Artist Bjarne Melgaard was stopped by Norway’s customs officials, who argued his 16 works did not constitute art. This is all too familiar after the infamous 1928 lawsuit Brancusi vs. United States, when Constantin Brancusi was stopped by customs, who did not believe the work “Bird in Space” (now on display in many major museums such as MoMA) constituted art, and thus should be taxed at customs. Similarly, Norwegian customs agents held Melgaard was subject to $153,024 in taxes to ship the works, as they fell outside of the art exception.
The main issue was that the canvases were printed, and not hand painted. NRK News reported Thorbjørn Jacobsen, chief operations officer at Norway’s airport stating: “the general public’s definition of what constitutes art does not always mesh with the definition of art in the (state) regulations… In order for a painting to be defined as a work of art, it must have been created by the hand of the artist.”
The outdated law has promptly been changed, however.
German artist, Gerhard Richter, one of the most famous living contemporary artists today, has destroyed over 89 of his own pieces. While it may sound familiar to hear of an artist completing a work and promptly painting over it, Richter destroys works that have already been exhibited and priced in the millions. Richter told Der Spiegel: “cutting up the paintings was always an act of liberation.”
Strangely, Richter takes photo documentation of his works prior to setting them ablaze. He has commented on that process saying “sometimes, when I see one of the photos, I think to myself: That’s too bad; you could have let this one or that one survive.”
Are we missing out on valuable information these destroyed works could offer critics, historians and other artists, or does the destruction itself tell us all we need to know?
The Art & Law Program has been listed as one of eight solid alternatives to MFA art programs. You can read more about it here and here.
Art Recovery International has launched a new database to protect and preserve cultural heritage. The database is called “Artive” and it will be the first non profit to identify issues and consolidate data on “at-risk, stolen, looted, and destroyed works of art and cultural property.” The non profit hopes to encourage a global effort to utilize the system which has been dubbed: “the most technologically advanced and agile collection management tool in the world.”
In October, Armenter ‘Bo Carter’ Chatmon filed a lawsuit claiming his work was wrongly attributed to another artist. On Eric Clapton’s 1992 album Unplugged, Clapton attributed songwriter credit for “Alberta” to Huddie Ledbetter, which Chatmon alleges is inaccurate. Chatmon is suing Clapton, asserting the melody of “Alberta” was derived from “Corrine, Corrina,” Chatmon’s 1928 song.
Chatmon is demanding unpaid royalties for use of the work. Evidence of Clapton correctly attributing the work to Chatmon at one point is being used to back the allegations. What right of attribution will Chatmon gain from the court in this pre-VARA matter?
Website, Pixsy, is now offering a service to artists in which they will secure payment for photographers from alleged infringers by esentially reverse image searching a work. The cost, in addition to any cost of joining, is 50% of the total payment collected. One artist wrote a hype piece on the service exclaiming that they “made” $2500 from a single copyright infringement, and $700 for another. It is unclear if the service sends the standard practice cease and desist letter to websites before demanding payout to drop the threat of litigation.
Do services such as Pixsy offer the opportunity for less fortunate artists to pursue small infringement issues without an attorney, or do they border on solicitation?
In September, a bill was placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar, the Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act of 2016. The act concerns cultural property unlawfully lost due to persecution during Nazi era, between 1933 and 1945. This will apply to claims pending on or filed after enactment, but before 2027.
The law will change how statute of limitation periods govern these cases. Plaintiffs alleging their art was unlawfully lost will have six years after discovery, and this allowance will preempt any other statutes of limitations relating to the matter.
The act aims to: “ensure that claims to artwork and other property stolen or misappropriated by the Nazis are not unfairly barred by statutes of limitations but are resolved in a just and fair manner.”