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Sotheby’s Goes Private & More Art World Headlines

June 28, 2019

Authors: Jana S. Farmer, Samantha J. Funt

artlaw_sothebysThe following are summaries of news reports pertaining to art law and art markets, organized by geographic regions for your browsing convenience. Wilson Elser’s Art Law practice team will transition this service to our new Art Law Blog, due to launch in the near future. 

UNITED STATES

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.

Federal Court in New York Allows Rybolovlev’s Suit Against Sotheby’s to Proceed
Russian art collector Dmitry Rybolovlev is suing the auction house for allegedly aiding and abetting his former art adviser, Yves Bouvier, in what he claims was a scheme to overcharge him in the purchase of his world-class art collection. The Rybolovlev/Bouvier dispute spawned civil and criminal litigation in at least five countries, including the United States. This week, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York allowed the suit against Sotheby’s to proceed, denying in part the auction house’s motion to dismiss.

SCOTUS Rules That “Scandalous” Trademarks May Not Be Denied Registration
The Supreme Court ruled that a federal ban on the registration of "immoral" or "scandalous" trademarks violates the First Amendment, holding that the brand “FUCT” should be allowed to register a federal trademark.

Sotheby’s Goes Private Once Again
BidFair USA, owned by entrepreneur and art collector Patrick Drahi, purchased Sotheby’s auction house for $3.7 billion dollars. The formerly publicly traded company will now be privately owned, similar to Christie’s. Sotheby’s previously went private in 1983 before going public in the United States in 1988.

Michael Moi’s Lawsuit Against Artist Dale Chihuly Dismissed
Federal court in Seattle, Washington, dismissed the $20 million lawsuit by Michael Moi, a contractor who worked on various paid projects for Dale Chihuly between 1999 and 2014 and claimed that he co-authored 285 artworks on which he worked. Moi claimed that a verbal agreement existed between him and the artist and could not demonstrate that he was not a co-author of the works.

Guggenheim’s Employees Seek to Unionize
Following the example of employees at other New York cultural institutions, the art installers and facilities engineers at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York are rallying to unionize through Local 30 of the International Union of Operating Engineers.

EUROPE

Italian Court Rules that Ferrari 250 GTO Is a Work of Art
Italian commercial tribunal in Bologna, Italy, found that the Ferrari 250 GTO is a work of art and, as such, is entitled to the same protections from reproductions and imitations. The decision prevents other companies from producing replicas of this automobile icon.

Artists Examine Media Manipulation in “Deepfake” Video of Mark Zuckerberg
Two UK artists, Bill Posters and Daniel Howe, used artificial intelligence “deepfake” technology (a technique for human image synthesis based on artificial intelligence), to create a now viral provocative video that manipulates Mark Zuckerberg’s image to create a fake video of invented content. In the video, an image of the Facebook CEO appears to thank an ominous “Spectre” for showing him that “whoever controls the data controls the future.” The video work was one of multiple similar videos (including videos of Kim Kardashian and Donald Trump) created in reaction to global scandals about data privacy that probe philosophical questions about personal privacy and the need for protections.

Berlin’s Humboldt Forum Construction Delayed
Despite plans to open in 2019, construction delays have pushed the opening of the Humboldt Forum to next year. The facility will serve as a grand museum and event space inside Berlin’s reconstructed royal palace and was designed to stage around 1,000 cultural events and host three million visitors each year.

German Museum Acquisitions Stolen from Private Citizens
A new German art museum study revealed that up to 8 percent of eastern German museum acquisitions were unethically acquired from private citizens in East Germany. This initial study was limited in scope and is one of several pilot projects designed to help the German Lost Art Foundation develop strategies for deeper provenance research that may lead to restitutions.

The Louvre Brings Virtual Reality to the Mona Lisa in a New Exhibition
While the Louvre has long protected the world-famous Mona Lisa painting behind a thick block of bullet-proof glass, the museum soon will offer a new high-tech experience that will allow viewers to engage with the painting in new ways through the lens of a virtual reality headset.

Three-Year-Old Girl Swats a Fly Sculpture Off Pedestal at Art Basel
A three-year-old child knocked a €50,000 sculpture of a fly entitled Fleige (fly) by the German artist Katharina Fritsch off of its stand at Art Basel. The wings of the sculpture detached during the incident but the work was not damaged, according to a statement by an Art Basel spokeswoman given to The Art Newspaper.

Germany Returns Stolen Sculpture to Italy
A second-century A.D. sculpture discovered in the 1930s during excavation works in Fondi, Italy, was voluntarily repatriated by the German authorities to Italy after it was apparently smuggled out of the country between 1944 and the early 1960s, and ended up first in private hands and later in the collection of the University of Munster’s Archaeological Museum.

AFRICA

Amidst Claims that King Tut Sculpture Was Looted, Egypt Seeks to Stop Auction
Egypt’s representatives in London are attempting to stop Christie’s from auctioning a sculpture of Tutankhamen following a claim by a high-profile Egyptian archaeologist that it was likely stolen from the Karnak Temple. The clock is ticking on the sale of the 3,000-year-old sculpture anticipated to yield more than $5 million at auction. Christie’s adamantly defends the legitimacy of the sculpture’s recent ownership and the legal right to sell.

ASIA

Hong Kong Art Community Lends Voice to Public Outcry of Planned Extradition Law
Public outcry and massive protests erupted in Hong Kong over recently proposed controversial legislation that would permit the government to extradite fugitives on a case-by-case basis to Taiwan, Macau, and mainland China. Approximately one million protestors rallied in the streets against the planned law that is seen as a serious threat to freedom in the semi-autonomous territory of Hong Kong. Approximately 100 art organizations have lent their voices to the protest.

Restoration Completed at Cambodian Temple at the Angkor Archaeological Park
The World Monuments Fund completed a 10-year, $4.8 million conservation effort at the Phnom Bakheng temple in Cambodia. The structure suffered from water flow damage that required the conservation team to channel the engineering vision of the temple’s 9th century pioneers to complete the restoration.

 

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