Remember the Mattel vs. MGA Entertainment legal dispute over who owned the rights to the Bratz Dolls? (Summaries here, here and here) Mattel had won the battle, obtaining a court order forcing MGA Entertainment to stop selling the dolls and transfer ownership of the dolls to Mattel. Well, a U.S. appeals court has just suspended that order. It’s unclear why the court of appeals did this (presumably based on MGA Entertainment’s motion), but their reasoning is a bit surprising if not shocking. According to the BBC, “judges questioned whether an earlier court ruling had gone too far in awarding ownership of the Bratz range to Mattel, suggesting it was ‘draconian’. They also questioned Mattel’s employment contracts, and ordered both sides to try to come to an agreement on the dispute out of court.”
Andrew Orkin, a Canadian attorney, and Orkin’s family, have sued the Swiss government and a Swiss museum for a Vincent Van Gogh pen-and-ink drawing they say their great-grandmother sold under duress as her family tried to flee the Nazis in their native Germany. Orkin claims Oskar Reinhart, the Swiss art collector who bought the drawing and bequeathed it to the Museum Oskar Reinhart am Stadtgarten, took advantage of his great-grandmorhter’s dire circumstances and bought the drawing for considerably less than its market value.
December 8th, 2009 by Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento in Criminal
A Gavin Turk sculpture piece, Revolting Brick, was stolen at Area 10 Project Space in Peckham and replaced with a brick emblazoned with the text, “Thank You Have a Nice Day, Next.” The replacement brick is worth pennies (so far).
December 8th, 2009 by Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento in Criminal
The Association for Research into Crimes against Art (ARCA) has posted a study on art crimes and their relationship to organized crime.
In ARCA’s many projects and conferences, those with whom we have worked have conveyed the fact that art crime is the third-highest-grossing criminal trade, behind only drugs and arms, and have underlined with countless examples the links with Organized Crime since 1960.
Four works seized by US marshals from the Gmurzynska Gallery’s stand at Art Basel Miami on December 2nd were returned to the dealer yesterday. According to the Art Newspaper:
The four works, with an estimated value of more than $6m, include a Degas Jockeys, a Miró abstract from the 1920s, a Léger and an Yves Klein. They were seized in connection with a lawsuit filed in New York Federal Court by Edelman Arts Inc “as assignee for XL Specialty Insurance Company” against Gmurzynska gallery.
December 5th, 2009 by Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento in Criminal
According to CBC News,
Tax police in Italy have seized a secret stash of masterpieces, said to be worth $150 million, from the founder of the collapsed dairy conglomerate Parmalat. Among the 19 works unearthed were pieces by the likes of Picasso, Monet, Van Gogh and Modigliani. Tanzi was convicted of market-rigging in 2008 in wake of the 2003 collapse of Parmalat.
One question visual artists often ask me concerns their artistic production and its relation to legal and business matters. To be precise, it seems that artists are anxious about their reputations as well as the public perception of their artwork if they are deemed to be too preoccupied with legal and business issues (such as copyright and branding). The historic and fundamental question of whether artists should follow a counter-cultural and anti-commercial paradigm or a practice based on commercial systems is wrought with many false preconceived notions, and is one I will address in the coming weeks. Keep in mind that this distinction is buttressed on the notion that contemporary technological and commercial developments are not in-and-of themselves theoretical and philosophical mediums and tools that both question and facilitate a contemporary critical art practice. For now I will focus on the practical aspects of this debate and deal with the conceptual-theoretical issues later.
So why should artists start educating themselves about the legal and business issues concerning their practice? The answer is simple: personal and financial protection. In general most artists, especially those at the initial stages of their careers, will have no one looking out for their best interest. This “best interest” is complicated due to the nature of the art profession, the manner in which artists make a living (an artists livelihood), and more recently the nature of digital media (ex: internet and social sites). The majority of art schools and institutions show a high-level of skepticism when it comes to educating their art students in the legal issues affecting artistic production. This is understandable if the intent is to foster rule-breaking and subversion of the status-quo, but I do believe that a robust discussion of legal issues via theoretical and philosophical discourses would indirectly (and at times directly) inform artists on the law and its fascinating challenges. Most galleries and collectors are also primarily interested in the well-being of their own financial status and reputations. To be fair, conflict of interest issues make this a predictable structure.
However, it is ironic that many established artists (many of whom still teach at art institutions) seem adept at negotiating the legal and business terrain. Is the assumption then that only established artists with “something” to protect should self-educate in matters of commercial concern? Not at all. In fact, what if the model was flipped on its head and we established a platform where artists could become self-sufficient from the initial stages of their careers? Where they could leverage not only their artistic production (sculptures, installations, paintings, photographs, drawings, etc.), but also the subsidiary products (writing, teaching, lecturing) and intellectual property engendered by these assets. And let’s be honest, they are assets.
Artists must start asking what is in their best interest from the moment they decide that they will be professionals and not dilitantes.