U.S. Senate Subcommittee’s Report Recommends Art Market Regulations
As part of its investigation into the effectiveness of sanctions against foreign persons and entities, the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the United States Senate issued a report focused on lack of regulation and pervasive secrecy in the art market. Specifically, the report notes that the art industry is considered the largest legal industry in the United States that is not subject to the requirements of the Bank Secrecy Act, which mandates detailed procedures aimed at preventing money laundering and requires businesses to know their customers’ identity. The report further observes that under the unwritten rules of the art market, a large number of art sales happen through intermediaries, with purchasers and sellers frequently not inquiring into each other’s identities and sellers not asking about the origin of the purchase money. Art advisers are frequently reluctant to reveal the identity of their clients for fear of losing the business.
The 147-page report sets forth a case study of how the art market was used to evade sanctions imposed on Russia. Brothers Arkady and Boris Rotenberg, billionaire business tycoons and long-time friends of Vladimir Putin, were among a number of Russians placed under U.S. sanctions in 2014 as part of an effort to punish Putin and his associates for the annexation of Crimea. It is illegal for U.S. companies to do business with sanctioned persons, but there are no specific laws in place obliging a buyer or seller in a transaction for the sale of art to identify themselves. The Subcommittee’s report concludes that the Rotenbergs took advantage of the lack of transparency required in art transactions, successfully evading the sanctions imposed on them. It is alleged that through the use of shell companies and a Moscow-based art adviser and dealer, they hid their identities and purchased more than $18 million in art from U.S. dealers and auction houses while under sanction.
Of significance to all art market participants, the Senate Subcommittee’s report recommends, among other things, that Congress should amend the Bank Secrecy Act to add businesses handling transactions involving high-value art. While the term “high-value” is not defined, the report cites the recent European Anti–Money Laundering (AML) legislation, which requires businesses handling art transactions valued at €10,000 to comply with AML laws, including the Know Your Customer rule. The report further recommends that the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the U.S. Department of the Treasury issue a comprehensive guide on the steps auction houses and art dealers should take to ensure that they are not doing business with sanctioned individuals or entities.
Legislation will be necessary to amend the Bank Secrecy Act to apply to the art market. In fact, a bill proposing to do exactly that was previously introduced and is presently pending, proposing to regulate antiques dealers only in connection with transactions over $10,000.
- U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations: The Art Industry and U.S. Policies that Undermine Sanctions
- Artnet: A Hard-Hitting New Senate Report Details How Art Dealers and Auction Houses Have Undermined U.S. Sanctions Against Russia
White Supremacist Scientist’s Skull Collection to Be Reexamined by University
Last year, a group of students at the University of Pennsylvania presented findings that a collection of skulls kept by the university include crania from at least 55 enslaved individuals. The collection was the work of Samuel George Morton, a now-discredited physician, who used the skulls to come up with pseudoscientific justifications for slavery. Discovery Magazine has touted him as the “founding father of scientific racism.” After facing calls for the skulls to be repatriated or buried, the university moved the collection to storage. Repatriation may be difficult since little is known about the skulls’ origin other than that Morton obtained them from Cuba.
- Smithsonian Mag: The Penn Museum Moves Collection of Enslaved People’s Skulls into Storage
- Artnet: The Penn University Museum Is Working to Repatriate the Skulls of Enslaved People in Its Collection Following Student Protests
Outdoor Art Serves the Public until New York’s Museums Reopen
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that New York City’s museums can reopen beginning August 24. In the meanwhile, New York City’s tourism and marketing division has put together a list of outdoor and open-air art available for viewing by the public throughout all five boroughs.
- NPR: New York City’s Museums to Reopen as State’s COVID-19 Numbers Continue to Tick Down
- The Art Newspaper: Public art initiative encourages New Yorkers to get outside as museums remain closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic
Two Museums Fear Their Gauguins May Be Fakes
Fabrice Fourmanoir, a Gauguin enthusiast, investigator and collector who exposed the J. Paul Getty Museum’s Gauguin sculpture as a fake has now set his astute gaze on paintings at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Fourmanoir has alleged that both paintings are not Gauguins and were instead commissioned and sold by a Parisian art dealer. The museums are considering a scientific examination of the paintings to confirm their origin and authenticity.
- The Art Newspaper: Two U.S. museums plan to investigate their Gauguins after art sleuth says they are fake
Raphael’s True Cause of Death Revealed
Scientists have dispelled the myth that Renaissance painter Raphael, noted by historians as having had many trysts, died of the sexually transmitted disease syphilis. A new study conducted at the University of Milan Bicocca has concluded that the artist likely died instead from a pulmonary disease similar to pneumonia. Raphael’s physicians subjected him to bloodletting, a process wherein blood is drawn from a patient to rid the body of disease. As physicians of that period did not typically practice bloodletting for lung ailments, it is suspected that Raphael’s doctors failed to properly diagnose his symptoms. Moreover, it has been determined that rather than aiding in his recovery, the bloodletting likely contributed to and quickened his death. Raphael died in 1520 in Rome at the age of 37.
- The Guardian: Medical error led to painter Raphael’s death, study finds
- Artnet: A New Study Suggests the Real Cause of Renaissance Master Raphael’s Death Was a Disease Similar to the Coronavirus
Selfie Menace Continues
Security camera footage has confirmed that an Austrian tourist broke two toes off of a sculpture by famed neoclassical sculptor Antonio Canova. The damage occurred at the Gipsoteca Museum in Possagno, when the tourist sat on a sculpture of Paolina (Pauline) Bonaparte, Napoleon’s sister, to take a selfie. The perpetrator surrendered to authorities. The work damaged was an original plaster cast model dating back to 1804, the marble version of which is kept at the Galleria Borghese in Rome. Artnet previously assembled a round-up of tragic cases of art being damaged by tourists angling for better selfies.
- The Art Newspaper: Snap! Tourist takes a selfie on a 19th-century Canova sculpture—and breaks off two toes
- The Art Newspaper: After CCTV footage is released, tourist who damaged Canova sculpture turns himself in
- Artnet: Here Are 9 Shocking Times People Destroyed Art While Taking Selfies, Ranked by Severity
Building Decorated by Picasso Demolished, Triggering Protests
Despite ongoing protests, the Norwegian government has begun tearing down the Y-block office building in Oslo, part of its governmental headquarters in the city damaged in the 2011 terrorist attack by Anders Breivik, who detonated a car bomb. Prior to any demolition of the Y-block building, Picasso’s The Fishermen, a sand-blasted 250-ton section of the building’s facade, and The Seagull, a 60-ton floor-to-ceiling drawing in the building’s lobby, were removed and relocated. Opponents of the demolition argue that the Y-block building’s brutalist architecture should be preserved, and that Picasso’s works and the building “belong together.” They also argue that the demolition is, in essence, a symbolic completion of what Breivik wanted, to erase the symbols of democracy. Construction of the new governmental headquarters is expected to be completed in 2025.
- The Guardian: Protests as Norway begins tearing down building adorned with Picassos
- The Observer: Oslo’s Picasso Murals Are Being Relocated Despite Protest
Ancient Greek Architecture Likely Catered to the Handicapped
New research conducted at California State University suggests that the stone ramps featured on many ancient Greek temples were primarily built to accommodate the disabled and mobility impaired. While these ramps may have served other purposes, such as enabling transportation of materials, they were featured most prominently in quantity and size at temples dedicated to Asclepius, the Greek god of healing. As these sites drew in many visitors with disabilities, illnesses and ailments, who would have had difficulty navigating stairs, it is now thought that the ramps were specifically crafted to assist these guests.
- Artnet: Ancient Greeks Installed Ramps on Temples to Improve Access for Disabled People, New Research Suggests
Croatian Museums and Historic Sites Can’t Catch a Break
After the coronavirus forced churches, galleries and museums throughout Croatia to close, in March 2020, a 5.3 magnitude earthquake rocked the country, damaging its largest Gothic-style cathedral and many other landmarks, including the Archaeological Museum in Zagreb. The strongest earthquake recorded in the country in almost 150 years made many buildings structurally unsound, and museum owners began storing works in their facility basements. On July 24, 2020, that was no longer an option when a severe storm hit Zagreb, leading to massive flooding. As water surged into their basements, The Archaeological Museum and Museum of Decorative Arts, among others, struggled to protect their collections. The full extent of the damage from the storm is not yet known, but expected to be significant.
- The Art Newspaper: The unluckiest museums in the world? Croatia faces string of natural disasters
- The Art Newspaper: Zagreb Cathedral’s spire damaged in major earthquake
Restoration Plans for Notre Dame by Traditional Methods Finalized
After discussing the issue for more than a year, the decision was made to reconstruct the roof and spires of the renowned Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral to resemble their appearance prior to the April 2019 fire. Despite calls from French President Emmanuel Macron to rebuild these features in a contemporary style, they will be constructed using the original material and traditional methods to the extent possible. In addition to the roof and spires, the vault will need to be repaired and three of the cathedral’s gables will have to be dismantled and rebuilt. After this work is completed, the building’s statues, which fortunately were removed just days prior to the fire, will be returned. The reconstruction of Notre Dame is scheduled to be completed in 2024.