Saturday, October 31, 2020

Weather Looks Good for The Business of Art

Last week I mentioned an art law event at USC, The Business of Art: A Forecast for 2011. Jacqueline Lechtholz-Zey, sent us an overview of the event. Jackie is currently a third year law student at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles and is passionate about fashion and art law. She interns at Sheppard Mullin where she has the opportunity to pursue these interests.

Her overview:

“Sunny.” That was art lawyer Christine Steiner’s response to the million dollar question at Tuesday night’s panel: “what is your forecast for the business of art in 2011?”

On March 8, the USC Art Law Society and Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP brought together a diverse panel of speakers who are at the front line of business and legal developments in the art world.  We gathered for a courtyard reception outside of USC’s beautiful Fisher Gallery and then reconvened inside, seated and surrounded by Sylvia Shap’s lively portraits while our panelists shared their insights.

Pam Kohanchi, assistant general counsel at LACMA, represented the institutional perspective. Christine Steiner has an extensive art law practice with a wide variety of creative clients and practice areas.  Addison Liu, the co-founder of HVW8 Art + Design Gallery, was Senior Counsel of Music Affairs at MGM Studios and today uses that background to further the spirit of collaboration between art, music, and design at his gallery.  Last but not least, Jessica Kantor, an associate in the Art Law Practice Group at Sheppard Mullin, moderated the panel, asking thoughtful and engaging questions of our speakers.

So what is a day in the life like for these lawyers in the arts?

Christine emphasized that in her diverse practice, it’s all about volume and velocity.  She tackles legal issues in the life cycle of an art collection, in three key areas:  (1) acquisition; (2) ownership; and (3) disposition.  She deals with proper title, including provenance and forgeries, copyright and VARA issues, lending to museums, and sales and consignments.  Taxes play an important role from start to finish in her practice.

For Addison, the day to day is much like it would be for a small gallery.  HVW8 prides itself on working with artists from all different kinds of backgrounds and converging those experiences.  The gallery plans events, curates upcoming shows, and focuses on nourishing the intersection of art, music, and design.  While a gallery is about the art, there is also the need to survive financially, and Addison looks for creative ways to explore commercial avenues without compromising artistic value.  He also notes an increased awareness of copyright issues with designs.  Since Shepard Fairey, even more so than ever, clients and artists are concerned about the source of photographs used as a basis for other works.

Pam described herself as a “general practice doctor” at LACMA’s legal division.  She handles every sort of question that might arise in that context, providing feedback to the many members of LACMA’s creative and business teams.   Pam focuses on licensing, provenance, insurance indemnity issues, among many other matters. She said that not a day goes by without her reviewing a license or exhibition agreement.

What’s the role of digitization in the arts, and what are some digital dilemmas?
Pam took the lead and explained how LACMA has become a real leader in the institutional sector when it comes to digital innovation.  The museum runs a blog, a Facebook page, and a Twitter page with over 145,000 followers.  They also have a Twitter in Spanish.  But one of the most exciting endeavors is the Apple iPhone app, which allows users to plan tours, discover exhibitions, purchase tickets, and provides many more interactive features.  LACMA also has one of the most liberal IP policies among museums, and one recent strategic initiative involves providing high-resolution images of works to the public, free of charge.

For Addison’s gallery, the primary use of digital media is as a marketing tool.  HVW8 is promoted through Facebook and Twitter, and works with ArtNet as well. Addison explained that it can be tricky to get the right mix between the commercial and artistic ends, since blogs often stress the commercial aspects.  The gallery also works on viral video campaigns as a means of promotion.

Christine was quick to point out that she doesn’t consider digital developments to be “dilemmas.”  She explained that the three pillars in an art law practice remain the same:  (1) compensation; (2) copyright; and (3) control.   These concerns are important whether the medium is print or digital, and she warned that the mistake is becoming too platform driven—a myopic focus on one medium can prevent you from seeing the bigger picture and will make you unprepared for when the next big thing rolls out.

There’s such a contrast in the news, one day the art market is bullish, and the next, the art world is suffering. How does one navigate this rollercoaster economy?
Christine began by pointing out that the last asset to suffer in our most recession was art, and that art was also the first asset to rise in value.  Citing the Picasso that sold last year for a record $106.5 million at auction, her view is that art holds its value.  Christine also pointed out that art is cyclical in nature—during the period of time where art was not selling as much, artists had the opportunity to work on their existing contracts and focus their energy on those works.

For Addison’s gallery, the rise of street art meant skyrocketing prices, but the decline period was very tough.  During that time, HVW8 had to “pick up the slack” on the commercial end.  This meant that the gallery focused more on some of its design and music endeavors.  Addison also noted that young people still came to the shows and wanted to leave with something, so while original art sales went down, print sales went up during the economic decline.

Pam pointed to a relatively conservative fiscal policy that helped LACMA during difficult financial times. Strategic collecting was challenging at a certain point, but she explained that being partially funded by the county helped matters, as well as the museum’s policy of maintaining a balanced budget.

HVW8 has had a lot of buzz for its great confluence between art and music:
One of Addison’s recent projects was a collaboration between Adidas, Joe Cool, and Snoop Dogg.  Joe Cool did the artwork for Snoop Dogg’s albums, and for the HVW8 installation, he created the installations within the gallery.  The exhibit was a tribute to Snoop Dogg, and Addison explained that it was very important to try to not make the showcase too commercial.  He also emphasized that the ultimate goal at HVW8 is to create an environment where artists can come together and the end result is something creative and spontaneous.

The most challenging and rewarding aspects of being an arts lawyer:
Right away, Christine said that, “art can change you.”  She feels fortunate every day to be able to help her clients and to be able to solve their problems.  On top of that, her clients thank her for her work.  She also said the reward is that she is in a field she truly loves.  Christine did note that working with creative people can be a challenge at times, one example being the artist that calls from Amsterdam with a problem on the gallery floor, forgetting that it’s 2am in Los Angeles.

For Pam, the best part of her job is how much there is to learn—she loves constantly increasing her intellectual pockets of knowledge. It can be difficult to prioritize the many tasks she is faced with, but she explained that you learn quickly and very well how to maneuver the challenges.  All of this furthers the intellectual growth that her position facilitates.

Advice to young art lawyers and art law students:
Pam told us that as a law student, she had no idea that lawyers worked in the arts the way she does now.  Her advice to those seeking these positions is that if the opportunities you’re seeking have not yet presented themselves, you need to become a good lawyer and gain the experience necessary so that you’re ready to grab the opportunity when it does arise. She stressed that there is a grave misconception that you need to know a lot about art in order to be a good art lawyer.  The truth is, you need to be a good lawyer first.  Pam also emphasized the importance of networking and making the connections that will alert you to those opportunities in the field.

Christine made similar points, exclaiming that, “It’s law! ‘Art law’ is a misnomer.”  She described that contracts, criminal concerns, taxes, and so many other legal issues arise and you have to be able to handle these challenges.  Christine recommended gaining litigation experience as well.  She said she would give the same advice to a law student as she would to a client purchasing a work of art: “you have to love it, and do your homework.”

Addison echoed Pam’s and Christine’s emphasis on developing your skills as a good general attorney.  He explained that he runs into so many different issues, be it permits with the city or other contracts, and that a solid legal background helps you address the many challenges that arise in running a gallery.

Finally, the million-dollar question: the forecast for the business of art in 2011:
Christine’s sunny forecast is based on the recovery and growth that art is currently enjoying.  Auction houses are opening in new places such as China, India, and South America.  She cited the proliferation of Gagosian galleries—the growth of huge spaces indicates a change in how business is done.   Christine also noted that art fairs are changing the landscape, with transactions increasing at the many international locations.

For Addison, an important development in the art world is the continued regard for street art.  He referenced MOCA’s upcoming street art show as good indicator that the art form is not on its way out, as was previously predicted.  With the prominence of artists like Bansky and the recognition that his film Exit Through the Gift Shop received, Addison observed that street art is spreading to a much younger generation that wants to be involved in the movement.  For HVW8, this is an undoubtedly positive trend.

Pam emphasized that staying on top of the digitization trend is necessary for continued success in the arts.  Whether an artist or an institution, the digital platform is hugely important.  She also predicted an increase in partnering, such as the joint acquisition agreement between LACMA and The Getty to share the Mapplethorpe collection.  Last month’s announcement of the partnership marks the first time that these museums have agreed to share a collection—a strategic move that allowed the institutions to be more competitive with other major museums vying for the collection.  The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation donated most of the 2,000 photographs, with the Getty, LACMA, and the David Geffen Foundation buying the rest.  120,000 negatives are also included in the collection, the value of which is estimated at over $30 million.

We wrapped up with more questions from the audience, and afterwards couldn’t seem to tear ourselves away.  From the lovely wine and cheese reception to the thoughtful and witty panelists, we so enjoyed ourselves and learned a lot in the process.  With the business of art looking so promising, those of us in art law are even more thrilled to be a part of this dynamic industry.  And with such a positive forecast, the time is ripe for new movers and shakers to enter this exciting field.


Tags: ,


No comments so far.
  • Leave a Reply
    Your gravatar
    Your Name


Clancco, Clancco: The Source for Art & Law,, and Art & Law are trademarks owned by Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento. The views expressed on this site are those of Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento and of the artists and writers who submit to They are not the views of any other organization, legal or otherwise. All content contained on or made available through is not intended to and does not constitute legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is formed, nor is anything submitted to treated as confidential.

Website Terms of Use, Privacy, and Applicable Law.

Switch to our mobile site