Saturday, October 23, 2010

Stealing From Inside the Museum - Egyptian Artifacts Theft in Long Island Proves the Point

Loss prevention at a museum starts by examining internal practices. When pieces are missing from a museum, the first place to look for a suspect is inside. Fortunately, a museum's risk can be reduced by performing thorough background checks on prospective employees and by creating moderate institutional oversight practices.

While the vast majority of museum employees are honest and trustworthy, there are many unfortunate instances where missing objects turn up in the hands of museum workers. Last week the New York Post reported that a federal court sentenced the director of the Long Island University Hillwood Museum to a year and a day in prison plus a $5000 fine for stealing Egyptian artifacts from his own museum. Barry Stern admitted to exacting revenge on his employer when his contract as museum director was not renewed. He worked 22 years for the university.

The Post describes how Stern stole the artifacts from the museum, brought them to Christie's for auction, and claimed they came from the Barry Stern collection. Records of the objects' existence at the Hillwood Museum were wiped out. The pieces earned Stern $51,500.

(As a side note, one wonders how the auction house failed to conduct enough due diligence regarding the provenance of the objects, particularly where the pieces presumably had accession numbers associated with the objects.)

The International Foundation for Cultural Property Protection helps cultural institutions minimize the risk of theft. Any of our colleagues can assist museums with internal loss prevention. www.ifcpp.org


Read more: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/li_museum_director_sentenced_for_m8ewK4q1OIOWlINeCC4BRN#ixzz13BvQpl1L

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

If You Want Your Art Back, Be Mindful of the Statute of Limitations

The First Circuit Court of Appeals decided the case of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston v. Seger-Thomschitz on October 14, 2010. Claudia Seger-Thomschitz, the heir of art collector Oskar Reichel, contacted the Museum of Fine Arts to reclaim Two Nudes by Oskar Kokoschka. Seger-Thomschitz argued that the painting left the hands Reichel because of Nazi coercion.

The Museum of Fine Arts spent 18 months researching the issue and concluded that Reichel sold the painting voluntarily. The Boston Globe published criticisms of this view in a May 2008 article. Nevertheless, the MFA sought an order from federal district court declaring that the museum legitimately owned the painting. The lower court ruled that the MFA rightfully owned the painting, and the court of appeals has now affirmed this decision.

The basis of the court of appeal's opinion is threefold. First, the district court's grant of a favorable judgment for the museum was proper on statute of limitations grounds because Seger-Thomschitz did not make a demand on the MFA within the three years statute of limitations under Massachusetts law. Second, the appeals court rejected Seger-Thomschitz's weak claim that the statute of limitations should bend in the wake of the non-profit section of the federal Internal Revenue Code [501(c)(3)]. Third, the court rejected her argument that the Massachusetts statute of limitations conflicted with America's foreign policy as expressed through the Holocaust Victims Redress Act of 1998, the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art, the Vilnius Forum Declaration, and the Terezín Declaration on Holocaust Era Assets and Related Issues. These proclamations are aspirational and not law, the court essentially declared.

The message in this case is clear: Where a party believes that art is improperly in the hands of another, the claimant must be conscious of the statute of limitations clock and perform the necessary due diligence to start a cause of action.

Two Nudes can be seen at http://www.mfa.org/collections/search_art.asp?recview=true&id=34173&coll_keywords=&coll_accession=&coll_name=two+nudes&coll_artist=Kokoschka&coll_place=&coll_medium=&coll_culture=&coll_classification=&coll_credit=&coll_provenance=&coll_location=&coll_has_images=&coll_on_view=&coll_sort=2&coll_sort_order=0&coll_view=0&coll_package=0&coll_start=1

"Holocaust Historians Blast MFA Stance in Legal Dispute," The Boston Globe, May 28, 2008 at http://www.boston.com/ae/theater_arts/articles/2008/05/28/holocaust_historians_blast_mfa_stance_in_legal_dispute/

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Statute of Limitatons to Recover Stolen Culture Lengthened in California

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law California Assembly Bill 2765. This law allows an owner of a stolen or fraudulently taken cultural object to file a lawsuit to recover the piece within six years of finding the object. This new law is significant for three reasons.

First, it doubles the time an aggrieved party can recover an object of "historical, interpretive,scientific, cultural, or artistic significance" that has been stolen or taken by fraud or duress

Second, the law enacts the "actual discovery" rule. That means that the six year clock only starts to run once the original owner actually discovers the wherabouts of the cultural object.

Third, the law is retrospective. The legislature specifically stated that the law "shall apply to all pending and future actions commenced on or before December 31, 2017, including any actions dismissed based on the expiration of statutes of limitation in effect prior to the date of enactment of this statute if the judgment in that action is not yet final or if the time for filing an appeal from a decision on that action has not
expired, provided that the action concerns a work of fine art that was taken within 100 years prior to the date of enactment of this statute." There is no doubt then that the new law may impact Marei Von Saher's effort to move forward on her claim to recover Lucas Cranach the Elder's diptych "Adam and Eve" from the Norton Simon Museum, originally looted by the Nazis.

Read the law at http://leginfo.ca.gov/pub/09-10/bill/asm/ab_2751-2800/ab_2765_bill_20100930_chaptered.html

Saturday, October 2, 2010

CPAC public sessions on Colombia and Greece cultural property agreements coming soon

The Cultural Property Advisory Committee will be holding public sessions on October 12 and October 14, 2010 to consider renewing the cultural property protection agreement with Colombia and to consider a new agreement with Greece.

More information can be found by reading the Federal Register at http://exchanges.state.gov/media/office-of-policy-and-evaluation/chc/pdfs/2010frncpacmtg10.pdf.