States, alleging that the 1935 sale occurred under duress. SPK unsuccessfully moved to dismiss on jurisdictional grounds and their appeal was rejected his month when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit dismissed the petition to rehear en banc.

Continue Reading Sotheby’s Goes Private & More Art World Headlines


MFA Boston Bans Two Visitors, Reviews Internal Procedures Following Allegations of Racist Comments Directed at Students on a School Trip
The Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) Boston completed its internal investigation into the complaint that children on a recent school trip to MFA were allegedly subjected to racist comments by visitors and profiling by staff. After reviewing video footage, MFA banned two visitors and revoked their memberships. MFA also committed to changing its protocols and procedures to clarify expectations for visitor and staff behavior.

Continue Reading Lost Lewis Chessman Stored in Drawer Could Fetch $1.3 Million at Auction & More Art World Headlines


Computer Viruses as Contemporary Art
Chinese internet artist Guo O Dong created the artwork titled “The Persistence of Chaos” by infecting a 2008 Samsung notebook with six of the worst computer viruses in the world. Now, the artwork is to be sold at auction and potential buyers have already made several hundred bids on the laptop, increasing the current going price to $1.2 million. Luckily the computer, presently “quarantined” in solitary confinement in New York, is firewalled from other computers and cannot spread its malware.

Continue Reading The Deadliest Laptop in the World Is Up for Art Auction & More Art World Headlines


Claude Monet’s Haystacks Painting Sets a New World Record for the First Impressionist Work to Sell for More than $100 Million at Auction
The Meules (Haystacks) painting (1890), part of the Haystacks series by the celebrated French Impressionist Claude Monet, is one of the most recognized images in art history. Last week, the work sold at an auction in New York, breaking records for the most expensive work by the artist ever sold and for the most expensive Impressionist painting.

Continue Reading Claude Monet’s Haystacks Painting Breaks Records at Auction & More Art World Headlines


Chicago Institutes a Registry to Protect Street Art
Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events launched a program to protect street artworks and created a public database of such works. Artists are encouraged to submit their works for inclusion in the database, provided the art was either commissioned or sanctioned by the property owner.


Continue Reading A Perfectly Preserved Tomb Discovered Near Cairo & More Art World Headlines


Notre Dame De Paris in Flames
The world watched in horror on April 15 as Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral, built in the 13th century, suffered a devastating fire. The cathedral, one of the world’s greatest historical and architectural treasures, has been plagued by the need for repairs not just in recent years but at least since the time of Victor Hugo. Prominent collectors and institutions have pledged funds for the reconstruction of the cathedral. Wilson Elser partner, Eric Cheng traveled to Paris last week and shared his photo of the cathedral before the fire.

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